In the mountainous heart of southern Batangas, the sleepy town of Taysan had a big celebration. As the parishioners spilled out of the Nuestra Señora de la Merced or Our Lady of Mercy Parish Church after Sunday Mass on the morning of 11 November 2018, they saw the narrow Aguinaldo Street transformed, lined with tables, and the small plaza, where huge mimosa trees provided dappled shade, teeming with people.
A motorcade arrived with the mayor and other town officials, who cut the ribbon to start the festivities. Banana leaf covers were lifted to reveal heaps of pork and chicken barbecues, banana-cues, kamote-cues, roasted corn, (deep-fried battered quail egg), hotdogs, grilled milkfish and squid, all skewered on bamboo sticks, for people to partake of. On another street, groups from different barangays and schools delighted onlookers with street dancing performances in flashy costumes in which barbecue sticks were incorporated.
The first Tinindag Festival was the highlight of the celebration of the town’s centennial anniversary of its founding. A hundred years ago, the barrio of Mercedes of the municipality of Rosario was made into an independent town through a law sponsored by Teodoro M. Kalaw, then Secretary of the Interior, and Don Benito Reyes, then representative of the Third Congressional District of Batangas.
The week-long celebration, which started on 5 November, included medical missions, days dedicated to different sectors such as farmers, teachers, children, senior citizens and LGBTQ+, a trade fair and night market, different contests, entertainment and sports events and the Mutya ng Taysan beauty pageant.
The culminating event, the Tinindag Festival, recognized the importance of barbecue stick-making, an important source of livelihood of Taysan, a town of almost 40,000 residents, thus a feast of all things roasted and barbecued. The food was of different kinds with one common feature, the tindagan or bamboo stick or skewer.
“We deem it fit to hold the first Tinindag Festival on the occasion of the town’s 100th founding anniversary, as the making of tindagan has developed into a viable cottage industry,” explained Taysan Mayor Grande Gutierrez, who added that the festival also highlights the town’s agriculture.
Gutierrez said that because of stick-making, many Taysanon families are able to meet their daily needs and even send their children to school. He introduced his wife, Elizabeth, as an example of those who finished college because of stick-making.
“I’m one of the products of pag-iistik (stick-making) who’s been able to get through college with the additional income my parents earned from it. Currently, Taysan can produce P200,000 to P300,000 worth of sticks every week,” Elizabeth revealed.
She noted that the stick-making activity is a “unique Taysan family tradition” as much as it is a family business.
“The father saws off the bamboo poles while the mother cuts the logs into sticks and the children smoothen them,” she shared.
Bamboo thrives in Taysan which is harvested to make furniture, baskets and other crafts. Mostly, it is used for the skewers.
While stick-making is present in all of Taysan’s 20 barangays, it is concentrated in the barangays of Pinagbayanan, Guinhawa and Piña. Here, one can see households engaged in making sticks in different sizes — dedose, karioka and pino — according to the kinds of food they are intended for. These are sold to other towns and cities in Batangas such as Lipa, and in Metro Manila, such as the cities of Muntinlupa and Pasig.
“Taysan could well be the ‘Barbecue Stick Capital of World.’ The stick-making business has provided opportunities for small entrepreneurs as well as employment to the townsfolk to support their families,” commented Department of Tourism Calabarzon Region officer-in-charge Maritess Castro, who graced the first Tinindag Festival. “This is a very special event that can help boost nature adventure tourism and spiritual retreat in Taysan’s lush greenery, virgin forests, rivers, the Bacao Falls and old churches like the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish Church in Barangay Dagatan.”