Basi (sugar cane wine) goes as far back as pre-colonial Philippines making this unique wine one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the tropical country.
While this Ilocano table wine has been in existence for centuries, my family only started making basi in 1906 but because of its long history, the alcoholic drink comes with a number of stories -from that of locals who have been making sugar cane wine all their lives to that of the Basi Revolt of 1807.
It was the early 1800s and the streets of Manila had the distinctive metallic sound of horseshoes hitting the pavement. While horse-drawn buggies (calesa) were also used in the north, its streets were relatively more quiet than that of the bustling Philippine capital. But a rebellion was brewing in those parts at the time. It all started in 1786 when the colonial government expropriated basi production and sales effectively prohibiting the private production of the Ilocano table wine.
For 21 years, northerners were forced to buy goods from government stores and with basi no longer produced, they could no longer enjoy a glass of their table wine after a hard day’s work. Basi producers, on the other hand, lost their means of livelihood.
By September 16 of 1807, wine lovers of the Ilocos Region felt they have suffered enough.
Inadequately armed, two men from Piddig, Ilocos Norte together with their supporters marched towards Vigan, Ilocos Sur to petition the colonial government to abolish the monopoly. The revolt quickly spread to nearby towns and more people joined the march.
Spain’s policies crippled the north after the establishment of the Tobacco Monopoly in 1781 and the wine monopoly in 1786. Pent-up frustration, economic persecution, and the disruption of the Ilocanos’ lifestyle caused the rebellion.
The revolt was quelled by the Spanish after a few weeks of fighting but this story lives on not only because of the Ilocanos’ love for sugar cane wine but because it is a localised expression against oppressive policies.
Many people gave their lives for the love of basi and through Basi del Diablo, they will always be remembered.