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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Francesca and Igorots (II)

The bonfire of inanities stoked by careless comments (maybe similar to this one :> ) continues to rage in Francesca's blog. Several comments are worth interrogating, but this anonymous post made the strongest jab at my yoyok (armpit, in the Banao language):

And if we say the word 'IGOROT' be honest lang poh what comes first to YOUR MIND? Honestly for me if I hear the word Igorot I picture out a man with bahag (dont know what is the english of bahag) curly hair with his indian pana in short I imagine an Igorot in ancient time who are still offense ha. And maybe this was Ms.Francesca talking about the Igorot- in ancient times....

Hay, in ancient times... in the olden times... long, long ago... of bygone eras... (grin, Laura Hayden ;> ) Igorots seem to have been frozen in this tinted frame of history -- at least in the minds of some kababayan. No surprise here, for just as Muslims in the country have long been unjustly framed by many of their countrymen within the expression, "A good Muslim is a dead Muslim," so have Igorots been long stereotyped as spear or ax-wielding, tree-dwelling, long-tailed darklings bereft of the blessings of even the oldest model of Petromax lamp. For after all, y (from) + golot (mountain) = mountain people. And what else can you find in the mountains but the wild or the Philistine?

Poor Igorots! They're just like mummies ossified in a cave amid the swirling fluidity of modernity. Oh, if they could only step out of that cave and see the grandeur that is Paris and the glory that is Reno! If they could only step out of that forest and realize how much more musical the bustle of the city is compared to the cacophony of their gibberish and of the animal sounds in their primitive niche! If they could only cast aside their Indian pana (bow and arrow) and instead arm themselves with the full armor of Almighty Science!

Let's pray for these ignorant Igorots. Let's pray that the Gospel of modernity will finally brighten their oh-so-dark world so that they, too, can bask in the limelight of fame and fortune!


Ok, so much for the sarcasm. Now, to another facet of the issue.

Last Sunday, we had a family outing at Mines View Park which I had not seen for years despite my being a Baguio boy for nearly two decades now. I saw "Doglas" the gentle St. Bernard giant being dogged (mobbed, actually) by curious, photo-loving tourists.

And, of course, I also saw those familiar ib-a ay ikholot (fellow Igorots) fully dressed in their colorful native garbs obviously pleased with their brisk photo-ops business with their visitors. Nothing wrong there, perhaps, for these kailyan are simply earning their keep and may actually be promoting our culture. I only wished though that the tourists were offered a more educational activity or program (like a short but accurate and informative slideshow/video on the history of the Igorots) if only to ensure that they don't just get a superficial impression of our indigenous culture. In that way, we can help disabuse our fellows of the mental picture of an Igorot being reduced to just wearing bahag (g-string) and wielding "Indian pana."


While the issue is still hot, let me share the following article with our readers. Some may think that since this was published on 08 January 2000 in the "Youngblood" section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, it's already a little cold and better left in the freezer only to be taken out in December. But I'll post it anyhow with small changes and with many thanks to the Youngblood editor(s) for teaching me then one of my greatest lessons in essay writing: well-chosen or well-worded, shorter titles are more catchy than long ones (I originally entitled this piece, "More Than a Few Hundred Centavos").


“Meri Krismas,” the emaciated fellow grunted as he flashed an ID bearing the seal of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). He had lost his home when Mt. Pinatubo erupted and he had no family to turn to for help, he said.

After glancing at the ID and seeing the pitiful look on the man’s face, my friend handed him a P10 bill.

That was sometime ago. I thought that if I were alone with that man at the time, I wouldn’t have minded digging out P5 from my pocket and giving it to him even if that was all the money I had that day.

But watching two kids doing a jig while banging their little gongs to the amusement of two lovers a few days later, I vowed never to give them even one centavo. I remembered that a few Decembers ago right in the same park, a group of old people did the same thing before my mom, and all they got from her was an angry reprimand for using a rusty pan in place of the usual bronze gong used in some social activities among indigenous peoples in the Cordillera region.

But why must our blood rise over such things? Certainly it is not because we want to spoil their fun; it is just that we feel there’s no fun in seeing something wrong. It is not because we choose to be cold when everybody’s heart is warm; it is just that we think charity must not encourage a bad practice. It is not that we despise the Igorots, for we are full-blooded Igorots ourselves, and we are mighty proud to be so.

You see, the tadjók or tadék is our native dance. It was never meant to be used as an aid for begging. It is, as we say in Kalinga, paniyaw (taboo) to do so.

Yes, it is meant for entertainment, but not of the kind that was exhibited in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition when people who looked at ethnic culture with jaundiced eyes came to gawk at and make fun of the “wild man’s way of life.” It is not meant to reinforce a twisted view of our culture, but to encourage other people to understand and appreciate a culture different from theirs. It is never meant to put our people in a bad light because it is an art form that projects beauty.

That is why I do not feel the thrill of youngsters at Burnham Park watching my fellow highlanders prance to the uncertain beat of plates. I feel insulted when lowlanders point at them and spit out the word “Igorot” with some amusement.

I don’t feel happy when I see Igorot kids begging, with a symbol of my culture hanging from their hands. I feel pity for them because their parents did not teach them to value their heritage. I pity them because they will grow up thinking that the gangsa (gong) is only meant to be beaten in exchange of a few centavos! Perhaps, they will never know that in the gong they have a legacy to cherish and protect. For what is there to protect and cherish if there’s nothing to value? What is there to value in ignorance?

Oh, you should have seen the innocence on the faces of those kids. It could have made the proudest Igorot weep.

“Come on, there’s no reason to fuss over such a trivial thing!” a friend once told me. Ah, yes, they laugh at tears that never had dust in the eye (my apologies to Shakespeare).

Like it or not, whatever impression these fellow Igorots make on others would be to the “outsider” reflective of the whole Igorot people. Is it any wonder that many lowlanders think that begging with a gong is all that it takes to be an Igorot? Or that an Igorot is simply a camera-loving old man wearing a colorful native garb with a scary headdress? (I even have friends who once wondered whether I was a genuine Igorot because they had not seen me in a leather jacket, tattered jeans and cowboy boots!)

This reminds me of a Manileña who was taking a Dangwa bus to somewhere in the Cordillera. While waiting for the junk to roar off, she stood by her seat and told her male companion, “Gusto kong makakita ng Igorot” [I want to see an Igorot]. To bad for her, my sister who was just a few seats away overheard her remark. My sister told her: “Hindi mo ba alam na halos lahat ng mga nakikita mong tao sa loob ng bus ay mga Igorot?” [Don’t you know that almost all folks seated in this bus are Igorots?]

I didn’t know what happened after that, but I can imagine the rest of the “native” passengers nodding their heads and muttering, “Now she knows.”

But I think that lady should not be blamed for her ignorance or prejudice. Perhaps, back in Manila she had heard friends who visited Baguio describe those curiously dressed people posing for a fee at the Botanical Garden or Mines View Park. Perhaps she had even seen pictures of these “cute” highlanders. And she must have thought how wonderful it would be to have her pictures taken with the unschooled fellows. And to think it would cost her only a few pesos! I wonder if this is one reason some lowlanders have a very wrong notion about us?

Oh, we can always declare that we can match their superiority complex. Or that we can always say with much enthusiasm that we feel superior to them since “we are a people who daily touch the earth and sky,” or “we have never been conquered by the Spaniards.” But I guess such claims are not going to add enlightenment to some darkened perceptions so long as we allow our own people to think and act like their culture were worth only a few hundred centavos.

Related posts: Francesca & Igorots, Those Isolated Tribes


jasmyn a. said...

Hi! I hope this comment will get to you. I'm a Filipino living abroad for quite some time now and am very happy to read this long story about the 'igorots'. I am one of those who unfortunately think of igorots like how I was told in high school. To be honest, that picture stayed in my memory to date; fortunately my move to be more appreciative of nature also made me more sensitive about people and culture. To cut the long story short, the first time I went back to the Phils. I was shocked as to how my cousin described the Badjaos (another Francesca I would say) in Negros Oriental Dumaguete - a woman with her child was begging for money. I wanted to speak to her but she could not speak bisaya. Later on I thought hard why she described the woman in such a derogative manner at the same time unaware or oblivious of the impact....I now realise that there are a lot of Filipinos like Francesca and my cousin; I found that most Filipinos I meet are largely ignorant of our own multicultural co-existence withing the philippines; primary school books -- so lacking of narrative stories to help children understand culture and people. High school books --I would say the same especially in public schools in the provinces. The media is largely dominated with singing stars apparently and of course there's a lot of overseas Filipinos who have not really taken opportunities to expand their 'cranial capacity' in terms of understanding how the world goes. So I hope the phillipine government will support the move of providing better resources for the younger generation especially in the public schools. Ignorance can be addressed through enhanced education systems and better use of the current philippine media. Thank you for this educational site. I hope to read more.

scott saboy said...

thank you for dropping by, jasmin, and for taking time to post your comment. you have put forth some important points that i'd like to comment on some more. will write a longer response by weekend. have a joy-filled year ahead! :)

lam-ang said...

alam nyo ba na karamihan ng mga tao sa manila ay may maling ideya kung ano ang igorot?

pag pinadescribe mo sila ng igorot, ita ang idedescribe nila... naka bahag, maitim, kulot, payat

well fyi, igorot na lang sa mines view ang nakabahag (leather jacket na uso ngayon), mapuputi sila (mga kalinga, mangyan kayumanggi), mala bunot ang hairdo, at siksik ang katawan (kahit babae)

Jesse said...

Hindi nila alam ang hitsura ng Igorot kasi karamihan mukhang Chinese, sabay dumadami pa ang Koreano sa baguio...more confusion.


Rather than Bong Revilla being ofeended by Alec baldwin, why don't he just try to pass the anti-discirmiantion. it will not only benefit the Igorots and IPs but everyone..even the 'mainstream' Filipinos

lam-ang said...

sa 10 officemates ko na tinanong ko lately kung ano itsura ng igorot, 1 lang nakasagot nga tama. yung 9, ita/negrito ang dinescribe.

may mga taong sadyang ignorante/tanga lang talaga. isa na ko dun kasi hindi ko rin alam itsura ng T'boli.

di naman siguro kelangan magkaroon ng violent reaction sa mga ganito. unless, ganito lang talaga magpakilala ang mga igorot.