Purok Tabaching ng Baranggay Maligaya
by Kiko Matsing
The night before I flew back to the US, my sister and I swapped rucksacks. She gave me one, colored turquoise blue, made by Sagada Weaving, for the Swiss Gear that I had brought with me. I had been using hers during my stay in Manila, which she picked up on a previous trip to the Mountain Province. To make up for its smaller size, my mom gave me a bayong (a basket of palm leaves) from Bicol as extra handcarry for other native articles I had acquired: t’nalak fabric from the T’boli of Southern Mindanao, Tribu sandals and slippers, and bamboo rainsticks as gifts for my cousins I would visit in San Francisco. T’nalak is a type of ikat weaving where red-and-black patterns are tie-dyed onto the warp threads of abaca before these are woven. The women who create the intricate patterns, which are of spiritual significance to the T’boli, accomplish these, every time, from memory, gauging where to apply the resist of beeswax by their fingers.
At the lines in the airport, I followed a matronly woman to the X-ray scanners. She was fabulously coiffed like Madame Marcos, and bundled up in copious fur like her pet cat. I worried at how she would manage to pass through the machines. I shoved my stuff in, through the eye of the needle, and it promptly regurgitated them at the other side. Thus outfitted with my trusty bayong, toting my worldly possessions, I journeyed to America like a regular probinsiyano.
In my bayong was also a Tabachingching doll that Cez gave me as a gift. In 2005, while staying in Dumaguete, Cez wrote me an email about going into the doll business. The last time we met in Manila was right before I left for graduate school; she and Brian were then thinking of moving to either Batanes or Dumaguete after their stint in Sagada. I gave them some input on Dumaguete, having stayed there as a poetry fellow in the eponymous National Writer’s Workshop in the summer of 2000, and, later on, as a backpacker that stowed away with a troop of UP law students. Dumaguete is home to Silliman University, which is also its heart, much like what UF is for Gainesville. I liked its lazy, small-town feel: the coffee shops and used-books stores, the breezy promenade along Rizal Boulevard, the bohemian subculture of writers and artists. It is the perfect starting point to explore Eastern Visayas where there are frequent ferries that take you to the destinations: Bais (whale watching), Apo Island (marine sanctuary), Siquijor (white sands and witches), Dapitan (Rizal’s refuge), Bohol (Chocolate Hills, tarsiers), Cebu (city center), and even Tacloban (birthplace of Imelda Marcos) through Ormoc.
I’ve also put up a funny business: Dolls. In Negros, for the lack of things to do and with dwindling funds, I started to sew these dolls with River’s caregiver. As always, I started to dream that these dolls would conquer the world… Anyway, I began to conceive (on paper) Filipino dolls, taking inspiration from the funny people Brian and I met in our travels. For pure fun, we sewed tsismoso dolls–three of them: Bebang (the market cocinera), Isko (the sabungero), and Doña Gloria (the wealthy widow). All of them are ridiculously fat and making tsismis [gossip]. I gave these dolls as a gift to Bea Zobel who supported me during my proposal-writing. What happened next was like a minor explosion; Bea loved them and decided to order by the hundreds. Hahaha! So I have a running doll business now. I call them Purok Tabaching of Baranggay Maligaya. It is fun work. Brian and I are becoming happy toy-makers. I am sending you a picture. We’ve expanded our line to 8 dolls and the barangay is growing. A huge part of the doll sales goes to helping save Bohol Heritage.
Indeed, when I caught up with her and Vince in a Quiapo bead-shop, it seemed to me that her operation was in full swing. She gave us a doll each: Aling Maritess for Vince, and Manang Biday for me.
Aling Maritess, The Church’s Volunteer. Aling Maritess, is a retired Grade 1 teacher and devout church volunteer (she sweeps the aisles after every mass). She loves to garden, orchids being her favorite plant. The truth is, she is the only one who knows all the secrets of the town. Only her plants hear all the sordid details, however. In lieu of fertilizers, Aling Maritess relies on the power of the sun, wind, rain, and local gossip to make her orchids grow. And every year, almost without fail, she wins as the best local orchid grower in the provincial gardening competition, topping 28 baranggays.
Manang Biday, The Lavandera. Manang Biday hails from the North, and she makes her Ilocano heritage known by chewing nga-nga [betel nut] and smoking rolled tobacco. She does not take to gossip and because of this her Tabachingching community does not fully trust her (but would not dare tell it to her face). She has a daughter, Nini, a budding young girl of sixteen whom Manang Biday watches like a hawk. In her spare time, Manang Biday secretly reads Pinoy romance books and is an avid Noranian.
Aside from the well-crafted make–the distinctive facial expressions–and attention to detail–the barely-there rouge on their plump cheeks–the mischievous stories she fabricates for these characters are what especially makes them endearing. They come alive in our imagination. As Manang Biday sat snug in my bayong, smoking her tobacco on her way to America, with a look of sassy self-satisfaction, I thought, just maybe, these dolls may indeed conquer the world.