Youth speak: Igorotak latta!

By JOHN REY DAVE AQUINO
www.nordis.net

I am an Igorot. My mother is of Ibaloy descent, as were my maternal grandparents, their parents, and all my ancestors. I had an idea of what being an Igorot meant—being part of a unique yet discriminated culture. But I never experienced discrimination from being an Igorot, not because I denied my ethnicity, but because I am an Igorot in diaspora. To be in diaspora means to have moved away from one’s homeland. I spent my childhood in Bulacan and Nueva Vizcaya and not in Benguet where the Ibaloy hold their ancestral lands. I didn’t grow up in the ili, or the community. I know close to nothing about our culture, but I always wanted to know more, learn more. That is why when the opportunity to study in Baguio came to me as I passed the college entrance exam, I immediately decided to push on and entered university. I hoped to be exposed to Igorot culture, and Baguio is the place to start. And yes, I learned somethings. I discovered that tourists pay money to take pictures with “genuine” Igorots in Botanical Garden and Mines View Park. I understood the marketability of Igorot handmade wooden craft and woven cloth sold in souvenir shops. I realized how that traditional bahag worn by men is a ‘costume’ and not a ‘traditional attire.’ No sarcasm intended, I saw a culture that has been bastardized and appreciated for its unfamiliarity instead of its uniqueness. Baguio is not a place to learn Igorot culture, I realized—it is a place where the Igorot must find ways to live and are forced to exhibit their ethnicity like museum displays. Another opportunity to learn came to me in April last year. I joined the Peoples Cordillera Day celebration in Kalinga with a jeepload of schoolmates. It took half a day to travel from Baguio to Balbalan, Kalinga, where we lived for four days. The community warmly welcomed us along with all three thousand visitors who came to the celebration. My visit to Kalinga, and the Peoples Cordillera Day celebration, was inspired by the story of Macli-ing Dulag, a Kalinga pangat, a chief elder who lived in the days of Martial rule in the country. In those turbulent years, the government wanted to build a hydroelectric dam in the Chico River. Apo Macli-ing opposed the government plan and united the affected Igorot tribes to firmly stand in opposition. It was a bold move for someone who was just an “ordinary” man to oppose the government, especially the project’s proponent, none other than the former president Marcos. As a result, the Igorots’ unity against the dam, with Apo Macli-ing’s leadership, triumphed in ending the proposed dam project. Had the dam been built in Chico River, the farmers would lose their lands to floods. Families who lived near the river would have also been displaced. The Chico Dam project would have resulted in another diaspora—a diaspora where the Kalinga peoples lose their ancestral lands that have been passed down through centuries and generations. These lands give livelihood to the indigenous peoples. When ApoMacli-ing said that“Land is life,” he meant just the same. I have always seen Igorot culture to be unique. If in Baguio it is indigenous culture that is lost, in Kalinga, and in many other parts of the Cordillera, lands are lost. Like Igorot ancestral lands, our culture was passed down through centuries and generations until today. The Chico Dam Movement may have prevented the dam, but in other parts of the Cordillera, corporate mining, hydroelectric dams, and development aggression projects continue to threaten the indigenous ancestral lands. Still, my participation in the Cordillera Day celebration taught me that indigenous culture survives as part of the Igorots’ long history of protecting ancestral lands. Back then, I wasn’t exactly proud of being Igorot, but I didn’t deny it either. With all that I have learned, I came to embrace my ethnicity. I realized I must be proud of my ancestry, not only of our culture but also of the historical fact that the Igorots were able to collectively resist Spanish colonial influence in its 300-year-rule in the country. Apo Macli-ing did not waver in the face of the Marcos dictatorship, and neither do the Igorots of today as we face an unreasonable ruler who pretends to run the country with love and nationalism. This year, as the Peoples Cordillera Day celebration will again be held in Baguio, I look forward to joining the activities with higher militancy, in the spirit of Apo Macli-ing’s martyrdom and other banwar of the Cordillera. Now, more than ever, I look forward to stories that will keep the flame of the Igorots’ collective strength burning. I look forward to once again witness stories of resistance and bravery that will satisfy my eagerness to learn because, in the end, Igorotak latta!# nordis.net

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