Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dupax Customs of Delivering Babies

THANK AMIHAN, my first grandchild, for this piece. Long before she came -- oh well, like much-needed and long-awaited rain on a very hot summer day -- to reset, recharge, rearrange, rejuvenate, and revitalize our home, tribe and life I was already getting corny with this joke "Si Amihan nagdadala ng ulan."

Last night, when I heard the baby cry in the other room, many thoughts (other than what things to teach her when she could already talk, sing and walk) raced in my mind. One image stood out: Baby Amihan's great grandmother (my mother) and how it was when she gave birth to me.

Mrs. Magdalena Pudiquet Castro and Baby Amihan 
(April 27, 2013 photo by Charlz Castro)
I think I already wrote that I was born about a hundred meters behind the Municipal Hall of Dupax del Sur.

Yes, that's near the heart of Dupax Isinay land. That is, if we believe the sutsur about the town hall being the same site where the Spanish missionaries found Isinay hunters lying flat (due to feasting too much on deer meat), asked what the name of the place was, and the deer hunters (thinking the visitors wanted to know what they were doing) answered mandopdopah

I have not yet written, however, who helped my mother give birth that fateful night of August 9, 1951 (when she was still 18), and what the circumstances were then.

According to my mother (see photo of her craddling her apun si puwoh or great grandchild Amihan), the lady who delivered me was Dora^ Salgado, an Isinay married to a colored American surnamed Scott.

Apu Dora^ is long gone now but Mama says she is the daughter of another famous Isinay midwife -- Apu Carmen Salgado. She used to live behind the Iglesia ni Cristo church one block away from our house in Domang and I remember she was always the manguy-uy (local midwife) in our part of town, the way my own grandmother Feliza Lacandazo Pudiquet was the always-on-call partera or mangngilot in the Ilocano barrio of Palobotan upstream of town.

Inang (that was how I called my maternal grandmother) used to have a sepia photo of senior women, with gray-haired Apu Carmen Salgado in the middle and Inang and Apu Dora^ in the front row, along with aluminum boxes containing kidney-shaped pans and other paraphernalia for delivering babies. I guess it was taken when they had a government-sponsored training as para-midwives.

I asked Mama once how come it was Apu Dora^ and not Inang who delivered me. She said Inang was not yet well versed in delivering babies that time. In fact, she said, it was only when she was pregnant with Merlie (my third sister who passed away when she was in First Year at St. Mary's High School) that she started delivering babies.

There were no doctors in Dupax yet when I was born and even if there was already a hospital near St. Catherine's School in Bambang, it was not yet fashionable at the time -- plus there were no easily available jeepneys then -- to bring expectant mothers to the hospital. That was why I was born in my grandparents' former house in Dupaj (where there were Apu Carmen and Apu Dora^ nearby), not in my parents' house in Domang (where my mother was often home alone as my father was teaching then at St. Catherine's).

Last week, when Mama journeyed to Baguio (along with my sisters Arlyne and Abeth, and my nurse nephew Harold) to see and welcome Amihan to the family, we reviewed again how I was born. She said both Arlyne and I were delivered by Apu Dora^ while Merlie, Tessie, Judith, Baybee, Abeth, and Nenet were by or with the assistance of Inang.

Mama also mentioned something I heard when I was small but have already forgotten: As a newly born baby I was placed on top of a winnowing basket (called lihawu in Isinay, bigao in Ilocano, bilao in Tagalog, nigo in Bisaya) with Apong Pedro's shirt.

I don't know if it was Apu Dora^ or Inang  who initiated the event. I have yet to check out also if such practice is purely Isinay or purely Ilocano. But Mama says the placing of new-born infants on top of a lihawu was meant to make the child immune to shaking, jolts, and sudden surprises as a grown up.

How about Apong's sweat-flavored shirt? Mama said that it was the reason why I was always attached to my grandfather.

I forgot to check with my mother again who disposed off my placenta (kadkadua In Ilocano, bahay-bata in Tagalog) and where. I faintly recall though that she once said it was Apong Pedro who brought the bloody matter to the river. Which river, which part of the river, and what method of disposal were, however, facts  known only to my now long-gone grandfather.

Hindsight tells me now that my apong must have chosen the river for my kadkadua because he wanted me to share his love for the river.

I did not ask anymore what boiled water was used for my first bath. Was it danum an sinahov (water fetched) from Abannatan which, from my estimate now, was about two-hundred meters away from where I was born? Or was it water pumped out of the gripo (also called bomba, water pump) of the pump-equipped Salgado, Sagario, Guzman, Boada, or other Isinay houses nearby?

Since my mother was silent about my first bath, I presume it was not like the nagangeran iti saka ti ugsa (water used to boil deer legs) said to have been used on Simo Guillermo, whose polio-crippled uncle, Ama Ubing, was said to have also been one of my baby sitters when I was a toddler in Dupaj.

The parents of Simo were Ilocanos but I guess the use of deer-flavored water to bathe new-born babies might as well be an Isinay custom. The belief attendant to this was that the baby would become a good runner, just like flight-footed deer are often able to outrun hunting dogs pursuing them in the wilderness.

And how about the mothers who just gave birth (beyun nan-ana^ in Isinay)? How did they induce and/or increades the flow of milk from their breasts?

I recalled to Mama how she always had dinner of roasted chicken breast mixed with plenty of marunggay leaves after giving birth to my seven sisters. I also remembered how each time I had a new baby sister I would hike to Iiyo so I could join my grandmother in gathering lots of river clams (asisip in Isinay, tukmem or bennek in Ilocano, tulya in Tagalog) from the banawang (irrigation ditch) using karadikad (a loosely-woven winnow) especially used to filter out the finger-nail-sized clams from the river sand.

In Dupax, certain food were also off limits then to newly delivered mothers, be they Ilocano or Isinay. Gabi is one (particularly the quite itchy wild variety); another is inasin (bagoong alamang in Tagalog). Abstaining from such local delicacies was believed to prevent allergies on both the mother and her baby.

As for medication, I remember each time Inang has delivered a baby in I-iyo, among her services was to prepare a panig-an (concoction for recuperating mothers). It was said to speed up the recovery of the mother, so that she can help in her husband's farm work again. The medication is simply a bottle of Siok Tong (a Chinese brew that used to be a favorite among Ilocano as well as Isinay drunkards when I was little) mixed with chopped roots of a certain woody shrub that Inang and I went to dig out from the carabao-grazing hills above what is now Barangay Palobotan.

On top of all this, there was always the bottle of multi-purpose coconut oil (laro in Isinay, lana in Ilocano, langis-niyog in Tagalog) which I observed Inang to massage the tummy of an expectant mother as well as during her delivery and also during her days of recuperation.

THOSE WERE the days indeed when only the likes of unsung heroes Apu Dora^ and my Inang Feliza were there to run to when a woman gives birth.

Now, don't ask me how my granddaughter Amihan would have seen the light of day had she been conceived during my time and when such things as Caesarian operation were still unheard of in Dupax.

By the way, that line "si Amihan nagdadala ng ulan" came from the weather forecasts on TV. It somehow stuck on my coconut, beginning when my daughter Leia and my son-in-law Karl went to have a ultra-sound and were told that their first baby would be a girl.

I hasten to add that, earlier, when by curious coincidence it would rain each time Karl would come to Baguio, I would whisper to the lola-to-be the original joke: "Ang daddy ni Amihan nagdadala ng ulan." 

Now, I can't wait to see what other good things -- and sweet reminiscenses -- would Amihan bring.

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