The garab is a scythe with a short wooden handle whose major function is to cut rice stalks. Its other functions are amputating errant fingers or even beheading a mortal enemy. “O, akon tudlo wala na! Na-utod!” Cristuto Patino, 60 years old, one of two garab makers in Brgy. Dulao, Bago City, recounts one harvester’s exclamation in the midst of harvesting. Some unfortunate victims would faint from the pain. However, it is the garab’s sharpness that make harvesting rice an efficient and quick affair.
With rice as our staple food, it is interesting to learn that this industry involves not only the farm land, the seeds, the farmers, the harvesters but also the tools to take rice from the stalk onto our plates. Cristuto himself was a rice harvester up to half of his life. Then, he decided to go into the business of supplying garabs to the harvesters by teaching himself how to make them. His income is higher and he works in the shade, away from the scorching sun.
His workshop is just beside his hut. It is a yard he outfitted with a three-functional machine that shapes wooden handles, sands his wood chisel, and sharpens the garab blade. An open furnace that heats up metal before the trip to the anvil is a mound of live charcoal that the striker Randy Placencia, 35, mans with a tong ready in his left hand. Randy is Cristuto’s stepson and has been apprenticing with him for two years. A former apprentice, Omar, studied the craft for seven years before striking out on his own. (Pardon the pun.) Omar is the other garab maker in the area.
If you look close enough at one garab blade, you will see the initials “CP”. Cristuto is proud of that signature that gets stamped on 6-7 pieces of garab that he can make in a day with his two assistants. These initialed scythes have found their way to Sibunag in Guimaras, to Kalibo, and even to Kanlaon City where he takes with him around 30 pieces on off-season days. But rare are the days when he isn’t found in his workshop. People come to him for other reasons – to have their garabs sharpened (ba-id) or re-toothed (pihit) after a year of use, and to order an axe (wasay), the multi-functional household knife the binangon, a butcher’s knife, or a lantip that is a 30-inch long implement used to clear a field. Cristuto doesn’t make espadings which are for harvesting sugarcane stalks because these are machine-made now.
Before the garab industry was established in Negros with Bago City being the rice granary of the province, the Negrenses would get their supplies from Pavia in Iloilo. It is still being made and sold there under the Inar brand. The parts of a garab are the blade (uhas), the handle (pulo), and the metal sheet connecting the two (pitala, with accent on the first syllable). The handle is fashioned from lightweight gmelina wood which is a boon for the harvesters who have to wield it for hours. Before the exotic gmelina trees were the “in” tree species to plant, lanite wood was the preferred material. Lanite is a tree that grows wild along the river banks. It is not plentiful since no one cultivates it. I don’t even know what it looks like, wood you believe.
Cristuto’s wife Aurelia Patino quietly sits on a bench at the workshop. I sense pride in her eyes as her husband, the garab’s artisan, explains to me his craft. Come to think of it, without the garab we wouldn’t have rice on our tables. It is vital to our culture as rice eaters and Visayans that even the stately figure of the Lin-ay sang Iloilo mounted atop the Iloilo City Hall holds a garab in one hand. Rice feeds everyone from the homeless to the CEO. In our value chain, the tool-maker is a significant link. With his formal schooling up to Grade 2, Cristuto Patino “CP” is our Maestro de Garab.