Mapping Buhi culture and searching for the best coffee


For all the alliteration, the search for the best coffee does not always end in the mapping of culture. But, in Buhi, anything in terms of knowledge is possible.

I was in the town of Buhi, which I insist now should be spelled “Boi”, the better to shake off the colonial mind that permeates everything that is old in the region. The origin of the town has something to do with a group of people that were let loose, freed. Nakabuhi is the word for that situation. It is said that a volcanic eruption of Mount Mayon was the reason for the people fleeing and surviving the catastrophe to found this town.

Slaves as we are to Spanish archiving, the town is known to have been established in 1578.

By its location, Buhi is an interior town. Like its lake, the famous Lake Buhi, said to have only one outlet, Buhi in one’s map feels as if one enters it only from Iriga and goes out by way of the same road.  That, of course, is a city boy perspective. The hills and mountains around it provide passes to the other parts of the province.

I was in Buhi last week to prepare for a cultural mapping of the town. The approach is used to surface the cultures and stories of a town without the use of experts and other ethnographic authorities. Cultural mapping demands that we view and describe the culture of the town from below, using local knowledge.

As I explained the unique approach, which also requires the facilitator to learn to listen to the “uneducated”, the mayor of the town, Margie M. Aguinillo, expressed her interest in this process.

We scheduled the mapping for another weekend. The good mayor invited us then to have a merienda in the town’s café. It used to be a moviehouse.

The town has changed, I told Mayor Aguinillo, who is also the first female mayor of the town. We never had coffee when, as young men, we visited Buhi (my father is from this town). Coffee wes served in homes. Brewing and drinking coffee then required no skill. One assumed all coffee to be good.

In cafés, drinks and pastries were subjected to judgment.

In Iriga, on our way to Buhi, Kristian Sendon Cordero, the Bikol poet who is going off to the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop in August, was showing me the café in his city. This focus on coffee stems from my two succeeding columns on cafés, love and promises. Cordero is obsessed with all three. In the café, he observed how coffee is really appraised for its bitterness. For the coffee we were having, he noted how the drink got bitter as we consumed it.

In the Buhi café, down in what used to be the orchestra of the old moviehouse, the coffee was not bitter enough. It was special, though. As I sipped the coffee, I kept looking up to the gorgeous staircase leading to the balcony. What films were shown here? Did the audience laugh heartily? Did they weep over the sad scenes? What love affairs were consumed in the dark?

The Buhinons or Boinons are famous for claiming their place to be unique. Their lake contains the sinarapan, considered to be the smallest commercial fish in the world. They are proud of their language and calls it difficult and different from the other Bikol languages (I cannot speak it).

In  Benita’s and Flora’s Bakery and Café, I could not make sense of my coffee. The taste was as elusive and piquant as the mother tongue of the people of Buhi.








Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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