Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Iriga Market Scene at the Start of the Century

How was the saud, our local term for the business of selling and buying at the market conducted at the start of the Twentienth-century in the then town of Iriga? William B. Freer, who served as Superintendent of Public Schools in Camarines Sur and who came to the Philippines in 1902, fortunately recorded his observation about the local sauran in his book, "The Philippine Experiences of an American Teacher." Here is his account:

"The customs with respect to the local markets vary in the different towns; in some, market is held very day, in the morning, afternoon or evening; in others, twice or three times a week. The Iriga market is held on the plaza in the open air each evening. The people may be seen every afternoon toward sunset coming along the country roads carrying their produce in baskets balanced on their heads. The more prosperous bring an assistant, who perhaps carries a mat on which to display the merchandise, and a stool-like table with drawers for a counter. By dark, hundreds of pretty merchants have ranged themselves in long parallel rows, forming lanes, each person squatting on the ground with his stock-in-trade spread before him. Every seller has a torch, consisting either of a quantity of hard pitch wrapped in dried palm leaves, or of a bottle containing kerosene oil with a rag for a wick. All who sell vegetables are in one portion of the plaza, the fish-dealers in another, the rice venders in a third, and each class of merchandise has its designated place."

So, up to this part of his account, we know that the site of our old market was the plaza, that even then, there was a sectioning of the wares; and that the saud was done in the evening. What did our local sellers offer? Freer enumerates some of them, but forgetting their agricultural/cultural context. He also tried psychological reading, maliciously ascribing imagined reasons in one, yet correctly pointing out a picture of the alcoholics at the centro which is very much familiar and contemporary like his observation on the rice dealers. At the later part of his narrative, we are also reminded of something that we have lost at this point of our urban existence. Read on:

"Of some the stock-in-trade is pitifully small; perhaps a dozen camotes will comprise that of one person; of another, it will be a quart of diminutive green peppers, arranged in little piles to give the effect of abundance; a third will offer three or four cocoanuts, while a fourth will spread out a pint of peanuts arranged in piles of three. The transactions of some of these poor peasants do not aggregate more than a few centavos a night; but they attend regularly, drawn partly, no doubt, by the desire to pose as commerciantes - to them an occupation symbolical of means and position, partly because they need the few bilogs they may receive for their bit of produce.

"On the other hand, a profit of several pesos a night is made by some, notably the rice dealers; standing about these there is always an admiring throng watching the ostentatious manner in which the rice is scooped up from the pile, measured and dumped into the cloth spread to receive it, then while the vender counts in a loud tone, the number of measures: "Saro, dua, tolo, apat, lima," and so on. In case of rain, the principal merchants place portable shelters of bamboo and nipa over their wares; the smaller ones raise their umbrellas, while the poorest either sit in the rain or, if this be too copious, flee to shelter. From the plaza rises a continuous buzz of conversation and traffic which can be heard more than a block away, but this ceases upon the tolling of the eight o'clock bell from the church steeple nearby. Instantly, all traffic is suspended; the men uncover; the devout stand facing the church, repeating their prayers silently; there is no sound except the deep tone of the bell, no motion but the flickering of the torches. The tolling ceases - the silence can be heard. A moment after there is a rustle, a movement of the mass, a buzz gradually augmented, and the bargaining and gossip are resumed and immediately swell to the former volume."