From Cavite to Bo-oy

Emmanuel Evangelista was bored and angry. He was getting nowhere with his job at the Cavite shipyards. Never mind the growth of construction jobs when a naval architect designed little gunboats and naval repairs of warships. Nor the need for repair men in the shipyards when Admiral Ignacio Maria de Alava limped his ships back - after a hurricane - in an aborted quest to do battle with the British. The glory days of the galleon trade were over.

The seams of the Iberian empire burst when Mexico gained its independence. The carpetbaggers from the old colony came and Emmanuel didn't know what hit him. His bosses were protégées of the imperial Governor General. Incompetent and corrupt, their presence didn't bode well to Emmanuel. Promotion was Greek to the Indio.

Emmanuel dreamed of owning a piece of colonial rock. But he was in the wrong place and at the wrong time. He knew what happened to the agrarian revolt led by Luis Parang and his cahoots in Imus, Kawit and other towns. He knew that in a span of twenty-eight years, Mother Spain had four constitutions, five hundred twenty-nine ministers, and frequent revolutions. This meant a new Governor General every one year and three months!

Move south, young man. Emmanuel brooded about this and decided that he had had enough. He had a plan. He was going to Marinduque with his two sons, Raymundo and Cayetano. From there, he would go by boat to a small island the Marinduquenos called Banto-en. Emmanuel had heard the name before. Fellow shipyard workers in Cavite would tell him how the Recollect friars built a formidable fortress of lime and stone there and how their patron saint, St. Nicholas de Tolentino protected them from their enemies. Legend had it that during the frequent Muslim raids St. Nicholas would suddenly appear standing tall on the walls of the fortress, like Fr. Agustin de San Pedro exhorting natives behind the muralla to fight with stones against the pirates.

So, Emmanuel packed his bags and said goodbye to his wife and daughter Simona. When Governor Narciso Claveria issued a decree ordering the changing of Filipino surnames to Spanish names, Emmanuel, out of the blue, coined the name, "Faigao". He was sick and tired of Spanish surnames.

 When he arrived in Banton, his first act was to visit the Recollect friar to pay his respects. He was advised to build a hut near the muralla. Emmanuel convinced the friar to let his two sons serve as altar boys for the time being. He took odd jobs in t he fort from time to time.

 Bo-oy (heel) situated north of the muralla was blanketed with heavy foliage, bamboo, and an assortment of hardwood trees. Its rocky shoreline called Hipit is punctuated by Matagar Point, a haven for the monkey and the kingfisher. Emmanuel was fascinated. His dream of a piece of land he could call his own flowered despite the admonitions from his neighbors that Bo-oy was the home of the encantos (evil spirits) the agtas (elves) and a dreaded balete tree.

 Emmanuel was a good listener. He was told by an old medicine man that to appease the agtas and encantos he should always say "tabi anay" (Move over, please) whenever he made his daily visits to Bo-oy. This was also the first lesson in good manners he taught his sons Raymundo and Cayetano.

 At peace with the agtas, Emmanuel hacked a clearing in Bo-oy. Since he was in good graces now with the friar, he didn't get any howls of protest from the natives. Besides, who'd farm in Bo-oy a sitio teeming with encantos and agtas? The natives would rat her farm in Sibay, Mainit, or Nasunogan - all established barangays during his time.

Emmanuel had one more favor to ask from the benevolent friar. He had to own a cow. The friar instead loaned him a takay (bull). From a takay, Emmanuel increased his herd to include hogs and goats. Because water was a problem, it meant another favor from the friar. A deep well was dug near Hipit.

How Emmanuel won the blessings of the friar was beyond comprehension. All indications would point to his forte of winning friends and influencing people. The Caviteno became an adopted son of the Bantoanon tribe. Bo-oy became his home and the farm he tilled was planted with pineapple, custard apple (atis) guava, maize, sweet yam (camote). All were seedlings he procured from the convent's plant nursery managed by the friar. All of these crops were brought by the friar from the Americas. Biga (a variety of taro) the once staple food of the natives, lost its appeal.

Now, Emmanuel had to go back to Cavite, to fetch his wife and youngest daughter, Simona. Raymundo and Cayetano were left to manage the farm and herd in Bo-oy. They were big boys now.

The first thing the brothers did to welcome Simona was to invite her to go skin diving in Hipit. Simona was amazed at the beauty of the seabed and the coral reefs. The Hipit seabed was one big aquarium populated with exotic tropical fishes: black durgons, sergeant major, blue tangs, dusky damselfish, great triggerfish, parrotfish, squirrel fish, butterfly fish, glassy sweepers, ad infinitum. The picasso triggerfish was Simona's favorite.

But there was one beautiful yet sinister fish that the brothers and sister tried to avoid: the spotted scorpion fish or stonefish (bantoy). The fish at their time was literally all over the seabed in Hipit - on top of rocks, on corals, on the sand and on shallow crevices. The venomous fish, although edible, is a chameleon and a swimmer is always prone step on it while wading in the shallows. The fish with its notoriety is also a favorite dish for sumsuman (pulutan in Tagalog) over a kalawet (bamboo container) of tuba (coconut wine).

Emmanuel had a theory that the name Banton wasn't really a derivative of the word bato-on (stony). He surmised that when the Spanish conquistadores landed in the shores of Banton, the natives entertained them with tuba and roasted scorpion fish. The Spaniards asked what was the name of the fish and the natives replied: "Bantoy". Emmanuel of course didn't bring this to the attention of the friar. He knew you couldn't argue or disagree with the friar.

Emmanuel's family was lionized by Pedro Faigao (4th generation) in his memoirs written in vernacular: (loose translation)

 " My great grandfather's name is Emmanuel. I could not however, remember the name of his wife. Their children were named Raymundo, Cayetano, and Simona. The children were loving and respectful to their mother and father. The children were close to their parents since at a very tender age, they were taught the values of a well-knit family. Seldom did the children quarrel compared to the children of their neighbors. Emmanuel and his wife instilled in them the values of matinumanon (obedient) masipag (industrious) makipagkapua-tao (compassionate) matinahuron (respectful) mainampuon (God fearing) matinabangon (helpful) ag indi nipagbalibaron o nipagradaon (truthful, straightforward). The family never missed the Sunday mass."

 Emmanuel's thirst for the education of the children was beyond reproach. The Recollect's whip didn't discourage him from sending his children to the "convento", the only school in the pueblo. Pedro Faigao his great grandson continued:

 "The eldest, Raymundo started with the "Catoon" a primer on mastery of the alphabet. Raymundo passed it with flying colors. Cayetano wasn't as academically inclined as his big brother, and the "Catoon" became a pain on the neck. Simona, their kid sister fared better. However, she was unable to surpass the academic prowess of Ramundo. After the "Catoon", the children enrolled in "Trisagio" followed by "Doctrina" and "Gramatica-Castella". The last subjects they studied were the "Catisismo" and "Geograpia ." Raymundo passed them all with ease. Cayetano gave up on the "Doctrina" while his sister Simona finished the first part."

 Emmanuel was getting old but prosperous. Bo-oy became a model settlement in the pueblo and the friar was his constant visitor. On summer afternoons, Emmanuel marveled at the gargantuan whales (ballenas) that traversed the Sibuyan Sea. During sunrise, he watched the kingfisher swoop down over a school of anchovy and in flawless jet-like fashion, hurled its body into space, omnipotent with a wiggling fish on its beak. Emmanuel grinned. Bo-oy was the anchovy to nourish his flock. Cavite was history.


The Solokan Ranch (Tansahan)

Marriages separated the three children of Emmanuel. Raymundo married Melitona Fabiala and the couple stayed in Bo-oy. Simona married Emeterio Fabella of Sibay and Cayetano, who married last, settled in Togbongan with his wife Placida Figurasin. Emmanuel died and was buried in the pueblo's cemetery alongside the remains of Christian indios, the mestizos and the friars.

Raymundo took from his father the art of rapprochement with the Recollects and he became an alguacil, a subordinate official in the pueblo who assisted the capitan in the administration of Banton. Cayetano became a tenyente del barrio and later on, algua cil. The brothers were inching their way in the principalia (the pueblo's aristocracy) and exemption from the tributo, a kind of head tax of twelve reales, Raymundo and Cayetano were active in the pueblo's politics and both of them eventually became cabezas de barangay. The ramifications of the title were motley: their families were exempted from the tributo and the brothers had the responsibility of collecting taxes from their respective barangays.

Raymundo eventually carried the lifetime title of capitan and this enabled him and his family to be included in Banton's principalia. However, like the cabeza de barangay, Raymundo served without salary. His duties sometimes would include entertaining visiting dignitaries and travelers from Romblon and Marinduque. This meant giving gifts which was customary. When the collections fell short due to death or inability of some barangay folk to pay annual taxes, Raymundo had to make up the balance from his own pocket.

Their children were growing fast and the farms and the herds of cattle in Bo-oy, Togbongan and Sibay were no longer sufficient to meet the growing needs of the Faigao and Fabella broods, Economics dictated that the brothers explore virgin land to farm and find pasture for the cattle and goats. They had to act fast.

The baroto (wooden canoe with bamboo outriggers) glided past the Togbongan shoreline. Raymundo and Cayetano were heading for a small cove past Nasunogan harbor called Solokan or Syukan. It was kuarisma (summer) in Banton. Solokan was deserted, yet verdant with tropical forest. The settlers from nearby Nasunogan were hesitant to settle there because Solokan was the abode of the encanto, agta, and a giant balete tree!

To Raymundo and Cayetano, that was no big deal. They learned the idiosyncrasies of the encanto and the agta from Emmanuel in Bo-oy. As soon as they landlocked their baroto on the rocky shore, the brothers went immediately to the site of the balete tree where an oasis under its canopy of leaves cooled the blistering summer heat.

Water meant cattle for the brothers. The pasture was ideal: a slope here, a hill over there, a level land at the foot of Yabawon, and plenty of grass. The partnership was born: Raymundo's bull and Cayetano's cow. Solokan became the next frontier of the Faigaos.

The Faigao ranch started with a small plot of land fenced by bamboos near the balete tree and oasis. The brothers diversified by raising hogs, goats, and seeding coconut trees on any available level land.

The herd grew. In the absence of a branding iron, the brothers devised an unorthodox method of identifying their herd: Raymundo's cattle had its left ear cut off and the right ear slit in half. Cayetano's, the opposite. To accommodate the increasing herd , the brothers titled twenty-four more hectares which included a portion of the sitios of Pucanon, Capanranan and Cag-abo. They also invited Simona to join them in the cattle venture and pastureland. Simona's cattle had both ears slit in half.

The children kept coming to help in the ranch (tansahan). Eventually the ranch had to be divided according to the Spanish laws on wills and succession (Leyes de Toro). The Fabellas and Faigaos drew lines of demarcation in Yabawon, Cansuyot, and Solokan. The succeeding generations of Faigaos and Fabellas became the recipients of parceled lands from two to three hectares on the average. The tansahan ceased to exist. Unable to cope with advancing age, Raymundo went back to Bo-oy, Cayetano to his farm in Togbongan, and Simona and Emeterio Fabella went back to Sibay.

In the north, the last vestiges of the Iberian Empire collapsed under the intense bombardment of Admiral Dewey's guns. The Americans were coming to Banton.


Go West, Young Man

Mr. Blakeslee and Mr. Benning, two young American soldiers, arrived in Banton in 1902 to teach primary grades. The fourth generation Faigaos welcomed them with open arms. Prof. Gabriel Fabella whose roots are traceable to the Simona clan wrote: " The coming of two American teachers who stayed in Banton for about three years made the Bantoanons realize the difference between the Spanish and American policies and systems of education...And pupils like to come to school because the teachers were very kin d to them. They also gave their pupils, candies, pencils, papers, notebooks.. They were not given corporal punishment. Even grown-ups were encouraged to learn English...."

The Faigaos learned to count apples in English and the camote was forgotten for the time being. They read Longfellow and sang songs about places "where the buffalo roam." They dreamed of white Christmases. They intermarried with distant relatives and curved their niches in Mindoro, Tablas, Romblon, Manila, Corcuera, Sibali, Cebu and Midnanao, They founded schools and left indelible markers in literature, politics, history, medicine, and social work. They have not stopped dreaming...

Even in America.