It was nearing dusk when long time friend and agriculturist Hazel Fagyan and I reached the abuyuan here at Mainit. Abuyuan is the makeshift place where sugarcane is extracted and boiled into basi (sugar cane wine). We wanted to see how dapil or baliwes (the process of making basi) is being done. Dapil is lebek to people in some sugar cane producing areas of Besao municipality.
We found a carabao moving around some three meters away from an extractor placed at the middle of the field. The carabao was tied to a wooden plank tied to a sugarcane extractor. Children playfully pushed the wooden board urging the carabao to move faster and exert more pressure on the extractor. Pieces of sugarcane were thrust in the extractor. Sugarcane juice oozed to a waiting container. The sugarcane extract was then transferred to a waiting vat and boiled. It takes three hours boiling to make basi and eight hours to make sugar.
In commercial sugar making, the cane first goes through a washer, then is cut into small pieces by revolving knives. These cut pieces may then be shredded or may move to crushers directly. The crushers consist of two large grooved rollers mounted horizontally, one above the other. The crushed, macerated cane then goes through three or more roller mills which consist of grooved rollers with heavy hydrolic pressure maintained on the upper roller. Water, equal to about 20 percent, is added before the mixture is passed through each set of rollers. Efficient mills extract at least 90 percent of the sugar in the cane. The cane residue, called ‘bagasse’, can be used as feed.
Pending research, it is not exactly known how much of the sugar is extracted from sugar canes by the power of the carabao. Yet, judging by the outcome of the crushed canes, much of the sugar had already been extracted.
In dapil, the sugarcane sap without mixing water is boiled for eight hours to become sugar with loads of pine wood, fired. In the process, whitish residues called usab are spooned off every now and then from the surface of the vat and placed in another container. These collected fluids are locally used by the farmers as pesticides. The extract is further boiled which is eventually placed in coconut bowls which are left to cool off as sugar cakes called inti. Or these either may be spread out in a biga-o (winnower) and cut in sugar cakes preserved for everyday use, either mixed with rice, tea or coffee.
In making sugarcane wine, the boiled sugarcane extract after a three-hour boiling, is placed in the charay (jar) for fermentation. An herb preservative/flavoring called kallasang is mixed with the boiled sugarcane extract. Alcohol content of basi is ethyl alcohol not more than 12%.
John Lapaan, 58, said in the dialect, “We stay here whole day, whole night stirring the sugarcane extract to desired boiling.” While cooking, the men sing a chant called warsa-ey in between drinks of basi or San Miguel gin.
Pedro Lobchoy, in his 70s sits as the old man of the abuyuan and does not leave the place until dapil is done. December is Dapil month and will last as long until the last matured sugarcane is extracted and cooked into basi or sugar.
There are at least 10 dapil areas in Mainit with at least 20 household-members belonging to one group.
Where are the women? Sianen said women cut the sugarcane in the fields whilst young men carry the sugarcanes to the abuyuan. Women also bring food for the men at the abuyuan.
Depending on how many loads of sugarcane one has, one can have at least two to three burnay. There are at least 2 drums in one burnay. Twelve cans fill up one drum. One can makes up 17 liters. The fermented basi is a whole year supply used in weddings, wakes, and other celebrations.
Morris Sianen, 65, said, “basi is locally drank. It is rare that we sell basi to other places”.
Mainit which is located in upland Bontoc of Mountain Province finds the famous Mainit Hot Springs. One can see hot steam emitting from the sulfuric hot springs along the whole stretch of the village at any hour of the day.
There are two guest houses located in Mainit. One at Geston’s Guest House and at BenVic, both offering clean and comfy bedrooms and kitchen facilities. We stayed at Geston’s Guest House, a few minutes walk away from the abuyuan where we went.