Fishy in Lent | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Fishy in Lent

/ 09:12 AM April 12, 2019

We once had a tourism secretary from Cebu whom I teased by saying his appointment was karma, not for all the things he had done in past lives, but because Lapu-lapu killed one of our first tourists.

Cebu and Mactan are taking center stage in 2021 for the commemoration of the arrival of the Magellan Expedition in 1521, the introduction of Christianity, and the victory of Lapu-lapu in Mactan. I’m sure there will be an academic component to the event being coordinated by the National Quincentennial Committee that will hopefully provide new research and insight into the Philippines and its geopolitical and economic location in the Age of Discovery, as well as its being an important link in the Galleon Trade. Perhaps there will be papers on pre-Spanish Philippine maritime culture and other explorations into the past, which have taken on a new relevance in the context of our problem with China in the West Philippine Sea.


In 2021, we simply commemorate the Magellan expedition, we do not celebrate it. Our take is so different from that in 1921, when the Philippines was still a US colony and with a historiography still slanted toward the West. A century ago, they had a “celebration of the fourth centenary of the discovery of the Philippines by Ferdinand Magellan,” a view we do not subscribe to anymore. How could Magellan “discover” a place that was known to the islanders who killed him? If President Duterte is so disturbed about lapulapu fish (a species of grouper) being eaten every day, perhaps he can consider renaming it into Magellan, so that we rewrite history in our own way.

In 1921, Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison named the members of the 400th-year commission, with Isauro Gabaldon, principal author of the law, as chair. But Gabaldon could not serve because he was appointed resident commissioner of the Philippines in Washington, so the chairmanship of the commission was given to the eminent scholar Dr. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, who gave a lecture on “The Voyage of Magellan.” Other lectures were delivered and published in a small pamphlet that is still worth reading  today: George Malcolm of the Philippine Supreme Court spoke on “Democracy in the Philippines—Magellan to Dewey”; the historian Leandro H. Fernandez spoke on “The formation of Filipino Nationality”; Fr. Jose Algue, SJ, of the Manila Observatory spoke on “Navigation and Meteorology from the Magellan Voyage”; and, last but not least, a detailed paper on fish and fishing by Epifanio de los Santos that I covered in a previous column.


De los Santos noted at the time that 90 percent of Pinoys said fish was the principal part of their diet; if we are to trawl the early Spanish dictionaries of the major Philippine languages from the 17th to the 19th centuries for food terms, those for rice and fish top the list. De los Santos’  paper on fish is fascinating, because it says the first fishponds for aquaculture were only established in 1863 in Barrio Concepcion in Malabon, and were owned by a certain Domingo Coronel. From there, fishponds spread first to Caloocan and Navotas, then to Bulacan, principally Obando, Polo,  Malolos and Hagonoy, etc.

He wrote about kawag-kawag or fingerlings being imported during April and May from the coasts of Tayabas, Batangas, Mindoro, Marinduque, Bataan, Zambales and La Union, and transported in clay jars that contained 2,000 to 5,000 kawag-kawag. Fish food was called verdin, an algae (Oedogonium) gathered during the calm or nontyphoon months of March, April and May.

All these were new to me, because whatever fish gets to my table is bought from the grocery or wet market. De los Santos also provided a list of freshwater fish with both their common and scientific names:

Anguila; dalag (Ophiocephalus striatus Bloch); robalo; hito (Clarias magur Ham.-Buc.); martinico; kitang (Scatophagus ornatus Cuvier), different from saltwater kitang (Ephippidae); kanduli (Netuma nasuta Bleeker); bagre; iso; banak; Gobido de Manila y de Angat (Glossogobius giuris Ham.-Buc.); biang-itim; bia; buan-buan; langaray.

He spoke of river crabs, the freshwater shrimp or uluhan, as well as river shellfish, tulya and sulib, pilipit and kuhol, and the river eel or igat (Jenkinsiella nectura Jordan).

With the Fridays of Lent bringing more fish into our diet, I wonder why our range of choices today is not as varied as that a century ago.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, aquaculture, cebu, diet, fish, Fishing, holy week, kitang, kuhol, Lapu-Lapu, Lent, Looking Back, Magellan, Navotas
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