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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fragments of a City's History Book Review

Not just a source of historical trivia
By Scott Saboy

Philippine Daily Inquirer []

First Posted 00:57:00 09/02/2009
Filed Under: history, Books

Fragments of a City’s History
Edited by Delfin Tolentino Jr.
Cordillera Studies Center
University of the Philippines Baguio, 2009

BAGUIO CITY turned 100 years old on September 1 and a new book was released to recap the sounds and stories of its past.

Among these sounds are the rustle of pine trees, the crash of timber, and the thunder of a thousand hoofs rampaging across a vast pastureland toward a mound of salt.

There is also the sound of the labored breathing of Igorot people shovelling through dozens of landslides along a new wagon trail, the roar of bombs reducing the city to ruins, the countless frantic clanging of post-war reconstruction, and the bustle of an ever-expanding urban marketplace.

These are the sounds now drowned in the rage of jeepneys and taxis snaking along the city’s roads and of disco or karaoke hubs dotting its heart.

And then there are the stories, most of them now largely forgotten.

The history of Baguio consists of multiple narratives put together in Fragments of a City’s History: A Documentary History of Baguio, published by the University of the Philippines Baguio’s Cordillera Studies Center.

It is a collection of carefully chosen texts taken from 20 documentary sources. The selections detail the economic, cultural, religious and social accidents that contributed to the development of a vast Ibaloi pasture land into a colonial hill station and the country’s summer capital.

Among the stories that the book reconstructs is that of how Ibaloi headman Mateo Carino multiplied his cattle and land when Baguio had not yet been appropriated by the Americans, and how this land evolved into one of the finest colonial hill stations in the world.

The book also presents the story of how some of the city’s famous streets (like Chugum, Guisad and Kayang) acquired their native place names; how foreigners got to reserve for themselves the finest spots of a “cloud-world” in the orient while the natives got to live along the margins of the lands they used to call their own; how sympathetic westerners sought to repair the damage done by their own fellows who had amused themselves into thinking that the primitive locals “might have been devils striving to force a way out of hell!”; and how personalities carved Baguio into a modern metropolis.

These are stories chronicled in the letters, diaries, travel reports, government issuances and other historical documents that make up “Fragments of a City’s History.”

The anthology begins with a history of important Ibaloi families and the Spanish settlement of Benguet and ends with an account of how Baguio became a regional capital and bustling metropolis in the 1960s.


For sure, it is “not a comprehensive selection of texts,” as the book editor, UP Baguio professor Delfin Tolentino Jr., admits. But it does present a variety of lenses through which readers may get to understand how “the identity of the city has been formed by a wide range of discourses.”

You may regard, as does James Joyce, that history is a nightmare. Or as one that, as Cicero would have us believe, “testifies to the passing of time … illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.” Or one that “has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues,” as T.S. Eliot put it.

Whatever view you take, “Fragments of a City’s History” will certainly not just serve as a source of historical trivia. It is an important resource for those who wish to explore the drama that was and is Baguio. It is also for those who wish to probe into the identity of a place once vaunted as “the cleanest, healthiest, most beautiful and best governed city in the country.”


Dee Dicen Hunt said...

May we have permission to reprint (in hard copy & online) your review of "Fragments of a City's History"? Our newsletter "Kasama" is online at along with our aims & constitution from which you will see that we are a voluntary peoples organisation based in Australia.
Dee Dicen Hunt, "Kasama" editor, Solidarity Philippines Australia Network (SPAN) & Co-coordinator, Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia, Brisbane Branch, Email:

scott saboy said...

Hi Mam Dee, I would be honored to have my article reprinted in "Kasama." I think you would need to write PDI though. Please get in touch with PDI Northern Luzon Bureau chief Rolly Fernandez ( Thank you po, and more blessings to your advocacies! :)