The bamboo, a fascinating grass | Inquirer Opinion

The bamboo, a fascinating grass

/ 05:03 AM February 09, 2024

Not all the economic dilemmas we encounter today are the unwanted offspring of the COVID-19 pandemic, or a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war. Partly influenced by historical experience, we have been culturized to attribute or blame others except ourselves for our sufferings. At the same time, it has become a national habit for us to run to a “big brother” or a “good neighbor” for rescue or sympathy every time a crisis occurs. We are not ashamed to beg.

Some of these habits were self-inflicted and could have been avoided if our development planners had more foresight and set aside more time to explore our own territory, and try to move forward with what we have. But we prefer leap-frogging from the bahay kubo concept to the mansions of the rich and famous, which seems to have become the guiding lifestyle now. How we’ve sunk to the level of importing 93 percent of our salt needs, while six million Filipino families remain homeless. The leap-frogging policy also explains why the thriving businesses are online gambling, lotto, and casinos.

To illustrate this folly, let me go back to the subject of this piece. It is refreshing to note that environmentalists are resurrecting the bamboo as an important plant. Like other endemic and natural potential sources of livelihood, the bamboo has been taken for granted. Its numerous uses are looked down on as insignificant so it never gained government support. Of course you cannot build skyscrapers or subways with it nor increase the country’s GDP, but it is a life-giving and sustainable source for ordinary people who cannot afford to live in classic condominiums or skyscrapers. Still, with a little help from science and technology and the private sector, the humble bamboo can go places in the construction industry.


My own fascination with bamboo began when a storm hit our flowering mango trees and blew away the expected fruit buds. Disheartened, I studied the direction of the winds. Then I bought some bamboo planting materials from the Kawayan Farm in Pililla, Rizal. I planted the bamboo as wind breakers to protect our mango trees. Alas, storm winds have become fickle because of climate change. But the bamboo exhibited a higher value when the poultry houses were built. It provided the flooring material and later came in handy for repairs. Bamboo slats are easy to clean and “airy,” a boon to ventilation for the chickens.


I found other uses for the bamboo, and a few are worth mentioning: The only furniture in the long balcony of our farmhouse are the cool bamboo “papag” (native beds) that give us the pleasure of dozing off and breathing unpolluted mountain breeze. Big parties with a hundred guests? No problem. Bamboo plates (bilao) lined with banana leaves are great. No breakages and no washing, and you can use the bilao several times. The most popular and enjoyable use of bamboo is its culinary role in almost all Asian restaurants. Among Filipinos, who can resist the atsara diningdeng na saluyot at labong with sizzling broiled tilapia dipped into the sauce? Happy slurping!

But this humble bamboo is not the centerpiece of the story. I only want to bring home the point that we can move ahead as a people by working with what we have: an agri-friendly country surrounded by seas teeming with marine wealth. Such treasures also hark back to Thomas Gray’s reminder: “Full many a gem of purest ray serene, the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear; Full many a flower is burn to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness in the desert air.”

It is hoped that the new dispensation will include in its development plan the upgrading of the bamboo into significant use in the construction industry. It could help solve our housing shortage and reduce our dependence on cement and steel, which are a diminishing resource.


Eva Maggay-Inciong taught history and political science during her younger years. She once headed the Philippine Association of University Women, whose early founders were pioneer educators who led and won the fight for suffrage for Filipino women.

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TAGS: bamboo, opinion

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