By LIZA OCHAMA K. LABBAGAN
“Let me share a little poetic story in the fields of pay-yew where the heart of umili. Nurturing the presence of undying beliefs and right. This is my home, the land of our life.”
I was raised by advocacy workers. I never understood as a child what their work entailed or why they chose to do it in the first place. They could have been professionals in a more profitable field but they chose the road less traveled. While growing up they would tell me stories of the undying culture that we indigenous peoples (Ips) have. That in an IP community, the collective good is prioritized and that ePch member is tasked to be keepers of the land that they live in.
They said that our culture is rooted n the land that sustains us. These were all trivial things to a child. All I cared about then when going to our province is that I can be back to the mountains, feeling the cold breeze. I guess I just didn’t relate to being an indigenous person. When I became a teenager I wanted to understand my roots so I decided to join a youth performing organization whose productions are based on IP culture and experiences.
We performed Igorot songs and danced with gongs and bamboo instruments, but more than that we were depicting stories about the IP way of life. Our skits portrayed IP values such as sharing and responsible use of resources, simple living and self-reliance, and tenets that enhance and nurture people’s welfare and the common good. Maybe my parents were rubbing off on me because eventually I sought for, and found myself joining, a youth organization under the Cordillera people’s movement advocating for IP rights and democracy.
A different side to the simple and peace-loving Igorot was revealed to me – despite our harmonious ways, we are victims of institutionalized discrimination and oppression. I was exposed to the reality that IPs are survivors of massacres, discrimination, abuse, and poverty wreaked by colonizers, that even in this modern age we are still largely ignored, misunderstood, and unvalued by society.
IP areas are among the poorest and most neglected by governments around the world. We are dictated on by modernization with utter disregard to our traditions and way of life. The thrust of globalization heightens the exploitation of our resources for mindless consumption. “Development” is forced down our throats and if deemed uncooperative, our communities are militarized. These are attacks to our culture and identity as indigenous people. But the Igorot did not stand idle as our lands were plundered and destroyed. We have a brave history of standing up against oppressors.
One valiant story of struggling for our land and culture was that of Ama Macliing Dulag, the Butbut tribe chieftain slain by the Marcos regime. He united previously warring tribes against the Chico River Hydro-electric Dam Project that would have caused the displacement and loss of livelihood of Igorots in the area. His assassination is now annually commemorated during April 24 as the People’s Cordillera Day and is a celebration of the people’s struggle.
Truly, the IPs’ struggle for self-determination is just. The bravery of Apo Macliing and our ancestors must serve as a binding force for the people in the community to act as one in times of need. It is high time for us to continue striving for development that is culturally-sensitive and ecologically-balanced–a development that is from and for the people.
The movement made me understand that to be keepers of the land meant caring and respecting the environment so that it can continue to care for us. It dawned on me like an epiphany why my parents chose their line of work. We have a duty to nurture and defend our land, our culture.
Centuries of foreign onslaught may have besieged it but the Igorot heritage will endure because it is lobbied and fought for by people who respect it and believe in it. As time passes by, I came to realize that while I was not there to witness the past struggles of my kailians, their history of resistance is still clearly engraved on our lands. And it is also on these lands where we shall firmly stand and collectively strive to protect our life and culture. I am Ochama, an igorota, and to the Cordillera peoples I bravely vow–to nurture and defend.# nordis.net