CULIAT: San Fernando’s Northernmost Barrio
It was named after a vine… or was it a tree?
By Joel Pabustan Mallari and Arnel D. Garcia
Mariano Henson wrote that the origin of Angeles’ former name is the plant Culiát, Gnetum indicum Lour. Merr. a woody vine that abound in the place then. Today, this vine is said to be an endangered specie. The few surviving kuliat can be found in Palawan and in the botanical garden of U.P. Los Baños in Laguna. Recent botanical researches done by the Kapampangan Archaeological Volunteers (KAMARU) of Holy Angel University show, however, that some of the Gnetum species still thrive in the thin forests of Sapang Bato, Angeles. In fact, the people there, as well as residents in upland Porac, still sell kuliat seedlings occasionally. Collection of botanical lexicons shows that there are at least two plant species named kuliat (var. culiat, kuliyat). The first one is the known woody vine mentioned by Mariano Henson (and a shrub of the same Gentum family), while the other is a Diospyros specie, of the black wood family.
Gnetum belongs to the class of Gnetophyta of the Gymnosperms classification that grow in the tropics, 30 species, growing usually as trees or as vines with large leathery leaves. The name Gnetum indicum (Loureiro) Merrill IInterpr. Herb. Amboin. 77. 1917), based on Abutua indica Loureiro (Fl. Cochinch. 630. 1790), has been applied in the sense of G. Montanum, but may in fact be the correct name for G. parvifolium. The taxonomic identity of G. indicum has often been questioned, and many herbaria followed F. Markgraf (Bull. Jard. Bot. Buitenzorg, sér. 3, 10: 406. 1930), who dismissed it as being of uncertain application and placed most material so named in his new species, G. montanum.
Many species are used in a variety of ways: the bark provides a strong fiber used for making ropes and nets; the sap flows very freely from cut stems and can be drunk to quench thirst; the young leaves of some species are used as a green vegetable; and the seeds are roasted and eaten (the outer, fleshy layer contains irritant, needlelike crystals, and is not generally eaten).
The second kuliat plant belongs to a family of trees which includes the famous Philippine ebony wood, and talang (Diospyros discolor Willd. [D. philippensis Desr.]). Types of talang include the known kamagong and/or mabolo in many Philippine languages. It is called as Maitem in Malay; Camagón, Ébeno agrio, Guayabota, Matasano de mico, Sapote negro, Zapote de mico, Zapote negro, Zapote prieto… in Spanish. The Diospyros blancoi A. DC. is known as Tai wan shi (as D. discolor ) in Chinese, and in English as Mabola-tree, Mabolo, Velvet persimmon, Velvet-apple; Pommier velours in French and Ke gaki (as D. discolor) in Japanese. Historically, this family of black woods became the important source of timber (ebony) and fruits (talang, mabolo, and persimmon). It is one of the favorite raw materials for the old muebles made by local Kapampangan woodcarvers.
Relevant to this is the discovery of old black tree stumps exposed by the early activities of lahar in the 1990s, and even by pre-1991 erosion of the Abacan River banks. Folks of Angeles City like Erning Calara (80 years old and a resident of Amsic) say that long before 1991, they found 7 to 8 pieces with an average of 3 to 4 ft in diameter and were in situ on the exposed eroded riverbank of the Abacan River (very near the areas of Anunas and Amsic). Calara says that these hardwoods, which even loggers and firewood collectors were not able to move or cut with their chainsaws and axes, were prehistoric kuliat trees, according to those who were present, including Apung Quitong (ex-Mayor Francisco Nepomuceno). When the river current carried some of them they struck the steel posts of some bridges, bending them without acquiring even a dent. Continuous lahar deposition reburied the trunks. During the lahar years in the 1990s, huge trunks and parts of root system of trees were recovered. Among wood fragments recovered were a pterocarpus specie (Apalit or Narra?) and bulaon (Vitex parviflora Juss.), one of which is on display at the Museo ning Angeles. These trunks are believed to be 800 years old, probably part of the forests which blanketed the province of Pampanga at that time. A local engineer found a similar trunk in August of 1991 which has a radiocarbon date of 2,970 years old. This particular tree debris was rooted at 20 ft. below the present ground level of the city. Historian Ed Sibug still recalls the oral reports of early dredging (or deepwell?) activities sometime in 1991 in barrio Pulungbulu, in which workers discovered botanical debris (waterlogged pieces of wood and bamboos) slot in the sandy soil unearthed from about 30 ft deep. According to taxonomist Elmer D. Merrill (1876-1956), this type of trees (like bulaon and apalit) grows best in dry thickets and is common throughout the Philippines. If the old folks like Calara of Amsik together with the early oral reports and radiocarbon dates, are reliable, the prehistoric landscape of Culiat and of the neighboring municipalities was definitely much lower than the present ground surface of this modern city, and that it had suffered several series of mudslides and lahars that continually altered it. In fact some old barrios of this city were once called Talimundok (elevated grounds) even if they are no longer elevated, which means the landscape was padded over time.
Comparative etymological patterns suggest antiquated Kapampangan words for kuliat, such as kulat, kulul, kalat, uakat, pakat etc. Kulat and kulul are indicative of old color behavior while uakat and pakat indicates the plant’s strangling character similar to the widely known baliti trees and cognates such as auili, alasas, pakiling, isis, etc. Prehistoric pigments were mostly red and black in various forms while the tropical settings like the Philippines host a vast biodiversity of climbing plants. Thus the kuliat tree can be associated to kulat as red to dark stain of plant liquids or the old red color from soil or plant saps; and kalat, uakat and pakat are associated with the general behavior of plant creepers. Related to this, the early common practice done by foresters and carpenters recognized the special function of waterlogged trees, such as the strength and resistance to bukbuk and ané (all wood pests) and also the dark finishing character of these woods as they mature, which provides a beautiful sheen of wood fibers (aspe) when used as furnishings.
Consequently it can be assumed that the placename kuliat might have been derived from the black hardwood tree and not from the plant vine specie as generally accepted by Angeleños, including historians. The information from Mariano Henson’s notes identified the only botanical source of his study of the vine as the book “Useful Plants of the Philippines Vol. I” by Dr. Wm. H. Brown.