In 2004, I had the distinct privilege of helping the people of Bakun, Benguet draft their Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) after their Certificate of Ancestral domain Title (CADT) was issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
The tracing of the communities’ history is part of the preliminary chapters of the ADSDPP, and so we conducted several focus group discussions with the people of Bakun on how they would tell the story of their people.
The people of Bakun, and the other people of the Cordilleras have no written literature, and so to tell their story it is necessary to document their oral history, before the old folks who know these stories go into the next world.
Because these stories are orally transmitted, it is expected that the real events that transpired in long ago times would be altered in the telling, and we can be considerably sure that the many retellings reflect the biases and sensitivities of the story teller.
With these changes, the events recounted become legends, and legends become myths.
The people of Bakun tell the story of a people whom they found there when they first migrated to the place. The story is found in their ADSDPP, and which I now relate here.
These people, whom they call the “Tellay,” lived in the caves near what is now Barangay Poblacion, or Bakun. Even now, in the caves are signs of previous dwelling. It would be good if an archaeological study could be done to find out more about the Tellay, the people who seemed to have originally settled in Barangay Poblacion, or Bakun.
It is told that the Tellay were fair-skinned, and the Bakun people found them in the area when they settled there. The Tellay were shy and peace-loving people, keeping to themselves for the most time.
After some time, the migrants were able to invite the Tellay to a feast. While the Tellay joined the new people in the festivities, the people of Bakun noticed that they did not eat at all, contenting themselves merely to sniff the aroma of the food served.
This mystery was reinforced as the migrants noticed that while the area around the caves abound with fruits and wild vegetables, the Tellay seemed not to harvest and consume these.
The people of Bakun were mystified, for it would seem that the Tellay did not eat anything at all.
Nevertheless, the two different peoples coexisted peacefully for a time. Yet the mystery persisted, as the Bakun people’s ancestors were curious as to the nature of these Tellay.
In the story told by Bakun’s people, they had one of the many ritual feasts that their people celebrate. In the feast, according to custom, rice wine or “tapey” was served. Perhaps emboldened by their intoxication, some of the Bakun people caught a Tellay, in the attempt to learn about these odd people.
They forcibly undressed the unlucky person. t is told that they found out that the Tellay did not have an anus at all, no posterior opening where excretion could come out.
This seems to explain why the Tellay are not known to eat at all, but is simply content to sniff the steam and aroma of food.
After the incident, the Tellay left the place. What remains about them are the caves, and the Bakun people’s mythical story.
That is how the story is told. However, these Tellay are sure to have moved someplace after the unfortunate boisterousness of intoxicated Bakun men. In all likelihood, the story that is told above is an attempt to absolve these unruly ancestors of wrongdoing.
Whereever the Tellay moved to afterwards, their ancestors are sure to have told their side of the story to their offspring, and if it is not already lost, it would be most interesting if we could hear of it.
After all, our understanding of history must include dynamics such as these. So long as the other side of the story is not told, the people of Bakun shall not find a closure to this page in their history. The story shall remain a myth, and it puts them in a bad light.