Monday, April 7, 2014

Once the seat of many native games and sports (San Vicente IS Series)

Although many native games have been forgotten or lost in the proliferation of modern games and toys, and migration to the city or abroad, San Vicente is considered as a seat of many of these games truly Filipino.
Dr Abe V Rotor
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Summer is season of games. Although many native games have been forgotten or lost in the proliferation of modern games and toys, and migration to the city or abroad, San Vicente is considered as a seat of many of these games truly Filipino. These are some games played on the patron saint's feast day celebration, the last Tuesday of April, and in barangay fiestas.   

1. Carabao race –  I would tell joke in a puzzle, “What is the first car race?”  The children of my age then would think of Ford or Chevrolet.  Sirit?  “It’s car-abao race.”  It’s a corny joke, more so today.  But if you haven’t seen one.  Go to Paombong, Bulacan during the fiesta of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers. 

(Carabao race, local sport in celebration of town fiestas, and patron saint of farmers and workers, San Isidro Labrador) Photo credit Images Internet 

Ask the old barrio folks of San Vicente IS, and they will give you a vivid idea on how the sport was played in their time - and mine. It is like horse race, with the “jockey” riding without saddle and harness.  So there’s a lot of skill needed to stir the animal to the finish line, galloping wildly.  

Carabaos are known to be very docile. They say, you won’t be able to reach your destination on time with a carabao even if you use a horse whip.  And don’t ever force the animal cruelly. In Thailand a carabao in the middle of a race broke away and attacked the spectators hurting dozens of them. An animal is still an animal however tame it is.  The biological instinct is unpredictable.As far as I remember there was never any accident of that kind in our town, so with the adjacent towns - Sta. Catalina, San Ildefonso, Bantay that often participate in the race. 

2. Tug-of-war.  It may be a parlor game, but wait until the big boys get hold of the rope. Better an outdoor game then, and be sure the rope is strong. It is a game of strength, but one in unison, so that it needs cooperation and skill.  Here are some hints to win the game. 

Choose the members of the team for strength and stamina.  Distribute the members of the team evenly; the right handed and left handed in their proper positions on either side of the rope they feel most efficient. Keep distance to maximize individual strength with the strongest ones up front and at the rear as anchor. Distribute resistance with both feet solidly anchored on the ground. Do not allow the rope to sway; keep it steady. Anticipate surge and counteract spontaneously.  Be sure your hands are protected, say with gloves or hand towel. Be wary of sudden release by your opponents, you’ll end up into a pile.

Brothers form teams and sometimes they are pitted against each other, if only to make the game exciting -   my brother Eugene on one side, and I on the other. 

3. Catching piglets (bi-ik) in mud.  It takes a day or two to prepare the arena or pen, some 5 by 5 meters square, or bigger in area, and secured with interlink wire or wooden fence.  To make the game exciting the ground is puddled like a rice field ready for planting. A smaller pen is made next to the big pen.  

Native piglets are preferred, they are sleeker and "wild" making the game more fun. 

The piglets – some five or more are simultaneously released per batch of contestants. It is a game of two or more contending groups.  It could be a one on one contest in the final stage. The rule may be that he who catches the piglet either gets a prize or takes the animal home – like in the movieBabea story of a piglet won from a fair by an elderly farmer who reared it to become a “sheepdog” and earned its place on the farm.

It’s a messy game; it is full of wit and skill.  It is in catching the piglets and putting them into the adjoining pen within the prescribed time frame that determine the winner. Imagine the winner standing on stage receiving his prize – or piglet.  Can you recognize him?   

4. Sack race This is one of the most popular events for kids in our plaza. Open the empty standard jute (or plastic sack) equivalent to one cavan. Put both feet inside it, pull it up and hold the brim tightly with both hands without allowing it to fall as you frog-jump to a designated post, go around it and return.  Now it’s your partner’s turn, and then the next’s, similar to a rally race.  The group that completes the course first gets the prize.  The game is easier to describe than to play it.  Try broad jumping in quick succession with both feet ensconced in the sack. I would rather run for a kilometer instead.  But surprisingly many people are adept to the game; it really needs practice and honing the skill. 

5. Palo de sebo (bamboo pole climbing).  It is tricky – how can you climb a bamboo pole twenty feet tall covered with animal fat or vegetable oil?  Because there was no rule to prevent a participant to devise his own technique, we would coach our contestant to pocket wood ash and applies it as he inched upward until he reaches the top and gets his  prize.  

6. Spin top (trumpo) – Our town is famous for furniture making, so that the lathe machine (pagturnuan Ilk) makes the best tops in town. Everyone could easily recognize a top made in San Vicente. There were spintop tournaments held on certain occasions and we would send our best players to Vigan, the capital. To be a good player, first you must be accurate at a target.  Then there is the real tournament.  You should be able to demolish your opponent’s top, by puncturing or chopping it into pieces. This is why the wood used in making tops is molave, better still kamagong, the hardest wood. Exhibitions are part of the game. For example whose top makes the loudest humming sound?  How balanced and stable is the spinning of your top?  How long will it keep on spinning before it finally dies out?  Then there is the skill to “capture” a spinning top and continue it spinning in your palm. 

But how do you make a top by hand, that is without a lathe machine?  I’ll tell you how.  Cut a fresh branch of guava or isis or Ficus, the one that produces sandpaper like leaves, around three inches in diameter. With the use of a bolo shape one end into a round peg, and drive a 2-inch nail through it, leaving half of it to become the shank. Smoothen the surface, and make it even and balanced as you rotate it by hand. Shape and severe the upper part of the top with a saw or sharp knife. An immature wood when it dries up has a tendency to crack. That’s why you have to look for a seasoned branch; the harder it is the better, and the more durable is your top. For the spinning rope, get a pure cotton thread, numero cuartro, that is ¼ of an inch, and a meter long. Sometimes we would twist two thinner threads to make the standard spinning rope.

7. Kite dog fight – Gladiator kites fight it out in the sky, but  it’s the string that is the target more than the kite itself.  This is how we did it in our plaza in San Vicente where we used to play kite come harvest time, in the months of October and November.  At that time there was no nylon or monofilament, so it was the good old cotton thread, “numero viente” we used, which is the standard for kite string then.  We would pound glass finely and mix it with egg yolk, then coat it on the kite string.  When it gets dry the string is like sandpaper (papel de liha).  Here we go.  The opponent’s kite and our kite are flown simultaneously. And when both kites are sufficiently stable in the air, we bring the two kites at striking distance, until the strings get entangled.  Now the fight is whose kite falls – or which string breaks. Most often it is the string that spells victory.  You can imagine the loser running after his kite across the fields,  over fences and making sure no one gets first and retrieve it.  A loose kite is everybody’s. 

8. Pabitin  It is a portable trellis around two square meters tied at the corners to a common string, and is laden with many goodies.  The setup is usually attached to the ceiling or a tree branch with a pulley of sort, enabling the game master to pull it up and down. The game is actually for children of the same age and ideally of the same height. The rule of the game is that the one who reaches and grabs the item is his. And he is supposed to leave and give chance to the other participants. It not unusual for a parent to carry a young contestant to reach for the pabitin. Followed by elder children. And if the moderator is not strict, expect something unruly to happen.  The game ends up into a free-for-all, and what remains of the pabitin is but a skeleton of bamboo sticks and crepe paper.  
For fiestas and local parties the pabitin is popular even to this day. It is characteristically Filipino.  And why not?  Imagine how attractive it is up there hanging even before the start of the party.  Every one would be eyeing which item to get.  It’s apple to the eye – and remains so until the game leader declare the start of the game. The string moves and the pabitin slowly goes down, down and meet a pack of contestant shrieking, jumping,  their arms instantly doubling in length. 

9. Puto seko eating - Have you tried eating the powdery stuff without water, then whistle to signal you have won? It is a unique game and if you are not careful enough you will surely choke, so that it is discouraged among the very young and the sickly. Puto seko is made of rice flour, molded and dried. The contestants line the stage and on signal start eat a prescribed number of pieces. The first to finish all and produce a clear whistle wins.

10. Jack-n-poi – It is an old game, possibly originated from China, which is used to resolve conflicts like head or tail. It is quite an intellectual and witty way. Here two or more persons play the game. Stone (clenched fist) defeats scissor (forefinger and middle finger open) but it loses to paper (palm open). Paper on the other hand submits to scissor. By law of elimination, the one who survives wins – or faces the consequence he may not like. We, kids on the farm, resolved work like taking the goat to graze, or cleaning the pig sty – and such chores we would prefer someone doing it for us.

11. Kara Krus – Also called buntayug (Ilk), this is more of gambling than game. We kids secretly played kara krus without our parents' knowledge. And we would bet our meager allowance. The rule is simple. A pair of coins of the same denomination, say 10 cents or 50 cents in our time (recently larger denominations up to 10-peso coin are used), are tossed into the air. On falling to the ground, a pair of heads (tao) makes a winner, while a pair of tails or bird - meaning the eagle symbol - makes a loser. A head and a tail means you have to repeat tossing the coins. It is purely a game of chance but foul play (daya) is not unusual. Be sure the coins face opposite each other before tossing them into the air, and they must be tossed high enough so that they bounce and settle freely on the ground. The game could turn into a bad habit and could breed future gamblers.

12. Egg cracking - Thick shelled eggs usually win.  Hold a chicken egg in your palm, with the smaller end up. The opponent's egg is brought to challenge, the smaller end strikes. It's as simple as taking the cracked egg as your prize. This contest was popular during semana santa. You can win a basket full of cracked eggs.  Use guinea fowl egg instead of chicken egg. But this is given to veteran contestants.  
Other games and Sports 

  • Hand cannon war (palsuot)
  • slingshot target (tirador)
  • Foot race (different categories) 
  • Stilt race 
  • Bao (coconut shell) race 
  • Sipa 
  • Patintero 
  • Hide-and-seek 
  • Agawang buko (local rugby with green coconut) 
  • Chinese garter jump 
  • Spider gladiators 
  • Rhinoceros beetle gladiators
These photos show the details of a composite wall mural at the Philippine National Children's Hospital, Diliman Quezon City. The mural, and other paintings about children and Filipino culture, can be viewed at the lobby and along the corridors of the hospital. They are open to the public. Those familiar with native games and sports will find these murals refreshing - and nostalgic, too.

The details of this mural provide a guide for young artists. Note the simplicity of style and colors in capturing the happy moods, and the natural and fleeting actions of children at play.

                                                             NOTE: Distortion of the figures is in the photographs, not in the mural.

Write down the names of these games (and dances) in your local language as shown in these photographs. Describe how each one is played in your country, if applicable. Describe those indigenous to your own country or region. ~

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