What’s in a pusu? (Otherwise known as “Hanging Rice”) was the usual question being asked to me by my non-cebuano friends & acquaintances coming from Luzon. Most Cebuanos often times have difficulty in answering this question as it is a common sight as to be easily taken for granted for it can be found in food stalls, canteen, the house, beach gatherings and any other event that gathers people.
That simple question practically bothered me, all the more during this year's celebration of ‘buwan ng wika’ where people were in such a festive mood in celebrating one’s cultural heritage, including myself. I realized that a people without a sense of history, is a people doomed to be unaware of their own identity (or part of it). Without a sense of who you are, how can you possibly take pride in who you are? Hence, started a recent quick journey to do a little digging into history!
The “puso” originated as a ritual object intimately associated with the animist religion of the pre-hispanic Cebuanos. What’s more surprising is that these rituals are still being practiced by a small upland community in Barangay Taptap, Cebu City. It is an activity performed in ceremonial celebrations in victory, harvesting, planting, weddings, birthdays, baptisms and burials which still mirrors how the pusu is used today.
Trade relations between Hindu Malayan traders during the Shri Vijayan empire in South East Asia heavily influenced the Culture of “Bisaya” the natives of Central Philippines, specifically the ‘Sugbu’ (Old name of Cebu) before the Spanish Colonization in 1521.
The term ‘pusu or puso’ is derived from the Visayan word, denoting “bunga” or “bulak” which means fruit or flower. Like the banana flower (called ‘puso’ ng saging~heart of the banana) is suspended from its natural trunk setting, the pusu depicts a sugbu-anon belief in fertility and productivity (this is why some call the cebuano puso “hanging rice” that is commonly hanged in bunches).
The Puso is made out of a simple tropical material called “lukay” a sugbu-anon term for ‘tender coconut fronds.’ The midrib of the “lukay” is removed to make a “lilas”, or coconut palm strips to start the “lala” which means “to weave.”
There are about 6 designs of pusu weaving which has different purposes such as being offered to the gods to ask for a favor; for thanksgiving of good harvest (the ritual is called HIKAYAN); for a sickly person or exorcism of demons (the ritual of YAMYAM done by the TAMBALAN or priest); as what I found out while talking to two Cebu Normal University-Museum resource persons.
- Binosa – a one strand pusu which resembles a small wineglass
- Kinasing – a two-strand pusu which resembles a diamond which commonly found in metro cebu today.
- Dumpol or Pudol – a variation of ‘Kinasing’ but has a flattened bottom instead of the pointed diamond
- Badbaranay – which means ‘to unravel or opening’;
- Binaki – which means frog-like
- Manan-aw – a local term for tiny white orchids, a species of native dendrobium; it is made up of eight strands that would be the biggest among the other pusu designs.
Pusu has always been part of the Cebuano identity, in design, it has been re-invented through some of the works incorporated by world renowned furniture designer, Kenneth Cobonpue; it has also been used by some community coops and products modified through their innovation by using recyclable materials in remaking the pusu as an accessory, lantern and perhaps many more, said Savellon. She also emphasized the need for the culture and craftsmanship of puso-making to be maintained if not be integrated into formal education, for the “mamumuso” (pusu weaver), due to commercial use has stopped weaving the other designs in favor of the “kinasing” or “Binaki” which is much easier to weave.
It's always good to see how an outsider observes one's culture for from there we can work on our shortcomings so we can grow and be better.
If you’re planning to take a trip to Cebu, I tell you, it will never be complete if you’ve never eaten puso paired with other iconic cebuano food like the Lechon Baboy or Lechon manok, siomai sa tisa or buwad (dried fish) or some barbeque in Larsians near the Fuente Osmeña.
I’ve also ambushed interview a sugbu-anon about puso: “I’ve eaten puso since I was little, I really like that it’s easy to eat, carry around, long-aging, and it’s cheap! I not only eat it in major major events, but wherever it is available near school; sadly, I only eat it but would be interested in learning how to make it..that would be very useful.”
The pusu does not only have deep roots in our history, a Cebu iconic image, but also is a product of Filipino ingenuity! Aside from being a blogger, I’m also an Industrial Engineer, so le me share to you how I see it:
- It’s a biodegradable, handy and traditional food pouch;
- The rice is prepackaged and can easily be moved around or delivered (this cuts the time of packaging ‘just rice’)
- It’s cooked in bundles for easy mass production
- Rice served in the form of puso has been divided into standard units which mean standard sizes;
- Easy accounting of units for customers, suppliers and restaurateurs
- By virtue of its design, the rice inside the puso is kept free of dust and insects
- Unlike regular boiled rice, which stays tasty for about a few hours at most, puso keeps for about a day & lasts longer.
Source: “Palaspas” An appreciation of Palm Tree Art by Elmer I. Nocheseda (p201-242); Cebu Normal University Museum, Monograph Series on Indigenous Culture Volume II: Puso as Ritual Object;
Resource Persons: Reynaldo B. Inocian, Romola O. Savellon (CNU Museum)