Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gone is my River!

Of  Rizal And The River Communities of 19th Century town of  Pasig                            

José P. Rizal
 José Rizal immortalized and romanticized the Pasig River more than any other intellectual in our history. In his novels,  he mentioned the river many times and even wrote about the legends that abound in it. The climax of the Noli Me Tangere, that river chase on Ibarra happened in the Pasig river. Which part of the Pasig River?.......Not that far from my hometown of Pinagbuhatan, Pasig. If we deal with it with reality, we can say that Ibarra passed by our place before the shooting happened in the Laguna de Bay. But actually not only Ibarra. But Rizal himself had probably seen the rustic image of our barrio from the boat he was traveling many times.

The Manila to Laguna  journey (and vice versa), in the 19nth century were done via Pasig River. It is the ideal way since highways were non existence. Roads were unpaved, primitive and unsafe. The trip was usually done with steam boat or Casco. Rizal gave us a very vivid glimpse of that travel in the opening chapter of the El Filibusterismo, where the steam ship Tabo was traversing the Pasig River. What was interesting for me in this chapter was Rizal writing about the Pasig River waterway and the river communities of the town of Pasig  in the 19th century. For example in Chapter III he wrote:
"When Padre Florentino greeted the little group there were no longer traces of the ill humor of the past discussions. Perhaps they were influenced by the spirits, by the charming houses of Pasig,  the glasses of sherry they had taken to whet their appetite........

I asked many times, where could this houses be? What are those houses he was writing about? My research led me first to conclude that Rizal was describing the area around Sumilang nearing Kalawaan,  where houses were said to be beautiful and well built in the latter part of the 19nth century.  Subsequent inquiry specially with the historical experts of Pasig City suggested it could be the houses near the church. Remember, 19th century Pasig was different. The dominating edifice at that time was the church. Back then , from the Pasig river, if one is already in the vicinity of Sumilang one could see the church dome,  the bell tower and the houses that surrounds  it.
The view of the church from the Bitukang Manok. Note the dome of the church

*Then middle of Chapter III Rizal wrote of legends that abounds in the Pasig. The legends of "Malapad na Bato"(believed to be found in the Makati area),  Doña Jeronima's Cave (found somewhere in Barangay Pineda , Pasig) and the "Buwayang Bato" (said to be located also in Pineda or in Guadalupe, Makati), the crocodile that turned to stone, leaves us with more questions and mystery. Indeed Rizal immortalized the river with this tales. Incredible.                                    

           *The Legend of Doña Jeronima as Rizal wrote:

But of all this things written, the most interesting and the most candid,  was that last scene in Chapter I of the El Filibusterismo where a group of travelers were discussing on the upper deck of the Tabo . Two characters, Ben Zayb the journalist and Don Custodio, were talking about ducks...itik... that abound the area. Now quoting Rizal in the El Filibusterismo he wrote (Don Custodio telling Ben Zayb): "I am not talking of wild ducks, I mean the domesticated ones. Those that are bred in Pateros and Pasig." Rizal was actually mentioning the source of livelihood of my ancestors and that also of the ancestors of many Pasigueños who lived and still are living near the banks of  the river. To be precise, the barrios of Pinagbuhatan and the Bambang-Kalawaan area. For this are the places in Pasig where duck industry flourished for perhaps more than a century before its demised in the 1980's.

  Pateros river scene 19nth Cent. by Jose Honorato Lozano. Notice the "kamalig" and the "puya"or puyahan". 

 Rizal was so indeed a keen observer for he even discussed  in that El Filibusterismo chapter how duck feeds were obtained in the area and of course he also mentioned the famous "balut".

In the mid 1960's when industrial pollution started to ravage the Pasig River, the duck raising industry started it's decline. As feeds "caracoles" (river snails or "sambuele" in the local language),  became scarce, leading family of duck raisers in Pinagbuhatan started to abandon the business, which was then taken over by the Chinese entepreneurs, only to abandon it also later. The Kalawaan folks held on a little bit for years but as the 1980's came,  the whole duck industry of Pasig would be dead. Ending perhaps one of the oldest known industry of the river communities of Pasig.

If Rizal would see the Pasig River now from my hometown, he would probably say: "Gone is my river!"


1973 Photo
Circle marks the entrance of the cave. Its beside the c5 bridge connecting Pasig to Makati


Excavation done by  Barangay Pineda, Pasig

Old Picture of "Puyahan"                            

Familiar scene in duck raising areas  of Pasig and Pateros

19th Century  Pasig River Scenes

View from the town near Taguig on the Pasig River  by  Jose Honorato Lozano

 The casco as mode of transportation.

Mouth of the Pasig River (ETH Bibliothek Bild Archiv)

 Steam boats and cascos.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Many thanks for the info. Enjoyed reading...more, more, more!