By PIO S. VERZOLA JR.
The juice is cooked for about two hours in a large cast-iron vat, over a large earthen oven fueled by the crushed and dried cane stalks.
If the batch is for sugar, the syrup is cooked until it crystallizes. Then it is broken down into powder form. Each batch produces about 25 gantas. If it is for panocha or ente, the syrup is poured into coconut-shell molds or bamboo tube containers.
If the batch is for vinegar-making, as soon as the juice begins to boil, the solid impurities in the froth are removed. The remaining liquid, placed in containers, is brought to a vinegar “factory” – which are 60- to 100-liter fermentation jars half-buried in the ground. The still-hot juice is poured into the jars.
Later, the bark of the camachile tree (Pithecolobium dulce, also called gamu or kamantiris), chopped at two-inch lengths, is added to help in the fermentation and coloring of vinegar and to enhance sourness. The filled jars are then covered and left alone for at least three months, while the mixture turned into vinegar. The longer the fermented vinegar is allowed to age, the better it tastes.
Basi-making is similar to vinegar-making, according to my precious Agribusiness Weekly clipping, but needs more ingredients, more time, and careful handling. Making basi requires Ilocano earthen jars (burnay), or heirloom Chinese jars if you want to work in style, which have been sterilized and semi-glazed. It also requires either a native knack for wine-making, or clinical instruments for measuring sugar content, temperature and acidity.
Aside from camachile bark, another essential ingredient is samat/samak leaves, and bubud (native yeast cake) from the fermentation of first-class rice.
The sterilized jars are filled with cooked cane juice. The camachile and samat are added. The mixture is left undisturbed for 3 to 5 days. Then the yeast is added, and the fermentation period starts.
Just before fermentation stops, the jar is sealed airtight with tough leaves and clay. This prevents further oxidation from taking place inside the jar – otherwise the mixture becomes vinegar. The sealed jars are left alone to age, up to a year or more to get good basi.
For the benefit of aspiring small-scale mill and winery operators among us: a 5-hectare canefield planted to a non-flowering, high-sucrose cane variety can produce juice for more than 200 cooking batches per season – enough supply for a veritable wine and vinegar factory.
But I didn’t write this piece merely to encourage cottage-industry capitalism. I wrote it to explain why basi became so explosive an issue during Spanish times that it triggered a revolt, the 200th anniversary of which we commemorate this month of September.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the basi factories of Ilocos must have been so prosperous that the Spanish regime considered them a threat to Spain’s wine industry. Vigan (then known as Ciudad Fernandina) had become an important stop in the galleon trade, and Spain wanted to profit by selling more of its wines to the Ilocos natives.
Thus, in 1786, the Spanish regime declared a wine monopoly. The Ilocanos were banned from fermenting and drinking home-made basi, and were compelled to buy their wine from government stores. This was on top of the tobacco monopoly, imposed five years earlier in 1781, which also hit the Ilocano farmers hard.
Now if you truly know the Ilocano psyche, at least in the feudal macho mode, the one thing you don’t dictate to him, ever, is where to get his vice.
After years of increasing resentment against the GATT-like economic impositions, on September 16, 1807, the people of Piddig, Ilocos Norte rose in revolt against the wine monopoly.
They successively entered the nearby towns of Sarrat, Laoag and Batac, recruited more rebels, and made the liberated towns their base of operations. The rebels then advanced southward, entering Badoc and Santo Domingo, ultimately intending to capture Vigan, capital of then Ilocos province.
Interestingly – as historian Renato Constantino noted – the rebellious Ilocanos directed their fury not so much against the Spanish colonial regime directly, as against the principales who had become “not just colonial intermediaries, but active exploiters.”
Constantino thus quotes Sinibaldo de Mas:
“The principales were the aim of the popular wrath in the Ilocos insurrection in 1807. ‘Kill all the dons and doñas’ was the cry, while the people hastened toward the capital to petition for the abolition of the monopolies and the fifths.”
Constantino saw in the revolt “the beginnings of mass movements with class content directed against foreign and local exploiters and putting forward demands of an egalitarian nature.”
The Spanish alcalde mayor based in Vigan sent a force of 36 Spanish Army soldiers with a cannon and two platoons of Guardia Civil to attack the rebel force advancing southward in Badoc. The rebels repulsed the soldiers and civil guards, and captured the cannon.
Town after town fell to the rebels, who recruited more forces along the way to Vigan.
Two weeks later, however, the alcalde mayor led another force of regular Spanish troops. On September 28, 1807, they attacked and defeated the rebel force massed at San Ildefonso, on the south banks of the Bantaoay River.
The battle was so ferocious, historical accounts say, that the river turned red with blood. Thus ended what is know recorded in history books as the 1807 Basi Revolt.
“So you see, Kabsat Kandu, based on our history, it really doesn’t take much for our people to be fired enough to resist oppressive government, even to take up arms and die for their demands. What we need is leadership with vision, with historical perspective. Ever been to the Burgos Museum in Vigan? It’s all there, the 14 paintings depicting the revolt. Psst! You listening?”
“Huh? Oh. Er, I was just thinking…” My neighbor’s voice trailed off as he gazed again in the direction of the presumed limestone cave graveyard of Kidit, Benguet Ibaloy resistance hero, just back of our line of houses upslope.
“What were you thinking?”
“If the wine monopoly triggered the September 1807 revolt, and Chavit Singson’s jueteng expose in September 2000 triggered the EDSA-2 revolt, could it be another September event – maybe revolving around another vice – that may trigger yet another revolt?”
Kabsat Kandu has these flashes of insight, I know, but his numerology and calendar-based prophecies are too hot to handle.
What I’m sure of is that I planted my sugarcanes many rainy seasons ago, they are now in semi-wild proliferation, and based on my own calendar-based prophecy, a modest batch is ready for harvest by March next year. Anyone ready to make basi? #