Remembering: Growing up in ‘Little Baguio’ in Mindanao

Remembering: Growing up in ‘Little Baguio’ in Mindanao
The author, then 10 years old, with Kuya Marino in Dinaig, Cotabato (now North Upi, Maguindanao —PHOTO FROM RODIL FAMILY ALBUM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The historian and peacemaker Rudy Buhay Rodil, now 80, has much to say about what he called, in the Conversation on the Integration of Mindanao History into the Philippine Educational System held at Ateneo de Davao University on Aug. 8, 2018, “my personal story in the advocacy of the history of Mindanao-Sulu.”

His parents, Tagalog from Cavite, moved to Dinaig, Cotabato (now North Upi, Maguindanao), where he was born on Oct. 7, 1942. He recalls his mother telling him that he was conceived after the indigenous Teduray, whose children became his playmates and whose “bayok” (songs) he learned to sing in verse. He says he has “kept alive in my heart my deep empathy for them and the other Lumad in Mindanao, [as well as] the Bangsamoro whom I grew up with.”    

CoverStory is running Mr. Rodil’s life story in five parts, in an effort to contribute to “a deeper understanding of Mindanao society, history and culture,” a lifelong advocacy that he has pursued with fervor and vigor.    

(First of five parts)

My hometown, Upi, Maguindanao, used to be known as “Little Baguio.” It was a barrio in a very large municipality called Dinaig. My school was known as Dinaig Central Elementary School, located at Nuro, the town center. Nuro is nestled on a plateau then surrounded by deep green forest. 

During the first 12 years of my life, the mountain breeze prevailed throughout the whole 24 hours: The temperature was exhilarating during the day and relatively cold in the evening. Needless to say, the air was pure. 

We studied industrial arts in school and our projects ranged from mat making to basket weaving. Local materials were never a problem and within easy reach in the forest nearby. Bamboo for the school buildings was in great abundance at the healthy, fresh-looking Meteber river, which flowed confidently along the town center’s border. There was another river some three kilometers away, Darugao, not as big but equally healthy. Cogon grass grew everywhere, serving as roofing material for practically all homes.

The tiny population of the town, including nearby sitios, was made up of a handful of Ilocano settlers in the south, and another handful of Ilonggo settlers in the west. The Teduray, the indigenous inhabitants of the place, were scattered in small clusters all around outside the town center, as far as the forest area. They provided the kulintang music that could be heard far and wide. Within the center lived another handful of Maguindanawon. 

In all, there were four Tagalog families—three from Cavite and one from Bulacan. All others were less than a handful. What was strange was that while people learned to speak as many as five languages as a result of this happy mix—no inter-ethnic fights—Tagalog evolved to become the lingua franca.

“Big” stores, mostly all-purpose, were owned by four Chinese families, if I remember it right, and about four or five Ilonggo families. There was no doctor, only a male nurse who served in his private capacity. The only professionals were teachers, at Upi Agricultural High School and at Dinaig Central Elementary School. Most of the teachers were Ilocano, some husband-and-wife teams. The medium of instruction was English.

Slow and serene

Life was slow, peaceful and serene. There was very little cash. People were content.

Upi in my boyhood days was virginal. Aside from the cool climate and lush flora, there was also a rich variety of animal life. 

Our house was located atop a hill west of Nuro, and to get there one had to cross the two rivers Meteber and Darugao. We usually slept early, maybe at 6 p.m.; I would not know for sure because the only person I knew who had a time piece was my music teacher, and I never learned to tell the time until I was in first year in high school in Cotabato City. 

The sounds of crickets and hornbills (kalaw in our language) and monkeys blended beautifully with the quiet nights. 

Sundays I joined my two elder brothers fishing in the river with the use of home-made spear guns and goggles. Starting from where Meteber intersected with Darugao east of Nuro, we spent the whole day traversing the length of Darugao up to the headwaters. We brought rice with us, and some salt, tomatoes and spring onions. We cooked the rice and the dish to go with it in fresh bamboo tubes. 

The dish depended on our catch: shrimp, mudfish, hito, or papait. The rest we brought home. 

I learned how to behave as part of the team; my job was to carry my brothers’ clothes and the stuff we needed. We were not really swimming in Darugao, although the water was fresh, clear and clean then, except during the rainy season when it turned earth-brown. 

Simple meals

growing up
The author joins discussions on the educational curriculum under the Bangsamoro autonomous government in this photo taken last Oct. 3 in Cagayan de Oro City. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Upi was a day’s travel by horse from the coasts, and smoked fish from the sea came only once a week, brought by Maguindanawon traders who always traveled on horseback. 

My mother usually bought a week’s supply from them. She boiled the fish, tulingan, which had been smoked, stored in a sack and transported on horseback from Pinansaran—tinapa, nakasilid sa sako, isinakay sa kabayo mula sa Pinansaran—with salt in a big pot, every day for about an hour to keep it from spoiling. And it got tastier every day, too, tender as sardines, or so we thought. 

At other times, my mother would buy dried fish during market day in Nuro, which was every Saturday, again enough to last the whole week. She did all sorts of things with the fish—serving it by itself or with vegetables, mostly without the benefit of lard, which came in blocks. Purico was the only brand. There was no vegetable oil at that time. 

Meals were always simple; they were also fun.

The staple food was rice and corn, supplemented with banana, camote, cassava, avocado, everything we grew in the farm. Vegetables were not limited to what we had planted. There was plenty from the forest and the rivers and creeks nearby. 

Survival was never a problem. That was how I learned the value of self-reliance.

We had no radio, no news from the outside, except those brought in by word of mouth.

Contact with Cotabato City 39 km away was via the one and only bus—later there would be three—that took an hour to get to the city in the morning and another hour to get back in the afternoon. 

It was in this city where my mother bought me my first ice drop when I was about five or six years old. I instinctively threw it away because it was “hot.” Of course, my mother said I was tanga (stupid). She had paid a hard-earned five centavos for it.

Life moved so slowly. It was simple and uncomplicated—until the days of commercial logging came in the early 1960s.

Related: Remembering: Growing up in ‘Little Baguio’ in Mindanao, Remembering: ‘Tao po’ and invitations to a ‘pintakasi’, Remembering: From Cavite to Upi to greener pastures, Remembering: logging concessions brought drastic change

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