Monday, September 3, 2012

Kamagong and Duncan Yoyos

Kamagong sculpture
Whenever I go to new places here in the Philippines, I always keep an eye out for a shop that may be selling kamagong yoyos.

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. 

I was first made aware of the kamagong's beauty when I was a kid. My parents’ visitor gave me 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.

Plastic yoyos from China

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ABC Wednesday

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  1. I've heard of kamagong, yet I haven't seen a tree. What is the english term for kamagong?

    1. I think they refer to it in English as the black ebony tree.

      Here are some images of the tree:

  2. Nice wood. And a sensuous design. (Not the yo-yos!)
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  3. I remember I use to eat kamagong fruit when I was a kid.

    Kanawha River
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team.

    1. Wow! I didn't know kamagong trees bear fruit. Many thanks for sharing, Rose!