Friday, January 28, 2005

Natural wonders in our forests

Natural wonders in our forests

Posted 01:16am (Mla time) Jan 28, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the January 28, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WOOD is something we encounter every day. Wood is so common that we see it but rarely take the time to notice.

After the landslides in Quezon last year and the talk on logging in the Philippines -- legal and otherwise -- you realize that much of our mountains have really been denuded. Look at our mountains and hills, once cool and green with forest cover now just bare, brown soil. There remains a great demand for Philippine hardwood when it is easier, cheaper and better for our forests to use imported wood like oak or cherry. Why deplete our forests when we can exhaust wood from other countries first?

Each time I enter a newly constructed home in one of the posh villages and notice the shiny hardwood floors, I cannot help but realize that the old sensibility, the “bahay na bato” [stone house] syndrome or aesthetic, is still alive and well in the 21st century. The wood of choice is not narra or batikuling but molave, kamagong, balayong and other types now rare as the santos and colonial furniture made from them. As late as four decades ago, old, dry and aged Philippine hardwood was turned into elegant pieces of sculpture by modern masters Napoleon Abueva and Arturo Luz, both National Artists, and younger wood artisans who make wonderful modern furniture: Osmundo Esguerra, Claude Tayag and Benji Reyes.

Different types of Philippine wood are described in Jean Mallat's two-volume work on the Philippines published in Paris in 1846. Reading the catalogue of different types of wood he found in Ilocos made me realize that this work was more than a travel guide for the would-be tourist who was brave enough to go beyond Europe into lesser-known parts of Asia. Mallat provided a guide for businessmen who wanted to invest in the Philippines or Philippine products. He also provided the native names of the wood because many of them did not have scientific names at the time so he mentioned wood I never heard of: ulis, calantas, canaren, arangen, marumpir, maraquitel, saimayen, bio, diran, lanuti, barangoan, lilisen, etc.

Mallat even provided specific uses for specific types of wood: Molave was good for framing and pilings because it was incorruptible. Mangachapuy was made to grow long and high and made into masts for Chinese sampans. Guijo or lauaan was made into beam-ends and even the keels of galleons. So hard was this wood that cannon balls hardly scratched them. Narra then as now was good for furniture. Tindalo was made into magnificent tables (probably those altar tables that now sell for over P1 million each). Lumban and batacang when polished were so beautiful they were made into tables and boats. Banaba was used for flooring both in houses and ships. Taculao and parunapin were made into keels of ships, gatasan into rafters of houses. Bacalao was made into anchors, Dignee and mabolo were heavy woods that resembled ebony: they were black or had black streaks and were made into combs.

Certain types of wood had other uses than being made into chairs, stools and tables. Anteng when burned was like incense. The trunk of ibbey or mountain-fig would miraculously tame the most furious bull or buffalo if you tied it to the tree. The bark of adaan, when pulverized and thrown into a river, killed all the fish and made fishing easier. (One wonders though if the poison did not affect humans.) Amboyan was made for frames, its bark produced bleach for the laundry and when burned its ashes were a substitute for soap. Oplas and asperilla leaves were used to polish wood and the balete, which in Philippine folklore is said to be the home of supernatural creatures, provided good timber. Its leaves and bark could be made into loin clothes or “bahag.”

Baroan and bangsanga could be made into timber, and if you had an enemy, the sap from their trunks when applied on the skin caused it to swell, and I presume, itch or burn. Balanac when burned was said to produce smoke that killed people within a radius of four to five varas. I am curious about the bagao, which was described as: "a majestic tree under which the Indios used to hold their [pre-colonial] religious ceremonies; its fruit, bigger than an apple, has a tender flesh and a pleasant taste; it is eaten fully ripe; when it is ripe, it is as intoxicating as the strongest wine. The fruit also provides an oil used as mordant for making color take on cotton that is being tinted."

Mallat seems to have gone around and done some research because aside from trees he mentioned some medicinal plants on which he provided personal, first-hand information. Leaves of coscosipa chewed and applied was a cure for boils. Bani leaves mixed with vinegar (of course, nothing less than the strong sukang Iloco) prevented diseases like smallpox if one rubbed it on the body. Macabuhay was a vine whose bark had tubers that when taken as a decoction cured fever and stomach trouble. Powdered and dried in an oven, it was used to treat ulcers of the palate. Mallat did not realize that the name of the plant, "makabuha," was perhaps a clue to its properties. He saw the cures made with this plant and recommended it highly.

Old books like Mallat's are often ignored in libraries because they contain obsolete or useless information. Perhaps we should read them again if only to appreciate what natural wonders remain in our midst.


Blogger huge pecs said...

thank you so much for your spot here. we are looking for the mangachapuy for our arboretum, and it is a challenge.
phil collins la union

November 25, 2016 at 7:51 PM  

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