Report on the 10th ICBE Consultation

Written by Evangeline Eral Soriano-Martinez on .

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10th Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) Consultation 

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

July 26-29, 2019


A Report

Evangeline Eral Soriano-Martinez

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  Bustling with summer activities during a temperature of up to 44 degrees, this mid-week to weekend time on this bicycle city at the last week of July was, for the lack of a better word, heaving.  A lot of people would prefer just to be indoors in situations like this because simple activities like walking would seem like a lot of effort. However, should one wish to find the excitement of the day, one would have to venture outdoors.  For the working committee and the delegates of the 10th ICBE (Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK- Europe) Consultation held at De Wittenstraat 114, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the best of the outdoors was happening indoors.

The venue is an unassuming Protestant church building (c1926) embedded amongst a line of private residences in Nassaukerk, western Amsterdam.  The front of the building faces one of the many canals in the city. Next to it is a coffee shop which is so inviting somewhat, with the nice hot weather, the canal and the entertainment of watching the traffic from the bridge nearby.  The back of the building would be its ‘main entrance’ where the rest of the building blends in so well with the row of private residences. Inside the building, one can feel the care that has gone into the works to make the place comfortable.  There are five toilets and a kitchen, a multi-purpose hall attached to the kitchen, another multi-purpose room (looks like a classroom) and then the main church hall. The latter is a well-preserved, well-kept, high-ceiling room boosting with space and character.  To get a great venue like this, the working committee had to book it so early like over a year ago.

MABIKAs Foundation-The Netherlands (MABIKAs Foundation) was this year’s host of the ICBE Consultation, headed by Myra Zymelka-Colis, its founding chairperson.  This year’s theme was “Celebrating 17 Years of ICBE’s Existence and Appreciating Abra’s Land, People & Culture.”  

FRIDAY, 26 JULY.  A friendly and excited atmosphere circulated among the participants and the hosts of the consultation in the afternoon of this day, the commencement of the 10th ICBE Consultation.  This day has been designated to be a meet-and-greet day of networking, fellowship and camaraderie.  To those who already knew each other, it was a catch-up afternoon. There were no dull moments as about 30 attendees shared a part of themselves through their stories and in the process, discover new relations or reminisce past experiences.

After a delicious dinner, the plenary session commenced with an opening ritual, the singing of hymns and a welcome speech by Myra.  A session of remembering followed wherein names of ICBE attendees who passed on were read and also a video of the past 10 years of the group’s conferences was played.

A souvenir book, “ICBE Through the Years” was launched, spearheaded by Myra and ICBE overall consultation coordinator and MABIKAs Foundation Board member, Yvonne Belen.  On its cover, the souvenir book described itself as A Souvenir Book Celebrating the 10th ICBE Gatherings (2002-2019). During the book launch, Yvonne traced how the dream of having a souvenir book in 2017 became a reality in 2019. The contents were mainly documentations from the previous nine ICBE consultations and some from the current ICBE consultation, including profiles and photos of Igorot Cordillera organizations in Europe. The book’s publication was made possible with the financial support of: (1) Igorot Cordillera organizations and individuals in Europe, (2) other organizations in Europe, (3) Igorots in the US and (4) friends.    

Following Yvonne’s introduction of the souvenir book, Myra, who did the layout and design, also shared her words of appreciation and gratitude. “When I was doing the layout of the souvenir book, not only did I enjoy reading and learning more about our Igorot or Cordillera ways and culture but also I was inspired by personal stories and initiatives shared by our kakailyan through the ad pages they bought and/or sponsored. For instance,  in the story of Lorena Clerc on page 55 entitled ‘Transplanted & Thriving,’ I realized that sharing our personal stories and struggles could serve a truly special purpose and, that is, to keep encouraging and inspiring one another as one valuable member of the tribe of indigenous people worldwide. It is an honour and a privilege for me to do the layout and design of this ICBE Souvenir Book. It’s a book worth keeping, but most of all, worth reading. Thank you so much for all who have shared their expertise, knowledge and insights about our indigenous identity and culture. It is through your presentations, speeches and messages captured in written form that we are able to carry on in preserving our meaningful culture and passing it to the next generation.”

The evening culminated with the introduction of all individuals present, host and delegates alike.  Apart from the host country, there were representations from the Belgium (Cordi-Bel) Spain (BIBAAK Madrid), United Kingdom (Igorot UK) and the Philippines (SANDIWA). 

SATURDAY, 27 JULY. After a day of newly formed friendships and rekindled spirits, is a day of cultural immersion.  The morning session commenced with introductions of new arrivals to the consultation, moderated by Cordi-Bel representative Marivonne Cuyob.  There was a participant from Germany representing KAWAYAN, an intercultural group in Germany. Yvonne delivered the consultation’s keynote address.


In her speech, Ms Belen spoke of the ICBE’s achievements and contributions throughout the 17 years of its existence, what continues to drive these and also what kind of a future is expected of the ICBE group.  There was emphasis on the Igorot culture promotion and preservation in all conferences of the ICBE. Every consultation focused on an in depth presentation of a tribe in the Igorot Community, focusing on its land, people, cultural practices as well as issues befalling each tribe.  

There was also a promotion of good citizenship as the ICBE continues to highlight the respect and courtesy afforded to their European host nation and at the same time, maintaining solid, deep-rooted ties with our native Philippines (being an Igorot Filipino and a European Resident at the same time).  

Should a need arise, the ‘resolutions’ taken up during the consultations have been submitted to the appropriate Philippine Cordillera office for their attention, action and discussion, affirming the group’s influence on historical and current matters.  Such involvement lead to achievers and change-makers amongst the European Igorot population.

The consultations have successfully formed ties with other international Igorot affiliations such as the IGO (Igorot Global Organization).  The ICBE group has also financed scholarships programs for deserving Igorot students in the Philippines.

What drives the ICBE to continue its work?  Ms Belen sites three things: volunteer work, mutual assistance (agtitinnulong) and (financial) self-reliance.  

As to the future of ICBE, it is envisioned as bright and belonging to the second- and third-generation Igorot Cordillerans in Europe.

CONSULTATION THEME: Appreciating Abra’s Land, People and Culture

Christina Moncado, a constituent of MABIKAs Foundation, delivered the presentation on the Abra province, discussing its history, people, practices and current issues.  Specifically, the presentation centred on the indigenous tribe of the Tingguians, also known as the Itneg tribe. It is interesting to know that the people of Abra, despite their local differences, formed a bodong (peace pact), and acting as one, successfully ousted a big logging and pulp company who had the backing of the then Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos from encroaching on its land which was occupied by the indigenous tribes, and exploiting its vast forest reserve.  This unity against a formidable adversary, for many in the Cordillera Region had received praise and had gone down in history as a fine example of a ‘David versus Goliath’ act.

Throughout ICBE’s history, this is the first time that the consultation presented the province of Abra.  Little is indeed known about the Tingguians, that there were expressions of “oohs” and “aah” as the culture from the province was being discussed, kept interesting and engaging by Ms Moncado.  Right after the presentation, basi was served to everyone to emulate a Tingguian practice of serving and toasting in celebration to culminate an activity.

After a short break, the plenary session continued with a reading of a Master’s Thesis Abstract on ‘Medium is an Interface: How image-as-interface surfaces the layers in photographs of the Igorot European Expositions (1887-1913). The paper is the work of Doris Wilson, currently an instructor at the University of the Philippines College Baguio.  Ms Wilson proposes to examine and “make sense” of the photographs from the Igorot expositions in Europe (Madrid in 1887 and other European Cities from 1911-1913).

The Spanish regime in 1887 looked to further their colonial agenda by bringing in their colonial subjects, the Igorots from the Philippines in Madrid as a ‘live’ exhibit.  The latter exhibitions from 1911-1913 were brought in Europe by the American-led Exhibition Company whose purpose was to gain profit. In both times, the Igorot were described as “uncivilized” and “savages.” 

Wilson explained in her abstract, “by uncovering the ‘layers’ of the photographic images…shows how the ‘savage’ Igorot image showcased in the 1887 Madrid exposition was a constructed image that concealed the rich personalities and cultures of the Igorots… and that the ‘village life’ shown was a decontextualized performance.”

Just before lunch, the delegates were divided into two groups for a workshop discussion on two topics:

  1. Our advocacies on the preservation of the Igorot identity

  2. ICBE consultations and its future.

The discussions were facilitated by Wendy Pooten-Watan and Grace Nabus.  The sharing was rich and interesting. There was a sense of pride and recognition as each individual contributed to the discussions.  Moreover, there was a sense of deeper friendship and understanding of each other, as the delegates opened their hearts and minds to the group.  Everyone was enjoying themselves that several calls of “mangan tayon” were heard but barely acknowledged as the discussion overrun into the lunch hour.  A summary of the discussions was presented to the whole assembly after lunch and also during the cultural night.  

After lunch, a workshop led by Mark Watan of Igorot UK featured the music of the Igorot gongs.  There was total audience participation as he taught the rhythm of the gangsa, the meaning of the dance steps and the rationale behind every hand position.  

To prepare for the cultural presentations later, the participants were divided into groups representing the provinces of the Cordillera Region: Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.  Each region practiced a dance or a dance-and-song to present later.


As the number of participants grew during dinnertime, the excitement of the evening also loomed.  Participants who had just joined were introduced to the rest of the group in the customary ICBE style.  The Cultural Night, aptly called due to the participants donning their native Igorot attire, was colourful and electric.  Fortunately, there was not a lack of photographers to capture the emerging virtuosity and colour of the evening. There were a few participants who wore Igorot inspired fashion also contributing to the rich colour of the event.  There were participants from Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Philippines and of course, The Netherlands. The evening was also graced by the Philippine Ambassador to The Netherlands, Jaime Victor Ledda, and other embassy officials.  The Ambassador was beaming with delight when he received an item of clothing (vest) of Igorot weave. The Ambassador’s speech relayed messages of being Filipinos abroad, of participation into issues which are current in the native land and of being good citizens of Europe also.  

Representatives of BAYANIHAN, a women’s group in The Netherlands, also friends and supporters of the host, MABIKAs Foundation, were also present during the evening.  

There were speeches from the founding members of ICBE, in celebration of its 17th year of existence.  There was recognition and respect in the room as the group’s achievements were realized.  The MABIKAs Foundation received praise for their efforts for this event.

Cesar Taguba, an ICBE pioneer and also a member of the host delegation, gave a speech on the proposed resolutions for the 11th ICBE Consultation in 2021.  The two resolutions proposed were:

  1. To examine and find closure on the Madrid and European Expositions of the Igorots (1887-1913)

  2. To recognize achievers and change makers amongst the Igorot community in Europe.

In true symbolic honour, the MABIKAs Foundation passed the responsibility to the next host of the ICBE Consultation, BIBAAK Madrid, who will be holding the consultation in 2021. BIBAAK Madrid was represented by their president, Josephine Segundo. 

Of note also is the participation of the children attendees.  The efforts of Ric Cuyob, an ICBE pioneer is evident as he led the children into a laudable performance for this evening.  

Another MABIKAs constituent, Leticia De Jong, and her husband, Zeger, provided an entertaining “ice breaker” with renditions of popular OPM (Original Pilipino Music) and English songs. The evening also saw the drawing of the raffle ticket winners - a guaranteed interest generating part of the night.

A round of cultural performances followed, mostly dictated by the rhythm of the gongs and the solibao and inspired by the earlier afternoon workshop. So the feet tapped, the arms raised, the hips swayed, as the venue filled with Igorot performers celebrating this camaraderie in true joyous spirit.  It was the heart and pride of the Igorot on display.

SUNDAY, 28 JULY.  The day was designated as a touring day where usually, participants are shown around the city or county by the hosts.  This day though, the participants were given the day to themselves. Somewhat, a few of the participants managed to get together to roam around the city.  A few have managed to meet somewhere in the city for more fellowship.

MONDAY, 29 JULY was another beautiful day to conclude the 10th ICBE Consultation.  As per tradition, there was a financial report by the host, MABIKAs Foundation.  A financial report update from previous consultations were also discussed and presented.  The attendees then individually evaluated the consultation, giving comments, making suggestions and recommendations for improvement and equally producing positive feedback to the preparatory committee and the host.

When Wendy Pooten-Watan of Igorot UK asked each participant to describe the consultation in one word, the following words were uttered, some of them more than once: thank you, great, good, fantastic, refreshing, happy, looking forward, long live, overwhelming, happy, grateful, positive and inspiring, encouraging, magnificent and satisfied.

The parting after the conclusion could be likened to that of leaving family behind.  One could appreciate feelings of belongingness and appreciation as delegates exchanged warm hugs and uttered sincere messages of ‘good luck,’ ‘be safe,’ ‘goodbye’ and best of all, instil in each other, the hope of meeting again in 2021.

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