Health conditions during the early Twenties were very poor and unhealthy. Toilet was not a usual part of a house, much less bathrooms. A house was usually elevated several feet above the ground to accommodate the pigs, dogs and chickens to scratch and pick up the scrap food dropped down between the bamboo-slat floors. We moved our bowels under the trees or along the road into the canal. We used bamboo sticks or corn cobs to wipe our anus. Pigs were always around ready to gobble up the human waste.
Toilet and Bath
At the time we went to fetch water from the nearest water well, we also had the urge to move our bowels first before taking a bath. While taking a bath, we also washed our clothes and dried them under the sun.
Later on, during the late Twenties an ANTIPOLO system of toilets was compulsory for every home. It consisted of digging a deep pit to be covered at all times when not in use. An ordinance was passed warning pig or animal owners to tie up or keep their animals from roaming around the streets. When the water system of Bangued was installed, homes had a part of the home called BANGSAL where you could take a bath. The Antipolo was dug at the furthest corner of the property, connected with a bamboo bridge or a pathway in the yard. Flies usually swarmed around as the toilet pit got filled with worms or maggots. Homes had no screens, and so the flies crawled and swarmed everywhere.
Sickness – Dysentery
Intestinal diseases were prevalent and caused a lot of deaths, especially in infants and children. I was in Lagangilang one day watching a procession of coffins brought to the cemetery. They had a dysentery epidemic there. The source of drinking water was the Abra River. We had a houseboy around my age, Valentin by name, who suffered stomach ache one night and suddenly died.
PTB – Pulmonary Tuberculosis
I saw people sick of PTB spitting out of their window while the flies swarmed around and chickens picking up the bloody mucous. But we did not know any better. I had not seen germs through a microscope at that time. Education later brought about better sanitation in town.
Mosquitoes and Bed Bugs
We slept as a family under a large mosquito net. When we woke up, we would kill the blood-filled mosquitoes trapped inside the net. We also had a lot of bed us that hide inside the pillows, blankets and mosquito net ends. And so every waking day was a bloody day!
Inside the yard were lots of fleas and ants. There was even a belief that red ants going inside the house is a sign of good luck. Inside the chicken coop under the house were tiny white mites called OLMOG. They also sucked blood and caused a lot of itch!
During my childhood days everyone, especially women, had lice. The common pastime of women was to sit on the ladder and remove each other’s lice while they chatted or gossiped or told old housewives tales!
Panateng – Colds & Coughs
Around the month of December or during the rainy season, colds were an ordinary experience for everybody. The already greenish mucous of some kids could be seen slowly coming down their nose until they inhale it back again instead of wiping it away. That is why we have a riddle that says: “NO OMOLOG AGALALADOD, NO OMOLI GOLPE! And we have a joke: INTAN AGNATNATENG; – ALIS PANTENG. Nobody covered their mouth wile coughing then or even sneezing. We induced sneezing by pricking the nose to relieve the congestion. I used to locate my father in the plaza among the crowd by tracing his successive SAY-A or short coughs.
Kamata – Sore Eyes
During summer we developed sore eyes as a matter of course, like a part of life. We have a joke: INTAN IDIAY CASAMATTA; – ALIS KAMATA. The flies helped the spread of sore eyes too as they flew from one person’s eye to another like bees from flower to flower. The only remedy we had was fresh milk from a mother’s breast or AGUA BORICADA. Sometimes a whole class of school children had sore eyes because no isolation was enforced. Kids who had sore eyes even chased others to touch their fingers on their classmate’s eyes to infect them too.
Daringu – Ngo – Nosebleed
Nose bleeds were common during dry season. Our remedy was to raise the opposite arm and press the bleeding nose, or soak our head with water. It was a general belief that anybody getting sick was because of bad air hitting them, called DAKES NGA ANGIN. There was some truth to it because of the polluted air full of viruses and germs.
Gadnil – Skin Diseases
Skin diseases were very common on account of the fleas, mosquitoes, bed bugs, ants, mites, etc. that caused infections. Scratching with dirty finger nails was common among uneducated children and people like us then. Hence our legs, arms and other parts of our body were afflicted with sores. We had no medicine available so we resorted to having our sores, especially on our legs, licked by our dogs until the scabs were removed, thereby leaving scars or PIGLAT on our legs. We just took it for granted that those sores or skin diseases would eventually dry up or heal without putting any medicine on them because we did not know any better. We had no dispensary to go to and our schools had no nurse or anybody to look after our diseases. I had a sad experience of being unkindly whipped by my Grade Two teacher on my leg because I could not go by the beat of the music when we were being taught to dance for a program. She hit one of my leg sores and it started bleeding. I cried, ran home and didn’t want to go back to school anymore. I went back to school, but I no longer wanted to be a participant in the dances.
Sakit Ti Chan – Stomach Aches
Stomach aches were experienced frequently by children because of eating fly-ridden food or eating with dirty hands or drinking polluted water. The common remedies were placing hot ashes wrapped with a piece of cloth on the stomach. We had no hot-water bags then. If that didn’t work, they roasted either santol, guava, or “sarguelas,” whatever is the suspected “culprit” until it is burned black into charcoal. Then it was placed into a cup of water to be used as “aqua-tiempo” or a drinking potion. It worked!
Pokga & Labatiba – Fever
Fever or “GORIGOR” occurred now and then due to overexposure to rain, or heat, or infection, or contagious disease. The usual remedy is purgative with ACETE DE CASTOR in the morning; sweating with lots of blankets the whole day and an enema or LABATIBA in the late afternoon. Usually the fever is gone the following day. On the third day good food consisting of chicken soup and soft-boiled rice (LUGAO) is served to the recuperating patient. Then a chicken is roasted wrapped with banana leaves served with rice.
Agas – Cuts
Cuts or “SUGAT” are usually infected because of the unsanitary conditions and ignorance in treating wounds properly. I cut my left thumb almost in half when I was about five years old. The only remedy was petroleum or GAS from our oil pump and the wound was wrapped with a piece of cloth taken from our dish towel or NISNIS that remained unwashed for several days. The infected wound lasted many months and I still have the scar up to this date. Sometimes, if we get hurt while playing we ran to a nearby fence to get a leaf of TAWATAWA to let its sap drop into our wound. If the blood is flowing we would wash it with our saliva by sucking the blood. If the wound is on our foot or leg, we washed the blood by urinating on it. If there is a “mabungay” tree, we got its leaves, pounded them into a poultice and applied it on the wound.
Bollo – Sprains or Disclocations
Sprains and dislocations were usually treated by a local MANGILOT or masseur like Tata Kinio Busuego, our neighbor. He had coconut oil for massaging the part of the body affected. If a splint is needed, he would get a branch of TAWATAWA, skin it and use the bark to wrap around the elbow or leg after giving the broken limb a good massage accompanied by the anguish and shouts of pain by the patient. I saw how my brother was treated following his fall from a fence he climbed and broke his left elbow. His arm was never restored to its original shape and he had a crooked arm called in Ilocano “Singkol” or KUMANG in Tagalog.
Ngipen – Toothaches
Toothaches usually ended up with a pulled tooth by means of a string or pliers without anesthesia. If the tooth had a hole in it, salt or tobacco was inserted to deaden the pain. I had an aching molar with a swollen gum and could no longer stand the pain when I was about 11 years old. My cousin, T-Sgt. Crisanto Bravo, a PRACTICANTE of the Dental Service, P.C., extracted it without anesthesia and I almost collapsed with pain. I had a tooth that had a hole in it and a local dentist, Tata Sidong, drilled it without anesthesia and I was yelling and struggling with pain! Thanks to anesthesia!
Sakit Ti Olo – Headaches
Headaches were treated, before aspirin became available, by hand massage or soaking it with cold water. Banana leaf was wrapped around the head to absorb the heat. Handkerchiefs were tied around the head to deaden the pain. Tender leaf of TAWATAWA or ACHLETE also served the purpose if tender leaves of banana were not available. A friend of my grandfather who used to read the PASSION with him died of swallowing a bottle of CAFIASPIRINA just because he thought that relief from headache can be done instantly – and it did! People then were ignorant about medicine. Maybe that is why GAMOT or Ilocano for poison is the Tagalog word for medicine? The Tagalogs were closer to civilization than the Ilocanos in the north of the Philippines far from Manila.
Sakit Ti Karabokob – Tonsilitis
Tonsilitis was treated by gargling with salt water or strong vinegar or both. These were the only available remedies for tonsillitis when I was a child. I had to endure the pain as a “part of growing” and prayed that it would soon be over. It was accompanied by high fever and swelling and the inability to swallow anything. Sometimes a hot towel compress was applied to the throat to relieve the pain and reduce the swelling.
Dogol – Boil
Boils caused an ugly scar and was a very painful disease. My uncle, Antonio Bravo (Lt. P.C.) had a boil scar as big as a 50 cent coin on his right temple and so did the cousin of Pat, Manong Picoy. I had mine on my right upper leg joint, or groin, and what a throbbing pain it gave me. The scar is still there. It was made to burst with an application of Malunggay leaves pounded into a paste and applied on top of the boil. I was immobilized for the duration of my Christmas vacation. My mother sat at my bedside comforting my while I agonized.
Bobon – Water
Water was either from the rain or ground well during my childhood days. We gathered rain water for drinking and hauled by means of bamboo called BAYENGYEN water from the well for cooking and washing purposes. During the time we were at the well, we would wash our clothes and take a bath. The water well we drew our water from was near the stream that passed near the PAGPARTIAN down a trail strewn with “camachili” thorns and bamboo thorns that pricked our bare feet. Infection eventually followed and so I had to walk on my hell or on my toe, limping until the infection is healed by itself after a long time.
Casamata Water Reservoir – Gripo
The greatest thing that happened in Bangued during my childhood days was the digging of the reservoir in Casamata hill. After school hours I was there picking up pieces of limestone to be polished into marbles. Then the clean fresh water was piped into the houses and brought better health, comfort, and cleanliness to us. Taking a bath directly under the faucet was a very enjoyable experience. Drinking with cupped hands directly from the faucet was a very refreshing treat. Gone were the pricked feet, the swollen shoulders, the BAYENGYENG and the laborious drawing of water from the well. What a relief! Gone too were the frequent stomach disorders and loose bowel movements and infections and bad body odor and unsanitary kitchen and toilet!
Kalsada – Canals and Culverts
Canals and culverts were unknown until the streets were paved with Abra River stones followed by canals for drainage purposes. Culverts or IMBORNAL were also built on road intersections. The water puddles on the roads were dried up easily and dumping of garbage in the road holes stopped. The “Imbornal” became a place for meetings of neighbors and young boys to sit down to tell stories or gossip about others or to brag about one’s adventures or watch girls walking home from school. Pigs were no longer allowed to roam on the streets. Men played SIPA on road intersections and children played hide and seek by going inside the culverts or “Imbornal.” The town looked better after those muddy road holes were covered by stones. But a ride in a Caromata over those stony roads was just a terribly earth-shaking experience! Walking on those fist-sized stones to school during hot summer days was like hell! But everything was a part of life and we did not know any better.
Electricity was another improvement in the sleepy valley of Bangued. Previous to the Banez Electric Plant, only the Church Convent had electric lights. The priests and nuns enjoyed all the comforts of a modern life with their electric generator. With the electrification of Bangued around the early Thirties, we could study and read our lessons at home better instead of using the flickering gas lamps. We only used the current for lighting purposes because it was only available at night time. But my classmate and best friend, Tony Banez and his family, had all the comforts of a refrigerator, electric range and even movies at home. He used to give me apples and grapes from their refrigerator. With electric lights at road intersections, the men played SIPA and had cock-fighting even at night. Children did not have to wait for the moon-light to play at night.
I remember when there was no street light and we had to carry a PAROL or kerosene lamp to walk in the streets at night. Then big kerosene lamps were installed on lamp posts at street corners. I remember when I short circuited our line by putting a coin inside our electric bulb socket. It caused a big commotion because people were busy preparing for the procession of Holy Friday. They never traced who did it. With the Electric Plant we no longer bought ice from Vigan because an Ice Plant was built also. Ice cream and halo halo became cheaper. Thanks to Don Urbano Banez.
Kanen – Food
Food consisted of daily rice, fish sauce or caviar called “patis” or “bag-goong”, “dinaguan” or blood pudding, “chicharon” or fried crispy pig skin and “dineng-deng” or soup consisting of vegetables with a bit of fish or meat. In the morning people who had money went to the PAGPARTIAN or slaughterhouse near SINAPINGAN to buy LUMO-LUMO consisting of pig entrails with a piece of coagulated blood and a small piece of meat called LUMO or tender loin. This is cooked with a spice called KUTCHAY that makes the soup smell appetizing. The richer people can buy cow’s meat and more expensive pieces of meat in the PAGPARTIAN before the vendors transferred their meat to the TINDAAN or market east of the Catholic Church.
During the town fiesta or on weddings or birthdays we had INASAR or LECHON or roasted pig. The piglets were usually roasted inside the oven of the Bayabas Bakery in the eastern part of the town.
On Sundays, when a cow is butchered, people who can afford it usually cooked PUCHERO, a soup with potatoes, bananas, cabbage, and cow’s meat with fat on it.
We had “adobo” or fried pork with a lot of spices, and LONGANISA or sausage, homemade. But during my childhood days we had a neighbor who had three children and their food consisted of only rice and “bagong” or BAGGOONG in which they dipped the rice molded into a ball with their hands. One of them sat in front of their yard along the street asking alms from passersby. The other went about town asking alms with the help of one of our neighbor’s children. The father’s name was Gorio, and his wife was Ineza.