Editor's Pick

The Price of Salt

Once famed as the Unbroken Salt of Albur, Bohol’s Asin Tibuok stands today on the brink of extinction. Amidst fire, water, and ash, the last of its makers fight to keep their traditions alive.

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The town of Alburquerque is about 17 kilometers away from Tagbilaran City, Bohol’s provincial capital and jump-off point to anywhere on the island. The town is surrounded by several river basins that flow into the Bohol Sea, with a land area of about 2,865 hectares that’s primarily used for agricultural purposes. 
 
In craft communities like Albur, families were typically identified by their brand of craft and tradition—whether it was weaving baskets or looms, making brooms from buri, cooking a sweet native delicacy (kalamay), baking clay pots, or brining sea salt into rock eggs. 
For most of the 20th century until the late 1980s, the 40-kilometer stretch across Bohol’s coastal towns in the west and east saw an abundance of family-owned asinans and cottage industries. By 2000, only three of 15 barangays were still producing Asin Tibuok. Today, salt beds and farms can still be found around these coastal towns once renowned for the distinct type of salt they produced—most, if not all, are abandoned. Ask around and someone will probably know about a former neighbor or distant cousin that once had a salt bed (paril) in their home, but unsure if they continue to produce. It’s been a while since anyone actually had seen these salt eggs, they usually say. Most of the young Boholanos, or even the Alburanons, have never seen or tasted one. 

At 70 years old, Nestor Manongas still works the last asinan in Albur. Alburanons were once known for making a special, traditional type of salt called Asin Tibuok.

Nobody’s really certain as to when the process of making Asin Tibuok was introduced in Bohol or how it actually began. Some ethnographic research in recent decades indicate that the earliest written account on what seems to be a similar process of salt-making to that of the Asin Tibuok was written by the 17th-century Spanish missionary Father Francisco Ignacio Alcima. In his chronicles, he describes a method for producing “Sal de Bisayas” that is unique to the Visayan region, and unlike the others in the archipelago. This method involved soaking chopped driftwood in seawater, to be dried and slowly burned into ashes, which would then be collected and filtered into a brine, then finally boiled in earthenware vessels until producing hardened pieces of salt. This method pretty much sums up the way Alburanons have been making their salt, with the exception of using coconut husks instead of driftwood.    

~ An excerpt from “The Price of Salt” as published in Volume 8.

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