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Cal y canto con camote

FENG shui (literally, wind water flow) lore has it root crops embody a hidden store of treasures. Say, a local food conglomerate needs yearly 35,000 metric tons of cassava for livestock feed-- the available local supply falls short of 13,000 tons. Cassava granules sell for around P9 a kilo.

Demand for the same root crop to be used in liquor manufacturing is hitting above the roof. Why, raising cassava is a no-brainer task— this is one tough crop that can grow in the most hostile patches of earth, providing sustenance for ages to dwellers in sub-Saharan parts of Africa.

While the hardy cassava is nearly pure starch, the lowly sweet potato or kamote is considered by nutritionists as a super food, the most nutritious of all vegetables—kamote levels of Vitamin A are “off the charts, rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.” A fist-sized kamote can supply a day’s dose of glucose to fuel the brain, muscles, and organs, so they claim.
Count the country lucky for having been blessed with a plethora of edible root crops that represent buried treasures, as feng shui would have it—tugui, paket, ubag, ubi, gabi, uraro, horse-radish tree or the more familiar malunggay, carrot, radish, potato, jicamas, peanut, asparagus, ginger, galangal, shallot, garlic, onion…

God helps those who help themselves, or, as the Filipino adage goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa; nasa tao ang gawa.

Wracked for ages by howlers and inclement clime, the people of Batanes helped themselves raising meek kamote as adjuncts of green to their earth-hugging abodes. Typhoons can come and go but the kamote patches stay green, their hoard of nutrients for sustenance grow in bulk, untouched, a reservoir of food that can be unearthed to hush hunger.

The vernacular architecture that Batanes natives reared was another gesture of helping themselves to endure, adapt to the hostile geography they chose to dwell upon. Spanish missionaries who settled the northern islands brought with them stonecutters, masons, and artisans from Cagayan province to build churches of enduring stone.

The Ivatans of Batanes watched, helped out. Building technology was thus transferred: the natives learned and went on to raise their own houses akin to the cal y canto or mortar and stone churches.

Man-made structure was adapted to the vagaries of nature. Where storm winds were hurled from, the defense wall was laid like a turtle’s carapace at its thickest—about a meter of stone and mortar without a vent. Air ventilation came from windows that opened up to the northeastern breeze.

The natives have not stumbled into cutting slate or granite slabs into shingles to be arrayed as tile roof—they have kept the cuatro agua or four layers of bundled cogon sheaves piled as tiles usually capped with a spread of net that prevents the roof from being blown away during storms. The grass roofing also served as effective thermal insulation in summer.

Such homes that withstood surge of storms and whiplash of winds were built in bayanihan fashion. Ivatans, like ants in a colony have practiced for ages a quaint work ethic of helping each other, 18-20 people per team that took the collective burden of home building… yes, they built homes for each other, built a community together.

They adapted the cal y canto building techniques from the Spanish friars in the 18th century, rebuilt their communities with such knowledge. Indolence, dearth of imagination, apathy and indifference can be anathema even on the most fertile patch of earth.

Even the most hostile geography can be blessed with cal y canto con kamote.


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