Friday, February 6, 2009


PALENGKE QUEENS. Kampangan market vendors hawking their products at a palengke near Stotsenburg. This could very well be in Angeles, Balibago or Mabalacat. Ca. 1915.

Every town in Pampanga has a market, the local economic hub where the basic commodities of life are sold—agricultural produce, fresh foods, meats and poultry, pots and pans, manufactured and processed goods, not to mention local crafts and handmade products. Everyday, peddlers and vendors, both legal and illegal, hawk their wares, wheeling, dealing and haggling with their customers—mostly women of the house and/or their trusted househelps.

“Dulung ku”, mothers would often say, to mean they are going to market. This term originally meant “to go down from the towns in the upland to those of the lowland”. Another definition of the word “dulung” is to go down the river. After all, in the old days, local selling and trading was done at the most convenient places where merchants and vendors can easily dock and display their goods for sale—either near a river or an accessible area like the lowlands or the town center. It was on these sites that town markets were first established, to be made permanent later.

But there were other reasons that gave impetus to the founding of new town markets. During Pampanga’s sugar boom, towns like Angeles and San Fernando were suddenly transformed into major market centers as they were strategically used as distribution points for the nearby sugar-producing municipalities. The construction of the Manila-Dagupan railroad further boosted the importance of these two towns. San Fernando’s rise came at the expense of Bacolor. The lively commerce of Mexico, which flourished as a market center in the nineteenth century by driving river traffic up and attracting merchants from as far as Malabon and Tarlac, also saw a decline.

When the Americans came to Pampanga to set up Fort Stotsenburg, enterprising Kapampangans saw a new target market. The markets of the town expanded to serve the needs of American soldiers and their dependents. Itinerant peddlers swarmed Sapang Bato where Americans converged, and cashed in on their moneyed customers--plying everything from carabao’s milk, cooked viands, local cigarettes, liquor, fruits, wild flowers, souvenir handicrafts and more. Aetas came down from the mountains of Pinatubo to sell air plants and orchids to American housewives for the gardens of their new domiciles. The Chinese often competed successfully with local peddlers that some were forced to revert back to an agricultural livelihood.

In the art of peddling, perhaps no one can compare to the selling skills of the Macabebe cloth vendors. In fact, Macabebe takes pride in being called “Home of the Peddlers”, a reputation built by these native vendors who roamed across the Archipelago, travelling on foot and in groups of two or more, selling the famous ‘Macabebe cloth’—actually, Manila-bought fabrics. These humble, hardworking cloth vendors infused a lot of money into their town and in the 1930s, were largely responsible for pumping up Macabebe’s economy.

Today, not even the rise of state-of-the-art modern malls can obliterate local palengkes--bad smell, crowds, noise and all. Practically all of life’s necessities can be found here—from the trivial to the sublime—at prices everyone can afford. A quick survey of the famous Apo Friday Market in Angeles today yielded not just the usual (clothes, small appliances, fake DVDs), but also the odd, the rare and bizarre (green duman, aluminum ear cleaner, balsa wood thermo stoppers, powdered alum or tawas for underarm odor, recycled softdrink bottle lamps). Vendors try to outdo each other in courting customers—buy 3 plus 1, freebies with every purchase, 50 percent off, free trial, return and exchange. If those do not get your attention, perhaps their singing, dancing and verbal jousts will.

The palengkis of Pampanga offer more than the usual, the perfect place to go to people watch , see the local color while getting real, honest-to-goodness bargains. Going to market has become an adventure in itself, so the next time a Kapampangan asks you what you want to do in his town, just say—“dulung kata!’—and you’ll never have a dull day!

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