Corpulent People - BWO

"Try to spot that beautiful perfect cone," pilots of the Spanish galleons used to caution novice steersmen.

"That is Mayon Volcano. A little to the left as we sail in from the open sea is the Embocadero ["mouth"] between Samar and Sorsogon. Direct the boat through, then turn right to sail north to Cavite and Manila."

That used to be the directive for first-time navigators from Mexico. Of course, it did not always help. Once in 1576, the pilot could not find the perfect cone, for storm clouds had covered it. And mistaking the northern tip of Catanduanes Island for Cabo del Espiritu Santo at the mouth of the Embocadero in northern Samar, the galleon San Jeronimo ran aground. The natives massacred and ate all the hapless passengers and crew, except one who had lived in the Visayas, and knew the local dialect.

In 1588, the natives of Catanduanes had not yet received the Gospel message. There were not enough missionaries, although the island had already been divided into four encomiendas.

An encomendero reported that the people were "corpulent"; today we would perhaps say strong and healthy. Tattooed like the Visayans, the men wore only a loin cloth, while the women dressed like the Visayans, were "virile." They tilled and planted their crops, fished with nets they had woven.

Unprotected from the frequent typhoons blowing in from the Pacific, the island was rich in wax and honey, and there was gold in the rivers. The biggest of these was Catandungan, whence came the island’s name. The first Spaniards there counted about 2,000 households along its banks, most of whom earned their keep by building ships.

These boats never ceased to amaze observers. Built like the cargo ships of Belgium, they were ordinarily big, had no decks, no nails (the people had no iron), not even futtocks, or curving cross-beams that served as ribs on which the side planks were firmly tied. Inside this big vessel were smaller boats, which in turn contained even smaller boats, and so on. From the outside it looked like an ordinarily big boat, but once it reached ports, like Marinduque, Cebu, or Batangas, the smaller boats were lifted out and sold one by one. A missionary once reported that the big boat, with its smaller craft coming out, resembled a mother hen hatching her chicks.

Have the people of Catanduanes today preserved their traditional culture, and are still "corpulent"? There must have been enough food, otherwise, they would not be as healthy as when first discovered. And where is the gold that people placer-mined from the rivers? Does the island still boast thick forests for boat-building?

Except for the cannibalism that victimized the Spaniards shipwrecked in 1576, early Spanish documents seldom mention tribal fighting in the island. But outsiders, like Moros from the south attacked. But one hardly comes across stories of a datu fighting another datu. Peaceful coexistences characterized the islanders of Catanduanes.

One prays they remain that way.

Opinion
Posted on 09:02 PM, July 11, 2010
Roots -- By José S. Arcilla S.J.
Source: Business World Online