The Role of Women Among the Igorots

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 by Maria Cristina Apolinar-Abeya

Greetings from the USA and a pleasant morning to everyone. I have been asked to speak on the Role of Women Among the Igorots. Let me begin by saying that a woman’s role does not change whether or not she is among Igorots. Allow me then to speak on the Role of the Igorot Woman as I see it.

SOMEONE once said that BEYOND THE EXTRAORDINARY, EMERGES THAT WHICH IS FLAWLESS. THE IGOROT WOMAN IS A PRODUCT OF AN EXTRAORDINARY BACKGROUND. IMAGINE HER EARLY BEGINNINGS – Raised TO BE MAN’S SHADOW IN WHAT OTHERS MAY VIEW AS THE MOST PRIMITIVE OF ENVIRONMENTS. She bore and raised her children in a simple hut with the ground for a floor, cogon grass for a roof and fire from wood for heat. In the nine months that she would bear her baby, she does not have the luxury of pre-natal visits, no la-maze classes, no trips to some trendy shop for cravings or baby furniture, no baby shower. Instead, she follows her husband to the fields, to some steep mountain, to till the soil, to plant crop, to harvest and carry home heavy loads on her head and to prepare food for the family. AND yet, through each birth, she does not scream, she does not cry out, she does not curse, she merely anticipates, in great quiet strength, the birth of a new life. She was never asked what her opinion was on family or political affairs but she did not question why. Instead, she quietly assumed her mission which is to help raise her family and serve her husband. Her ROLE – partner of strength in marriage – never questioning her husband’s wisdom; doing the best with what was available; finding joy in simple rituals during family gatherings; raising her children in the same way her parents raised her; living the rule of the farm; and trusting each day to Kabunian.

This was life - pure and simple. No western civilization, just the plain and simple Igorot village - an “existence in nature’s bosom”. Life was governed by the rule of the farm, the rule of nature. “To everything, there was a season” and if a woman was fit, she survived the seasons. The values that she would pass on to her children would be patience, moral strength, fidelity, hard work and respect for nature, as well as, for humankind.

Then came the war. We would see the Igorot woman serving alongside with the men in her tapis, barefoot, but brave and persistent. I know for a fact that Igorot women carried heavy loads on their heads to bring supplies to American soldiers. I know for a fact that Igorot women mounted horses and carried messages for Filipino and American soldiers. The role she took would in fact play an important part in winning the war.

After the war came WESTERN civilization. The Igorot woman grows out of the Igorot village into very different cultures. She is SENT to school right along with the boys. She learns of new ways of cooking, new ways of dressing, and new ideas. She learns that she can work away from the fields, be a teacher, a nurse or even a lawyer. She learns to compete not only with other women but also with men. With each discovery, she moves further and further away from her simple beginnings into the western world’s complexities of life. She is met with challenges regarding her beginnings, her language, the way she dresses, dances, the food she eats, her culture. Others view her with derogatory connotations of "unchristian" and "uncivilized". She holds her head high. Little by little her highland pride over powers lowland prejudice. She marries into new cultures. She charges hard toward education in every sense of the word. She assimilates into other cultures but through it all, she clings to her Igorot soul, beliefs, mores, and values. She raises her children as her parents would have raised her – with the fierceness of a mountain lion protecting her cubs, with the purity and gentleness of a dove that sows peace and tranquility, and with wisdom and respect for the unseen, for nature and for humankind. This is how she was taught from birth in that simple Igorot village. – She goes through life with these words ringing in her head - “Inayan”, “Anosam”, “menbikas-ka”, “Wad-ay nan Tomo-tong-cho”, “Ipiyas nan Gawis”.



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