‘Bakwit’ is an old word
With the fighting in Marawi, “bakwit” has become a household word. But it’s an old word used since the war of Liberation. I used it in a column (Manila Chronicle, 1/28/91) that might stir memories of my generation’s “war.” Here it is, edited here and there:
We have all run for our lives in the dead of night or at high noon. Nobody is exempt and everyone has a tale to tell. Two generations ago, it was my grandparents’ turn during the Revolution and the Spanish-American War. Lola spoke of evacuation on horseback and on foot. In World War II, dragged into somebody else’s war, it was our turn.
During the Japanese Occupation in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, evacuation was bakwet (Tagalog for “evacuate”), takbuhan (“running”) and alsa balutan (up the emergency pack—translation is destruction, as you can see).
A few months before Liberation, the air was tingling with anticipation. We kids caught it as we waved at every US plane now flying wantonly over Philippine skies.
We all had native bags packed with three changes of clothing plus our “precious” things like a rosary or a trinket. For money and valuables, my mother sewed aprons with pockets to be tied around our waist inside our clothes, similar to those of market vendors.
Guerrillas were sniping almost nightly. Our bags lay beside our beds and we kids had strict instructions to crawl to our parents’ room if the shooting was uncommonly long. Clutching our bags, we did so a couple of times on our bellies.
Finally the pasok came, i.e., the occupation of a town by the guerrillas in preparation for the entry of the Americans (familiar?).
“Takbo!” cried my father. Instinctively we picked up our bags and knew exactly where to run—to the concrete bathrooms, and if the shooting was really bad, into the basement of the kamalig of solid concrete where my grandfather stored rice before the turn of the century.
This time, the shooting was really bad. The guerrillas were in the church belfry right across from our house and the Japanese could be crawling on our very sidewalk. We were in the middle of the crossfire. I do not know how, but after several hours with no letup, we all managed to run through the yard into the kamalig. There we sat cramped for hours, all accounted for, including my lola, who, overcome with nervousness, suffered a spell of incontinence.
When that beloved church and the house of Gov. Jesus Bautista behind ours started burning, it was time to “run for your lives,” across the side street, through a couple of houses, into the biggest and most solid house in town where it seemed the whole town sat crouched and frightened.
We never saw our beloved “Lola’s house” again. I did not then realize that all the summers and three uninterrupted, idyllic years of my childhood had just come to an end. All we had of it were the bags we carried. I have carried everything else in my memory.
From then on it was takbuhan from one barrio to another — Bagong Bayan, Duhat — crossing creeks and rice fields, sleeping in nipa huts, using the crudest Antipolo systems crawling with worms. Deep in the barrios toward Nagcarlan, we spent a few nights in Labuin where my aunt and I caught malaria which was to bring me to the brink of death.
Then we retraced our steps to Gatid and on to Lingga on Laguna Bay. Fishermen carried us children one by one across the waters, into the casco that was to ferry us across the lake to Biñan which was already liberated, bakwet again in some generous stranger’s big house.
In Biñan, how I gorged on my first full meal of California rice and sardines when sardines were really packed! Shortly after, I ran a high fever and shook like a leaf in my first attack of malaria. By then I was as yellow as the Atabrin brought by the GIs. The ceiling was spinning as I lay on the floor.
Since then, I have kept the habit of keeping go-bags on the ready as a security blanket. And these days, it’s not exactly alarmist to have them, just in case of the big one, the big flood, or, heaven forbid, another war in our backyard.
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Asuncion David Maramba, 84, is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.
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