Balay Daku: Big House of Hope

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Just a few weeks ago, Bago City in Negros Occidental celebrated its 50th anniversary. With that, my family, the Javellanas decided to open the doors of our newly restored ancestral house, Balay Daku (“big house”), to the public for a couple of days. More than 5,000 people visited the house where my great grandfather Don Glicerio Sison Javellana and great grandmother Doña Trinidad Palacios Villanueva lived and raised their 13 children. The people were treated to a house tour with my cousins telling stories about our heritage. This ancestral home wasn’t just a residence for my grandparents but also for their staff that they’d treated like family. Back when I was a kid spending my summer at Negros, I’ve never appreciated the house’s relevance to its inhabitants. But as I got older, I realized that it’s no longer just an ancestral home but a place that kept my family united in all aspects.

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When we were kids, my sister and I would always spend summer vacation in Negros. We would attend parties, lunches, and dinners at Balay Daku. Those in charge of the kitchen didn’t skimp on food. It would always be like a mini-feast, which I truly enjoyed. Aside from the lechon baboy and turkey, they would also serve chicken galantina, adobo Ilonggo, and pork estofado, but the desserts were the best, brazos, homemade polvoron, halayang ube, and leche flan.

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I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet all my lolos and lolas, but the ones I remembered are the four lolas who lived there at Balay Daku when I was a kid. They were my Lola Budoy, Lola Marin, Lola Ining, and Lola Goring. These lolas were sweet, always a delight for me to interact with. I was the kid who did not frequent Negros since I lived in Luzon, so whenever my sister and I would visit, they would ask us so many questions, from our studies down to the things that we would love doing and why couldn’t we visit more often, which I would always find really endearing. They loved to cook, they were animal lovers, and they were music and art aficionados.

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Balay Daku has quite a number of rooms. It has a total of 10 bedrooms, six bathrooms, two vast living rooms, and two dining areas. I haven’t entered all its bedrooms. Back in the day, I was too busy being a kid that I never bothered peeking inside any of my lola’s chambers. My favorite parts of the house were the second floor’s sala, the informal dining area, and the grand staircase. The second floor sala, where the grand piano was positioned, was where my cousins and I would interact. It’s well ventilated with the veranda very much open. I would sit specifically on this couch beside my Lola Budoy’s collection of dolls from all over the world. They’re enclosed in this huge glass cabinet so you can only look at them and can never play with them. She loved to travel, they all did.
I would also sit on a step of the grand staircase where I could see all the people coming in and out of the house. I was that cousin who loved to do people watching and welcome everyone who went up the second floor. The informal dining area was the spot where all my titas and titos would gather to eat. It was this dim lit room with a long table in the middle and many chairs surrounding it. Here, you would hear the loudest noises from my relatives who would be proving a point on a heated topic, but it was mostly earnest laughter that would resonate in the entire room; they were music to my ears.
My relatives in Negros are also very religious. They’re Aglipays. During Holy Week, we would be required to participate in processions that would entail you to walk for more than an hour around the city which, as a child, I never enjoyed. Eventually though, it was something I would look forward to because it would be one of those times that I would get to bond with my cousins. Balay Daku would also be the home of religious figure Santo Entierrio during the Holy Week, which was placed on a carriage that was pushed and pulled by a few people.

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My family in Balay Daku was obviously blessed with a comfortable life but what I’m most proud of being a Javellana is not the house, not the material things, not the haciendas that we own, but the virtues that were taught to me while I was growing up. What I’ve learned from my lolas is to be generous and to always help people in need in my own little way. My lolas and their parents were known for their philanthropic spirit. They have more than 300 scholars with whom they shared their homes and hope for a better future. They also taught me to be grateful, to not forget to be thankful for every good deed and blessing I’ve ever received. That amid all the luxury and success, I must remain grounded, not boastful, and treat every other person alike. My lolas were also very graceful (in a way I would like to think I was brought up the same). They practice proper manners at all times. These traits would be the best possible legacies my relatives and I ever received from our lolos and lolas from Balay Daku and, with hope, we’ll be able to pass them on to the next generation.

Published in March 2016, Panorama

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