Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Old Systems of Measurement still used today

Old folks would tell that the total length of the outstretched arms, fingertip to fingertip, is equivalent to the height of the person. This is based on the drawing of Leonardo da Vinci. Is this measure correct? 

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]
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A. Old folks have unique systems of measurement.
Senator Juan Flavier, then director if the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, in his books, My Friends in the Barrios, quoted a old farmer to describe a system of measurement used in the village.

Tiklis or basket used in harvesting, transporting, storage and measure of mango and other fruits. Oil painting by national artist Fernando Amorsolo

“One hill is called a tundos, composed of three seedlings. A series of tundos in a column is called tudling, and four tudling is a saklong or a plot. Now in harvesting, when you take hold of the equal of one tundos it is called hawak (literally a grip) composed of 100 rice panicles.

One puno (stalk) produces 35 panicles so three seedlings make about 100 panicles equal to a hawak. Five hawak is equivalent to one beylita and four or five beylita make one bigkis (bundle). Depending on the number of bigkis the term varies. This is done by gathering (pag-iipon) or forming mounds (pagtitimbun). Thirteen bigkis make a talumpak while 50 – 100 bigkis are equal to a sipuk. Several sipuk form a mandala.” (photo)

Notice that the system is also a measure of yield. In a poor harvest it would need more than one puno to produce 35 panicles, and more than three seedlings to make a hundred, more than five beylita to make a bigkis, and so on. 


In Ilocos when I was a young farmhand, rice harvesting was done by a hand-held tool (rakem). The stem of the panicle is cut one foot long. The leaves are removed, and the panicles are bundled with tie (patpat) made of bayog bamboo, the girth of which allows both hands to meet (bettek). The bundles are inverted like bouquet under the sun to dry before they are threshed and milled, or kept in the granary.

B. The Spaniards introduced a system of measurement based on volume.
These are cavan, ganta (or salop), and chupa. 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 (photo), these measuring tools is made of wood having the same dimension for all sides. Spain did not invent this system; it evolved from early Europe and Middle East, which they in turn introduced it as a convenient system in the Philippines. It was popularly adopted for almost 400 years.

We now use the international standard based on the metric system. Today, one can find the ganta or gantilla only in the museums.

C. Here are some practical means of measurement by old folks. Can you add to the list?.

Old folks would tell a child that the total length of the outstretched arms fingertip to fingertip is equivalent to the height of the person. This is based on the drawing of Leonardo da Vinci. Is this true? What don’t you try it on yourself? They also say that the least shadow you make, the closer it is to noontime. This is of course without reference to the declination of the sun, and the season of the year.

There is no assurance of accuracy in these means of measurement. Take for instance when one says “isang sigarilyo lang ang layo” (it takes a stick of cigarette to reach the place), and the guide has yet to light his cigarette and you have gone a long way. Or somebody says, “It is only at the other side of the mountain.” Which mountain and how many are there?

Try to use these informal means of measurements.

  • Dipa’ – the length covered from fingertip to fingertip with both arms fully stretched.
  • Dangkal – distance from tip of thumb to tip of forefinger, or middle finger.
  • Guhit – when measuring the amount of water in cooking rice we use the finger – one or two guhit.
  • Talampakan – distance from heel to toe, equivalent to one “foot.”
  • Tingi – in retail selling this is a parcel without any standard reference.
  • Hanggang tuhod, bewang, liig, lampas tao, etc
Acknowledgement: Internet photos

1 comment:

Too Young To Feel This Old said...

Dr. Rotor, I know you posted this 3 days ago but I just read this today. Weird coincidence, I've been reading some very old Spanish accounts of the Philippines and just this morning I was thinking about old Filipino measurement units mentioned there(and what the Spanish thought were its equivalents on the old Iberian measuring system that was replaced by metric system later). This specific account was a letter by Fr. San Buenaventura and his plea to the Spanish king for him to stop the mistreatment and over taxation of the natives. One of the measuring unit mentioned the most (rice being one of the most common taxable good and obviously one of the most important commodity at that time) was 'ganta'. It reminded me of the days when I lived in the Philippines and my mother taught me how to cook rice and its measurement. The point I wanted to make, reading this and on the many documents I've read today and in the past, is that we as Filipinos often times do not appreciate how much culture we've fortunately retained...often times all I hear from Filipinos is how sad they are about how much culture they've lost during those years of colonization.