Before the introduction of shoes, slippers and other footwear, the people in all communities of the Cordillera went about their daily lives barefoot.
People were barefoot when they worked the fields, and actually used bare feet in breaking down the soil in the rice fields, or to tamp the mud and soil down to plug leaks in the rice paddies. They walked barefoot anywhere: to fetch firewood from the far forests; to go hunting they had to walk several days; to go trading in the lowlands they walked. For most of these activities, they walked while carrying heavy loads.
The paths they walked were mostly bare earth, though some of the paths in the villages may have been cobbled with rocks and gravel. When it was the dry season, the earth may be hard-packed, or dusty, but during the rainy season the paths our people walked was mostly muddy.
Muddy meant slippery, and walking barefoot was convenient. After walking barefoot all your life, the soles of the feet become sensitive to judging how slippery the paths are, and to seek out the firmer ground as one goes about traipsing about in the village and outside it. Before one puts full weight on a foot, the soles send out messages to the brain whether it is safe to do so, and if not, then a better foothold is first sought.
With the use of footwear of all kinds now, this is not possible, for the thick rubber soles of shoes and slippers prevents the sole from determining if the foothold is safe. We only learn that indeed it is slippery when we have already fallen on our butts.
Occasionally, even when barefoot, such slippery footholds are unavoidable. When it happens, the toes, specially the big toe, instinctively curls up to establish a toehold, or to provide anchor and thus prevent slipping. This instinct has prevented many of us from losing heavy loads of rice grains when we walked the slippery paths, or falling down the mountainsides while carrying loads of firewood.
After walking barefoot for a time, the instinct is developed, so that even now when many of us are wearing shoes, the toes curl up when we judge the going to be slippery. Because of this, the insides of our shoes where the toes curl up suffer uncommon damage, and the lining of the soles on the inside of the shoes become unglued.
People were barefoot when they mucked out the compost and fresh manure from the pigpens, and of course they also sometimes failed to avoid stepping on dog turd or chicken shit. Indeed people stepped on all sort of things while barefoot. It was necessary to rub the soles of the feet on the grass, the soil or on rocks when this happens, to rid the soles of dirt that may have stuck, whether it be mud, chicken shit or somebody else’s waste. If water was available, washing was of course preferred.
One might think that the practice of walking barefoot would make the soles callused, but it was not the case. Of course some developed calluses, but it was not because they were walking barefoot all the time. The constant rubbing of the soles on the ground while walking got rid of any hardened skin, and the foot massages like “kolkolis” or “dagdagay” that the people gave each other helped get rid of calluses.
For people who had conditions that promoted calluses, such calluses persisted even after they began wearing shoes. For those who had this misfortune, the solution was to actually scrape the calluses off using knives, or to rub them off with rocks after bathing, when the skin has softened after having been soaked in water for a time.
All the same, calluses are more easily formed when the soles are exposed to extreme conditions of heat and cold. Walking on sunbaked rocks produces blisters that start calluses, and walking on cold earth specially during the cold months also promotes calluses. Later on, when roads were built going to our villages, the asphalted and paved roads that the people walked on provided more discomfort than comfort to barefoot walkers. When asphalt is baked in the sun, it tends to retain the heat, and actually melts, so that when one walks on the heated asphalt, the goo would cook the skin and stick to the soles. Cemented pavement, while it does not become goo, also cooks bare feet, and calluses definitely develop.
For people walking barefoot, then and now, it is best to avoid these paved modernities and instead walk on naked earth, for then the soles would not be so abused, and calluses avoided.
One might also think that the feet might be deformed after walking for a lifetime barefoot. Indeed some of us have their soles deformed, with the joints in the sole coming askew, protruding this way and that, so that some of us would have footprints that defy definition, with the toes widely spaced or otherwise deformed. When the practice of wearing shoes gained foothold (pun intended), those with such feet found it truly difficult to find shoes that fit. When they tried wearing slippers or flipflops, parts of the foot would be denied space. Parts of the slippers would be unused, so that one side might become totally worn out but the other side still thick like new. Those with such deformed foot conditions would sometimes prefer walking barefoot altogether and forsake footwear, rather than awkwardly and comically ambling around with slippers that do not do their job anyway.
Such deformities of the foot do not arise solely from walking barefoot. For the most part, the deformities arise from affliction with gout. Recent developments in diagnosis have found that many of our people are genetically inclined to develop gout, and have had it for generations. The ache that we now associate with the malady was probably dismissed as fatigue or the pains of growing old, and extreme suffering from gout was probably mitigated by the more physical activities of the people in those past times. And yet gout was there, and the uric acid it left on the joints produced the deformities.
Calluses and deformities were actually the arguments that convinced many of us to wear shoes and slippers. As children, we were averse to wearing slippers, but were coerced to do so because adults said that if we did not do so, we would develop calluses and deform our feet.
The therapeutic effects of walking barefoot have been discussed in many publications, and other civilizations aside from ours have discovered these also. Why such benefits only become apparent when we have forsaken traditional wisdom is ironic.
Once again we learn that the old ways are good, though the present generations would have to experience extreme culture shock to benefit from it.