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.
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.
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:
Way before this placid little lake became a subject of boundary issues and there was no dissent whether to call it Banao or Danum; long before cows grazed its now dwindling patches of green, and before flocks of tourists did jump shots against a mesmerizing fiery backdrop of the sunset, this place was once a plain plateau, a waterless mesa en route to barter places with our lowland brothers. Now the story of how the lake came about has varied through the years. But I will attempt to retell it the way my grandma awed me with the tale the best way I can.
“A man was on his way to exchange his pig with some lowland products that were scarce in his highland home. Presumably he would have been on his way to Besao where traders would convene. As he was passing through what is now the expanse of water that we know as the lake, he spotted an old lady sitting on the ground.
This lady requested the man to spare some of his time so he could help her get rid of the lice on her head. This generous man obliged without any qualms. He then realized that it was not just lice that was populating the old lady’s head. There were little snakes and worms and all sorts of poisonous insects. He was a bit alarmed but he slowly removed these little critters till her head was free of any parasite. He did so meticulously and without the slightest hint of disgust. When he was done, the old lady gave the man a bundle of pine needles and straw with the advise that he put them in his granary for the night. He was puzzled with this strange suggestion but he never questioned the woman and did as instructed. The next morning, he was greatly bewildered to find his granary overflowing with the finest rice.
Now this man lived in small village and naturally everyone was curious, if not envious of the good fortune that has befallen him. His neighbor immediately set off in the same direction carrying his fattest pig. He saw the old lady in the same place. He scornfully obliged when she made the same request that he remove the lice from her long locks. How he reacted when he saw that the woman’s head was a little jungle of insects and snakes! He spat, cursed and shuddered in disgust. By the time he was done removing the vermin from her head, he was a picture of revulsion and contempt. Nonetheless, she gave him the same bunch of pine needles and straw. When the man turned towards home though, he stood immobile on his spot then gradually changed into a wooden post. The woman then magically disappeared.
Not very long after, a man and his son were out gathering wood. When they saw this stout wooden post in the middle of the field, the man slashed it with his bolo and out gushed water that overflowed in all directions. The pair had to run fast towards higher ground to save themselves from the angry waters. Gradually, the water ebbed and calmed to what we see it now. Lake Danum.”
They say that bit of the very same post still stands erect somewhere within the lake. Maybe one of these days, I’ll endeavor to find it.
***Danum is the Kankana-ey and Ilocano term for water. Translating the name to a redundant Lake Water.***
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
Photo Credits: DBG
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.
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.
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.
A long time ago in a quaint town by the mountains, lived a young couple named An-ananga and his wife whom he called his Princess. Such was the beauty of the woman that An-ananga was lovesick and could not bear to leave her for even just a second.
He would gaze at her all day long. He would marvel at every detail of her face. He was so infatuated with his radiant wife that he chooses to just sit by her side and feed on her looks.
The wife, being more pragmatic than the lovesick An-ananga implored, “My love, I welcome your affection but what will happen if we both stay at home all day long? Our pantry will not refill itself with rice and crops if you just sit beside me idly through the long summer days and rainy ones too.”
With hesitation, An-ananga agreed to go back to the fields to work. Heavy-hearted, he plowed the fields and was barely done with ten meters when he decided to go right back home to his Princess wife.
Surprised but very patient, the wife said, “Dear husband, maybe you can try again tomorrow. This time, bring my photo with you. Two of them. Nail one to one post and one to the opposite post. That way when you plow the fields back and forth, you will see my face and perhaps you will miss me less.” Seeing how the idea might possibly work, An-ananga agreed and thus he set forth the next morning with the two photos in hand.
True enough, he was more energized. He felt stronger and he was fast as he repeatedly made the back and forth trip from one end of the field to the other. The smiling face of his Princess on both sides of the field encouraged him.
Lo! The strong winds of the north came and tore a photo of the Princess from one post and blew it across the hills. It flew and fluttered until it reached the camp of weary but formidable soldiers and settled on the feet of no other than their fierce captain. He picked the photo and was instantly lovestruck.
He summoned his guards and commanded them to search for the face on the photo with the order to bring her and make her his bride.
Far and wide, the soldiers sought. They turned all the villages upside down till they reached the small town where An-ananga and his Princess lived. When they found the woman on the photo and learned she already belonged to another man, they were aghast. They believed it was not right to take a married woman to have her wed another man but at the same time they were scared of their fiery captain.
They bargained and reasoned with An-ananga until he at last agreed with the condition that he go with them, at least to join his Princess on her trip to see the Captain.
When they reached the camp, the Captain was in a hurry to get rid of An-ananga. But An-ananga was cunning. “If you want to take my wife, at least give me something in return.”
The captain, undisturbed said,”Anything you want, just say it so you can be on your way.”
An-ananga said,” Give me a bag of gold.” The captain laughed and willingly made the arrangements for wads of money and gold to be bagged.
“Take off your uniform and your medals. Give them to me.” Though puzzled, the captain did.
“Now with his uniform comes his title, I command you obedient soldiers to shoot this captain who is so vile as to take a woman who is already wed to another man, ” goes on An-ananga. Unhesitatingly, the soldiers obliged. They know their captain was in the wrong.
So with a bag of money and gold, a captain’s uniform and a woman of unparalleled beauty on his arms, An-ananga started his trek back home to his small town. With the bounty he unwittingly earned, An-ananga could afford not to work and he could just spend his days gazing at his wife’s beauty.
Writer’s Note: Narrative is based solely on recollections from an evening storytelling beside the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’. For any deviations that may in one way or another alter or debase the original, apologies in advance. Inputs are welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm. 🙂
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.
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.