Written by Ma. Sheena Escordial, B.S. in Applied Mathematics III.
“Carrying a tuba container or “dawatan” on his back, a coconut pilot, or what is locally known as “mananggiti,” climbs a coconut tree or “niyog.” When he reaches the top, he picks the small container (or “salod”) hanging at the end of the flower (or “suwak”) and pours the sap collected in it into his dawatan.”
One of the traditional practices of Filipinos is the making of coconut wine or tuba. Tuba is made of sap collected from the end of the coconut flower or suwak which is located at the top of the tree. Having either a sweet or bitter taste depending on how it is made, it is usually served on the table and can be drank by both men and women.
Tuba-making practice traces back even before pre-colonial times. According to my uncle Mr. Loren Mombay, in his childhood days in 1970’s, this practice was common and there were many tuberos and tuberas selling tuba which was made by them or by their father or grandfather. My lolo was also once a mananggiti (along with his male siblings and cousins) and my tita was a tubera; the money she earned in selling tuba would become her allowance in fare to school. When tuberos/tuberas travelled to the local market, they carried a balading (large cylindrical container made of wood and also has wooden cover) which contained all the tuba they made. They would sell tuba either by using a small container made from bamboo that was shaped like a glass or by using a small “garapon” (which was like a large Nescafe coffee container) called bol. There are 6 bols in a gallon of tuba or 1 bol is approximately two-thirds of a liter or was also equivalent to four glasses. In 1980’s, a bol of tuba costed around 50 centavos and in 1987 it costed P1.50 – P2.00. Now, its price is ten pesos.
A typical mananggiti owns the following materials:
- Dawatan – made of bamboo, this cylindrical container is carried by the mananggiti in his back when he climbs the niyog. It is filled with tuba sap from the salod.
- Knife – tied around a mananggiti’s waist on the side of his dominant hand; used for cutting leaves and slicing the suwak.
- Salod – also a cylindrical container made of bamboo; attached at the end of the suwak; the sap from the suwak would be collected by the salod.
- Patik – a small bamboo stick used to clean the salod.
Two mananggitis were interviewed in Brgy. Kirayan Norte in Miag-ao, Iloilo to know how local tuba is made. They were Mr. Felipe de la Torre, nicknamed as “Nong Bobong,” and Mr. Eldifonso Napawit or “Nong Eldi.”
Nong Bobong started making tuba when he was about fifteen years old. He is 62 years old now and it has been two years since he stopped making them because of age and the tree was now too tall for him. Also, he commented that the tree sways everytime the wind blows by, making it difficult for him now.
Meanwhile, Nong Eldi, also 62 years old, started when he was eighteen and is still making tuba. The four coconut trees he climbed where either situated near the beach or somewhere at different areas.
Mr. Mombay and the two mananggitis taught me that the first important thing before the process of making tuba is to know if the suwak has already sprouted or not, because this is where the sap would come from. It sprouts vertically upwards. A coconut tree can have three to four suwak and the others will also bloom right after the first suwak blooms. The peak of “tuba season” is from November to January.
Bending the suwak and “Paghahawan”
This process is for preparing to use the suwak for tuba-making.
If there is already a suwak, a mananggiti ties a knife with its holder to the
side of his waist and then climbs the tree. Once he reaches the top, he cuts some parts of the tree around the suwak, like the nearest leaves surrounding it or the “sarap” or brown part. This gives it some space around it or what you call “paghahawan”.
Originally, the suwak is vertically straight. The mananggiti gently bends it to one side little by little or else it will break. This process of bending can last for a few days and a week at most.
“Pagmamaghot” and Placing the Salod
If the suwak has bended, it’s time to place the salod.
When the mananggiti reaches the top, he slices a portion of the end part of suwak using a knife (this process is called “pamaghot”). This must be cut every morning and afternoon or otherwise the end part of the suwak will become dry and no sap will be collected.
Then, he ties the salod at the branches and places its opening at the end of suwak. The salod will then collect the sap.
Lastly, he picks a piece of coconut leaf and ties it around the end of the suwak. Otherwise it will open up and it would be harder to collect the sap.
Collecting the Sap
After placing the salod, the mananggiti carries a dawatan on his back with its handle hanging on his shoulder. Also, he brings with him the knife and its holder before climbing the tree.
He then transfers the collected sap from the salod to dawatan. This is done every morning and afternoon and the filtering may be done in two ways:
- “Before transferring, you can filter the sap by placing a sarap at the top of the dawatan and pour from the salod into it. In this way, the sarap will serve as a filter.” – Nong Bobong
- “You can also pour the sap directly and just filter it when you reach home. I used a modern dawatan (an empty 1 L plastic bottle of softdrink) and a filter (an unused fish net).”-Nong Eldi
After pouring, the mananggiti cleans the salod using a patik. Usually some of the dirt would be small insects, or from the wind or birds. That’s why it’s important for the salod to be covered.
Then, he ties a coconut leaf around the end part of the suwak, slices again a portion of it, and places the salod at its end. This process of collecting the sap is repeated until the whole suwak has already been cut.
At first, the quantity of sap collected will be few. However, it will increase each day that passes by (or when the suwak becomes shorter and shorter).
If the suwak is not used in making tuba or if it is left like that, it will produce coconut fruits. Thus, if it is used, no fruit will be harvested from that suwak.
Sweet or Bitter Tuba
If you want the tuba to taste sweet, the salod is cleaned or washed frequently before using it again to collect the sap. It is usually hung in the afternoon and will be collected early the next morning. The sap produced in the morning tastes sweet (they described it as sweeter than the coconut juice itself), like the taste of an orange-flavored softdrink. This is commonly preferred by ladies.
Meanwhile, if you want the tuba to taste bitter, you would leave your salod as it is; do not wash it again and let the sap inside it ferment; it will become sour. Hang it the whole day then collect the sap in the afternoon. The enzymes from the previous sap will combine with the new sap, adjusting its taste.
Transferring the Tuba
At home, a large container called “paya” is used to contain all of the collected sap from the dawatan.
If the tuba is not consumed overnight, it will be called a “bahalina” the next morning. It is like a wine and according to them, it tastes bitter like whiskey.
If more than a month has passed, the “bahalina” will be formed into vinegar or “langgaw.”
Balok and Buyo
Balok is a reddish powder made from the bark of mangrove tree used for coloring the tuba. It tastes somewhat sour or astringent or “aplod” (the taste of an unripe banana). It can be added on the empty salod before hanging it on the tree or after harvest. It gives the tuba its reddish color and this is usually added if the tuba tastes too sweet. Tuba without balok is dirty white in color and tastes sweet. In the past, balok was sold commercially in the Iloilo market by a Chinese merchant named “Thomas,” according to Mr. Bombay. It was known at that time as “marka lubi.”
On the other hand, “buyo” or betel leaf plant is also added to tuba. Like the balok, it also tastes “aplod”.
Tuba and Tuba-Making as Livelihood
Tuba has a range of medicinal properties such as: it lowers risk of heart disease and heart attack, type 2 diabetes, cataracts and colon cancer . Also according to Mr. Bombay, tuba is rich in iron and is good for anemic people.
He also once told me a story about a certain hardworking mananggiti who made his tuba-making a livelihood for his family. Through climbing about 30-60 coconut trees every day for years, he made his four children graduate in college and be successful in life.
Nowadays, this tradition is still being practiced in some rural communities but it is slowly dying. The number of coconut trees is not as many as it was in the past and the mananggitis had very few or none at all to pass this tradition to in this age of technology-advanced world (most boys this age would rather play computer games). This tradition of making tuba is part of the heritage of Filipinos and we must recognize and treasure it.
1 Ruel, Phil-islands; “Health Benefits of Tuba or Coconut Wine”. January 9, 2015. http://www.phil-islands.com/health-benefits-of-tuba/.
I would like to express my deepest and heartfelt gratitude to the following people who made this art research possible:
To Nong Bobong and Nong Eldi, who shared their expertise with me and contributed their time and effort;
To my family and relatives, especially my aunt, Mrs. Aileen E. Mombay, and her husband, Mr. Loren Mombay, who is ever supportive of me and accompanied me throughout this research and also shared their knowledge and experiences about the topic;
And most of all to Almighty God, Who is the Fountain of All Wisdom.
- Mr. Eldifonso Napawit
Brgy. Kirayan Norte, Miag-ao
- Mr. Felipe de la Torre
Brgy. Kirayan Norte, Miag-ao
- Mr. Loren Mombay
Brgy. Kirayan Norte, Miag-ao