08 June 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-Five!

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Since we started doing Locus Focus, June has been "Philippine Settings" month. This is my own theme, but anyone who wants to link up a post this month (for the Giveaway entries or for other reasons) may pick any setting that strikes his fancy.

Let me start us off with a typically Filipino setting brought to lush life in a novel about the realities of rural living.

The Agnas Family's Homestead
A Season of Grace
by N.V.M. Gonzalez

. . . With a basket in her hand, she went into the underbrush.

She slipped into the basket three ripe papayas and a handful of mushrooms. The little wild pepper plants that thrived in the shade of the wild bananas, called
pakil, were heavy with clustered green-red fruit. She tore off the branches that had the reddest pepper on them and bunched them up with a length of tender vine. Round the foot of an anthill, small globes of tomatoes beckoned to her to be picked. Farther ahead, three banana stalks pushed each other to offer their heart-shaped velvet covered flowers. She separated two from their stalks, cutting carefully; and, lifting them high up in the air for a while, she let their gluey sap run dry on the stem before depositing them into the basket. It was a heavy basket now . . .

One of my favourite children's songs of all time is Bahay Kubo (in English, "Nipa Hut"), which is about the humblest of Filipino homes and all the vegetables being cultivated around it. The opening lines make the contrast between the hut's small size and the great variety which surrounds it, and the rest of the lyrics are a litany of pure abundance . . .

In short, the fauna of an ideal homestead. And that's not yet counting the grains and root crops which the families are presumably growing for income--nor any food that happens to be growing wild, like the papayas, bananas, and peppers in the brush surrounding Doro and Sabel Agnas's new homestead. Doro has already planted a field of rice and another of sweet potatoes; and without walking very far, Sabel has found more free food than she can carry. Their basket seems full in every way.

So why are they still so poor? The answer lies beyond the land . . .

Doro and Sabel may not have to answer to a landlord, but are in debt to a very crafty creditor. They had to borrow the seed rice with which they started their farm, and they had no choice but to accept the 200% "interest rate" on it. For every cavan of rice they are lent, they must repay two. And whatever part of the debt is left unpaid after a year is doubled for the next year. Under such usury, even the most generous patch of earth and the most frugal standard of living do not stand a chance.

In short, it is not enough to have a good home. It is also necessary to have good neighbours. And while Doro and Sabel have made good friends among the other homesteaders in the area, the one bad seed among them is almost enough to spoil the whole social harvest. Bahay Kubo could use another verse--one which gets that.

Question of the Day: If you had a homestead, which three vegetables would be the stars of your garden?


Sheila said...

I feel like this post was written especially for me. :D

Tomatoes, peas, pumpkins. Definitely. But of course I would never be able to stop there.

The story about debt breaks my heart. I have heard over and over again that "you can't live on a homestead," "you can't make money farming," and it isn't true. You can't make it rich farming unless you make it a very big business. But you can do well on it -- provided you avoid debt like the plague it is. And there are always unscrupulous people to suck money from farmers and homesteaders. I wonder if there's a nation on earth where the farmers haven't been driven to ruin by loan sharks. People seem to forget that if they drive all the farmers out of business, there won't be any food.

Enbrethiliel said...


Let's just say that this post could never have been written without you! =D Your thoughts on gardening--and your special dare--really changed the way I look at food and the earth. I doubt I would have been so interested in the contents of Sabel's basket if I had read about it before attempting to fill a basket of my own. =)

I'm currently working on a proper review of A Season of Grace in which I look more closely at Doro and Sabel's creditors, Epe Ruda and his even meaner wife Tiaga. The latter don't expect the debt ever to be paid, but they do like having several farmers who owe they rice because they can take advantage of that. In an incident which made my blood boil a little, Tiaga made Sabel mend the frayed rice sacks which the Rudas use to lend rice seed to farmers; and Sabel felt obligated to do it because the risk of offending Tiaga might mean all their debts being called in at once. Epe and Tiaga Ruda receive many other services and gifts in kind from the farmers, but they never count these as payment toward the debt--just as their due. Oh, I'd love to give them what they're "due." >=(