How did this tradition of harvesting unripe rice begin? Could it have been an experiment during the early period of agriculture? Traipsing along the fields one stormy day in early November got me thinking it could have been a similar time centuries ago when the rice plants had to be saved from wrathful weather way before harvest season.
The town of Santa Rita, Pampanga is known for its turrones de casoy, sans rival and other sweets but towards the end of the year, starting in November, everything is eclipsed as the town anticipates the Christmas season with the sweet smell of duman in the air. A delicacy once known only to a few has now caught a lot of attention during the Duman Festival, partly to revive a vanishing tradition and partly to celebrate life after devastation.
Duman is a seasonal rice cereal still produced the old way in our town. This may have been in existence in pre-Hispanic Capampangan society since duman was already mentioned by Fray Diego Bergaño – “El grano del arroz tierno cerca de madurar” – in Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga originally published in the 1700s. It could have happened other towns produced duman in the olden days but Sta. Rita’s is what has endured.
True enough, the tradition of duman-making does seem like a birthright to the citizens of Sta. Rita. There is a long unbroken effort of sustaining the tradition that no matter what, there will be duman come Christmastime. Nowadays, the duman-makers are families in the barrios of Sta. Monica and San Agustin but time was when barrio San Jose and its sitio Dalan Betis also had their paldumanan. It is this sense of a continuing heritage which inspired me to document the process as I said – from the field to the table.
I wasn’t alone in my eagerness. As soon as the first panicle of the lacatan malutu – the buticas – was showing, I could feel the excitement in the air. Ten days hence the grains were ready to be harvested. Before that, the husks would have nothing inside. More than that and they would be too old to be made into duman. This precise dating of the harvest has been followed for generations, perhaps for centuries, I have been told.
So one morning in mid-November, when the rosy fingers of dawn were enough to let me see the lines on the palm of my hand, it was time to gather the grains that would become their weight in gold. I am not trying to write prose. This is literally the way farmers tell the time to go to the fields. In Capampangan: Istung sisilip ne ing aldo pilatan da reng taliri ba mu neng ababasa ing gulis ning palad mu.
The lacatan malutu had to be harvested as early as possible. Let the sun rise higher and the grains would lose moisture, spoiling the process of making duman, rendering it harder than it should be.
Thus we walked to a field of red gold on that cold and dark morning. The sun crept into the sky, slow enough to let us finish comfortably reaping one cabalitang (1 balitang = 2,857 sq. m., 3.5 cabalitang = 1 hectare) of lacatan malutu by 7:30 a.m.. It is fast work because the rice stalks are very tall, almost as high as a person that one does not need to bend down to cut the sheaves of grain.
Each of the workers has a layit or sickle and are assigned an area of the field. One of them examines which of the stalks is to be harvested and directs everyone to them. Even if the grains are 10 days old, strict quality control is still observed. The panicle is pressed, too soft it is masépu, there’s nothing inside. Too hard, it’s past its prime and will be grown out to be harvested as regular glutinous rice.
There are no specialised tasks for each person. Every individual knows each function by heart and they rotate every now and then, fully synchronised. The harvester lays the cut stalks where the assigned person gathers them, bunching and tying them together. Another person then carries them on his head (puntucan) and brings them to the waiting vehicle, the more traditional gareta, a carabao-drawn cart or more common nowadays, a jeepney.
Upon finishing their tasks, the workers are served breakfast by the owner of the lacatan malutu. That morning it was Tatang Estong & Imang Tildé (Narciso), they who have let me, Terence and Herbert watch the progress of the plants. Too bad my able and willing accomplices were in school the morning we had kilayin, tuyo and fried eggs for breakfast. Better luck to them next year.
At around 7:00 a.m. when the workers get to the paldumanan, a large area usually under a shed attached to a house where the grains are processed, the palbebéuan (the specific area where the pounding takes place later in the day) is cleaned and cleared for the pamañimé. To simé is to take out much of the leaves and have the grains remain on the stalks. These are then forcefully struck against the ground – paspas. The mature grains fall, leaving the less ripe for duman.
The mature grains are then gathered until all the day’s harvest has been processed. This lacatan is then divided between the workers, to be cooked for Christmas, either as calamé or suman (rice cakes).
After having been mipaspas, the stalks are stacked into bunches of approximately a fistful. These are then brought to another part of the paldumanan to be threshed (quisquis pronounced kis-kis) by a contraption called the quisquisan that looks like a barrel with closed spikes. It is hand-cranked to further separate the grains from the stem. The stems and leaves are then re-stacked to be collected for carabao fodder. It is much prized, “orders” for it having been placed days beforehand.
The last two steps, paspas and quisquis are said to be modern-day innovations. In the distant past, these were said to be accomplished by picking the grains by hand, separating the malagú from the matúa by sight and feel.
After running through the quisquisan, the grains are then gathered and cleaned. This seems like a simple task but it also entails many steps and more implements. First is the bicséng malÃ¡gad, a bamboo sieve with wide gaps. This is to let the loose grains fall while retaining the patád or those that are still with connective fibres.
Patád is set aside. It goes through another process called darâ which means to repeatedly stomp on, further separating the grains. Prior to mechanised farming, dadarâ meant to utilise horses in farms during regular rice harvests, not for the lacatan malutu. Nowadays, to darâ is Capampangan slang which means to go out dancing.
After getting rid of the patád, the full grains are winnowed and sifted to further separate the sépu or empty husks from those with kernels. Several rounds of this requires the use of different grades of bicsé (sieves) as well as some ígû or bamboo tray for winnowing. Upward, circular and sideways strokes complete the whole cycle and takes a little less than an hour with two or three persons working.
As soon as the grains are free from torn leaves and stems, they are gathered and winnowed in the process called balusbús. Again, this is to separate the sépu or empty husks from those with full grains. In this picture, one can see the bamboo tray of lacatan malutu being gently shaken against an electric fan at full blast. Being heavier, what falls near the fan has the precious rice grains and what falls far from it is the chaff. In the past, this was done in open fields and the workers had to wait for a steady wind, with their backs to the direction from which it blows.
Perhaps we could call our igu or bilao (in Tagalog) a winnower. However, I would hesitate to do so because they are also used for other purposes.
When I was much younger, when I saw ladies in the fields winnowing, I thought it was meant to aerate and dry the grains. Silly, silly me! Hehehe!
By now it would be 9:00 a.m. – the grains are gathered and washed. Soaked for around 30 minutes, the chaff rises and is skimmed off the top. The grains are then rinsed until the water runs clear and then soaked for another hour or two. Older grains have less moisture content and would thus merit a longer time. Generations ago, large earthen jars called banga were used. Nowadays, plastic pails serve the purpose.
In the meantime, the wood stove called lungo is prepared. Just like how an oven needs to be pre-heated in baking, the lungo needs to be slowly fired up together with the yanga way before they hold the pre-duman grains. The yanga is a specially fabricated thick clay pot with a square opening on its side. Observing how it is covered on top with a wooden lid, I cannot help but marvel how it is thermodynamically designed.
An hour or so before lunchtime, the first batch of lacatan malutu is taken out of the water and drained (patictican) in a basket woven from the bark of bamboo called salicap. Pretty soon a few cups of the grain, a test batch is placed in the yanga and roasted. To keep the rice from burning, the mañanglé or sasanglé are very careful to keep the temperature constant and to continuously turn the grain with deliberate upward strokes using a wooden ladle of around a metre long. The ladle’s cup is fashioned from a coconut shell. It is both traditional and also maintains the temperature constant. They are also careful not to make the wood fire too hot, otherwise even the best grains would turn out too hard. Average roasting time is 30-45 minutes per batch.
A note on the sasanglé: only they amongst the duman-makers hold the specialised job of roasting the grain. While everyone rotates tasks, they sit almost the whole day in front of the lungo. Just like in true apprenticeships, the role of mañanglé is usually passed on from father to son or nephew although women are also known to have excelled with the task. The root word is sanglé, which means to roast, especially referring to rice, coffee, nuts and cacao.
After finding the perfect balance of heat and technique for the day’s harvest, the roasted grains are then transferred to bamboo baskets to cool slightly. The unhusked rice is initially kept together. Cooling has to be gradual to prevent the grains from turning brittle to keep them intact after pounding. After around thirty minutes in a salicap, it is then spread on mats on the ground to cool thoroughly (ladlad) for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, the palbebeuan is slowly being cleared for the afternoon’s work. As the workers head home for lunch at 12:30 p.m., all the wooden ásung and alung, mortar and pestle respectively, are cleaned. The concrete is swept and washed. Before 2:00 p.m. the stage is set.
After the grains have cooled, they are gathered and distributed to the waiting ásung (mortar), with three men rhythmically taking turns pounding with their álung. This is probably the most physically demanding step in making duman as it takes five rounds of bayu or pounding of approximately 120 strokes per person (multiplied by 3). The first pass is to break the husk, and then the succeeding ones move toward polishing the grain.
The first time I heard the chorus of mortars and pestles against the background of silence, the ignoramus that I was almost jumped with excitement. Were those congo drums? A war dance? Rain dance? The well-choreographed trot of a dozen horses? I was captivated. I had to find where it was coming from and what did I see but pestles that dance in the air as if they had lives of their own. (click to see video clip)
Following each round of pounding, the rice is transferred to an ígû to be winnowed, this time called tatap which is to throw the grains into the air with controlled movements. The full grains remain in the ígû while the pulverised husk falls to the ground and is set aside for carabao feed. No wonder carabao’s milk from Sta. Rita tastes much more flavourful around Christmastime! Imagine, roasted treats!
The succeeding tatap produces darac or bran. Although not edible as is, it is still kept and sifted later on, the fine edible powder mixed with bibingka batter to produce a much more flavourful rice cake.
The combined five rounds of pounding, sifting and winnowing take around five hours to accomplish. However, the transformation of the raw grains of lacatan malutu into the fragrant duman takes almost the whole day.
From the sanglé to the bayu, only very small amounts can be processed at a given point in time. Each cupful of grain is tested, prodded and coaxed into fulfilling its promise.
Upon the final bayu, when the grains are already edible and called pisalépuan, they are polished through winnowing and run through bamboo sieves with small gaps (bicsé mapinu). It is rid of the last layer of pulverised sépu, which is rough to the mouthfeel. After being polished, the grains are then sorted with another bicsé, to separate the full grains from the binlad (broken) and the pucat (crushed). Only the full grains are sold as duman. They keep their shape intact, flattened but not crushed.
With the painstaking effort and love put into each teaspoonful of duman, it is no wonder why it is sought by buyers far and wide. On the first day of the season, a long list of domestic and overseas orders can be found with each duman-making household. With PhP1,000-1,500 or US$23-28 for a pati (1 pati = 1.8 kg of very young duman, a bit less for older grains), it is expensive yet still much in demand. In fact, in many marketplaces, even adulterated grains are called “duman Sta. Rita” in a bid to be sold.
You can specify when ordering if it is the very young duman or the slightly more mature grains that are to be bought. The greenest would have to be consumed immediately. The older grains are what keep frozen for the whole year. Duman is usually eaten as is or with carabao’s milk or hot chocolate. Read Lori’s post Duman and Tsokolate. She also has much nicer pictures, capturing the real colour of the grains. Calamé duman, a special rice cake can also made.
Duman has similar counterparts in other regions namely tsu-om, du-om or do-om in the Cordilleras (with the bundle of unripe rice called dokodok in Bontoc), dumdumen in the Ilocos, deremen in Pangasinan and pinipig in Tagalog and Visayan regions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to work on a comparison and contrast of the different rice varieties and methods used?
Being a common practice among several ethno-linguistic groups in the Philippines has made me wonder if it has counterparts in other Southeast Asian societies. Apparently, harvesting and pounding fresh grains (ripe and unripe) also happens in Thailand and in Indonesia where it is called emping. A little digging led me to Vietnamese green rice flakes called Com, a specialty extremely similar to duman. Oh what dreams I have of going to Hanoi to watch them make some! Their legend of the Com even reads like one of my whimsical theories!
All throughout the Duman Festival exhibit, almost each time I was done with the presentation, visitors kept asking if the tradition was not in danger of being lost to the new more convenient ways of farming. Even at its very expensive price, the farmers and workers were just to the point breaking even. There was a time in the very recent past when duman-making was not as vibrant as it is now. Yet those who were into it kept to the time-honoured practice, with no shortcuts.
From Sta. Rita to other parts of the Philippines to Southeast Asia and back. A small container of duman I liken to coffers of culture and tradition. Its monetary value is but a token of its real worth. Each mouthful, even if one pays above the prevailing market price, will not approximate the real cost of producing the delicacy.
When I eat duman now, instead of just savouring the slightly nutty, milky taste of the rice grains of which I have warm memories from childhood, I also liken myself to a guest who is privileged to dine at the table of her hosts – the magduman.
I am very thankful that the group of duman-makers put together by Noel Martin and Indang Vising Valencia let me join them in their daily tasks for days on end. Taking pictures for the Duman Festival exhibit, I knew I had to put them at ease for natural-looking photos. Of course I was pretending to know what I was doing. It was my first time to take live action shots, my experience limited to inanimate haphazardly plated food, which I oftentimes do badly. In the end, it was they who made me comfortable with their camaraderie and joyful attitude. The pictures only became secondary to all of us. I came to learn about a custom to be proud of; they were the humble yet dignified vessels through which the tradition survives.
Postscript: For those who have been asking for souvenir Duman Festival shirts, we found ways to have them available online on the Cafepress Azotea Shop. Proceeds will help fund the next Duman Festival activities.
Previously, the first part Duman: Stepping Back in Time