Sunday, February 19, 2017
10:12 AM |
A Memory of Bayawan as Hometown
I have three hometowns. The city I was born in: Dumaguete. The city my late father came from: Butuan, in Agusan del Norte. And the city my mother came from: Bayawan, at the southern tip of Negros Oriental. I live and work in the first; the second is the source of all my longing for paternal roots, but also the one place I have never really been to; and the third is the mythic source of all my heartbeats, and a significant number of my fiction. And because February 18 was Bayawan’s fiesta (one of three it celebrates annually), I shall write about it. I should: because I rarely go back anymore to visit, but every time I do, I fall in love with it all over again.
The last time I visited was quite recently — only last December 2016, and friends of the family had willingly toured me around even as far away as the mountains of Omod, where we visited the very site on which the legend of Bayawan’s naming came from.
Its old name is Tolong Nuevo, then a part of Tolong Viejo, which is present-day Sta. Catalina town. “Tolong Nuevo” had existed as a place-name as early as 1868. But in 1953, the name was changed to Bayawan, and the name “Tolong” had since lapsed into obscurity, forgotten by succeeding generations.
To “bayaw” means to raise, and in the legend’s case, to raise the chalice for a mass, the very act by which a Spanish priest was doing when he was speared to death by a native Maghat. Today, the site of that old chapel which gave witness to this historical murder is graced by a gigantic statue of the Christ, which overlooks most of Bayawan’s mountains, as well as the plains of rice and sugarcane fields below. It is a rarely visited site, too far away from civilization, overgrown by weeds, and not many Bayawanons actually know of the place, to my surprise.
Somewhere around that area, my own family had once made an old fortune — now gone — from sugar. Our hacienda then was named Hacienda Roca, after “Rosales Casocot,” one of the biggest plantations then at the height of the sugar boom of the late 1950s into the early 1970s. We lost everything in the terrible bust that followed. I have scant memories of this time in my family’s lives.
All I know is, like many Bayawanons who were born in the 1970s, I was born in a Dumaguete hospital — but grew up, and knew childhood, in Bayawan. It is my mythical place of roots, like no other, not even Dumaguete in which I’ve lived most of my adult life.
In Bayawan lay the secrets of my blood, my history. Also here is the setting of my mother’s bedside stories, of those moments when I was a young child and she’d tuck me to bed and gamely recall a life when she was a young woman and World War II was brewing, or much later when she had returned to Bayawan as a married woman in the heyday of the sugar boom and became, for a while, one of its fairer society hostesses. Those were the heady days, when sugar cane oiled the pockets of young hacienderos on the make, and everybody was rich. (And then there was the hard, hard fall…)
Bayawan means memory—and this word alone means so much in the ways it must mean: as a threshold of recollections both happy and tragic.
Bayawan is the stuff of stories. And no wonder that after many years of listening to my mother regale me with her growing-up stories in this place, I would become a writer, most often chronicling what I can from a childhood of ghosts. One such story would later win me a Palanca Award.
When I, too, would move away from Bayawan due to the circumstances of family and adulthood, it was always this place that I kept turning back to as my essence of a "hometown," as a past, as a cache of memories that sustained me as a writer.
It is fixed in my mind like my true north. I remember my family once lived in a fortunate corner just along a narrow stretch of road in Poblacion. I say “fortunate,” because this corner was the focal point to everything else, especially when one was a young boy just ascertaining the world outside, his immediate environs his kingdom of discovery.
My Tita Fannie just lived a stone’s throw away from us. And just next door, in a block that contained so many relatives I cannot remember them all, my three lolas — Rose, Lily, and Adeling — manned their stores, and would give me treats when I passed by. To this day, I cannot forget my Lola Adeling’s lechon de carajay, which remains, for me, the best of its kind anywhere.
Across the street, to the right, there was Oriente Cinema—my bodega of dreams, the place I first saw a movie in. It remains in my imagination as the true birthing place for my current scholarship on film. To the left across the road was Chua’s general merchandise store, its mud yellow paint still sticking to my memories; and further down the road is the old Diao house, where I played away so many afternoons. Everything was big and large in my memory.
Today, however, whenever I go back to Bayawan, everything looks smaller when once they had all loomed large in my seeing as a child. And things have also changed — for the better, I guess, but all these I cannot help but feel as a slight betrayal to a boyhood memory.
The first time I saw the corner of what used to be my family’s house, when I was already in high school and had come back to visit, I saw that it housed a ramshackle selling second-hand clothes from abroad. The ukay-ukay felt sad then, but also somehow liberating. Today, there’s a building there, a squat and common thing of no architectural value, finally obliterating what is left of my memory. But even then this tiny spot continues to haunt me to this day, and provides me the inspiration with which I have built a literature upon: of this spot I remember my mother’s lively beehive of a beauty parlor, my father's yellow sakbayan, my older brothers' merry shenanigans.
Here, there used to be thickets of bamboo guarding its roadside wall, and it was in their very shadows that I’d hide in, most of the time, from little friends hunting me down in our games of hide-and-seek. Occasionally, from within these bamboo thickets, I’d spy the town’s resident madpeople, Pidong Buang and Wana Buang (for a long time, I thought they were married because they shared the same family name—Buang), who both embodied the perfect caricature of a town’s conscience. Years later, when I was in high school (or college?) somebody reported to my mother the news of Pidong Buang’s death—and it was surprising to feel inside me a surge of memory folding in onto itself, like a chapter in my life of remembrances suddenly coming to a close. How strange that even mad people from our childhood can have such a hold on our imaginations! Our lives!
Bayawan, in reminiscence and in reality, begs me to ask: What is indeed the integrity of memory? Do we really remember what we remember? But always, even with such unsettling questions, my hometown still manages to nurture me.
Whenever I am in Bayawan, I somehow cease to become the citified adult that I am; there, I become the child I once was, and everything else turns sepia… to memory, to play, to running across the brown fields while childhood friends chase me, to scraping knees trying to battle a bicycle, to hearing the sound of bamboo cannons on New Year’s Eve, to chewing on sugar canes fallen down cargo trucks, to tasting baye-baye from Manang Julia’s kitchen. And then—better late than never—I, too, somehow become part of my mother’s stories. Bayawan has become what is in the heart.
Labels: life, memories, places
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
GO TO OLDER POSTS
GO TO NEWER POSTS