Pakhuy is restless. “Not again!”, she muttered to herself. She is beyond frustrated and now on the verge of tears.
“What is the matter, dear?” her mother Fin-i gently inquired.
Pakhuy, now on the verge of tears was beyond frustrated. “Mother, the farmer took the rice grains for milling today”, she cried.
“And?”, Mother Fin-i paused.
“Mother, can’t you see? All of the rice grains are out for pounding, and they have left us. The farmers are not milling nor eating us this season!” Pakhuy was miserable.
Pakhuy has been waiting for the farmer to take her. There was nothing on earth she looked forward to becoming, more than being served as a hot, rice meal on the table. But the universe has another plan for her.
The sun is up and so is Pakhuy and her mother Fin-i. They heard the old bamboo ladder creaking then the door of the arang (rice granary) opened. The farmer came to take them!
Pakhuy was among the grains in a rice bundle. They were taken under the rice granary where the farmer laid out a saud (wide sack) on the ground. Then he took the bundles of rice and steps on them, threshing the grains from the rice stalks. One bundle… two… three… until Pakhuy lost count. When the farmer was done, he took a ligkha (winnower) and fanned the grains clean.
“Mother, they are putting us in a sack”, Pakhuy pointed out. Fin-i just nodded with her usual calmness.
Pakhuy and Mother Fin-i were silent all throughout. Pakhuy still felt bad that she was not selected to be milled. But she is starting to get curious.
“I think the farmer is taking us to the rice field”, her mother explained and as always, she was right.
Pakhuy looked around and saw that the paddies were clean and looked ready for planting. Pakhuy was alarmed. What was the farmer intending to do with her and her mother Fin-i now?
“Mother, why are we here?” she asked frantically. “I thought you said that when I grow up and mature enough, I will change my name and I will see my true purpose” She said.
Mother Fin-i, was not even flustered and she said gently, “be patient my dear. All of that is going to happen in time.”
The farmer took the rice grains and scattered them on the prepared paddy. Every other day hence, he would come and either block the kussingan (paddy canal) with mud to control the water in the paddy or open it to allow more water for the rice seedlings.
Yes, rice seedlings!
Pakhuy was selected to be a pachog (rice seedling). She learned as much when she became calmer the other day and asked more questions from Fin-i.
Day by day, Pakhuy and the other pachog grew. From small grains, they started sprouting some roots then one… two… and more leaves. Pakhuy did not want to tell her mother yet but every day that goes by, she secretly accepted the fact that she is not going to be milled and cooked… yet.
“Well, this is fun too”, she said referring to her daily transformation.
Then, after about 21 days, the farmer came back. He came back with another 12 men and women to transplant the pachog.
From sunup to sundown, the farmers worked hard. Some for the women did fornat (uprooted the rice seedlings) and tied them with wild grasses. The others carry the bundled seedlings to the next rice paddies and re-planted them. Three to four seedlings together.
Pakhuy watched as the men and women chattered gaily as they work. The farmer cooked some nice chicken pinikpikan for lunch and as soon as they finished eating, the farmers chewed some betel nuts and rested and then resumed planting.
At the end of three days, the entire stretch of the rice field was all planted. All the farmers looked tired every end of the day but they always depart cheerfully, always laughing and teasing each other.
The planting season was finished and the farmer was happy. And so was Pakhuy.
Pakhuy and the rest of the rice grew up steadily every day. There were days when, they would even boast among themselves how much they have grown from the previous day. Soon, other grasses grew in the rice fields with them. It was time for kamuy.
The farmer came back and for three days again, he, his wife and their kids picked the wild grasses one by one and uprooted them so that the rice plants would grow bigger.
But one morning, Pakhuy woke up with start. She felt something different. Different but wonderful. She looked around and all the other rice in the paddies where radiant and were giving off a very fragrant smell.
“Mother, why do I feel a little heavy today?” Pakhuy asked her mother.
Fin-I looked at her daughter and asked, “how long have you been feeling that way?”
Pakhuy thought for some time and said, “I think, I have been feeling like this for some days now”.
Fin-i smiled at her daughter and said, “that may dear, is because you are namusfus (flowering) and soon, you will have your own grains.”
“I am pregnant?” Pakhuy almost fainted!
During the next days, Pakhuy experienced the most wonderful thing in her life. First, she started getting heavy and soon after, the started showing. Then the first grains sprouted from her. Before she knows it, the entire paddy filed was beaming with young grains. The birds started to come by, peck some grains here and there and fly away whenever the winds blow.
The farmer once again came and he installed kik-ilaw and scarecrows in the field. The kik-ilaw were composed of assortment of cans and colorful cloths that were tied by strings and were displayed around the ripening rice paddies. When the wind blows, the cloths and cans and strings would produce funny sounds that scare the birds away.
Pakhuy then started becoming heavier each day as her rice grains became rounder and firmer. By the end of the third month, Pakhuy was so heavy that she and her friends started bowing their stalks. The grains were golden yellow. It was time for fiatak (harvest).
“Fiataaaaaaaakkkk!” the farmer shouted in his village.
The same people who planted them gain came back and started cutting the stalks of the rice with their lakom (transverse harvest knife). The rice paddies were almost dry and the mud were sticky but the farmers did not mind. It was the harvest time. They sang, they told stories, they talked with the rice plants. The insects who became Pkhuy’s friends were also having their merriment! The farmers were jubilant and so was Pakhuy.
Nearby the rice field, the farmer set up a tadchay (a drying platform made of bamboo). Once the rice stalks were cut, they were tied in a bundle. The farmers get 8 bundles of rice and tie them together. Every 8 bundles, they tie. Then the farmers hang them on the tadchay to dry under the sun.
At the end of the third day, all the rice were harvested, tied and hung on the tadchay. The farmer and his wife started counting their harvest.
Hen fiatak – 1 individual bundle
Enoppat – 4 individual bundles
Hen-iteng – 8 individual bundles that are bound together
Hen lakom – 16 bundles (or 2 iteng)
Hen charan – 80 bundles (or 10 iteng)
Hen churchug – 160 bundles or (20 iteng)
Hen fokar – 800 bundles (or 100 iteng)
Pakhuy and Fin-i were counting with the farmers but eventually, they lost count and they just sat on the tadchay watching the couple. The couple were thankful and so was Pakhuy.
After the initial sun drying, the bundles of rice were stored again in the arang (rice granary). One by one, the farmer piled them. Again, and again until the arang was full!
It was so full that was no more room for Pakhuy and Fin-i.
So, the farmer took the bundles of Pakhuy and Fin-i, put them in the awet (basket) and carried them home. Pakhuy could not believe what happened next.
The farmer took the bundles of rice and put them on their sukussug (top of their dirty kitchen). There, they stayed with some firewood and other ripe vegetables for drying. Pakhuy saw some string beans, eggplants and gourds that were drying.
“Mother, why are they drying us here?” Pakhuy said ever so cautiously, not wanting to get her hopes up.
Fin-i smiled at her eager daughter and said, “My dear, I think they are preparing us to be milled”.
After two weeks at the sukussug, Pakhuy and Fin-i were taken down and brought outside the house where the losong and ur-u (mortar and pestle) were. There were also a lot chickens. Hens and chicks and roosters. All of them could not help themselves. They all wanted to have a taste of the oh-so-dry and golden rice grains!
Each of two young sons of the farmer had a pestle in their hands. And as the older boy took two bundles of rice and started pounding them, the younger one was shooing the chickens and was holding the end of the rice bundles, simultaneously.
“Ussa… chuwwa.. turru… oppat…”
The older son started counting while pounding, emphasizing on some syllables while starting to breath heavier. “Mun-assud ta,” he called his brother as he wanted both of them to pound rice simultaneously.
Once the younger brother got the rhythm, he started pounding after each bop from his brother. Soon, they made a beautiful sound of regular alternating thumps and the rice was na-urag (the grains were shred from the rice stalk) in a matter of few minutes.
“Okay, get the ligkha (winnower)” the older son ordered his brother to which the young boy obeyed immediately.
They took all the grains and then sifted them using the ligkha. Then they put back the grains in the mortar and resumed pounding until the rice was nalommak (some hulls were removed but not all). They repeated the process until all the rice grains were removed from their hulls (nachug-as). By then, the boys were breathing heavily and sweating hard.
Pakhuy searched for her mother Fin-i in the middle of the white and red grains.
“Mother!” she called out urgently.
Fin-i answered gently. “My dear?” She looked at Pakhuy who looked marvelous without her shell. She looked well rounded and with her bran still intact, she looked shiny and reddish.
Pakhuy was as amazed when she saw her mother and could not stop from staring.
She stammered. “There was something you told me before. When I was still a rice grain.”, she finally found her voice.
Fin-i looked at her daughter and said lovingly. “Yes, my dear. I told you to be patient. Your time will come.”
Pakhuy simply could not stop her tears. “Mom, you mean, this is the time?”
Fin-i slowly nodded her head. “My daughter, from now on, your name is changed. You will not be Pakhuy anymore. I will call you Fukhas.”
As Fin-i was still explaining, the boys took the rice grains and put them in a pot, washed them once and out them on the fire. The fire was hot making the water and the rice grains boil in no time.
All the while, Fin-i was holding Fukhas and was whispering.
“Congratulations my dear, in a few minutes, you change your name again. You will be called Senor-at.”
Helen Biangalen-Magata is an indigenous woman and a mother of two boys. As a child, she loved listening to stories, mostly from her grandmother Talebya and grandfather Joaquin. When her parents wanted to teach her something, they told stories. If they wanted to encourage her, they told stories. If they want to reprimand her, they told stories. Short stories, long stories, funny stories, love stories, and inspirational stories, she listened to them all.
Helen sees stories out of the most common things and events around her. She wants to tell stories that convey the strength in the weak, the beauty in the ordinary, the power of the poor, and the love in this broken world. Short stories, long stories, sad stories, stories about humanity and reality, she tells them all.