The Hanguwon tree that witnessed many graduation-A A +A
Thursday, March 21, 2013
MY ELEMENTARY school alma-mater, Mompolia Elementary School in Hingyon, Ifugao, is literally a school in the forest with its ground surrounded by trees. I particularly remember the one which is among those with the hugest of trunks that stood exactly on the edge. The specie is locally known as Hanguwon, and in our elementary days, I could say it was the one closest to the children. Its branches were gigantic spreading to a span that can create vast shade for a crowd especially on a noon break. We used to make its trunk as the saving base in the game hide-and-seek. Many ate their lunch while enjoying the breeze on its branches, and at a joint where three branches met, one can actually take a nap without fear of falling down.
When we graduated in the nineties, the tree was an unspoken witness. From about fifty meters, it probably peered through the open windows of the makeshift auditorium transformed from temporarily removing the partitions of the three-classroom Marcos-type building with the elevated portion of the adjacent Gabaldon building as the stage. Probably, the rustling of the leaves were its gesture of happiness for the graduation of the children that it has once embraced over its shade and on its branches. And that happened for so many decades since the opening of the school around the sixties. The batches after us were luckier as an outdoor stage was constructed such that the tree was closer in witnessing and even helping shelter audiences to graduations.
Had cameras been a common thing during our time, a pose with the tree (while on the new white shirt purchased purposely for the graduation and blue slacks which would soon become the uniform in high school) would have been proper. But only one or two in the barrio possessed a camera then that picture was usually by special request or order. Thus the pictures were limited to those on the stage during the program and some group pictures with family members and those who want to join (as in small barrio, everyone knows or is friend to each one) somewhere near the stage or the flower garden just outside the school building. At a later point though in my life, I had a picture with that Hanguwon tree.
To me, that tree is a representation of the many things that makes barrio elementary schooling distinct and rural graduation exercises unique. These are the forests, mountains and hills, rice fields, rivers and creeks, trees towering over school buildings, grasses on the school ground, and many more of nature that takes a unique part on the life of a barrio pupil. In our elementary days, boys in Grade Five and Grade Six are assigned to bring to the school on most Mondays runo stems, bamboo, or shrubs for fencing. Thus boys (sometimes the parents though) makes use of the weekend to gather them. The girls, together with other pupils in lower grades are assigned to bring black soil for the flower and herbal gardens. At some point, pupils gather stones from creeks or from mountainsides/hillsides for stonewalling flower beds. Recess and noon breaks are sometimes spent in the nearby forests for fruits likes guava, wild berries, and other (like those that are locally known as bukkak, galiwgiwon, and bulon). The dikes of the rice fields show the way school and they attests to many pupils who slip with buttocks hitting hard the soil especially during the rainy season.
This March, the school will graduate around the same number of pupils as that of our time. The graduation will still surely be on that outdoor stage. But the Hanguwon will no longer be there. Others say it fell because of a recent strong typhoon although I wanted to believe that it was because it has reached its lifespan. There are of course many other trees around the school ground though I wish there was another Hanguwon. The misfortune is that a Hanguwon tree seedling is rare (i.e. no nursery had it in its stocks). Graduates in my barrio though are still fortunate for they have rice fields, green with the Tinawon at this time of the year, forests, mountains and hills which are still bursting with trees and shrubs, very picturesque especially with the new set of clothes (a piece of it can be used as uniform for high school) that is the graduation attire. I would guess that every rural area has its own version of things that make rural schooling and graduation distinct. I wonder though if each would last. Or would they have the same misfortune as the Hanguwon after witnessing many graduations?
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 21, 2013.