Thursday, September 3, 2009

Igorots in Motion


They were once mighty people of the earth and mountains. They carved the mountainsides to create big stairways of rice fields reaching up to the skies. They have braved the rough terrains and adjusted to the kind of living the mountains have to offer. They protected the treasures from invaders. When their efforts failed and their trees were harvested by invaders, they changed the sculpture of the bald mountains by creating vegetable farms that can supply the needs of the national capital region. They were called by their lowland brothers in the outskirts of the mountains Igolots.

According to early 20th century historian Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, golot is an old Bago tribe word meaning “mountain chain” or “mountain ranges” and the prefix “i” means “people of” or “dwellers in.” Igolot was the term the early people of the lowlands describe these mountain dwellers that came to trade goods with them. When the Spaniards came, the name was anglicized into Ygorrotte, to be spelled later as Igorot.

Although many of the people of the Cordillera don’t want to be called as such for some reasons. Many don’t like the negative connotations associated to the name. Some say they weren’t called by their ancestors with that name so it’s not appropriate to use it for their tribes and opted to use their own tribe’s name. Some have chosen to be called Cordillerans, although the term cordillera is of Spanish origin and is a common term in every country colonized by the Spaniards.

However, many people in the Cordillera Region of the Philippines already accepted the name given to them by their lowland brothers. They still use their tribe’s name such as Ibalois, Kankanaey, Ibontoc and such but accepted the Igorot term as their collective name.

From the first worldwide exposure of the Igorots as live exhibits in St. Louis Fair in Missouri in 1904, the Igorot people continue to migrate to different lands and countries. Nowadays Igorot communities have spread throughout the globe. Igorot online organizations are springing up and effort to clear the negative connotation of the name continue to spread.

The Igorots always help each other. It was the nature of their old culture. They made use of the internet as a means to expedite material aids when someone needs assistance especially when disaster strikes home. When disaster affected their lowland brothers, they too make extra effort to extend help. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted and thousand of people including the Aetas were displaced from their homes, truckloads of vegetables were sent as aids and the following famous quote came out: “Aetas very hungry, Igorots in a hurry.”

Yes, the Igorots are always in motion. They are respected worldwide and they are not ashamed of their name. Some of them may not be able to speak their local dialects anymore, but the values of their ancestors will always stay with them. After all, the Igorot way is about honor and respect.

Last April 2010, the online communities of Igorots met and created the Cordillera Global Network. It is an organization that involved not only the Igorot people but every person who became part of the Cordillera Region. The purpose is to help the new generations learn and appreciate their own culture and to shine as lights to other people to make them understand the history that brought wonders to these mountainous lands. A fitting organization to reunite them after decades of adventures that shaped their modern culture.

By Carl Carino Taawan

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Igorots: The People Behind the Name




In many parts of the country, the word Igorot is used as a derogatory term for idiots. In 1958, Even the former representative Luis Hora of the Third District of the Old Mountain sought to prohibit the use of Igorot in a house bill he presented. But what does the word really mean and who are these people who are proud to be called as one.

Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, a Tagalog scholar in the early 1900s, stated that it was composed of the root word golot, meaning “mountain chain” or “mountain ranges” and the prefix i, meaning “people of” or “dwellers in.”

The fact that golot is a place has still survived in the speech of those “Bagos” living in the outskirts of the Ilocos provinces who are believed to be related to the Igorots. We still hear people say “Nagapodad Golot” (They came from golot) when people arrive from the mountains.

"The word Igolot, therefore, appears to be perfectly indigenous Filipino origin, and it is in this form that it first appeared in Spanish records. The substitution of R for L in the word did not become popular until the 18th century when Antonio Mozo used the word in his 1763 Noticia Historico Natural changing the letter ‘L’ into letter ‘R’".

There is no record if the people in question called themselves Igorots (or Igolots) in the olden days. It would be more likely that this is what they were called by non-mountaineers in the lowlands. We have no idea if they ever have a collective term than can identify the highland tribes.

The name was imposed on the mountaineers by American Authority in the present century in accordance with the American ethnological surveys. The people of the old Mountain Province (namely Bontok, Ifugao, Benguet, Apayao and Kalinga) started using the term as their unique identity.

Presently, some people from the Cordillera Region refuse to use Igorot as their own identity for they argue that they were never called as such by their ancestors in the first place. And another reason is the derogatory meaning that lowland people associated with the name. Some wanted to be called Cordilleran instead. However, the word Cordillera is not an indigenous but a foreign (Spanish) term. It would then defeat the purpose of identifying the uniqueness of the distinct culture and people.

Igorot is the closest local term to call these unique people. However, even the people it seeks to define are divided. In this writer's opinion, if they, therefore, can't agree with this name as their collective name, they should find a local terminology that they are all comfortable to use.

So what should be the perfect name to call these distinctive people of these mountain ranges or “golot”?

To learn more about the Igorot Culture, contact this writer for your tour around Cordillera.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kibungan: Where Monkeys Roamed

By Carl Cariño Taawan

Deep gorges separating and isolating many sitios and barangays, rocky cliffs formed as human faces, and pine covered mountains that is said to resemble those of Switzerland. A place named after a primate.

In the mountains of Kibungan dwelt monkeys that are believed to have vanished because of the degradation of the forests and hunted for food. These monkeys were bigger than their common families found in the area today. The Americans named this municipality after these primates. They were called by the locals “Kibengan”.

One of the people who saw the said monkeys was Bernabe Wance. “It was probably in 1932 that they still roamed these mountains, “he said. “As the population grows, the monkeys were hunted for food. The monkeys eventually run away or have been wiped out.”

Increase of population in Kibunga escalated when the logging and mining industry expanded in the area. Bigger communities like those from Sagpat and Lobo were formed during the gold mines that closed down sometime in the 80s.

Today Kibungan is subdivided into 7 Barangays. Badeo, Lubo, Madaymen, Palina, Poblacion and Sagpat. The language in this municipality is mainly Kankanaey. It is located within a cool highland mountainous zone with elevations at more than 2500 meters above sea level. During its coolest months of December - January, Barangay Madaymen experiences chilling temperature of 0 degrees Celsius causing the famous Frost of Madaymen.

The municipality has many sites to offer but many can be reached only through hiking. Here are some of them.

Les-eng Rice Terraces
These magnificent terraces can be reached after 6-hour hike through lush pine forests in Barangay Tacadang.
Mayos River
Located at the northeastern part of Barangay Poblacion. It is approximately 2.5 kilometers in length and is about 3 kilometers awayfrom Poblacion Proper. The river originates from ridges of nearby Barangays Madaymen, Palina and Tacadang and supplies water to rice paddies and vegetable farms along the vicinity.
Palina Rice Terraces
In Barangay Palina at the foot of Mt. Kilkili believed to be a former volcano because of its conical shape. Constructed following a century-old system of rice terraces built with stone walls and neatly arranged one after the other. The rice terraces are at their best in December and June when the rice paddies turn golden yellow, near harvest time. The Palina rice terraces is known as the municipality’s rice granary.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Kankanaey Town of Buguias


Long time ago there was a hunter from Kiangan named Lamia-en who frequently travel to faraway places in pursuit of a game. During one of his hunting trips, he reached the village of Tinoc or Tinec. There he met a woman named Dacal-le. He courted her and not long after, they agreed to get married.

They were married near the hot spring in Buguias. On the eve of the wedding, pigs and cows were butchered. At night, worms rapidly spread on all the meat to the consternation of the gathered well-wishers. In the morning however, the worms transformed into beautiful butterflies and filled the vicinity with different colors dancing to the songs of various birds in the nearby flower fields and woodlands. The elders quickly interpreted this as a good omen for the new couple and that they will receive countless blessings. The couple are ancestors of the peoples of Buguias and most of the people living there today can trace their lineage to this famed hunter.

At the dawn of the century during the American regime, Buguias was a thickly forested area. Logging was the primary activity in the municipality up until the time of then President Ferdinand Marcos. This explains how communities came about in the highest places like Natubleng, one primary location of the many sawmills in Buguias. After most of the trees were felled, however, the workers started to look for other means of livelihood. Thence, they began farming and planted vegetable seedlings brought by the Chinese and Americans. Due to the government’s neglect to reforest, the trees slowly vanished until there was no more forest to speak of. The municipality then slowly and surely transformed itself into a farming town.

Although the dominant dialect or language in Buguias is Kankanaey, the original language of their ancestors can be traced to Kalanguya, similar to Nabaloi or Ibaloi language. Interactions and intermarriages with the neighboring towns of Kibungan, Bakun and Mankayan who are likewise Kankanaeys, their dominant language slowly saw transformation. Kalanguya, nevertheless, is still spoken in the boundaries of the municipality close to the province of Ifugao. Today, many speak two languages, the Kankanaey and Iloko. In their interactions with vegetable merchants, they have learned to understand and speak Tagalog or Pilipino. There are countless Elementary Schools and few High schools scattered in the municipality. But eventually after high school, most of the students go to the City of Baguio to pursue their college education.

Up to the present, the main livelihood in the municipality is vegetable farming. In higher altitudes, like Natubleng and Sinipsip, climates are much colder that plants grow slower than in the warmer places like Central Buguias. It was noted however that vegetable that matures longer tastes better. The municipality has always been famous with their beautiful vegetable terraces especially when most fields turn vegetable green. With the introduction of different and imported plant seedlings and insecticides, however, more resistant pests have invaded the municipality destroying millions of crops every year consequently forcing many farmers to look for alternative livelihood.

Going to Buguias today, one would notice but a few trees in some areas, far in between. Most if not all available areas had been terraced and tilled as vegetable farms. There are probably no more wild animals to be hunted in the remaining wooded areas where Lamia-en and the legendary Apo Anno used to hunt. Incidentally, Buguias is also a tributary of the major Agno River that supplies three hydroelectric dams. One of which is Ambuklao Dam, whose efficiency and performance have dismally deteriorated due to heavy siltation through the years. If the state of the Agno River and the its surrounding environs remain unchanged, soon the other dams downstream, Binga and San Roque, will likewise meet the fate of Ambuklao.

Having grown up in Buguias, this writer, an eighth generation offspring of Lamia-en, has seen the last of the few remaining Benguet pine trees on many of the land tracts before they have been transformed into vegetable gardens that we now see. Unless the descendants of the great hunter Lamia-en start to maintain check-and-balance between nature and their way of life, we may never again experience the once exceptional state of Buguias; times when weddings, festivals and town gatherings are embellished with native flowers and flamboyant butterflies dancing to the sounds of vibrant birds ever abundant in the forests nearby.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Igorots: The so Called Savages of the Cordilleras




For more than 300 years the Spaniards and Americans fought the people of the Cordilleras called Igorots. They were called savages and uncivilized or ignorant by these invaders. These colonizers wanted to eradicate these people’s customs and traditions and enforce their western cultures and religions. The savages fought back. They wanted their cultures intact.

For centuries they flourished in these mountains as farmers and hunters. Although they have occasional quarrels with their neighboring tribes, they were protected by their common law called “budong” (peace pacts). They lived in harmony with nature. For years they never exploited their natural resources to extinction. They cut only the trees they need for building houses and hunt only the animals they need for food. Their way of exchanging goods were mostly through gold or their local commodities (e.g. exchange rice for g-strings or animals).

The Budong

Peace pacts in those days are significant protection for the people. Once a quarrel against another tribe arises, It would be brought to the attention of their elders or peace pact holder. These tribal leaders were regarded much respect. A council with other peace pact holders especially with the conflicting tribe would ensue. They would be the one to decide whether there will be war or the conflict would be settled amicably. Often time the instigator of the quarrel pays for his action with goods such as domestic animals. Apparently weaker tribes always go for peaceful settlements.

Head hunting expeditions which happens when peace pact holders severe the peace pact against a rival tribe does not always occur. In contradiction to what other people thought, war is also upsetting to them because it takes too many resources and the lives of their warriors. But they don’t hold back once they were ordered to go to war. They only kill their enemy’s warriors. Rarely would they include women and children.

Living in Harmony with Nature

The Igorot people never lack the basic necessities in life. Rice, meat, clothing and shelter. Each household has a rice field to till. Every community work hand in hand to plow and plant their fields. They know the timetable of the rain to water their plants. If one does not follow the crowd, his plant suffers the consequences. The bulk of pests would invade his plants.

This maybe is a myth in the mountains as a punishment of Kabunyan to the one who does not follow his laws, but it has an explanation in today’s scientific studies. Field rats live in a colony. When there are enough foods they multiply. When there’s scarcity of food, their numbers would decrease.

When the plants start to bear fruit, the rats’ populations also starts to increase. However, since the vastness of the field has been planted, no matter how fast the rats multiply their presence are barely felt by the farmers. And before their number increase to become uncontrollable pests, the rice fields are already ripe for harvesting. The goods are kept in the rice barns that are inaccessible to the pests. If someone did not follow the multitude and planted earlier or later than the rest, the bulk of the pest will feast on his field during the time it’s the only one yielding fruit.

The poor people in a community also do not have to beg to live. They work in the fields and would be paid rice for their wages. They would supplement these with edible fruits and vegetables from their forests and kaingins or swidden (slash and burn) farms. They also hunt wild pigs in the forests including the field rats for their meat supplies.

The forests thrive with wild animals and plants. The people only cut the trees for their basic necessities like firewood and for building huts and rice barns. Their forests are sacred not only because it is the source of their water and other important necessities but also the home of spirits. They fear of punishment from their ancestors or the "anitos" if they exploit these sacred places. Their taboo beliefs are instrumental in the balance of nature.

The Western Influence

For centuries, the most important treasures for the Igorots are their animals and fields. The rich have more carabaos, cows and pigs. The poorer usually have their pigs and chickens. When the colonizers introduced the power of money, the usual practices are no longer important. Exchange of goods has also changed. People would accumulate more money than animals and land.

The west has also introduced logging. With the opportunity to earn money, people discarded their beliefs and joined in the exploitation of the forests. The industry has destroyed more forest products in just the first two decades of the American time than what the Igorots have used up in centuries.

The same influence has caused many to abandon their fields and find other money-making ventures somewhere. They sold their fields and animals and joined the vast number of people migrating to the cities. Many went to work in mining companies.

With the influence of rampant violence and the lack of respect to the elders, the original essence of Budong is slowly deteriorating. Peace pact holders are often times not consulted and vengeance are exacted without the usual budong consultations.

Crimes in the past days pertain only to stealing and killing. They don’t rape and disrespect their women. They follow the courtship law. Men and women used to bath in the rivers together naked and without malice. The vile acts were introduced by the colonizers who pillaged their lands, burned their huts and fields and raped their women.

And these savages are the people who brought us the so called Christian Religions. Religions that are laden with the old pagan traditions of Rome (e.g. celebration of Christmas day on December 25 which was actually celebrated in Rome as the birthday of Saturn; existence of Purgatory that is not found in the Bible but actually part of the Greek and Roman Mythology, etc. etc.)


We were called uncivilized and savages then. But I do believe that even when we didn't have guns and machines we are more civilized in our ways that those who came to conquer us. When they came to influence us, our natural resources we fought so hard to keep were wasted to corruption. (Here one ironic example: When the Japanese came, we fought hard not to lose what's left of our resources to them. After the war, 90 percent of our forest products went to the rehabilitation of Japan. Our fathers fought hard for it only to be given by our western influenced corrupt leaders to the very people we're keeping it away from. And these leaders are the country’s richest today.)

Are we to blame the Western World for the influence and changes in our cultural upbringing? To me it’s yes and no. Yes because they did bring us a lot of influence to abandon our beliefs that enforce respect to nature and to our elders. No because what’s happening is global. Change will come to us one way or the other.

This is just yet another battle for the Igorots to fight. To learn from the old beliefs and traditions, learn its scientific benefits and incorporate it to the new generations’ teachings. It’s a fight to bring balance to the old and new traditions and to the people and environment.

It is another fight to be able to maintain their unique identity while able to compete worldwide in every aspect of undertakings. Being knowledgeable in our culture, history and its scientific significant at the same time expert in the ways of the western world can give them edge over the rest of the competitors.