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Be cool in Bicol

Bicol is a land of many attractions. Though it's the second-poorest region in the Philippines, it's probably one of the richest too, both in terms of natural resources (gold, among other metals, is found in the mountains of Bicol) as well as in the capacity of the people to endure all sorts of difficulty. The people, too, are rich in their hospitality -- welcoming arms to visitors.
When going by private car, it's a good idea to visit the Cagsawa ruins, a must-see tour stop, not far from the Legaspi Airport. On it stands the remains of a medieval church made of stone ruined by lava flows coming from Mt. Mayon in the late 1800s. This is also where one can find plenty of souvenir items -- shirts, bags made of abaca, trinkets, sugar-coated pili nuts, mazapan or "molido", and other typical "pasalubong" stuff.

All of these can be seen on the road to Magallanes from Manila when travelling by car or bus. There are clean, decent hotels along the way, especially in the major cities, where one can pass the night.

Besides the popular perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano, there's the Mt. Maliano too, Mt. Isarog, Lake Buhi and the amphitheater of Iriga. The town of Irosin which sits at the foot of Mt Bulusan, is where the famous Mateo Hot Spring Resort is found.

This is where pure flowing water filtered by the mountains gets heated by volcanic activity before coming out of the ground. Huge hot-spring pools in that resort -- a favorite tourist spot in the province -- are known for their therapeutic properties. Not far from Irosin is the cool Bulusan town.

Eco-tourism:Whale Shark Watching

Magallanes is also the town where one can hop into a for-rent banca or pump boat on an eco-trip to where the dolphins and whale sharks, known among the local as "Butanding", frolick. These endagered species, now protected by environmental laws, are known to come the Sorsogon Bay as their spawning and play ground.

Magallanes has been a fishing and agricultural town since it was first founded at the dawn of the 20th century. Originally, when the town was still a 'sitio' or village under the neighboring town of Juban, it was called "Parina".

It is where the First Mass in Luzon was held. Over the year, the town managed to preserve its lush tropical rainforest in the surrounding hills. Its magestic mountains feed the dozen or so rivers that stream through the town. Efforts to preserve Magallanes' marine resources in the past have paid off. Artificial reefs have created new spawning places for tropical fish species that have been threatened by destructive fishing methods such as cyanide and dynamite fishing. The community has found a sensible way to preserve its pristine surroundings. Since Magallanes is an out-of-the-way destination, it's been bypassed by travellers. This makes the town a one-of-a-kind tierra incognita.


The term "Bicol" could have been derived from "Bico," the name of a river which drains in San Miguel Bay. Possible origins also include the bikul or bikal bamboo tree which line rivulets, and the ancient native word bikod meaning "twisted" or "bent". The region, administratively known as Region V, is located on the southeastern end of Luzon; it is surrounded by the Visayan Sea in the south, the Pacific Ocean I the east, Lamon Bay in the north, and Sibugan Sea and Quezon province in the west.


The Bicol region was known as Ibalon, variously interpreted to derive form ibalio, "to bring to the other side"; ibalon, "people from the other side" or "people who are hospitable and give visitors gifts to bring home"; or as a corruption of Gibal-ong, a sitio of Magallanes, Sorsogon where the Spaniards first landed in 1567. The Bico River was first mentioned in Spanish Documents in 1572. The region was also called "Los Camarines" after the huts found by the Spaniards in Camalig, Albay. No prehistoric animal fossils have been discovered in Bicol and the peopling of the region remains obscure. The Aeta from Camarines Sur to Sorsogon strongly suggest that aborigines lived there long ago, but earliest evidence is of middle to late Neolithic life.

A barangay (village) system was in existence by 1569. Records show no sign of Islamic rule nor any authority surpassing the datu (chieftain). Precolonial leadership was based on strength, courage, and intelligence. The native seemed apolitical. Thus the datu's influence mattered most during crises like wars. Otherwise, early Bicol society remained family centered, and the leader was the head of the family. The Bicol were described by some Spanish chroniclers as fierce warriors. Thus their history comprises many battles against foreign incursions. Sorsogon participated in Samar's Sumuroy Revolt in 1649. Over 400 suspected rebel sympathizers were massacred in Pilar, and some local friars exiled. In Camarines, minor rebellions occurred contemporaneously with the Sumuroy rebellion and during the British occupation of Manila between 1762 and 1764.


Geography defines the region's traditional occupations, agriculture and fishing. Bicol's occupations, agriculture and fishing. Bicol's agricultural sector contributes 60% of the gross regional domestic product, with the services and industrial sectors contribution 30% and 10%. Rice, coconut, and abaca are major crops. About half the farming land cultivates coconut while 20% and 10% are planted to rice and abaca, respectively. Bicolranks second to eastern Visayas in abaca production. Rice, the staple is supplemented with corn and root crops. Bicol is currently the largest producer of sweet potato, and the third largest producer of cassava and calamansi. Coffee and cacao are also grown.

Bicol's tourism industry is another source of income. Among the more popular sites are the perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano, Lake Buhi, Pasacao Beach, Nats Beach, And San Jose Beach in Camarines Sur, Bulusan's mountain lake, Tiwis' geothermal plant and Cagsaua beach. The Philippine Tourism Authority is developing the Maranawa falls in Bato, Catanduanes into a nature park and resort.


Some national executive offices and constitutionally mandated bodies have regional branches in Legaspi. Bicol is served by three Regional Trial courts and four Municipal Circuit Trial Courts. In Congress, Bicol is represented by 11 members (1991): four from Camarines Sur, one from Camarines Norte, two from Masbate, two from Sorsogon, and two from Albay.


Naming children according to their attributes of the conditions marking their birth was a regional custom. The solemnity of Bicol death rites, however, ahs never been determined by class even if these have tended to be more elaborate for higher ranking individuals.


Bicol religiosity is deeply rooted. Sometimes Christian faith is expressed through indigenous forms, and indigenous beliefs may assume a Christian face. Some beliefs and customs related to farming the life cycle, talismans, and divination survive in the consciousness of the contemporary Bicol, even the educated.

The prehispanic beliefs in the hierarchy of supernaturals ranging from bad to good s to a limited extend preserved. The common expression "Tabi po, maki-agi po" (Excuse me please, I would like to pass by) acknowledges the invisible world. The Christian God and heavenly host have replaced the supreme god Gugurang and the minor deities, each of whom had a special function. But the darker side inhabited by witches and monsters seem to live on I the minds of some Bicol Christians. So does ancestor worship in some areas; a postharvest thanksgiving ritual, sagurang, is retained by Bicol farmers by way of offering food to the spirits of their ancestors.


In precolonial times, many Bicol houses were perched on trees for protection from the sun and insects. Towns later grew form settlements established near rice plantations, which were scattered throughout the valley and coastal plains.

In the Spanish and early American colonial periods, the less privileged lived in native huts located some distance from the center of town, in coastal or inland barrios. These dwellings had wooden posts and were elevated about 1 to 2 m above the ground. Their framework and floor were mad of bamboo; their walls, flap windows, and steep hip roof of leaves of nipa or cogon grass. These one-room houses, which usually had no divisions, had minimal furniture, like a bench, a low table, and chests for storage of clothes. On a separate platform connected to the house was a place for water jars.

In the contemporary period, most native huts have been replaced by American-type, one-story bungalows or two-story houses with the sala, kitchen and toilet below, and the sleeping quarters on the second floor. These houses are usually made of hollow blocks and cement. Wood is used for the second floor of two-story houses. Roofs are galvanized iron; windows either slide or are of the louvre or vertical-flap types.


Paracale, "the golden country" in Camarines Norte, has grown to be the center of jewelry-making tradition. Although the art has declined since colonial times, some antique styles have survived the centuries like that of the agrimon, the flat necklace chain of the 18th century, and the tamborin, the intricate golden bead necklace of the 19th century.

A pious congregation, Bicol has always excelled in the carving of the religious statues. The art of abaca weaving has been long developed in Albay and Camarines Sur, although the art as given way to commerce in what has become a lucrative industry. The weaving of traditional textiles of cotton is still found in a few towns of Bicol, notably Buhi, Camarines Sur.


The patotodon or riddles reveal a concern wit the familiar and material. Here the abstract is made concrete. The first part is a positive metaphorical description. The second part introduces an element meant to confuse. Old riddles are still learned but riddling has ceased to be a hobby in Bicol today. The linguistically sophisticated proverbs called kasabihan, arawiga, or sasabihan emphasize values like independence, honor, and humility. The human condition is the central concern of these proverbs. They may be abstract or may use images form nature, for such as plants, animals, and the human body.

In precolonial time, the natives wrote many ballads with catchy rhythms about battles, a hero's exploits, massacres, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and other natural catastrophes. Precolonial lyric poetry is divide into awit and rawitdawit, also called orog-orog or susuman. By comparison, the awit is more sentimental an difficult to improvise. Social life is enlivened by toasts call tigsik, kangsin, or abatayo. These are four-line verses occasioned by happy gatherings whether around a sari-sari or variety store or during feasts. Toasts can be made on any subject, form religion and tradition to love and sex, and the tigsikan ends when the participants become too inebriated for poetry. Modern Bicol poetry can classified as personal or social, the latter based on the rawitdawit style. A simple if not na•ve world view is conveyed in most Bicol anecdotes. Animal stories abound, involving either tricksters or ungrateful animals The monkey seems to be a favorite. Outstanding in folklore is the tale of Juan Osong, counterpart of the Tagalog Juan Tamad. Bicol's creation myths trace the beginning of the universe and man and woman. There is a characteristic dichotomy between the divine and the human, and a frequent use of the bird as a key figure. Today, there are very few fictionists in Bicol. Among the more notable are Carlos Ojeda Aureus whose stories, such as the "Cathedra", are landmarks in Bicol fiction, and Remigio Laguno, known for his "The Carolers."


In precolonial times, people were often judged by their ability to sing or create new songs which would be accompanied by the community on musical instruments which the singers themselves made. The religious fold dramas in Bicol which center on Catholic beliefs and liturgy, also contain musical elements. The Bicol composers trained in religious music eventually wrote secular pieces as well.

In the contemporary repertoire, there are new folksongs which refer to local history and geography, sometimes ridiculing politicians like the barangay captain, the mayor, the election candidates. The themes are broader in protest than nationalistic songs. Whatever the content, serious or nonsensical, these songs generally have a simple structure and a free form.

In Bicol, the dances are often associated with ritual. The tarok step was originally a movement that belonged to the ancient ritual, atang. Quick marching steps were executed by the priest of priestess before the god of good, Gugurang, or by the tribal women before the moon goddess, Haliya. The sinisiki (literally, "feet") step of Albay is another typical dance movement. Formerly a "hop, step, close, step," in time it became a "brush, step, close, step." Authentic paraphernalia is used in ethnic Bicol dances. Mimesis is another object of Bicol occupation dances. "Pabirik" means "to turn." The pabirik dances of Camarines Norte is named after the turning motion of the gold panner's container.

The dance component of Bicol religious ritual was retained in colonial times. On the feast of San Felipe and Santiago in May, in Minalabac, Camarines Sur, men carry the saint's images and estandartes of bamboo towers, while the children in costumes that change annually, dance the tuatarok (literally, "rice planters"), clicking their castanets and singing verses of praise to the twin patron saints and imploring their help for the officials and members of the community.

Among the secular dances, the engano, a graceful sway, and the waltz step are of Spanish origin. Boys and girls dance Albay's inkoy-inkoy to three-part music, sagurang being its oldest Bicol version. The jota Bicolana is lively as the Spanish jotas. (Reference: CCP Encyclopedia of Arts and Literature)