By Rovilyn R. Faiwas*
One would wonder, what in the world is a linagpit? Derived from the word “lagpit” or “being stuck between”, linagpit is a specialty of San Joaquin, Iloilo. These are really small fish called bisya wrapped in a banana leaf parcels and clamped by a bamboo stick that look like tongs. The wrapped bisya is inserted between the two arms of the bamboo stick, referred to as the arasalan.
I asked a person from our barangay what kind of fish bisya is. She said that bisya are baby bangrus or milkfish (chanus chanus). It seems to me that she is not sure of her answer so I asked Mr. Mel Cinchon, librarian of the UPV College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. He said that he is not really familiar with bisya so handed me a book instead. The book is entitled, Philippine Fishes and their Local Names. Maybe it is just a twist of fate or I really can’t find the word bisya in that book. Fortunately, the word humoy humoy is listed there. Humoy Humoy is what the people in Antique and Aklan called the fish that San Joaquinhons call bisya. Humoy humoy, also known as tabilos/tabilus is under the family Leiognathus and has the scientific name of leiognathus elongates. Its English name is slender ponyfish.
People in the town of San Joaquin catch bisya for a living. They use nets with fine holes to catch this nearly invisible fishes which often wander in shallow waters during clear nights. When you unwrap a linagpit, the colour of the bisya is white, different from its original transparent look while at sea.
I asked myself, “Why should I write about this linagpit thing? I found the following answers: one, my former topic didn’t work out well. Two, I can get information about this linagpit quite easily since some people in our barangay know how to make linagpit. Third and above all else, San Joaquin is the only place I know where linagpit is being made and sold. Clearly, I want to showcase my town’s uniqueness and I hope that by writing about linagpit, people will know and appreciate the culture of San Joaquinhons.
Anyway, I interviewed Mrs. Flora Pio, also known in our barangay as Manang Flora, a linagpit maker. Living just two houses away from our house. I went to visit and found Manang Flora and family watching TV. I wish I could just watch TV. But Marimar will just dance at my problems; she’ll never be able to answer my research questions.
I asked Manang Flora if she could spare me a few minutes. She was puzzled at my interest in her work which to her, was probably very ordinary.
She said that the tradition of making linagpit has been in their family as far as she can remember. The art was handed down to her by her mother, who got it from her own mother. But who taught her grandmother how to cook linagpit? Manang Flora said she doesn’t know.
For many generations now, the art of linagpit making has been their family’s livelihood. Together with her daughter, Mrs. Nemia Abrito, they make 24 sticks of linagpit out of 2 gantas of bisya. A stick of linagpit costs 20 pesos.
There are two ways of selling linagpit. One is for the makers to go to the market and sell the linagpit themselves. The other way is to let someone sell it at the terminal. This process is called pag-alsa. The makers of linagpit will give the cooked linagpit to the vendors, who will sell the product. The agreement usually, is that half of the money will go to the vendors, the other half, to the makers. Manang Flora sells her products on her own.
Mrs. Adelina Saylon, another linagpit maker, invited me to experience first hand how to make linagpit,. I gladly accept her invitation.
At 4 o’clock Wednesday morning (that’s right, 4:00 A.M.), I went to Manang Adelina’s house. Manang Adelina wants to finish selling her linagpit early, so she always starts making them very early in the morning. Besides, Wednesday is a good day to sell linagpit at Tiolas, for it is its market day. Tiolas is the stopover for vehicles before they embark on the zig-zaggy road across the mountains to the province of Antique. This makes Tiolas an ideal place to sell food to commuters and private travelers on their way to Antique.
When I reached her house, Manang Adelina, immediately ushered me to their kitchen. In their kitchen table were the materials and ingredients to be used in making linagpit: 2 gantas of bisya, 25 pieces of arasalan each a ruler long, 75 pieces of banana leaves, and sea salt.
To start, I washed the bisya. The fishes are soft and slippery and well, smell like fish of course. Because the bisya are extremely tiny, it seemed like they melted into the water. Its difficult to see them if you possess a not so good pair of eyes. I drained the bisya in the saran or sieve.
Manang Adelina took over and added sea salt to the bisya to flavor it. Next, she put the bisya onto the banana leaves resting on the table. One cup of bisya for three banana leaves. With deft hands, Manang Adelina seals in the bisya, folding the banana leaves into mini plump squares. She told me that the banana leaves don’t just serve as wrapping for the bisya; the leaves give the fish a nice aroma.
The next step was to slip the square pillows of bisya between the split bamboo stick which clamped it tight. She tied the open end of the arasalan so the linagpit won’t slip. The final step was to cook the linagpit over glowing charcoal. After several minutes, the linagpit was ready for hungry travelers.
Linagpit making has been with the San Joaquinhons for many generations now. As time passes by and with the introduction of new technologies, some Filipino traditions are slowly disappearing. I hope this will not happen with the linagpit for this tradition helps strengthen our identity as San Joaquinhons.
*Rovilyn Faiwas is proudly San Joaquinhon. She studies at UPV in the adjacent town of Miagao.