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)


dee said...

My grandparents would have us jump up as high as we can when the clock hit 12..Mom explained that we would grow taller. I guess it worked (lol), I grew up to be 5'6". Pretty average her in US but growing up in pampanga, let's just say that I always stood in back of the line during flag ceremony. It's amazing how superstitious we are, but I learned that other countries more or less have their own share of superstitions
(sometimes more ridiculous than ours).

alex r. castro said...

Local beliefs die hard. We perpetuate them, not just according to the dictates of tradition, but to a large extent, blind faith. In your case apparently, following a traditional practice worked!