Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bohol: Beyond the Chocolate Hills

Note: Today's issue of the Manila Bulletin, August 14, 2011) talks about the town of Dauis. It tells about Aling Irma Bunachita of Dauis who is the last of the jewelry artisan. Dauis is the only town in people whose people are jewelry makers.  Bring your old 1 Rizal peso and they would make it into rings, bracelets, etc.. About the "mysterious well" there is no reported person who's cured from illness because of drinking the water from the well inside the church. The well they said was already there before the church was constructed.

Bohol: Beyond the Chocolate Hills
August 14, 2011, 8:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Aling Irma Bunachita wasn’t trained in any jewelry school. She didn’t even take any course in designing. But she could create fine pieces of jewelry using the traditional “stamping” technique which she had learned from her mother and grandmother, which they, in turn, learned from their forebears.

She created her first rosary when she was 14 years old under the strict guidance of her lola. She experienced mishaps along the way, which earned for her a disapproving glare from her grandmother.

Experience is her best teacher. From then on, she makes it a point to learn everything there was to know. She handles everything from melted silver to beaten gold. She learns how to move the metal into the draw plate to have fine gold wires, sizes them up depending on how much gold or silver the design needs, and draws designs for the necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and traditional hairpieces.

She knows how to melt the gold and silver, create a design from scratch, polish them, and bathe the jewelry in gold and silver solutions to give them a sparkle.

Piece by piece, she would guide the looped and wired gold wires into the tambour, a frame used for needlework, before soldering them. This process means meticulously melting the components of the design using torch to assemble them together into a necklace or earrings.

All that glitters

In Dauis, one of the two municipalities comprising Panglao Island, and one of the oldest municipalities of Bohol, there is an industry probably as old as the town itself — fine jewelry making.

History has it that the island adjacent to Dauis, which was known as Bool (where the province got its name), had a quite a thriving pre-Hispanic kingdom. When a datu passed away, his body and his worldly possessions were carried across the island and buried in the present-day location of Dauis.

Later on, sometime in the 1600s, when the Spaniards came and established the town of Dauis, people started digging the area so they could build their houses and they would find gold everywhere.

Being the masinop that they are, the Bol-anons would keep the treasures to themselves. They would scarcely use the gold nuggets to buy the things they need, and instead, they would just hide them in their baul.

But when the Spanish regime ended, they realized that they couldn’t use the gold nuggets as monetary tools anymore because the American government had already issued new currency. And when one had amassed such a huge quantity of gold, what else was there to do but melt them and create fine pieces of jewelry; hence, the birth of the jewelry industry in Bohol.

According to Aling Irma, the pieces of jewelry were used not just solely for aesthetic purposes, but as a way to propagate Christianity during the Spanish era. The friars condemned the indigenous amulets and talismans and started replacing them with devotional jewelry such as the crucifix and the rosary.

While the Filipino Christians wore them as an act of faith, the plateros (jewelers) believed it was no less an act of faith to create them. Aside from having a ready market, it was their way of going around the royal decrees that prescribed for jewelry owners to declare their personal belongings, and jewelry with religious theme was a way of getting around the restrictions.

Jewelry designers during those times concentrated on making scapulars, relicario pendants which were designed to protect the Agnus Dei seals made from wax, and reliquaries which were labeled with the saints’ names and embroidered with gold threads, among others. Modern-day tambourin necklaces are an off-shoot of the early rosary designs which were created using the filigree technique.

But Aling Irma admits that jewelry making in Dauis nowadays is not as lucrative as before. As early as the '80s, there were less than 100 artisans left in Dauis (and even less today). Most of the jewelry makers left for Cebu and Mindanao, for greener pastures.

One of the few remaining jewelry-makers in Dauis, Aling Irma makes it her life’s mission to carry on the tradition that has been passed on in her family throughout generations. But she’s not one to keep it a secret because she plans to share the knowledge to anyone who wants to learn, if possible the whole community.

A miraculous well

A stones’ throw away from Aling Irma’s jewelry shop is the Dauis Church, also known as Our Lady of Assumption. The church was first built using light wood materials in 1697, but it burned down in 1795. The present church was
built in 1863.

According to Marianito “Nits” Luspo, a local historian, professor and director of the Office of the Cultural Affairs Development of the Holy Name University, when the local artisans were building the church, an unexplainable incident happened.

“During those days, when the people would build a church, they would construct the fa├žade first, followed by the back area, then the side walls, and finally, the central tower. So, when the people were building the central tower, it wouldn’t stand. No matter what they did, it wouldn’t stand. It would collapse, and they didn’t know why. So, they left it unfinished,” shares the local historian.

He continues: “During the Spanish era, Dauis was the center of commerce. Merchants went here to conduct business. There were rowdy crowds and brothels everywhere. When the Spaniards left, the locals continued building the church. And it didn’t collapse. They thought that the reason why they couldn’t build the tower before was because the Lady of Assumption was displeased with the unscrupulous activities around the church.”

The mysterious lady

Another widespread narrative in the province is about the Mysterious Lady. This is how the story goes:

In the early 1800s, a group of fishermen from Argao, Cebu was busy preparing to cross the sea to Bohol. A beautiful pregnant lady went up to them and begged for a ride to Dauis.

The fishermen refused her request because they believed that it would be very unlucky to have a pregnant woman aboard. But the lady insisted. The fishermen asked why she wanted to cross the sea despite her condition. She answered them that she wanted to be near her husband. Feeling a little sympathy for the lady, the fishermen relented and let her ride with them.

At the back of the Dauis church, along the sea bank, there are two palm trees. And it is believed that the space between the two palm trees was where the fishermen and the lady landed.

Upon arriving, the fishermen had forgotten about the lady and went about their business. After concluding their transactions, the fishermen decided to visit the church and give thanks for the bountiful harvest. As they entered the church and saw the altar, they were astounded because the religious image looked exactly as the lady who begged them for a ride. The lady was none other than the Lady of Assumption.

“The Dauis church is situated on the shores of Panglao Island, opposite Tagbilaran City. From the Dauis shore, one can see the St. Joseph Cathedral, whose patron is St. Joseph, the husband of Mary,” says Prof. Nits.

Tagbilaran might be a much newer town than Dauis, but the two towns share a common history. In the 1700s, Dauis was not the safest town in Bohol. Situated near the Mindanao Sea, the town would often be raided by pirates, especially during the monsoon months.

When the raiders would come, the people would shout “Tago bilaan” (where Tagbilaran got its name) and run to Tagbilaran island.  In 1774, the people built a watch tower so that people could be forewarned about the raiders. The remains of the watch tower can still be seen near the Dauis Church.

Over a cup of sikwate

It doesn’t sound appetizing, but sikwate is really sinful. When prepared in the right way, one can taste the rich flavor and aroma in just a sip. Or even the love that goes with it. Creating sikwate is a labor of love – from buying the cacao seeds down to the molding of the tableya.

As early as four in the morning, 70-year-old Inang Magi (Magina Enriquez) would wake up to prepare the cacao seeds she bought from Tagbilaran the day before. She had to travel all the way to Tagbilaran because there was no one selling cacao in Panglao. Most of the cacao seeds she bought came from Mindanao; only a few came from Bohol.

She would sort them out one by one, separating the big pods from the smaller ones. This was to ensure that the seeds would roast evenly.  Bigger pods take a long time to roast.

When all the seeds are perfectly roasted, her brown aging hands would slowly and carefully peel them one by one. Using a bilao, she would winnow the seeds to eliminate the unwanted particles.

After all the seeds were peeled, she would put them again on a sack and bring them back to Tagbilaran to grind them.

When night falls, she would start molding the paste using a small steel molder (like the one used for pulvoron making) that she herself has made.  “Mainit kasi sa hapon, mahirap i-hulma. Lumalambot ‘yung tsokolate. Hihintayin ko mag-gabi bago ko i-hulma,” shares Inang Magi.

It would take her four to five hours to mold all the paste, depending on how much paste she made from the cacao seeds. Depending on the quality of the seeds, she could make at least one thousand tableyas. And she has been doing this since 1986, for 25 years now.

“Nung nag-umpisa ako, mga tatlong kilo lang ginagawa ko. Ang pinakamadami kong nagawa, 45 kilos. Ngayon, R150 na ang isang kilo. Gumagawa ako ng sikwate isang beses sa isang linggo kasi mahirap gawin,” shares Inang Magi, who is living alone in her house and does everything by herself. She was married once, but her husband passed away and left her with no children.

Inang Magi sells her tableya from her house. If people want to buy some, they need to get the sikwate from her house. And Inang Magi only makes small batches once or twice a week, just enough for her to earn money to sustain her needs.

There’s a place that serves traditional sikwate and other Boholano dishes in Panglao – Amorita Resort. Perched on a cliff, overlooking Panglao Island and with a great view of the Bohol Sea and the craggy outlines of islands far off the horizon, Amorita is not your typical corporate resort hotel. It is a resort whose owners have a heart for Bohol.

“When people talk about Bohol, the things they usually mention are the Chocolate Hills and the tarsier. This is something that we want to change because, in reality, Bohol is an experience – distinct, incomparable, and special,” says Ria Cauton, Amorita Resort general manager.

Ria first encountered Bohol as a student. A traveler at heart, she went to Bohol and fell in love with the province. She would visit off beaten paths and  unusual destinations, eat in most kept-secret dining places, and chat with the locals.

While born and bred in Manila, Ria is nonetheless a Boholana at heart. When she and her husband Nikki had an opportunity to settle down in Bohol, they did so with a glad hearts.

The couple wants to share their love for Bohol with their guests through the Beyond Bohol Series. “It is not your usual itinerary. It introduces tourists to a Bohol with shamans to tell mystic tales, artisans who learned their crafts at the feet of their grandfathers, centuries-old houses that whisper secrets of the past, and specialty cooks that safeguard recipes refined through generations,” shares Ria.

Amorita Resort is located at #1 Easter A. Lim Drive, Brgy. Tawala, Alona Beach in Panglao Island, Bohol. For inquiries and reservations, visit www.amoritaresort.com.

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