The manzanitas we ignore
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - June 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Manzanita trees used to grow wild in the wide open spaces of my childhood. This was in the early 1960s when, in the summer when there were no classes, marauding bands of young boys, armed with slingshots and “luthangs”, would roam the vastness and wilderness of pre-urban Mandaue City, in Cebu, Philippines.

When boys get together, they tend to be naughty, or worse, lean toward mischief. And so we became “thieves” in our innocence, “stealing” fruits from trees that surely must have belonged to somebody, as they grew on land our parents did not own (we made sure we did not steal from one another).

Favorite targets of our covetous adventures were the succulent “kaimitos” and wild guavas, as well as the “tambis” and the “lomboys” although, with regard to the latter, we had to be extra intrepid and ingenious, as they were dead giveaways, leaving a long-lasting blue stain in and out of our oral orifices. One cannot smile away the surreptitious partaking of lomboy.

And then there, too, were the manzanitas. We gravitated toward manzanitas with two-pronged interest. Their small ripe fruits were very sweet. Their even smaller green unripe fruits made up the bullets for our lut-hangs. Moreover, manzanita trees do not seem to break easily, and they do not seem to harbor those pesky, itchy caterpillars that cost many a boy a day of play.

Up in their pliant boughs we would spend hours, exchanging “hambugs” over prowess and skill, undiscovered sins, stolen treasures, and anything and everything a young boy can regale his peers. And all the time we would be popping the red fruit into our mouths and stuffing the greens into our pockets.

There are hardly any manzanitas trees in the wild now. In fact, there is hardly any wild to speak of in a Philippines that seems grossly determined to convert anything wild and open into something with a residential or commercial purpose. The only few manzanita trees I have seen are in small domestic compounds, there for largely ornamental purposes.

Boys in this day and age now get their kicks from their computers and similar devices. Many do not know what a luthang is. They probably have not climbed a tree in their lives. So I do not expect them to know what a manzanita tree and its fruit are. And that is sad.

You see, a young Filipino high school student from Iloilo has just won in the National Science and Technology Fair for discovering that manzanitas can be a cheap cure for diabetis. For this, Maria Isabel Layson, 16, was sent to represent the country at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. Sometimes what we take for granted hide real treasures.

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