This Town Called Pili

That simplistic (meaning “flawed”) report from GMA-7’s Drew Arellano about Gainza (which I wrote in this column dated January 17, 2020) has prodded me to look at other towns very close to Naga.

The point of my critique, for those who have not read my column, is that towns that are very close to urban areas should not be exoticized as “isolated” and totally “singular.”

Pili has interested me because of many factors. There is its proximity to Naga, which somehow does not make it altogether a rural town. The boundary between this town and Naga has always been porous: one does not know when one has left the city and entered the town.

Pili therefore is an urbanized town, a quality making it the appropriate capital of the province.

But, has Pili a history? Does it have a past that is, let’s say, as distinguished as Canaman? The town of Pili has never appeared in major books by social scientists. Certain areas of Partido have been written by Norman Owen. Calabanga became an unforgettable site with Fenella Cannell’s “Power and Intimacy in Christian Philippines” a loving tribute to faith and fluidity of gender and identities in the region. In the same book, Dr. Cannell looked into the gay male beauty pageant in the city of Naga. But this is altogether a different discourse.

Canaman, of course, will forever be the town to reckon with in terms of a Bikol place being part of global consciousness. In the 50s, Frank Lynch, the Jesuit anthropologist made it his fieldsite. Social science students all over the Philippines may not be aware of it when they study social stratification that the notion of big people vs. little people was developed by Lynch. The Jesuit anthropologist in his interviews discovered that the inhabitants of Canaman called the rich or the elite as “darakulang tawo” and the poor as “saradit na tawo.” From there was formed his notion of inequality in a Philippine town.

But, Pili?

I cannot accuse a traveler of poor research if I don’t do my own investigation or, at least, a cursory reading of materials about a town I am writing about.

In the National Library can be found the Historical Data. These are materials compiled by teachers in the 1950s upon the instruction of the Philippine government. For Pili, the document was “respectfully submitted” by Tomas Pan, Principal in 1953. The researchers were Sinforoso Cornelio, Moises Corporal and Porfirio Tolosa, all named as “compilers.”

As with all reports, names abound. Who was the first “teniente?” Who were the earliest families? The earlies families would always be the elite. This is the problem of historical researches because original settlers when named would tend to be those with wealth and social prestige. In the document, the head of the families were identified as Jose Imperial, Felix Canuto, Braulio Velarde, Antonio Kilates, and Juan Arejola.

For all the limitation of the documents, this brief historical account of Pili is important for its two versions of why the town was called “Pili.” One reason is the more obvious: the town was named for the Pili trees that abound in the place. The other reason for the name mentions how the place was chosen – “Pinili,” later changed to “Pili.”

This naming part should be considered significant because of the absence of this oft-cited scenario where a Spaniard chances upon a native. From the initial conversation, the confusion leads to the colonizer using the “misread” or “misheard” name as the basis for calling the place the former stumbles upon.

The names of the “barrios” as the barangays were called then should interest present town researchers and inhabitants. They were in the 50s the following: Anayan, Binanuaanan, Cadlan, Curry, Himaao, Palestina, Pawili, San Jose, and Tinagnis (as spelled in the documents). Two barrios I do not recognize are Ca-anonagnan and Calangcaan. What happened to them or to their names? Did they become new barangays? There were 11 barrios when the report was submitted; presently, there are 26 barangays.

The research enjoined teachers to look for the unique aspects of culture in their town of assignment. One of these sources that would distinguish the place was in their sayings and songs.

One song in the entry has a title “Si Arca.” It begins with the lines: Sinugo aco ni Arca/Sa buquid na nagtutuga (I was by Arca asked/To go to a mountain erupting). Then stanzas of four lines follow.

One stanza laments: Herac man, saimo tugang co/Suhay cana qui Nanay mo/Iyo mong pagsusunud sunudon/An gobierno nin agom mo. (Pity, my brother/You are already separated from your mother/What you would be following/The government of your wife.

The lines mix marital humor and the politics of women being superior over men.

The song ends with these lines: An pagsuhayan tang dalan/Tamnan ta nin lakad bulan/Kung si isay si magsakit Lolay/Mag pasurat-suratan. (The road from where we drift apart/We should plant with herbs/Whoever suffers affliction/We should to each other write.

The said lines are magical and charming with separation (pagsuhayan) in the Bikol language getting a reminder in the last line with the act of writing (pagsurat-suratan). A lovely trick is also embedded in the herb to be planted – “lakad bulan” – rhyming with the road or “dalan.”

The last page of the report cites the dances present in the town of Pili. “Lanceros,” which is closely identified with the town is there. But how does one dance the “Ingkoyingkoy” or “Ingkoy-ingkoy?”