I try to avoid any activity with the word “fight” in it. But when my Filipino hosts explained that a boodle fight involves food, friendship, and fun, I decided to reconsider.
Especially when I saw the long, festive tables covered with dark green banana leaves and enough food to, as the saying goes, feed an army. Turns out that a boodle fight, a longstanding tradition throughout the 7500-island nation, originated at the Philippine Military Academy, where indeed it did feed an army, with commanding officers and soldiers eating together as a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood, and equality.
They call it a “fight” because everyone eats with their hands, with no utensils allowed. Everybody grabs what they want as fast as they can. I was invited to participate in this unique ceremony in the small rural village of Victoria in the Filipino province of Tarlac. Not included on the typical tourist itinerary, Victoria happens to have the country’s first bamboo bicycle factory.
Calling it a factory is a bit misleading. It’s more like a small workshop where villagers hand-make the most ecofriendly bicycles on the planet. BamBikes, as the business is called, is a social enterprise started by Bryan Benitez McClelland, a Filipino-American who is trying to make a difference in the lives of the Philippines’ rural poor. He never dreamed he’d end up in his mother’s home country while growing up in Connecticut or attending college at the University of Pennsylvania, but now he can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Today, he divides his time between the factory in Victoria and Manila, where BamBike rents and sells the sustainable bikes and offers two-hour history tours of Intramuros, the sixteenth-century walled city of Spanish colonial Manila.
According to McClelland, bikes made out of bamboo are every bit as sturdy as steel-frame bikes and as light as aluminum, and they surpass European standards for durability and crash-worthiness. Barack Obama is just one of the proud owners of these unique bicycles, each of which takes “Bambuilders,” as McClelland calls the employees he provides with fair wages and health insurance, about 50 hours to build.
After touring the “factory” and seeing the site for McClelland’s planned Ecopark, we gathered for the boodle fight with students from the school that BamBike supports.
It began with everyone lining up around the pump to wash their hands, an important tradition before any boodle fight begins. As the students entertained us with dancing and singing, a blanket of steamed rice was spread on top of the banana leaves, followed by heaps of traditional Filipino dishes including lumpia (fried spring rolls), grilled eggplant, fish, crab, green mangoes, kilawin (a vegetable and fish dish marinated in vinegar), chicken, and all sorts of adobo.
The signal is given and the delicious combat begins. A boodle fight is one fight — maybe the only fight — worth having.