A Visit Back to 1954, Through The Graveyard

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How did Filipino men groom themselves in 1954?

In the middle of the 20th century while the Philippines have just recovered from devastation of the Second World War, lifestyles in the country continued to be abreast with those of the international scene. It was a time of growing prosperity when standards of living were becoming among the highest in the Western Pacific.

My grandfather was then in his prime. A war veteran and accountant, he had great optimism as the war finally ended and he was going home. A few years later he was unfortunately diagnosed with a form of cancer and passed away in 1954. He was in his early 40s.

He was shortly buried in Cuyapo, a small agricultural town on the central plains of Luzon Island. At death, it has been the tradition to place things associated with the dead in his or her grave.

In 2008 when our grandmother, his wife, died it was decided to place together both her cremated remains and what was left of our grandfather in one small crypt. It was therefore necessary to exhume his remains. Thus we discovered the things placed alongside him at the time of his burial.

What were grandpa’s style and grooming paraphernalia before he left?


The old familiar razor


Blade of razor




Colgate toothpaste


Toothpaste still full.


Quarter (side) of a shoe


Heel of a shoe


Case for a grooming kit




Belt buckle


Men’s comb

Text and photos by Jack G. L. Medrana

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Seven Things About The Batanes That We Like

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A small plane, a costly airfare, and the wild, windy (and wavy) northern isles of the Philippines put you on equal footing with the first Spanish missionaries when they made the difficult trip to the Batanes from Manila more than 200 years ago.


While the Batanes may well vie for Instagram-worthy capital of the Philippines, the greatest attractions come from the little things that are simple and yet hard to find in everyday life.

1) Honesty Coffee Shop

In a world where trust is often like rain in the Atacama or Sahara, honesty is at a premium. Have they included its charge in your pricey plane ticket to Basco too? We chanced upon the often talked-about Honesty Coffee Shop on our way to tiny Ivana harbor from Basco. No shopkeeper, not a single soul in sight. But all the soda, biscuits, and grocery stuff were at your disposal. Just don’t forget to leave the correct amount of payment in exchange for the things you get as reminded by a written instruction.

2) Savidug Ijang

Kings and queens, castles, and all in-betweens are not difficult to daydream of in the Batanes with the islands’ semi-temperate climate and green rocky landscape. When in Sabtang request a visit to Savidug Ijang, an archaeological site on top of a hill. Scholars believe that long before the islands were incorporated into the Philippines starting with the missionaries’ prayer meetings among local folk in the 1700s, these stones were part of defensive structures where ancient ruling chiefs guarded their wealth and power. There are several of these across the Batanes archipelago, remains of which tell us that the Ivatan (native of the Batanes) may have had several different tiny kingdoms governing their islands.

3) Sleeping in an Ivatan house

This is roughing it out in a traditionally authentic accommodation. It is your chance to be part of the pre-modern Ivatan village, which means that house amenities will only include a light bulb for electricity and perhaps one socket in which you can recharge your mobile phone, pillows and blankets for the bed, and that’s all. Few lights and noise can be found in the village at night. A manual water pump outside is available for washing and bathing. Air-conditioning will be nature’s responsibility – no cooler or heater in the house – and your apparel’s as well. The Batanes climate is a cross of the tropical and the temperate. The winds are gorgeous. The food is expensive for imported items, but reasonable enough for those that can be produced in the province. During mealtimes we were called to eat prepared meals in another house. For those who love nightly videokes, it will be a great disappointment.

4) A Village Fiesta

Efforts of the first missionaries were not in vain because Roman Catholicism is now firmly rooted here as seen in the white-washed churches by the sea and a devout Christian tradition. In Sabtang we stumbled upon a fiesta. In the cool morning of January, villagers were already prepared to meet visitors on the feast day of Thomas Aquinas, their patron saint. Rice served on fiestas is made special by colouring it yellow with turmeric. Uved, which is bits of pork, fish, and banana corm rolled into balls, is also an Ivatan innovation.

The mainstream Filipino feasting dishes were there: glutinous rice cake, adobo (meat stew cooked in vinegar and salt or soy sauce), halayang ube (yam pudding), seafood, macaroni salad, and sweet spaghetti. Gin flowed freely. Plates came in the form of large leaves of the breadfruit tree.

5) Snacking on fruit and nut at the beach or roadside

This is for free. There are at least two plants that can help you with this – Seashore Pandan and Sea Almonds. The Seashore Pandan goes by the scientific name Pandanus tectorius. If you can skillfully wrest the pineapple-like fruit from the confines of its thorny leaves, then you can eat it by separating the individual carpels that make up the fruit. A ripened fruit will appear reddish-orangey. This plant is a brother of the pandan used in giving rice a fragrant aroma while being cooked.

Sea almond or talisay (Terminalia catappa) is also abundant in the Batanes and can grow into a tall tree. I remember climbing it in childhood, and because it looks like a multi-storeyed tree you can choose which branch you want to laze on. Its fruit (or nut) may be higher to reach, in which case you need to climb the tree or to ask some advice from the locals. You need to crack open the nutshell to gain access to the edible part.

6) Beaches all to yourself

Provided that you enjoy looking at or wading in shorelines with big waves, then the beaches of the island province will be a perfect venue for you. The seashore presents mostly as either rocky cliff or sandy beach battered by strong waves. This is not surprising for a favorite path of typhoons in the west Pacific, and where the monsoons blow unimpeded.

The trip itself between Batan and Sabtang may be a wavy preview of the beach getaway you are thinking of, in which most passengers cling to some post or edge for the whole duration. You will however be rewarded with perfect serenity, pristine seashores save for the occasional buoy, and a chance to know the lives of industrious Ivatan fishermen.

7) Villagers’ honesty

There are times – it’s really all the time – when you wish all places were like the Batanes. People who are experts in losing sorts of things will be happy with this. At the School of Fisheries in Sabtang where we slept the night before, we were waiting for the boat for the return trip back to Batan.  A young man came to me and asked my name. When I replied, he took out a mobile phone from his pocket and asked if it’s mine. I swiftly glanced at the object he was holding and was surprised to find out that I unknowingly dropped my mobile phone along the way from Savidug village to the municipal center of Sabtang.

“We found it three kilometres from here,” he said and gave it back to me.

“Thank you so much,” I excitedly uttered with a sigh of relief.

Text and photos by Jack G. L. Medrana

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The Early Colonial Period in Bulacan

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Bulacan, a province bordering Manila to the north, is one of the localities to be first incorporated into the Hispanic administration of the Philippines in the 1500s. This province is known for its exciting festivals or fiestas, such as the Carabao Festival where water buffalos or carabaos parade around town and are made to kneel in front of the church, and the Fertility Dance for hopeful childless couples. The bountiful harvest of the land manifests in its famous delicacies: sweet pastries, rice cakes, salted crabs, savoury chorizos, fish, and an array of meat dishes.  Its southwestern parts where wide, sluggish rivers waltz through broad plains and marshes saw the beginnings of formal settlement by early Filipinos.

Plaridel (previously called Quingua, pronounced “keeng-wah”) is among the oldest settled places in this province. In 2012 an archaeological excavation done in this locality near the banks of the Angat River uncovered secrets of Bulacan’s past. Records by Spanish scribes tell that people in this area had short hair and wore gold trinkets, and that the ancient villages each had around 400 people when Bulacan was first organized as a province in the 16th century.

Archaeologists were under time constraint as the excavation site was a housing project being developed for homeless families. They did however reach the level of around the 16th century when they saw tell-tale artifacts of the period, such as numerous sherds from porcelain wares known as “Zhangzhou Ware,” named after a port city of southern China where these ceramic vessels were shipped out to Southeast Asian kingdoms and peoples.

The first bucketfuls of earth uncovered plastics and modern materials from recent decades. Then careful digging showed up old nails and other artifacts characteristic of the more than 300 years of Hispanic colonial history. Suddenly, the whole team became excited when their trowels and brushes revealed an extraordinary find: a fragile and partially exposed human skeleton coming to light! As other excavation trenches were lowered to the same level, several other human bones were discovered, suggesting that this had been an old cemetery! Analysis of teeth from one of the deceased individuals indicates that the person died at around seven to twelve years old. Still young.

The first towns or pueblos were formed when the colonial government began a program of evangelizing natives and resettling Christian converts into settlements starting in the 16th century. This program was called reduccion. The new towns had a parish church, a town square or plaza, and other important facilities that could cater for the needs of inhabitants. Quingua was an example of these pueblos. The cemetery found by archaeologists can be the burial ground of the then newly-formed community of Quingua, which was founded close to the Angat River.

Ancient Bulacan relied on its inland waterways and coasts for transportation and livelihood. Movement from place to place could be efficiently done by water vessel than overland transport. Allies were easily summoned for contingencies in times of war through boats. Food was easily found at rivers and coasts, along with building materials and other necessities or luxuries as alcoholic beverages from the nipa palms growing on brackish swamps. The blessings from waterways were received as an all-in-one package together with the unpleasant elements from it: ferocious crocodiles that ambush the careless, and big floods that could wash away everything.

True enough, analysis of soil obtained from the excavation layers also revealed that Quingua was occasionally affected by flooding. While documents most often report only what is important to the writer, archaeology can show us that everyday events in the past can leave their mark through unexpected means. Were they fans of imported things or were they using their own products? What pots and household items were used in Quingua or old Plaridel can be disclosed by opening up the earth on which the old community once stood.

While urbanization from the metropolitan capital creeps northwards into Bulacan, Plaridel and the surrounding towns continue to maintain the tradition instilled by the first friars more than 300 years ago. Its forgotten stories are now being told by our trowels and brushes.

Text and photos by Jack G. L. Medrana

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Buddha Relics, Conquests, and Curiosities in Myanmar’s City of Bago

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Bago center01
Clock tower at Bago’s major road intersection

Let go of the hype. It may not be the seemingly infinite pagoda-studded landscape of Bagan nor the Shangri-la-esque enclave of the Shwedagon Paya, but the city of Bago (the British called it Pegu) on south Myanmar’s delta region has its own claim to fame. Located around 90 kilometers northeast of Yangon, the city played roles in important events during the last 800 years.

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The colors of Kyaik Pun Paya

It takes an average of two hours from Yangon to Bago, time depending on whether you take a taxi, public bus, or train. It’s a good day trip when staying in Yangon, although there are a few hotels in Bago if you want to take it slow. Within Bago the common means of transport is the tuktuk, but a taxi can be hired for day-long transfers between sites.

Myanmar map01
The cultural and political heart of Myanmar is the white piece at the map’s center; Bago City is within the dark blue piece below it.

Now picture this. The brains of Myanmar – and its mainstream culture – have been the dry central plain in the country’s heart north of Yangon where the first towns appeared a few centuries after Christ and the Roman Empire. This was validated when the Kingdom of Bagan consolidated power about five centuries later (that’s around the year 1000) on this central base. Today as the 21st century unfolds, the seat of government is again installed centerwise with its move from Yangon (on the delta) to Naypyidaw (on the northern central plain).

Much of south Myanmar is plain and marshland formed by big, sluggish rivers.

The expansionist ambitions of the Bagan Kingdom (eventually becoming an empire) brought its influence to the southern marshy plains. This facilitated Bagan’s participation in the international maritime trade. Bago is said to have begun in the mid-1200s when settlements on the delta were being established. Other scholars suggest that Bago is older than that.

Mindfulness is walking in the moment.

According to legend however, two princes of the Mon (a powerful ethnic group of southern Myanmar) saw two swan-like birds with golden necks landing on an islet. The site of this islet is believed to be the hill where the Hintha Gon Paya is perched on now, and from this site the whole city came into being.

Hintha gon paya01
Hintha Gon Paya

Bago was the cause for a “national” power shift from the northern plain to the delta. Eventually the strength of centrally-located Bagan declined after 500 years and its satellite cities surreptitiously took hold in the power vacuum. Bago emerged as the leading city of the delta region and became capital of the new Kingdom of Hanthawaddy in 1385. Notable royalties of this kingdom were Shin Saw Bu, Myanmar’s only woman leader – that is before Aung San Suu Kyi went to become First State Counsellor of the country only in 2016 – and her son-in-law, the wise and industrious King Dhammazedi.

Buddhas of Kyaik Pun Paya

Leaving monkhood to assume kingship, Dhammazedi instituted religious reforms and made restorations to the relatively old Kyaik Pun Paya a few kilometers outside town. And as if these were not enough, Myanmar’s two tallest stupas, famous Shwedagon Paya of Yangon (second only) and the Shwemawdaw Paya in Bago (this is the tallest), became pilgrimage venues of national importance because of him and his mother-in-law.

Pots of drinking water are available for the thirsty at temples and roadsides.

The dramatic phase of Bago’s history began when it was captured by a rising power to its north, the Taungoo Kingdom, and made the capital of this kingdom by its King Tabinshwehti. The king was a strategist who manipulated Portuguese explorers and Mon personalities to the advantage of his growing kingdom. Poor Tabinshwehti did not live long to see the fruits of his efforts. He is said to have been assassinated at the order of one of his advisers. His kingdom fell apart but after two years his brother-in-law, the celebrated Bayinnaung, assumed the throne and got back everything he made, plus many more. The illustrious king meanwhile has been enshrined after death as one of Myanmar’s 37 most important nats, ancestral or nature spirits, integrated within the country’s own version of Buddhism.

Hintha gon paya02
Vicinity of Hintha Gon Paya

Once king, Bayinnaung reassembled the old Taungoo Kingdom and extended it. Taungoo absorbed states of the ethnic Shans to its north, invaded eastern India, plowed into the Thai capital Ayutthaya and bagged Thailand, Laos and parts of the Malay Peninsula. It even granted favors to Sri Lankan kingdoms to protect the Theravada Buddhist homeland. By the middle of the 16th century, Bago was capital of the largest empire in the history of mainland Southeast Asia.

Leikpya reservoir01
Leikpyakan reservoir

Buddhists have a very special regard to what they believe are relics from the Buddha. These relics have been divided since the beginning of this worldview’s long history and rationed to the many stupas and temples where Buddhism has traditionally taken root. The story of Bago’s (and for that matter, Myanmar’s) pagodas is therefore centered on how rulers and the faithful search for and possess the relics and maintain their repositories.

Shwemawdaw Paya, Myanmar’s tallest pagoda

The loftiest pagoda in the country at 114 meters, Shwemawdaw Pagoda is said to house the hairs and other relics of the Buddha. Successive rulers each had a hand on its upkeep, with Bayinnaung giving his crown jewels to make the pagoda’s tip in the 1550s.

Bell at Nawdawgyi Myathalyaung Buddha

In the era of fake online news, whitewashed Mahazedi Pagoda aptly reminds us that fakery can be candidate for the world’s oldest profession. It was in Mahazedi that Bayinnaung kept what he thought was a tooth relic he acquired from Sri Lanka. The emperor was prepared to deliver gold and precious stones to the Portuguese who carried off what he was looking for, but the friars warned their fellow Europeans of the Inquisition’s punishment should they continue with the exchange of a pagan object. The relic was therefore crushed to destroy it.

Mahazedi Paya

The emperor was informed that the relic was fake anyway, and that the true one can still be had. This supposedly real one was finally acquired, alongside a princess, and the artifact was kept in Mahazedi. When later on this artifact was said to be another fake, he did not believe it because of the many supernatural things happening in favor of him which he attributed to the object.

Nagas of Mahazedi Paya

Another interesting feature of Buddhist cosmology is its warm attitude towards snakes, creatures that are very much at home in the Southeast Asian environment. A popular icon is the naga, mythological serpent in the form of a king cobra seen embellishing the pagodas. One legend tells us that rain fell heavily after Buddha’s enlightenment and that a naga deity used its seven heads to form hoods over the Buddha for protection against the downpour. In the Snake Monastery however, the V.I.P.(very important person – or in this case, python) is not the king cobra but a humongous reticulated python. It’s believed to be a reincarnation of a monk.

Snake monastery01
Monument at Snake Monastery

A grandiose Kanbawzathadi Palace-Museum has been built by the modern state in memory of the emperor. Unfortunately if you enter the building, all you will see (at least for now) are the archaeologically excavated teak posts that supported what may have been Bayinnaung’s ancient abode.

Kanbawzathadi Palace

Bago has at least two giant reclining Buddhas. The open-air one, Nawdawgyi Myathalyaung, is new and was built only fifteen years ago.

Nawdawgyi Myathalyaung01
Nawdawgyi Myathalyaung Buddha

The one in a big enclosure, Shwetalyaung, is believed to be more than a thousand years old. Unrest followed the era of Bayinnaung and a restored kingdom of Taungoo endured for a century and a half afterwards, shifting its center back to the central plain. Bago managed to get independent again in 1740 but was destroyed 17 years later by Alaungpaya, one of the leaders of the last empire before Myanmar submitted to the British in the 19th century. After the 1740 destruction of Bago, the Shwetalyaung Buddha became hidden in jungle until its discovery more than a century later during colonial rule.

Shwetalyaung Buddha

In Bago there’s a mall at the center of town where you can get meals. It’s one of those few hip places where they serve more upscale cuisines – Chinese, Thai, Malaysian-Singaporean, or local adaptations of Western food. We were avoiding gastronomic kitsch however, and thus hunted for down-to-earth Myanmar meals.

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My kind of resto

We were led to an un-touristy restaurant beside the Bago River near the bridge. Here, it’s closer to the local home cooking.

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Myanmar meal!

Then a sip of local tea and coffee in a workers’ diner along the banks to pause and watch the brown eddies of the river. It began to drizzle.

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Local cafe by the Bago River

Today it’s hard to imagine Bago as a port. The great leaders of the central plain placed Bago in their wish list as it was the key for maritime trade. The quiet muddy river I see is the same river of half a millennium ago that funneled precious commodities, technology, and ideas between Myanmar’s empires and the beckoning sea. By the 19th century it had changed its course to make it more difficult for Bago to have ready access to ocean vessels.

Well near Shewmawdaw01
A well near Shwetalyaung Paya

Traditional Myanmar lingers on in Bago. In some places, people still wash their clothes beside communal wells, and personal rituals are being performed at the temples.

Temple duties

Betel nut and piper leaf chewing, a time-honored tradition in South and Southeast Asia, is a daily habit in the city as in the whole of the country.

betel preparation01
A roadside seller prepares betel nut and piper leaf for chewing.

The late afternoon skies darkened and sent a downpour. It’s June. The monsoon makes a good epilogue for a sweeping history of this now humble town. Night started to set in. Bago is so much an overlooked town, peripheral if you may to Bagan and the more popular destinations. But it is one that has gained its rightful place in the annals of Myanmar’s history.

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Panoramic view of the city center with the Shwemawdaw Paya on the background

Text and photos by Jack G. L. Medrana

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Catholicism and History in Marinduque

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From the accounts of the French naturalist Alfred Marche we get a glimpse of the 19th century in Marinduque, Philippines.

Archaeology Hints of Life in Cebu City Before Colonial Times

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Cebu in the Philippines is beach to most of us. Bantayan, Malapascua, Camotes, even Mactan. Or marine life. Or the basilica of the Christ Child, or Santo Nino, as locals call the deity. Enter Cebu from the air and you go through the airport at Mactan, then cross the causeway where you see the low skyscrapers of the city surrounded by the urban sprawl extending to the edges of the narrow strait.


Five centuries ago, the miniscule urban area composed of huts made of hardwood, bamboo, palm fronds, and rattan lined the beach of the main island across Mactan. It was home to 2,000 people who painted their skins, filed their teeth, and traded with many places such as Surigao on Mindanao island.


At Plaza Independencia (Independence Square), the city’s central park, archaeologists have unearthed memories from the city’s past.


Discoveries include artifacts from the Spanish colonial period extending backward to precolonial times.


Before the colonial period, Plaza Independencia was an ancient cemetery where the old Cebuan royalties were buried.


Several of the teeth found in the graves showed coloring. Ancient Bisayans (people of the central Philippines) filed their teeth and colored them using roots, flowers, or red ant eggs. They even decorated their teeth with gold.


This nearly forgotten culture modified the shape of their heads which may have been for status and aesthetic purposes. They may have done this by putting moulding materials at the head while the person was growing up.


The times were not so peaceful. The big island of Cebu and surrounding islands were divided under many competing rulers, each a potential ally or enemy to each other. Wars were happening often. We have seen possible evidence of this through fractures in a skeleton’s forearm which was caused by the action of a sharp object.


Spain eventually claimed the islands. Cebu was one of its early colonial settlements and a fort was built at the site which was to become Plaza Independencia.


Now it’s a place where you can chill in the early morning or late afternoon while watching the city around do its daily business.


Text by Skippy

Photos by Skippy and the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program

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From Bali, with Love and Lust

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Is Bali cheesy enough? Go through this 8-point quiz to discover facts about love and lust surrounding this enchanting island!

Scroll down to begin.




(1) In the film Eat, Pray, Love, the main character Elizabeth Gilbert came to Bali and found her love who is:

(A) A Balinese man

(B) An Italian man

(C) Her first husband

(D) A Brazilian man

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) A Brazilian man. Elizabeth left her first husband and the film did not tell that she returned to him. A Balinese man, Ketut Liyer, was a traditional healer who only acted as her spiritual adviser. Elizabeth went to Italy to eat, not really to love.


(2) Much of Bali’s image as an art and cultural wonderland was started by Walter Spies, who eventually resided in Bali and believed that the creative inclinations of the islanders derive from folklore and religious beliefs. In 1939 he was arrested by Dutch colonial authorities for what offense?

(A) Rape of a female servant

(B) Sexual relations with underaged boys

(C) Adultery

(D) Public masturbation

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (B) Sexual relations with underaged boys. Walter Spies was a painter and musician who went to Bali. He was the leading personality in making Balinese arts and lifeways known to the Western world by the late 1920s, partly the reason why streams of anthropologists and artists became attracted to the island. He was gay.


(3) Clifford Geertz, a prominent anthropologist, wrote an essay about Balinese cockfighting. What was its title?

(A) Deep Play

(B) The Sexual Life of the Savages

(C) The Empty Shell

(D) The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (A) Deep Play. It’s an essay about masculine power in Bali as manifested through village activities such as cockfighting. The Sexual Life of the Savages is a post-punk music album released in 2005 (while The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia is an ethnography by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski published in 1929). The Empty Shell is a recent ethnography of witchcraft in an Indonesian island, and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is about the Japanese people.


(4) Semara, the god of love in Balinese mythology, lives in the:

(A) Caves

(B) Ocean

(C) Volcanoes

(D) Sky

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) Sky. The sky in Balinese mythology is still divided into different parts, but for now we will be content that the god of love resides in one of these. We’ll just have to accept the traditional narrative.


(5) This anthropologist once stated that the Balinese do not have “free libido in the whole culture.”

(A) Charles Darwin

(B) Margaret Mead

(C) Howard Carter

(D) Edmund Hillary

Scroll down to see the correct one.






Answer: (B) Margaret Mead. The only rose among the three other thorns. Her expertise touches on child personality and development. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who was more into rocks and birds, Howard Carter was an archaeologist who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, while Edmund Hillary was a mountaineer who was among the first to step on Mount Everest’s peak.


(6) A growing urban legend in Bali in which a curse is said to cause persons not being able to marry is said to primarily affect travelers to the island who are:

(A) Singles

(B) Married couples

(C) Unmarried couples

(D) Same sex couples

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (C): Unmarried couples. Legend has it that an unmarried but engaged royal couple went to Bali to enjoy themselves. After having sex, the prince refused to marry the princess and left her. In her anguish, the princess is said to have placed a curse on unmarried couples going to Bali, their relationship ending soon in a break-up to prevent marriage.


(7) Caffeine gives a punch for energy in sexual performance. Crops that produce these three caffeine-containing beverages below are all being cultivated in the Balinese highlands. Which of the following puts Indonesia among the commodity’s top 10 global producers anytime within 2014-2016?

(A) Coffee

(B) Tea

(C) Cocoa

(D) All of the above

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) All of the above. Yup, a huge tropical country with lots of highlands made possible by volcanoes, Indonesia possesses the planting requirements of these three major products to satisfy your daily cravings for a hot drink and snack.


(8) Andrew Chan, one of the convicted drug traffickers of the “Bali Nine” who was in death row, was married to Yogyakarta princess Febyante Herewila when?

(A) A year before his execution

(B) Two months before his execution

(C) A week before his execution

(D) Two days before his execution

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) Two days before his execution. Andrew Chan, arrested at the international airport in Denpasar for drugs in 2006, met the princess (who is a pastor) during one of the latter’s jail visit. After Andrew proposed to her in February 2015, the two were wed on April 27 of that year. His execution took place two days after.


Many, many thanks!

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Text and photos by Skippy

Tarsilas: Royal Family Trees of Sulu and Mindanao

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Sultans and datus (local rulers) were the ancient rulers of the southern Philippines who commanded fleets of seasoned mariners and sea warriors. The first kingdoms of the archipelago took shape as trade and interaction developed within the Southeast Asian region, exchanging not only commodities but technologies and belief systems as well. Ma-i (location unknown) and Butuan (at the northern Mindanao coast), its earliest known kingdoms, existed more than a thousand years ago during the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism from their homelands in India. Then from its point of entry at Sumatra, Islam made headways especially in the Malay Peninsula, Java, and Borneo, before moving northwards to the Sulu and Mindanao islands.

Islam reached the islands of the southern Philippines around six centuries ago. Sulu first heard of the Good News in the 1400s as its early teachers strengthened the faith. Among them was the magical Karim ul Makdum, who according to legend arrived by sailing on an iron pot or vessel. Another important personality was Rajah Baginda, a Sumatran prince whose daughter became the wife of Sharif Abu Bakr who established the Sulu Sultanate. Among Maguindanao’s first teachers was a member of the Malay royal families. Sharif Kabungsuwan, a son of Melaka’s last sultan, was instrumental in stabilizing the monotheistic belief system possibly at nearly the same time when Christian missionaries were beginning to evangelize souls in 16th-century Visayas.

Names of the princely founders were the first to be written in the Tarsilas, the royal genealogy records of Mindanao and Sulu islands. The Tarsilas are written in local languages of the region and incorporate Malay and Arabic terms, but using the Arabic script. They have been handed down across generations and are recopied into newer sets of writable medium when the need arises. Tarsilas, which means “chain,” illustrate the relationship of royal families with the Prophet Muhammad and thus legitimize their rule within both Islamic theocracy and the Malay royalty network.

In the 17th century the Cotabato Basin of Mindanao was governed by an array of several competing datus, each with its own degrees of power. But the whole region divided itself politically into two basic parts – the Maguindanao area, centered on the lower reaches and estuary of the Pulangi River, and the Buayan area situated around the now infamous territory of Mamasapano and its neighbouring municipalities (others may be more comfortable with four parts – Maguindanao, Buayan, Kabuntalan, and Ganassi). These parts corresponded with the influence of the most powerful rulers of the basin who were able to fold lesser datus into their control, and their paramount rulers have their own stories. While those of Maguindanao claim descent from Kabungsuwan’s son, Buayan chiefs are said to have been descended from a daughter of the Melakan prince. The Maranaos of the Lanao Plateau also tell of themselves as coming from the prince’s lineage, while other versions elsewhere narrate a common origin for all Sulu, Mindanao, and Brunei kings.

Although not written on ancient material, the Tarsilas no less constitute an important source of historical information and cultural rules about Southeast Asia. It is a significant link to the past when tales of kings, queens, and faraway kingdoms have become lost in the collective memory.

Photo and text by Skippy

Enter the Rooster: The Domestication of Asia by the Chicken

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A round of applause to the rooster. No, make it a thunderous pyrotechnic display as his year has come again in the Chinese calendar. If there’s an animal that has conquered Asia, it is undoubtedly from the rooster’s lineage. From China to Southeast Asia and India, our feathered friend has been the favored culinary animal captivating the most palates and among the least discriminated in beliefs. It is prepared through every cooking method, almost all of its parts used as food, and can we forget its eggs as important component of savory dishes and desserts? We cannot say the same thing for the pig – leave out large areas of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and pockets of Indochina and India please. Or for cattle – big chunks of India will become blank. Fish, maybe. It is a traditional accompaniment to rice. But as incomes rise, so does access to more affluent dishes as those of chicken.

Mealtimes have been domesticated by the chicken. Think of how many home-grown fast food companies are there which sell fried chicken as their flagship product. Demand for chicken is continuously rising. Technology is always on the lookout for ways to efficiently hatch and grow the dream chicken, and urban legends about the horrors of chicken breeding have been cropping up: chickens without heads and only body, whatever. Chicken and folklore walk hand in hand. Traditionally the chicken has been a symbolic animal to the Chinese and this has resulted in its inclusion in their calendar, one of 12 potent animals dictating the lives of believers. Other aspects of life have been domesticated as well. Cockfighting days are much awaited week events for Filipino, Balinese, and Pakistani men. Fortunes can be lost or found in the cockpit, at times the cause of despair or joy for the men and the whole family.

The rooster has already been crowing early on in the lives of Asian people. The earliest evidence of human interaction with the chicken is found in northern China dating to around 10,000 years ago. That’s about the time when the whole world was beginning a new lifestyle, from just hunting animals, gathering wild food plants, and picking available shellfish around them to caring for selected plants and animals to produce more food. This archaeological site showed evidence too that people were by then using earthenware pots and planting millet, a less popular grain crop today. Archaeologists and geneticists have found old chicken bones here and got a sample of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, from the bones. The DNA is a long molecule carrying the blueprint of animals, plants, and microbes that is passed on to their descendants. The next generations of organisms look like their parents and ancestors because they have received copies of the DNA. Animals of the same kind (for example, a group of grey herons) have DNAs that vary slightly, as compared to a set with different but related animals (for example a group composed of grey herons, little egrets, and cattle egrets) that have related DNAs but with more variations from each other.


What the scientists saw after analysis was astonishing – the DNA from the old chicken bones showed that it differed only slightly from the DNA of our present chickens. So much related that it was placed in the same genus, Gallus, as the poultry in our fast food restaurants today. The oldest evidence of chickens in the lives of human beings having been found in China is not really surprising if I tell you that the wild chicken, or jungle fowl, is still living in the forests of Southeast Asia. More active and quick, the jungle fowl is smaller compared to the chicken we know. This means that the homeland of chickens was most likely in Asia, and the ancestors of the first farmed chickens were not hard to come by.


The first Chinese people living in villages, out in a brave new world, then started caring for the chicken much as the chicken began caring for their sustenance and world view around 10,000 years ago. Despite northern China holding the oldest chicken records, research suggests that the beginnings of chicken and human encounters may have taken place at several different areas in South and Southeast Asia too. From here it is an easy step for chickens and humans to bring their lasting relationship to the big archipelagoes surrounding Asia, the remote Pacific islands, and other regions of the globe.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Text and photos by Skippy

Abducted by Spirits

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The mountains of Negros Island are almost no-man’s land. Years of conflict between insurgent communist forces and government soldiers have kept visitors and development at bay. Yet in this beautiful part of the Visayas in the central Philippines, forests are still standing, the air is pure, and villagers still cling to their traditions and beliefs. It was here where I met a middle-aged woman who talked about her life and family.

At one point in our chat, she mentioned that a strange thing happened during one of her pregnancies. She felt that her womb began to shrink and seemed empty in her seventh month. That night she saw a human-like being with horns staring at her. Her husband could not see this and thought she was going crazy or buang (pronounced “boo-ahng,”). Garbed in white robe, the apparition has no philtrum or vertical groove between its upper lip and nose. She said she’s being called to live in the kingdom of the Visayan nature spirits or engkantos. She believed these spirits took away the baby in her womb. A car without a rear end appeared and she was then forcefully shoved into it.

Her eyes were overwhelmed by what they saw when she arrived at their kingdom: there was a big multi-storey mansion with beautiful furniture and bright lights. All around were astounding objects that human beings can only dream of. She was invited to a meal but she refused. Remembering that to eat engkanto food would seal her fate to be resident of this kingdom forever, she immediately thought of ways to excuse herself from ingesting food of this spirit world.

The engkantos offered her milk, but upon accepting it she mixed in salt before drinking. This made the engkantos angry and she was slapped on the cheek. She told me that engkantos don’t like salt and it is an effective weapon against them. They were offended.

Batlag falls02

After that hard slap she suddenly found herself on a rocky ledge at the top of a high waterfall. She was so scared because she may have fallen off if the slap would have been stronger. This waterfall was the entrance to the kingdom. She was expelled.

Now she had to return home. Given a chance to continue human life, she was longing to be with her family. At her house she saw people crying and mourning. She peered into the coffin. It was her! Burial will take place soon! Immediately she reclaimed her body. She was thankful that she’s alive. What seemed to her a quick visit to the land of the engkantos had been time-warped. People around told her that she had been away for two days.

Text and photos by Skippy