Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Isinay Birds Revisited

A chance remembering of such Isinay birds as Teyay (panal in Ilocano), Tittiwaddon (kinkin-od), Plepplew (pirpiriw), Siggu^(sakuk), Tulin (billit-tuleng), and other feathered creatures

Listen to the man on the forest trail for he too has good stories to tell.” This line, I guess, has not been used before by any author. So if you try to Google it one day and find nothing of exact wording, it would help unknown authors like yours truly if one of these days you please remember that you encountered it first in this essay.

I used a similar line a little over two decades ago in a piece I wrote about indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) for the Tropical Forests magazine (“It’s high time we listened to people in them thar hills”) and then again in a paper I presented on IKS (“Beware of Trees with Fireflies”) where I mentioned something like “If you meet an unlettered man on the mountain trail....”

I happened to think of that line when I ruminated on a brief talk I recently had about Isinay birds with a distant relative, Bonifacio "Bob" Campo. The guy may not exactly be a mountain and unlettered guy but as an Isinay-raised fellow when he was young (even as his mother was Tagalog), I think I find him a good resource person for the Isinay-English dictionary that I’m working on, particularly on the taxonomy of birds, insects, snakes, trees, herbs, vines, etc. that Isinay kids in our part of Dupax were supposed to know by heart.

I wish Bob would be re-admitted as an employee at the Hamada’s Baguio Midland Courier soon or at least be accepted as Barangay Tanod (or “Barangay Tagay” as he said) in the Kisad and Gen. Lim area of Baguio City currently headed by Barangay Chairman Billy Hamada. For then I would have a ready person to consult for Isinay flora and fauna and other terms that I would need help with.

For instance, if Bob didn’t come to the house along with my sister Nenette and her two boys for the chicken adobo dinner we organized to celebrate Beia’s and my birthday, I would not have been able to talk with the native Isinay speaker and include the terms teyay and siggu^ in my Isinay dictionary. Not that I didn't know the birds they were referring to, but sometimes not using the names for a long, long time has a way of making one forget them unless resurrected by another fellow who remembers them.

I have yet to verify what bird Bob was referring to with the teyay he mentioned. But based on his descriptions -- it’s brown and as big as the pinuu^ (bulbul; pirruka in Ilocano; scientific name: Pycnonotus goiaver) -- and cross-checking them with what I remember in my slingshot-using days with the Calacala brothers Oret and Base, the teyay may be the migratory bird panal (shrike; scientific name: Lanius lanius cristatus).

Siggu^ is of course the chocolate-colored and long-tailed cuckoo or coucal (Centropus bengalensis). We called the bird sakuk or chakuk and my then uncircumcised friends and I hated it so much because each time it crowed ku-ku-ku-kuk in the thickets and following this with sup-put… sup-put, our uncles or circumcised older playmates in the barrio would tease us to go undergo kugit (circumcision) next Huebes Santo (Holy Thursday).

Bob was not sure of the manaleban (a term I heard our former Calacala neighbors use when I was little). He nevertheless suspected it was the Isinay name for the Ilocano tiktikrubong (warbler; scientific name: Megalurus palustris) and even recalled that this was  the bird that follows the carabao each time the big animal grazed thick lomo^ (grass). I surmise the bird was after the grasshoppers and other grass-dwelling insects driven out of their hiding place by the incessant "mowing" of the carabao.

The Isinay in Bob went on to discourse on other Dupax birds (amid the interruption of my Red Horse beer- and Ginebra San Miguel-tipsy bayaw or brother in law Edward Fiadchongan who I requested to come cook four of our old and ayam- or mite-infested Chinese chickens). For instance, when I asked him the Isinay for tukling (barred rail; tikling in Tagalog; scientific name: Rallus torquatus), he took time to jog his brain in vain but nevertheless recalled the bird ran so fast and was colored mandirito^ (red). When I tested his bird knowledge by suggesting the Isinay for tukling must be tulin, he said "Mari ah.. sare tulinar ya man-oj an mantetteyav and mangan si pahoy ot sare tuklingar ya mangan si dalaj." (Translation: "No, the tulin is a tiny bird that feeds on rice while the tukling is a fish-eater.")

Tulin, indeed, is the ricebird that flies in droves -- sometimes by the hundreds -- and are considered pests in many rice-growing towns of the Philippines. Called maya in Tagalog and billit-tuleng in Ilocano, these birds are the targets of the rag-clothed scarecrows (bambanti in Ilocano; tinahutahu in Isinay) one sees in the taltalon (ricefield; payaw in Isinay) specially when the rice start to become "pregnant" with grains. I heard someone say there are two types in Dupax -- one brown and one black. I guess these are the chestnut munia (Lonchura malacca) and the scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata).

Bob also mentioned a brown bird similar to the tukling and a “burik” (striated/speckled) one called kebkeb. I knew the latter so I said kebkeb was a lot bigger than tukling. As for the brown bird, he imitated its head’s upturned position and said the bird stood still when it sensed somebody going near. I told him that that bird is named tangad (cinnamon bittern; scientific name: Ixobrychus cinnamomeus). Incidentally, the Ilocano name for this bird is teggaak, this I learned later from Boni Calacala (another mestizo Isinay who, like Bob, is still a bachelor and prefers a wife-free and hand-to-mouth life like birds).

He was at a loss as to the name of the blue birds that rejoice and fly in the sky at the onset of rain. I told him they were called plep-plew in Isinay and pirpiriw in Ilocano (blue-tailed bee-eater in English; scientific name: Merops philippinus) and were often around whenever there are many honeybees (he interjected iyuan when I pretended not to know the Isinay for the Ilocano uyukan).

I think I also tested Bob’s avian knowledge when I asked him about the tiny bird (smaller than the maya) called kulipattung in Ilocano. He didn't have a name for it but surrendered when I said that the male is black with white parts on its wings (like that of a martines) while the female is brown. Yes, he said he saw such a pair and the male indeed looks like a martines.

In our animated conversation in Isinay, such names as gayang (crow), kalatan (wild chicken; abuyo in Ilocano and labuyo in Tagalog) and labban (hawk; kali in Ilocano, lawin in Tagalog) also came out.

Wagtail photo from Wikipedia
To keep my Igorot bayaw from feeling left out in the conversation, I mentioned to Bob the wagtail bird (scientific name: Motacilia cinerea) we called tittiwaddon in Isinay. In Barlig my wife says the bird is called tittiwad. And indeed, both Edward and Bob knew the bird (called kinkin-od in Ilocano) and went through the motions of describing its pumping action as it sunned along the bank of the river.

I also interjected that what we call amunin in Dupax Isinay refers to the wild cat but in Barlig amunin refers to the domestic cat. As for the buwet (cloud rat) I stressed that in Dupax it is called buwot, remembering the gandaw an sin-ammain si kuting (rat as big as a cat) once caught by the Reyes guys as it fed on coffee fruits or coconut flowers near that wooded solar (lot) near the Dampol Bridge. Bob said he had not seen such animal in his wanderings in Dupax while Edward recalled that we once had a pet in the house like that, to which I said it eventually escaped and must have been eaten by dogs in the neighborhood – "or it may have returned to the forest," the two gin-moistened guys dueted in Ilocano.

Bob also recalled a bird that came out and became noisy when it was about to rain. While writing this, my wife just said there are also birds like that in Barlig and flew with unmoving wings. That’s the glider they call pipingngaw in Isinay, sallapingaw in Ilocano, and layang-layang in Tagalog (scientific name: Collocalia troglodytes).

In English, the pipingngaw must be the swiftlet or the swallow which sometime back Dean Rex Cruz of the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources (when I went to see him and other members of the College Executive Committee in their very first meeting at the North Phil TREES in Baguio) was telling as the tourist-attracting bird they once drove for in Cupertino (in California?) and on their long drive home to Arizona almost had a fatal car accident along with his now US-based bilas Roy Pollisco who, as a boy at the Makiling Heights area of the Forestry campus where I stayed in my senior year, came to see the fledgling Philippine falconet that I found – but which I later set free -- near Dr. Chito de Guzman’s swing one summer day.

In passing, I also mentioned to Bob the term immanuy, the venomous snake that bit the arm of his grandfather Pasio^ one time he was doing soppeng (swidden farm; kaingin) and he mistook it for a wa-ah (woody vine; lanut in Ilocano). Insisting that immanuy is not cobra, Bob didn’t seem to know that the python which is called beklat in Ilocano is called ine^eyaddang by Isinays.

I also quickly mentioned to him that his father Rogel still knew me the last time we saw each other in Dupax but his Uncle Pacual didn’t recognize me until I mentioned my name. Bob said his father and his Uncle Otong both know me but that his Uncle Pacual probably didn’t recognize me as he doesn’t go to town often from the formerly forest-rich and sawmill-site Banila, a barangay further upstream of my boyhood barrio Iiyo.

Oh well, the birds that "came out of hiding" as a result of this chance conversation and recollection are by no means all the birds you would find in Isinay country. I have not yet included the engah (wild duck; papa in Ilocano), the gayang (crow or raven; uwak in Ilocano), the taltaliling (woodpecker; tagtaga in Ilocano), the seya^sa^ (kingfisher; salaksak in Ilocano), the uwop (owl; puwek in Ilocano), the ammo^ (quail; pugo in Ilocano), etc.

Maybe in a future post I may have to mention the many species of titit (sunbird, flowerpecker, hummingbird; sitsitik in Ilocano) that competed with us free-spirited Dupax kids as we went climbing the fruit-laden sarisay (aratiles in Tagalog; scientific name: Muntingia calabura) of the neighbors. I may also have a separate piece on the ever-present osberd (housebird, tree sparrow; mayang-bahay in Tagalog; scientific name: Passer montanus) that were often the first targets of Isinay and Ilocano boys like me for trying their Olympian-class skills in using the baris (slingshot; palsiit in Ilocano). -CHARLZ CASTRO

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