We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers, a short story by Alejandro R. Roces, blends well humor and seriousness like a good lambanog in a bamboo tube. In the story, the Filipino writer described lambanog as “a drink extract from the coconut tree with pulverized mangrove bark thrown in to prevent spontaneous combustion. It has many uses. We use it as a remedy for snakebites, as counteractive for malaria chills, as an insecticide and for tanning carabao hide.”
You can just imagine how strong it is. The strength of lambanog is tested on an American soldier in the story and he passes out after the third drink, which is amusing because, before succumbing to the hospitality of the Filipino host who is a farmer, he boasts how he drinks anything and everything, from whiskey to shaving lotion. But the farmer, used to the drink, does not falter nor even blink at the fierce taste of it. He even sends the American soldier back to barracks on top of his carabao (water buffalo).
I like this story very much for how close it is to home. My late grandfather is a cacao farmer. I drank tuba (coconut wine) at his encouragement. But I was warned that the lambanog is five times stronger. I have not tasted it; my physical constitution may not be able to take it. When I mentioned it to my father and my husband, they did not even make the effort to hide their repugnance at the drink, the menacing taste of it etched sharply in their memories. You may want to try it for yourself. But the commercial lambanog may or may not be as strong as the ones naturally made in our mountain farms.
Other elements found in We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers made me love the short story thoroughly: the reasons Filipinos drink (the same reasons exist today, I think, and the same reasons for the descriptive “mild”), the carabao who does half of the farm work, the cultural meaning of palm trees, and the close relationship between man and nature. Given my background, I can dive into a long and detailed cultural comparison between the Filipinos and the Americans during the American colonial period in the Philippines through this short story, but I won’t, simply because I want to enjoy it in its entirety.
Roces (1924-2011) is a short story writer and essayist and is considered as the Philippine’s best writer of comic short stories. He is National Artist for Literature in 2003.
Budiarsana, T. (2018, March 18). Coconut Trees Under Blue Sky During Daytime [Digital image]. Retrieved January 1, 2019, from https://images.pexels.com/photos/952846/pexels-photo-952846.jpeg?auto=compress&cs=tinysrgb&dpr=2&h=650&w=940
(This is an entry for the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge by Jay of Bibliophilopolis.)