Editorial: Igorot indigenous attire is political

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Social media was recently vibrant with spirited discourse on the “Igorot Attire”. The image of Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) Chairman Windel Bolinget in g-string delivering a speech against Marcos and Duterte fascism went viral, at the September 11 protest march to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, one of the many mobilizations in the National Lakbayan of National Minorities that converged in Metro Manila for self-determination and just peace.

Thanks to social media, the Igorot indigenous attire is still big news. Yet the Igorot g-string is a class of its own. The wearer almost naked, thus associates him with backwardness and impropriety. But to Igorots this is ordinary, proper and the formal attire. The CPA chairman was at his best Igorot identity doing his work to project indigenous peoples’ issues and advance the agenda for the common good.

It is political because Igorot activists in their g-strings uphold people’s rights and welfare, and advance social change for the people. This is what our ancestors and elders did in the resistance to Spanish incursions in the Cordillera, in the resistance to the Chico dams, and in the present defense of land, livelihood and resources. Like our ancestors, this is not for self but for the people. For the ‘common good’ is a traditional Igorot passion which the people’s movement nurtures and aspires for.

Towards a common perspective, let us scan the circumstance and history related to Igorot culture and attire that is also political, as the Igorot in traditional attire puts across a message, on the perspective, the related objective of the event or social inter action. The Igorot attire has been exploited by colonizers, commercialized, and honourably donned for important occasions, and upheld with distinction. We see the message historically in the following:

1. Igorot culture and attire served US imperialist expansion and colonization of the Philippines. This was most ignominious and should be condemned even now. Igorots were displayed at the 1904 Exposition at St. Louis, Missouri, USA. The display highlighted dog eating culture, and in the traditional attire without top clothing then. This was viewed as being wild and backward. And therefore had to be civilized by America, i.e. manifest destiny. The Igorot display reportedly was the most visited in the Philippine reservation at the Exposition. The trick worked with the American public and earlier opposition to American subjugation of the Philippines was overcome.

2. Another negative use of Igorot culture, identity and attire has been the commercialization of culture for tourism. Campaigns by the progressive people’s movement against commercialization of culture led by Igorot youth stopped an earlier government Grand Canyao program.

3. The usual operation of Igorot culture and attire are during indigenous rituals or celebrations, at official formal events of government or people’s organizations or institutions, and always at weddings. The Igorot attire has evolved with men not necessarily only in g-string but in Igorot woven fabric vests or lined shirts or barong. Women are now always with a matching blouse and tapis from variously designed Igorot-fabric. So there is a robust Igorot fabric and clothing business which of course is progressive. The image of Mayor Domogan with the police officers in g-string at the recent adoption of Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa to the Cordillera PNP family at Camp Dangwa, is also an example of Igorots at their best at an official government function. As social operations of Igorot identity, this happens all the time because we all proudly assert our culture in our Igorot attire.

Early postcolonial assertions of Igorot culture and identity in the face of mainstream discrimination against Igorots include:

a) 1950’s. “I am an Igorot” essay by Atty Gabriel Keith then a student. And letter to the Baguio Midlland Courier (1953) by Atty Alfredo Lam-en also then a student, countering the statement of Carlos P. Romulo that “Igorots are not Filipinos” in his book “Mother America”;

b) Early 1960’s. Then Congressman Atty. Alfredo Lam-en, Sr. of the first district of the undivided Mountain Province stood in Congress in his g-string and “suklong” (woven rattan head gear), to assert that “Igorots are Filipinos”. In vintage Lam-en humor, he declared that he was no less a Filipino than Romulo; the difference being that “Romulo wears his necktie up while I wear my necktie down”. That was a great day for Igorots and the traditional Igorot g-string!;

c) 1970’s to early 1980’s. Martial law and development aggression projects: the Chico dams, Cellophil and Mainit mines entailed frequent mobilizations, the men and women elders, in their traditional wear confronted government, military officials, and spoke to audiences about their issues;

d) 1984 establishment of CPA up to present. Sustained program of the people’s movement on defense of ancestral land and for self determination of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera, nationwide and in the international arena. Formal organizational activities, major rallies and mobilizations calls for the appropriate Igorot attires.

The Igorot attire is culture and identity, and is also political. Our present consciousness determines the positioning in this exciting controversy. But we learn and always strive for higher levels of unity. So let the discourse flow. And may the Igorot g string and tapis continue to win the day for the people. # nordis.net

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