THE RISE OF THE IGOROTS (SPANISH COLONIZATION OF THE CORDILLERAS)

"Tubay"

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.

Photo by John Tewell

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.

Igorots
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.

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!

Barefoot Chronicles: Batad, Banaue

As someone who grew up in a tourist town that boasts of stately natural landscapes, I have this rather obnoxious instinct to compare places of similar appeal. Such was the mindset I had when we set off to see the prominent Batad rice terraces and the Tappiyah Falls that was the highlight of the village attractions. But I ended up being tremendously awed. It was an entirely different experience.

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A “Bulol” (rice god) overlooking the grandiose rice terraces.

Batad is a village in Banaue, Ifugao. It’s a two-hour drive from my hometown, Sagada. Yes, we have several impressive waterfalls and the underrated yet majestic rice terraces (Kanip-aw, Kiltepan, Aguid) but I went there with the expectation that Batad would offer something equally grand, if not more rewarding. And I was not disappointed.

We met Ervin, our very friendly and knowledgeable local guide who was first in line in the queue of accredited guides enlisted for that day. Although my sister was positive that we could find the waterfalls ourselves so long as we follow the trails through the paddies, we understood the town regulations regarding acquiring local tour guides. And we come from a town that thrives on tourism too, we should know better despite overestimating our sense of direction. 😉

A short canopied walk to the village of Batad warmed up our already conditioned legs (or so I’d like to believe as we’ve done a couple of hikes back in Sagada prior to this). We were advised that we should pre-order lunch in one of the restaurants that had stunning views  that overlooked the rice terraces. They estimated that we’d do a 3-4 hour back and forth trek hence we’re looking at a late lunch.

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A narrow concrete path has been constructed all the way down to the falls.

The trek going to Tappiya Falls was a delight in itself. Although I have to be honest that the views were no longer new to a village girl like myself, but what made the experience different was all those village folks who we met along the way. Everyone was genuinely friendly and welcoming. They are like us, Sagadians, who wisely took advantage of the livelihood that tourism entails. The village people have strategically set-up small convenience stores and souvenir shops for the trekkers. And every stop was a welcome respite. We stopped for ice cold water, bananas, a souvenir or two, the occasional breeze or simply for the shade and the pleasant conversations that every villager eagerly engaged with.

I could rate the downward trek as easy but the heat was the main challenge. With no trees to serve as shade, it was no wonder our tour guide had thoughtfully brought his umbrella with him. Guess who used it? Haha!

92128260_524191381832795_1377643994648936448_nI’ve seen a number of waterfalls in this lifetime but I was not prepared by the beauty that awaited us. This hidden gem just behind a ridge of rice terraces artfully designed like an amphitheater made me feel like I was seeing one for the first time. It was magnificent. It’s imposing beauty towered over us as we waded barefoot towards its inviting pool. We basked in its beauty and its chilly waters before we halfheartedly got back to the same route towards the paddies.

The hike back was expectedly more arduous. The sun was already higher and those giant steps were a pain to the gluts! We were definitely not prepared for that! Whoever came up with the souvenir t-shirt design that read “I Love Tappiyah Falls, I Hate the Giant Steps” was on point.

We got back to enjoy the most fulfilling meal of chicken stew, chopsuey and pancit canton. Although our bold estimate to make the round trip within two hours time was off by a good half an  hour, our legs didn’t fail us against those treacherous meter-long stairs.

We did a couple of side trips in the beautiful town of Banaue before heading back home to Sagada. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening trip to a neighboring town that offered similar sights to what we have back home. But now I can say you can’t really compare. Each place has its own unique and identifying charm. The people’s warmth made the experience more gratifying.

A beginner could easily do the trek to Batad’s pride. Doing the trail back is a different story though. 😉 Lots of water, sunscreen, hardboiled eggs and bananas would be a good starter pack for this must-do trip up north.

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#HelloKelowna

At the Philippine Consulate a year ago, a kindly gentleman was awed when he read that my hometown is Sagada. He was so impressed with the place that he enthusiastically described the sites he has seen there when he went to visit. He went on to say I was lucky to live in a place away from the city’s daily hustle. Sagada, he says, is Vancouver’s Kelowna–that drive away from the urban where you could just enjoy the serene beauty of a quiescent place. Such was his description hence I was doubly excited when the opportunity came to have a day trip to the gateway of Okanagan Valley.

This sunny city boasts of pine forests, provincial parks, expansive vineyards and orchards, and a lakeside cultural district. Truly a day was not enough to explore most of the place’s highlights but we made the most of it. Sharing some snippets from this marvelous trip with equally awesome ladies.

We went home spent and full, not just with the beauteous sights but with the first pickings of Fall apples, peaches, plums and grapes. You are indeed a  nice respite Kelowna.

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. 🙂

As they light those fires, I reminisce…

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Calvary Hill Cross

My earliest memories of the Anglican cemetery of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada that we fondly call “Kamusanto”  (Campo Santo) with the eloquence of the local tongue were when I was but 5 or 6 years of age. I went there with my old man for almost two weeks straight when he was constructing double tombs to lay my grandparents in the future when they pass away. Yes. We made their final resting places way ahead of time.

The place didn’t have as many graves and headstones as it does now so I have vivid memories of a lot of green and red-brown dirt and me going home with a lot of knee scrapes caused by hopping from one tomb to the other.

I’ve wondered how come we were making the burial chambers in advance when I see both my grandparents being strong and healthy. Lolo could still lead the ‘amam-a’s‘ in the dap-ay and he had this voice and aura that somehow made him seem taller than his actual six feet. Lola on the other hand could not be stopped from going to the fields to ‘manungtung‘ and ‘mangubi‘ (gather camote tops and roots). My mother said building these ahead of time actually makes the lives of people meant to be interred therein longer. That made me happy and I didn’t question that any further.

Whether the belief held or not, my grandfather succumbed to cancer five or six years after his tomb was completed. His wife, my grandma, lived on to be 103 years old. I guess that somehow proves the belief then.

For the next few years after my lolo’s demise, the ‘Kamusanto‘ has been a sanctuary for me. I find myself wandering to his place late in the afternoons simply because I enjoyed the tranquility and peace riddled within the boneyard. I’d bring my textbooks and hard bounds and spend long hours studying, reading, or napping right on top of lolo’s tomb. It may seem like a creepy way to have a me-time but the place never gave off the eerie ambience most cemeteries are expected to have. I’d often find empty booze bottles snuck inside the vacant cavern next to my grandpa’s which proved the fact that I was not alone when I say the place is not at all a scary place to chill. Heck, those punks who drank those 4 x 4’s most probably after town curfew are way more courageous to go drink their poison amongst the dead. Cemetery ‘jamming’, anyone?

These graves and  the spirits therein have probably seen so much more than we let on. Drunken confessions, lovers’ trysts, first kisses, first heartbreaks, first drag of that stick that made you cough, last embraces, last tears.

Even for non-locals, the place cannot be missed as it is strategically located as a scenic detour when going to the Echo Valley and the Underground River.

Much controversy arose before too when this gigantic network erected its tower, looming right over the tombstones and monuments.

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Much-publicized “Panag-aapoy” (Locals honor their dead by lighting redwood on every single headstone.)

The years have seen so much physical changes as expected. Imprinted in my earlier memory is this spacious hill–a lot of white but so much more grass and dirt. Today, the whites have crawled higher, lower, southward and northward. But obviously the vibe is still the same. It remains a buoyant place and so much alive, a nice irony. And this is probably why it’s always poignant to be unable to join the family when we do the yearly remembrance for departed loved ones during All Saints’ Day. Like I know I can always do my thing from wherever I am. I was brought up with the teachings of ‘atang‘ and ‘luwalo‘ (offerings and prayers) so I still light my little candle and leave a shot glass of booze and fruit on the side (and chug the remaining contents of the bottle of course). But actually being there, getting sooty and smoked with the rest of the family is something that’s really missed.

First recollections of the place were those long hours with my dad, now he’s resting there himself. I never fail to visit every chance I get whenever I’m home. I walk my dogs there often that I can guarantee they know their way around, even without me.

There’s no telling what other changes our beloved Kamusantu will witness and undergo in the coming years. But nothing can change my sentiments about it. The way the place enthralled me with its serenity and peace will always be what I’ll look forward to– living, and in the afterlife.

                                                          #inRemembrance

“Paint Me Like One of Your French Bulldogs”

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Copy captured from Facebook post

If I fancy myself being immortalized in a painting, I’d be elated to be depicted as a poodle in a tutu. Not saying this because of my obvious devotion to dogs but because I’m aghast at the reactions of people who are socially crucifying a painter who had portrayed two anthropomorphized dogs donning  Igorot native attires and dancing to the beat of the symbolic gangsa.

People were quick to hurl furious comments not just at the piece but the artist behind the work. I find it quite appalling that such scorn can be easily given without giving second thoughts to the probable reason or reasons behind the creation of the piece. Following the train of thought that it is demoralizing to be likened to dogs because of their nature to be rabid and ferocious (also an outright misconception), it is the humans who are now behaving as such with their overzealous, cringe-worthy comments and reactions. The irony.

I too am an Igorot,  proud and true, but in no way did I feel debased and insulted when I saw this artwork being scornfully construed online. In fact, to be rendered as one of these four-legged animal should be very humbling because we don’t even come close to the poignant admirable characteristics a dog innately has.  Attributes that humanity evidently needs.

On a daily basis, we see hundreds of animals given manlike facets since the advent of media and the internet  and no one bats an eye. Then an artist puts some ethnic clothes on two dogs and all hell breaks loose. Reason presumably being it is culturally insensitive and demeaning. I won’t even try to justify these vehement reactions just to be impartial to the onion-skinned.

I am in no way knowledgeable about art and do not pretend to have an inkling about artistic expressions and interpretations, but it does not take a pundit to glean from a subject if it is meant to degrade or not. Just like a lot of people are passionately conveying their indignation towards the painting and the man behind it, this piece was simply an expression without the least bit intention of causing malice to anyone. Imaginably, it is an optimistic foresight for the Year of the Dog taken into context when it was done. Or better yet, have the artist himself relay the thoughts behind its conception. Moreover, the painter himself is an Igorot. To say this is a slur on our ethnicity seems far-fetched. How can this be a case of ethnic prejudice?

Each to his or her own opinion and by all means, express. But sometimes, maybe all we need is a chill pill. Or a dozen in this case.

***For a very enlightening reading, I beseech you to please read:

Posted by Cheryl L. Daytec-Yañgot on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Barefoot Chronicles: Third Time’s a Charm

 

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Without hesitation, I claim that the mountains of BC are love at first sight and experience for me. Simply because I am reminded of home with the painfully familiar coniferous bounty that British Columbia’s forests boast of.

I lived below the century-old pine trees of Tangeb back in Sagada so I got to smell the pungent sweetness of sap and pine needles that waft through the breeze all day long. I yearn for that most times hence every chance I get, I indulge in getting lost amongst the pines, oaks and redwoods of this province’s bounteous forests.

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Like a runner’s high, I experience that euphoria once I succumb to getting lost in a mossy paradise. I feel most tranquil as I slowly start to lose my grip of time, gawking at the overgrowth of life around me while swatting away mosquitoes or wasps.

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Elk Mountain has entranced me the first time Dalifer and I climbed it back in 2015. Almost fifteen hundred meters  (1,432 m) high and a medium-difficulty hike I believe for non-hard core hikers like me, it is a haven frequented by paragliders and occasional hikers who’d do the connection trail from Elk to Thurston to Cheam. I love it for the fact that not a lot of people come here. Unlike other highly-advertised trails in BC where most times you have to pace yourself with the person before or after you, you only get to meet a lone climber every 30 minutes or so. In a way, you own the trail.IMG_2973

Which is why we’ve made our Elk Mountain trek a yearly must. And each time, I would keep on thinking how a lot more awesome it would be if I was hitting this trail with a dog.

 

 

This year would be our third trip to Elk’s peak. It is very special since my wishful thinking of having a dog to egg me on towards the top came to fruition. Not only do I have a scout, I also have a sweeper. And so like a little pack, we trudged onwards on a drizzly weekday.

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We make an interesting team. We have this dude who kept on complaining about his Vibrams that were apparently killing his feet and who was panting more than my double-coated boy. Tireless Kaidu who whines with impatience everytime we do a water break. And Kokujin, staunch and indefatigable Kojin who personifies will and determination even with his short, stubby legs.

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Back when it was just a duo between Dalifer and me, hiking in bear territory was not such a big deal as the unspoken truce was that we push each other as the token quarry if a black bear comes traipsing through. This time though, besides doubling the water bottles and carrying a dozen poop bags, we seriously considered getting a fog horn as we considered the wiener dog an effortless prey for a hungry carnivore. But of course that’s overdoing it. We settled for a whistle.

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To the untrained eye, the topography and flora may appear repetitive. But if you love forests as much as I do, you’d see how interestingly diverse the forest life is although it would seem to be just thick, lush green all over.

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I can keep coming back to this place as its magic will never dull. A couple of years ago, I wished for dogs to hike with. It happened. Is it pushing it when I’ll endeavor for little tots to run ahead of me in these same trails in the next year or so? I whispered to the forest gods and demi-gods. 😉

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Photo Credits: DBG

Home is where?

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Pensive dusks that happen quite often.

 

A friend once told me it took her three years to finally come to terms with the fact that she has a different country from what she has known to call home. I held on to this, thinking my time would come. That give or take a few years, I would gradually have a sense or a semblance at least of attachment to this foreign land. It’s three years now–I’ve never felt farther from home.

That’s sad. And ungrateful I might add when others would attempt anything to cross borders and oceans to be here. But I guess if for others it takes three years to acclimatize, for the luckier others, less, for the unfortunate others, more.

I tried. God knows I did. It’s something that ought to happen without a hitch. But doing so has proven to be a struggle.

Maybe my definition of the word itself is fuzzy. Because for me home is where you most become yourself. At ease, carefree, fulfilled, happy. But this is probably why the feeling of belongingness in this land is challenging because my depiction is just so abstract.

I’ve moved quite a bit; settled in different towns and cities. Readapting was quite easy for some reason. Maybe because I always knew that these were temporary. Like four years in a campus dormitory sped by because I knew once I was done, I can waltz back to my mountains. Three years alone in a house by the outskirts of a city was a breeze, or another three years shuffling among flats in the deserts went by as swiftly. True there were challenges in every move, numerous ones, but I somehow glided with the changes.

Which gives me reason to believe that I’ve always associated home with a sense of permanence. And that is why getting to accept that being here for a long-term, if not permanent status, is arduous and demonstrating itself to be such a formidable undertaking.

I’m writing this obviously for my sake. Like a self-help missive to prod myself that there’s nothing and no one to make it better for me other than me.

Perhaps I should begin by redefining my perception of home. That it ought not to be singular, not necessarily physical–a more versatile, more encompassing definition. That I should not only associate it to where my family and loved ones are, or that it’s only home when I pay for the upkeep of the roof above my head. After all, I was able to make a home for myself at the top bunk of a rowdy, co-ed dorm room. Or at a grandpa’s pint-sized cabin near a river. And even at a flat shared with eight other people with varying personalities.

Home can be where you will it to be and not necessarily where you want it to be. Hence I should be able to create it, anywhere–so long as I put my heart to it. I was just too stubborn to start doing so.

After all, I live in a beautiful city. Topography’s just like that back in my town with its coniferous mountains. Weather here’s bipolar and so unpredictable but we have the best summers too. People are friendly, transit’s reliable most days, there’s plenty of jobs when you know where to look, and tons of adventures to do if you’re the outdoors type like me. Most importantly, this country has welcomed me with open arms and offered me an array of opportunities.

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Picturesque City of Van.

It should have been so easy for me to call this place home. But I stuck to my sentiments. I keep on yearning for people who are not here. I was missing the different kind of freedom that I indulged in elsewhere. And that a huge part of me was in denial, subconsciously thinking that I’m here on a quite lengthy vacation. These all need to change. It won’t be overnight for sure but I believe accepting the reality that my fate might be tied to this city is a big first step.

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Home is where your story begins.

 

 

 

I will find my reasons to be ‘at home’, plenty of them. Both pragmatic and sentimental ones. It might take another three years, or three months, but I’ll get there eventually.

– G

Of Stories to be Retold…

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“So tell me more Lola.” (KNN)

It’s been a year since my favorite local historian left to join her forefathers after a century of a life well-celebrated. I remember her not with grief but with continued awe of how she graciously led a life with purpose. Though I cannot help but be unpleasantly reminded of one unjustifiable failure that I should have managed to complete while she still breathed the gusts of the highlands.

When my pen was more cooperative and my mind thirsted for knowledge and preservation, I once vowed to myself to put into paper the rich local folktales that my grandmother kept vaulted in her retentive mind but willingly and gladly shared without much prodding. I started with a sentence or two of the lovelorn yet reckless An-ananga and his princess of unparalleled beauty then stopped for reasons unknown. I don’t even recall where I kept that lazy draft.

Alas! Now my foolproof source is no longer here and I definitely cannot rely on this 30-year old, withered mind to recollect and revive the colorful lives led by those vibrant characters. It is tragic that I failed to immortalize them while she was still alive but it will be more of a misfortune if I do not attempt to do so.

The plights of the gutsy An-ananga, the exploits of the brave Sadsadyokana, and the wit of Pal-pal-ama against the sneaky Oto-ot deserve to be retold. These tales are great reminders of our local culture’s richness and it would be such a shame to let them be drowned in the advent of modernization and technology.

Where to start? I have no idea.20171126_142711.png

I need to go back to those years when this once young mind savored the evening story-telling with the grandma. With the imaginary warmth of the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’, I go back and start with, ‘A long, long time ago…

 

…to be continued.

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