Noted historian William Hesseltine wrote: “Writing intellectual history is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.”
In the case of the burned grains scattered along the banks of Muelle cove, it goes far beyond that. Writing the history of the “black rice” is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I have not seen any old manuscript that tells the story of the “black rice”. I interviewed many old folks and they can offer only accounts handed to them through generations.
There are however quite a number of myths about its origin, one of which had been used by a few enterprising resort owners as a come-on for sightseeing tours. Before I tell you the myth, let me first tell you the facts we have gathered.
From several interviews, we found out that a garrison for Spanish soldiers was built in Muelle. The Spaniards built watchtowers in Dampalitan Point, near Coco Beach to sound off warships patrolling Puerto Galera Bay against Moro pirates. The Bay had been used extensively by Spanish galleons and Chinese merchant ships that sought refuge and traded with the natives for food and other re-supply necessities. The rugged topography of Puerto Galera made it essential for the Spaniards to build a warehouse for palay (rice) adjacent the barracks. Farmers from far-flung villages brought their sacks of palay to the warehouse to be stored until a ship would come to collect them.
One night the warehouse caught fire and was burned to the ground along with an unknown number of sacks of palay. The garrison also did not survive the fire. The blackened grains were scattered all over the banks of Muelle and were preserved for more than 200 years and now known as the “Black Rice of Muelle.”
The basis for saying that the warehouse got burned in the late 17th century was a murky account of a great, great grandfather who lived in the late 18th century narrating that the “black rice” was already there before he was born. Perhaps, a scientific study can be made to determine the real age of the mysterious grains. It can be earlier but what great news would it bring if it would be much, much older.
How many of the grains are still in Muelle? No one can tell but for sure there are not a lot of them now in Muelle. Not only because the grains had become popular souvenir items but the oil and other chemical pollutants that pour into Muelle can dissolve the tiny artifacts into mere ashes. When I was young, circa 1980, one can still see the “black rice” along the shore in front of the Coco Point Restaurant. Now, you can only find the “black rice” if you dig a foot deep and only in certain portions of the cove.
The construction of the wharf and subsequent renovation buried most of the grains under concrete and marble riprap. The municipal government had passed an ordinance prohibiting the collection of the “black rice”, however, there is no provision to preserve and more importantly, no budget to protect it.
Now let me tell you about the myth. An old woman appeared one day and begged for food from the soldiers manning the garrison. The warehouse was full of palay but the soldiers refused to give the old hag any food. And so, it was said, that the old woman uttered a curse against the soldiers and that very night a fire broke out and burned the garrison and the warehouse to the ground along with the Spanish soldiers. The grains remain in Muelle to serve as a grim reminder of the fate of the greedy officials of the past; it can be a warning to abusive officials of the present to mend their ways or suffer the deathly consequence.
Puerto Galera has a rich history and wonderful culture that need to be recounted, revived and preserved.