“Parents ko lang ang Igorot”: Identities
“Parents ko lang ang Igorot.”
This statement has reportedly been uttered by different people at different times. For the most part, those who said it are the offspring of Igorots who were born and grew up outside Igorot domains and villages.
For people who readily and proudly admit to being Igorot, the statement may seem to be a betrayal of one’s roots, a rejection of our people and culture. Because of this, it is not uncommon that there is resentment towards those who do say it.
There are many possible reasons why such seemingly crass words would be uttered; the foremost perhaps is to avoid the stigma and derogatory meanings that are attached to the term Igorot. In previous decades, when the discrimination against indigenous peoples in general and Igorots and Aetas in particular was truly demeaning, it may have been but natural for some of us to deny being Igorot, or for some not to mention their ethnicity altogether.
It was in the waning years of the past century that the derogatory meaning to the term was overcome, because the Igorot people have, individually and collectively, made their mark in the world. The rest of the Filipino people also came to realize that the discrimination they originally had was wrong. True, discrimination exists still, and Igorots have their share of mediocrity that feeds the bias, but on the whole, it is a matter of glorious pride to count oneself Igorot at these times.
But who are Igorots?
By etymology, the term is known to mean “from the mountains.” As such, it includes all people who come from the mountains, regardless of any other characteristic. Since the term was used in the context of the Cordillera mountains, then all people who hail from the Cordillera are Igorots.
But not all people of the Cordillera Mountains claim to be Igorot. In general, it is only the indigenous people of Mountain Province and Benguet who have no qualms about being called Igorot. On the other hand, the indigenous peoples from other provinces do not admit to being Igorot. This is especially so among the people of Ifugao and Kalinga. These redoubtable people call themselves differently, as Kalingas and Ifugaos.
For most of us who call ourselves differently but who regularly interact with each other, there is mutual acceptance of whatever term one wants to label oneself and such acceptance and tolerance arises from mutual respect and minus the derogatory meanings that have been attached to these different terms. Only when there is real or perceived discrimination in the use of the terms would disagreements happen.
Yet each of these terms, whether Igorot, Kalinga, or Ifugao, are vague, in the sense that there is no description or definition that applies to all who claim the name. What is probably settled in our use of the terms is the geographical meanings; that Igorots come from Mountain Province and Benguet, Kalingas from Kalinga, and Ifugaos from Ifugao. Beyond that, the individuals and the communities that count themselves as part of these labels have many differences that would make a more definitive description difficult, if not impossible.
For purposes of this discourse, this spirited rambler will focus on Mountain Province.
When our communities were not yet overwhelmed by colonial influences, we referred to each other according to where we come from, aside from our names and family affiliations. Thus people would be referred to according to their village. Thus one is i-Mainit, if one comes from that village.
Of course each village had their set of belief systems and economic and political systems that distinguish them from other villages. True, these systems were not dissimilar from other villages’, but there were enough differences to warrant a zealous attachment to an identity. Such labels were both necessary and appropriate, for the interaction of our people was limited to neighboring villages.
Later on, government arbitrarily grouped these villages into municipalities, so that the village of Mainit became part of Bontoc. Our people also ranged farther, interacting with villages in other provinces and municipalities more and more. Even then, we referred to each other according to our village of origin, so that an i-Belwang (a village in Sadanga) going to Sumadel (in Tadian) would be called i-Belwang. Only when referring to a group of villages or a group of people coming from a common municipality are the names of the municipalities used.
Thus it is more appropriate, for example, to refer to an individual as i-Tetep-an (a village in Sagada) rather than i-Sagada. The use of these municipal affiliations as terms of identity are more used when people go out of the province, when people we interact with are not familiar with the different villages that we call home. In the melting pots of mining towns, Baguio City, Manila, and in the agricultural boom town of Tabuk, these municipal labels were then used, yet it was also true that our identification with our particular villages was not diminished.
Our affiliation to the different provinces necessitated our being referred to as i-Montañosa (for Mountain Province), i-Kalinga, i-Benguet, Ifugao, or i-Apayao.
But these identities defy definition, except for our originating from provinces whose boundaries were only arbitrarily set. If, for instance, some of the villages in Sadanga, or Barlig, were included in the province of Kalinga, then the people there would now be reffered to as Kalinga. If Tubeng and Bayyo in Bontoc were included in Ifugao province, then the people there would call themselves Ifugao.
Arguably, the term Igorot is the term that applies to all of us. The term Cordilleran is being bandied about, apparently for the neutrality of the term, in that it lacks discriminatory undertones, and it may also be used to include migrants in our communities. It is yet another geographical identity, and perfectly acceptable specially to those who seek to set aside the centuries of discrimination we have suffered, instead of actively demolishing it.
In the end, the identities we have are the ones that we call ourselves, and the names others call us that we accept. If one is comfortable with being called Igorot, then he is Igorot. If one is comfortable with Ifugao, then he is Ifugao. If we refuse to be called such, then we are not.
The acceptance of an identity goes beyond names. Being Igorot, or Ifugao, or Kalinga, or i-Mainit, or i-Belwang means an acceptance of the community that calls itself similarly. We belong to a community, so we proudly accept its name. By belonging, we adhere to the rules of the community, live by its culture, speak its language, and are part of its evolution.
If we seek to distance ourselves from these communities, or actively reject their social, economic and political systems, then we lose that identity. Only when we continue to be a part of a community do we retain that community’s identity.
“Parents ko lang ang Igorot.” This statement is not a betrayal of one’s roots, or a rejection of our people and culture. It is saying that they belong to a different community that accepts them, live by a different culture and language. It is no help at all that when they visit the villages of their forebears they are treated as visitors, even as objects of curiosity, by the very people who are offended by the statement.