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A BOIENEN INVENTOR
by Concepcion Claveria-Bulalacao
 
Text was originally published in the maiden issue of the HOMETOWN MAGAZINE of the Buhi Friendship Club, Vol.1 No.1; January - March 1999; pg. 9-12


ALTHOUGH we children called our father - Papa, we called our mother - Mamay, which must have been a corruption of the Spanish Mama and Inay, the Boinen word for mother. Mamay could have been the first Boienen, probably even the first Filipino, to secure a patent from the U.S. Patent Office. I wish to tell why and how she became and inventor.

In the early 1930's we were at the height of the worldwide economic depression that had been triggered by the great stock market collapse some years before. In Buhi, palay was one kilo per caravan and abaca was two centavos per kilo and these were the two main sources of our income.

severa "mamay" azcarragaFish would have been another important source for we had plenty of fish in our lake and streams. Carp, which had been recently introduced into our lake and which we Boienens used to call isra nga puti or white fish to distinguish it from isra nga item or talsog or mudfish and other fish previously found in our waters, thrived on the plentiful shellfish and aquatic plants, multiplied rapidly and grew to enormous sizes. One could not sail on our lake without seeing many of them jumping out of the water. Not infrequently , some of them would jump right into the passing bancas.

Such was the capricious whim of people, however, that when catching carp was prohibited at first and it could be sold only surreptitiously at rather high prices, we considered it as delicacy. Later it was relegated to the status of a poor man's food. Yes, we had plenty of fish but in those days before refrigeration, and considering the difficulty of transportation, we did not sell our fish in other towns.

Like many others, my family was a victim of the depression. And our usual easy-going Boienen ways were no help of course. my two older brothers, Abraham and Benjamin, were studying at the Camarines Sur High School in Naga. Papa and Mamay would not think of making their children stop studying after finishing the intermediate grades, unlike most Boienen parents then. We had some rice, abaca and coconut lands, but soon my parents found out that sending uis to school was becoming too much of a strain on their limited resources.

Them Mamay came to the rescue. If I may be excused for saying so myself, I think my mother was a woman of exceptional talents and resourcefullness. She did not have much formal schooling. Yet she knew Spanish fairly well probably because her father, Genaro Azcarraga, had been a town judge at a time when Spanish was the official court language. A fluent speaker, she was often asked to recite Rizal's 'Mi Ultimo Adios' during Rizal Day programs. A friend of hers told that Mamay spoke so eloquently that some of the audience would shed tears of those in the audience. She told us the story of Blanca Nieves before I met it in school as the story of Snow White. She was also fluent in Tagalog and even knew a little Latin. She was one of the first pupils when the American soldiers opened a school in Buhi; so she also knew English.

On the other hand, Papa was the son of a Filipino mother and a full-blooded Chinese who became Jose Claveria after he was baptized as a Catholic with Spaniard named Claveria as his god-father. Papa was handy with tools. He could make articles with his bolo and other simple tools like a true craftsman. He cultivated our rice-field inherited from Lolo Genaro so competently that we always had rice for our meals unlike many families then who had to use rice substitutes suchas as camote, banana and a kind of yam called ngame during the lean month between the palay harvests that came only once a year. But he never had steady employment or a regular income.

Mamay thought hard and long about how tho augment our family income to meet our growing expenses. Tlhen one day while she was supervision our palay harvest, she thought of making abaca products.

She first wove and seved abaca slippers for her children. She sent the first crude ones to my brothers in Naga. Then she made abaca hand-bags, wallets, and belts. She experimented with the different dyes and designs and never seemed to be satisfied with waht she had made. Soon her products became objects of beauty and she began to sell them.

Then almost overnight, our house, which was quite big, became an abaca handicraft factory. Our porch became the workshop of Iluminado Fetil, a shoemaker who had worked for years at the Ang Tibay footwear factory, which made the best shoes and slippers many of them custom-built for discriminating buyers. Our sala and dining rooms were crammed full of handlooms and other equepment for weaving. One bedroom became the sewing department. Our kitchen was more oftern used for dying and drying for abaca fibers that for cooking food.

Mamay was the general manager who looked after everything. But Papa was also indispensable. He took charge of the conststruction and up-keep of the looms and other weaving parphernalia. The sewing department was his special domain, but Mamay oftern had agood laugh at his expense because he was slightly color-blind.

One December, my brother Benjamin, whom we call Bening but is called Ben by most of his friends and co-workers, happened to mention to us that he had an English teacher whom he liked and who liked him very much. He said that she was from Nueva Ecija. Mamay offered to make a special hand-bag for her if he was willing to give it to hear as a Christmas gift. He agreed rather reluctantly being the shy and eccentric fellow he has always been.

He told us later what happened to the gift. Unable to force himself to give it to his teacher personally, he just left it on her table with an appropriate note. Then about a month later, he brought home a copy of their school paper THE ISAROG. Prominently featured in it was a short sotry "Just Fibers" by Maiquita T. Sebastian. The author said that the bag she had received from my brother made her the envy of the other lady teachers in the school. We received many orders forom them. Later on, Mariquita's sister Aurora sent us an order for a dozen bags, the first of many others we received afterwards.

This gave us the idea of giving samples as gifts. Mamay went ot Naga and gave handbags to the wife of Mariano E. Villafuerte, the provincial governor and to some other prominenet ladies there and we received more orders.

Papa also did his share of promoting our products. Accompanied by Municipal President Gregorio P. Penoso, he went to Manila with some specially made bags. Tlhewy went to Malacanang and gave one to President Quezon for Mrs. Aurora Agaagon Quezon. Tlhe President sent them to Director of Commerce, Camelo Balmaceda. The director was much impressed by the product and gequested us to participate in a coming trade fair. All this resulted in may orders. Soon we were ssending shipments not only to cities and town in the Philippines but also to America and Eurpoe. Our little home factory was humming with activity. All the members of the family had to pitch in.

Our basic material was abaca fiber. Papa would go to our abaca paantation in Komagaka on the norteasternt shore of Lake Buhi and select the tallest mature abaca plants to be stipped directly without first removing the soft inner portions. Then he would bring the fiber to the poblacion to be distributed to the different houses of the paratagak who knotted them into strands that must have been several hundred meters long. We paid these knotters fifteen to twenty centavos per kilo of knotted fiber.

My elder brothers had gone on to college in Manila. They were given the chore of buying the dyes, zippers, mirrors, buttons and other accessories and materials we needed from wholesalers there. They also took charge of our participation in the trade fair to which we had been invited by Director Balcaceda. They had to take the time needed for them to do this from their time studying. But they did not complain. This was not done in our family.

I was only in the intermediate grades but someone had to take care of our business correspondence. Without having taken any lesson in typing, I typed the letters on our old rickety Remington. The recipients of my letters must have laughed at my peculiar grammar and style. When I think of what I did then, I cannot understand how I was able to do it. Blut again, in our family it was not our habit to say I do not know how to do it when assigned an unfamiliar task. We managed with what was at hand.

One day a reporter and a photographer from the GRAPHIC, a weekly magazine publishd in Manila came to us here in Buhi. They asked questions, took notes and pictures, and inspected our little factory. Two weeks later we were featured in a long article that was very complimentary. They could not report otherwise, Papa and Mamay had given them free samples of our products. However, the accompanying pictures were not very clear and during the war we lost our only copy of that issue.

Papa and Mamay never stopped trying to improve our products.

We always used the best materials available and we paid our workers well. The daily wage of rice planters then was ten centavos with one cintavo bonus added at the end of the day supposedly for buying face powder for the girls, buyo and tobacco tor the women, and candy for the boys. We paid weavers many of whom used to be rice planters double the amount and gave them better food. According to them they also had the very valuable advantage of not being given a dark complexion by the sun.

As would be expected, it was not long before we had competition. It was no problem at all for them to sell at lower prices, but we kept our old customers and acquired more new ones that they. They could not except the quality of our products. As I have said Papa and Mamay never stopped looking for improvements. I well remember how Mamay introduced a new process of weaving that was a distinct improvement over the old one. She taught this process only to carefully selected weavers she was sure would be loyal to us. And she almost surrounded the looms with curtains to prevent 'speis' from stealing here secret.

So we thought of securing a patent for our product or process. With the help of the Bureau of Commerce, we were introduced to a neputable patent attorney in Washington D.C. , since there was no Philippine Patent Office yet at that time. The attorney made some prelimenary surveys at the U.S. Patent Office to determine whetehr our product or process was patentable. His office sent us sketches and descriptions copied fromthe Patent Office of products or processes previously patented that were similar to ours and told us thy were convinced we could secure a patend and also gave us and estimate of the probale cost of securing the patent.

We thought that the cost was rather high, but concluded that we could manage to procure the needed amount. At that time the equivalent of one U.S. dollar was only two Philippine pesos. What ultimately frustrated our plans was the deteriorating state of Mamay's health and the immenence of war.

Up to the end Mamay was the brains of the family. One day she called all of us to her bedside, except Bening who was sitll in Gainza where he was the principal.

Then she told us her last wishes and gave us some bits of advice. Among them that we should keep her step-mother Antonina Griarte, whom we children called Inay, until Inay died. That my youngest brother, Jaime should go to medical school and become a doctor, which he did. That we should build a big banca because we would need it when war would break out.

I had just given to Papa what remained of the first salary payment I had received as a newly apppointed teacher in Bula with a montlly salary of forty peso. He told me that he would spend it in the acquisition of a big banca in accordance with Mamay's advice. So we got a ginaoran or banca propelled with oars. In fact, Papa also got a sarapan, or small banca that is paddled. These bancas were very useful to us when war broke out one month after Mamay died.


 

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