Appreciating the Similarities and Differences of the Cordillera Ethnic Groups

Written by Serafin L. Ngohayon on .

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Appreciating the Similarities and Differences of the Cordillera Ethnic Groups

Ever since I joined the 5th ICBE Consultation in Valendar, Germany in 2009, I felt a deep seated association to it that I always look forward to participating in the next ICBE conference. It is a privilege and a humbling experience to be tapped as your Guest of Honour and Speaker for the second time. I longed and loved to be with you again but it is not right for me to leave while our country is having its election, perhaps the greatest gift to every citizen of a democratic society, a time for the people to choose their leaders. While I may not be with you physically, I am with you in thoughts and spirit.

I also regret so much that nobody from here in the Philippines can join you due to the disapproval of their visa. We can only look forward now to the next ICBE consultation in 2015.

Let me start with a very important question that I hope you ponder deeply and NEVER forget as a Cordilleran.

What makes the Cordillera colourful and attractive?

It is our similarities and differences.

The theme “Appreciating the Similarities and Differences of the Cordillera Ethnic Groups” reminds us of the principle popularly known as “unity in diversity”, that despite our differences, there are still something similar or common in us that we need to appreciate and strengthen for the common good.

We have differences because God gifted us in different ways. I can’t imagine life if everything is similar. As such, we have various ethnic groups in the Cordillera different from each other. In Ifugao alone, we have three major ethno-linguistic groups: Ayangan, Kalanguya, and Tuwali. In Benguet, we have the Ibalois and Kankanaeys. Same is true in Kalinga, Apayao, Abra and Mountain Province.

Our differences in ethnicity, however, must never give us the reason to stereotype or to look down on someone belonging to a certain ethnic group. Let us remember that NO culture is superior over other culture. Instead, we look at our differences as a gift because it makes Cordillera more colourful, thus, attractive. Respect and sensitivity to each other’s culture are vital for our maturity as a region of Indigenous Peoples. He who discriminates a person because of his or her ethnicity is uncivilized in this modern era.

Generally, our mark of distinction as Cordillerans is our love of identity, our love of culture or our love of our ethnicity. Cordillerans take pride in the ethnic group where they belong. This is evident in the conduct of province-wide cultural festivals such as the Lang-ay Festival in Mountain Province, Gotad in Ifugao, and lots more.

Even in the municipal level, cultural festivals are conducted to bring to life every town’s unique culture. Locals involve themselves in competitions on traditional dances, ethnic games, and various competitions to intensify appreciation of the town’s way of life and patronage of local products.

In the Ifugao State University (IFSU) Potia Campus, Alfonso Lista, Ifugao, for the first time, we held the Ammung ad IFSU.

Ammung means gathering. This is an annual cultural festival in Alfonso Lista, one of the towns in Ifugao that caters to various ethno-linguistic groups such as Gaddang, Tuwali, Ayangan, Ilocano, and so on.

Ammung came to life in IFSU Potia Campus to showcase the lessons learned from the subject Indigenous Knowledge, Skills and Practices (IKSP). What made the show exciting was the presentation of a variety of culture.

As IFSU’s contribution to the nurturance and transmission Indigenous Knowledge to the young people, we included in the curriculum of various courses a subject called IKSP. Just like you here in ICBE, we believe that there is a need for our young people in the Cordillera know and appreciate their culture and use our various usefull Indigenous Knowledge to their advantage.

Through a project entitled “Nurturing Indigenous Knowledge Experts (NIKE)” we have produced a workbook to be utilized in the teaching of IKSP.

Believing that awareness to other people’s culture and how they value and cling to their heritage would bolster appreciation and loyalty of their own culture, we have been sending IFSU students to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Israel and other countries for cultural and academic exchange activities. In turn, we in IFSU have been holding cultural and academic exchange activities with the students from various universities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan. By July 2013, we shall welcome students from Vietnam as well.

Perhaps, you could help expose further our students and people with the objective of making them culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and yes, open to possibilities at the same time. This is how we make them feel that the world do appreciate our uniqueness as Cordillerans. This is the same reason, we in IFSU would like to help ICBE facilitate the participation of more delegation from the Cordillera in every ICBE conference.

Further, our mark of distinction as Cordillerans boils down to the cultural values I have mentioned when I was given the privilege to speak in the 6th ICBE Consultation in London in 2011. These values are described in the universal name fitted for all of us Cordillerans: IGOROT with:

I         – referring to our Ingenuity

G        – referring to our Generosity

O        – referring to our Open-mindedness

R        – referring to our Resilience

O        – referring to our Originality and

T        – referring to our Truthfulness

These are the values common to us Cordillerans though we belong to different ethnic groups. These cultural values even trigger the curiosity of travellers and it is important to note that beyond aesthetics, the best attractions are our cultural values. We may have the best traditional landscape that may lure tourists but if we do not adhere to the cultural values handed down to us by our ancestors, tourism development would be at risk.

Something noticeably common to Cordillerans nowadays as a result of the cultural values that we have is that everybody is busy. Cordillerans find ways to rise from their economic situation.

The vegetable gardens that we see in Benguet, Mountain Province, and some parts of Ifugao are evidences of how Cordillerans rise from their economic situation. Locals in these provinces are now the leading producers of vegetables in the Philippines. What makes Benguet different is that locals there are now producing strawberries. They also produce variety of flowers that inspire the locals of Baguio to hold the Panagbenga or Baguio Flower Festival. Lately, Benguet is now into caterpillar silk production.

Generally, we also see in agro-industrial fares that we produce variety of products such as pomelo, camote or sweet potato, variety of aquatic food, and more. Some are forest products. Some are products from the river, rice-fields, and from our backyards.

On food, we have the Etag of Mountain Province. We have the Inasinan and Kiniing (smoked meat) of Ifugao. We recognize the passion for spices of fellow Cordillerans in Kalinga and Abra. But generally, Cordillerans love Inlagim or roasted chicken. This is the reason why tourists would prefer spending time in the Cordillera because there is always something unique in every ethnic group they encounter as they traverse the mountain ranges.

Aside from agricultural products, Cordillerans also produce woven materials. Cordillerans are commonly known as weavers and this innate creativity has been enhanced or innovated. If before, Cordillerans only weave wrap around skirts, now, Cordillerans produce woven bags. Sagada weaving has been popular for this. Cordillerans even design formal attires such as barong, gowns, coat and tie with touches of woven materials. This shows that although Cordillerans are culturally aware, Cordillerans are also open to possibilities.

Also, our woven materials differ in designs and color. In some areas of the Cordillera, the woven wrap-around skirt is predominantly green. In some areas, it is predominantly red. It is blue in some. Some weavers also prefer to always incorporate in their designs the cultural symbols that speak of their way of life. If we put together these colors and designs, we see variations. We see dynamics. We see NO room for boredom.

As majority of the Cordillerans nowadays struggle to rise from the bitter pangs of poverty by using their creativity in the world of business and commerce, too much commercialization may also put our giftedness at risk. Too much commercialization may break our culture, break us.

Meeting the demands of the market resulted to the eventual destruction of our environment especially our watershed, and yet, Cordillera is known to be the watershed cradle of Luzon. Cordillera serves as the source of water for agriculture in the lowlands especially during dry season. It is already alarming that forest covers are burned for the expansion of mountain gardens. There is a need to raise awareness on the hazards of poor environmental management: landslides and flash floods. There is a need to strike a balance among commercialization, environmental protection, and cultural preservation.

Connectivity with nature has been common to Cordilleran ancestors. They tendered our forest because they know that in turn, the forest would provide food and water.

We are not losing hope. In spite of our differences in ethnicity, we could still be one in advocating the protection of our forests that were once tendered by our ancestors.

It is in that spirit that we are taking the lead in the amalgamation efforts for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). This is a reform initiative of the Commission on Higher Education to unite all state universities and colleges (SUCs) in a pursuit of quality education. Currently, we are having two big projects: (1) Academic Complementation which aims to harmonize all the curricula of programs offered by the SUCs to instill student mobility, common use of facilities and share human resource. It will be followed by coming up with common instructional materials and delivery modules to ensure that similar quality can be obtained by students enrolled in any of the SUCs in CAR. (2) Climate change mitigation and adoptation project where the six SUCs in CAR are trying to introduce intervention to our people on how they can adopt and mitigate adverse effects of Climate Change. Both projects have a total fund of 40 million pesos in a two-year period with IFSU as the lead agency.

This is our way of harnessing our diversity and similarities in service to our people.

In closing, I wish to thank the ICBE and all organizations attached to it for their generosity in supporting the effort of our fellow Cordillerans to study despite their financial difficulty. The fund we have generated in the 6th ICBE in London in 2011 was able to support four student-scholars for two years now. We do hope we can get more financial support from all of you in this endeavor.

It is our conviction that the best way to appreciate the similarities and differences of the Cordillera ethnic groups is to actively participate in programs that would protect and uplift every ethnic group like good governance, environmental protection, and cultural preservation. Good governance may refer to the political will that may have emanated from our cultural values and direct a leader to always listen to the voice of his conscience as he or she addresses the needs of the Cordillerans. Having the political will in implementing worthwhile programs is something that we have to look into our political leaders.

Perhaps in your workshops, you may want to consider the following questions:

1.       What is Cordillera without the forest or the watershed?

2.       What is Cordillera without the variety of culture and the cultural values?

3.       What is Cordillera without good governance?

Thank you and my warmest regards to all!

Serafin L. Ngohayon

President, IFSU and Overall Coordinator, CAR SUCs’ Amalgamation Initiatives

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