Banton Island – My Ancestors Homeland
It was almost 17 years ago had passed when the last time I visited the island province of my parents. The visit was unplanned as I went there with my father because my grandmother at father’s side had passed away. I heard the news at the night of 27th of February 2015, after I came from work as my father heard the news in the afternoon at the same day. At first, it was decided that only my father will go to province until I decided to cancel my summer outing plan that weekend with my mountaineering group together with my sister. At that time, it struck me that it seems it was time for me to come back to the place where my roots begun. Without thinking twice, I told my family I will cancel my summer trip and I decided to go with my father.
The next day morning, I packed my stuff while my mother was preparing my father’s belongings. We left our house around 10AM in the morning. From our residential village we took public jeepney to Paliparan, next, we took multicab public transportation to Pala-pala. From Pala-pala we took public van to Lucena Grand Terminal in Lucena City. At the terminal, there was supposed to be a transportation directly to Dalahican Port but unfortunately it already left before we arrived and we have to wait for the next available one. My father and I decided to take alternative public transportation to the port by going to the ‘Bayan’ (City Center) of Lucena and from ‘Bayan’ we took tricycle to Dalahican Port. We arrived at the port around 3:30PM in the afternoon.
Jellyfish I saw while in the ferry at Dalahican Ferry Terminal
At Dalahican Port, we paid terminal fee and went straight to the waiting area. As we look around if we knew someone familiar, my father went outside and looked for Kalayaan Ferry and checked if some of our relatives were there. In few minutes, my father returned and told me that some of our relatives were already boarded in the ferry. The next thing happened, I picked up our stuff and went straight to the ferry that will bring us to my home island – Banton, part of Romblon Province.
At the ferry, I met some of my uncles, aunt and few of my cousins. Some of my relatives were not familiar to me since we live far from them and I seldom meeting and talking to them. We waited for more hours as the scheduled departure was around 8PM that night. While waiting for our ferry’s schedule departure, I spent watching drama online in my phone and eating some of the food pack that we brought from home. After getting tired of watching drama in my phone, I took a nap. I woke up a bit when I heard that the ferry started leaving the terminal. Since its twilight and I can’t see much around, I decided to sleep again.
Banton Island (captured from the ferry on the way to the island)
Banton Island (approaching the island)
I woke up in the morning, then I stood-up, walked to the nearest window from where I was slept, I looked at the window and I saw a mountain shape as our ferry is not far from it, and I knew its island in front of us. I asked my Aunt Inda whom nearest to me and confirmed if it was Banton island, the island where my ancestors and family roots begun. I watched the island for a while until it sync to me that the time was almost up and soon we will be arriving at the ‘Bayan’ (Municipality Center) of the island. After half an hour, we were close to Banton Port and in few more minutes passed the ferry stopped. All of us got ready to leave the boat. And as soon I deserted the ferry and stepped on the ground of the port, I looked around and checked if there were familiar faces waiting for us but none was recognizable to me.
Approaching Port of Banton at the Municipality Center (‘Bayan’) of the Island at Banton Bay
At Port of Banton
Uncle Napo’s Store (rented commercial space located at Municipality Center ‘Bayan’ of the island)
At the port, there were motor bikes waiting for a chance to fetch passengers coming from the ferry like us in exchange of transportation fee. Some of us took the available motor bikes, some walked a little and we come together again in the store owned by one of my uncle, Uncle Napo which not far from the port. From there, we waited a little more for other motor bikes that will pick all my family and relatives before we headed to the local town or village of one of my relatives where the remains of my grandmother was laid.
Directions and Road to Sibay
Road to Tongonan
While riding the motor bike, I got a chance to see again some surroundings of the island. We left ‘Bayan’ and followed the track of Banton-Libtong-Yabawon Road. From ‘Bayan’, we ascent a bit and passed Togbongan. Then, we descent and we passed the road beside the shore in Nabalay where the sceneries are really great. When we reached Sibay area, I tried to recall the place in my memory that I remembered 17 years ago, it was not the same as before because that time, when the small boat we took from Mindoro and arrived at the shore in Sibay not Banton port, we walked passing Sibay area and there is no concrete road available at that time.
I remembered Sibay as place where lots of huge rocks strayed in the area. When we reached Sibay, we switched the road and we took Tan-ag Barangay Road. After Sibay, we passed Libtong area, the school where my brother graduated in elementary. I still remembered the school because I was there in one of the recognition years of my brother and I went to the stage to give some gifts to him after he received his awards. After passing Libtong Elementary School, one of the most challenging and accident prone area of the road in Tan-ag Barangay Road was almost near, Uncle Richard (uncle from cousins) was the one taking me as passenger in his motor bike and since it is his daily jobs, he’s really familiar how to prepare for taking the road. We drove ascending the concrete road like driving to the top of the mountain, the road inclination is quite steep and requires to be really careful, or else either you will die or you will caught accident and ended with severe injuries.
My Lola Bebe’s New Built House
We passed the difficult part of Tan-ag Barangay Road. At the same road we reached my grandmother’s house in my mother side in Tipo, a small place with few houses which located just beside the road before reaching Tan-ag. ‘Lola’ (Grandmother) Bebe was the only person in the house when I came in, as my uncle Jay (my mother’s brother) was at the farm working. She’s surprised when she saw me, but even it was a long time ago that the last time she saw me, she still remembers me. My ‘Lola’ Bebe is most likely around 85 years old but she’s still working like a normal aged adult when I found her at her house. I greeted my grandmother and paid respect to her by putting one of her hand in my forehead. Her house changed a lot from the last time I saw the place, the last thing that I remembered, the house was built by coconut dried leaves as its roof and wall while its flooring was made by bamboo. But now it is a concrete house with metal roof. I was glad the house had changed, it was a good thing for them so that my grandmother and my uncle have a comfortable home that will shelter them. I missed my grandmother and we talked a bit. Then, I bid a quick goodbye as I have to go to my other grandmother to see her remains in Tan-ag. I promised ‘Lola’ Bebe that I will come back to visit her again.
Random post of my relatives and visitors
We traveled back to Tan-ag Barangay Road until we reached the home of my Aunt Benny, wife of my father’s brother Uncle Dupo. Inside her house, I saw my grandmother or Lola Tasing’s remains. When I saw her, she’s like sleeping like my late sister that passed away few months earlier. Since it was morning, there were few people around my Aunt’s house. Since its almost 17 years that the last time I visited my parent’s province I am not familiar with most of the people visiting and paying their respect to my grandmother and one by one I was introduced to them. My relatives at father’s side are more than my mother’s side because my father has 8 siblings while my mother has 4 siblings and 1 out of 4 are still single. I knew some of my cousins but the faces that I remembered was long time ago as most of us were still children at that time and now most of my cousins has their own family and kids. I knew that my age is within marrying age and having a family, it’s just that it’s not yet time for me or maybe it’s not my destiny. I met the brother of my ‘Lola’ Tasing who still alive and we call him ‘Lolo’ (grandfather) Kunos, but even though he did not remember his exact age, it was mentioned that he was younger than my ‘Lola’ Tasing.
In a while, both my Father and I returned to Tipo where my ‘Lola’ Bebe’s house is. After meeting again my grandmother, my father and I strolled around Tipo, met some people live in the area and had time talking to them. At that time, I tasted coconut adobo. I learned that the people in the island, if they don’t have money to buy meat because its expensive for them, what they do is replace it with alternative. They used the coconut kernel (the white part) when it still soft and crush it uniformly like a spaghetti strap, and that’s the meat they used and they cooked it with adobo recipe, the only difference was the meat, it was not chicken, not beef nor pork, it is coconut kernel. We are fresh coconut kernel as well as desert and partnered with coconut water as drinks. It’s one of the proof that coconut is a tree of life.
From Tipo, we went to Mayabag, the place where my deceased grandmother used to live and realized that it is where one of my uncle now lives, Uncle Fred . As I approached the house, I can still remember the place, the old house of ‘Lola’ Tasing that I knew was not existing anymore, the land where the house used to stand is now used for vegetation. Uncle house was built just beside where my grandmother house used to stand. His house is a bit modern because half of the materials used were hollow blocks and cements, the other part of the house were made in wood and bamboo. At my uncle’s house, I met two of my cousins and honestly I don’t remember them at all nor I even met them before.
After spending time with my uncle ‘s Fred house, we walked back home to Tan-ag and on our way, we met few people whom my father and my uncle knows. Even its been so long that my father visited the island, it seems there are still people do remember him and they exchanged greetings and talked a bit.
Coming back at Aunt Benny’s house, though my father and I had different religion compared to my relatives, we just let them do what they planned to do when a person died. Catholic is major religion in my country and my relatives followed the practice when someone passed away like they conducted daily prayers for my grandmother. We silently respected the practice though we never involved ourselves in such activity as we have different beliefs and doctrines when people died.
Both of my father and I stayed in Aunt Benny’s house for our first night in the island. At night, there were more visitors coming and most of them, I did not recall who they were, but the surprising thing, they knew something about me. They knew me as one of the grandchild in the family that lives in the city, they knew me as my Lola’s grandchild and they knew me as my father’s daughter. They knew me because my family’s name was known to them.
During the trip, there was a part of me that I realized why it took so long for me to come back and visit my parents province. Thinking the reason why, because my family not practically used to visit the home province every year. The province was too far from the city and the only way to get to the island was through ferry, and the ferry traveled back and forth to the island was seasonal. Usually, if its off-peak season, there is at least once a week schedule coming in and out of the island. During summer at least there’s more schedule. For almost two decades, I reminisced what I had done for not coming to the island, busy at work and busy with life. To be able to visit the island, it seems that I need a reason to come back and it seems it happened at the time that my grandmother died.
Remembering the island from the last time I had seen it, a lot were changed in the island. Because the province is an island mountain, where you cannot see too much of a flat ground. I can say that the island is practically a mountain submerge in the sea. Because of this, even constructing roads around the island is really difficult. The end result of the road infrastructure in the island was just enough to accommodate single motor bike, not even a tricycle will fit in the narrow road that the government provided. Aside of having tight road, there were parts of the road that are dangerous and prone to accidents because the other side of the road is a cliff, just with a wrong manuever, it will cost life. But people who lives their whole life in the island, knows how to take care the dangerous point of the road and they are used to it, it’s already part of their lives but still extra care really required.
My trip in the island was a short one and to think I was not in the island for at least 17 years, I knew for myself I still wanted to stay longer in the island, but I have commitments back in the city that I cannot neglect.
Sunday, my second day in the island. I went with my Auntie Norie back to the store. There we stayed a bit. Aside from roaming around in the island the other things that you can do is lay around the house.
My grandmother scheduled burial was Monday which was my third day in the island. From Tan-ag, the planned activity is to walk up to the cemetery which is located near the telecom tower site near in ‘Bayan’. At the start of the walk, mostly were family and relatives were accompanying my grandmother. And then every time we passed some houses or small communities, our group become bigger and bigger, that day I saw a lot of people who wanted to walked with my grandmother up to her last destination. When we reached Libtong, most people hopped on with their motor bikes, but the immediately family and close relatives of my ‘Lola’ Tasing still decided to walk, I promised that I will try my best to walk with my grandmother remains from Tan-ag up to cemetery, but I was not able to keep my promise. During the walk, people who joined the parade with my grandmother and even my family and relatives walks so fast and I wasn’t able to keep my close distance from them. Uncle Richard asked me if I wanted to take a ride in a motor bike instead of walking. I decided to take the motorbike. I can understand that people in the province walks so fast as they are used to it.
During my Lola Tasing’s Burial Walk
There are other ‘barangays’ (small community) that we passed along the way before we reached the municipality center. We reached ‘Bayan’ of the island and I thought we were going straight to the cemetery and I realized that my grandmother remains went straight in one of the church in the island and then it followed a church mass. My father and I waited outside while the mass was happening and waited until it finished. Then, my grandmother casket were brought outside from the church to the cemetery. The cemetery is located in a hill. When we reach the base or ground of the hill, close family and relatives went up to the hill, other people stayed in the ground. My father, my uncles and aunties are all silent at first. But when we were approaching the cemetery and just few walks away from its gate, I heard a lot of cries and screaming coming from my family. My tears fell down and just realized that I spent a short time with my grandmother. I never grew up with her and I seldom met and saw her. There was just few moments that I recall that I talked to her. I remembered that she spent some time in our house in Cavite and I remembered she’s not used to a city living, she wanted to go back immediately in the province where she used to live. At the time that my grandmother casket was laid down in the ground, it was the last time that I saw her. At that time, I just realized why I never spent a lot of time with my grandmother. Now that she passed away, I will never be able to say or I will never be able to call my grandmother’s name again in front of her.
old technology of flat-iron still used in Banton Island as there are people live there that don’t have electricity
After the burial, we came back to the Tan-ag and all were silent back home. I understood the atmosphere.
The afternoon that day, my cousin Kenneth and I decided to visit my Uncle Napo’s house which located in Yabawon. I haven’t been to his place even when I was young. And as per my Aunt’s description that Uncle Napo’s house is really beautiful and standing near the beach. With that thought in mind, I was quite excited, first to see my Uncle’s house and second is to see another part of the island. I requested again Uncle Richard to fetch us again to bring us to Yabawon. From Tan-ag, we took Tan-ag Barangay Road again, then near Libtong Elementary School, we turned left and took Banton-Libtong-Yabawon Road.
We reached my uncle’s house and his house is colorful and lively. It is one of the house that I saw that was built beautifully in the island. We spent sometime inside the house and because the floors were tiled and clean, and there’s TV, I felt like I live in the city, I never felt that I was in the island. I almost fell asleep until I decided to get up to see the beach.
Tabunan Beach (Part 1)
Tabunan Beach (Part 2)
Tabunan Beach (Part 3)
Tabunan Beach (Part 4)
Tabunan Beach (Part 5)
We went to Tabunan beach in Yabawon. Before we reached the shore we did a little bit of trekking because my uncle’s house is at the top area. When we reached the ground which is the beach area, we walked a bit, I saw how the place is so serene. I really like what I saw, there were few people in the place and in matter of few minutes my cousin and I were the only person left around the beach. We never planned to swim that’s why we just strolled around the area. We walked in the sand and took pictures of the place. At Tabunan beach, there is a nearby island named Polluc Island and I heard the island used to grow farm animals.
We came back to my uncle’s house and we spent sometime talking about the house and some mysterious stuff that surrounds the island.
We returned in Tan-ag and I learned that the grand-daughter of Aunt Lucy was celebrating her birthday and my father and I dropped to their house and spent time playing with the baby and talked with Aunt Lucy.
Aunt Lucy’s Grandchild
When we came home in Aunt Benny’s house, I told my father that I wanted to sleep with Lola Bebe’s house as I knew that I may not have a chance to sleep over to her place as I have few days left in the island before going back to the city. With that, my father and I went to my Lola Bebe’s house. It was already dark at the time we walked from Tan-ag to Tipo. On our way, what we only have were torch in our hands. One thing that we experienced in the walked was we saw a small snake along the road and we just passed it by avoiding it. It was before 7PM that we reached my Lola Bebe’s house but it felt like it’s really late at night since the whole surroundings of the area are dark and covered with trees. Lola Bebe’s does not have electricity installed since the house just finished recently. We used candles or lamp with gas and fire. That’s a common and typical life in remote island.
My Lola Bebe
My father and I had breakfast and had photos with my Lola Bebe. We decided to come back to Tan-ag. Then I packed all my stuff as I planned to go back on Tuesday or Wednesday alone in the city as my father decided to stay a bit in the island and comeback together with my Uncle Napo. Uncle Napo is part of group that operates the ferry coming in and out to the island.
I came down to the island’s municipality center called ‘Bayan’ and stayed at the store of my Uncle Napo’s since I will be waiting for confirmation whether there was ferry schedule to leave the island going back to Lucena, my way to go back to the city. It was confirmed that there was ferry scheduled to depart on Wednesday night that week and because of that I was able to spend a night and day in the ‘Bayan’. My cousin Kenneth came with me in the store since Auntie Nories was there to take care of the store.
Around Banton Port (Part 1)
Around Banton Port (Part 2)
Around Banton Port (Part 3)
Around Banton Port (Part 4)
Around Banton Port (Part 5)
My last day in the island was spent walking around the town proper. While strolling around I was wondering how people survived in the island where the major job available is farming and I heard that few people abandoned that job nowadays. Tourists in the island are not so many. Some does own a small stores as their livelihood. That’s why it was not really surprising when people are leaving the island for better opportunity. The common jobs aside from farming in the mountain is what they call koprahan (copra plantation). Kopra is dried coconut meat or dried coconut kernel which being used to extract coconut oil. But I observed that most people abandoned this livelihood too. I was not really surprised why the growth of the island is slow, it’s combination of all. Banton is an island, few people live in the island, the island offers few jobs and opportunities, transportation challenges and few tourist spots interests. I think these reasons probably the same with other islands with the same situation.
Around ‘Bayan’ (Municipality Center)
When I left the island, I felt some empty part of my heart. I knew it was not great as other popular islands in my country but my heart aches because that is the island where my roots come from. I may be a foreigner on it because I never lived in the island for so long but that’s where my identity came from. I considered myself lucky because other people doesn’t have a place to return to see where they came from because the place may be gone or abolished, but the island where my family came from still there and I knew will stay longer or maybe around for hundred or thousand years to come.