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Thursday, September 23, 2010

A favorite fable from the Philippines, "The upo plant"

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When I was a child, I remember hearing fables that taught moral lessons. Many of these stories were very amusing, but taught great lessons, such as the stories of "Juan Tamad" (Lazy John), which describe the consequences of laziness or making too many excuses. The following fable, however, has always been a favorite:

The Upo Plant *

Once upon a time a wild specie of the upo plant grew in the garden of Tandang Teban. When the old man saw the growing plant, he carefully entwined the stem around a small bamboo post to make a trellis for the plant.

The plant did not like the idea of the old man. It wanted to grow freely like any other plant. So the plant talked to the wind.

"Mang Hangin! Magkaibigan tayo, di ba2? Look at me," the plant pleaded. "I am a mere slave of Mang1 Teban. I need your help. I want to grow freely like the grasses and the plants around me. Look at the banana, the rose, the sampaguita3, and the other plants in this yard. They are free. So my friend, I beg you to blow hard and loosen the tie around my body till it breaks."

"Your request is not just," replied the wind, "but if that is what you like, I will do what you please." So the wind blew hard. It blew hard some more, thus breaking the knot around the body of the upo.

"Thank you," said the upo gratefully. The vine then crawled freely on the ground.

Just then a dog that was looking for a piece of bone came along. The dog stepped heavily on the small vines and was able to find the bone. In taking the bone away, the dog also carried a part of the vine to a far distance. The poor plant not only became short; every part of it was damaged.

When Tandang Teban visited his upo plant next morning, he saw the poor state of the plant. At once he tied the plant to a thin bamboo post. The plant drew a deep sigh of relief.

After a few days, Mang Teban arranged a trellis for the upo to sling its vines on. The plant blossomed. The leaves gave shade while the flowers and fruits gave joy to those who saw them.

One time the wind blew hard and played with the leaves of the upo. The plant requested the wind to blow softly so that the plant would not fall down.

"When you were still maliit, you asked me to set you free from the bamboo post so you may crawl freely on the ground," the wind replied. "Now you request me to spare you. YOu sound funny indeed."

"I had an unforgettable experience," said the upo. "I know now that all creatures have their own ways of living on earth. Experience is the best teacher."


* Upo is a common gourd vegetable in the Philippines, that if left to grow, can reach very large sizes. The dried shells of the gourd may be fashioned into utensils, bowls, flutes, and smoking pipes, just to name a few uses. I still enjoy upo in the hearty "pinakbet" stew whenever the local Asian store has it in stock. Especially delicious in Filipino fish stews. :)

1. "Mang" is considered a contraction of the respectful title "Manong", which is formally used as a title for older male relatives. (for women, the title is "Manang"). Nowadays, "Mang" is commonly used in place of the word "Mister", especially in reference to those who are older.

2. Roughly translates as ""Mister Wind! We are friends, aren't we?"

3. The "Sampaguita" is the national flower of the Philippines.  My mother used to tell my sister and I about the beauty of the flower, and how the scent of a Sampaguita field can be smelled for miles . Mom told us that oil made from the flowers is used as a rub for headaches and migraines, and that the flower is used for Jasmine tea in China. 

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