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Rice Article: Philippines  

For the love of duman
By Mary Ann Quioc Tayag
The Philippine Star, December 11, 2002

A basketful of duman
When something so good and valuable is about to become extinct, you are gripped with fear and panic you work so hard to make it last forever. Especially so if it is a tradition that you wish to pass on to your children, and they, on to the next generation to come. Such is the case of duman - the pride of the people of Sta. Rita, Pampanga, perhaps the only town in the whole country that produces this special delicacy.

Not many Filipinos are familiar with duman. In fact, not all Kapampangans know or have tried this precious and delicious grain because, from the beginning, it is produced only in small quantities and reaches only a very few people. But as the fortunate few often say, once you have tried it, you will know why it is Pampanga's most valuable treasure.

Duman, if it were likened to a woman, is a much sought-after virtuous virgin. She is young, beautiful, special, fragrant, and like all true virgins, a very rare breed especially in these modern times. It comes only once a year. Her suitors wait patiently for her arrival with much anticipation. And they covet her every morsel, knowing too well it will take another year before they will be graced by her presence again.

As a kid growing up in my grandmother's house in Mabalacat, Pampanga, I vividly recall her waiting for the folks from Sta. Rita to come with their duman-filled basket exactly at this time of the year. The same people came year after year. They were always in a group of three - a man dressed in camisa chino and two women in baro't saya. The man always wore a buri hat, which he also used to fan himself while resting, and the women covered their heads with tattered bandannas to shield themselves from the sun. They had dark complexions, as most farmers do, and their hands were rough and callous from hard labor.

They walked to peddle their precious produce only to the known duman aficionados. After all, they did not have much quantity to offer. They did not go from house-to-house, but rather they went from town-to-town. For, in each town, they knew of a few duman lovers whose year would not be complete if they did not have the precious commodity.

Looking back now, I wonder if they did this peddling for money or for the joy of it. They took so much pride in their duman. With palms open, they would raise the duman like an offering. "Bawan me, takman me" (Smell it, taste it) they would urge buyers, knowing only too well that one, without fail, would be lured to it.

What is duman, you may wonder, and what is so special about it? Duman is the young rice harvested before its full maturity (hence its yellow green color), and is solely from the breed lakatan or malagkit (glutinous variety). It is planted solely in the barrios of Sta. Monica and San Augustin of Sta. Rita town in Pampanga, during the months of April to June. And unlike the regular rice variety, which can be planted and harvested three times a year, duman can only be harvested in the cool air of November, otherwise it will not be a bountiful one.

For every hectare, a farmer can produce only a maximum of 4.5 cavans of duman, while with the regular rice variety, he can produce a maximum of 300 cavans. It is not surprising then that duman is sold at a whopping price of P800 a kilo! But every duman lover will swear it is worth its weight in gold.

Even during the time of my grandmother, I knew it was expensive. Back then, we were taught how to appreciate it by savoring each morsel. "Ditak ditak mu. Banabanayad. Pilasan ye" (Little by little and slowly. Savor it), she would say. She'd pour either pure carabao's milk or hot chocolate (again made of pure carabao's milk) on my duman like what one will do with a bowl of cereals nowadays. My mother, on the other hand, who was allergic to milk, ate duman as is, bit by bit, like eating popcorn.

My mother-in-law, Imang During Tayag, introduced me the duman kalamay , and indeed it is one of the best kakanin I have ever tasted. I teased her that kalamay is meant to be an ordinary farmer's fare, but who can afford a duman kalamay? She wittingly replied, "Not with duman, because there is nothing ordinary about it, not even the farmer who plants it." How very true!

The long and tedious process of producing duman is truly a labor of love. The farmers will reap it at dawn. Then they will beat the stalks to the ground, a process called ipaspas by the locals. It is at this stage that the matured palay falls off from the stalks and only the young or malag˙ (also the Kapampangan word for beautiful) is left on the stalks. These stalks are then churned until the malagu separates from the stalks. The loosened young palay is then gathered together and moistened with water.

It is then toasted on a large palayok for at least two hours, using wood fire, while constantly stirring it for an even toast. After which, it is spread on a banig or rice mat to cool before it is ready for pounding in a huge mortar and pestle made of solid heavy wood.

Three strong men, each armed with one three-foot long pestle each, pound the palay continuously, following a particular rhythm they have mastered by heart. (I tried it but I could not get the rhythm right.) After at least three hours of pounding (that looked like macho dancing), the duman will come out of its husk in its delicious shade of yellow-green and emit a very fragrant irresistible smell.

A few weeks ago, the people of Sta. Rita outdid themselves. For the first time in their rich history, they invited some guests and dramatized the harvesting of duman. Apung Maria Cunanan, a lady of 99 years, herself a third-generation duman maker, offered her very humble earth-floored silong for the evening. She had inherited from her parents her deep love for duman and her passion for the yearly tradition. During her younger years, she was known to make the best duman in town. Now her daughter Apung Julia makes excellent duman, too.

Even at 99, Apung Maria still has the same fervor for duman and it is her ardent wish to instill in the young the love for it and hopes it may continue for generations to come. Metong yang kayamanan ning Sta. Rita. Pakamalan ye! (It's one of Sta. Rita's wealth. Treasure it!), she would say.

There was nothing grand about the preparation. In fact, it was as rustic as one could ever have in a barrio setting. And that is what made the whole evening most memorable. No unnecessary adornments, no frills, no distractions. Only strong men pounding on the duman in the background, while young men, women and even children, clad in simple camisa chino and baro't saya serenaded us with Kapampangan love songs.

We were awed and moved, tingled with sensation, as they sang so beautifully. They were not only singing, they were emoting with so much passion. And the women and children looked so angelic and so pure.

Indeed, it was truly an enchanting and most memorable evening. Not to mention the people behind the scene would be most inappropriate. Civic-minded and cultured Butchie Narciso Lagman and Tess Guanzon (whose ancestral house in Sta. Rita was the setting for the movie Tanging Yaman) organized the event. Together with the barrio folks, they created a festive atmosphere with buntings, delicious bibingkÔ, tamales, assorted kakanin and hot tsokolate (made of carabao's milk, none other). Very young and talented Andy Alviz, the resident choreographer of Miss Saigon in Asia, unselfishly shared his time and talent, and organized the barrio lasses and lads into a choir, aptly named ArtiSta.Rita. Dick Simpao and Willie Carpio, who came all the way from America, took care of the finances.

The duman first appeared in the year 1864. It has survived the ravages of war and foreign influences for close to 200 years. But today, it is threatened anew, this time by the modern western lifestyle.

That evening, the young and old of Sta. Rita bonded together to make sure duman is here to stay. Apung Maria's wish had come true that very night, right in her humble abode.

The following morning, we were saddened by news of Apung Maria's death. She had peacefully passed away in her sleep. Had she finally rested, knowing too well her duman torch had been passed on? Yes, despite her demise, the people of Sta. Rita and the whole of Pampanga, have much to be jubilant about. The duman tradition will live on.

Mal ya ing duman uling manyaman ya at mal ing lahing Kapampangan. (from the script that night).

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