Sunday, January 12, 2014

By their fruits

ARROCEROS-- literally “rice growers”— flows parallel to the Pasig River for nearly a kilometer from the western foot of Quezon Bridge, and yawns dead smack into a section of Taft Avenue in Manila. The street is a tribute of sorts to the dead and mangled Sangleys-- migrant Chinese workers who settled in that precinct for pariahs or social outcasts sometime in a dim past.

In a bid to shore up palay production in Luzon rice farms that were solely dependent on rainwater, Dominican friars introduced paddy irrigation to the country back in the 18th century. At gunpoint, Sangleys were pried off their homes, hauled away to divert flow of rivers, dig up irrigation ditches and turn the ground on paddies in farms scattered off Manila.

It was unpaid corvee labor—and most of the laborers paid in blood, gunned down or hacked dead, their rotted corpses dumped in the bowels of farmlands they worked on, thus, enriching both earth and crops.

By some twist of kismet or karma, payback for Sangley sacrifices came two centuries later. Rice traders, mostly those of Chinese extraction, have cornered the nation’s supply of the staple grain, even gaining a stranglehold on farm-gate prices through procurement of the greater bulk of rice yields.

Shunning help of outsiders by taking matters into their own hands, Trappist monks—a group of monks that make up a branch of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance-- have taken to brewing beer since the Middle Ages. As Cistercians require monasteries to remain self-sufficient, the monks sell their brew to the public. Sales proceeds go into monastery upkeep and living costs, the rest of the profit go to charity.

Beer connoisseurs and the discriminating go after Trappist brews, say, the highly sought and one of the rarest, Westvleteren—sold right off the brewery at the St. Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren town in the Belgian province of West Flanders. Westvleteren, deemed as the world’s best beer, may be called a labor of love that hews close to faith—for, as St. Paul of Tarsus would have it, “faith without works is dead.”

Among the denominations of Islam, Sufi Muslims stand out for their quaint work ethic and sense of humor, weaving by hand tapestries, prayer rugs and carpets from wool sheared off their sheep flocks. The most notable among them are Afghan poet and mystic Rumi (whose snippets of aphorisms are strewn all over Facebook walls) and astronomer-war strategist-poet-man of many skills Omar Khayyam who authored a collection of quatrains, “The Rubaiyyat.” Ironically, both have been meted the so-called fatwa, later lifted.

Puti Damo, a monk from India brought Zen Buddhism, the basics of disciplined breathing and unarmed combative arts to China around 527 B.C. Apparently, such faith spread, even infecting concepts of fusing nature and structure in oriental architecture. Too, Zen—not much of a religion but a way of life—has taken root and bloomed fully in the tea ceremony, serene gardens, flower arrangements, meditative forms of martial art, and serene acceptance of whatever circumstance turns up.

“By their fruits, ye shall know them,” so the Messiah admonished His flock.

Let it not be said that 336 tons of trash-- plastic food wrappers, empty mineral water bottles and barbecue sticks—left in the wake of a religious procession that saw some three million faithful taking part be called fruit peels and rinds.

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