Friday, May 15, 2009

*149. ON THE SAME BOAT: Cruising Pampanga’s Waterworld

ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT. Candaba's townsfolk negotiate the flooded waters of their town, using a trustworthy bangka, a necessary mode of transport for those living in low-lying Pampanga towns. Ca. 1927.

Kapampangans, being riverbank dwellers, have taken to water like ducks to a pond. The province’s complex network of river highways, its swamplands and river deltas have shaped the way many Kapampangans lived, traveled, devised their leisure and earned their keep. These bodies of water located all over Pampanga have been creating ripples of history since time immemorial. Through a river, Tarik Soliman and his fleet of boats sailed from Macabebe to Bangkusay to meet his heroic death. When the Grand Duke of Russia, Alexis Alexandrovich visited Apalit, he cruised along Pampanga River all the way to the home of his hosts, the Arnedos, whose mansion had a small pier.

Kapampangan traders from Candaba, Apalit, Bacolor and Guagua used the river channels and tributaries to ferry livestock and farm produce to the canals of Manila. Barrios were named according to their proximity to water: Guagua (from ‘wawa', mouth of a river), Macabebe (“bebe”- bordering the river bank), Sapa Libutad, Sapang Bato and Sapang Balen. Fiesta rites revolved around water as in the “libad” (fluvial procession) of Apalit’s Apu Iru.

Taming the waters was a necessity for riverine residents and those living in low-lying areas. Early Kapampangans, especially those from Candaba and the coastal villages of Sasmuan, mastered boatmaking, fashioning bangkas from hardwood trees like molave, tanguili, or guijo. Balacat trees were preferred for their straight posts that were used as masts.

Boat types included the parau (a large passenger or cargo boat), dunai (a simple boat propelled by a bagse or a paddle), casco (a covered cargo raft) and baluto (canoe). Even steamships were not unknown to Kapampangans as they were seen regularly cruising the waters of Guagua, now known as Dalan Bapor.

Directions were reckoned according to the directional flow of rivers. When one says “Pauli na ku”, he actually means he was riding a boat to go downstream. “Lumaut ku”, means one is going out to sea; today it means to go somewhere distant. “Luslus” means to head south by boat, towards Manila Bay, which, today has been modified to mean long distance travel, even by land.

In the late 19th century, passenger boats set sail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Guagua to Manila and back. The fare was $2.50, one way. With our modern and time-saving expressways linking whole towns and provinces to key cities like Manila, travel by bangka has fallen from passenger favor in recent times, being demanded when catastrophic floods occur. But for towns like Candaba, Macabebe, Sasmuan, Minalin, Masantol and Bacolor—where cyclical floodings no longer surprise, bangkas continue to be rowed, sailed and paddled, a practice that has become a way of life for the “pampang” people.

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