Komedia or “moro-moro” was then the BIG town entertainment. It took several weeks to prepare the actors, the stage, the PALCOs (grandstands), the clothes and props before the show went public. Most “comediantes” (actors) and “comedianteas” (actresses) were from the East side (TAGA DAYDAYA) of the town. Fina’s grandpa, Don Juan Valera (Angcuan Bai) was a script writer. Nana Maria Bosuego was the PONTADOR or prompter, Tata Lucas was the BOLBOLAGAO or clown, Tata Elias as the “emperador,” Tata Herman was the “Ari,” Manong Selmo was the “principe,” Manang Iyang was the princesa and young boys, including Isus Karasua and Gambal Tayab were soldiers. The show lasted three nights, usually held during Christmas vacation. We brought blankets to wrap ourselves in the cold open plaza. Our throats were hoarse with shouting or laughing. It was a colorful show.
Washington Day was the Town Fiesta on February 22nd of each year. The plaza was converted into a Provincial or Agricultural Fair where all sorts of local agricultural products were displayed and sold. Each town had a booth. There was a parade of school students and town representatives with beauty queens riding decorated floats. Kids, including myself, used home-made MASKARA or masks and threw confetti (KOMPITIS) on ladies’ hair. The best exhibits were awarded prizes. Lots of gambling tables were scattered around the plaza brought by out-of-town operators where dice, cards, etc were played. Athletic competitions such as volley ball, indoor baseball, tennis, horse racing, bicycle racing and Juego de Anilio. A game where you picked a hanging ring with a prize marked on an attached string with a pointed stick while riding a horse or a bicycle.
In the kiosks of the plaza were dances or programs for the entertainment of the crowd. This was the occasion to meet and see people from other towns like San Jose, Lagangilang, Villavisiosa, Dolores, San Juan, Bucay, etc wearing their native costumes. At that time, when I was a young boy, many people from distant towns were still non-Christians. They were almost naked, dressed with just g-strings and tapis, barefooted and all chewing MAMA.
The town fair lasted several days until all the exhibits were sold, given away, or exchanged for lack of money. People dressed their very best. We dressed in SEDA WASHINGTON, or Washington silk. Nana Alli, Pat’s mother, sewed our clothes for the town fiesta.
As early as 1923, when I was about five years old, we already had moving pictures called CINE HAWAII in Bangued. I used to ride the truck carrying the placards around the town beating a drum to attract the people. Small kids tried to clamber inside the truck but were shocked by electric current which ran in the metal parts of the truck. The movies were shown inside the store of Don Ciano Barcena just across from the convent. The movies were intended to attract attention to enlist workers for the sugar plantations in Hawaii.
Some silent movie scenes depicted the terrible earthquake in Japan. The movie crews were from Vigan. They boarded in our houses during their stay in Bangued. Later on, because of the big crowds, the show was held in the town plaza. Only ticketed movies were shown in the Store of Don Ciano. Later, movies were shown in the CINE TUAZON, a GI warehouse-like building near the creek on the road down to west side of the plaza.
The rooms in the store were rented to the FARMACIA VALERA and to a Chinese family that sold groceries from Vigan. The pharmacy was run by Manang Conchang Valera, later on Mrs. Purruganan. The Chinese store was run by the Chua family.
The Store of Don Ciano was the meeting place of kids for playing games like TOUCHING, PIKO, KARA y KROS, rope jumping, etc. on its cemented sidewalk. All kinds of bets like TARKAS, BITTAOG, LASTIKO, coins, pictures of movie stars, etc. were used in the gambling games. It was the only cement playground where small children can play without soiling themselves. I just loved to read the comics in the Manila Tribune of the pharmacy instead of gambling or playing.
Roads were dusty and muddy. Only carabao sleds or cow-drawn carts could use them. Later on, during the administration of town mayor PRESIDENTE Bienvenido Valera, some streets became paved with stones from the Abra River. Then the road in front of the church down to the Caramanta Hill was paved with asphalt. During the road construction we loved to ride on the back of the steam roller, notwithstanding stepping on live coals falling down from the roller burner. Our feet got burned as we were all barefoot.
As late as 1932-33, when I was 2nd year H.S., I walked on the stone-paved road to the Abra High School near the cemetery. Roads connecting Bangued and Vigan via Narvacan were stony and dusty. As the trucks and buses tried to race against each other, passengers cheered the driver to run faster out of excitement from covering their faces with handkerchiefs as they all got covered with dust. At the Tangadan, especially that part which abruptly inclines toward Narvacan, everybody, except women with kids, had to get down to help push the truck up the stony, dusty road until it reached the top of the mountain. It took half a day to negotiate the trip between Vigan and Bangued because of the ferry at the site where the Quirino Bridge was later built across the Abra River.
Passengers had to bring BALON covered with banana leaves to be eaten on the way at the water fountain in Tangadan. At that water spot, outgoing and incoming vehicles stopped to put water in their radiators and refill their water cans while the passengers ate their BALON or meals and drank the cool refreshing water from the forest spring.
Transportation in the early Twenties was by means of horseback, animal-drawn sled or cart, and bamboo raft down the Abra River. It took one day, from 6 to 6, to negotiate the distance between Bangued and Vigan. At daybreak, carts ferried passengers from Bangued to Nagtalabongan, where the passenger bamboo rafts were waiting. At the mouth of the Abra River in Vigan, cow-drawn carts and KILES (horse-drawn carriages) were waiting for passengers from the rafts. I saw the Quirino Bridge and the roads from both sides under construction. The people up there, seen from the Abra River, were as tiny as flies on the top-side of the high mountain. Later on, after the road between Bangued and Vigan was paved with asphalt, it took only a one hour trip, minus dust and rattled bones!
The trip by cart to Tagangilang from Bangued took more than a half-day’s time, from 6 to 12. After the bumpy ride, although the bamboo floor had hay matting, one’s body seemed like “longboy” shaken between two plates!
Those who had cars in the early days were Don Juan Valera, a dodge sedan driven by Manong Isong Bolante. Tata Binnong Benedito, Chief of Police, had a STUTZ, and later on had a Fargo bus. Tata Pepe Lizardo, foreman, had a STAR. Don Quentin Paredes had a BUICK. Don Julio Barbon, Don Virgilio Valera and Bernardino Torrijos had a Ford with a STARTER instead of a MANIKETA or crank to start the engine running. Tata Binnong also had a KILES or horse-drawn carriage driven by Alip for ferrying school teachers.
Manang Conchang Valera (mother of Fina) had a DURANT sports car with a rumble seat in the back in place of a baggage compartment. She was the only woman driver in Abra at that time in the early Thirties. I was her chaperon everywhere she went. At that time, ladies going out without a chaperone wee eyed with suspicion and out of place. Several “crazy,” “sick,” and envious people intentionally placed nails to puncture tires! To patch up and replace a tire then was a very hard job, taking almost half a day’s work!
The profession of a DRIVER then was an envied job as they drew good salaries and went places. The earliest bus drivers of Bangued were Angel Benas, Alip Benas, Milis Benes, Tata Castor Balobar and Meno Favorito of DARDAYA and SINAPANGAN. When they arrived from far away places like Manila, they had lots of unusual tales to tell eager youngsters who just loved to hear their unending, exciting experiences. I was one of them. I loved adventure!
Those who owned passenger buses were considered rich and were popular. They were the Beneditos, the Valeras, and the Favoritos. Their family names were painted in BIG letters on the sides of their buses.
A regular daily trip to Manila was made by the NORLUTRAN bus company. Its arrival at night was met with lots of kids trying to help the passengers with their baggage or get their newspapers at the post office.
Communication was by means of telephone, telegraph and mail. The telephones connected only to the Municipal town buildings. The telegraphs connected only to Provincial and City Post Offices. Mail, in the early days outside of Bangued, was delivered by horse back or by bamboo rafts to Pidigan, San Quentin and Vigan. Later on, when roads were opened, mail was carried by passenger buses.
The first one to own a radio receiving set in Bangued for public display was the P.C. Barracks, which was then west of the Plaza. Every night we went to hear the Ilocano Night Program. Then the Torrijo’s store near the church also had a radio for public hearing. The sound was distorted by lots of static!
Clubs were organized for social and recreational purposes, such as the ANARAAR and the BARANGAY clubs. The former was organized by the men while the latter was organized by the ladies of Bangued. Most social activities, like dances, were held in the house of Don Juan Valera because it had a large dance hall, elegant dining room, good toilet and bath facilities, and a TOWER for entertainment purposes overlooking a large part of the town. The Bayguen Band provided the music. Ice for ice cream making came from Vigan. VIPs from Manila were always entertained with a dance party in the house of Tata Ancuan Bai (Don Juan Valera.)
The prominent ladies were Conchang Valera (Fina’s mother and only daughter of Don Juan), Alice Landeta Belisario, Nena and Lita Banes, the Vasquez sisters, Mg. Demi Colet, Mg. Trining Bravo, Mg. Soledad and Lourdes Valera, the de Leon Sisters (white cover) and later on the Valera Sisters (Mary and Pitang). The prominent men were the Valera brothers: Meling, Pacoy, Teling and Roding. Also well known were the Baula Brothers, Leocadio Talin, the Paredeses, Purugganans, Banes family, and the Torrijos brothers. Often times we had LINOBIAN parties too. Our favorite drink was SARSPARILLA.
Social Status Symbols
Social status symbols then were a PIANO, a CAR, a lot of servants, a BIG HOUSE and, of course, owning land. Government employees who received salaries belonged to the upper classes, together with large land owners. The middle classes were the artisans like carpenters, black smiths, shoe makers, merchants and tailors. The lower classes were the farmers, servants and beggars. The influence of Spanish culture was very strong. The priests and white people were looked upon with reverence, respect and adoration.
School teachers were looked upon with respect by the parents and with fear by their students. It was a part of their anatomy to hold a stick while teaching as a symbol of authority. They didn’t hesitate to apply it on the “seat” of learning for minor mischief or mistakes. Miss Ana Valera, our music teacher, related to us the story of one of her pupils who dumped the bamboo water carrier on the road and ran away as they were about to meet on the street. But a good and kind school teacher, Miss Fe Benito, at noon sang a lullaby for her students to take a nap in school.
In the market the vendors addressed every respectable person by the name of MESTRO or MESTRA. But the same words were also used with a different intonation and meaning for persons interfering in somebody’s business, especially their children or friends. Teachers were very well dressed; using high heels on dusty, stony roads and coat and tie in very hot weather, imitating the Americans.
School children from the West, South, East and North got integrated in the LONG BUILDING during the Primary grades and in the GABALDON BUILDING during the Elementary grades. Thus the sectionalism was more or less minimized. During my primary grades, most school children went to school barefooted, using KALSONCILLO, or drawers, and a KAMISETA, or underwear of cotton clothing. Girls didn’t wear panties then, including school teachers. Many young boys urinated or sheted in their drawers because often times the strings around the waistline got entangled and could not be untied in time before the personal necessity explodes!