AUGUST 4, 2018


Back-to-School, Back-to-Nature



"Bahay kubo, kahit munti. Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari. Singkamas at talong, sigarilyas at mani. Sitaw, bataw, patani. Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa. At saka mayroon pang labanos, mustasa. Sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya, sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga.”"

If you are a school teacher or a Filipino parent in Hawaii, you might want to use this popular children song for selecting some of the plants that should be raised in school food gardens and garden-to-table projects. Seven of the song’s eight lines are about plants that are common Filipino sources of nutritious food and healing spices. Adding these plants in school gardens can enhance learning about the cultural and natural dimensions of self-sustenance and food growing. These plants are great sources for some of the needed proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and more. The edible plant parts include roots, leaves, fruits, and seeds. The nature, shapes and colors of these plants can further inspire creativity and innovation in garden arrangements or edible landscape designing. Local farmers markets sell these seasonal produce which should indicate that seeds and other plant propagation materials are locally available for school gardens. Many local Filipinos no longer know how several of these plants look like. They also have different names in other cultures and markets. Hence, anyone interested in researching more should look also into the plants’ scientific names for guidance. Of course, actual Filipino gardens in Hawaii are also known for other vegetables like marunggay, parya, okra, sili, katuday, kamote and others.

It is also worthwhile to consider the song’s first line, which does not speak of plants. It focuses on the house that is surrounded by the plants. Literally, the line says “The cube house, despite being small.” It is a line that, seemingly, looks down on the size of bahay kubo. However, reclaiming the craft and science behind the “bahay kubo” is now very relevant amidst the search for resiliency in an era of global warming and frequent extreme events (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, and others).

As some Filipino architect-educators explain, the bahay kubo is a typical traditional house found in the rural lowland areas of the Philippines. As an iconic symbol of older vernacular architecture, it is often depicted as a one –room dwelling and made of nipa leaves and bamboo wood. Design and materials actually vary by region and family needs but common features include steep roof over one-or-two room living areas raised on posts or stilts one to two meters above ground. Augusto Villalon, in an article in Seasite.org, describes it well also when he writes that the traditional bahay kubo follows the centuries-old Southeast Asia style where all family activities happen in one space. For example, after sleeping mats are rolled up in the mornings, the same space is given over to daytime activities that sometimes spill outdoors to the shaded areas underneath the house.

In a 2016 JASTIP powerpoint presentation, Mary Ann Espina, Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Architecture, points out that traditional Filipino wisdom led to disaster-resilient abodes that reflect an intimate knowledge of nature. The bahay kubo’s elevated habitable spaces protect against flooding. The regular geometric configurations help resist lateral forces from earthquake and winds. The voluminous thatched roofs aid in wind deflection, efficient water run-off and passive cooling. The easily source materials such as bamboo, wood, and nipa allow for ease of construction and maintenance. Traditional wood joinery keeps the structure strong. Community clustering and surrounding natural features shield against disasters.

Espina points out that with contemporary buildings and new vernacular architecture, much of the traditional wisdom is now lost in our collective memory. Fortunately, for educators and families in Hawaii, the Hawaiian renaissance is an opportunity for collaborative reclaiming of nature-based knowledge and traditional skills.

Why the need to go back to nature in the school setting? The purpose is not to romanticize the past or be nostalgic about it. It is a future that requires us to reconnect back with nature and our communities. (Source:http://jastip.org/sites/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/10_Espina_Part1.pdf)

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