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Hunting and Gathering in Boac: Ethnographic Moments as UGAT Foragers

Mary Racelis

UGAT Tribal Elder

November 5, 2022


That’s what the onsite participants at UGAT’s 44th called it the stormy Saturday after the Conference. Instead of being tourists scheduled to do an island tour of Marinduque, we made the streets of Boac our field site, courtesy of Typhoon Paeng.

The day started with a big surprise when we looked out our hotel windows to see near-foot-high floodwaters already covering the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhood. The wind was so strong that the rain was coming down sideways. We were marooned!

Our hotel receptionist confirmed that boat trips back to Dalahikan port in Lucena City were cancelled until the Coast Guard said otherwise – perhaps until Sunday or Monday. Tuesday was the Undas holiday with no boats running, so it might even be Wednesday before we could leave! She added that while the hotel had food for its tenants for that day, the market and groceries were closed with streets impassable. That meant lunch and dinner the next day might be a problem.

Boac street from UGAT hotel. Typhoon Paeng. Oct. 29, 2022 (Photo by Mary Racelis)

How do anthropologists confront the situation? Congregate in the lobby with wi-fi to catch up on news and work!

UGAT warriors, however, quickly took control of the situation. Skilty Labastilla spent all morning tracking down via cellphone the rest of the tribe scattered over different hotels and dormitories in the city, assisted by Jessie Varquez. They wanted to be sure our tribal members were safe. They were. Aileen del Rosario-Rondilla continued sorting out Conference receipts while the search for Neen Sapalo, missing from the hotel, continued. Neen eventually turned up, after having stayed with her UP anthro students late-night Friday to celebrate having successfully met their coming-of-age ritual as UGAT panelists. By the time the festivities ended, Neen discovered that the torrential rain, wind and initial flooding blocked her return to the hotel, so she stayed with her initiates.

By mid-afternoon, the rain had let up and the flooding had receded. We thought we should venture a modified ethnography of post-storm behavior. So off we went – Skilty, Jessie, Aileen and I. Here and there a few people were cautiously skirting the remaining pools of water. Stores were still shuttered and an eerie silence dominated our neighborhood. But that couple walking by, hunched under an umbrella against the wind could do it, why not us? City life was returning and we wanted to be part of its new normal.

Store for foragers after Typhoon Paeng. Boac, Marinduque. Oct. 30, 2022 (Photo by Mary Racelis)

Foraging for food and water was the first imperative. As we ventured into the street leading to the market, lo and behold, around the corner were rows of women vendors already there selling vegetables and fruits colorfully displayed on mats along the sidewalk – orange squash, light green pechay, white onions, yellow ginger, violet talong, dark green ampalaya, red banana hearts, beige corn, brown potatoes, greenish tangerines, yellow bananas, orange-green papayas – with customers galore milling around them to buy what they could while they lasted – maybe also because unlike unsuspecting us, their indigenous knowledge predicted the rains would return.

Sunday mini-market after the onslaught of Typhoon Paeng. Boac, Marinduque. Oct. 30, 2022

(Photos by Jessie Varquez)

Tricycles were back on the streets, but we welcomed the chance to walk. The first restaurant we attempted was closing for the day, so instead we bought the food pasalubong items for sale there – primarily the famous uraro/arrowroot cookies and many more goodies. But where could we buy real food for supper? The small sari-sari stores were the only shops open, doing a thriving business despite no electricity. Using their cellphone lights to find the right items, the old salesman picked out packages of soup noodles, bread, crackers, bananas, and all kinds of tsitseria for eager us.

Since it again looked like a menacing rain was in the offing (we must have been in the deceptive eye of the storm at that point), we rushed back to the hotel just in time to avoid the next downpour. The hotel generator enabled us to settle into wifi and kuwentuhan, so no problem. Although the hotel staff had belatedly gone out to buy food for us that evening, we found our Marinduque State College host and UGAT member, Randy Nobleza, delivering the packed food and water he had organized for our island tour. All the other participants in various parts of the city were similarly served. We will be forever grateful to Randy, his student volunteers and MSC itself for their superb care and hospitality. UGAT members ate well that night!

The next day, Sunday, started off again with a clear morning, so off we – including now Neen and the young philosophy professor Marielle Zosa – went to explore the city, admiring the stately old houses of wood with capiz-shell windows. The original Immaculate Conception Cathedral founded in 1622 required a stimulating walk up to the hill overlooking the city. No sooner had we gotten there than the skies darkened, again bringing torrential rain. So convinced had we been in the morning that the storm was over that none of us had even brought an umbrella!

What does one do, sitting in church for an hour? Pray, think, talk quietly, check one’s cellphone or, as Jessie and I eventually did, make kuwento with the Church security guard for a mini-version of his life history. Although he had lived in Quezon City and Cainta, he moved to Boac where he had a relative and liked having plenty of cheap and fresh food.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Boac, Marinduque. Oct. 30, 2022

(Photos by Mary Racelis and Jessie Varquez)

As soon as the torrent stopped, we rushed to the pasalubong shop below for last-minute purchases, then to the now-open restaurants for lunch. But rain again forced us to hang out there for another hour before we could run to a coffee shop around the corner for fragrant cappuccinos. That meant another hour of kuwentuhan waiting for the rain onslaught to stop. Then back to the hotel for outsourced dinner and packing. The boat to Lucena, we were told, was leaving in the morning. Neen was in charge of the transport.

Kwentuhan with my fellow UGAT foragers at a coffee shop in Boac, Marinduque. Oct. 30, 2022.

Although we got up at 5:00 a.m. for breakfast and to await news of the boat departure time, our four ro-ro vans didn’t arrive until 9:30 a.m. The drivers apparently knew the first trip was not leaving until noon. This time the sunny morning stayed that way. We boarded and watched with fascination as vehicles backed into tight spots in the loading section. The boat trip with a fresh breeze and the sun shining gave us enticing glimpses of the shoreline and what we missed when Paeng cancelled our island tour. We will simply have to return to Marinduque sometime in the summer – or perhaps during the moriones celebration – a welcome thought.

In the meantime, we will remember fondly our two-day forays into Boac streets foraging for food and being participant-observers in a recovering city returning to everyday life. We had heard of the devastation affecting other communities so were doubly grateful to be safe and even able to develop a sort-of ethnography of recovery.

UGAT Elder sailing home. Oct. 31, 2022.

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