Gina-Pala, Gina-Piko

In its entirety, this old Hiligaynon ego-tripping catchphrase goes this way, “Ang kwarta sa Negros gina-pala, gina-piko”, which translates to, “Money in Negros is gathered using a spade and an axepick.” To begin with, nothing is further from the truth, especially with today’s depressed sugar price. Instead, the intention was (and still is) to mock the Negrenses’ once opulent lifestyle. Said with a second rate, trying hard, copycat Hiligaynon drawl, the catchphrase today is like a joke gone stale.

But how did this maxim begin? Granted that we create our own reputation, that what can be said of a people reflects their reality, good or bad, which of the Negrenses’ reality inspired reference to a spade and an axepick?

The origin of the phrase may be traced to the muscovado sugar. More precisely, how muscovado sugar was originally made. A long, long time ago in Heritage Negros, there were no sugar mills as we know them today. Most every hacienda, a term used for a plantation or large sugarcane farm, had its own makeshift mill. We know this because ruins of old cimborrios, a term that has come to mean smokestacks, dot the Negros landscape.

The original sugar farmers had technology, albeit medieval compared to today’s standards. But they produced sugar, at that time, a dark brown, rustic type of sugar that was not uniformly granulated, and which was called muscovado. Today, that look is back in vogue as artisanal sugar which, in this neck of the woods, has to be the poster child of the buy local movement.

A carabao-powered mill pressed sweet juice out of sugarcane. The extraction was dried on a huge pan over fire, with workers tossing it around using a large spatula (imagine a spade) until the liquid evaporated, leaving behind lumps of sugar crystals. These were then crushed into smaller granules (axepick may be a stretch). Thus, the maxim was born, “Ang kwarta sa Negros gina-pala, gina-piko.” And it stuck. For the glorious lifestyle sugar afforded, of course the catchphrase stuck.

As we continue to pray for peace throughout the world, this holiday season we embrace everyone with the sweetness of the people of Negros. And since we are stewards of Negrense heritage, we represent our sweetness with muscovado sugar. Pastry chef Marlene Monfort creates for us the Negros Heritage Holiday Cake, ang guess what the main ingredient is? Our trusty friend photographer, Ronnie Baldonado, will take us on a tour of some of the province’s most colorful Yuletide public art centerpieces. And just when you thought all the fun is ebbing, we reignite the spirit of street dancing as we count down to a Merry 2024.

From all of us at Negros Season of Culture, thank you for another year.

Article by: Alan Gensoli

Photos by: Bem Cortez / Khen Sanlo

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