Monday, February 18, 2013

Spanish system of volumetric measurement in the Philippines

Dr Abe V Rotor

Living with Nature School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Mely C Tenorio, 738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 Evening Class, Monday to Friday (Phase II 2006 to present)


Dama Juana, early glass jar was introduced by the Spaniards mainly for wine, like basi (Ilocos Wine). Its content is approximately 5 gallons - equivalent to that of common plastic jars today.
The Spaniards introduced into the Philippines a practical system of volume (in lieu of weight) measurement which we used for almost 400 years. Some of them are still being used today.

This system applies mainly to agricultural crops - rice, corn, mungo, muscovado sugar, sesame, beans, flour of rice, corn and cassava, and the like. It is also used in measuring fish and fish products like ipon (dulong), dilis (dried anchovies), salt, suso (snail), padas (fry of samaral fish) and other small fishes.

The system consists of the following units, systematically patterned as follows: 

  • cavan
  • ganta (or salop)
  • litro
  • chupa.
  • gantilla
There are six chupa in a ganta, twenty-five ganta to make a cavan. There is also litro, equivalent to four chupa, and gantilla, eight of which is equivalent to one ganta. Except for the cavan which is made of jute sack, these measuring tools is made of wood having the same dimension on all sides and bottom.

Spain did not invent this system; it evolved in early Europe and Middle East, which in turn was introduced into the Philippines. Remember the story of Alibaba in One-Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights? The story tells how Alibaba's brother came to know of his secret of having found a treasure. A gold coin stuck at the bottom of a ganta!

How accurate is the system?

I remember old folks saying, it depends if you have "light hands" - meaning when measuring, say rice, pour the rice lightly into the ganta and run a lever quickly across its top to level it, so fast and light, it's like a sleight of the hand. The idea is to avoid compressing the content.

As a kid I tried the technique. It's true. Test it by measuring the commodity, compact it by tapping the ganta real hard on a solid surface. You will notice how the content "shrinks." That's how much you gain having the gift of "light hand". Which to some people is like having a Green Thumb.

But here is a malpractice of vendors. Place your thumb as deep as possible into the container, and while filling it up, discreetly elevate your thumb to create a space inside. This is done on commodities you don't have to use the level, like ipon, monamon, ariyawyaw, sapsap, padas - and other kinds of small fish. But culprits can't escape the watchful eyes of experienced customers.

The Spanish volumetric system was popularly adopted during the whole Spanish period in the Philippines, extending to the Commonwealth era and thereafter,. It was phased out only recently with the introduction of the international Metric System.

However, we still use cavan today, now standardized to 5o kgs in weight. Fish is sold wholesale inbañera, fruits like mango are packed in tiklis, tomatoes and pomelo oranges in standard size wooden boxes. There are still ganta and chupa used in the market, and Filipinos being innovative, have alternative measurements duplicating the obsolete volumetric system. Del Monte can is approximately one ganta, sardine can for chupa, table glass for gantilla.

A dozen of eggs, please. Isang piling (sapad Ilk) na saging. Pinch of salt. Isang dakot na bigas. One cup of milk. A flock of sheep. A truck of gravel. One light year is 186,000 miles per second. Micron is one-millionth of a mete. How about nanometer? Megapixel?

Indeed measurements have evolved a long, long way. ~


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