Have you had your friend

for dinner?

by Ronnie Hoyle

IF THE TRACTOR is the indispensable working tool of most Western farmers, the ‘tractor’ to a Filipino is much more than that: it’s his best friend as well - and a lot of time, money and effort are normally spent in trying to keep them happy and in tip-top condition.

On top of that, if they break down for what is obviously the last time, you do not send it to the scrap yard or throw it away - you simply invite all your other friends, neighbors' and relations to call round and eat it for dinner!

Actually, I was once one of the thirty-odd people invited to sit down and dispose of an ancient Filipino ‘tractor’ – and it was delicious. I did, however, refrain from eating certain parts of the inner mechanical workings and I’m not quite sure who finished off the number plate, or what happened to the sub frame in the end!

What surprised me was the number of friends who all volunteered to help out their mate and take home some souvenir pieces, although I have the suspicion that none of the bits that went away in plastic bags actually ended up on the living room wall.

The most prized possession of farmers, in Loon on Bohol the Philippine ‘tractor’ – or more commonly-called carabao - become the centre of ritual on May 1 each year when the town honors' its’ second saint, Joseph the Worker (who is also the number one patron saint of Tagbilaran).

Both areas celebrate with family feasts on that day, but in the Loon festivities up to 100 ‘four-legged tractors’ are reported as being sacrificed and eaten because Joseph is the saint of the island’s farmers.

Tasting exactly like beef, but a little tougher, the usually sure-footed ‘old soldier’ had actually broken his leg while dragging his twin-polled cart without wheels along an unmade country track. I later learned that the skull and horns did, in fact, end up hanging on the wall with a couple of others as trophies of the ‘old codger.’

The poor old boy had done his service by siring four heirs, but his demise was not something to be watched with relish: he was simply whacked hard over the back of the neck with a specially-sharpened machete which sliced through the spinal cord in one cut.

He sank to his knees instantly and dropped down dead like a stone in a spraying mass of gore which was being collected in large metal bowls for future cooking use by two women from the household…nothing goes to waste if it can be used, especially protein-rich nourishment.

Thankfully, since that time new regulations have been introduced and operate in most places and carabao and pigs are supposed to be put down humanely in licensed slaughterhouses. Unfortunately, it sometimes still does not work out that way, especially with pigs in rural townships where they end up with their throats being cut and bleeding slowly to death while screaming in protest.

According to statistics I read somewhere, there are 3.15 million working ‘carabao tractors’ in the Philippines, but in other Far East countries they are simply called the Asian water buffalo.

With almost as many in the Philippines as there are in Laos (1.08 million) and Indonesia (2.35 million) altogether, the Philippine version has scimitar-shaped horns that measure nearly four foot from tip-to-tip and they can grow up to six foot tall at the shoulder, except for one miniature version that is peculiar to the island of Mindoro and stands only three-and-a-half feet high at the shoulder and is known as the tamaraw.

Seen mostly in wet rice growing areas and a favourite of photographers as they wallow in muddy pools to keep their cool in the heat of the afternoon sun, their broadly-splayed feet allow them to splash through marshy ground quite easily while dragging the plough behind them.

Sedately plodding from one job to another with a bored look on their faces, as if they have been rudely awoken from a nice dreamy siesta, carabao in the Philippines sometimes become more like community property, with the farmer and his friend hired out to work the land of several people.