Wade Davis on endangered cultures

Wade Davis, ethnobotanist, talks about the ethnosphere, language loss, and endangered cultures.

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Focus of the Day: Trisikad or Potpot

This is a picture of a trisikad, also known as potpot, from Ginatilan, Cebu. Trisikad is a combination of two words, tri and sikad. Tri refers to the number of wheels that this vehicle has and sikad means to kick in Cebuano. In Baybay, Leyte, they are called potpot which comes from the sound of the horn attached near the handlebar grip. When the circular black rubber of the horn is squeezed, the air goes through a short and winding metal, creating a sound that is akin to a snappy honk of a goose.

The driver pinches the horn’s rubber for many reasons. When there is a “huge” traffic jam of trisikad, the sound of a hundred potpot can be heard for miles that, at times, one can mistake them for a flock of geese. Traffic comes too in these narrow rural roads, especially during the feast of the saints. The flock of trisikad slowly navigating through the mud and potholes appear like a bunch of lumbering birds. Some white as ibis with flecks of brownish mud at the bottom, others black as crows. Many are flamingo pink and kingfisher blue while quite a few are cardinal red or flycatcher yellow.

The honk also serves as a warning to other vehicles (and jaywalkers) that a speeding trisikad is on the way. If the target of the honking takes offense, s/he honks back and the honking goes back and forth: the noisy war only stops when the honking enemy is out of earshot. A long syrupy honk is reserved for prospective passengers. Anyone standing by the wayside is a potential passenger. When the person waves an arm high up in the air or flick the pointer finger down to the ground, a honk of acknowledgment is elicited and the rider is tucked inside until the destination is reached.

This small three-wheel contraption can transport up to six passengers all at the same time. If the load is too heavy, the first to give way is not the driver’s calves but the wheels, or more specifically the rim that holds the rubber tire. From a perfect circle, the tire turns into a nice figure eight, almost like a flattened waist of a corseted ballerina. But this seldom happens, the passenger at the back usually jumps out of the cab and pushes for the driver to gather momentum. For his effort, the pusher-passenger rides free of charge.

In many parts of the Philippines, this pedal-powered vehicle is the main mode of transportation, sort of like a taxi that zooms from one point to the next. Aesthetically pleasing, earth-friendly, and healthy, a trisikad plying the streets is a joy to watch. Yet their days are numbered. Sedan-riding ultramodern politicians will phase them out in the name of “development.” Soon, really soon, gas-guzzler vehicles will rule our roads. And the streets will not be ours anymore.

****an ode to Bittersweet, our potpot, which helped me and my siblings get an education.