Masbate’s Where My Mom is From
Masbate is about an hour’s flight from Manila. Though also surrounded by beach, it’s not the tourist’s usual choice for island getaway. It’s really better known for its reputation as the Wild West of the Philippines.
As in horses and lassos. As in we actually flew back to Manila with an actual American cowboy weeks before Rodeo season.
Weird, right? I always used to think “Wild West” referred to Masbate’s strangeness. See, not a lot of people know about Masbate. But this is where my Mother is from, and I can tell you some weird things from experience
My first trip to the Masbateño town of Placer was memorable for bizarre stories of hiluan and the more commonly-known-among-Filipinos phenomenon of usog. Being from the city automatically makes you a skeptic when it comes to things like this, but your skepticism bears no weight in these parts. I was made to walk around with a clove of garlic in my pocket to ward off the evil eye that could come from a seemingly innocent greeting.
Oh, look! It’s got a wiki entry! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usog
I couldn’t go out without first being warned to never eat at a stranger’s house. Mom believed that hiluan, or the practice of feeding people poisoned food under the guise of hospitality, is rampant where she’s from. I couldn’t understand the logic behind poisoning people for no reason at all and had to ask if this sort of thing really did happen. Maybe it’s just an old story to scare visitors off, right? Nope! Apparently it’s been known to happen.
You will be invited to eat in many people’s houses over Fiesta. But if among friends, everything should be ok!
Apart from the weirdness, Masbate is memorable for stories of my Mom growing up. They were humble beginnings confirmed by the fact that I would be billeted in a family friend’s house on visits instead of at Mom’s, which really was just a hollow blocks affair with no toilets or air conditioning.
The market area in Placer
It wasn’t a sad childhood by any means. Mom would always talk about the old days with fondness. Even those times when she was forced to eat only lugaw (rice porridge) coming from a bad harvest. Anyway, it was mostly fun anecdotes that recounted how they used to bite off banana leaves to use as makeshift umbrellas, etc. My favorite involved an old fortune-teller who one day beckoned by mom forward to tell her the future.
Imagine this conversation in Bisaya (the local dialect): “You are going to be rich someday,” Old Lady says. To which my mom replies, “Someday? Why not now?” Which is so like my mom that I can almost imagine a younger version of her saying it out loud like that.
Cut to many years later and my Dad has finally seen fit to have Lolo’s (grandfather’s) self-built hollow blocks home reconstructed. If this house is a symbol of prosperity, then I guess that old woman had it right all along. I sometimes wonder what she would’ve said about me. But along with a lot of the old things that used to be common in Placer, they’ve all gone and have not been heard from in a long time.
I always look for the Masbate in Mom’s stories whenever I’m out there to visit. But it’s a lot different now. Reconciling this new Masbate with the one that exists in my head is going to have to be a continuous process.
Thank you, Dana, for the additional photos.