The Things No One Tells You (Musings of a First Time Mama)

Note: This was written with a beautiful baby boy sleeping in my arms. It was done in installments–after a burp, after a bath, etc., and was completed at 3am when my little bub decided to wake us both up just because he is the boss.

I heard superwoman stories about my Alapo’y Banayan when it comes to giving birth. On the onset of labor, she’d supposedly tell her older kids to go take naps. She then delivers unassisted, wakes the kids up, tells them they have a new sibling to help take care of, and goes about doing her chores like nothing monumental just happened. Much of that narrative may be exagerrated but after personally experiencing a long, arduous birthing journey, no way am I going to downplay my grandmother’s unbelievable feat of successfully delivering 10 children at a time when midwives, hospitals and epidurals were not necessarily part of the birthing process.

Igorota woman with child. Circa 1901.
Photo colorized by Bilog Bilugan 2017

I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just over a month ago. These days my hours are spliced into feeding, burping, nappy changing, non-sleeping, repeat–most times feeling like a zombie but marvelling at the strength and energy that does not seem to deplete just because the mere sight of this tiny creature that I call my son recharges what could otherwise have been a thoroughly spent body.

Even before beginning to talk about the highs and lows of labor and hours of strenuous pushing, I wanted to say something about my pregnancy woes that tend to debunk some notions about being pregnant. We often hear about the pregnancy glow, but whoever came up with the phrase must have taken some rainbow supplements as I on the other hand dealt with a barrage of swelling, headaches, bloating, constipation and the overall feeling of being downright fat and ugly. And these just become minor discomforts when you’re constantly navigating emotional turbulence.

The dramatic breaking of water that we see in movies does not always happen. So is the fairly poised new mom who after a few pushes and screaming gets a naked crying baby plopped on her. Birthing seems like a breeze. Although that’s undoubtedly downplayed and is not the expectation, the birthing process is way more complicated. No amount of research and classes could have prepared me for what actually happens in those delivery rooms. I would not dare go into details. Just that like the actual delivery which was messy, raw and intense, so were my emotions throughout that seemingly endless experience. Suffice to say I absolutely forgot the ‘inhale, exhale’ process but managed to unleash the monster inside me who was ready to breathe fire on anyone I fancied every time those horrendous contractions came.

We women are very lucky these days as we are spoiled with all sorts of medications to make the birthing journey with the least amount of pain possible. And despite being initially heroic thinking I could just do with the laughing gas, I ended up abusing the drugs. Those moments, I became an addict. All my resolutions were thrown out the window as all I could think with sobriety was “Give me mooooore!” Which makes me wonder how in the world did my grandmother deliver those babies, all ten of them, without even a single drop of morphine to dull the pain away. That woman is unbelievable!

Don’t even get me started on what happens after birth. Your body becomes delicately foreign to your own self after. No one really tells you about more swelling,the seemingly nonstop bleeding from your lady parts, cracked nipples, hemorrhoids, incontinence, immobility, more constipation. Plus, you still look very pregnant. On top of these, you have to deal with baby blues or worse, postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is real. Though you are over the moon with the blessing you’ve been praying for a long time, sometimes you just don’t have control over the surge of loneliness or just an overall feeling of helplessness that comes over you. But you can’t complain. You’re just driven by this unconditional love for someone. Immeasurable love that nothing’s more important than his well-being. But I cannot emphasize enough that PPD is real and this should be recognized and talked about more often for awareness, enlightenment, and support when it is due.

Your body is different from that of another woman. I was so worried when my pospartum healing did not go as fast as I thought it would, especially when you see others making it look like their delivery was a walk down the park. I had feelings of guilt and inadequacy as I felt like I should be doing more for my little one but my aches and pains hindered me from doing so. I had to be reminded constantly not to be so hard on myself.

You’d think you’ll have plenty of time to do things and tick off a couple of tasks or goals that are overdue as a sleeping baby can afford you all the time you need. But very soon you’ll realize that getting the opportunity to take a five-minute shower is a luxury itself. On that note, I have to remind myself daily that sleep is more important than a clean house.

Giving birth is transformative. It changes you from a woman to a mother. It profoundly affects how you feel about your body–whether the experience was empowering or disabling. It either makes you feel like you can conquer the world or you feel downright inadequate.

Those are but a few of the personal realizations that I’ve discovered whilst cruising the calm and turbulence of a first time mom. Now I have found a more enlightened respect and awe for mothers. From being pregnant to giving birth to taking care of a new human being involves herculean efforts that women amazingly accomplish with little to no sleep at all.

Motherhood entails a lot of responsibility and utmost commitment but never should we be pressured by anything or anyone. What works for others may not be what’s best for you. Be reminded that you are doing great mama! You do you!

And although being a mom comes with a tremendous amount of work, it is truly a gift and a privilege. Everything about it should be embraced. Yes, flabs and stretch marks included.

I have a million things I need to learn for someone so new at this. Not everything has been pleasant as I realized when I crossed those bridges but if blessed with another opportunity to have another go through the whole shebang with the promise of another precious being, or two, oh yes I’ll do it again. In a heartbeat. Well maybe not the ten babies like Super Granny had, that’s pushing it.


Mini Trails, Big Delights

And so it was on a beautiful sunny February day when we decided to hit the trails for the first time this year. A rather late snowfall has visited Vancouver mid-February so skiers and snowshoers have been congesting the more popular Cypress and Seymour trails. As one not too fond of crowded hike spots, we opted to check out what lesser-known North Vancouver trails would lead us. And we were not disappointed.

Featuring Kaidu, the Siberian Husky, and Kojin, the dachschund, it was a delightful intermediate hike to loosen those taut muscles for more challenging hikes this 2019, I hope. 🙂

Separation Anxiety; When does it end?

You know that unpleasant feeling every Sunday evening knowing that tomorrow would be Monday? That mixture of anxiety, panic and trepidation that would ultimately result in not being able to enjoy a good dinner on a Sunday night. This comes very close to what I feel during evenings when I know I’m working away from my toddler the next day.

Yes, I admit that I still experience maternal separation anxiety despite more than half a year of being back to work. This construct that describes a mother’s experience of sadness, worry, and even guilt during a short-term and temporary separation from the little one has been my “Sunday evening” plague the past months thus far.

I’ve been told by those around that I seem to express more unease than my child. I don’t disagree. I  acknowledge that while my child’s separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate and in fact a major milestone for his age, mine on the other hand is a setback for both our progression since I look for any reason to get him to cling to me, the way I expect him to. I am the needier one it looks like.

Don’t blink, they say.

For this reason, I read forums and articles on the topic as a self-help measure to make it easier. Otherwise if I don’t do something about this, then there’s no moving forward. The following are condensed pointers gleaned from all that reading. These help me cope with my apprehensions and I hope it may do the same for others who are undergoing a similar phase.

Accepting the emotions.

I had to acknowledge the fact that what I am experiencing is totally normal. All moms go through this juncture. Mothers are hardwired to be overprotective. Our brains tend to go into overdrive that leads to excessive worrying which then manifests into stress. So the goal is to effectively manage the paranoia and catastrophic thinking so both mother and child can ultimately be healthily independent on our own.

Recognizing the anxiety and putting a name to the feelings means you are starting to conquer these.

Sharing these emotions and sharing my “playbook”.

I found that verbalizing what I am feeling to my partner and my friends can be effectively validating. Simply voicing out my issues as opposed to keeping them bottled in lessens the anxiousness.

Sharing also means telling your playbook or how you go about your daily routine. Listing the major or even minor things that involve the care of the child makes me feel assured that he will be alright when he is being tended by others. So expectations like the number of naps he takes, allowable screen time duration, food preferences and the likes are communicated. Knowing that his day will be approached similarly gives me that added comfort.

Starting small.

I went back to work on part-time basis, still am. After a year of being each other’s world, it just did not seem right that both our lives will dramatically change overnight. I started small to build both our confidence and gradually lessen our mutual interdependence.

This is working very well for my little one as I see that he thrives in the care of others, especially with the grandparents.

Writing it down.

Same thing with sharing these feelings, writing them down–putting these into words outside my mind, feels like giving them space outside my brain. Not having these feelings fully reside inside means lesser chances of having negative and irrational thinking patterns.

Good old-fashioned acceptance, again.

Worrying is inevitable. As my doctor told me pre-birth, you never stop worrying about your babies until they turn 21. I doubt I will stop worrying, ever.

So since it’s going to be second nature, there’s no other way but to move forward. Don’t discount the feeling, ride the wave. And sail on with ease.


We have to recognize that maternal separation anxiety may root from some underlying issues and past traumas. My biggest takeaway when I experienced a personal trauma was that it’s perfectly okay to seek professional help. The hesitance stems from a cultural stigma against mental health. Breaking away from this unhelpful perception liberates one from the holds that restricts opportunities of bettering oneself emotionally.

Seeking therapeutic support for mild to extreme cases can help one navigate these experiences better so ultimately, one can have power over these anxieties.

These are but a few of the things that personally help me deal better with the separation anxiety I experience when being away from my child. I don’t deny the fact that I still get obsessive at times. This means asking my husband photos every hour or so when he is the one in charge of our kid for the day. I think I am allowed this pass.

Note: This has been in my drafts for a couple of months now. Pre-posting, it finally happened. That day when the grandfolks picked my baby and he waved bye at me with his pudgy hands then blew me a kiss. He’s grown! It’s really true what they say. They grow right before our eyes. So every moment should be savoured, the calm and the turbulence alike.

A Letter To My Son

We just got you down to sleep for the night and though every nerve in my spent body is ready to shut off, I know I’ll be spending the next couple of hours just listening to your breathing. So I will take this moment to pen my thoughts, for you to read somewhere down the road.

I was telling your father awhile back that a few nights ago, you were sound asleep beside me and yet I was missing you so much. Your steady breathing felt loud in our dark bedroom but I was missing you tremendously. I had to turn on your Totoro lamp so I had more light to gaze at your very peaceful face. Your dad said it was my mama senses kicking in. I guess. These days I am pensive, introspective and learning a lot because of you. It makes me realize that I need you more than you need me my love.

Minutes before all that hair got sheared. Anakin at three months has been grabbing everything. Hair included.

It hasn’t been too long since you came into our lives but even before you were here, the plan to have you retaught me so much already–belief, healing, hope and faith. Our journey prior to having you involved losses, grief and trauma so it was truly a test of faith on our end whether to lose or cling to hope. Hope and faith evidently held on because we finally have you. You were already so much loved even before your existence.

Being a new mom at this time and age came with a lot of challenges. But I am in awe of how I grow with you every single day. Our long quiet hours together as I said gives me a lot of opportunity to be contemplative. Whilst staring upon your angelic face, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. We must have done something right in this lifetime to be blessed with someone so precious. You made me redefine happiness. Before you, I was always in constant pursuit of it. I felt it was elusive, that I had to constantly work for it. But now you somehow solidified it and made it permanent.

You also revived a lot of values that I seemed to have forgotten–forgiveness, acceptance and enlightenment. Your mere existence heals wounds, bridges gaps, and strengthens relationships. Everyone’s love for you makes us love each other even more. That is such a beautiful thing.

During these long hours you are teaching me patience, slowing down, and being in the moment. Though I cannot wait to have all these adventures in the outdoors and the world with you the soonest you are ready, I know I will intensely miss these calm moments when it’s just you and me–you lost in your dreamworld of rainbows and puppies and I lost in wonder just looking at you. I know this phase with you is fleeting so I am embracing these slow hours.

You evoke powerful feelings of care and love. How can someone so tiny stir such immense emotions. Without any hesitation, I will do anything and sacrifice everything for you. Thank you for letting me know that I can be selfless.

Thank you my son for teaching me to be more appreciative–to be more grateful for the little things. For teaching me to be kinder, to act with more compassion. Thank you for reschooling me on all these values, for making me better, for giving me more purpose.

And so I slowly inch closer to you so I could have that calm that only your gentle breathing could bring. You are growing right before my eyes everyday as I also grow with you. I do need you more than you need me.

It Does Take a Village (Musings of a First Time Mama)

When I was pregnant, I read a lot about babies and parenthood as much as I ate Doritos with grapes (yeahp, these two at the same bite). But when the baby came, most things I thought I learned from all that reading did not necessarily become useful as I ended up turning to firsthand advice from every super mother I know (who is basically every mother. Yes mama, you are amazing!) It just feels more valid and more reassuring when I hear it straight from a momma herself. And yes, I have been listening to a lot of mothers. A villageful of them.

I learned that the best thing to have when having a baby is not that adorable set of onesies or that fancy sterilizer. The best thing to have to successfully raise a baby is a village.

Art Work by James Gabriel Wandag

You lose your brain for a while especially during the early stages of parenthood. It’s akin to climbing Mt. Everest with zero conditioning. But your village makes sure you don’t drown or get lost in an avalanche. Your village is there to remind you that life is not all about poop and spit-ups and having one boob out at all times. They are there to reassure you that you are imperfect and have human failings when you start getting too hard on yourself. Though early motherhood proves challenging, your village reminds you it’s a finite period and you should therefore embrace it.

I felt clueless and scared navigating the hows of baby care and even self-care during the earlier days. That Youtube instructional video on how to bathe a newborn felt gibberish. My village had to physically show it for it to make sense. I never knew about breast pads and nipple creams. My village made me aware that I can do something about leaks and sore nips. I panicked over every rash that I notice on my bubba. My village assured me that these are common for newborns and that I’m like every other mama who overreacts to anything when it comes to our babies. My village fed us with hearty broths, showed us how to swaddle, how to do a proper latch, gifts the baby with diapers and clothes and cuddles, and gives me a break from feeling isolated when they visit or chat me up online during this so-called fourth trimester. My village even enabled me to follow tradition when they came together for my baby’s native name giving ceremony–this is really one for the books. My village made sure that that my baby was doing okay, that I was doing okay, and reassured us that we will be okay.

Although being with my village has proven to be a challenge with the restrictions and protocols this pandemic, I’m still beyond grateful for everyone who visited, reached out, shared advice, listened and supported (physically and virtually) our little family in the early stages of our parenthood. Thank you family, friends, social media forums and health websites for being my village. And we know you’ll be there with us moving forward. Wink, wink.

A Rainbow in Winter

Winter Rainbow by Carol Warner

The phrase “rainbow baby” is common among parenting forums these days. It’s a simple, beautiful phrase that tells a whole big story. A story of loss, coping, healing, elation yet again for being blessed, and the guilt that comes for being happy after your tragedies. For someone who personally experienced losses and is now anticipating the arrival of our greatest blessing yet, I can fully relate to the myriad of emotions that come with having a rainbow baby.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. To learn that talking about this sensitive issue is changing for the better is very encouraging. Because pregnancy loss is one of those things that we don’t talk openly about when in fact 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Yet even with its prevalence, many grieving parents feel like their loss is minimized, dismissed. But with how easily accessible information is these days, it’s not difficult to find resources that could help one understand and make sense of what happened because undergoing such an experience should never be discounted. If you’re someone who went through a loss, do know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Your every emotion is valid and you don’t need anyone telling you otherwise.

I consider myself very fortunate to be in a country where we have multiple health and support programs that guide women who have undergone similar tragedies. Aside from a strong support group from friends and loved ones, being open to the idea of professional help can serve as a tremendous help. If resources and support programs are regrettably not available in the area you are in, the internet is a rich source of information and teeming with forums that talk about these issues. It really helps to listen and be heard by people who understand.

I am emboldened to talk about loss and grief seeing how many women do so now these days. We share to let others out there know that they are not alone. At some point, I thought shutting myself in my own little bubble would be the best way to process my grief and anger. It works for some time but I realized I needed to be in touch with people who actually got it.

Aptly named “rainbow baby”, we are beyond grateful to be meeting our bundle of blessing in a few weeks’ time. The pregnancy journey itself has been a challenge in a sense that I was scared for the most part of it. I could not truly get myself to enjoy the process as I was dealing with PTSD. The intervals between doctor’s appointments feel so long, and every update or development is a huge milestone. I can say that I started feeling truly joyful again after being assured multiple times that our little bean is developing wonderfully and healthily. At this point, I am now as big as an orca and have only two or three clothes that fit me so I keep on stealing whatever I can from my husband’s closet, but I have never felt more glamorous!

For anyone who lost a blessing, heal at your own pace and remain hopeful. You are a wonderful creation of God! A strong and brave woman, graceful and beautiful. You deserve all the happiness in the world and the pure joy of being a mother, in God’s perfect time. Blowing some baby dust your way!

Below are a couple of articles that might be helpful.




The Spanish colonization of the Philippines, specifically in the coasts and plains of the archipelago is well-recorded and accounted for. However, very little is attributed about the colonial effort to subjugate that of the highland tribes, specifically that of the Cordillerans.

For more than three centuries, the Cordillera natives resisted the unceasing armed expeditions of the Spaniards. Efforts at ruling the mountain tribes proved to be ineffective. Attempts of propagating Christianity among the Igorots were likewise dismal failures.

At present, it is still an overwhelming question as to why the Igorots were able to avoid the clutch of Spanish colonialists. What steeled and urged these mountain dwellers to resist Spanish colonization? It may have been triggered by their love for freedom and homeland. What were their responses towards Spanish colonization? And what did this bring them in the end? A review of Cordilleran history would reveal some answers to a somewhat obscure chapter of our past.

The Highlands During the Pre-colonial Period

Previous to Spanish colonization, there was no Filipino nation to speak of. There were only small and independent communities scattered over the archipelago where there existed appropriate political, social, cultural and economic systems. High above the mountain ranges of what we now know as the Cordillera region were communities that may be characterized in their mode of production as primitive, semi-communal, and semi-slave. There was a distinct social stratification within these settlements. But one very significant feature was the trading among the communities.This trade extended to the lowland communities as well, which resulted in certain similarities between the upland and lowland culture. These similarities included the language, death rituals, tattooing and ornamentation, and headhunting practices among several communities. Most of all, there was never a hint of national oppression. But this rather languid way of living had its dramatic turn when Spain slowly wormed its way among the communities.

Expedition of the Gold Mines and Early Spanish Advances

Most of the coasts and plains then of the Philippines were under Spanish rule when King Henry III sent orders to the Philippines to exploit the gold mines in the highlands. Spain was in desperate need then for financial backing after it joined the Thirty Years War in 1618. It was common knowledge that gold mines were abundant in the mountains. The natives had continuously traded gold with their lowland brothers who were by then under Spanish rule themselves. The gold was the answer to Spain’s need to combat the Dutch. This was the major factor that lured the Spanish conquistadores to penetrate the mountains.

Prior to this decision, the Spanish colonialists attempted to subjugate the highland tribes like all the other settlements in the country. Their first attempts had been futile. The highlanders simply ignored the pacification advances of the Spaniards. They did not just refuse the colonization. Being warlike and headhunters in nature, they beheaded any insistent alien who came within the range of their established borders. From this behavior of the natives sprung the term Igorots as how we call them now. This came from the Spaniards’ labeling for the entire highland population which was Ygollotes, meaning “people from the mountains”. But this had a derogatory connotation then such as dirty, uncivilized, pagan, barbarians, and headhunters to the Spaniards and the Christianized lowland Filipinos as well. Yet pacification of the upland population did not cease. More so that the need for gold urged the conquistadores to invade the highland region.

The first expedition for the Igorot gold mines was led by Governor Garcia de Aldana y Cabrera in March 1620. He was with some 900 Filipino soldiers from Pangasinan. A group of 50 Igorot chieftains met him and his troops and tried block his passage. He ignored them and continued to a village in Boa anyway. There, he burned the town and established a fort called Santissima Trinidad. They built their own cogon houses and even a chapel wherein two Dominicans said Mass for the first time in an Igorot settlement. All the while, Igorots went on beheading soldiers they chanced upon. Aldana retaliated by threatening the chieftains but to no avail. He then quickly scouted the mines and returned immediately to the lowlands where he died soon afterwards.

At about the same time, Philip III died but his successor ordered the expeditions to continue. So in 1623, a larger expedition was led by Sergeant Major Antonio Carreno.He built two forts, namely, Fort Santiago and Fort del Rosario, both near Antamoc, Itogon. The Igorots wisely attacked during the rainy season, leaving the Spaniards’ muskets useless. Moreover, the forts were razed to the grounds. The remaining soldiers then retreated.

The third expedition was under Captain Martin Alonzo Quirante who rebuilt the forts. Finally, he returned with 5,600 kilograms of ore for assaying. But the three expeditions had already caused a great deal of money and many lives with no profit.The Spanish government agreed to cancel the whole project. All the forces for this expedition were then withdrawn.

It was indeed a triumphant victory for the Igorots that lasted for another two centuries in which the Spaniards never occupied the gold mines again. But it can be concluded that the Spaniards were struggling for their interests in the cultural, politico-military, and economic aspects most importantly.

Igorot Responses Towards the Spaniards

The Spanish colonizers continued using various means to achieve their objective of integrating the Cordilleras within the colonial structure already set- up in many parts of the Philippine territory. All these efforts were geared towards the exploitation of the region’s resources, particularly gold. Despite these persistent forces, the Igorots stood their ground. Collectively, Igorots were fierce and violent warriors and headhunters. They were known to kill and rob Spanish subjects. Such a characteristic definitely posed a threat to the Spaniards. They were also pagans who clung firmly to their beliefs. They rejected the introduction of Christianity, making it harder for the colonizers to pacify them. And most importantly, the Igorots always had a strong sense of independence. They refused the intervention of “other” people towards their homeland and indigenous lifestyle. Here are several Igorot encounters with the colonizers to help us see how they dealt with the subjugating forces of Spain.

Isnegs or the natives of Apayao were subjects for conversion in terms of religion. But their chiefs, Alaban and Lanag, reacted by killing the missionaries and leading communities farther up the mountains of Apayao.

A revolt by the Isnegs massacred the soldiers when a Spanish soldier abused a woman from their tribe. And not very far from there, another Isneg, Juan Manzano, led an uprising against the Spanish priests and soldiers. Rather than submitting to capture, he commited suicide.

The Ifugaos in Kiangan, on the other hand retired to the hills when the troops launched their first attacks. But while the soldiers were looting and helping themselves, the Ifugao warriors returned with reinforcements, descended on the village unexpectedly, throwing stones and spears while shouting wildly. This made the soldiers panic; they fled in disorder with the Kiangan warriors pursuing them. They effectively drove the Spanish forces out. So the proud people of Kiangan continued to defend their homeland against foreign aggression and attacked the government highway.

A Spanish priest wrote that the Ifugaos were very difficult to control because they very numerous and robust. But for the Ifugaos, it was a matter of loving their land so much that made them struggle to keep the Spaniards at bay.

The Ilongots on the other hand went on beheading soldiers and burning churches. It was pretty obvious that they plainly did not want to be subjected under the clutches of the Spanish rule, be it the church or the government as a whole.

Image from the “Igorots” by Bill Amos

The colonizers by this time decided to extend their territory fuarther up north where Kankanaeys and Ifontoks settled. An unsuccessful raid is made in Bontoc. It was without question that the Bontoc people were fierce and violent warriors and notorious headhunters as well. But gradually, the Spanish forces somehow managed to set up local garrisons within this village. Still, the Ifontoks never gave up. They attacked the garrisons, set fire on public buildings, killed many troops and wounded many more. Furthermore, they stole what they could especially the rifles and other weapons of the Spaniards.

These tribes all over the mountain range of the Cordilleras continued their resistance towards the Spanish forces. They burned and attacked garrisons, burned Spanish settlements, stole their arms and ammunitions and did not tire of taking heads.They attacked unexpectedly with their spears and bolos and arrows. It should be taken into consideration also that nature helped the Igorots in their resistance against the Spaniards. They made wise use of the rugged mountain terrain in defending their lands. It was a lot harder after all to colonize mountainous regions as compared to the coastal areas and the plains. The mountains provided the Igorots various means of defenses.They knew their land too well and this was without a doubt an advantage for them against the Spaniards who were not at all acquainted with these areas.

All in all, they created an ominous image for themselves. They threatened the colonizers and other Christianized Filipinos as well.

From here, it appeared like it was a clash between the Igorots and the Spaniards with the Christianized lowlanders. An Edict by the Royal Audiencia in Manila gave permission to the natives of the lowland to make slaves of any mountaineer they could capture, reasoning out that it was illegal to oppose the colonization projects of Spain. The Igorots by then had made a name for themselves as robbers, and vile pagans who captured and killed priests and prevented the propagation of Christian salvation.

The Effects

It wasn’t until the last years of the Spanish regime that the conquistadores were able to establish a more or less stable foothold in several parts of the Cordillera.

Spanish military expeditions continued and even intensified up to the dying period of the colonial rule. Simultaneous with these military expeditions were religious missions whose main objective, contrary to claims of Christian salvation, was the dismantling of the indigenous culture which had been the people’s source of unity against colonization. These religious missions attempted to deceive the people into allowing the unhampered exploitation of the region’s resources. Through the years, they managed to pacify a number of communities by converting them to Christianity.

It should also be noted that in the entire course of these expeditions, the colonizers used armies composed of lowlanders from nearby provinces of Ilocos and Pangasinan— a manifest example of Spain’s use of “divide and rule” tactics. This led to the disintegration of the harmonious relationship that previously existed between the lowlanders and the highlanders. It aggravated whatever differences that existed between them. The Spaniards were responsible for fueling a conflict between the highland and lowland people.

Within this period, the concept of Filipino nationalism against Spanish colonization was born. This developed from localized revolts which eventually reached the stage of nationwide revolution in 1896. This was participated by a large number of the Filipino working class, including the Cordillera people.

For the Cordillerans, their resistance was largely successful. It is indicated by the fact that at the end of the Spanish regime, when the Igorot territory had been carved up into a dozen military districts, the last census still listed one-third of the estimated population as completely independent. It is without a doubt that these mountain dwellers fought for their liberty with their means of disposal for 320 years, and that this resistance was deliberate, self-conscious, and continuous. So successful was their defense that for three centuries, they generally remained outside effective colonial control. But three centuries is a long time. Three centuries of a distinct experience with colonialism can spell a world of difference. And it did. It created a majority out of the colonized Filipinos who now shared more things in common as they suffered exploitation and oppression under Spain. It also made national minorities of those who did not undergo the great economic, political, and cultural changes which the majority experienced, and who were able to retain much of their indigenous lifestyles and institutions throughout the whole period of colonial rule.

William Henry Scott (Author of Barangay)
W.H. Scott (Image from Wikipedia)

To quote from Dr. William Henry Scott, a renowned Igorot historian, “… during those three centuries when Spanish firearms never really conquered the lofty liberty of the Igorots, they were paying a heavy price for their independence. Moving off into more remote parts of the Cordillera, they had to pit their brawn and brains against raw nature and sterile soil. And while they learned to carve the whole mountainsides into terraces to wring out a bare subsistence for living, their tribute-praying brethren in the lowlands were learning to farm like the Spaniards and cook like the Chinese. While Graciano Lopez Jaena was ornamenting the Spanish press with his graceful prose, and Jose Rizal was hobnobbing with European scholars in half a dozen languages, their illiterate Igorot compatriots were being exhibited in the Philippine Exposition along with other native plants and animals. In their mountain…independence, the Igorots missed out on all the convenient innovations enjoyed by their conquered brethren…. It was a heavy price to pay for liberty. And it is a price not yet fully paid…”

Now, was the independence painstakingly achieved by the Igorots really worth it?

Cordillerans as a National Minority Group

Today, we know Cordillera as a region inhabited by the majority of Igorots. And, we know the Igorots as a national minority group. They are still regarded erroneously as headhunters and barbaric individuals. Such notions are inevitable since the Igorots differ from most in terms of culture and traditions. But contrary to these perceptions, the Igorots are highly civilized. With the American occupation at the turn of the century, the Americans accomplished what the Spaniards were not able to do. American missionaries successfully integrated the last of the resisting forces through the spread of Christianity. Unlike their colonial predecessors, they did one thing that was a potent instrument in drawing the natives towards them. It was education. They established schools and taught the illiterate. Their years of settlement in the Cordillera communities led to the influx of ample Western culture.

But despite this integration of the Cordilleras within the colonial structure of the nation, the Cordillera natives managed to preserve most of their practices. They clung to their spiritual beliefs and continued their indigenous lifestyle, at the same time learning the new ways introduced to them by the Americans. Such an attitude most probably made them distinct as we compare them now to other Filipinos who bowed down under Spanish colonial rule. In more ways than one, the Igorots never totally gave way to foreign influence. Somehow, they managed to stay independent until the end.

It is not a question as to why accounts about the colonial efforts of the Spaniards towards the Igorots did not find their place in standard Philippine textbooks. Documents are not completely willing to provide insight on the motivations and methods of the Cordillera natives in warding off the colonizers. It was indeed a thorn in the side of Spanish pride. Governor Salcedo himself spoke to his first council with considerable passion about the mountain ranges inhabited by Igorots, owners of the gold mines and enemies of the Christians. “It is a scandal to the Christian Filipinos and a cause for derision and mockery for foreigners that in the very heart of the island which is the main one, there should be such pagan enemies of ours—and with the fame of their rich gold mines, too.”

It was certainly a shame to the Spanish nation to permit such excesses. And another century later, Governor Primo de Rivera wrote: “ It is certainly humiliating for Spain and her government at home and abroad to realize that thousands of human beings live not only in pre-conquest backwardness but commit crimes and depredations, carrying their audacity to the extent of demanding tribute from the very Christian towns without receiving castigation for their troubles and without any authority, having been bold enough to impose itself upon them…”

It was indeed a battle for three centuries for these Cordillera natives. Their love for their homeland and lifestyle and everything they had kept them going. Even if it meant going farther and farther up the mountains, they took the risks just so they will not fall under the ominous wing of the conquistadores. Suffering the periodic destruction of their homes, fleeing from more and more remote mountain ranges, enduring miserable existence, and having labeled themselves as a national minority constituted the considerable price the Igorots paid for their freedom.

On emotional health, coping, and “kasiyana”

Emotional and mental health have somewhat been foreign concepts to me for the most part of my life, having been raised in a community where being emotionally delicate is dubbed as “kapoy” (weak) and the mentally-challenged are stigmatized. We are reared with the expectation to be always “taraki” (capable and strong) otherwise you won’t be able to find your way in the world, much less survive everyday struggles. For this, I am eternally grateful. I can confidently say that I was taught enough resilience and soundness of mind to enable me to somehow cope with the various trials and tribulations that have shadowed different stages of my life…or so I thought.

But human emotions have their limit. Like there’s only so much love one can give, only so much tolerance one can bear, and only so much loss one can accept to be fair. While we are all battling with the madness of this pandemic, I had to suffer back to back personal losses that set back my fortitude to the lowest notch. I had to personally experience fathomless grief and pain, not just once, but twice, to have full awareness of the decline of my emotional health and how it can drastically affect one’s well-being and functionality.

I had to learn the hard way that forcing yourself to be okay does not make things get better. I had to convince myself a lot of times that I am allowed a pass to be not “taraki” this time around. And then I had to acknowledge that I was undergoing the word that has never been readily recognized by the environment that I grew up in–depression. I believe that was the first big step towards coping, accepting that I am not vulnerable to this emotional state that is plaguing millions of individuals the world over.

Understanding the triggers to my emotional setbacks means attempting to accept these personal tragedies as an effort to reconcile with reality, no matter how agonizing it is. I find out that some days are easier than others, and I have no control over these much as I want every waking day to be better than yesterday. And there are definitely no shortcuts. I attempted going back to work after a brief leave with high hopes that sticking to my routine would establish a sense of normalcy that would ease me back to the daily grind that I’m accustomed to. But I was just not ready. This is something that just cannot be rushed. I realized that I have to be kinder to myself. That I need to allow myself to fully experience these tsunamis of emotions—repeatedly, and who knows how long.

Coping isn’t always a promising progression. One day I feel more like my old self, the next I just want to curl into a ball and exhaust myself bawling my heart out. But regression perhaps needs to be a part of it. One has to feel all these emotions, let them all out lest you burst or self-destruct.

Through it all, I needed to be reminded everyday that I was not alone. And though sometimes it works communing with just myself, most times reaching out to a kind, non-judgmental ear works wonders. Self-therapy, physical therapy, pet therapy, meditation, nature therapy, professional therapy–there’s not a single cure. I seek for that stalwart figure or figures to be my ready shoulder while being resolute in reconnecting to my dependable old self.

Here enters “kasiyana”. Loosely translated to mean ‘it will be okay’, “kasiyana” is that one term in our vernacular that encompasses an array of meanings and unspoken words of reassurances. It is like a big, warm hug, a very reassuring pat on the back, a firm clasp of the hand, and a hundred words that tell you, without literally telling you that somehow, it will really be okay. It’s a single word, but very heartening when one believes in it.

The same community that taught me and molded me with all these beliefs and values ingrained this basic but very powerful word. It makes me believe in silver linings. Because at the end of the day, with all the losses and the grief and the emotional torment, what else do we have left but faith. Faith that indeed, everything will get better. Faith that you will be alright. That you deserve good things after being denied some.

The first few times I heard my elders say “kasiyana” and implied the aid of the “adi kaila” ( the unseen), I never really bothered knowing if they referred to God, the deities, otherworldly entities, the cosmic forces, or maybe a bit of all. But whatever it was, I realized it was helpful to have something to hold on to. Religion, cultural beliefs and the values I have been grounded in are all crucial in somehow keeping me afloat day after day. These days it’s already an achievement to get through a day. Little steps. And it’s okay, because I have faith that one day I will get there. We’ll find happiness again, fleeting or long-lasting, it does not really matter. Kasiyana.

Finding the courage in accepting my vulnerabilities and limitations, much so opening and writing about these is actually scary. But knowing that being “kapoy” and doing something to overcome it—no matter how and no matter how long is I believe bravery in itself. I’ve been told by friends numerous times that I am stronger than I think, I would have to believe that. Like I have to believe in better days, in rainbows after storms, in laughter and happiness being so much stronger than anger and resentment, in delayed blessings. I have to have faith, because that’s all I have. Again, kasiyana.

Sunsets are beautiful. So is life. (Lake Danum Sunset, 2020)

How Our Alal-apos Outwitted Headhunters

Author’s Note: The recent ‘panag-aapoy/panag-dedenet’ (literally translated to lighting of fires) to warm the gravestones of our dearly departed made me reminiscent of a couple of Lola Banayan’s stories. She recounted mini-tales of how some early village folks escaped the blades of imminent deaths from the unscrupulous hunts of ruthless headhunters (referred to as ‘buso’ in the common lingo) by either using their wits or with the uncanny help of nature itself. As yet another disclaimer, I can only rely on the hyper-imaginative brain of a story-hungry toddler in retelling these so forgive the embellishments and the nuances that are sure to be inevitable.

The Warrior by James Gabriel Wandag

The Old Man in the Hut

A man who spent a long day toiling in his fields made the decision to spend the night in a little hut to wait until daybreak before he makes his way back home. The hut was by no means the most comfortable but it had a roof, four walls and a door–enough to pass the night in. Soon after he settled in, he heard some scuffling outside the hut. He carefully peered through one of the holes and saw two unfamiliar men who appeared to be headhunters. He knew right away that he had no chance against two men unless he does something quick.

He thought of running through the fields as he was sure he knew the area more than these non-villagers but he also realized that it was too dark outside and that made this option riskier. He checked his little knapsack for any content that he could use and saw that he only had kindlewood, a couple of matchsticks, and his ‘abilao’ (musical instrument made of bamboo reeds which is played by putting it between the lips while you strum one end with your finger as you blow it).

He lit one of the matchsticks and very soon, he had a little fire ablaze inside the hut. He went to one corner and in a deep voice said, “My friend, the night is cold. Why don’t you throw more wood into that fire you built.” He then went to the opposite corner and said in his normal voice, “Yes mister, it’s lucky I gathered a lot of wood earlier today.” He put some of the kindlewood on the fire then went to another corner. Then in a slightly higher tone, he said, “Brother, I believe you brought with you that abilao of yours. Would you indulge us with a tune or two.” Slowly he crept to a different side of the hut, pulled his little instrument and played a lively jig.

The two headhunters outside had been listening all the while to the conversations inside the hut. If their count was right, there were four men inside! Who knew if there were more? And so realizing that the two of them had no chance against four or so men, they quietly crept away from the hut.

Who knows how long this quick-witted man kept the pretense of not being alone inside the hut. But morning came and he was safe and alive!

The Girl Against Nine

Houses long ago did not have the comforts of indoor toilets. One needs to go outside to the backyard to do his or her business. So it was for a girl who had to go out to pee in the black pitch of the night.

She never suspected that there was a handful of ‘buso’ who were ready to go on a midnight hunt. They were prowling just nearby when this unsuspecting girl positioned herself to pee in front of them like it was no one’s business, as it should be. The headhunters were caught off guard and stood immobile on their spots while this girl proceeded to pee. The girl must had so much ‘tapey’ (rice wine) or water to drink during dinner that her pee noisily gushed. It made this distinctive sound that unmistakably said “Sham, sham, sham, sham!”. Lo! When the headhunters counted themselves, there were exactly nine of them! ‘Sham/siyam’ in the local dialect means nine.

It was the age of strong superstition so the ‘buso’ took this as a bad omen for headhunting. So they went away as silently as they came. The unsuspecting girl finished her business, still very clueless that she just escaped possible throes of danger and went back to sleep soundly.

The Old Woman and Her Flowers

An old woman was busy digging for camotes when a swarm of flies buzzed around her. She hastily swatted them away but they persistently flew around her, landing on her arms, her face, her legs, while noisily buzzing.

She stopped and wondered as she realized that the flies were singling her out. They weren’t flying anywhere else but on the spot where she stood. She took it as a sign that something foreboding was about to happen. She climbed the little hill that partially blocked her view from the other fields yonder and that’s when she saw three sinister men headed towards her way. Suspecting that they were headhunters, she immediately devised a plan and prayed to the gods that her little play will scare the men away. What’s a poor, frail woman against three sturdy men?

She cast off all her clothes and quickly gathered the brightly-colored flowers that were growing aplenty nearby. The flowers were in orange, yellow, but mostly red. She tied as much as she can to all the hair she has on her body–the hairs on her head, on her arms, her legs. She twisted her form in such a way that made her body ugly and crooked, then she walked towards the men.

In a shrill but unafraid voice, she chanted and hummed. Walking directly to where the headhunters were. The men seeing and hearing her got so scared out of their wits! They had no doubt it was a witch of sorts that was heading towards them. One can only imagine the powers this ghastly-looking, crooked woman in all her naked glory and seemingly ablaze with those blood red flowers has! They rapidly took off back to where they came from before the ‘witch’ even got close.

When the men fled, the old woman carefully plucked away the flowers from her body, put back her clothes on, and headed to her home safely where she cooked her freshly-dug sweet potatoes.

These are just three of the many headhunter-related stories that I could at least recall with a certain level of vividness. I really pray another inspiration will strike me to remember the rest real soon before I forget. Here’s to always keeping your memory alive, alapo!

Cry. Breathe. Repeat.

Who out there never had that sudden pang of ache when a painful thought, memory or emotion is suddenly relived? Because I get that, one too many times. But a feeling, whether new or old, is just one of those things you can just control. True you might be able to suppress it, but you can’t just will it away for your convenience.

A personal loss that caused immeasurable torment made me redefine yet again what pain was for me. And even though I convince myself that I’ve hurdled through the seven stages of grief, suddenly remembering this particular experience resets me right back to step one, like the tragedy just happened yesterday.

We learn the hard, long way that time has always been a friend when moving on. I stay positive that time will remain kind as I slowly heal. And that along the way, I recognize the silver lining why a tragic circumstance had to be experienced.

After this misfortune, it has then been my personal quest to prove my resiliency (for my own sake) and having a very formidable support group of friends, family and loved ones had been a huge factor towards this endeavour. Immersing myself in work, books, flour and eggs, and anything to keep my mind occupied have made the weeks pass by in a blur. Yet the lull that the quiet hours and nightfall brings still prove to be difficult. Those emotions are revisited. I feel those twinges of pain or during worse times, I get agonizingly unconsolable. It has been a process. Crying. Breathing. Again. But I know. It will be okay.

By Mom is Art

We heal and move on differently. No one can dictate how you should do it. It’s okay not to be okay right away. You are entitled to be weak sometimes. Seek out solace in the ears and arms of those who truly care. One should go by his or her own pace of recovery, because it’s all part of the process. Find your own way to heal.

For me, I reached out to loved ones to unburden my woes. I started loving my husband fiercer than I did before. I try out new recipes every week. I started to get my high from running and yoga. I listened to a lot of Avril Lavigne, I don’t know why. I ate tons of ice cream. I get ten times more cuddles from my dogs. And now, I write to share. I do what I can to move on. And throughout this whole undertaking, I try to seek and acknowledge the silver lining, understand and accept His greater plan, and remain positive in being immensely blessed with rainbow babies. Life is good.

Brioche Buns for Summer’s BBQ Fun

20200520_1547114549141774831241926.jpgYes! Barbecue season is here and what could be more satisfying than flipping those juicy patties on your newly-cleaned grill on the patio while sporting that one-pack with a cold beer? Well probably the thought that you’ve made your food from scratch—house-seasoned ground meat, those fresh tomatoes and onions harvested from the pot gardens you’ve labored over during the past couple of months, and that light, buttery brioche bun to make all those come together.

So while I’m grinding that slab of beef while being persnickety with my seasonings, let me share this very light version of a brioche bun recipe that I believe would give that extra yum for your homemade burgers!

Light Brioche Buns


  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsps. warm milk
  • 2 tsps. active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsps. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups bread flour (see note*)
  • 1/3 cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsps. butter (softened))
  • sesame seeds (optional)

*I ran out of bread flour and used APF for the entire batch and it turned out okay. Using this alternative might entail a longer mixing time though.


  • Combine the warm water, milk and sprinkle the dry yeast over to proof. Set aside.
  • Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Add softened butter, lightly beaten eggs and liquids.
  • Using a hook attachment, mix all the ingredients on low speed for 8-10 minutes. Don’t worry if the dough looks a little craggy. It will also feel a bit wet but that’s okay. (Mental note to self to take these messier photos for better visualization!) :p
  • Place the dough into a lightly-oiled bowl and let rise for 1-2 hours in  a warm room.
  • On a floured surface, divide the dough into desired sizes accordingly. I did mine for eight equal parts.
  • Flatten the cut dough using a rolling pin. Fold the sides towards the center, gently tucking the dough in to make a seam. Flip the dough over and shape into balls. (Again with those photos!)
  • Place pre-shaped dough in  a flat pan with parchment paper and let rise for 30-45 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.
  • Meanwhile, prepare your egg wash and sesame seeds while pre-heating your oven at 400°F. Place a pan with water at the bottom rack of oven for steaming.
  • When dough is ready, brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds.20200520_1450566409314932596993134.jpg
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes while your caramelize those onions and munch on a pickle or two! 🙂

We tend to cut back on eating enriched bread especially when we have that summer bod in mind. But these brioche buns are so light and fluffy that the idea of an extra burger feels less guilt-free…ish. :p

Enjoy and happy baking!

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