Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haw, Haw, the Karabaw. Part 1.

Pen, pen de sarapen / De kotsilyo de almasen
Haw, haw the karabao, bantuten.
                                                       -  Folk poetry.

Our grandparents--maternal and paternal--were probably farming folks and/or had katalonan manage the rice lands and till them and the seasonal harvest shared in the traditional manner.  Our tatang went to a trade school in Manila, became an electrician with the US naval base in Cavite first then in Subic Bay so he never harnessed a carabao to a plow during the rice planting season.  His sister's family took care of the inherited farmlands. Our nanang simply paid for the amillaramento even for lands claimed by the big Santo Tomas river, and we would just wait for a few sacks of unmilled rice at the end of the harvest without bothering to ask if these were her rightful share.

The gist of the preamble: we did not own a carabao! And that explains why, when we were growing up, it was such a big deal when the delivery carts would come rolling up our gate, the carabaos unhitched and tethered to the fence post or a nearby tree trunk, and later, after the sacks of rice have been deposited on the large wooden bin under the house, given a short ride around the neighborhood. 

It was a carabao that caused the scar in front and middle of our left leg, the size of a salapi (fifty-seven centavo coin of the old days)--and the scar was called that.  When we were in grade 6, taking the school carabao to the river for a good bath was voluntary and very good excuse to be spared the industrial art teacher's rod for not bringing split bamboos for the basketry weaving course.  There would always be three of us astride the broad back of the carabao, and we were in front most of the time. A carabao always sways its head to ward off the pesky swarm of flies around its head. Ours had long horns, and our leg got hit one time and the wound got infected and festered into a salapi.

Those were the years when the horse-drawn karetela was the mode of public transport around the old hometown, a jeepney or two between the coastal village and the poblacion, and the carabao-drawn karison was the family car of farmers. Our neighbor uncle's car was put to good use during the All Soul's and All Saint's nights when our elders would take us around town to watch the tombas.

Seldom did we see carabao meat on our dining table. It's only later did we learn why it was not as good as beef; they came from stocks too old to pull the plow, and the government prohibited slaughtering the work-fit ones. But there were carabao thieves on the prowl; the older folks knew where meat sold on the sly were coming from, and the decent ones would not dare buy for they knew whose carabao that was reported stolen.  Depending on age, a male or female animal can now be slaughtered for food, but it is still beef that dominates the market.

We never thought we would ever own a carabao. But a couple of years ago, we acquired a pregnant one. We had no intent whatsoever to buy but a former househelp from Isabela came and asked not for the usual loan but to please buy their farm animal instead. They needed money since her husband was preparing to leave for work abroad.  Just to save her from the prowling 5-6 lenders, we paid her without the animal in sight, and sent a cousin to fetch it.  It was a long journey for the carabao from Isabela up north to Pagudpud and down the Ilocano provinces to San Narciso, Zambales, where it gave birth somewhere in her grazing ground by the big river. This mother animal has brought forth a second calf, and we've been urging our cousin to find a buyer.

In the last Pahiyas in Lukban, we were surprised to see people, mostly the urban-looking young, excited by the sight of carabaos in the parade especially the very rare white one. The carabao-drawn floats had to make photo stops because there were plenty who would like to pose for a picture with a carabao, as if this were a TV or movie star or a beauty queen.

For two days in May this year, we were in a high school science teachers' workshop at the Central Luzon State U, which started as an agricultural college in the early 1900s just like that of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos.

Frank Carpenter (1926) called it "the school republic of Munoz" and "a boy republic in the heart of Luzon" after his visit there because there were about eight-hundred 'brown-skinned lads' from forty provinces who were supporting themselves to school there.  A picture of aggie boys with their carabao (which appears to be an imported specie) was included in the book, and it carried this explanation: "If the four boy-farmers on an allotment furnish their own carabao for ploughing, they get 90 per cent of the crop raised; if they furnish implements as well, they get 95 per cent."

A leisurely walk from the hub of CLSU is the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC), which was set up by a law (RA 7307) authored by then Senator Joseph Estrada in 1992, for the development of the carabao as a source of milk, meat, draft and hide, which should redound to the improvement of the quality of life of farming families..  We visited the place for possible photo-ops, and to buy dairy stuff to bring home because the products were highly recommended, which explains why the store was crowded with excursionists buying edible souvenirs.

Had we known, we could have inquired about the center's celebrity products, the "Presidential Carabaos" Erap, Fidel, Cory and Glory, all born as test-tube calves in 2002.   They don't look like our traditional carabaos anymore but buffaloes or water buffaloes, which the first Americans in the Philippines called them.

They are good breeds among almost a 100,000 others today that the center has developed.  Good quality semen from adult males like Erap are taken for the artificial insemination project to produce new types of Philippine carabaos.  The technology is officially called  “Propagation of Riverine Buffaloes through Embryo in vitro Production-Vitrification-Transfer Technique.”

It's been reported that carabaos Cory and Glory have become mothers themselves (two calves each), that Glory is unique - one of her horns curves downward and the other a little upward, and Fidel sires calves through natural mating.

Let's keep watch on the birthing of quality male calves during the next six years.  We can almost be certain that presidential carabao P-Noy will be coming soon.


Carpenter, Frank G. (1926). Through the Philippines and Hawaii ... with more than 100 illustrations from original photographs. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company. Retrieved from 

Fernandez, Rudy. (2010, June 7). Erap, the test tube carabao, now fully grown. The Philippine Star Online at

Philippine Carabao Center at

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