Growing Up in Mindanao: Childhood Memories

childhood in mindanao

Quite recently, I’ve been having flashes of my childhood memories growing up in Mindanao. My childhood memories are so rich with images of the country side, long bus rides through mountain tops and coastal roads. When I started college, the bus rides turned into overnight boat rides and the boat rides turned into the more frequent flights. But I always found the bus rides and boat rides more memorable. The longer stretch of time spent sitting and looking out into the landscape afforded for more daydreaming and introspection.  This may have caused such memories to be steeped into my subconscious.

A couple of days ago, my mom sent us a photo of a letter my father had written to her while she was away in England for further studies. We were living inside a university campus then in Bukidnon. Our parents were young university instructors. I don’t remember for how long my mom was away but my earliest memories were from that time in my life. It might only have been less than a year.  I was only three and time to a child feels like eternity.

We lived in a forested, mountainous territory. My memories are flashes of bicycle rides, deers and snakes, hikes through the forest and afternoons playing with our neighbours. I would scramble in the kitchen to find tomatoes to feed the deers roaming in front of our house. My playmates and I would forage cacao fruit, collect rubber tree seeds and rub them together to create heat. We would look for tiny bugs we called “baboy-baboy” and make them race each other. On one such occasion when I was looking for bugs under our house, I found my puppy stiff dead. “A snake may have bitten him.” My yaya told me, I wailed and screamed in anger. Why would she put my puppy outside if she knew snakes abound the area?

My father held a funeral for my puppy. I think he even had his friends attend. It was held in the forested area behind our house. When they laid him to the ground, I saw a snake. At the time I was sure it was a cobra. I thought “the snake that killed him had attended his funeral.” I was livid. Those were my earliest memories of rage, anger, and grief.


Snakes came to visit our homes every so often. One time, while I was playing hide and seek with my yaya, I looked underneath our sofa. I knew she wouldn’t fit in there but even as a child I wasn’t quite so logical. So I peeked underneath out of curiosity and saw a snake. I informed my mother of this and they quickly ran to tell our neighbour. My dad was still at work. When our neighbour arrived they couldn’t find the snake. But I had an eerie feeling that it had moved underneath the doorway rug. Our neighbour left and when my dad came home I told him my theory. He checked the underneath the rug and there it was, the snake.

Because there were a lot of venomous snakes in the area, the adults couldn’t take chances and that snake met its end. My father had a long leather “baston” used for such purpose. That same afternoon, we took a family photo. Someone had sneakily placed the dead snake in my back pocket as a joke. That was the first and last time I got spooked by snakes.

That was also when my mom started to notice I had an uncanny skill for finding lost things. Growing up, I’d often be asked to look for missing objects around the house, and I would find them almost always. I’d like to chalk the start of my “finder” skills to when I looked for my yaya underneath the sofa. Looking for things in places one least expects, whether logical or not. These days I would say things like “if I were a key, where would I be?” some days I don’t try too hard. Certain things always appear when you least need them.


Those memories felt like stretches of long afternoons. As a child, everyone was away- to work or school. I was mostly left to my own devices but instead of waiting, I would end up getting into all sorts of adventures and trouble. Even without the gadgets, the world I lived in was rarely boring. I hope to write more about those afternoons of long ago.


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