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Carabaos

/ 12:13 AM March 18, 2015

Such a sad news item it was the other day, about a carabao due to be slaughtered and making a “freedom run” and injuring three people in the process.

The carabao, a 3-year-old female (the more precise term would be “carabella”), was on its way to the slaughterhouse and was held in a container van. It was able to escape and went on a rampage, ending up in a call center where it was finally restrained.

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The incident resulted in Quezon City officials now investigating Mega Q-Mart in Cubao for operating the abattoir inside the market, on violation of rules requiring that slaughterhouses be located in places that will not result in injuries to humans if the ill-fated animals try to escape.

I was saddened, however, in thinking about the carabao. I thought of how Hindus do not eat cows, not so much because of a belief in reincarnation (“Oh,” one of my professors used to say, “they think they might end up eating their reincarnated lolo or lola”) as for practical reasons: Cows are used for dairy products, and their dried dung can be used as fuel for lamps, and even as housing material. Then, too, there’s the contribution of cows as work animals, making them so indispensable for farming.

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The carabao or water buffalo (kalabaw in Filipino) is our equivalent of the cow. It works long hours plowing the fields, and is also used for transport, a ride on a carabao being more comfortable than on a cow.

Carabaos are also used for milk. I’m not sure about their dried dung, but I would think it can be used like cow dung.

Carabaos are better adapted to places with heavy rainfall, with farming areas often turned into huge mud tracts. The carabaos, with their thick hides, need mud holes to dissipate heat from their bodies. They move slowly, often accompanied by cattle egrets or tagak in a symbiotic relationship: As they move through the grass, they disturb the insects which the egrets love. In return, the egrets also feed on the ticks on the back of carabaos, much like humans removing lice from hair.

Fiesta animal

The carabao is the focus of a number of town fiestas. The famous “kneeling carabaos” are the star in Pulilan, Bulacan, every May 14. To honor the town’s patron San Isidro, the animals are trained to genuflect in front of the church.

At the renowned Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon, on May 15, there is a grand parade of carabaos pulling carts filled with agricultural produce.

In Catigbian, Bohol, an annual festival has 22 “king and queen” carabaos, one pair for each of the town’s barangay. It is described as a “carabao beauty pageant” because the animals are made up, with paint.   In Vigan, Ilocos Sur, there is a Karbo Festival (from “karabaw” and “bekel” (seed), with carabaos becoming living canvases for artists.

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There are many more carabao festivals nationwide that highlight the importance of this animal in our agricultural areas.

With our ability to take a lot of abuse, Filipinos have been compared to the carabao. I do wonder about that “freedom run” carabao, which was probably terrified as it was being led to slaughter.

Carabaos also figure in our colonial history. There are accounts of Americans who could not stand the carabao, which they found difficult to ride, and to control. I am sure the natives—that’s us—probably cracked many jokes about how clumsy the Americans were with the carabao. (If I remember right, the complaining Americans were in Ilokano-speaking areas, because they referred to the carabaos as “nuang,” the Ilokano name.)

During the Japanese occupation the Imperial Army wrought havoc, slaughtering many carabaos for meat, which resulted in a shortage of carabaos as work animals. Rice production plummeted, contributing to the wartime food shortages.

When Douglas MacArthur and American troops returned to the Philippines in 1944, landing at Leyte, carabaos were mobilized in the military operation to transport and pull heavy artillery and machinery.

The point I’m getting at is that after serving humans, don’t carabaos deserve a better end to their lives? I’m surprised that the carabao in Cubao was only three years old and about to be slaughtered for meat, rather than being allowed to work as a farm animal.

There is a bill in Congress that has been pending since 2011, and which would ban the slaughter of male and female carabaos that are more than 11 years old and more than seven years old, respectively.

We should allow carabaos to retire, like cows are allowed to do in India. Our carabaos manage very well with grasslands and a mud hole, no special care needed.

Carabao, the band

From carabaos, the animals, let’s go to Carabao, the rock band.

Many years ago when I was visiting Thailand, I would be asked about carabaos because there was a very popular rock band with that name. It turned out that the band was formed in 1981 by Thai students studying in Manila, at Mapua Institute of Technology.

When the head of the band, Yuenyong Opakul, returned to Thailand, the rock group disbanded. But Yuenyong, later to be known as Aed Carabao, tried to revive the group. He was able to convince one of the original members from the Manila group to join him, and the band expanded through the years.

Carabao fused rock with local Thai music, and had very political songs protesting corruption and poverty, and advocating environmental protection. Two of the band’s songs were banned by the government in the mid-1990s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the band drew inspiration from our own protest songs, which were popular in the 1970s. Aed Carabao was outspoken, reminding me somewhat of Joey Ayala.

The band was so popular that a movie was made with the title “Young Bao” (as in caraBao), and a TV series called “Carabao” (what else?) with episodes based on the band’s songs.

Carabao would break up then reunite, then break up again, with the members getting together for their 25th and 30th anniversary. Even AirAsia Thailand saw it fit to paint images of the band’s three main members on its planes, during the band’s 30th anniversary.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: animal welfare, Carabao, Carabella, Cubao, Freedom Run, Mega Q-Mart
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