Igorot pride


by Gary Pekas

Before the turn of the millennium, there occurred a spirited discussion on the bibaknets email list about Igorot pride. While the discussion may have been going on in other circles before that, and continue to go on wherever Igorots pause and take stock of themselves, the discussions then and now continue to be relevant.

Indeed, the discussions may go full circle many times, and indeed some of us may tire of the subject. Yet as we continue to search for ourselves in this ever-changing world, the subject must always be in our minds, for it is the search that we may better understand ourselves, and hopefully find a direction for our diverse people.

I was active in the list in that almost forgotten time, and responded to several theses put forward by Fr. Tony Gomowad, another  of the active members of the email list at the time. The exchange we had I reproduce now, with some editing, primarily to remove or to properly place personal references in the exchange, or to remove archaic and clichéd statements.

Fr. Gomowad emailed the list forwarding his thesis that “There’s nothing wrong about Igorots taking pride in resisting Spanish domination for the more than 300 years that (Spain) ruled in the Philippines. We can glory on this, a tribute attitude to our freedom, fierce, and fighter ancestry.”

My response was:

There is nothing wrong, indeed. What is however needed is for us to appreciate the true motivation of our forebears during that time that they exhibited that resistance. While some romantics would like to believe that the resistance was a conscious effort against the Spanish colonizers, what actually transpired were the individual acts of persons or communities who were unaware of being Filipinos, only of their small communities.

In reality, our forefathers were so susceptible to divide and rule strategy that the Spaniards caused our communities to war against each other, like how the i-Sagada went to war against i-Bontocs, an account of which is in William Henry Scott’s Discovery of the Igorots.

Our resistance to Spanish colonization was not nationalistic at all. Outside of the cocoons of our villages, we did not know that there was a Philippines, or Las Islas Filipinas. We did not know that there were Tagalogs, of Visayans, and were in a general state of ignorance about world goings-on.

It just so happened that many of us resisted.

But we must also take care to look at the communities who were subjugated, either by force or the promise of salvation, or the other inroads that the Spaniards have made. For instance, Kayan in present-day Tadian became the center of a Spanish Commandancia Politico-Militar, and so was Bontoc. Considering their submission to Spanish control, the i-Kayan may not have resisted so much, and even if they did, the spirit of resistance may have faded quite easily. The probable reason is that the neighboring towns of Ilocos Sur, like Cervantes, were also subjugated, and the i-Kayan were co-dependent upon these Ilocos towns for trade. However, the other Tadian villages were not so receptive of Spanish colonial designs, and it was probably because of some rivalries with Kayan.

(Photo: terraces at Kayan, Tadian)

And so it came to pass that Kayan became dominantly Catholic, but the rest of Tadian went the Episcopalian way, after Mother America succored them in her ample bosom. Right now, there is a healthy mixture of both Catholics and Protestants in the Tadian area.

Let us also look at the firm foothold of the Spanish and Catholicism in the Eastern villages of Sagada (Tetep-an, Antadao and Kilong) or in Bontoc municipality.

There are also Spanish land titles that some the colonial government gave to some of our people, claiming title over large parts of the Cordillera. If anything, these Spanish influences in the land of the Igorots are indications while there was resistance, not every Igorot could claim to an ancestry freedom-loving and fierce. It may be misleading and delusional to crow solely about such qualities.

Much like the “noble savage” (referring to native Americans) that romanticists believe in, there was never a “noble Igorot” epitomizing a society of old that was pure, freedom-loving, democratic, and considerate of the surrounding villages.

What is needed is for us to truly understand what motivated our people back then. While indeed the pattern of resistance seemed to permeate Igorot history, we sometimes conveniently forget that many of our villages, even in the deepest hinterlands, who were “subjugated” by Spanish colonial designs. Igorots were not colonized in the main not because of freedom-loving and fierce ancestry, but maybe because of an error of strategy of the Spaniards.

This is also the reason why they failed in most other colonies – they spread themselves too thin, not allowing many of the locals to do the governing for them, or to let locals become priests to do the brainwashing for them. A contributory factor would be geographical circumstances, for we just happened to inhabit the mountains which were largely inaccessible. Had the Spaniards employed better strategies and had our villages been more accessible, we might have become Spanish colonials.

I dare say that it was already inevitable, but for the coming of the Americans and the sale of the Philippines to the US for a measly $20 Million.

(Photo shows John Hay signing the Treaty of Paris ceding the Philippines to the US)

Suffice it to say that yes, we should be proud of the resistance of our forefathers, but let us be proud of specific actions or events, and recognize also that some of us capitulated.

Fr. Tony Gomowad, who was raising a lot of questions regarding Igorot pride, wrote that if we seek for a basis of Igorot pride, “Subjugation to both outright and subtle, yeah, “holy” subjugation by Americans needs also to be accounted for.” Earlier postings in the bibaknets mailing list recognized the reality of subjugation. “Ergo, Igorot pride cannot be based on being ‘unconquerable.’”

The good pastor then says, “What I am looking for: an articulation of a true basis of Igorot pride today and now.”

OH, the Americans….. they merely continued what the Spaniards started, proving that indeed we are not unconquerable. As a matter of fact, history shows us that all of our villages are already conquered, if not by the old Spanish incursions, then by American coercion and aggression.

Those that did not succumb in colonial times have been overtaken by the insidious economic, educational, religious and cultural systems that our past colonial masters have so graciously left behind.

Basis for Igorot pride today? Your guess is as good as mine. However, one sure source of pride is that we can excel, that we can beat those who have looked down upon us in their own game. We can stand equal with the rest of humanity, and stand taller, even, than many others. But our claim to that is mostly based on individual capacities, individual accomplishments, and not a general trait, and that pride is also not a shared feeling among all who claim to be Igorot.

The more basic question of who are Igorots is even yet unanswered, and the typical positions are well represented in the discussions in bibaknets and other fora. What is probably underrepresented in the discussions is the position of many people who do not care about issues of identity. Ironically, while opinions are not readily shared, most of us have a definite position, as we either accept being Igorot, or do not.

(Photo: Sagada in times past. by Masferre)

In Sagada, (from whence Fr. Gomowad hails) if you would ask the people what they are, they will surely tell you that they are i-Sagada first, then Igorot, but their idea of an Igorot is what they typify. If you tell them that the many from Kalinga and Ifugao do not want to be called Igorots, they would admit to that reality.

If asked if the seeming choice of Ifugao and Kalinga people to opt out of being Igorot is accurate, those who answer yes will say that if they do not want to be called Igorots, we should not impose on them. For those who insist that those from Ifugao and Kalinga are also Igorots, they will venture the rationalization that we come from the mountains, and Igorot means “from the mountains”, or some general statement like we are culturally similar.

In Kalinga, if you ask them what they are, most would say they are Kalinga, but refer to themselves foremost as a people from a particular place, thus: i-Botbot, i-Tanglag, i-Lubo, i-Taloktok, etc.

(Photo: Igorot youth participate in Am-among Festival parade in Bontoc, Mountain Province)

Ask them who Igorots are, and they will most likely say that Igorots are the people from Bontoc (referring to Mountain Province). Ask them what makes an Igorot Igorot, and they would answer simply that it is those who are from Bontoc, as if that is description enough. If you ask them what a Kalinga is, they will most likely reply that Kalingas are those people indigenous to the province of Kalinga, but could not come up with a description that will actually encompass, or include, all the indigenous people of the area, besides a geographical identification. If you ask them for details of what a Kalinga is, they will describe the Kalinga as what they are, as individuals, or describe their particular community, although they know for a fact that the people of Kalinga are so fragmented that there are more than 50 politically independent communities there, each one different from the other, and each one traditionally poised for war with every other tribe. This war-readiness has probably changed, but underlines the point that there is no such identity, or typification, as a Kalinga. Similarly, the Ifugaos are as diverse.

The above discussion points to the following reality: That our people are so fragmented that their main identity is mostly limited to their local origin, the village.

Even in Sagada, people in the central villages refer to the people of the outer villages by differently, thus i-Tetep-an, i-Taccong, and those of ther villages are not actually i-Sagada. In contrast, people from these places refer to those from the municipal center as i-Sagada. So, now, actually, there is not even a Sagada identity that is accepted by all who hail from that small municipality. This is true for most municipalities throughout Igorotland. Our townmates only become i-Sagada when they go out of the province, for in Bontoc, the provincial capital, a person from Tetep-an would refer to himself first as i-Tetep-an, and a person from Belwang (Sadanga) would say he is i-Belwang. Clearly, the sense of belonging, the sense of community, only exists in small villages, or village clusters, but rarely pan-municipality. Unfortunately, politics has served not to bridge the gaps, but to widen them further, pitting village against village.

Another reality is that people are quite content with their present identifications or affiliations. There are limited conscious efforts on the part of individuals to generate or develop an identity that will widen our affiliations. Attempts to widen affiliations now are mostly based on family relations, not identity as a people. Thus those with parents from the neighboring towns of Besao and Sagada  are both i-Sagada and i-Besao, but what we actually are is rather a question, for they are neither one nor the other, or both. This dual identity could also exist, crossing wider geographical spaces, like one can be i-Sagada and also i-Maligcong (in Abra). For others, triple and quadruple identities are equally accepted. Whatever, this does not make them any different from “pure” i-Sagada, but somehow they are looked upon differently, not necessarily derogatorily, but different. More so for those whose genes are traced to the extreme boundaries of the mountain range we call the Cordilleras.

What makes a person Igorot, or i-Sadanga, or i-Kapangan? Is it simply a matter of bloodlines? Maybe. In fact, bloodlines count a lot in our identification of ourselves. Yet therein lies the folly of it all, I dare say. For it oversimplifies the question of identity. Would I be i-Sagada, if I abhor life in Sagada, detest every cultural practice, refuse to go by the decisions of my dap-ay, refuse to help out kailian in times of joy and suffering? If I were like this, then I would not be i-Sagada at all, even if indeed I could trace my bloodlines there. For being i-Sagada goes beyond bloodlines – it encompasses a belongingness to, and acceptance by, a community, that community’s relation to the land it occupies and a reverence to Mother Nature and other spirits that sustain that community. Remove that relationship, and a person loses that identity.

On the other hand, even the people who have never “left” Sagada, or any other community, are also changing. There are many who no longer practice the old ways. There are some who would rather use the new ways to take advantage of others.

What makes one an Igorot? Before one becomes Igorot, one must first belong to a community in the Cordilleras, and belong to the land that the community occupies. Perhaps more accurately, the land must own the person.

The community does not own the land, for the land owns the community. Macliing Dulag said this quite succinctly: “How can you own that which will outlive you?” but he was only stating what has long been taken for granted by most others.

Why must we first belong to a community? We must, for identity encompasses, and is subsumed in, all aspects of community life. Being Igorot is a belief system, an economy close to the land and the spirits that inhabit it, a history of survival in the face of human and natural barriers and difficulties, of changing with the community, of changing the community, molding nature to work for the community.

Community, community, community. Unfortunately our sense of community is grossly limited to our small villages, and not surprisingly so, for every village is unique in itself, having a peculiar relationship with its own patch of land, devising different ways of relating with nature and its spirits.

In the case of Sagada, we are i-Sagada only because our villages happen to have been included in that municipality when municipal boundaries were drawn. If our community so happened to be included in either Besao or Bauko municipalities, we would be i-Besao, or i-Bauko, and we would lose or gain nothing by being so. Nevertheless, belonging to a community, no matter how small, amounts to being an Igorot, for we are also Igorots because of the accident that there is the need for a common term to describe and identify the people of the Philippine Cordilleras.

There is no compleat Igorot, no epitome that shall describe one, even if our communities would have remained “pure” and untarnished by Western influences. No community could lay claim to being the typification of Igorot (or Cordillera) life– Bagos are as Igorot as i-Madukayan, as much as the most docile Kalinga and the fiercest Ibaloi. Now that there have been many inroads of change, the situation gets more complicated– for there arises the question of whether we have compromised our identity by accepting western influences and rejecting many aspects of traditional community life.

Even in our own small villages and settlements, there is no longer a “pure” and pristine representation that typifies our identities. An i-Hapao who has converted to Christianity or Islam and rejected traditional religion, and another i-Hapao who remains an advocate and practitioner of all things traditional seem to have equal rights to the identity of “i-Hapao” for they still belong and are accepted in that community.

The diversity that arose from cultural inroads have caused disagreements, of course, but the community has remained intact, and though the relationship with the land and nature has somehow also changed with the changes in the economy, the community, in its collective entity, still has that relation and dependence on the land, nature and its spirits.

Come to think of it, if we lose the sense of community, or indeed if we lose that close spiritual relationship with the land, nature and its spirits, we shall be like Ilocanos and Tagalogs, like Cebuanos and New Yorkers.

For the relationship with the land, and the economy that we have developed to make the land produce for us but at the same time sustain it for other generations, are the bases of our culture. It is no wonder then that the individualistic orientation of new economic ventures has largely eroded our sense of community.

I also venture to say that we who have imbibed many things and processes western, learning the English language and thought processes that go with it, are the worst example of what an Igorot should be.

For the Igorot is what the many different communities and the legion of individuals there in their collective diversity are. And we definitely do not represent the average. Unfortunately we are of the contemptible variety of Igorots. By trying to excel in the new and wider world, by learning the rules of another game and life, by trying to stand equal to the rest of humanity by western standards, we have lost a lot of what should make us Igorot.

Why must we beat non-Igorots in their own game? Why must we imbibe so many non-Igorot things in order to stand equal? Why can’t we insist on what makes us Igorot, and make the rest of the world, and humanity, recognize such as equal to any other culture?

(Photo: Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Sagada, Mountain Province. original photo at http://sagada-igorot.blogspot.com)

Pardon me, but by becoming Christian, we do not make the Igorot equal to other Christians, or to other religions. Rather, we have accepted that indeed our traditional religion is inferior. By learning to speak the English language that we almost speak it as well as the Queen, we have come to accept, however tacitly, that our dialects are inadequate to express our myriad thoughts. By having our children baptized, even if it be with Igorot names, we are saying to the world that the “gubbaw” is not enough to ensure that the name our children have gets them to become a member of the community.

Why should we “develop” following alien standards? Why do we have to drive cars, play golf, eat hamburgers, use computers, earn lots of money? Why can’t we be just ourselves and develop in our own way, in our own time? Why do we have to “catch up” with the decadence of the rest of the world? Couldn’t we be world-class by being what our forefathers, even in their diversity, were?

NOW, if we could, then that would be true IGOROT PRIDE. For then we shall no longer be measured by how well we fare in an environment foreign to us. We shall not be measured by standards and rules of others. We shall then stand equal by being unique, and better by being different.

(Photo: Igorot students at Easter College in Baguio City celebrate Linggo ng Wika by recalling their heritage.)

Fr. Tony Gomowad, who was asking the questions, would wonder:

What would those be that could be unique but common to Igorots/Cordillerans, builders of one of the wonders of the world that is still serving its original purpose? Capacity to adapt and make home anywhere in the world? What else?

Honestly, there are few things unique to the Cordillera people and yet common to all of them in their diversity. Indeed, our uniqueness is in our diversity. The capacity to adapt is not a trait that we alone exhibit. All people, and cultures, that survive, have that trait. We cannot say that that trait is what makes us Igorot. One of our claims to fame, that “wonder of the world”, is precisely a wonder, for earlier generations built it on their own, setting their own standards, pitting their collective capability to make nature share the fruits of its bounty.

We did it on our own, competing with ourselves, and nature. That is what makes the feat so difficult, that is what makes the feat so fulfilling, that is what makes the feat a “wonder of the world”. If we did it with the help of “modern” engineering tools and methods, the feat would not be so awesome. By being themselves, our forefathers accomplished a task so astounding as to make them stand equal, indeed stand taller, than the rest of humanity. If only the generations that came later could be as proud.

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