Oktubafest celebrates Waray culture, recovery of local coconut industry

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TACLOBAN CITY—Gather two or more Warays to a table and before you know it, there are already two glasses being passed on from one to the next—one glass has a cola drink and the other has the red coconut wine called tuba.

It doesn’t need a special occasion. It can just be a regular family gathering, or a time listening to a friend pouring out over a spurned love interest, or a moment of relaxation after a grueling work. Tuba has been part of the everyday life among the people in Eastern Visayas.

Visual artist Dante Enage (center), who uses tuba as his medium in painting,
served as a judge on the on-the-spot painting of kawit competition

Big occasions like fiestas, a family reunion, or a toast for a new family member, the celebration is not complete without tuba. Tuba does not only lighten up the mood; it doubles the gaiety.

Tuba is the most popular native wine in Leyte and Samar. Every celebration among Leyteños and Samarnons cannot be complete without it. This organic wine is most affordable for anyone who wishes to buy a drink, and is much better than any alcoholic beverage: It does not result in a headache or hang over.

To us in the Leyte-Samar region, collectively known as Waray, tuba is not just a drink; it is our culture.

Even before the Spaniards came, tuba was already the centerpiece of any celebration. When the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan came to our shores, his chronicler Antonio Pigafetta documented the social and cultural practices of the natives. He noted that during the initial encounter at sea near Suluan Island, the southernmost island of Samar, the natives offered them rice, bananas and tuba.

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In Homonhon Pigafetta also noted the stages of preparing coconut milk from the coconut, the gathering and fermenting tuba, and the way of extracting milk from the coconut flesh.

Numerous local poetry, drama, songs and dances have revolved around Waray’s love for tuba. Literary luminaries like Eduardo Makabenta, Norberto Romualdez Sr., Vicente de Veyra and Iluminado Lucente have noted the importance of tuba in social gatherings and interpersonal relationships among the locals.

The ubiquitous tuba once again took center stage in the recent ninth edition of Oktubafest held on October 28. The annual tuba festival showcases the best tuba products of Leyte. Local government units (LGUs) in Leyte province vied for best bahal (old) and bahalina (aged), best kutil (tuba concoction) and best tuba-infused dishes.

The festival also featured an on-the-spot kawit painting, monochromatic tuba painting contest and Oktuba photo contest. Kawit is made of bamboo pole that is used by tuba harvesters. It is attached on the shoulders by a wooden hook, and serves as a container of the freshly harvested juice.

School s in cooking competition that makes use of tuba as one of its ingredients.

The annual festival, which started in 2009, is organized by the An Waray party-list, with the support of the provincial government of Leyte, LGUs, academe and big hotels and restaurants in the province.

“This is an effort of the An Waray to promote the coconut industry,” Party-list Rep. Victoria G. Noel said. “Coconut is one of the main industries of the region.”

The An Waray party-list has also been in the forefront for the passage of a bill to revitalize the coconut industry, which remains pending in Congress.

Noel added the passage of the bill is more important now especially that Eastern Visayas is still in the midst of rehabilitation of coconut trees toppled by Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013.

Her House Bill 1705 seeks to increase farm productivity through planting or replanting of suitable seedling varieties, rehabilitation and fertilization of coconut and integration of coconut-farming system and processing. The bill also includes provision of infrastructure facilities that will benefit coconut farmers, as well as research and development to improve existing coconut varieties.

Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Dominico L. Petilla lauded the party-list group for sponsoring the activity.

“I thank them for giving importance to something that gives identity to us here in Eastern Visayas, the tuba making. This is only done here,” he said.

‘Barok’ is the secret

MANY farmers in Leyte plant coconut not to produce copra or sell the nuts, but to make tuba.

“We do not only produce the finest tuba; we also have the most number of tuba lovers,” Petilla said.

Tuba is produced by mixing coconut sap with barok, a reddish bark of a mangrove tree. Barok not only gives the reddish color, but it also prevents the coconut sap from turning sour and allows the tuba to ferment. A tuba fermenting for up to one year is called bahal, while aged tuba is called bahalina. Some tuba producers keep their tuba as old as 10 years to keep it more potent and of higher alcohol content.

Coconut sap is produced by cutting the tip of an unopened flower to release the sap. The sap is then transferred to the kawit that a mananguete (tuba gatherer) carries along when climbing the tree. The sap is mixed with a handful of finely chopped barok placed in a small container attached to the waist of the mananguete as he climbs the tree. One tree can produce as much as one liter of coconut sap.

The mixed coconut sap and barok is then placed in a glass bottle. In three to four days, it will bubble and produce sediments. When sediments have subsided, the tuba is then carefully transferred to another glass bottle, making sure the bottle is full and there is no space for air. When sediments have gathered, tuba is transferred again to another bottle until all sediments are gone. The whole sedimentation process may take months to complete.

When the sediments have already been removed, the tuba are then kept to age. Some tuba makers are known to bury their jars on the earth to age.

Not all tuba tastes the same. The taste depends on the technique used by the tuba gatherer and the amount of barok put in. There is no exact ratio between the amount of sap gathered and the barok that is added. Each mananguete makes his own estimation. The amount of barok explains why some tuba is darker than the others.

Reviving the coconut industry

TUBA production in Leyte suffered when Yolanda hit the region in November 2013, destroying an estimated 13 million coconut trees. For some time, tuba sellers in the province had to get their supply from Southern Leyte, and in the process, jacking up prices to as double its original price before the typhoon.

The Philippine Coconut Authority has earmarked P2.8 billion for the massive rehabilitation and recovery program that included planting of 10 million coconut seedlings in Eastern Visayas alone.

Some partially damaged coconut trees have also started bearing fruits, earlier than the expected five years of recovery.

Other government agencies like the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry have launched separate programs to help coconut farmers.

Image Credits: Elmer V. Recuerdo



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