What makes Butuan interesting?

by Mamet Magno

From a non-Butuanon’s perspective, the answer to this question does not seem to be obvious at first. Butuan is not as touristy as the more popular travel destinations in the Philippines like Cebu, Vigan, Bohol, Palawan and Davao City. But why do Butuanons keep on coming back to this place even after residing for a long time in more developed countries?

If you ask me, I’d say it is the people and the memories that they share. Nothing beats hanging out with friends and cousins around a table laden with buntaa, sugpo, lechon, tinolang pigok, pao dipped in latik, palagsing, kayam, boiled bananas with ginamos flavored with kabayawa, and kinilaw (just to name a few of the favorite dishes of Butuanons).

If the fave hang-outs in Butuan may not be as sophisticated and trendy as the ones you see in metropolitan cities, Butuanons make the most of their experience in these places by focusing more on what matters most – touching base with their roots and their fond memories growing up in Butuan. Friends who are from other places can never understand our penchant for repeating the same stories from our elementary and high school days over and over again and still laugh at them like crazy.

Back in the ‘80s, when there was no Boy’s Bar yet, young adults would bring bottles of beer and pork bar-b-que to the “Kapitolyo”.  Some will find a dead end street at Estacio and have their beer fix there while listening to music blaring out from their car stereos. Those who loved dancing went to Tico-Tico. Sports-minded people played badminton at the court near Boy Calo’s house, tennis at Luz Village and bowling at Timberlane.

The younger set of Butuanons has more choices now in terms of entertainment. But no matter where they went, it was always the company and the stories that they shared that made these experiences memorable. The friends that Butuanons keep can go as far back as their pre-school years (that’s how long friendships are kept here!). Butuanons can keep count of cousins that they are still able to touch base with up to the 5th and 6th degrees.

Butuan is also the gateway to natural attractions in Northeastern Mindanao – especially the world-class surfing areas in Siargao, the pristine waters of Sohoton Cave (also in Siargao), and Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig.

The other interesting thing that makes Butuan unique is its history. Local historians claim that the first mass was held at Masao (not Limasawa as written in our history books). The balangay, a wooden boat used by Butuanons for  trading, was unearthed in Ambangan, Libertad in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, the first balangay that was unearthed was radiocarbon tested and was dated to year 320. The balangay boats are now displayed at the site where they were discovered. Some pieces can also be found at the Butuan Museum. The museum also showcases other artifacts dug out from the site where the boats were unearthed. The more interesting antique pieces though were sold to antique collectors. Fortunately, some of these antique collectors are Butuanon. If properly coordinated, these Butuanon collectors may allow you to view their personal collections.

To appreciate Butuan, get to know the people first and let these people guide you in making your Butuan experience truly memorable.

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Mud Pies and Childhood Friends

by Myle Tiu Macalam

We met when we were babies. I am a year older and was one of the first visitors at the nursery when she was born. We both lived in our family compound on Silongan Street – in between Maternity Hospital where her Nanay and my Mommy used to work and the Magsaysay Bridge.

Our friendship was forged in the joys found in making mud pies and the sound of raindrops on our roofs. We were each other’s best playmates and spent most afternoons playing with our toys within the safe walls of my lolo’s compound. On sunny days, we found our childish thrills in chasing dragonflies and grasshoppers and plucking gumamelas from mom’s garden out back – and when it rained, we played balay-balay with our plastic kitchen sets in our living room.

mud-cupcakes-sepiaOne day, Dad found the two of us squatting before the drainage canal where the rainwater passed, deeply engrossed in the fine art of making mud pies. Dad approached us from behind, intent on scolding us for playing with mud – but when he loudly called our names – Myle!! Jojo!! he found his displeasure melting in the wide-eyed innocence of our shocked gaze which was immediately followed by sheepish, guilty looks and a long drawn out — yes, daaaaad/Uncle Saaaaam??? Instead of getting scolded, what we got was a soft smile on Dad’s face and an admonition to go to the kitchen to wash our hands with soap and water and rub alcohol all over.

As children, we laughed, we played and we chattered on and on about nothing and everything. And we became fast friends. We went to the same kindergarten school run by the nuns and learned our ABC’s from the same teachers. But she and her family moved away soon after, when their new house was built. And for a while we did not see much of each other.

However, upon entering grade school, we found ourselves in a new playground right next to the church and the kumbento – Urios College. Although I was a year ahead in class, we shared many common interests that brought us together.

We were both star scouts, then girl scouts and proudly wore the green uniform on scouting days. We were active in the student government – and learned to launch campaigns (and duck from our political opponents’ darts) as early as grade school. Both of us got good grades, played softball, wrote for the school paper and joined the Glee Club (as background noise more than anything) and the Theatre Guild (she facing the audience as an actress while shy me stayed behind the curtain and worked on production management).

We did not look alike at all – she with her cafe au lait brown skin and round, sparkling eyes, me with my fair skin and chinky eyes – so nobody would mistake us for sisters. But we shared a lot in common, certainly more than many siblings would, and a bond that would last until adulthood.

Being a year older, I was the Ate between the two of us. And when I went off to UP for college and she followed a year after, this became even more pronounced. Away from our families for the first time – I felt all the more the big sister – responsible for making sure she was safe inside and out of the campus. After all, I was party to the pleading and the campaigning that went on that summer of ‘85 – just to get Nanay’s and Tatay’s permission for her to join me in UP.

Like a big sis, I’d always looked out for her. I remember panicking at the onset of the EDSA Revolution and running all the way to Kalayaan Residence Hall to check on her to make sure that she was okay. Of course she was nowhere to be found in the dorm, as by then she and her friends had already gone to the nearby Church to work as volunteers and make sandwiches for the yellow army of tita Cory. That’s when I realized she was ready to spread her wings and soar.

In UP, we both flourished, though we started off a bit shakily in the beginning, being promdis and terribly homesick at first. But once we got our bearings, we were off to conquer the world – or at least that’s how we felt at the time 🙂 We were both Kalayaan kids and later Ilang-Ilang ladies (the resident “convent” in campus). It was at this time that I asked her to drop the Ate and start calling me by my first name. And the reason for this was that Jojo was so popular with her batchmates that upon knowing that I was her Ate, everybody else whose student number started with 85 began calling me Ate too. And I just was not ready to have 100++ new younger siblings all at once!

The college years flew by and soon it was time for me to find work and she to enter law school. Through the years at UP and the years that followed, we were at some point classmates, dormmates, neighbors and flatmates – still for the most part sharing the same air space though by now we had developed our own bigger circle of friends and went off in various outings with them. But even as work and life got busier and more complicated – we kept in touch by snail mail and phone and met up once in a while when we found ourselves in the same city at the same time.

Our lives are so different now. She is back in Butuan with Bebot and their four kids, enjoying the comfortable pace of our home city yet leading a life so full that it continues to amaze me – practicing and teaching law, and being an advocate for women, children and the environment, while I live in the big city, travel a bit and enjoy a corporate career that is both challenging and fulfilling but frustrating at times.

Through all these, our friendship has remained strong and fresh. And whenever we find ourselves in the same space, we tend to forget about time as we still talk on and on about nothing and everything. When she used to visit me in my lily pad, Jojo would indulge my nocturnal body clock and stay up with me so we can chat deep into the night while I would wake up early enough in the morning so I could send her off when it would be time for her flight home. When I go home to Butuan, she offers me the comforts of her home and the wonderful company of her kids. She has been my lifeline to Butuan news and I, hers to the world outside.

As we celebrated our silver high school jubilee one after the other, the madly exciting and joyful celebrations that we had in Urios made me cherish all the more the value of friendship and kinship. And as I basked in the company of my batchmates during homecoming night, I knew that our celebration was made seamless because our hosts were old friends of ours. And the following year, as I saw Jojo celebrate her silver jubilee with her own batchmates, I could only smile and join in the celebration of friendship that was unfolding before me. And this time, I did not mind being an Ate.

More than four decades after and still counting, Jojo and I continue to be the best of friends. For even as our lives have traveled along different paths – they have a way of meeting and crossing at various times. And even as innovation drives technology and change in our lives and moves the years forward in ever faster ways, I can still lean back and relish one thing that has not changed at all. And that is the deep friendship, forged out of mud pies and carefree days, that I share with my dear friend, Jojo – accountant, lawyer, teacher, environmentalist, children’s and women’s advocate, girl scout, wife, mother-of-four – and Wonder Woman all rolled into one petite frame.

This piece was written on 12 June 2010, a month after Jojo’s birthday. 

♣  ♣ 


Where the River Flows

by Ramil Cabela

Prologue: I learned to swim in Baan River, a small branch of the larger Agusan. I remember having such a blast, jumping from coconut trees with my friends and siblings into the murky waters. This was during the martial law years of the Marcos regime in the 70s and 80s. When I returned to my hometown in 2010, I was sad to learn that the river had dried up, the riverbanks eroded. Only grass grew where water used to flow.

Back when I was small
There flowed a river
Between my small town
My town called Ba-an
And the town next to the sun.
The river that flowed
Small Daughter River
Came from big river
Mother river she
That flowed into mighty sea.
Sometimes she was green
When kissed by the sun
Sometimes she was brown
When the rain came down
Daily flowed she with no frown.
Li’l rive was happy
From water lily
To water lily
That floated on her
Daily flowed they with fervor.
North from where winds blew
‘Neath the sky so blue
Li’l river gave life
To town torn by strife
By dictator and his wife.
River pulsed with town
As women came down
Dirty clothes they washed
As town’s children swam
Into river unabashed.
There we swam daily
There we swam freely
The afternoon sun
Toasted our brown skin
Please tell no one where we’ve been.
From coconut tree
To coconut tree
There we jumped with glee
Into the river
Of our dreams where we were free.
Li’l freedoms enjoyed
River filled the void
In hearts of people
Their daily struggle
Washed in stream strong yet gentle.
Behind li’l freedom
There was a dark cloud
Dictator’s kingdom
Dispatched robbery
Pillaging his own country.
He who hid the truth
Robbed us of our youth
Wealth of the nation
Plundered, no vision
For future generation.
One day, people rose
To the streets they came
To express their woes
Tired of this game
From dictator and his dame.
People power grew
Reaching soaring height
Nothing he can do
Even with his might
Dictator fled into night.
Yes, he’s gone, he’s gone.
We can dream again
A nation with one
Hope for tomorrow
Beautiful as river flow.
Many years have passed
Many moonshines cast
Now I come looking
For little river
Freedom, hope in its yearning.
Rive, where are you now?
Could find you no more
Where I found you before
Still I yearn to be
Swimming, dreaming, proud and free.
How come I just find
Li’l river in mind?
Empty river where
Phantom shadows share
My friends swim no longer there.
Where do I go now?
To flow in your stream
To dream the same dream
And if you asked me
My true answer would still be.
Yes, I’d like to go
Where the river flows.
Yes, I’d like to go
Where the river flows.
Where the river flows.

♠  ♠ 

Of Old Butuan Photographers, Photographs and Memories

by Cel Rosales-Amores

I regret not even remembering their names or getting to know them more as I would a teacher, friend, neighbor or family but these self-effacing storycatchers played an important role in our lives. My parents would talk to them like old friends, as they discussed why a photograph or two had to be taken.

For family pictures, we would be introduced one by one to the photographer,  our ‘ranking’ in the family thoughtfully explained. The photographer then would do the blocking as to who goes to the left, right, center, stay at the back or take to the floor in a pose. Like a maestro or director, we followed his lead as he bade us to smile and look at the camera.

Through pictures, photographers helped us tell stories in our community. They would be among the few who got invited to occasions that mattered and had the rare chance to be near ‘places of honor’ in public events.

At a time when selfies and groupies were not among the sub-cultures of the young, photographers or ‘kodakers’ as an aunt jokingly referred to them, were part of our personal milestones, be they weddings, funerals, anniversaries, graduations, reunions, and other gatherings.

Old photographs make us recall and perhaps understand not only people and happenings of the past, but also help us reach out to an individually unique memory or feeling captured at that precise moment when the camera froze an experience, emotion or discovery in picture form.

One of my favorite photographs done in old Kodak fashion was of my paternal grandmother, Asuncion “Ating” Calo Sanchez vda. De Rosales. She married a Montilla before my grandfather, Pio Bokingo Rosales with whom she had four children, namely Sesenio, Josefa, Modesto and lastly, Apolonio, my father. She had two daughters from her previous marriage. Her bloodline can be traced further back to the Villanueva-Sanchez clan.

Lola Ating always wore her Filipiniana finest, that is, baro’t saya complete with accessories from paeneta to pamaypay when she heard mass. She would always make her way through the center aisle to seat herself in the front pew of the St. Joseph Cathedral  — a place directly in front of the altar that she had summarily marked as her own. She did this every time she went to Church. During times when the rites had already started and somebody else had occupied her marked seat, she always found a way to ‘claim her place’. Fortunately, as far as I can remember, nobody among those whom she squeezed out of “her Church seat” took offense, probably in deference to an octogenarian, one who was oddly garbed in traditional regalia on an ordinary Sunday. In the meantime, you can bet that we, her escorts, only bowed our heads as we pleaded for understanding.

I had suggested to my single-minded grandmother then that maybe, it would be best to simply pass by the side whenever we entered the Church but  she would just censure me with a piercing look.  I did this every time the situation called for it.  And she gave me the same look with a little scolding after mass every time.

Lola Ating always had that place of honor at the center when our family pictures were taken. More often than not, we took the flying geese ‘V’ position with Lola as the lead goose.

She never smiled for the cameras, by the way. So that she always had this serious, sullen look even during happy occasions. Even the painting that was done of her, which unfortunately got lost during one of the floods in Butuan, was beautiful yet unsmiling. So I thought that maybe, that was the picture-taking norm of her generation. Because when my Lola Ating smiled, she had the sweetest look that lit up her extraordinarily deep-set dark grey eyes.

There was also this set  of photographs of my siblings with ourAtega- Ruiz cousins from Bohol together with  our maternal grandmother Teresa “Tering” Gancino Atega that I really like. A roving photographer at the old Butuan Plaza took them sometime during the 70’s when most of us were just in grade school and the eldest siblings, Kuya Nestor and Ate Melou, were in high school.

These pictures never fail to give us a good laugh. They get posted, cropped or in full,  intermittently in our individual Facebook accounts during Throwback Thursdays, Flashback Fridays or during birthdays and special occasions when we tag and greet each other in the spirit of fun.

In fact, we have creatively made groupings and fond monikers as follows – those (1) whose legs were crossed ala Lola Tering — “X-Women”, (2) whose eyes were biggest and brightest during the shoot – “Flashlights”, (3) who had the fullest lips –“Busngi”, (4) whose legs were set apart with abandon – “Tikangkang”, (5) who looked like she was just pinched by her mom, (6) who looked like she just cried, (7) who looked sick,  and other hilarious interpretations we can think up from the pictures. And certainly, when my female cousins and sisters have the chance to look at the pictures together, we would laugh until we tear up and have a belly-ache.

Also taken at the Butuan Plaza were pictures of me and my mother—one as we were walking while I was eating probably popcorn, another one with both of us sitting on a concrete park bench—my Mama looking beautiful and proper in her A-line dress and sunglasses and me, looking like a sleepyhead despite my big round eyes. I assume this was after we heard mass from the Cathedral which is situated just across the area.  I must have been about 3-4 years old then, just about the age of my granddaughter now.

In the background of these pictures was old Butuan viewed from the City Plaza – with lamp posts and manicured plant boxes, a water fountain and varied food stalls at the other side of the street.

Well, there are a lot of other photographs in my family’s keeping – some in fading black and white or sepia print outs, newer ones in color and digital form – each of them saying a thousand and one words, each one representing memories to last beyond our lifetime.

♥  ♥ ♥