Oya Choleng, a local villager from Santa Barbara is always enthusiastic in touring me around her village. Almost 78 years old this year but she still has the stamina of a 48 year-old woman. I always smile whenever she would introduce me to her village mates as the ‘pararetrato’ or photographer of assorted wild plants with this additional quip : “she is sending these photographs abroad.” This is easier for her to understand than telling her that my photos are intended for my blogs.
With this in mind, she would point at a tree. flowering plants and other flora growing in the vicinity of her mountain village automatically reciting the local name with accompanying anecdotes and indigenous knowledge about the plant or tree.
In one of our village treks, we passed by a beautifully patterned tree and before I could asked the name, she identified it as ‘Dita’ with this eerie information: The Dita tree is the wood of choice for making coffins when somebody dies in her village. When I asked her why, she answered that she does not know why but it is a traditional local practice even in the neighboring villages — all outlying mountain villages.
I ventured a guess: maybe the dita wood is easier to work with, softer than the other woods and still abundant. The thought that the Dita tree is sometimes associated with spirits makes sense too. Nonetheless, I was transfixed looking up the canopy of the Dita tree with my eyes following the sun’s rays that seemed to dance as it meet my eyes in the mesmerizing pattern of the branches and leaves.
Photos: Alma P. Gamil Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines