Modern Living

Balay ni Tana Dicang: A heritage powerhouse of industry, art and culture in negros

ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre - The Philippine Star
Balay ni Tana Dicang: A heritage powerhouse of industry, art and culture in negros
Balay ni Tana Dicang, a classic bahay-na-bato museum in Talisay, Negros Occidental.
Ricky Toledo and Negros Season of Culture

A century before women’s liberation and #MeToo there was Enrica Alunan Lizares, a sugar baroness to be reckoned with among male titans in the thriving island of Negros, known for its vast wealth and the resulting lifestyle excesses in the haciendas that dotted its landscape. Fondly called Kapitanaor Tana Dicang, wife of the mayor Kapitan Efigenio Treyes Lizares, the matriarch was actually quite careful with her finances and held grand celebrations only when the occasion called for it. “Like when she won against Aniceto Lacson who sued her for river rights, she threw a party in honor of the lawyer who won the case for her,” says fourth generation heir Adrian “Adjie” Villasor Lizares who now runs the balay (house) turned museum in Talisay.       

The party cost P448 in 1906, an amount documented in one of the ledgers that is a prime source of valuable information about the family. “But it’s really all about Tana Dicang that’s why we named the house after her. We don’t have any information on her husband, only that he died after she gave birth to their 16th child,” relates Adjie.  She was also known to have said “Ay ka luyag ko guid na sang acon asawa, kay daog daog ko lang na siya.” (I love my husband because I can get my way with him).

She did get her way most of the time because she was quite driven. “She was so hardworking that even when she was pregnant, she’d get ready for childbirth in the hacienda where they had a fleet of nurses and would just give birth then go back to work like nothing happened,” according to Adjie. After her husband’s death in 1902 at 55 years of age, the Kapitana managed six haciendas, with many more acquired haciendas in the years that followed, not to mention sugar centrals like the Silay Milling Company and the Bacolod-Murcia Milling Company. 

Her prominence and influence is most apparent in her framed photo with President Manuel Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmeña who would practically made her home the de-facto presidential palace in the south. The two men would retire upstairs, disrobe to their underwear because of the heat, and smoke cigars. A match was actually arranged at the house when President Quezon was looking for a wife for his soon to become Manila Mayor Leon Guinto. Tana Dicang ended up offering her daughter Remedios as the bride. The story was a source of amusement reminding us of the heyday of Malate nightlife centered on Remedios Circle which connected to Leon Guinto street.     

An orimon or sedan chair on display is testament to the matriarch’s frequent trips to their estates during pre-automobile days when men would carry her around the fields where she had herds of carabaos. She would praise the farmers who woke up early to get the pick of the more robust beasts of burden and chide the lazier ones who would be left with the runts. She was very derisive about sloth in general, even telling her children that beds should only be for sleeping at night and should be avoided the rest of the day.  

Milk from the farm was used to feed her children who also received milk from “wet nurses” that she hired from the countryside.  Excess farm milk was made into confectionery which she sold in a store on the ground floor of the house together with produce as well as other household needs. Her enterprising nature manifested itself further in the establishment of a couture atelier where her daughters made ternos both for the family as well as other fashionable women of Negros. Photos of the chic Lizares women are all over the house including those of the succeeding generations who went to Assumption in Manila “where they would just cross the street to go to Slim’s and have dresses made,” says Adjie.  We remember Adjie’s sister, Marissa, who is now a Talisay councilor, as being one of Manila’s most stylish women herself, a muse for Azabache and other top designers.

As for Adjie, the genes of his great grandmother can be seen in what he has accomplished for the house which he lovingly restored.  Built in 1883 on a 6,000 sq.m. lot on Rizal St. it is only one of two bahay-na-bato in Talisay. This traditional Spanish colonial era house of the mestizaje elite has a structure with haligi pillars that support the roof and a stone wall that envelopes the zaguan ground floor. The pillars and the upper floor walls were constructed in wood to sway with the shocks of earthquakes. The zaguan entrance hall was used for parking the family carriage, the silver carozza float for Semana Santa processions, and the automobiles.  The boys’ bedrooms were also on the ground floor, together with the despacho office which Adjie converted into an art gallery and print-making workshop.

A grand staircase takes you to the caida or formal receiving area in the upper floor where guests were “processed” and given refreshments — the thicktsokolate eh for the favored and the watered down tsokolate ah for the not-so. Adjie now serves a refreshing salabat of ginger and lemon grass together with delicious bitso-bitso made of rice flour and muscovado.  Intricate Gothic Revival woodwork can be gleaned from the staircase banisters with rose vines that Tana Dicang commissioned based on the superstitious belief that the thorns would repel any bad luck carried by those who entered the house. 

On the right side of the caida is the dining room while on the left is the sala or living room, flanked on both sides by the girls’ bedrooms and the master bedroom. The general feeling is ma-aliwalas or lightness, airiness and spaciousness pervading the area, achieved through wide double doors that link the main hall to the bedrooms and adjacent bedrooms to each other, not to mention the calado (traceried pierced wood panels) above doors and walls which allow the free flow of air, light and sound. Bringing more light and air into the space are windows that extend from post to post with ventanillas (windows below the window sill). Sliding window panels as well as the latticework panels above the windows are done in translucent capiz shells so that the space is never completely dark.  Embellishments in classical motifs enliven the interiors and exteriors, from moldings to cornices and pilasters. As seen in the most affluent houses, materiales fuertes were used: Philippine hardwoods like narra, balayong and molave.  

“It’s one of the few ancestral houses where everything is intact, from furniture to furnishings,” says Adjie who recreated the rooms based on old photos and scraped the paint from walls to reveal period pastel colors.  Even original accoutrements survived after Tania Dicang buried her silver, porcelain, crystal and precious objets to keep them safe during the war.  

This historic legacy is the reason why Balay ni Tana Dicang was chosen as one of the showcase venues for the Negros Season of Culture, a festival from Nov. 4 to Dec. 19, highlighted by the Viva Excon Biennale; art exhibits; and food, theatre and film festivals, among other events.  The late Leandro Locsin, National Artist for Architecture who is a native son, will be the subject of an exhibit to be held at the Balay. There will also be other projects that Adjie is preparing since he has made the house museum a hive of activity together with the artists-in-residence program at his nearby house compound. The old Kapitana would definitely be proud of her great grandson, giving a look of approval behind those dark “Last Emperor” spectacles.

* * *

Balay ni Tana Dicang is at 36 Rizal St. Talisay City, 20 min. by car from center of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Contact balaynitanadicang@yahoo.com or Tel. (034)495.2104 or 712.6800. Follow Negros Season of Culture on Fb and Ig.  Follow the authors on Instagram @rickytchitov; Twitter @RickyToledo23; Facebook - Ricky Toledo Chito Vijandre


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