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The musical tone of "Bahay Kubo" in agriculture

Marlowe U. Aquini, PhD

Photos by Rita T. dela Cruz

Have you heard of the song - Bahay Kubo?

Most Filipinos did because this is the very first agricultural song learned in the grade school. Generally, young Filipinos are required to know this by heart because it reflects the rural life of people, bountiful agricultural commodities, particularly vegetables, and production practices. The lyrics of the song depict a blend of vegetables symbolically grown and neatly organized in the traditional and simply constructed Philippine house called Bahay Kubo.

The lyrics of the song

Bahay kubo kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari-sari,
singkamas at talong, sigarillas at mani, sitaw,
bataw, patani; kondol, patola, upo't kalabasa,
at saka mayroon pa labanos at mustasa;
sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya,
sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga.

Symbolism in Agricultural Development

Is there meaning to it? What is in the song that makes it uniquely agricultural? Does it symbolize some kind of activity or goods? Whatever the answer is, the song describes in musical tone the theme of agricultural development.

Songs are the immortalization of feelings and expressions of one's own heart and soul. They inspire, uplift the person's spirit or mend a broken heart. Whatever the reason, these songs provide a balance to the individual's psyche.

In the Philippines, most lyrists and composers depend on what they have experienced or gained insights on events, people, and sites. Not to mention, several songs are composed because of the creativity and artistry, including musically-inclined talents that transcend generation to generation. These traits make a highly respectable composer at the same time a singer to whose talent is manifested in their own rendition of the song. Tone and diction, showmanship, and vocal interpretations are some criteria that make a song worthy of being listened to and appreciated.

The reality to illustrate agricultural development through music has been expressed in many ways but only few composers have crossed the boundary and integrated what could be considered as agricultural song. We have "Planting Rice" and "Bahay Kubo" which depict how important our commodities in a rural setting are as these are expressed with peoples' feelings and activities. Planting Rice describes how our farmers toil the soil and work endlessly to produce our staple food. It illustrates that planting rice literally is never fun and requires hard manual labor. But others feel that this just shows the importance of rice.

On the other hand, the song "Bahay Kubo" or Nipa Hut highlights and is inspired by different local vegetables produced by Filipino farmers. The song describes crop intensification and diversification arranged in an orderly and holistic farming system. The crops follow specific simple farming practices and cropping pattern in a given growing season. The farmers must produce these crops according to his or her available resources. Basically, these crops are for home consumption. But because there is a need to produce more, this simple vegetable gardening became an expanded agricultural venture and became the main crop production of most lowland areas after a bountiful rice production. In effect, these two songs complement one another in terms of farmers' production management system.

The meanings of the vegetables

A lot of songs are given meanings depending on the interpretation or the rendition of the artist. In the case of the song Bahay Kubo, the vegetables are provided with meanings according to the way these are cooked. In my previous research, I found out that the lowland vegetables were closely associated with Filipino traits and values. These are expressed in the Pinakbet culinary recipe of the Ilocanos. According to this indigenous group, the Pinakbet shows the strength, industriousness, and loyalty of the people, especially during agricultural production. These traits are seen during the entire growing season as value of the camaraderie, resourcefulness, and cohesiveness and belongingness.

Specifically, each vegetable has a meaning which describes the farmer and the Filipino in general. The eggplant (tarong) which is small, round-shaped or slender, green or purple means longevity; the lady's finger (okra) describes truth and elegance; bitter gourd (ampalaya or parya) which is small, round-shaped, and green means strong will power and aggressiveness; the garlic, tomatoes, and onions (lasona) all together mean happiness; and winged beans, string beans, lima beans, green chili which are elongated and green illustrate generosity. Peanut (mani) describes friendship and loyalty; and squash (kalabasa), bottle gourd (upo), and loffa (patola) mean strong partnership and belongingness. These meanings were taken from the farmers who gave meaning to their responsibility in agricultural production and food production in the rural areas.

Beyond the song of hope

Not known to many, the Bahay Kubo is a song of hope. A better agricultural produce for the commodities is the ultimate goal when it is sung to inspire our youngsters and farmers. Believing that this will go beyond production, it is also for people to understand that we can do our part in feeding our own families and communities. The song is an inspiration and constant reminder of what is to be done to augment the required nutritional value of these vegetables especially to kids in schools who sing the song. May this be a continuous effort for our mothers and teachers to teach the song with ferveor as it addresses and maintains a bountiful harvest not only in our lands but to our thoughts, deeds, words, and most especially our work in agricultural development.