A balsa culture in Tan-awan

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Monday, July 14, 2014


FOR centuries now, the villagers of Tan-awan in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, and Ayungon town in Negros Oriental have been exchanging agricultural products every Friday of the week.

How do they do this? They use balsa (bamboo pole raft) in cruising the river of Ilog Hilabangan River—the longest river in the whole Negros Island.

In 2009, Romeo Puyugao, a teacher-friend from Kabankalan, informed me of the rich cultural traditions of Tan-awan with the villagers of Ayungon. In 2011, with the support of Board Member Raul Rivera, an encounter with this experience started. The study was initiated by West Negros University’s Kalingaw: Ang Teatro Hiligaynon, of which I am the artistic director.

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The village of Tan-awan is located along the Hilabangan river. This river contributes to the agricultural richness of the village.

Using a balsa, the villagers from Ayungon traverse the exciting and dangerous rapids of the river from the mountain down to Tan-awan village every Friday of the week to trade their produce with the buyers from the lowlands (Tan-awan and neighboring minuro).

The balsas are loaded with agricultural crops (gabi, bananas, kamote, rice, corn, etc.) poultry, livestock (pigs, goats, etc.) mountain crops (batwan, uway, firewood, etc.) and lots of vegetables and fruits in season.

At Tan-awan riverbank, market traders and buyers and farmers converge to trade products with the Ayungon villagers. The lowland traders join them, with their urban goods. Some, they barter.

This economic activity makes the market day alive and exciting. The cacophony of haggling thrills them.

Also, some farmers from nearby minuro (small villages) bring their products by horses and carabaos and join the trading.

Before noontime the balsa traders go back to the mountain on foot, carrying the products they bought or bartered.

The balsa activity has been going on for centuries now and the mountain people not only brought their goods but their culture and traditions as well.

Conversely, upon going home, they also carried with them the culture of the lowland.

This dynamic cultural cycle is ongoing until now.

Tan-awan’s bukidnon people keep their traditions in spite of lowlander’s (urban Kabankalanons) influence of modernism.

At Tan-awan, I documented several cultural and traditional treasures— folk songs, folktales, folkways, legends—which are still intact.

Legend has it that on a clear day at Katagbak Lake you can see (tan-aw) the house of Katagbak (legendary warrior and hunter) underwater. This happened after Katagbak’s minuro was consumed by a big bula (bubble). This is where the legendary name of Tan-awan came from. At present this lake in Tan-wan was converted into a ricefield after the local farmers siphoned the lake of its water and filled it with soil.

Historically, Tan-awan is an observation place or a viewpoint of the locals especially during the Spanish time and Japanese occupation. From this viewpoint in Tan-awan, you can see the activities in the lowlands. During World War II, this place became the refuge of Kabankalanons and its neighboring minuro.

Bukidnons of this quaint place used to practice impil or montes (copying the family names of well-known personalities).

From the activities of selling bananas (which Tan-awan is famous for) a folk dance emerged – Pas-an Saging.

Bisol (gabi) is one famous rootcrop from Tan-awan. The locals invented so many recipes from this delicious rootcrop.

To highlight the contribution of balsa, Balsahanay Festival was created by barangay captain Benjie Miranda, Teresita Cadagat, Romeo Puyogao, and John Rey Torres. The Balsahanay Festival is held every month of April. Ritualistic, colorful fluvial (balsa) parade in Hilabangan river is exciting.

One of the interesting folksongs of Tan-awan which Udyakan Dance Theater Company brought to Australia is Periko with these lyrics: May langgam man kong Periko/ ginpabatok ko sa man-og/
bagting mo alas singko/ naglupad ang iya balahibo/may sulat gikan sa langit/ nigpilit sa akong panit/ akon ginbasa-basa/
may sulat sa akong higala/.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 14, 2014.

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