Monday, October 2, 2017

The Igorot Dissent

A week ago, Igorots in social media exploded with unimaginable fury – condemning the use of the g-strings and gongs in a political protest. “They do not represent us!”, most kailyans strongly proposed. “Our traditional wears are only used in celebrations. Those are not Igorots”, our poor brothers were quickly disowned by their own Igorot kin.

For someone who once performed in Panagbenga wearing my traditional wear, it will be a double standard for people to cheer at me as a festival spectacle, but condemn me for wearing my wanes/kobal to express my political views. Our Igorot hero Macliing Dulag protested a damaging project using his ethnic garb with pride, same with those other mountain elders in the past who opposed land grabbing and environmental degradation. It only means; “I am an Igorot, and this is my political sentiment”, and not, “this is a political statement of the Igorots”. Most of us read the scene wrong.

How can we forget the Igorots’ history of dissent? From the punitive Battle of Tonglo to Galvey’s conquests? From the Spanish to Japanese Rule? How can we forget our history of opposition to oppression? From the famous case of People vs. Cayat, when an Igorot was prohibited by the government to get drunk, to the protests of Trinidad School (now BSU) students against their exploitation as cultural entertainers for the Americans, to the number of cases when our 'apapongs' were jailed for simply harvesting sayote in properties owned by the ‘crown’ (government)?

Why do we get angry when our colors are worn by our brothers and sisters to express their beliefs, but we are delighted when they are sold as a product or displayed as a fashion trend (or even used as a table topper)? In the words of someone from Besao; “You cannot glorify something as sacred, and at the same time sell them for profit.”

But I’m not a purist, my background in tourism and sociology does not allow me to. To become a purist and to be of this modern world is a paradox. The Igorots are not frozen in time – can the Ibaloi woman in her smartphone know what it is like to carry a camote-packed Kayabang and walk ten kilometers to get home? Can the young i-Bontoc guy in Assumption know what it is like to carry the head of his nameless enemy to the fires? Can the young Igorot today know what it is like to travel to the lowlands to trade meat for salt? I doubt that. They can only learn the cultural constructs, the tools; language, cultural dances, symbols. They can only wear their names and their ethnic wears. But beyond that, they have changed.The world before is different from the world today. The Ibaloi child in the past, admonished for simply beating the gong; “ngantoy, wara in-partian mo?”, is now encouraged to learn the tradition to keep it alive. “Entako men-gangsa” while infusing the western Country music line dance in the routine is now tolerated.

Our traditional wears, as part of our heritage, were originally used in every aspect of our ancestors’ lives – both in joyful celebrations and mourning, in respectful gatherings and even in passionate protests, in the fields, and even in their homes. They wore it because it is part of them. Ironically, the Igorots we condemned and judged for expressing themselves as Igorots (though I don’t share much of their political views) simply acted like the proud Igorots of the past. 

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