By Rizelle F. Navarro*
As I was looking across the endless horizon, several shadows slowly appeared and became clearer into my vision as it approached the shoreline. Those were small boats carrying determined brave men who aim to win the race. Their success depends on how fast they paddle and the mobility of their boats. The first racer to touch the flag at the finish area would be declared as winner. This is how the baroto race is done.
Barangay Nipa is one of the 25 barangays in Concepcion, Iloilo which practice the tradition of palumba or baroto race or small boat racing. The baroto race is a competition of speed among small boats usually operated by sail, paddle or motor engine.
Concepcion is small coastal town located on the northern part of Iloilo. Aside from the mainland barangay, the town has under its wing more than 10 island barangays. Fishing is the main livelihood of the residents. This mainland barangay produces good quality baroto for palumba. Builders of these baroto are usually fisherman themselves. They make boats when there is an order. They are only paid for their labor because the materials are provided by the customer. One can also acquire a boat for the race by purchasing other fishermen’s boat.
Normally, fishermen usually buy or make boats of their own. The carpenters or panday makes different kinds of boats depending on its purpose. It is either for fishing, transportation of goods, ferrying of passengers or for sports competition.
According to the book authored by Prof. Henry Funtecha, “The Fishing and boat building Industries in Western Visayas: History and it’s Significance,” smaller kind of boats such as baroto or bangka are usually used for fishing or for the palumba. Baroto or bangka is the general term nearly referring to every type of West Visayan boat. Baroto is made up of wood from different type of trees found in the locality. It has a katig or a wooden framework attached to each side of the boat for support. It is usually operated by motor engine, sail or bugsay (paddle).
The tradition of palumba in Barangay Nipa started in the 1940’s with the use of bugsay (paddle) or layag (sail). According to 78 year-old Vivencio Navarro Sr. (he’s actually my lolo ), a former Bgy. Captain of Nipa, a fisherman and a panday himself, fishermen on their way home would compete with each other. They would paddle as fast as they could in order to arrive first at the coastline and be declared as winner. That motivated those who were left behind to improve their baroto for better chances the next time. Back in the 40s, baroto race was merely for leisure, a past time activity. Tuba or bino was their bet. The loser buys the tuba and they would altogether enjoy in simple celebration. `As time went by, fishermen in Nipa tend to pangayaw (to wander); the tradition of going to other sitios or barangay to challenge other fast paddlers there to a palumba. The information of having rivals in other places triggered this event.
Aside from bugsay (oars), the fishermen also used layag (sails). This was during windy season. Layag were made of katsa (cheese cloth) or bandahan, large and thick sacks. During 1945-1948, banig was use as alternative because katsa became expensive due to the war. Banig was locally made by women in Nipa.
Thirty years of informal palumba, the baroto race was turned into a formal competition in 1970. This was usually done during fiestas, promotions and festivals. Fishermen and boat racers from different barangays joined to show their skill and pride in their trusted baroto and hoping to gain prizes too. The 70s was also the time when a new palumba category was devised —barotos with motor engines.
Wilfredo Bonito is a skilled boat builder and a participant in the palumba. He focuses on making his baroto faster and competitive. According to him, baroto should be light and easy to maneuver. The materials to use are very important such as the type of wood and propeller to be used. Most importantly, one should be optimistic in boat racing, he advised.
The palumba continues to be held during fiestas and other special occasions. I really enjoy watching it and hearing the loud voices around me cheering for their bets. Families and friends are gathered together to experience the excitement and fun. Fiestas would never be complete without the baroto race for it is one of the highlights. Why?
Because the baroto is the symbol of the hardworking Concepcionanon whose life is so closely tied to the sea.
*RIZELLE F. NAVARRO. “I love to play chess and basketball. For your comments about my article please email at