Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guava - the Tree of Happy Childhood

The tree bears fruits and children. Look at all the children climbing, swinging on its branches, some armed with bamboo poles, others with stones, still others with slingshots aiming at one thing: the ripe fruits on the tree. The tree indeed builds sweet childhood memories.

If there is a ninth or tenth wonder of the world, it is the guava tree. For me it is the first wonder - the wonder of childhood.

Have you seen a tree bearing “fruits” bigger – and heavier - than its whole structure?

Native guava tree revisited,  Note the empty swing at the background.

And here is one for the Book of Guinness. Have you heard the guava tree talk, laugh and shout, sing beautifully or grunt, make echolocation signals? Parents remind their children not to miss their siesta or classes. Then doldrums reigns but briefly. But soon the children are back to their favorite tree.

Take the backseat London Bridge, Golden Gate or Eiffel Tower. The guava tree can bend and touch the ground, and become upright again – not once, not twice but many times in its lifetime - and in a child's lifetime. And every branch equally obliges to the 180-degree weight and pull of children. No wonder the best spinning top and the best frame for slingshot are made from guava wood, and is perfect "Y", too.  

It is a living Christmas tree, sort of. Birds come frequently. The perperoka and panal - migratory birds from the North, come with the Amihan and eat on the berries, while combing the place for worms, and gleaning on anything left by harvesters. The pandangera bird (fan-tailed) dances on the branches, while the house sparrow perches, picking morsels and small crawlers. And if you wake up very early, meet the butterflies and bees gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers. Take a deep breathe of the morning air spiced with the fragrance of both flowers and ripe fruits.

And the tree has eyes. True. Round and luminescent in the dark, mingle with the fireflies and the stars – and a waning moon. It is romantic, scary and sacred. Fruit bats come at night and pick the ripe fruits. Rodents and wild pigs scavenged at night. Moths and skippers, relatives of the butterfly, are nocturnal in their search for food and mate. Old folks would warn us kids never to go near the tree at night. I had the experience to see in the middle of a field guava trees lighted with fireflies. This scene was in Sablayan in Mindoro island. What a sight - Christmas in another time and in another place. What a magnificent sight!

Would a child go hungry where guava trees abound? I don’t think so. Because the fruits are packed with calories, vitamins and minerals. The fruits are made into jelly, pickled and cooked as vegetable. It is perfect for sinigang. Have you heard of guava wine? It is the most aromatic of all table wines made from tropical fruits, and it displays a rare pinkish glow. Nutritionists say guava is rich in Vitamin C, richer than most fruits, local and imported. I came to learn later of the cancer-preventing substance derived from Psidium guajava, its scientific name, and its miraculous healing attributes.

Name the ailments commonly encountered, and the guava offers a dozen home remedies. Chew the tops and make a poultice to relieve toothache. The village dentist tells you to first make a poultice the size of a marble, and then after he has extracted your tooth, he tells you to seal the wound with it to prevent bleeding and infection. Pronto you can go back to your usual chore.

Guava stem is the first toothbrush, try it. Soften the smaller end and you can also use it as toothpick. This is practical when traveling in a remote area. Chew a leaf or two for astringent and tooth paste. Crushed leaves serve as aromatherapy, a new term today, then called suob (Ilk). And for an unconscious person, burn some dried leaves; fan the smoke toward the patient while pressing his large toe with your thumb nail. The patient senses both pain and smoke and soon takes a deep breath - another, and another, until he gets enough oxygen and he wakes up.

Decoction of guava leaves for bath is practical in eliminating body odor. Guava soap is effective against skin disorders like pimples and eczema.

When I was a kid my mother would gather succulent green guava fruits as remedy for LBM (Loose Bowel Movement). Tannin regulates the digestive enzymes and stabilizes the digestive flora. She would also make guava leaf tea as a follow-up treatment.

Nature has a way of preserving the guava species through seed dormancy. Dormancy is a temporary postponement of seeds to germinate, an important survival mechanism of the species. Guava seeds are not destroyed by the digestive system of cold or warm blooded animals because of the thick and hard pericarp. This biological process enhances not only germination but dissemination in a new territory.

You can’t crack guava seeds. If you do, especially with a decayed tooth you’ll end up going to your dentist. Oh, how I would wince and hold on anything. Either the old tooth is forced out of its place or the seed has lodged in a cavity.

Old folks also believe that guava seeds can cause appendicitis. Well, its seed is too large to enter this rudimentary organ. I believe though that it is its abrasive nature that makes way for bacteria to enter and cause infection. And subsequently inflammation. Well, if this is true, then it’s a risk one takes in eating guava. You really can’t remove all the seeds, and if you succeed you take away the fun and quaintness of eating guava.

We have introduced foreign varieties of guava which really don’t grow into a tree. The fruits are very much bigger, but far from being as sweet as those of our native variety. In a few years the guapple, as it is called, becomes senile then dies, while the native guava lasts for a generation or two, perhaps longer, and reaches several feet high.

Today when I see children climbing guava trees it reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of its many friends – birds, ground fowls like ducks, chicken, bato-bato (wild pigeons), goats and self-supporting native pigs. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and Drosophila flies attracted by the ripening fruits, and frogs and toads patiently waiting for these flies to be their prey. Finches and sparrows, the quick and dainty swallow (swift), the pandangera or fantail bird, panal and perperroka – I miss them all.

Yes, the fruit bats, they are the source of children stories, among them is about clumsy bats dropping their load of ripe fruits accidentally falling on rooftops. In the dead of the night what would you imagine? “It’s the manananggal! (half-bodied vampire).” Our folks at home would even make their voice tremble. And we would cling to each other in bed we kids in our time. Our elders would take advantage of the situation and whisper, “If you don’t sleep, it will come back.”

In the morning who would care about the mannanaggal? Or seeds causing appendicitis? Or the danger of falling from the tree. Or chased by wild boar? Or challenged by Billy goat or brooding hen? As usual we would climb for the ripe berries and have our fill. Then we would hurry down and run to relieve ourselves, too loaded we simply take comfort in some thickets. In time guava trees would be growing in these places.

Years after, I will see children climbing these trees and having their fill of the fruits, joyous in this adventure of childhood, making the guava tree the tree of happy childhood and the greatest wonder of the world. ~ Pao


Activity: Relate the story with a guava tree growing in your place, or in any accessible area.
Interview the people in the area. Watch the children play, climb, pick the ripe fruits. Make a
photo essay or a PowerPoint presentation. This is an on-site and hands-on assignment.~

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