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Sustaining tradition and enterprise: Basi-making in Apayao, now a family enterprise

APAYAO, January 3, 2022 – The sacred art of winemaking of the Isneg indigenous cultural community in Apayao is a skill passed on from generation to generation, and through the Department of Agriculture (DA), the balance between tradition and enterprise has been met.

“Etuy nga pinagaramid iti wine ket namana mi pay kin agitay ninuno mi, iti pagikab-kabilan mi nga talaga ket jar… Agita a jar ket inpasa pasa iti ninuno mi metlang, daduma dita a jar ket ada iti gold na. Idi sinauna-nu ada gatherings, haan nga mabalin nga agceleberate kami nu mapukaw iti basi/ wine. Bilang  etuyen ket parte iti tradisyon mi. Itan ket, etuy a tradition mi ket am-amo iti kaadwan nga Say-am Festival dituy Apayao,” Reine C. Dullit of the Isneg Indigenous People (IP) community said.

(We inherited this winemaking from our ancestors; we put our finished product in an earthen jar. These jars are also rooted in our ancestors; some of those are made of gold. In ancient times, whenever there were gatherings, it was not possible to celebrate without basi/wine. This has been part of our tradition. Nowadays, our tradition is popular as the Say-amas Say-am Festival here in Apayao.)

Dan M. Sagli, Municipal Agricultural Technician, said wine in the highland town is called basi, derived from sugarcane and fermented using a local herb samak, serving as a yeast agent.

Mr. Sagli added that wine plays a vital role in traditional rituals, giving meaning to their unity, such as using basi to wash the hands of two people who have had a peace agreement, binding them to the pact.

Isneg rites are often for elaborate occasions with everyone in the community preparing and looking forward to the gatherings for marriage, illness, death, harvest, farewells, political negotiations, or honoring family members for achievements.

The Say-am Festival, celebrating Apayao’s founding day, is also the grandest celebration in thanksgiving among the Isneg community.

From tradition to a family business

Mr. Dullit said the process of winemaking involves harvesting sugarcane which includes washing and cleaning of the stalk to remove excessive dirt. The dapil or pressing to extract the juice is then done followed by the panag-alna which involves cooking and boiling of extracted juice and adding the samak. Incubation of the wine is then undertaken for a month, allowing it to ferment. The wine will be ready after 12 months.

It was in 2000 that Mr. Dullit decided to market their homemade basi as an enterprise but was faced with difficulties in the tedious production process.

“Idi nu tay ag processing kami, pasaray nu haan nga bayanihan, man-mano kam lang ag labor. Nu bassit kami ag labor, bassit met iti maproduce mi a wine, kayat na saw-en basit met iti kita mi (Back then when we were making wine, we just speed up the process if there is a bayanihan. When the number of laborers is small, then we can only produce a few wines, which also means that the income is low),” Mr. Dullit said.

Project Implementation 

In 2017, 39 Isneg sugarcane farmers agreed to form the Kabugawan Farmers Association and registered at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as a cooperative of rural workers. It was in the same year that the group was chosen as the beneficiary of the DA – Special Area for Agricultural Development (DA-SAAD) Program.

Through the SAAD program, the group received one unit of sugarcane presser worth Php 350,000 in 2018 under the Wine Production Project.

With the sugarcane presser, the group was able to produce 4,830 liters (l) of wine in three years (2019-2021) with a net income of Php 93,900 as they worked on a 2.5-hectare sugarcane land at Barangays Kabugawan and Poblacion (Table 1).

Table 1. Kabugawan Farmers’ Association Production Income

Association president Elpidio Ubbec, association president said, “Gapo kadetuy nga naited iti SAAD program, imalisto iti pinag dapil mi kumpara iti traditional nga pinagarami. Gapo ta imalisto, limag-an meten iti pinagubra mi kinad-adon iti maaramid mi a wine. Nu idi ket urayen mi iti duwa a aldaw sakbay mapuno tay jar, iten ket halos 30 minutes lang ket kaya mi punwenen tay maysa lang nga jar.  Nanayunan pay iti pagalan mi income.”

(Because of the intervention provided by the program, our wine processing became faster compared to the traditional way. Because of this machinery, the load became lighter and our product has increased. Previously, we had to wait for two days before the jar was full, but now we can fill one jar in just 30 minutes. Also, as a result, we were able to accumulate additional income.)

Problems Encountered

According to Mr. Ubbec, one of the group’s problems was the decline of their sales during the height of COVID-19. He expressed that due to gatherings restriction, their potential clients significantly decreased.

Despite the decline of potential clients, the group managed to practice bayanihan.

Mr. Ubbec also shared that since the whole community was affected by the crisis due to the pandemic, they decided to focus on the brighter side. The group then distributed 990 l of basi to their community.

“Practice min iti agpadawat iti basi dituy community mi. Idi kapigsa krisis gapo pandemic, nagipadawat kamin bilang simpatya iti kapwa Isneg, (Bayanihan has been a practice to us. Due to COVID-19, many of us experienced a crisis, as a form of sympathy, we distributed basi to our community,),” expressed Mr. Ubbec.

Ways forward 

As part of their plan, Mr. Ubbec said that they are looking forward to packaging their products and product packaging to engage a wider market. He attested that they need more assistance in terms of product packaging because, for him, packaging serves as protection of their product during shipment and to prevent damage while the product sits on the shelf.

The Municipality of Calanasan is looking forward to supporting the group in terms of marketing needs, according to Municipal Agriculturist Luisa Magna.

The Isneg community is only one of the tribes in the country, each of which has its own distinct culture, language, history, and unique way of life but share common values in which they are inseparable from the natural world.

Mr. Ubbec believes that to see the future, one must look at the past – emphasizing basi as a sacred drink and a medium to reach the blessing of the “Allawagan” or “Skyworld.”

“Etuy nga wine production mi ket sapayla kuma ta dumanon iti kaadwan, haan lang nga tay aglako iti kayat mi nu di kitdi ikkan importansya iti legacy mi nga grupo. Agyaman kami iti SAAD program (We hope that this wine production will reach more people, we don’t just think about income but most importantly – our legacy as a group. Big thanks to the SAAD Program), shared Mr. Ubbet. ###


Writer: Kathleen Faye B. Agonoy, Information Officer I, Province of Apayao



Dan Sagli, Municipal Agricultural Technician

Reine C. Dullit, IP member/Elder of the tribe

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Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program Online ISSN: 2718-9791
Published by the SAAD National Program Management Office Editorial Board

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