WE TRAVELED to the town of Burgos, La Union at dawn the other day seeking to unravel some straight facts about the soft broom industry. We understand the soft brooms which bear the label “Baguio City” being sold in Baguio are products of barangays in Burgos like Delles but more than informing the public of this information, we wanted to understand a little bit about those who make these brooms.
We were at the public market at the break of dawn. Maam Dhoury Padillo, a group mate and a local of Barangay Delles, explicitly advised us to be early at the place to witness the delivery and trade of the soft brooms that will be brought to Baguio City. The market was not expansive but it can be considered spacious considering the lack of goods being sold. Between six and seven in the morning, jeeps were arriving with bundles of soft brooms at the top. We interviewed some of the owners of the bundles and were informed that it was the season of harvest hence the manufacturing. Most of those who sell went directly to the market to purchase basic commodities. A father in his late ‘20s brought his wife and their little son and had a breakfast after selling two bundles.
Maam Dhoury arranged a meeting for us and Burgos mayor Robert Madarang to inform him of the purpose of our visit as well as to conduct interview. Just a couple of years ago, Burgos officials declared their town as the “colored-soft broom” capital of the Philippines. I was not expecting how accommodating and humble the mayor is. He provided us with a sumptuous breakfast. I could write another article just to describe the warmth and down to earth attitude of the local chieftain.
His act of filling our cups with hot water for coffee speaks of all I wanted to tell. We were thankful as we bid good bye but he said he should be more thankful for what we are doing to his town. He said 70 to 80 percent of the residents rely on the soft-broom trade. That makes it the primary source of their livelihood.
The “Boyboy Festival” was introduced to further promote and sustain the soft broom industry. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled this year because of the threat of the (Covid-19). With regards to that “Baguio City” label, he said they have to accept it for the sake of business and trade. Without that “Baguio City” label on the handle, it would be difficult to sell those brooms.
I asked the good mayor how he views the future of the soft broom business in the town. He said it will surely stay because it’s their primary source of income but the challenges remain for the workers because of the physical labor required. Makers in the town are still manually manufacturing these brooms. It is all manual. There were no formal or informal trainings conducted among the town’s people because parents teach their children how to make them in their early age.
According to Mayor Madarang, there was a proposition before to produce plywood out of the pollens but it failed to materialize because of the limited production of tiger grass (boyboy). The “Boyboy Festival” is one great way to promote the industry but the people and the local government need to do something to improve its production and quality. An innovation done was adding a texture of color in the brooms that’s why we have soft brooms with several of colors now to attract buyers.
We hired a tricycle to get us to Brgy. Delles for us to see the actual production-from harvesting, drying, until the crafting of the soft broom. A standard tricycle can only carry two passengers because of the road condition. The road is cemented but because there are steep parts, two should be enough. Fortunately, one brought his motorcycle where I hitched. With it I surveyed the area better. It took us 40 minutes to get there. The tricycle made grinding sounds as it climbed the rolling hills. The wind was slapping our faces. Harvested tiger grass was sprawling along the houses that we passed. In one bridge, a line of red-colored tiger grasses was slumping along the side of the bridge. Every family seemed to engage in the “boy boy” business.
Arriving in Barangay Delles, we witnessed two women in their ‘50s harvesting the tiger grass. To get some experience, we had to go down to the sloping hill and feel the sense of being a “boy boy” farmer. The blade of the grass made a cut on the one finger of my companion. Then we helped them carry rolls of cut “boy boy” towards the road. When asked where their husbands or sons are? They said they went gardening. I realized this job is no man’s job. It is for all who have the strength and the will to do it.
Afterwards we visited a small community near the public school. In one house, a mother in her early ‘50s demonstrated the making of soft broom. She was done in half an hour. We could only look at each other in awe. She said she was doing it for the past 30 years. It was the only job she knew aside from rice-farming. In another house, we found a young wife hailed from Cebu who was busy sewing the shreds of the grass. It was not theirs. She was doing it to get paid. Everybody in the community has their own “kaingin” to plant the tiger grass. But if they run out of their own grass to make, they can accept work from other families to get paid.
Life in the community is made simple by the ‘boyboy’ industry. The young mother said she listens to the radio for leisure. Children were running on the sloping hills not afraid of falling because according to the mother, they were used to it. There is no such thing as time for oneself. The grandmother shrugged off the idea of manicure and pedicure. Also, for the past thirty to forty years, no significant means of making the soft broom changed. Still they rely on their strength, agility, and determination in making them. The old mother smirked on the idea of a machine doing the works. She said, it can only be done by hands. If we only have engineers and scientist to help, I think life in Brgy. Delles and other barangays engaged in the business, will get another meaning.