When farmers in Barangay Cabalangegan in Vigan City stopped planting sugarcane, the pagdadapilan became lonely, useless. I never vsited it since that last summer in grade school when my sister, aunties and I had our pulutiput or sugarcane syrup which we stretched and stretched until it became glistening cream then hard like a candy.
I didn’t know why farmers stopped growing sugarcane because I never asked my Lilong Aciong or any other farmer whom I befriended and often took pictures of, like Lilong Miling Miguel Follosco, then the barangay captain.
Beyond pagdadapilan in my childhood years in Vigan
Whenever I spent my vacation days in the antique family house of my Nanang Altagracia Acena Pilotin in barangay Cabalangegan I witnessed the panagdapil and the many things about the unas or sugarcane.
Here, I saw how Lilong Aciong Igbacio Alcain placed about five bunches of sugarcane stems cut in about two feet in our waterway, where the water flowed from our pump well and laundry area. After months the stems grew shoots. When the shoots were about a foot long Lilong planted them as if leaning slightly on the soil in the wide field.
I never asked how many months it took them to grow tall. But when they did we, the children of the barrio or barangay, loved getting into the deep of the sugarcane plantation. We did more than once sneaked out some stems without asking permission to do so from the owners. And oh, how we loved the panagus-us or agus-us ti unas. Chewing off the flesh of the sugarcane stalks with our teeth then swallowing its fresh, sweet juice! Nagimas ti sam-itna! (Deliciously sweet!) It was one of the moments of wonder of my childhood.
But my father Angel Gazmen Castro, a teacher and writer, made it easier for us, his kids, to enjoy the sweet sugarcane. Often we went with him to the sugarcane field to cut some after Lilong Aciong permitted us to do so. He cut off the top leafy part. Then when we arrived home we sat on our bangkito while we watched him get a big wooden chopping board on which he cut the sugarcane stalk in four. After this he cut off the hard skin then chopped the stalks into two to three inches high. He divided each of these into four bite sizes. And that is how we enjoyed panagus-us with Tatang.
The sugarcane fields looked uninteresting to me because the plants didn’t grow and stay tall for a long time or until harvest time. They leaned on each other or on the ground. But when they bloomed the horizon was silver and shining. This was the time when the sugarcane fields transformed into an out-of-the-ordinary beauty. They looked like the snow-covered trees I enjoyed painted on Christmas cards. ●