Highlanders Umbilical tie to Lowland ‘Banga’


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Often, many get the surprise of their lives when a person they admire or idolize is suddenly unmasked for having a surprising fault or failing. Such person admired can be likened to having “feet of clay.”

Not so to the   residents living somewhere in the lowlands.

National fame and a more solid economic future are in the cards for residents in a barangay in Ilocos Norte because of the “clay under their feet.”

The clay, or large deposits of it have been “stepped on” by residents of barangay Catuguing, San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, for centuries.

And these deposits have been described by experts as possessing the quality and quantity needed by the ceramics industry in northern Luzon to become totally self-sufficient in its raw material needs.

This uninspiring person accidentally stumbled upon the clay deposits in Catuguing last Monday when, while at home in Baguio City last Sunday, he thought of buying a clay jar which he intended to   use to store drinking water.

He remembered his grandparents always kept drinking water in clay jars or “banga,” and when drank, was really cool.

He too remembered stories of his grandparents having related about their ancestors who many centuries ago, travelled to the lowlands to barter for salt, sugar and pottery and these they traded with gold dust.

He wondered who inherited those aged clay jars and other jars used to store tapey when his grandparents departed this world.

But he recalled his grandparents often said those antique jars   or ‘gusi’ of theirs came from olden traders of China who landed on the seashores of the lowlands.

Highlanders remain owners of some of the last and vanishing heirlooms in the Cordillera.

These treasured heirlooms have been handed down for generations to their next of kin.

That Sunday, he made the rounds in Baguio City’s market searching for a clay jar of his liking. He failed to find one.

However, in his search, he met a friendly store minder, a woman in her thirties who told him if he wanted a quality water jar, he’ll surely can find it in a place called barangay Catuguing, in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte.

“How do you know? Ah asked her.

“I happen to come from there,” the smiling store minder replied. “I migrated to Baguio when I married a Cordilleran. By the way, my name is Reeda Atabug. At home, we also have a water jar which was made in Catuguing, my birthplace.  We call our jar banga.”

Getting friendly with each other, Reeda confided that sometimes, when her blood pressure riots due to her hubby going overboard by drinking with friends during his week-ends Saturday or Sunday rest days, she wishes to break their banga over her hubby’s head, but declines to.

For their banga was a gift from Catuguing folks in their wedding. And their children prefer drinking water from the banga.

“I guess I love my banga more for it doesn’t argue with me. Unlike my hubby’s banga (pointing to her head) which unnecessarily argues with me when he’s over the brink with his drinking.”

Reeda laughingly revealed whenever her hubby had a lousy hangover, he’d say, “Ay cutie pie ay Reeda, Umyali ka ud si nalami-is ay danum ay nakadulin sinan banga. Baken adi san danum ay nagapu esnan reprigeritor. (My cutie pie Reeda, can you be kind enough to give a glass of water from the water jar? Not water stored in the refrigerator.),” Reeda laughingly confided.

But turning serious, Reeda said, “Going back to what we were talking, I invite you to take a trip to San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, just 4-5 hours’ drive from Baguio to our place. By bus, it will cost you about 600 or less, pesos, via Bauang. In San Nicolas, you can take a tricycle going to barangay Catuguing.”

So that Monday, this uninspiring fellow travelled. Midway in the travel, the bus driver stopped near a restaurant for the travelers to take a noonday meal.

Finishing their meals, the uninspiring guy noticed some of the bus passengers huddled towards a small establishment near the restaurant, pointing to something near the small establishment and giggling and taking pictures with their cell phones.

The uninspiring person went near   his co- passengers to see what was it all about the giggling and smiling.

There in front of the wee establishment was a sign which read: “Haircut – 60 pesos only.” Below it was also the words, “Gupit – 40 pesos lamang.”

So at last this disheveled traveler found himself in Barangay 22, San Guillermo, also known before as Catuguing, because of its many tugui or kamoteng kahoy.

Residents of Barrio Catuguing, as called before, have been using their clay to make native pottery even before the Spanish colonization era.

As explained by local pottery experts there whom Ah consulted with, the Catuguing clay possess the qualities needed in turning out ceramic products of international standards.

Properly exploited, it would do away with the need to import raw materials for manufacture of ceramic products.

Other deposits can be found in the barrios of Palsuguan, Sa Mateo and Tineg, although the principal ones are in Catuguing.

By estimate of local authorities, the Catuguing clay deposits can supply annual production of 12 million bricks for 30-50 years, said estimate a result of a study conducted there.

Local authorities related to the uninspiring fellow that years back, national and international experts descended on the town to evaluate their clay.

These were the former National Science Development Board (NSDB) of the then National Institute of Science and technology (NIST), all now presently with Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the present Institute for Small-scale Industries of the University of the Philippines (ISSI-UP).

The three Philippine institutes were reinforced by two pottery experts, Sven Johansen from Sweden and Motto Ueno from Japan, then attached to NIST under the Colombo Plan to lend more expertise to the Philippine ceramics industry.

Under laboratory tests conducted by NIST, ISSI-UP, Johansen and Ueno, the Catuguing clay exhibited high plasticity which ranged from 32 to 36 per cent and a drying shrinkage of 213.13 per cent.

In layman’s understanding, those percentages are more than sufficient to offset cracking and warping, two most common problems in domestic ceramics production that bug other clay materials.

Subjected to further stress test, experimental products made of Catuguing clay satisfactorily met international standard specifications, the authorities there recalled.

Local officials in San Nicolas   told the uninspiring fellow that the traditional procedure of pottery making in their place is called “damili,” (art of making pottery products) and the person who makes the pots and other jars of various designs is called “agdadamili.”

To underscore the economic contributions of damili, authorities have established the Damili Festival held every December, from 26-30. Pottery products are transported from neighboring areas to be sold during the festival.

Popular products include “red terracotta” pot (the banga), water pot with pipe called “lusob,” cooking pot, bricks and tiles, all with artististic designs created with original concepts by the individual agdadamili.

Damili is the registered “One Town One Product (OTOP) of San Nicolas, accentuating the residents and the town’s rich pottery-making heritage.

Officials are continuously pursuing programs to make its local pottery industry more attractive to tourists and investors as well.

It has been observed that Cordillera highlanders with business acumen always converge on San Nicolas during the festivity and buying in bulk pottery products.

During his working visit, residents told the nondescript fellow that banga has many uses and is part of tradition and culture of the Ilocano.

For instance, the banga is used to cook pinakbet. The banga brings out something originally savory when pinakbet is cooked in it.

Also, during a funeral ceremony with a parade, the Ilocanos smash the banga to kill a chicken underneath before the casket leaves the entrance of the house.

In talks with agdadamili on how pottery starts, the told the uninspiring fellow that they first go to the clay pits and do clay digging, (panagkali), gathering of dug clay (panag-akop), sprinkling (panagwarakiwak), kneading (panaglali), Spatting (panagpitpit), molding or shaping (panagbirbir), polishing (panag-idiid), cooking and drying (panag-gebba) and, last, selling (panaglako).

As the unknown guy wrapped his talks with the agdadamili, one of the elders sensed he was not in any way connected to buying pottery for business. But he sensed he was a highlander by the way the unknown guy talked in Ilocano.

“Kabsat ko nga highlander, adda ti kayat ko ited kenyam, “the elder Ilocano said. He went inside their house, came out with a beautifully designed banga. The highlander saw the banga can easily ensnare hundreds of pesos in the market in Baguio.

But the elder said, “Parabor ko kenyam, kabsat ko nga Ah Kong, nga inmay nagpasyar ditoy sulsulinek ken nanumo a lugar mi, a kasla met laeng pinasyar idi dagiti nagapwam idi panahon payla awan ti Espanyol.” (My humble gift to a brother, who came to visit our humble place. Just like your ancestors who did, even before the Spaniards came). — Bony A. Bengwayan