Monday, April 16, 2012

Stored Treasure: Finding the last craftsman of pastillas de leche wrapper of Bulacan


Stored Treasure / 21 April 2011

I started my blog in the week of February 22 to 25, 2010 and today, I have just written my 100th story / blog post.   And I wanted the 100th to be a special one.  As such, for the 100th story of Tatak Digitista, under the Bayanihan Republic section, I especially picked this one and and actually conducted field research and interviews to complete the story.

Nanay Luz Ocampo, considered the last craftsman of pastillas de leche wrapper of Bulacan

When new found friends or colleagues always learn that my family is from Malolos, Bulacan, they usually ask a request from me to bring and let them taste Bulacan's native delicacies like inipit, kakanin, ensaymadang Malolos and... pastillas.  I usually tell them the story about pastillas de leche and the lola (grandmother) who makes well crafted pastillas wrapper (also called pabalat), considered to be the last of her kind.  The promise I give my friends is, once I found this lola, I will surely bring the said delicacy as pasalubong (pasalubong is a Filipino tradition where one brings gifts, tokens or delicacies from the place he visited or came from).  Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?  =)

Well, after the long search, let me present to you Nanay Luz Ocampo, the 88 year old lola (grandmother) from Malolos, Bulacan, who is said to be one of the last, if not the last, person who possesses the knowledge of creating elaborate designs of pabalat using a pair of scissors and a bunch of colorful papel de hapon.  Pabalat is the elaborate paper patterns used as wrapper for Bulacan’s delicacy pastillas de leche made from carabao’s milk.  The word pabalat means two things. First, it pertains to the pabalat as a product (paper cut-outs) and second, it connotes craftsmanship or state of the art practice.

I heard so much about Nanay Luz and as I am a passionate chronicler of our rich culture and tradition, the researcher-writer-journalist in me resurfaced and actually asked people around and looked for Nanay Luz. And since my mom and relatives are from Malolos, Bulacan, that helped me a lot in researching and writing this story.  =)  I found Nanay Luz at the Inang Wika (Mother Tongue) Street in Malolos.  She and her daughter were so nice and hospitable welcoming me to their home and sharing Nanay Luz's story which I so endear.  She reminds me of my Inang and May (my lolas in mother and father side) that I even reached for Nanay Luz hand for a "mano".  Mano is a Filipino tradition where a younger bow and reach for the hand of the elder and put it on his forehead as a sign of respect and love.

Nanay Luz and foydi

Nanay Luz's daughter and herself

Nanay Luz and her family is originally from San Miguel, Bulacan, where the original well known Bulacan pastillas is made.  Nanay Luz told me that the pastillas from San Miguel, made from carabao's milk, is extremely tasty and delicious.  It's just unfortunate that I wasn't able to taste it during my interview as she said she needs to order the pastillas from San Miguel before she can wrap it at her home.  It will take a few days before I get my order. 

Nanay Luz learned the art when she was still studying in grade school in San Miguel.  She said that the craft was thought in school and was part of the curriculum.  But sadly, as far as she knows, it's not being done in schools anymore.  This could be the reason why Nanay Luz is the only one left who knows the craft which feared to be facing extinction very soon.

Initially, I heard no one from Nanay Luz is interested in learning how to do it and continuing the tradition, and livelihood, but I learned from that recent interview that her daughter-in-law has started acquiring the skill. But Nanay shared that her daughter-in-law has yet to master the craft and she hopes that she will not lose the interest as designing and cutting pastillas wrappers is really a time consuming task, and lots of patience is part of the investment.

Some of the designs of Nanay Luz

This is the same situation she realized when she thought some youngsters and students in Bulacan.  The students initially showed enthusiasm as Nanay Luz shared with them the secrets of making intricate paper patterns for pastillas wrapper but the interest ends there. "Nagtuturo din ako pero wala din e.  E biglang mawawalan ng interes kasi kailangan talaga ng pasensya sa paggupit, (I also train young people but nothing's happening.  They lose interest.  Cutting pastillas wrappers need so much presence)," explains Nanay Luz.

Nanay Luz shares her knowledge with students during the Hiyas ng Bulakan - Mga SInaunang Sining Workshop during the Singkaban Festival.  (Photo is from the provincial government of Bulacan.)

The the art of making pabalat is an endangered craft but the good news is, there's still hope.  It's with the hands of Nanay Luz's daughter-in-law and the students whom she has taught already.  I personally wish that they carry on the skills and continue the tradition, so that these especially wrapped pastillas can still be experienced not only by food loving Filipinos but the culture hungry generation.

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