Monday, October 3, 2016

*409. A BIRD IN THE HAND

BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHER. A Kapampangan girl holds a fake dove ("pati pati"), a painted flock of which are shown flying or resting on the steps as part of the studio scenography. Our feathered friends have always been an important part of our culture, traditional beliefs, everyday livelihood and folklore. ca. 1917.

They have always been a source of jokes for my Tagalog-speaking friends—these soundalike words “ayup-hayop” and “ibon-ebon” that hold different, but related meanings. “Ibon” is the Tagalog term for “bird”, but its near-homophone –“ebun”—is but an egg in Kapampangan. Similarly, that which Tagalogs call “hayop” (animal), is a mere ‘bird’ (ayup) in Kapampangan.

 In the days of yore, however, the secondary definition of “ayop”, as noted in Bergaño’s compilation of Kapampangan words, included brute animals such as cows and carabaos, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Today, “ayup” is a word solely used for our fine-feathered friends.

 The wetlands of Candaba are famed for being bird sanctuaries, where migratory birds from other lands leave their original habitat temporarily to escape harsh weather conditions and seek food in the environs of our marshlands.

Birdwatchers from all over the Philippines and around the world have started to discover Candaba’s bird sanctuary, which is being developed as a tourist destination. A collateral event—the Ibon-Ebun (Bird-Egg) Festival is celebrated annually, from Feb. 1-2, to honor not only the town patron, the pugo (quail)-carrying San Nicolas, but also to promote eco-tourism using its varied species of birds as attraction.

 Aside from Candaba, there was a time in the 1950s when the sleepy town of San Luis came alive with birdhunters coming in droves to hunt for jack snipes, locally known as “pasdan”. The season for snipes begin in September, when the chill of the northern countries send these birds southbound, with millions finding refuge in Pampanga and Tarlac.

“Pasdans” are prized for their tasty meat, so they are avidly hunted by locals as well as hobbysts from nearby Clark Air Base. The birds often perched on trees that fringed the vast rice paddies and marshes of Pampanga; in fact, they could be found all the way to Concepcion, Tarlac. The small birds are easy to spot by their sheer number. A bigger and more colorful variety—the “pakubo”—is rarer and more elusive. In 1955, the gaming limit for “pasdan” was limited to 50 birds per person.

“Pasdans” are either grilled or cooked adobo-style, a delicacy seldom seen on Pampanga tables today. Our province was once blessed with an abundance of birds of the most bewildering assortment—we even had local names for them.

We had eagles, falcons, hawks (agila, alibasbas, balawe), parrot varieties (katala loru, abukai or Philippine cockatoo, kilakil or white parrot, kulasisi), doves and pigeons ( pati-pati, batubato, the white-eared alimukun ), sparrows (denas paking, denas costa, denas bale, maya) and swallows (layang-layang, sibad, timpapalis). There were marsh birds ( patirik-tirik, uis, dumara), pelicans (kasili, pagala), long-legged herons and egrets (tagak, tikling, kandungangu, bako).

Then, there were birds noted for their colorful and unusual plumage (kuliawan or oriole, luklak or yellow vented bulbul, kansusuit or lyre bird, pabo real or peacock, silingsilingan or pied fantail) and for the cacophony of sounds they create (pipit, siabukut or Philippine coucal, tarat, martinis).

Much of our natural environment have changed irrevocably—caused by years of thoughtless land developments and conversions, illegal logging and deforestation, and of course, global warming. The devastating effects of the Pinatubo eruption also had far-reaching effects on our bird habitats, such that these creatures are no longer familiar to today’s generations, for they are rarely heard or sighted.

Their important roles in our culture and folklore are remembered in myths of old, as in the case of that sacred blue kingfisher from the marshlands of Pampanga, whose appearance foreshadowed events of profound significance--either gainful or grim—to humankind. This revered bird was called “batala”, who gave his name to the mightiest of ancient gods—Bathala.

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