Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Igorots: The so Called Savages of the Cordilleras

For more than 300 years the Spaniards and Americans fought the people of the Cordilleras called Igorots. They were called savages and uncivilized or ignorant by these invaders. These colonizers wanted to eradicate these people’s customs and traditions and enforce their western cultures and religions. The savages fought back. They wanted their cultures intact.

For centuries they flourished in these mountains as farmers and hunters. Although they have occasional quarrels with their neighboring tribes, they were protected by their common law called “budong” (peace pacts). They lived in harmony with nature. For years they never exploited their natural resources to extinction. They cut only the trees they need for building houses and hunt only the animals they need for food. Their way of exchanging goods were mostly through gold or their local commodities (e.g. exchange rice for g-strings or animals).

The Budong

Peace pacts in those days are significant protection for the people. Once a quarrel against another tribe arises, It would be brought to the attention of their elders or peace pact holder. These tribal leaders were regarded much respect. A council with other peace pact holders especially with the conflicting tribe would ensue. They would be the one to decide whether there will be war or the conflict would be settled amicably. Often time the instigator of the quarrel pays for his action with goods such as domestic animals. Apparently weaker tribes always go for peaceful settlements.

Head hunting expeditions which happens when peace pact holders severe the peace pact against a rival tribe does not always occur. In contradiction to what other people thought, war is also upsetting to them because it takes too many resources and the lives of their warriors. But they don’t hold back once they were ordered to go to war. They only kill their enemy’s warriors. Rarely would they include women and children.

Living in Harmony with Nature

The Igorot people never lack the basic necessities in life. Rice, meat, clothing and shelter. Each household has a rice field to till. Every community work hand in hand to plow and plant their fields. They know the timetable of the rain to water their plants. If one does not follow the crowd, his plant suffers the consequences. The bulk of pests would invade his plants.

This maybe is a myth in the mountains as a punishment of Kabunyan to the one who does not follow his laws, but it has an explanation in today’s scientific studies. Field rats live in a colony. When there are enough foods they multiply. When there’s scarcity of food, their numbers would decrease.

When the plants start to bear fruit, the rats’ populations also starts to increase. However, since the vastness of the field has been planted, no matter how fast the rats multiply their presence are barely felt by the farmers. And before their number increase to become uncontrollable pests, the rice fields are already ripe for harvesting. The goods are kept in the rice barns that are inaccessible to the pests. If someone did not follow the multitude and planted earlier or later than the rest, the bulk of the pest will feast on his field during the time it’s the only one yielding fruit.

The poor people in a community also do not have to beg to live. They work in the fields and would be paid rice for their wages. They would supplement these with edible fruits and vegetables from their forests and kaingins or swidden (slash and burn) farms. They also hunt wild pigs in the forests including the field rats for their meat supplies.

The forests thrive with wild animals and plants. The people only cut the trees for their basic necessities like firewood and for building huts and rice barns. Their forests are sacred not only because it is the source of their water and other important necessities but also the home of spirits. They fear of punishment from their ancestors or the "anitos" if they exploit these sacred places. Their taboo beliefs are instrumental in the balance of nature.

The Western Influence

For centuries, the most important treasures for the Igorots are their animals and fields. The rich have more carabaos, cows and pigs. The poorer usually have their pigs and chickens. When the colonizers introduced the power of money, the usual practices are no longer important. Exchange of goods has also changed. People would accumulate more money than animals and land.

The west has also introduced logging. With the opportunity to earn money, people discarded their beliefs and joined in the exploitation of the forests. The industry has destroyed more forest products in just the first two decades of the American time than what the Igorots have used up in centuries.

The same influence has caused many to abandon their fields and find other money-making ventures somewhere. They sold their fields and animals and joined the vast number of people migrating to the cities. Many went to work in mining companies.

With the influence of rampant violence and the lack of respect to the elders, the original essence of Budong is slowly deteriorating. Peace pact holders are often times not consulted and vengeance are exacted without the usual budong consultations.

Crimes in the past days pertain only to stealing and killing. They don’t rape and disrespect their women. They follow the courtship law. Men and women used to bath in the rivers together naked and without malice. The vile acts were introduced by the colonizers who pillaged their lands, burned their huts and fields and raped their women.

And these savages are the people who brought us the so called Christian Religions. Religions that are laden with the old pagan traditions of Rome (e.g. celebration of Christmas day on December 25 which was actually celebrated in Rome as the birthday of Saturn; existence of Purgatory that is not found in the Bible but actually part of the Greek and Roman Mythology, etc. etc.)

We were called uncivilized and savages then. But I do believe that even when we didn't have guns and machines we are more civilized in our ways that those who came to conquer us. When they came to influence us, our natural resources we fought so hard to keep were wasted to corruption. (Here one ironic example: When the Japanese came, we fought hard not to lose what's left of our resources to them. After the war, 90 percent of our forest products went to the rehabilitation of Japan. Our fathers fought hard for it only to be given by our western influenced corrupt leaders to the very people we're keeping it away from. And these leaders are the country’s richest today.)

Are we to blame the Western World for the influence and changes in our cultural upbringing? To me it’s yes and no. Yes because they did bring us a lot of influence to abandon our beliefs that enforce respect to nature and to our elders. No because what’s happening is global. Change will come to us one way or the other.

This is just yet another battle for the Igorots to fight. To learn from the old beliefs and traditions, learn its scientific benefits and incorporate it to the new generations’ teachings. It’s a fight to bring balance to the old and new traditions and to the people and environment.

It is another fight to be able to maintain their unique identity while able to compete worldwide in every aspect of undertakings. Being knowledgeable in our culture, history and its scientific significant at the same time expert in the ways of the western world can give them edge over the rest of the competitors.

Thursday, January 8, 2009