A Simara Story

Sunday, 01 February 2009 10:13 Nota Fampo Magno Articles - Visitor's Narrative

A Simara Story
My First Impressions of Family and Community in Simara

by Nota Fampo Magno


I was introduced into the island municipality by one simple introduction, “Apo siya ni Paco.” After these words were uttered, I found myself invited to different houses, quite like how “open sesame” worked for Ali Baba. I also found myself related to almost everyone I met.


Not much is known to me about Lolo Paco. He left Simara in his early years and married in Batangas, where my mother was born and grew up. I was born in Manila a month after he died. And so all the warm welcome brought about by the words “Apo siya ni Paco” felt a little strange for me. First, I didn’t even know my own grandfather except by way of stories. Secondly, I didn’t know any of his relatives there. My mother has never been to Simara and she was too young to remember those of her father’s kin who were able to visit them in Batangas.


In my notebook, I tried to construct Lolo Paco’s genealogy and tried to ask about why he left Simara. I was surprised to find a lone surviving sibling. She was Lolo Paco’s youngest sister and she didn’t know why he left. I was more surprised to find out that she bore 18 children, only 11 of whom survived. I learned later on that in Lolo Paco’s family, the number of children were anywhere between 6 and 18. “Family planting” as my cousin Dodoy says. Not all of them survive or stay on the island, but all of them are remembered. Not just by their own mothers but even by cousins, first and third alike. There was something about how kin remembered kin, it seemed to me almost instinctive as if it were genetically programmed. It had been more than 60 years since Lolo Paco was in Simara and yet I was being included in the family as if he never left.


“Apo ni Paco” took me far and wide. I remember April 30, 2006 vividly. I went to church in the morning with my aunt (my mother’s sister) and a second cousin at whose house we were staying in Simara. We attended mass and followed the fluvial procession. On the way back home, we were spotted by another second cousin, who wanted us to visit their house so she could introduce us to her mother (Lolo Paco’s niece and thus my aunt). At their house, we met her mother, her siblings, and her mother’s brother and his children as well. On our way back home, we found ourselves being followed by another aunt (another of Lolo Paco’s nieces) who wanted to invite us to her daughter’s house to partake in their fiesta. Later in the afternoon, we were spotted by another aunt (another niece of Lolo Paco) who invited us to dinner. By 7pm that day, I realized that the entire day had passed just bouncing from one relative to another.


Kinship of course is not just about social relations but also exchanges, an expression of which is the renowned cultural practice of sanrokan. I imagine sanrokan as the thread weaving social relations together, kin with kin and kin with friend. In my uncle’s house where I stayed, men would gather together for tuba at the end of the working day (anytime between 3 and 5 pm). My aunt would sanrok what was left over from our lunch for their pulutan. If she cooked something new for dinner, they would probably have a taste of that too. Together with some of the neighbors who will find my cousin, Jonas, at their door with a sample of our dinner. The men who came over for tuba were also usually those who did favors for my uncle, like slaughtering the pig or harvesting coconuts from one of the trees so that my aunt could make buko salad. They also brought bananas and papayas. There’s something about these reciprocities that market exchange cannot replace. In fact, as you move downtown to the poblacion from San Agustin, you will not need to know people to get most things. You will only need money. However, sanrokan does not just bring things to people; it mainly brings people together. You can’t get that even with so much money. And even if you could, we know that the quality of people brought together by money is different from the quality of people brought together by pinagsamahan. Sanrokan is an all around currency that is accessible to all.


I returned to my home in the capital, musing about how people here live. We live in fenced yards in households of nuclear families, maybe with some extended kin, paying for someone to trim the trees, buying food from the stores, keeping excess cooked food in containers in the fridge, not knowing a third cousin’s birthday. We have our own versions of sanrokan, I suppose. Maybe during fiestas and family reunions. But these are weak and infrequent in comparison to what I experienced in Simara. I was the grandchild of a long lost Simaranhon, but I was welcomed by family and given shelter and food. This is my story and it is my turn to share.


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Last Updated on Monday, 20 April 2009 14:52