Friday, July 15, 2011

Scarecrow – Endangered Native Tool and Folk Art

Dr Abe V Rotor

Love that scarecrow (banbanti Ilk.). It is folk art on the farm. In the middle of the field it feigns scary to birds, what with those outstretched arms and that mysterious face hidden beneath a wide brim hat. There it stands tall amid maturing grains, keeping finches or maya birds (Lonchura Malacca jagori and L. m. formosana) at bay.

Finches are widely distributed in Asia and the Pacific feeding on rice grains, and alternately on weed seeds, but now and then they also steal from the haystack (mandala) and poultry houses. They are recognized for their chestnut colored compact bodies, and sturdy triangular beak designed for grain picking and husking. The scarecrow also guards against the house sparrow, mayan costa (billit China Ilk.), including the lovable turtle dove or bato-bato (Streptopelia bitorquata dursummieri), all grain feeders.

A scarecrow is usually made of rice hay shaped like a human body wrapped around a T-frame. It is simply dressed up with old shirt and hat. The idea is to make it look like the farmer that the birds fear. There is one problem though. Birds, like the experimental dog of Pavlov (principle of conditional learning), soon discover the hoax and before the farmer knows it a whole flock of maya is feasting on his ready-to-harvest ricefield. It is not uncommon to see maya birds bantering around – and even roasting on the scarecrow itself!

Today the scarecrow is an endangered tool and art. In its place farmers hang plastic bags, or tie old cassette and video tape along dikes and across the fields. These create rustling or hissing sound as the wind blows, scaring the birds. Others use firecrackers and pellet guns. At one time I saw a lone scarecrow in the middle of a field. On examining it closely, I found out that it was made of a mannequin dressed the way the fashion world does. It reminded me of the boy who discovered the statue of Venus de Milo in a remote pasture in Greece. On another occasion I saw balloons and Styrofoam balls hanging in poultry and piggery houses, bearing the faces of Jollibee, Power Puff Girls, Batman, Popeye, Mr. Bean and a host of movie and cartoon characters. Interestingly I noticed that the birds were nowhere to be found.

When I told my friend, an entomologist, that these new versions of the scarecrow seem to be effective, he wryly replied, “Maybe there are no more birds left.” Suddenly I remembered Silent Spring, a prize winning book by Rachel Carson. The birds that herald spring had died of pesticide poisoning.

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Reference: Living with Folk Wisdom, by AV Rotor, UST Publishing House, Manila

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