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Provincial Envy

Titilaok Aug 30,2010 0 Comments

By Joey Server

I feel deprived. It seems like wherever I go, whenever I meet a fellow Filipino; the same question is asked of me, “What province are you from?”

Ashamedly my reply is simple. I have none. I’m from Manila. I have no fiestas. I have no folklore. I have no ancient ancestral abode with the countless tales that accompany it. To tell you the truth, the concept of a province was nebulous to me. I grew up in the “big city”; if Metro Manila can be called a big city. Actually, back then it was called the Greater Manila Area. But it was all I knew. My world consisted of buildings and villages, paved roads and modern conveniences. Beyond the city were towns we visited or vacationed in but were not really part of. Make no mistake; growing up in the city was far from boring. I have enough childhood stories to fill a few books. But it just wasn’t quite the same.

It seemed to me, the stories I heard about the provinces were always better. I felt left out whenever my classmates would regale us with stories of their hometowns. Or brag about how their province was famous for this or that.

To me, provinces meant you had characters like no one else. Every province had the village grump. A Mang Isko, who despite his rickety bones would chase the kids away from his favorite resting place under the ancient banaba tree just for the hell of it. Or the village doctor who knew everyone by name simply because he delivered every baby. A man so learned he knew what was ailing you with just one look. And the provinces had the toothless hags who would brew up all sorts of potions to cure anything from a stomachache to a broken heart if you were to believe them.

Provinces had fish filled streams, which kids would jump into from bamboo bridges. I had never done this and to me it seemed infinitely more fun than jumping into a boring swimming pool. They had forests filled with wild boar and other beasts that would set my imagination afire with thoughts of Tarzan. They had skies through which eagles soared while mine were crowded by wires. They had fields jumping with crickets and grasshoppers, which they would catch to play games they could only tell me about.

And food, glorious food. They had sweets whose names were beyond me, carefully hand made by the legendary women folk. At least that’s how I thought of them every time I popped one into my mouth to enjoy that glorious burst of flavour. It seemed like the provinces imbibed the food with a special flavour not found anywhere else. For example, Pancit Malabon when hand carried all the way from Malabon itself tasted like no other. Maybe it was because the spices and ingredients were picked fresh from the backyards of the people who created these wonderful dishes. They came from the province after all.

Provinces for me were bastions of beauty. They were home to glorious sunrises and sunsets that artists were hard pressed to capture on canvass. They were lands where stories came to life. The province was a magical land where mystical and mythical creatures still existed. I was forever being told stories of the gigantic ape-like Kapre smoking his cigar or the half horse Tikbalang who would harass the general populace when the mood warranted it. Or fairies and fairy folk who lived in trees, mounds and even in your houses that would shower people with good luck or ill fortune depending on the respect you showed them and their ways. It was important as you passed their mound to say out loud, “Tabi, tabi po,” so you would warn the invisible folk and not inadvertently step on them. Or to ask for permission when passing through a grove of trees by saying. “Nakikiraan lang po.” While others might find this strange, what this showed me was a people who had a respect for their natural surroundings and all that lived there whether natural or supernatural. Something that us city folk so rarely have.

So what does belonging to a province really mean? It means that they had a sense of belonging, of somehow being part of something larger, more important. A community to which membership was exclusive. What that did was make them more Filipino than I could ever hope to be. It is a place where stories that I could only read about they actually lived out.  And that is why I will forever be envious of those people who belong to a province that they can call their own.

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