On an Island Born of Fire, The Sweetest Fruits in The Philippines
Choose Philippines | Nov 11, 2019
Story and photos by Rod Bolivar
The Mindanao archipelago was believed to be abundant with tropical fruits, even before the first Spanish conquistadors landed in the neighboring islands. One particular kind was popular to the early settlers of Camiguin and was also believed to be magical. The fruit was characterized by its round shape, brownish and leathery skin, and translucent meat inside. When the fruit was ripe and harvested at the right season, it had a very distinct sweet taste. Stories about this magical, unnamed fruit easily spread among the families living on the island of Camiguin. Little did they know that the fruit wasn’t magical at all. Alas, it was even poisonous.
As the days went by, more people became sick and there was no available medicine to cure them. Eventually, they had no choice but to pray, day and night, to the island’s diwata (female deity) for a cure. The diwata granted their prayers. To the people’s surprise, the diwata asked them to eat the same fruit. Some of the townspeople were hesitant, but most followed the command of the diwata. As if a gift from the diwata, the fruit lost its poison and people started eating it again. They eventually named the fruit buahan, derived from the word bulahan which means a blessing or to be blessed. To this day, the people of Camiguin still call the fruit as buahan.
Camiguin is monikered as the “island born of fire,” because it was said to rise from the ocean through ancient volcanic eruptions. This primitive origin has produced numerous attractions in the province, such as cold and hot springs, cascading waterfalls, white-sand beaches, towering volcanic mountains, and even church ruins and the submerged cemetery caused by the 1871 Mount Vulcan eruption.
Camiguin is also said to have more volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island on Earth, boasting of seven volcanoes within its five municipalities. Because of this, the soil yields the sweetest varieties of agricultural produce. “I’ve tried the lanzones from different parts of the country, but nothing beats the sweetness of Camiguin lanzones,” adds resident Lourdes Tambulian.
This has been proven several times. Grafted Camiguin lanzones seedlings that were grown elsewhere did not bear fruits as sweet as the ones cultivated on the island. “Lanzones in Camiguin is considered as the sweetest in the country because the volcanic soil present in the island is rich in Potassium and Phosphorus,” explains provincial agriculturist Engr. Maharlika Cagadas. Such an effect is not only limited to Lanzones, as even other agricultural products of the island like bananas and coconuts possess this unique kind of sweetness, Engr. Maharlika adds.
The climatic condition of Camiguin is also attributed to the bountiful yield of lanzones during the harvest season in late September until the entire month of October. “The production of lanzones is always affected by the climatic condition since the culture for a favorable production and harvest needs to undergo stress,” says Engr. Maharlika, “Meaning, a dry spell during April to May and heavy rains during the late part of May will trigger the flowering of the fruit trees, just in time for the harvest in October.”
For almost three decades, Arsenio Dotdot has been the caretaker of more than 600 lanzones trees in Camiguin. It takes 16 years for a fully-grown tree to bear fruit, producing up to 20,000 kilos of lanzones fruits during a good season. “When there is plenty of lanzones, a kilo of it can be sold for as low as P10. We can demand a higher price when the supply is scarce,” reveals Arsenio.
Today, there are a total of 1,281 hectares of lanzones farms in Camiguin, contributing one-third of the province’s economy. There are three varieties of lanzones found in Camiguin, namely: duku, paete, and longkong. Duku and paete are considered as the native-types, while longkong is an imported variety that was introduced on the island during the early 2000s.
[related: Perfect for Summer: Pampanga's Melon Plantation]
Since 1979, Camiguin celebrates the Lanzones Festival as a thanksgiving to the bountiful harvest of the sweetest lanzones. The once-poisonous fruit that was conjured by the diwatas to become edible may be nothing but a folkloric tale, but the lanzones will remain as buahan to the people of Camiguin, as it continues to be a blessing to the people as it was to the first settlers.