I learned about Buhi, Camarines Sur through Bidibidi when we visited her workshop in Baao. BD would often joke that her art style is Buhi-mian (a play on the word “bohemian”) because Buhi is one of the sources for up-cycled materials used for her handicraft. Before this, Buhi was under the radar for me when we talk about Bicol. My inquisitive self was glad to get invited recently by Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) to Buhi. It was one of TPB’s recipient areas for their project to boost the livelihood of local communities by lending some resources and training them in marketing their products. While holding their Sustainable Community-Based Tourism (SCBT) workshop, the media team was also able to learn and discover more about Buhi and its surroundings.
Buhi may not be as popular as other municipalities in Camarines Sur but it is classified as a 1st class municipality. Buhi is part of the Rinconada District which includes Baao, Balatan, Bato, Bula, Iriga, and Nabua which share the same native spoken language Rinconada Bikol. The Rinconada language is fascinating in itself and is part of the Austronesian language family. They were introduced to the Negritos who lives in the nearby mountains by the Austronesian migrants after the great exodus from Mt Mayon’s eruption and calamity.
The general exodus is what they call in the vernacular “Naka-buhi” which is one of the explanations for the municipality’s current name. Rinconada Bikol is still spoken widely in Camarines Sur even to this day.
Church of Buhi
The SCBT workshop was held at a café near the Church of Buhi. Its bell tower and brick walls were already eye-catching from afar. So it wasn’t long before we got a close inspection of this church.
The Church of Buhi is formally called St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church. St Francis is one of the patron saints of the church. The other is St Anthony of Padua. It was in 1605 when Franciscan, Fr Antonio Mendez, began the massive Christianization of the settlers from the mountains on what we now call Buhi.
By 1680, under Fr. Simon de Salamanca, the first Church of Buhi was built, dedicated to the two patron saints. However, it was built with light and impermanent materials which were eventually razed by a fire.
In 1735, a bigger and better church was constructed with the blessings of Fr. Jose de la Cerda. It used sturdier materials but got eventually knocked off and destroyed by several quakes. The material from the ruins was eventually used to build other structures in town.
The present church was built by Rev. Angel Malumbre from 1870 to 1884.
As I flew my drone to capture the historic edifice of Buhi Church, I saw the undulating landscape of hills and valleys and the surrounding mountains, Mt Asog and Mt Malinao where Lake Buhi is settled in the middle. It used to be part of a stream and river until the portion of Mt Asog’s slope collapsed from a 1641 earthquake creating a natural damn to form this lake. On a good clear day, Mt Mayon’s cone peak can also be seen. The old town sits on the southwest side of the lake. Lake Buhi has an area of 18 square kilometers and reaches up to 8 meters deep.
We were able to get close to the lake one morning. Walking from Bulalacao park to the pier and the market. The walk itself was interesting as we saw some old houses, the Rizal park where the original Buhi church was located, the fire station, and Municipal Hall.
It was quiet when we arrived at the pier with only a couple of boats in the area. After a few moments of a quick yoga session by the breakwater, there was a hive of activity at the pier. One boat after another came from the other side of the lake ferrying passengers from students to workers. Other boats in the lake were fishermen tending to their nets and fish farms. This is their version of a rush hour.
I took my time by the lake where there was a thick growth of reeds. I saw plenty of birds in the area, from ducks, egrets even some eagles flying by. I saw a lesser coucal and reed warblers too. It was just challenging to photograph birds when shooting against the light. If I had more time I’m sure there would be more birds living in the dense forest areas near the lake.
Lake Buhi is one of the main sources of livelihood of the municipality. It is evident by the bustling market near the ferry pier. There’s a variety of freshwater fishes found at lake buhi like tilapia, hito, puyo, and dalag to mention a few. But the most popular is the Sinarapan, which was listed by “The Guinness Book of Records” as the smallest commercially-harvested food fish”.
We were able to find vendors selling fresh sinarapan. It was amazingly small on the the tip of my index finger! They are sold in clumps. Can be boiled, baked, or even clumped in squares and dried under the sun.
Aside from fishing, one of the industries Buhi is known for is its Handloom weaving and its hinabol (pronounced as ee-na-buh with silent “l”) fabrics. Handloom weaving is an age-old skill and practice widely even during the 60s in Camarines Sur. It was their way to produce clothes from abaca like the traditional “baro’t saya”, kamisa, and kumot (blanket).
When commercially available clothes and malls came into the province, some of the handloom weavers stopped and dwindled in numbers but Buhi weavers remained committed to their craft. The weavers of Buhi exclaimed that weaving is already part of their life. It is partially a backyard industry. Eventually, their craft evolved and their hinabol were utilized for other wearable items like shoes, blouses, and jackets and accessories like bags.
BOKPA (Buhi One-town, One-Product Key Players Association) brings together local weavers and helps them in terms of managing, marketing, and distributing their products. TPB was also there to lend support and brought their “Marketing Enhancement” SCBT workshop to help the local weavers cope with the times of marketing their products in the digital age.
Buhi isn’t as bemusing now as once was. It has a fascinating history and language, a rich weaving community, is scenic, and nature is still in a good state, and is home to the world’s smallest commercially-harvested fish.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.