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Monday, November 28, 2005

Return to Gigaquit, return to my Shire!


A SPACE IN SPACE
MARIA ELEANOR ELAPE VALEROS


Return to Gigaquit, return to my Shire!

M/V Princess of the Earth floated on a wily sea carrying me and my cares for a journey back to Gigaquit (pronounced hee-ga-kit), Surigao del Norte - my Eden, my Shire - out of the comforts of Sugbo I have come to fit into; back to embrace my real home again - where there's less noise and more green, where the people are humbled by their daily intercourse with the soil, the sand, the surf and the sky; where courageous hearts branded with tribal wisdom mustered the tempers of the sun-baked plains and the northeasterly winds, and the tantrums of the relentless waves of Doot bay just to put a face to survival.

A segment of my childhood was spent there during the mid-seventies - a flowering of the GenX and a blossoming of flares-and-clogs fashion, an epoch between the age of innocence and the dominion of childish awareness of some wild, cruel world; a time when the waters of the suba (river) of Baoy flowed with our shrieks and laughter and the songs of the hardwoods that urinated unto the river gave birth to moss on boulders.

It was back then when time was so much younger, when our ancestral house was still standing in all of its pride and glory with the rice fields for a backdrop - a living testimony of the industry of my forebears.

Back then, I had no adult thingies to think about; no bigger responsibilities to attend to; no paperworks, no deadliest deadlines to beat. All that I had understood was that the entire backyard of our ancestral house and the nearby rice paddies were all mine and my sister's playground. But time was such in a hurry and wished to make one year do for decades after decades after decades, and children were just in a rush too to get entangled with puberty.

The Princess of the Earth glided on top of the hissing northern Mindanao seawaters, a minuscule part of the universe that licked the ship with its spews under an orchestra of stars in blossom, the moon in flower; the night itself perched on her tower. There I was at the aft of the ship looking out into the harbor she had left behind, watching not the city lights blinking, radiating, shimmering from a distance, but the silhouette of the ruralscape - memories of women toiling in rice fields, men and their carabaos and plows tilling the soil, a number of children putting up finishing touches to scarecrows, and elderlies raking rice grains on mats, rustic lifestyle of the barrio folk - their simplicity, their plainness; their hearts soft as grass, their shadows light as a feather. I smelled my home, my Eden, my Shire!

The motorcycle-for-hire roared its kind of madness on the already handsomely paved Surigao del Norte provincial road. My mother's birthplace is some 47 kilometers out of Surigao City. For all my life, I know I have always been in love with the place even when I saw first light in Cebu City and just came home to Gigaquit across all those Aprils and Mays as a youngster. Not only is there wonderful sunshine in Gigaquit, there too is delicious rain and the air of richness and growth just like the Shire John Ronald Reuel Tolkien of the Lord of the Rings fame had come to weave.

Gigaquit is one of the oldest municipalities in the province of Surigao del Norte and was once the mother municipality of Bacuag and Claver, which became separate municipalities in 1918 and 1955 under Executive Orders 61 and 126, respectively.

As borne out of historical writings, a native named Cero founded Gigaquit in 1850.About this time, priest from different religious orders christened the natives and made St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Africa, as their patron saint. And until this time the majority of Gigaquitnons have preserved that religious affiliation which is Roman Catholicism.The municipality got its name from two native words "gigad" which means shore and "gakit" meaning bamboo raft. Early settlers used these rafts as their mode of transportation from the hinterlands to the shore.
At the crossing section of barangays Villafranca and Villaflor, I noticed the vacant lot where our ancestral house used to stand. It was the site of family reunions in the early 80s. Now it is devoid of merriment - of that mixture of childish shrieks and adult laughter. As I hurriedly wiped away tears at the back of my hand, I craved for the scent of kopra (coconut meat) slowly wilting under the scorching sun, neatly arranged on a mat made of tikug.

The kopra is a tool for survival. Coconut meat goes with brown sugar to substitute the staple when the fields go flooded as an aftermath of typhoons. Sometimes, my uya (grandmother) would bring sacks of kopra to Insek Gua (the town's Chinese copra buyer) in exchange for a few pesos meant to save the day.

There I was three days before All Souls Day nostalgic about that pawid-made window that lets in the fresh air from the rice fields, from where the wind seems to hurdle past rice dikes. The window had a bamboo pole for tukod. Very rural. Very charming. Then too I began missing the hedgerows where clusters of santan in yellow and tangerine bloomed in subtle seduction adorning Uya Pepang's garden - she was the good old lady who patiently taught the barrio schoolchildren their first lessons on the alphabet and the do-re-mi. I suddenly had the craving for the pinonsihan (a mixture of lambanog or wine from nipa and Pepsi) which the folks preferably call tinam-isan; of the badjug (a place close to the swamps where my forebears concoct lambanog from the sap of nipa in their makeshift distillery; I longed for the string of banog (falcon) that hovered above us as we wash clothes at the river, and chickens that had learned to adapt to their environment as manifested with their crossing the river to the grace of ducks or dogs or carabaos.

My stay in Gigaquit was the most colorful chapter of my life because I had the privilege, that time, to only care less. It never really mattered whether I'm parochial or poor. Sunsets and sunrises became moments to behold, so were moonlit nights, and when tides swelled in perfect for rafting. The vast green fields were in obeisance to heaven covering like carpet the chocolate brown earth where verdant rice stalks sprouted from its bosom. A kind of scent, that only nature's perfumery can produce, emanated from the palay - ripe amber grains - hanging from their drooping stalks. These were my treasures as these were fine moments of nature that passed by hardly noticed by most men weary of their cares and women tied up to their chores.

As I marched down the dirt road back home to barangay Villafranca on an All Souls Day, I was transported back to my childhood with the heart that could not simply detach from an Eden, from a Shire - where there's less noise and more green.

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