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Friday, November 7, 2008
8th Wonder of the World
The Calesa -a mode of transporation in Gasan
The outside view of a typical Bahay na Bato
This article was cleared for entry in this blog by Leticia Hidalgo of Boac. The author is the daughter of Sonia Narvas Quiason also from Boac. Enjoy!
Chronicles of a 50th Wedding Anniversary
A Return to Marinduque, Philippines
By : Sonia M. Narvas Quiason – Ang
It was high noon when the family left the pier of Lucena bound for a 3 hour boat ride across the waters of the deep China Sea. There was a cool sea breeze against the heat of the scorching sun as we waved farewell to the shores of the mainland Luzon, Philippines and our destination - the island of Marinduque.
My heart raced when I finally saw the silhouette of several clusters of islands greeting us as we approached the island of Marinduque- we glided through an inner cove to finally dock at Balanacan harbor – once noted historically where the old Spanish Galleon ships were mooring for repairs and replenishing their supplies before making a perilous voyage back into the pacific to Mexico and Spain. It was the same harbor that gave refuge to the big American naval battle ships of World War 2. My eyes caught site of a large statue of the Virgin Mary the patroness of the island who has accompanied many sea faring sailors across the Pacific in voyages for centuries. There was a backdrop of hills and a mountainous terrain laden with tall coconut trees that grew lavishly in the island as the main vegetation aside from the exotic flora and fauna in the deep forests. It was indeed refreshing to the eyes. We traveled up the hillside paved road which skirted the shimmering waters of the bay to see only a picturesque sight from atop the mountain of the many islands surrounding Marinduque.- indeed God has blessed this island with its bountiful natural resources. One has heard the stories of the 8 wonders of the world , but there are still those undiscovered wonders by the National Geographic explorer who would only agree perhaps with my declaration that this place rivals the beaches of Ipanema and Maui. As a well-seasoned world traveler myself I can only exalt that it was an awesome scenery amidst a fading sunset.
We approached a small “barrio”(town) of Tabigue where my parents were welcomed with a large banner that greeted them on their 50th golden wedding anniversary with a small town festivity presented in their honor. They had roasted a large young pig for an entire day till it was tender and I had missed this sight all these years. We called this a Lechon Feast to honor guests from out of town .
To celebrate my parent’s golden wedding anniversary my mother decided long ago to hold this the traditional Filipino way in her native and rustic town together with the barrio people instead of re-enacting it in the modern city of Manila in a western fashion which she did 50 years ago -- a truly authentic and distinctively Filipino wedding. What was more heartfelt was to celebrate this in the land where she was born and bread. It was in the midst of my mother’s family owned coconut plantation - it was her home.
The plantations were there for generations, it was studded with miles and miles of coconut trees which were tall, imposing, and more than hundreds of years old. A coconut tree can out live a man’s lifespan for 150 -200 years. Young coconut trees were growing side by side the old signaling a new generation to come. Each tree was 25 meters apart from the other, a unit of measurement to measure one’s property in the olden times by counting the number of coconuts one had.
We were entertained by the warm hospitality of “barrio” (town) local village folks who worked for my great grand parents for centuries harvesting coconuts – the plantations were in seven towns of coconut laden land that skirted the beaches of Marinduqe , reaching across the mountainous terrain in the interior of the island which they maintained. .. This is how the feudal society of the old Spanish era was managed and how business / trade was conducted, it has lasted and remained intact for generations even to this modern day and age. Tenants work and live on the land, while harvesting and selling copra for business. They had been an integral part of the family yet independent in their day to day lives.
Time has stood still for these “barrio” folk untouched by civilization yet it was amusing to see them use a modem CD player as a device for singing and no longer would they use tape recorders. I was requested by one of the old folks to play them a tune on the violin which I brought with me all the way from the USA. It was a pleasure to see these people marvel to listen in appreciation to a violin which they perhaps may have never seen all their lives and even more so to hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony played to them!
I looked for the little ducks and hens underneath their houses that I recall during my childhood days but to my amazement there were none, but instead they were raising cows! Almost immediately, I started to chase the young 2 month old calves grazing side by side their mother cow just as I would have done when I was a little girl. Cows apparently are worth a fortune in the mainland and can be traded for a handsome sum of money to help buy the medicine they need to treat themselves if necessary. I then walked toward the lake where its mouth joins the great sea and climbed into one of the fisherman’s boats – quite an exhilarating site and view – I was communing with nature.
We set our next trip to rest at a world class resort in Gasan, owned by a high school classmate of my mother where we stayed to rest for the evening. I was awakened by the cacophony of crowing cocks at 5 am. and the strong lashing of the waves on the beach. I peered through the veranda toward the direction of the ocean and noticed the waves were so serene and motionless on the pebbled beach that the sea looked just like a large pond to me. I watched the stillness of the ocean as the dawn was breaking while listening to the sounds of an unsyncopated rhythm of cocks crowing in unison. The house was made of Philippine Sawali - a modern house with amenities of modern living with a beautiful, well decorated living room of native Philippine design native redwood narra floors, roof, and furniture. In contrast to the Philippine native materials was a modern kitchen and bathrooms . The beds were of bamboo or hard narra wood – but it had “ IKEA mattresses, pillows and sheets on ! There was a world class swimming pool adjacent to the beach surrounded by a well manicured lawn and tropical shrubs .
The local fisherman had a routine from 5 am at the crack of dawn and at early dusk before night fall - . They fish in the dark since they say the fishes are attracted to the luminous nets and baits which are made of fluorescent material . My father set out with a local helper to a fisherman’s village right by the resort where they had fleshly caught a sea variety of tuna called “Tulingan’ which we grilled in Philippine style on banana leaves and tomatoes and onions, and salt . I insisted to have it served Japanese style sushi , but was cautioned it was not the right fish for sushi, less I will suffer from an allergy. , The people of the province will never go hungry even the simplest and humblest farmer, since mother nature provides them with the finest seafood direct from their daily catch from the sea. The poorest man is blessed with 3 meals a day! .
We entered the municipal town proper of Boac, the capital , where and old Spanish cathedral was perched on top of a hill from the town center . The church was of a typical baroque architecture just like the churches of in Seville, Spain . It had a rococo styled interior and an altar whose façade was highly ornate with several statuettes of saints implanted within. These churches were made of limestone , coral , massive red brick stones and mortar, very typical of the Spanish architecture of the time. A huge cross on the steeple is a reminder of the history of Christianity planted in the town center, it was the Spanish conquistador that sewed the seeds of Christianity in the entire Philippine Archipelago when Ferdinand Magellan discovered the country in 1521 and named it after King Philip II of Spain.
The entourage and procession was participated by the town folk with little children dressed in Sunday clothes, some of them in a Filipino inspired attire of jusi called the “barong “ - the traditional dress. A solemn ceremony and mass officiated by the Catholic priest in the native language was very interesting for even a person like me who had a good command of the Philippine native language, His robe was an exact replica of what the Catholic priests of the ancient church of Rome wore since the medieval ages . His rhetoric about marriage was both hilarious and serious, but full of lessons undefiled . I was the maid of honor, it was something I would not ever have dreamed to see this very day , it did give me an emotional tear in my eye. After the church ceremonies were over, we all proceeded to Casa Narvas.
Casa Narvas was my mother’s ancestral home , built by “Don” Elias Narvas a coconut copra business man of the 18th century , through the years it became a hub for town folk gatherings as it was strategically located in the center of the town proper. This was where important foreign dignitaries would drop by to attend a ceremony. The house is a testimony of the old Spanish – Mexican and Chinese architectural influence of capiz -shelled sliding windows and stained glass walls . This was called the “ bahay na bato” in Philippine architecture, characterized by the massive red hardwood flooring , a balustrade and an ‘azotea’ (veranda) . Today it is proclaimed by the Philippine government as a heritage house to preserve the oldest relics of Spanish-made historical houses in the provinces.
A festivity called the “Putong” was held when we arrived at the house. This tradition was performed to greet any new comer in the province and given the opportunity to be literally crowned a Prince or Princess for the day amidst a formal traditional ceremony of song and dances. A large lechon (pig) was roasted and served – with coconut salad and “ pansit” noodles. Little children were running and scampering after the candy thrown to them. . During the month of May the town also celebrates the annual May Flower Festival which with long processions in the streets featuring a queen and her consort. In Philippine cultural affairs the island is well-known for a unique Moriones Festival - a re-enactment of the mock-beheading of Longhinos, a Roman Centurion who pierced the side of Jesus Christ. That evening the family joined a festivity in of the town proper for the annual May festival ballroom dance– it was a modern version with a medley of modern Philippine songs, traditional songs to the ballads of Frank Sinatra’s 50’s and the influence of current American pop music and jazz.
There were distinctively contrasting sights which gave me the feeling of bewilderment between the modern and the old , the rich and the poor, the truly Filipino against a Western influence – one in great dissimilarity to the other yet existing together in harmony One cannot but stare in perplexity between the sight of a Filipino nipa hut beside a modern day Frank Lloyd Wright architected house or a . carabao drawn “careton” or ‘calesa “ cart on a street with a speeding 2008 BMW driving right by them. Indeed it would make an interesting subject to show the ironical differences in a Moma inspired photography contest ?
Three days passed quickly and we had to bade farewell sighs to the the island of mystique and enchantment,. An island abundant in nature , rich in folklore and ancient culture and filled with pleasant discoveries. A place where time stands still and where the old historical relics of the past exist and untouched , home of my ancestors and my heritage. I have, for the first time after 30 years laid my eyes on the islands once more – I hope that these chronicles have brought to you all my friends who by chance, or for whatever reason it may be, may come to visit the islands one day, and if never , have opened up a spectrum of new consciousness of the existence of such beauty and awe that exits far across the Pacific. Indeed, an 8th wonder of the world.
About the Author: Sonia Ang is the daughter of Sonia Narvas Quiason, the owner of CASA NARVAS in Boac. She worked for IBM in New York as Sr. Consulting Engineer for the last 26 years. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an MSE degree in Comp Sci in 1987. She is also a pianist and violinist.