Brother Sun: St. Francis of Assisi

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 4, is the feast day of Barangay Jugaban in Carigara, Leyte. It is the feast day as well of Dumanjug in Cebu, and of Balamban, also in Cebu. And it is probably the feast day of most other places in the Philippines and in the rest of the Catholic world that honor St. Francis of Assisi as their patron saint. The mention of specific places is because I am a Cebuano now in Leyte.

Three major phases of my life have distinct connections with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. In my growing up years, I would often be at my mother's sister in Dumanjug for the fiesta. It was in Dumanjug that I first developed my love for cats. One time, when I was about five, I discovered kittens under the bed in the room I was in. I brought one home to Mandaue and I always had cats since then.

In adulthood, it was mostly to Balamban where I would go para mamiesta. I have first cousins there, children of my father's youngest sister. It was in going to either Dumanjug or Balamban that I first developed my acrophobia or fear of heights. On the way to Dumanjug you pass by a place called Tan-awan which was a sheer drop to nowhere. To Balamban early on you go by way of Manipis, another gut-wrencher.

But it is always the heart-breaking memories of great fiesta food that I now miss terribly whenever I think of the fiestas of Dumanjug and Balamban. From Dumanjug my Mama Bating would always provide padala consisting of an entire "taro" (a large rectangular tin can) full of adobo the size of imported Hereford Corned Beef drowning in "mantika sa baboy".

And from Balamban I would always go home with battalion-size provisions of the best "humba" I have ever tasted in my life. I say battalion-size because part of the package always included shares for two or three other families who could not make it to the fiesta. Another great fear of mine going home from Balamban at the time was getting ambushed by dogs driven nuts by the "humot sa humba nga makabuang".

One thing that distinguishes the traditional Cebuano adobo and humba prepared the rural fiesta way is that they are cut into sizes so huge it is as if there is no tomorrow. But I have long discovered the logic of rural cooks that go into the giant sizes: It leaves a hefty amount of fat on the cut. And anybody who knows his adobo or humba knows that adobo and humba without the slabs of "tambok" is not adobo or humba at all.

Another important distinction is that these traditional rural cooks have the sense not to let any sweetness overwhelm the humba. Many so-called cooks have become so enamored with sugar they sweeten everything, not to provide a delicate balance, but to really and actually sweeten. If a cook wants sweets, make binignit but don't tamper with my humba, the way many bakers make my pan de sal (salted bread) sweet.

Here in Carigara, the other side of the street where I live is Barangay Jugaban, along with three-fourths on our side. The remaining one-fourth belongs to Barangay San Mateo. I live in this quartet of alien territory. If anyone comes to make "pamatron" we say we are in San Mateo. Patron is the Waray equivalent of fiesta. If it is the fiesta of San Mateo, we are from Jugaban, ha ha.

Back to St. Francis. A popular saint, he is strangely very misappreciated. Many of his devotees miss the fact that he abhorred material things and gave up his own personal riches, he shed his fine clothing to walk home naked as dramatically depicted in the film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon". Many of his icons garb him in rich clothing instead of the simple sack cloth that he actually preferred. Like making humba sweet.


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