Carabao, the water buffalo, not Erap’s English

Farmer and his carabao ploughing the farm

In October 2007, Sam took the photo below somewhere in Bulacan through the open window of our moving car.

Just about everywhere we go, when I see a carabao in the rice field, I take photos. But none has ever come near the imagery of Sam’s photo which captures the essence of the Filipino farmer’s life.

Last Thursday, somewhere in Laguna, when I saw a carabao chewing grass very near the road, I asked Speedy to stop the pick-up. And I got out and took photos.

Carabao (water buffalo)

Judging by the length of its horns, this is a much younger carabao than the one in Sam’s photo above, which should explain why it was lounging near the road instead of pulling a plow.

Carabao (water buffalo)

It didn’t look too happy that I disturbed its meal.

Carabao (water buffalo)

I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to get to know him a bit.

Carabao (water buffalo)

That’s a lucky shot, above, with the white butterfly fluttering by.

Carabao (water buffalo)

Sassy, ain’t he?

Carabao (water buffalo)

Those bits of grass on its lips tell you exactly what it was doing when I came near.

What’s the big deal about the carabao? It evokes conflicting emotions in me. The old-fashioned method of farming is such a reminder of our Third World status. Yet, it is also a symbol of our connection with the soil.

The carabao figured prominently in the failure of the Japanese to colonize the Philippines peacefully during World War II.

The Japanese… slaughtered carabaos for meat, leaving the farmer without the animal labor needed to cultivate the fields at the same time that they were taking approximately one-third of the fertile land out of cultivation through destruction. (Source)

The carabao also characterizes the dwindling ethics in today’s local business practices. Where there used to be a distinction between the more tender cow meat (beef) and the tougher carabeef, we find markets where vendors will sell the cheaper carabeef for the price of the more expensive cow meat.

For non-Filipinos who are wondering about the “Erap’s English” portion of the title — former President Joseph Estrada, convicted of plunder and granted pardon, a former actor popularly known by his nickname Erap, is also famous for his stilted English which has come to be known as carabao English. I just wish we’d stop referring to Erap’s English as carabao English as the carabao has not done anything to deserve such an insulting association.

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  • Judy Spear

    Those are really cool pictures. It reminds me of my visit to Iloilo a few years ago when my cousin took my photo standing next to a carabao. He was a little intimidating because of his size. He made me feel like he didn’t want me next to him.

    • Connie Veneracion

      They’re not violent, according to what I’ve read, unlike bulls. I didn’t get that close to him nevertheless. Just in case all I’ve read is wrong. :)

      • d0d0ng

        They are harmless. And if they don’t like you, they will just snort and probably get wet with mucus if close enough….hehe.

  • witsandnuts

    I also wish people would stop associating the carabao with anything inferior.

    I had some snapshots of the rice fields last week. Unfortunately, I seem to always come when the carabaos are nowhere. Last year, I was able to take a photo of a cow in Pagsanjan though.

  • Connie Veneracion

    “I seem to always come when the carabaos are nowhere.”

    Ayayay, and they’re everywhere when you don’t have a cam. I know the feeling.

  • francesca in france

    i feel, the carabaos are more intelligent than some humans not to mention the phil politicians, haha.
    The carabao english word is true, it has nothing to do with them.

    The last picture is cute, even the french man was delighted to see it.We have acarabao photo with hubby and he cherish it, so he was even jealous of your photos!

  • Connie Veneracion

    You mean your hubby riding a carabao? I’d love to try that too! :)

  • emyM

    The last 2 pics made me smile.I think it knew that you’re taking pics–
    nag-pose pa—ang yabang.
    I love Sam’s pic! It reminds me of my own heritage.She captured Pinoys
    value of the earth,his deligence and hope.It seems like there’s some
    fog in the background or am I seeing things?
    I agee with you.”Carabao English” term has got to stop.
    Beautiful post!

  • http:/ Cherleen

    Miss Connie, sorry to say but I think Sam really takes better pictures than you. Even without the formal training yet, she knows the right angles and how to frame the subject properly. :)

    As for carabaos, we don’t have them in our neighborhood but one can see cows and goats grazing in the open lands, which used to be rice fields.

  • Connie Veneracion

    This photo was taken after it rained. So it is some kind of mist.

  • d0d0ng

    The young “kabaw” in the last 2 shots is a real beauty. At least the farmer did not tied the ropes on the nose but around the horns.

    Sam’s picture is very nostalgic. I grew up in the farm so I know the feeling. Nakaka-homesick. Somehow I can feel the summer breeze and the smell of the mud (oh they like to wallow in the mud) and the grass.

  • Connie Veneracion

    She makes me proud. :)

  • Beatrize

    Love the photos, Ms. Connie! Especially that of Sam’s. My paternal grandfather was also a farmer from Bulacan. My Dad didn’t want to be a farmer so he studied real hard and became a lawyer. When we were kids my Dad brought home a painting similar to Sam’s photo, I guess my Dad didn’t want to forget his roots. He also had so many stories of him farming and his relationship with their carabao (riding its back, taking it to the river for a bath & of course, plowing the field). My Dad was born during the 1930′s and saddest to say, most of our farmers are still using the very same methods that my lolo used to raise his family!

  • d0d0ng

    And I almost forgot, the warm fresh milk every morning from carabao. It was thicker and tastier.

  • Starshadow Rivaulx

    I remember the stories my dad tells about his time on the family farm in the pre-war era. Of how he was up before sunrise with the carabao, tilling the fields till about noon — at which point, the carabao made a determined beeline for the nearby mud wallow for his lunch, and a good long soak in the mud while the sun was at its hottest in the sky.

    An eminently sensible course of action on the animal’s part, you must agree: lunch, and sunblock and rest out of the sun. *grin* Dad says that, like in the old Calvin Klein ad, no one gets between the carabao and its time off in the mud. So the farmers took the time to nap and repair their tools.

    Then once the sun started to lower, up would come the carabao out of the mud, ready to work the afternoon shift — at which point the carabao would make definite signs of going home for dinner. Basically, the rhythm of planting followed the carabao, not the other way around, by the sound of it. :)

  • Jeng

    “Sassy, ain’t he?” He? Are you sure? From what I heard, both male and female have horns.

    And is it true that there is no resolution declaring the kalabaw as a national symbol? If so, this can be a good cause for some old fashion petition. Any takers?

  • Connie Veneracion

    Smart animal. More reason not to associate it with anything inferior or stupid.

  • Connie Veneracion

    It’s didn’t have nipples so it must be a he.

    Right, there is no law declaring the carabao as the national animal.

  • d0d0ng

    The inferiority lies in the comparison of carabao meat to the tender beef by people who can think nothing else but food. And that is wrong.

    Carabao is work animal.

  • d0d0ng

    Carabao is an “excellent” work animal.

    That is the trait I associate us “Filipinos” with the carabao being hardworking. That is why we are so marketable overseas.

  • zara

    comment din ako. hehehee!

    i agree too ms. connie! i don’t really like it when people coin negative attributes to animals or plants. kung pwede lang siguro silang mgsalita for sure ngreklamo na sila.

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  • zara

    back then, when i was a kid, i would always ride a cart being pulled by carabaos. we call it “karumata.” but now, the karumata’s are replaced by motorcycles. so sad. i really enjoyed riding it.

    these picures ms. connie reminded me so much of my childhood. that’s why i really love your site coz your topics are so good and it caters to everybody.

  • Mark

    I don’t feel as if I have arrived in The Philippines until I have seen a carabao . Why this is so , I have no idea. Maybe its because I like its hard working nature , its solidity and reliability . Traits that no politician can claim to have , lol . As for it being a symbol of third world status , well I’m not so sure . In today’s modern world where we are looking for eco solutions what can be more eco friendly than a carabao? No noise pollution , no consumption of non renewable fuels , no use of resources to produce the unit . And it naturally fertilizes as it goes ! Another eco plus …not using chemicals produced in pollution causing factories . I even have a little carabao figurine , painted with The Philippine flag , sitting on my side table .

  • mang kulas

    carabao,….a symbolic and signifies my life today…where my parents have resource all the earnings to support us for food , basic needs and education….. not failing our parents dream..we;re standing here as proffessionals….one time ive thank my father for all of these….he replied…yes my son, but be more thankful to ‘carlo’ (our carabaoa;s name).,he has done more hardship than me. he said….when carlo(carabao) retired from the farm because of his age, my father didnt sell it nor slaughterd…he just let carlo grow old enjoying his retirement till it dies…buried in descent way like father shed tears, being his farm partner for almost 3 decades….i would say now that carabaos are untold heroes much more likely human…..