Friday, September 04, 2009

Tidal Farming and Fishing System

Earlier in this blog, I described the water control system in Pampanga, Philippines. This type of tidal farming practice extends along the coastal borders of old Pampanga, which included the coasts of modern Bulacan, Tondo, and the bay shore side of much of the Bataan peninsula. A much smaller version of this system can also be found in and near Lingayen in Pangasinan to the north. Still smaller remnants are seen rarely here and there in the Philippines mostly on the island of Luzon.

I also have suggested that related systems were used by the Sayabiga in Iraq and the Moors, possibly also through a Sayabiga sub-population, in the Spanish autonomous communities of Valencia and Murcia. There is also something that looks quite the same found in the Halong Bay area of Vietnam. Whether this region is actually directly related to the others is unsure. One would think there is at least some idea stimulus involved. I have wondered if there might be a link with the Chinese notices of Fo-lo-an on the Western Ship Route during the Sung Dynasty. However, historically the Halong Bay area should have been squarely under the control of the Dai Viet empire at that time. So I'll have to leave any possible connections for further research.

View Larger Map
Tidal rice farming on Cat Ba island in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

This system of farming and fishing found in Pampanga and other parts of Luzon, and also in Iraq and southern Spain can be described as a Tidal Farming and Fishing System (TFFS).

As the name suggests, the area of agriculture and fishing is located in a tidal zone, and there is dependence on tidal action. The area will extend all the way to the mouth of rivers at the ocean, and upstream so far as there is still sufficient tidal flow. Here is an outline of some of the important features of this specific TFFS:

  • The TFFS utilizes reclaimed land, i.e., marshes, swamps, lakes, etc., so very extensive earth works are involved.
  • The intertidal zone is also used and dikes, channels, canals, etc., help to extend the system through irrigation beyond the intertidal zone.
  • Tides play an important role in irrigation. The flood tide pushes water into the fields and ponds, and sluice gates keep a certain quantity of the water from flowing back to sea during the ebb tide.
  • The tides are also important for local fishing practices.
  • In some areas, rains help flush saltwater toward the sea allowing seasonal farming in areas where the water is too salty for farming during the dry season.
  • The principle crop is short-grain, wet paddy rice (Oryza sativa var. japonica). Probably the type of Japonica rice grown in these regions has a higher salinity tolerance than more typical rice grown elsewhere.

The fishing techniques in the TFFS often revolve around fish and other aquatic/sea creatures that follow the tides in and out of the irrigation system. One trick is to place traps in narrow canals, for example. Fish caught in tidal pools and ditches could be stunned with fish poison, speared, or simply scooped up by hand. Fish poisons used in the Philippines, known as tuba, were usually either of the Derris or Tephrosia species. In Iraq, Digitalis and Datura species were used, while in southern Spain they used Verbascum species.

Much attention is focused on catching migratory fish and crustaceans. In the Philippines, the main catch was the bangus, which migrated from the sea into brackish water to spawn. Eventually, possibly after observing bangus spawn in their rice field ponds, an aquaculture system was developed that was mainly centered around the bangus. In Iraq, whitefish species -- khatan and shabut -- along with pomfret, shad and shrimp are caught during migration periods. In the Albufera in Valencia, they concentrated on migratory eels, which actually live in inland waters and migrate out to sea to spawn.

The water buffalo is associated with the TFFS in the Philippines and Iraq, and possibly also in southern Spain during Moorish times. However, there are some differences between the use of the buffalo in the two former regions. In the Philippines, the buffalo is a draft animal, but in Iraq it is used mainly for milk as in India. The marsh arabs do not train their buffalo as work animals. However, the Iraqi buffalo has many types of characteristics that resemble both the Southeast Asian swamp buffalo as well as the Indian river buffalo.

The older water buffalo shown in this region during Sumerian times looked exactly like a swamp buffalo. The modern Marsh Arab buffalo, which was probably reintroduced during medieval times, looks more like a cross between a swamp and river buffalo. However, its habits are mainly that of the swamp buffalo in that they tend to wallow in the marshes.

Water buffalo along the Euphrates near Najaf (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)


Buffaloes swimming in Iraqi marshes

Curious culinary link

One interesting correspondence between the TFFS in Pampanga and that found about a third of the way around the globe in Valencia is the popularity of local rice casserole dishes -- Paella or Arroz Valenciana in Spain, and Bringhe in Pampanga.

Many believe that as Pampanga was colonized by Spain, Bringhe must have been adopted from Paella. However, Corazon S. Alvina and Felice Santa MarĂ­a note there are indications that Bringhe is at least partly indigenous.

Bringhe resembles a native dish found among the Muslims of Mindanao known as Koning, which is usually served during special occasions. Bringhe is also primarily a food served during festivals. Koning consists of the sticky form of glutinous rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa) cooked with coconut milk and colored yellow either with turmeric or a type of yellow ginger known as galingale.

Now, Bringhe also is made with glutinous rice, known locally as malagkit, that is always cooked with coconut milk and is tinted in modern times also with turmeric. Previously, a spice known as cachumba or safflower as it is known in the West, was probably used. Cachumba, for example, is mentioned as a condiment by Antonio de Morga in the early 17th century.

However, what about all the other ingredients that are mixed together in both Bringhe and Paella, such as meat, vegetables, legumes, etc.?

Well, in the case of Bringhe, another local type of dish may have been combined with Koning to produce Bringhe. According to Bergano's 18th century Kapampangan dictionary, local people would cook rice together with vegetables to make Quisa. Today, legumes, vegetables, sweet potato, etc., are added to rice while cooking to "extend" the rice especially among the poor. However, a dish that more closely matches Bringhe is known as Binulu.

Binulu is an ancient type of cooking still popular among the Aita of Pinatubo. It is also featured yearly at the Binulu Festival in Porac, Pampanga. However, as Bergano lists this type of cooking in his dictionary, it probably was more popular among Kapampangans of those days. Binulu consists of rice and viands stuffed and cooked together in a thin, hollow, green bamboo known as bulu (Schizostachyum lumampao). The variations of Binulu are just as great as those found among Paella and Bringhe dishes and can include meat, vegetables, beans, legumes, fish/shellfish, fruits, etc.

Quite possibly, Bringhe evolved originally out of a fusion of Koning with Binulu for festive occassions, which was instead cooked in clay pots, or possibly in coconut leaf baskets known as patupat. In modern times, Bringhe is usually prepared in a vessel lined with banana leaves. The modern dish can include the addition of completely foreign elements, but the stable ingredients are glutinous rice, coconut milk, and a tinting condiment, usually turmeric.
Arroz Valenciana
(both images from

Spain's TFFS and the Grail Myths

I have discussed previously how the Sayabiga could have been the mysterious "Indians" mentioned in the Grail literature, and how they might also be connected with the medieval diplomatic contacts of "Prester John" in Europe.

In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, the author states that his ultimate source for his story was a mystic known as "Flegatanis" who lived in Spain (Toledo). The envoys from India in Parzival -- Cundrie and Malcreatiure -- apparently come directly to Anjou from Spain. Cundrie, for example, recites the names of stars in Hispano-Arabic.

Albrecht von Scharfenberg, about a half century after Wolfram, places the Grail family in northern Spain, probably Galicia, an area that they migrate to after helping with the conquest of Jerusalem.

Valencia, during this time, was an important center of Eastern medicine and alchemy. A number of important medical/alchemical works were translated from Arabic into European languages, especially by the alchemist Arnaldus de Villanova (Arnau de Vilanova) in the 13th century. Another important alchemist during this period was Ramon Llull (Raymond Lull) who hailed from island of Mallorca to the east off the coast of Valencia. The majority of the population of Valencia during Moorish times spoke Arabic as their primary language. Many elements of the Grail legends show "Eastern" and even Tantric influences that may have filtered in from the Persian Gulf traveling along with the Sayabiga and the TFFS.

atardecer de Septiembre II
Flat-bottomed punt-type boats known variously as barquet, barquetot, pastera, etc. in the Albufera rice-growing area in Valencia. (

Paul Kekai Manansala


Alvina, Corazón, and Felice Sta. María. Halupi: Essays on Philippine Culture. Quezon City: Capital Pub. House, 1989.