Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Ibaloy Studies Conference: The Ibaloy today

(Our Tourism policy is more than numbers that help generate employment and pump the economy but also includes the preservation of culture and heritage. That is why I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend seminars and conferences that are related to our functions such as this recently held Ibaloy Studies Conference at UP Baguio on April 24-25).

“That’s a very difficult question.” Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, sighed not knowing that the inquisitive person in front of her is one of the many babies she ushered to this world via caesarian section.

Dr. Cabato’s story of the “vanishing Ibaloys of Baguio City” echoes the many fears of the Ibaloys in this age – the displacing of its people, the fading of its culture, and the losing of its identity. As many queries piled the hall, I was compelled to stand up and address the room’s white elephant after a UP professor’s “profound” and “extremely important” inquiry about the “color of the butato (fireflies)”.

“How do we, the multi-cultural children- the one-halves, and one fourths, address our identity? What is the implication of being a multi-cultural child in the Ibaloy’s advocacy of cultural preservation?” I nervously raised.

“That is indeed a very difficult question” The questions actually broke the room- each participant looking side and up, asking the ceiling the same thing.

There was no answer.

Earlier, messages were given asking the obvious question: “Who are the Ibaloys?” Benguet Gov. Fongwan, who admitted that he has no Ibaloy blood but can speak fluent Ibaloy, shared that he is considered by many as one of them simply because he lived as an Ibaloy, and speaks the Ibaloi Language. (“He looks and sounds like a chicken, therefore he must be a chicken”).

Does that mean that those who do not know how to speak Ibaloi, despite having Ibaloy parents, like most from the fifth and perhaps, sixth generation, are not considered Ibaloys?  Is being an Ibaloy by blood? Or by cultural orientation (as being able to speak Ibaloi)? Although I understood that Anthropological researchers use the language to sort human groups, I still felt unconvinced.

NCIP Commissioner Zenaida Hamada-Pawid (a one-half, one- fourth herself) answered my query in three parts. She started her story by recalling her experience as a young Anthropology professor of UP who is tracing her ancestry by collecting the genealogy of the five biggest clans of Benguet villages. What she and other researchers found out was that all of the people in the southern Cordillera can trace their roots to only one people – the Kalanguyas (Ikalahans), a distinct sub-group of the Ifugaos.

The Kalanguyas (from “Keley ngoy iya” a term used to pacify misunderstandings), in turn, are blood brothers of many different ethnic groups, not only from the Cordillera region, but also of the people of Region I and II. “Enshi nai-afafil” I smirked.

If we go deeper, we will find out that our different tribes in the Cordillera region belong to the same Austronesian Peoples in Southeast Asia and Oceania. This means that we belong to the same family with the Taiwanese aborigines; the majority ethnic groups of MalaysiaEast Timor, IndonesiaBruneiMadagascar, Micronesia, and Polynesia, as well as the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii, and the non-Papuan people of Melanesiathe minorities of Singapore where Malay is an indigenous language, the Pattani region of Thailand, and the Cham areas in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Hainan.

“What irks me is the different organizations, including that Bangsamoro, who insist that they are different (perhaps superior?) groups when they belong to the same group of people” She said strongly. “Even without discussing the cultural and social matrix however, we are one people because of our common activities – pasturing, agriculture, forestry and mining.” These activities, she explained are protected by the Indigenous Peoples themselves suggesting that said activities taught them to become very much protective of their land and resources.

“So how can the young Ibaloy today understand how is it to become an Ibaloy of the past?” She asked. “The Ibaloy is a culture and people in constant change….they are not frozen in time”

“But if you want to know the core value of the Ibaloys, go ask the Ibaloys who perished in the Battle of Tonglo at Lumtang (Lamtang). Our ancestors who spent 300 years of fighting to protect our ownership of our lands, properties, and resources.” She almost shouted. “The Ibaloys are strong and empowered!”

The room almost became somber. For some of the Ibaloys who are there, the obvious implication of her last lines hit them like a brick. “Have we protected our ownership of our land and resources?” They must have muttered. Perhaps, our ancestors must be rolling on their graves screaming that “the real Ibaloys are those who have protected the lands of their ancestors!”

My late Father, Alberto Ingosan Olsim Jr., descended from the Ingosan-Gabol Clan of Irisan, Baguio City who can trace their roots to Ahin (Buguias) and Kabayan, and the Olsim and Bacquian clan of Buguias, Benguet. He is a “Kanibal”(Kankana-ey – Ibaloy). He, however, grew up in Mt. Province because of his father’s choice to farm at nearby Bauko and Sabangan, Mt. Province.

It is a different case with my Mother, Marcelina Dulay Elwas, who is predominantly a “Bontokis” from Sabangan and, Samoki, Can-eo, and Gonogon, Bontoc, Mt. Province. She, however, grew up in an Ibaloy mining village at Itogon, Benguet where she lived and spoke like a true blue Ibaloy.

This (comically) means that I have an i-Benguet father who grew up in Mt. Province, and a Mt. Province mother who grew up in Benguet.

I was born in Baguio City, and raised in La Trinidad, Benguet. I lived in a multi-cultural neighborhood who uses the Cordillera region’s “neutral” language – the “Ilokano”, or perhaps our washed out version of it. Our parents did not use the Kankana-ey or Ibaloy language in our home, just like many parents today.

Growing up, however, I saw how the two tribes treat each other with contempt - the Ibaloys thinking that other groups have robbed them of their lands, and the other groups blaming the Ibaloys for selling hectares of it. In one record, my Ibaloy side,the Ingosan and Gabol, who are two of the major clans of Baguio City, sold their lots at Irisan to Manila developers. Such event at Irisan served as the microcosm of how Baguio City had turned out to be.

The attitude of Benguet versus Mt. Province, or the Ibaloys vs. the "Bontokis" is visible in schools, in the workplace,and even in news columns like Midland's Opposite Direction by Atty. Benny Carantes where he constantly viewed the "Bontokis" as carpet baggers, and his fellow Ibaloys as threats to other Ibaloys. 

Many writers blamed the division of the Ibaloys to the conscious machinations of powerful people in the past. The division of barangays to divide the Ibaloy clans (and subdue them), and the unfair politics of this date. Come to think of it, there has never been an Ibaloy mayor of Baguio City.

Such conflicting scenario, taught me to become indifferent with my cultural identity. "Why can't we just say that we are humans who breath the same air, and drink the same water?" I contemplated as a young kid. For a 90s kid immersed in the global pop culture, I never really cared...until today.


So, how do we, the part Ibaloys, address our identity, especially in the Ibaloy’s call for cultural preservation in this modern multi-cultural society? Does it mean that I have to marry an Ibaloy girl to ‘promote and continue the blood line’? Does it mean that we have to ban the entry of the “Bontokis” or other cultural groups?  How can I compromise the preservation of the different cultures that I belong too (which are equally wonderful)?

For us hybrids, we can only imagine in our silence.

In this multi-cultural generation in which the young Ibaloys have learned to love without the issue of tribe, language, or colors, they will barely understand the importance of their Ibaloy culture and identity, or feel what is it to become an Ibaloy.

They can only learn the cultural tools, perhaps, the constructs; the language, and the dances. They can only wear their names and their ethnic costumes. But beyond that, they have changed... just like this ever-changing world.