Friday, March 09, 2007


This female form on kamagong is the second wooden sculpture I had acquired since moving back to Manila. It was created by Armando A. Ordonez, a local Filipino artist and member of the Contreras Sculptures group. The wood itself was a major factor in my being attracted to this piece of local artwork.

The kamagong is a fruit tree found only in the Philippines. The wood is extremely dense, hard, and dark in color. It belongs to the ebony family (genus Diospyros), and like many other very hard woods, it is sometimes called "iron wood".

The tree is grown for its rich-tasting fruit as well as its beautifully grained black timber, which is used in furniture making. It is an endangered tree species and protected by Philippine law. It is highly illegal to export kamagong timber from the country without special permission from the Bureau of Forestry, Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Finished products from kamagong wood, such as fine furniture and decoratives can be exported provided that they are properly documented and approved by the Customs authorities. In essence, I have to secure proper documentations and approval if I ever want to bring this piece of artwork back to New York with me.

I love the kamagong wood. I was first made aware of its beauty when I was a kid. My parents’ visitor gave me and my sister, Inday, a small kamagong yoyo that was almost solid black in color. I would tirelessly polish it and gain much delight when it gleamed as I played with it. The day after I brought it to school, a classmate from Tondo brought his which was bigger (more of the standard size than mine). So, with money scrimped from my meager allowance, I asked him to buy me a similar one from his neighbor who made kamagong yoyos.

My collection of kamagong yoyos eventually boasted three — the small one (the very first one I had), a medium, and standard size (both created by this craftsman from Tondo). Even when Coca-Cola came out with their colorful plastic yoyos produced by Duncan, my kamagong yoyos remained a personal treasure. I loved them so much I wouldn’t let them touch the ground to avoid getting any scratches on them. But with a Duncan, I did everything I could with it short of hurling it at the direction of my father’s sleeping bitchy Texan cat; I wasn’t really into proving that a yoyo can be a lethal weapon.

Speaking of Duncan yoyos, the company, the Duncan Yoyo Company, was established in 1929 by H. B. Preston of Chicago, Illinois. Its purpose was to mass produce the yoyos; the rights to this toy he purchased from Pedro Flores, a Filipino working as a houseboy in California.

Sometime during the 1920s, to amuse the young son of his master, Flores made the young boy a yoyo from a soft wood and taught him some tricks. Soon the youngster was showing off his new toy to his classmates in school. Flores soon found himself churning out yoyos to satisfy a sudden demand. In 1928, Flores’ master recognized the potential of this toy and provided Flores with the necessary funds to apply for a patent and to start its initial production. But it took the Duncan Yoyo Company to really promote the yoyo on a mass scale; even developing more tricks — The Spinner, Around the World, Rock A-bye Baby, Walking the Dog, and etc.

It should be noted, however, that the yoyo was invented in the Philippines centuries before Pedro Flores acquired a patent for it in the United States.

Doomed To Be Like The Yoyo We Invented
Aguinaldo's Breakfast by Ambeth Ocampo
Anvil Publishing, 1993

Photo was taken using a mini flashlight;
bulb setting, aperture: f/7.1, shutter: 201/10 sec
focal length: 27mm, ISO: 100, WB: auto

Labels: ,

posted by Señor Enrique at 10:12 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have thought that the yoyo was invented by a Filipino. Very interesting.

March 09, 2007 11:11 AM  

Blogger carlotta1924 said...

what would happen to the yoyo if pero flores hadn't sold the rights to it?

what does a kamagong fruit look and taste like? never knew kamagong bore fruit.

March 09, 2007 11:26 AM  

Blogger NOYPETES said...

Originally a lethal Pilipino weapon. Another common use for the kamagong wood then was as a chopping block for the sharpened shaving blade during a "TULI" procedure performed by the local quack highly intoxicated with the local "Sin Hoc Tong" or Shoctong" for short.

March 09, 2007 11:40 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It actually was, Irene! Something to brag to the boys when they play with one this summer, eh.

March 09, 2007 1:09 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The yoyo would have never attained global exposure and popularity, Carla. Part of its great success was when the Coca-Cola Company teamed up with Duncan to produce those special edition Duncan yoyos! I'm sure Pedro Flores received a handsome recompense in exchange for the patent rights.

As for the fruit of the kamagong, according to Wikipedia:

"Mabolo or Velvet Apple (Diospyros discolor) is a plant closely related to the ebony tree and the persimmon. Its edible fruit has a skin covered in a fine, velvety fur which is usually reddish-brown, and soft, creamy, pink flesh, with a taste and aroma comparable to fruit cream cheese. It is native to the Philippines with its tree known as Kamagong."

March 09, 2007 1:15 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Ouch! I didn't know that, Noypetes!

But I guess we still some folks in the provinces engaged in this practice, and make a pretty good living during the summertime ... hehehe.

March 09, 2007 1:18 PM  

Blogger Belle TH said...

It has been years since I last saw kamagong fruit. I am not sure if it is still alive. It tasted good, actually. Di ba, maraming balahibo ang balat ng kamagong fruit?

I didn't realize that the wood is exremely dense. you mean harder than narra wood?

March 09, 2007 1:47 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

At Chinatown, Belle, the fruit vendors now have macopas, but I am yet to see mabolos, or may be I am just overlooking them. I should ask around.

I do believe that kamagong is harder and heavier than narra.

March 09, 2007 2:08 PM  

Blogger Sebastiane said...

I love yo-yo(s). I've a series of them at home. And did a solo presentation about yo-yo(s) when I was in pre-University and did talk about Pedro Flores too!


I love the wood sculpture, maganda, indeed!

March 09, 2007 3:37 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

During your presentation, Kyels, did you perform some tricks or did you have some kids perform the trick for you, or was it simply a lecture? So you knew about Pedro Flores already :)

BTW, how come I can no longer access your site by just clicking on your blog name?

March 09, 2007 3:53 PM  

Blogger Sidney said...

You really hate cats, don't you? ;-)

It is so sad to see what happened with the trees and forests in the Philippines. I once travelled from Manila to Infanta and it was painful to see all those nude mountains. :-(

March 09, 2007 8:34 PM  

Blogger -= dave =- said...

Yes, the yoyo is a weapon. But I wonder what it looks like in weaponized form. Could it be like in that animé Beyblade?

Do you know when I finally figured out how the yoyo goes down and up, so that I can play it decently enough? When I was in college. Loser.

March 09, 2007 8:45 PM  

Blogger sheilamarie said...

a lovely piece for your collection, eric.

i tried to learn how to play with the yoyo, but couldn't even get past the basics.

March 09, 2007 9:06 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one is definitely a great artwork piece, a real collector's item.

Is Pedro Flores related to the guy who they said invented the flourescent tubes?

Thanks for the information.

March 09, 2007 10:47 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice piece of art.

With the yoyo - the wooden ones are heavier kaya medyo mahirap i-control. Coca-cola used to hold summer yoyo contests, but for quite a while now, parang wala na yata akong naririnig na pa-contest. Well, I guess it's just a seasonal craze now.

March 10, 2007 1:24 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Only when I was a kid and it was that orange and white Texan cat I didn't like -- who was nice to my father and no one else.

Yes, Sidney, many profited from illegal logging and many more perished from floods and other cataclysmic effects of bald mountains.

March 10, 2007 7:08 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I could only envision it as a boomerang on a string, Dave. But it would requite quite a lengthy string to be able to reach a prey or something.

Are you serious? What I did was first learn how to make it stay at the bottom for an extended period. One mastered, I then learned how to bring it up again.

March 10, 2007 7:11 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Sheilamarie, I really love this kamagong piece.

We had an older playmate who taught us some tricks back then. You've got to have someone show you how to (patiently) do those tricks. Otherwise, it could be be challenging.

March 10, 2007 7:14 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Myepinoy! We really have some accomplished local artists producing incredible work!

I doubt it very much; otherwise it would have been mentioned that Pedro Flores was related to the flourescent inventor.

March 10, 2007 7:17 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You are indeed correct, Rhoda. Wooden yoyos are much heavier and harder to manipulate. The Duncans are lighter and somehow better designed.

Have you seen the ones with dazzling lights. I was tempted to buy one and play with it because it was really nice!

March 10, 2007 7:21 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That looks like a nice collector's item indeed. Something that I'll never find here in Japan, except maybe in the hands of the ultra-rich.

I never knew that Pinoys invented the yoyo! When I was in elementary, I saw many of my boy classmates playing around with their yoyos...of course nainggit ako. I bought one and tried to play, but either I was too clumsy, or I was too impatient. I gave up after a while and forgot all about it. :)

March 11, 2007 10:02 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

This piece wasn't all that pricey when I got it, Kathy, so I'll have to guess that maybe its the wood itself that might be banned for export which makes it tough for foreigners to get such artworks out of Manila and into their countries.

You just didn't have someone to show you how to do the easy tricks first, and maybe that's why you gave up on it.

March 11, 2007 9:56 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

Kamagong is also the preferred wood for the black pieces in the game of chess.

Guess what the white pieces are typically made of?

And as I recall reading the yoyo was used by inhabitants of the archipelago maybe way before there ever was a Philippines or a people called Filipinos.

March 12, 2007 2:19 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Now, you got me wondering, Amadeo. It has to be naturally white or bleached. You must tell us.

So the yoyo dates back to really primitive times, huh? Even Ambeth Ocampo wasn't particularly certain of the yoyo as a weapon.

March 12, 2007 4:41 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

Used typically for the white pieces is molave or as called locally, tugas, which naturally has a pale hue though hard and can be quite brittle.

Growing up in Mindanao the wood used as preferred building post was tugas, very dense and somewhat impervious to the bane of coconut-producing areas, termites.

March 14, 2007 10:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I thought of molave, Amadeo, but realized it may not be as those made from ivory.

I assume then that tugas would be considered "materiales fuertes," but is it legal to cut them down these days?

March 16, 2007 1:30 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

I am supposing that cutting most Philippine trees now have strict harvesting regulations, given the sorry conditions of most of our forests. Especially the hardwood varieties.

Here in Mindanao the most common lumber now available is coco lumber. It is almost impossible to get what was typically the most common, lauan, or mahogany.

March 18, 2007 2:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Bernie Sason, a Bacolod-based furniture designer and manufacturer has mentioned that finding raw material for his works is getting harder ( ). He specializes in molave, kamagong, and mahogany. But his creations with the wood of mango tree wood is just as ingenious. I have a few pieces made by him.

March 19, 2007 6:33 AM  

Blogger Unknown said...

There are still quite a few "Mabolo" trees in Cavite, there's this nice old lady in Gen. Trias town who sells the fruits in her front yard whenever it's in season. i sometimes stop by and buy a few, the aroma of it brings back childhood memories for me..

October 15, 2008 5:31 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Wow! I may have to contact you beforehand, Victor, next time I go to Cavite. I'd like to find out exactly where to find this old lady in General Trias with the mabolo trees.

Thanks for sharing!

October 16, 2008 9:20 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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