I used to pretend to be a farmer when I was a kid. I’d wake up at 5am with my cousins; watch them milk our carabaos, go to the farm with them to buy duck eggs, and after breakfast, go back to the fields and pretend to harvest the endless golden fields of Cabanatuan with them.
Ever since picking up a camera, I have for the longest time wanted to capture the memories of harvesting the rice fields of my youth. I somehow always arrive too early; the fields just recently planted or too late, when only the stumps of rice stalks are all there are left.
After a long absence in Cabanatuan, I finally got my timing right and arrived just at the right time for this summer’s rice harvest.
Unlike some provinces which has three harvest seasons in a year, the fields in Cabanatuan only has two; one during the summer and the other after September. The summer harvest is often more bountiful since the latter reaping is often troubled by the storm season.
The rice fields of Cabanatuan shine like a never ending blanket of gold. Farmers waist-deep in the sea of rice stalks, covered from head to foot with makeshift protection from the sun, bent down sickle in hand, manually cutting down the bountiful grains by hand. One farmland unit called pitak takes about an hour to reap by a single person, and a hectare consists of about six of these.
Once cut, the crops are piled in one place where a rice tresher lies in wait. The stalks are then fed into the machine which separates the grains from the stalks; the rice grains fall through a container while the stalks fly through the air and into the fields where another farmhand sweeps it into a bulk. The grains are then transferred into rice sacks and loaded into a waiting wooden trailer that’s gonna be pulled by a carabao at the end of the day.
Watching the cycle of harvest is hypnotic, I used to be out during these times back when I was a kid, watching everything for hours on end in a makeshift hut in the middle of the rice field. There were no handheld games or iPods back then to pass the time, watching my uncles and cousins harvest the land was enough.
For four days I tried to capture my childhood memories through my camera, coming back home only after the last light on the horizon faded to black and the stars and moon take over. I walk back through the dirt roads of the farm, the blazing piles of dry rice stalks my only light. My day’s done but I know work still continues on those darkened fields into the deep of the night.