I stumbled upon an old book by Maximo D. Ramos, considered Dean of Philippine Lower Mythology, titled Remembrance of Lents Past and Other Essays in the Filipiniana section of the college library. Since he was fascinated with Philippine mythology and folklore, it is not a surprise to find several scattered essays about these topics in the book. But one section caught my attention. It was about folklore and social control and under it are topics on folk beliefs and social control; secrets of the barrio farmer, barrio stockman, barrio housewife, and barrio funeral; and Filipino customs and beliefs related to death.
I have read first the Secrets of the Barrio Farmer since such topic is close to the heart. My paternal grandfather was a cacao farmer and my husband’s paternal grandfather was a palay (pre-husked rice) farmer. We often share each other’s stories about the things we remembered about them as farmers. My own lolo, always smiling like he had nothing to worry about when it comes to feeding his four sons, had very thick calluses on his feet, walking barefoot from the house to the farm and back, which is a good walk away. My lolo-in-law, described as serious by my husband, would wake up early morning every day to drink sikwate (hot chocolate) before going to the farm.
Secrets of the Barrio Farmer is not really about secrets. It is about farm practices, especially those by the Ilokanos in Southern Zambales, now made known in print. Barrio refers to the barangay, the smallest political unit in the Philippines. Large tracts of land in the archipelago are dedicated to farming. Over time, our farmers have learned scientific farming. But I wonder if there are farmers, especially those too far from the government’s support, who are still practicing superstitious beliefs in growing their crops to gain good harvest.
Some of these beliefs depend on the weather or the sky:
“Farmers avoid planting tomatoes, eggplants, ampalaya (bitter melons), or pepper on days preceded by cloudy nights. The sky preceding night must have been starry and there should have been a big moon. This will insure the crop will bear much fruit (228).”
“The village farmer never plants sweet potatoes and taro on a windy day. He feels sure that should he do so, the plants will yield nothing but roots no larger than a child’s little finger (226).”
“To keep off bugs from his legumes, the farmer plants them on cloudy days (229).”
Other beliefs talk about controlling one’s attitude:
Sugarcane: “He plants the first bundle of cuttings as fast as he can without looking around. He believes that if he looks around, the suspicion of the rat–who are supposed to be constantly observing what the farmer does and must be deceived by what he does in his field–will be aroused (227).”
“Just as the farmer never laughs when in the vicinity of his coconut trees bearing flowers for the first time, he never laughs when planting corn or when he sees his corn in bloom (230).”
A few beliefs involve farmers wearing red pants when planting watermelon seeds so the when they grow, the insides will be as red as the pants of the farmer. Still, others involve the participation of children:
“At about this time, he encourages his children to play with tops but not to fly kites. He thinks that the humming of tops will make the rice bear full, heavy heads, but kite-flying will result in chaffy heads (229).”
“In planting a coconut, as soon as the farmer has dug the pit for the seedling, he gets a large ear of rice of the early bearing variety and calls his children. Then, squatting down, he puts the rice ear in the hole and at the same time instructs as many of his children as he can carry to crowd on his shoulders (225).”
All these are practiced to acquire a good harvest. Still, when farmers get crops of poor quality, they blame this state to the kiba-an or mischievous elves. Farmers feed them to appease them. They also cook rice cake as offering to the dwarfs, small old men living under the earth who they believe are the real owners of the land.
What do you think about these farm practices?