Products of the chikka-chikka factories…
by Ronnie Hoyle

SINCE nearly half of the population in the Philippines is not gainfully employed in the fabrication of products and services for other employers, people have a lot of time on their hands during the day: this is quite often spent in the local chikka-chikka factory where the workers perform their duties for free.

In some units, tea, coffee or a bottle or two of alcohol or soft drink are sometimes supplied by the workers themselves as incentives to encourage other voluntary employees to turn up for regular full-time work and to lubricate the necessary machinery and make production faster and more enjoyable.

Sometimes, however, the speed at which products are made means that the work turned out for consumption fails factory quality control and has to be discarded, especially if the initial material is of poor quality. Since the units produced in the chikka-chikka factories cost very little to make, even the factory workers themselves are not too aggrieved.

Every locality has several of these factories, ranging from minuscule two-person production units which occupy the space between two chairs, or even the doorstep of any available local property, to those which turn out to be gigantic wholesale manufacturing conglomerates which occupy street corners and beaches and even take over and finance a growing number of coffee shops and bars.

The more fanciful village concerns occupy poruks which are provided by local barangays with homemade tables and chairs (often including nearby cafeteria-style dining and drinking areas with room for guitar-playing entertainers) under nipa-thatch umbrellas to protect their workers from the effects of too much sun or rain, depending on the time of year.

Some of the more sophisticated and popular poruks even provide amenities for crèche facilities for up-and-coming and would-be entrepreneurs where the local young people can learn their skills from the full-time professionals of the art, although skills and products often vary from area to area.

While smoking, eating, drinking, singing and the occasional snooze often interrupt production, in most cases the chikka-chikka factory units work nearly 24-hours a day creating new products of fancy which even amaze the workers themselves.

Most barrios have several factory sites by the side of local roads – some of them only a few meters apart – but the creation inside is what keeps most of the local community interested in each other: the resultant chikka-chikka which pours out from both men and women often leads to friendships for life or to outright plain and audible screaming and squabbling in many people and fist-fights between others who dispute over the quality of some workmanship.

In many cases, it even leads to local feuds which last for years between workers in the same family or neighbourhood and may even involve the creation of other jobs offering improved salaries when the local barangay captain or chieftain and attorneys become involved in assigning ownership to the production of the finished work, since no copyright exists and it is certainly hardly ever claimed on faulty products.

Tracing the chain of production is often made more difficult when other workers insert their own additional touches of finesse to the individual items whilst they are still on the production line, which significantly alters and amends their original form, design and purpose, often within seconds of their original fabrication, especially when a gaggle of women are on the production line.

The recent invention of cheap hand-held and portable chikka-chikka producing devices by Western manufacturers has also enabled many expert Filipinos to even mass produce and distribute their items for consumption over a very wide area of the country in a short space of time without incurring heavy transportation costs.

Never slow to realise the possibilities of this mass production technique, individually-crafted items are now being turned out in significant numbers by some town and village factories at the cost of a few pesos for piecework manufacture, significantly increasing both supply and production.

This has led to a boom industry reaping billions of pesos each year for certain sections of the business community, which redirects money from many of the impoverished and gainfully unemployed, and has created a thieves market for even minor mass production facilities, making the Philippines the number one user of second-hand and stolen chikka-chikka producing equipment in the Far East and increasing the work of the under-financed and hard-pressed police who attempt to stem the theft of units.

Laws produced to ban the development of some chikka-chikka factories and turn their buying power in more fruitful directions, plus the imposition of fines and imprisonment for some of the more vociferous creators of the outrageous and salacious merchandise which emanates from the chikka-chikka factories, have proved as useless as laws on the prohibition of smoking and drinking and under-age sex: its’ manufacture has become an undeniable new cultural custom for most unemployed Filipinos and those who are unwilling or unable to give up their addiction to the work.

The harmful affects this craving has on family life, and the demand for even newer mobile chikka-chikka producing merchandise, together with the requirement to keep up with the rapid replacement of older or worn-out production units, are as bad as past favourite occupations, like gambling and alcoholism, which still persist in competition and also keep families poor.

Despite these New Age inventions which have been unanimously welcomed by the Filipino, the original intention of the chikka-chikka factories which were created thousands of years ago have not lost their purpose: a good old-fashioned gossip, or chin-wag!