Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A KAPAMPANGAN FAMILY. Emilio del Rosario y de Ocampo with his ‘titulado’ sons (by 1st wife Josefa Valdez). L-R. Fernando Odon (Medicine), Pablo Jesus (Dentistry), Bienvenido Conrado (Law), Dioscoro Arsenio (Dentistry). Seated : Msgr. Manuel (Secular Clergy). Ca. mid -1930s.

The only picture we have of my maternal grandfather, Ingkung Milyu, is this faded reproduction taken with his sons. The grandfather I never knew is shown seated primly with his 5 “titulado” sons, all half-brothers of my mother. My mother remembers her father as a very strict and stern figure; yet, in this picture, there is a hint of a gentle smile on his furrowed face, which, most definitely, comes from the feeling of accomplishment and pride at having raised his children well.
Ingkung Milyu comes from the very large Del Rosario clan of Angeles. He would carry on that tradition by fathering 20 children in all, from 3 different wives. But that is getting ahead of the story. Emilio del Rosario y de Ocampo was born on 2 September 1878, the 4th child in a brood of 10 of Cornelio del Rosario and Juana de Ocampo y Henson. Cornelio’s grandmother, Maria Arcadia Del Rosario (nee Henson) was the youngest child of Severino Henson and Placida Paras.

Severino was a Chinese mestizo who became a gobernadorcillo of San Fernando in 1815, while Placida’s family name suggested that she belonged to a pre-colonial ruling class. Maria Arcadia’s only brother Mariano, the 1st Filipino Lay Doctor of Laws, was married to Juana Ildefonso de Miranda, daughter of the founders of Angeles, Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus. Maria Arcadia would marry twice, first to Maximo Feliciano, then to Anacleto del Rosario of Culiat, a union from which sprung the overextended Del Rosarios of Angeles City, which included the katipunero, Isabelo del Rosario, his cousin.

This pedigree didn’t mean much as Ingkung Milyu led a difficult and challenging life, beginning with his first marriage to Josefa Valdez y Clemente. He settled in Sapa Libutad where he earned his income from his small farmlands. Quickly, the first set of children—9 in all—came in succession, only to end with the untimely death of Josefa. It was not long that he married again, this time to Felicisima Castro y Samia (my mother’s mother), resulting in 7 more children. Again, tragedy struck with Apu Simang’s death at the young age of 28. For the 3rd and final time, Ingkung Milyu sired 4 more children with Florentina Sanchez. Obviously, family planning was not in my grandfather’s vocabulary!

There is a story that has come down to us, about Ingkung Milyu’s brother chiding him for being so prolific—and so poor! Angered but challenged by his brother’s insensitive remark, he dared to work even harder so he could send his first set of children to the best schools. After years of sacrifice, his sons finished their studies with flying colors. Perhaps, to prove his point that nothing is insurmountable and that there is strength in numbers, he had this picture taken as a visual proof of his singlehanded achievement and his children’s triumph over adversities, a copy of which, I am certain, was sent to his brother!

And now, a few words about my uncles in the picture, standing left to right. Fernando Odon (Tatang Anding) was a Doctor of Medicine and practiced his profession in Angeles until his death. Pablo Jesus (Tatang Pabling) finished Dentistry and for years, also had a thriving private practice in the city. He was also at one point, a city councilor of Angeles and ran unsuccessfully for Vice Mayor. Bienvenido Conrado (Tatang Dadong), the youngest, graduated with a Law degree from the University of the Philippines. He married Perla Gutierrez, the eldest daughter of Justice Jose Gutierrez David and settled in Abacan, Balibago, where he held office and also owned and managed the popular Del Rosario Compound Swimming Pool. Dioscoro Arsenio (Tatang Kuring) graduated with a degree in Accountancy. Seated with Ingkung is Manuel (Tatang Maning), who rose to the rank of a monsignor and who became a parish priest of San Roque Church in Sta.Cruz for over 30 years. The only girl –and the eldest child was the noble Emilia, who, at her deathbed, married Patrocinio Feliciano.

Ingkung Milyu died 5 days after his birthday on 7 September 1947. It was to my surprise that I found his crypt at the Mount Carmel Church in New Manila, next to Tatang Anding’s, only this March. All my other uncles have departed this earthly life too, but I am almost certain that father and sons find time to huddle every day for their special bonding moments, just like in this picture!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


COME, BLOW YOUR HORN. A pert and pretty Kapampangan girl all dolled-up for a New Year party, ready to toot her paper turutut and make merry. Dated 1926.

For the last 10 years or so, I have been greeting the coming of the New Year by just lounging in bed, flipping channels and hoping some holiday musical will sustain my interest till 12 midnight. Unfortunately, my ability to keep my eyes open till the midnight hour has been impaired by age, and now, I much rather prefer to welcome January 1 in dreamland. No amount of firecrackers will ever rouse me from my slumber! (Now for some historical trivia: New Year was not always celebrated on the 1st of January—it was Julius Caesar who moved it from March to the new month of January, which followed the celebration of Saturnalia in December.)

We, Kapampangans, always embrace the coming Bayung Banwa with wide, open arms. Customs like leaving doors ajar and opening house lights to attract good luck are still observed in many homes. Collecting 12 kinds of fruits and wearing polka-dotted clothes—practices adopted from the Chinese—bode prosperity and good fortune. Then, there’s the tradition of creating deafening noise, to scare and ward off evil spirits, so that after the din dies down, the good spirits can take over one’s domicile.

When I was a lot younger, my siblings, cousins and I were determined to make each Bayung Banwa noisier and more riotous than the last. We start by fabricating a kanyun kwayan (bamboo cannons), pre-selected and dried months earlier, conveniently sawed off from our bamboo grove at the back of our house. The nodes are opened and a hole is punched into one end of the 5 to 6 foot long bamboo. To make the bamboo cannon boom , one has to apply kalburo (calcium carbide) into the hole, blow in some air, and ten light the hole with kerosene using a stick. The resultant explosions were enough to make our neighbor’s carabaos sleepless the whole night!

When spare money came along, we would buy watusi from the corner sari-sari store, named after a dance craze from the 1950s. Activated by friction using our sandals, watusis spark and sizzle in any direction, thus giving adults a cause for (fire) alarm. Just as exciting were the trianggulos—triangular firecrackers wrapped in brown paper with a short wick. My Ingkung Dandu used to light these from the 2nd floor of our house and drop them harmelessly below. We prefer aiming these on our flock of ducklings, sure to cause a quacking rampage and an unfortunate victim or two. Bigger firecrackers like bawang and whistle bombs were not permitted in the house; they were just too dangerous and expensive for our means.

We were allowed though, to play with lusis (from Spanish luces, or lights)—wire sparklers which we favored over asthma-inducing Roman candles. I rememeber buying a boxful with the classic blue and red packaging illustrated with a woman holding a sparkler in a pose reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty (or that lady in the Columbia Pictures trademark). As an added dramatic flourish, we would often throw our lusis in the air as the sparks died down, simulating a falling star. One such New Year memory almost became a nightmare when my younger brother threw his lusis stick in the direction of a neighbor’s house. The lusis landed directly on the dry, thatched nipa roof, causing our hysterical neighbors to scream for help—and water!

More harmless though were the turutut (recycled from rolled celluloid film strips), tansan tambourines and wooden clappers, made in the shape of palo de tsina guns. Empty tin cans strung with wires to our bikes were also a way to raise ruckus in the neighborhood without spending a single centavo. Nowadays, noisemakers and firecrackers have become more sophisticated, assuming imaginative names like Judas’ belt, super lolo and whistling cow. There was one year, I think, when a special firecracker was named after a popular dance move—Macarena—although I don’t think this will ever replace the watusi in popularity.

Now that we’re older, we’re not necessarily wiser. With end of 2003, I wish to invite everyone to look back, even as we look forward to the New Year. Remember, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Just think of those firecracker victims whose bloodied fingers are shown on TV every year!

( 27 Dec. 2003)

Monday, April 14, 2008


SEASON’S GREETINGS. Christmas cards originated in England in the mid 1800s. The tradition was brought to the United States and the practice was introduced to the Philippines. Here, a custom-made photo postcard (pre-dating commercial cards)shows a young Guagua beauty framed by a horseshoe (a good luck symbol) with a traditional “Merry Christmas” greeting. Circa 1920s.

Whether you are young or old, Christmas is always a magical time and a lot of my pleasant, deep-seated family and hometown memories are pegged on the Yule month of December. For us elementary students growing up in the ‘60s, the month ushered in a long vacation that started on the 15th of December all the way to the 1st week of January’s Feast of Atlung Ari. But before we got to enjoy our hard-earned break, we had to complete certain school activities and duties associated with the holidays. That included the expected parol project for our Industrial Arts class. For a week or so, we whittled bamboo sticks to make the framework for our 5-pointed star lantern. With a bit of gogo paste, tinsel and papel de japon, my classmates showed off their skills with elaborate creations: multi-pointed stars, figurals, Japanese-style, triple-tailed lantern varieties. The more advanced students even had mobile lanterns that were wind-activated! For those hopeless with pliers and knives like myself, the frameless cartolina box lantern was the easy solution.

Our classroom also had to be decorated with Christmas ornaments, budget permitting. Red folding paper bells (usually bought from Atching Tali’s stall outside the school), were hung on door beams. Poinsettias were hand-drawn on the borders of the blackboard with pink and green chalk. A pop-out paper belen of the National Book Store variety, was the centerpiece of our room. Of course, our bulletin board displayed our hand-made Christmas card collection, products of our art education class, fashioned from Oslo paper, colored paper (6 for 5 centavos), palara glitter (from cigarette wrappers) and library paste. A mushy dedication copied from some old commercial Christmas card was handwritten with a ball point.

And the Christmas school parties!
This was the best time yet, as we got to wear and show off our party clothes instead of uniforms. Our parties were the usual “bring-your-own-baon” types but I do remember one occasion where we contributed one peso each for a smalltime caterer who prepared for us spaghetti with Mafran ketchup sauce and thin slices of Philips sausages. Our “Kris Kringle” culminated in a major “exchange gift” ceremony, highlighted with the revelation of your “manito” (gift sponsor-partner) . My favorite gifts included Curly Tops chocolate (already boxed for 75 centavos), hand towel and soap or toothbrush set, bought from Ong Sin Siu, our local neighborhood Chinese store which carried everything from groceries to perfumes.

Back home, our Christmas décors were more spectacular. From soap-decorated twig Christmas trees and coconut fiber trees, we finally got a silver tinsel tree (courtesy of our American friends, the Dandridges) from Clark, complete with an angel topper! We copied all the available American traditions, hanging red net Christmas stockings (packed with Brach’s candies, mini-chocolate bars and plastic toys) and putting our gifts under the tree. I still remember my favorite gifts: a harmonica, a tube of Tinkertoys and a coloring book featuring all the presidents of America, ending with Kennedy, which I still have. I also recall attending one dawn mass at our Mabalacat church where I was transfixed at the sight of the newly spruced up and brightly-lit Nativity altar. Mary, Joseph, Jesus and even the shepherds and animals seemed so alive and animated while a shrill soprano sang endless “Jesu!Jesu! Jesu!” to the accompaniment of violins. Last time I checked our belen, the shepherds and their flock of animals have all been removed from the altar, with the starlit background inexplicably changed into a bright daytime scene.

By Christmas morning, while there were no more gifts to open, we looked forward to receiving Ingkung’s aguinaldo envelopes containing crisp P5 bills. Sadly, in 1968, this tradition came to a stop with his death in December, our bleakest Christmas ever. Thereafter, a whole day of feasting and receiving guests followed, with platefuls of kalame ubi, bibingka, panara and ensaymadang Malolos eaten and shared. But, as always, time runs fast when one is having fun; before we knew it, it was back to the normal grind for us—plodding through school, work, summer, Holy Week, the typhoon season, All Saints’ Day-- until the coming of the next merry Christmas!

(20 December 2003)

Monday, April 7, 2008


TOO MANY COOKS. A Home Economics class in Guagua emphasizes the importance of culinary arts in maintaining the perfect Kapampangan household. Under the watchful eye of their teacher, young girls learn the rudiments of cooking using coal-powered ornos or ovens. Circa mid-1920s.

In my elementary days, one of our first-week assignments was to bring pakiling (or isis) leaves to class. Pakiling leaves, when dry, have the texture of sandpaper, and it was our task to clean and smoothen the surfaces of our wooden desks using these leaves and sudsy water, making “isis” until the wood was rid of pencil scrawls. Handling these bristly leaves was definitely tough on our delicate hands and I simply detested this back-to-school ritual. Thank heavens, I didn’t have to scrounge around for these rare pakiling leaves—an old tree grew at the back of our house which provided me with these cleaning staples—the same reliable pakiling leaves that mothers of yore had used in cleaning wooden floors, banggeras and pasamanos.

Back in our Spanish colonial days, running a household efficiently was a challenge, what with the bahay na bato’s numerous rooms to clean, gardens to maintain, and loads of laundry to be done. The home arts of the era also included needlework, confectionary and music. Cooking entailed various kitchen tasks including daily marketing. Hence, the moneyed doña of the house often hired individual lavanderas, cocheros and cocineras to assist her in running the affairs of the house with the least of efforts. Household helps were paid anywhere from 3 to 5 pesos a month, while specialized Chinese cooks commanded more, getting as much as P20 monthly. Stay-in muchachos provided all-around help—from housecleaning and gardening to whisking flies off the dining table during mealtimes.

Normally, the first task of the day was daily marketing which was personally handled by the lady of the house who kept a tight pamalengke budget of 50 centavos to 2 pesos (early 1900s rate), ably assisted by a muchacha. Back in the kitchen, the doña orchestrated the sorting, cleaning, chopping, dicing and cooking of ingredients for the noonday meal. The kawas, tacho and other cooking implements were kept in tip-top shape with found cleaning materials like sand and ash. Fragile crystal was handwashed with bath soap and the first rice washing. A 1930s cookbook even had a special section on domestic arts—Kabaluan King Pamibale-bale (Household Knowledge). It featured tips on cleaning household items like silverware, with the ingenious use of chalk: “Kailangan ingatan mayap ding kasangkapang pilak. Iti ing gamitan yu: 4 a tasang tisa, pabukalan king ½ litrong danum. Parimlan at dinan 1 onzang ammonia. Basan ing kapirasung basan at iti ing ikuskus kaibat kuskusan yung mamuza o bulak” (One needs to care for silver well. These are what you will use: 4 cups chalk, boiled in 1/2 liter water. Cool and add 1 oz. ammonia. Wet a piece of rag to wipe the silver clean, then wipe off with cotton).

Housecleaning, on the other hand, was done at all hours of the day. To bring out the shine of wooden floors, a mix of melted candle wax, kerosene and achuete (for coloring) was boiled to serve as floor wax. After application, the floors were buffed with old burlap (langgotse) bags often with kids joining in the cleaning. Children were made to sit on the rags band dragged around the room! The bamboo slatted floors of humbler nipa homes were shined with banana leaves. Other cleaning aids included the ubiquitous plumero (feather duster), palis tingting and bunut made from coconuts.

Pieces of furniture were also polished with coconut oil while mirrors were cleaned with starch paste which was then wiped off with wet rags after application. Katol was advertised as early as 1928, so dealing with mosquitos was no problem. Bedbugs or suldot were another thing. To kill them, boiling water from a kettle was poured into the crevices of beds and sulihiya covered-seats. Iron grills were sure to be rust-free when cleaned with coconut oil and kerosene mixture.

Laundry was done in a wooden batya, using the speckled blue and white sabun intsik to rid clothes of dirt and grime. Other stain removing aids before the advent of modern day deodorants included kamias, kalamunding and sunlight. Tina, a blueing agent, brought out the whiteness of clothes, while gogo, local commercial starch, was used to stiffen butterfly sleeves and barongs. After drying, clothes were ironed on a dulang or pakabayo, using a plantsa korona, an open circular flat iron (sometimes made of brass) loaded with live embers. Care must be taken in applying the iron as sparks from the live coals can sometimes escape and burn holes on fabrics! To ensure that the plantsa glided smoothly, it was made to run on banana leaves every now and then.

The American regime offered a glimpse of hope for homemakers, as modern concepts in the areas of sanitation, scientific inventions and culinary arts were advanced and applied. It was only a matter of years before the Kapampangan household—as was true for every home in the Philippines--was magically transformed into a modern showcase of efficiency and design.
( 13 December 2003)