The Cordillera has always been full of magic and mysteries. The fly buzzing one’s ear may be a friend transformed by a “mandadawak” (shaman or local healer) or the dog burrowing a field may be showing the way to a gold mine.
Cordillera literature is almost all oral and can only be heard chanted or sung in wakes and rituals.
“This may be the reason I chose to be a writer. Fantastic stories are common place in my memory,” says Florenda Pedro, a freelance researcher and member of Ubbog, a group of young Cordillera-based poets and fiction writers.
A few months ago, Pedro decided to go home to Cervantes, a remote town in Ilocos Sur near the border of Mt. Province. Although considered an Ilocano town, most villagers there speak Kankanaey.
Pedro had learned about the plan to use the mother tongue to teach children in primary schools in remote towns like Cervantes. A program known as the Philippines’ Response to Indigenous Peoples and Muslim Education (PRIME), with funding from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), sought the translation of English and Filipino stories to the mother tongue, which, in Cervantes’ case, is Kankanaey.
But a more novel idea by Cervantes elders is the codification of their stories into Kankanaey.
Under the DepEd’s K-12 program, the only major local languages or mother tongues are Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao and Chabacano. Recently, the DepEd added Ybanag, Ivatan, Sambal, Aklanon, Kinaray-a, Yakan and Surigaonon.
These languages are used in the primary grades as bridges to English and Filipino.
Since Kankanaey or other Cordillera languages were not included, local teachers had to be extra innovative to teach their students, especially those still learning to read and write. That includes using Kankanaey in telling tales and reciting
poems and chants, and later translating them into English and Filipino.
No one among the teachers in Cervantes was bold enough to venture into this, and Pedro, a cultural activist, decided to go at it.
Being a researcher, she listened to the stories of her childhood and even those of her father. She was able to compile 14 stories and poems in Kankanaey.
These are “Bussan Ko” (“My Pig,” a poem), “Butatto” (“A child named Butatto,” another poem), “Da Bayyek en Gaki” (“The Tadpole and the Crab,” a story), “Da Bukang ken Liway” (“Bukang and Liway,” a tale), “Da Kabbigat en Pali” (“Kabbigat and Pali,” another tale), “Da Ket-an en Pag-ong” (“The Snail and the Turtle,” a fable), “Dasan Mangngi an Nangan si Padana ay Mangngi” (“A Monkey Who Ate His Own Kind,” a cautionary tale), “Gatan en Bangan” (a folk prayer), “Saba” (“Banana,” a poem), “Kuttabo” (a tale told by a father), “Labeg” (a poem), “Samotti nan Nanpuan di Malaya” (“A legend of Malaya village”), “Si Kabunian de Begas” (a folktale) and “Lidom” (a poem).
These stories will be compiled and tested on Grades 1 to 3 pupils in the remote village of Malaya. If successful, Kankanaey will be included in the DepEd’s K-12 module.
Pedro’s friends in Ubbog also researched on other Cordillera stories and compiled them into a book. Ubbog’s Rocky Cajigan, Rey Aurelio and Hector Kawig heard of a story told in snippets in Sabangan,
Mt. Province, and came up with “Eaten.”
“Eaten” is part of four magical tales compiled in “The Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang and Other Cordillera Folktales,” which was launched by the Cordillera Green Network (CGN), an environmental nongovernment organization, at Mt. Cloud Bookshop on June 30.
Other stories (all translated in English) in the book are “Legend of Arimoyan,”
“Paco Paco” and “The Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang.” These are illustrated with wood and rubber cuts by Haruka Furusaka, Leonard Aguinaldo, Joey Cobcobo and Fara Manuel.
Not only environmental in nature, the stories are shared only among people in the villages of origin, says Mariko Sorimachi, CGN executive director.
During the launch, CGN introduced the Aanak di Kabiligan, a group of theater performers from the Cordillera, who would share these stories through improvised theater.
Only 1,000 copies of the children’s book were printed, of which 200 will remain with Mt. Cloud and CGN. The rest were distributed to schools in Sabangan and Barlig towns in Mt. Province, Balbalan town in Kalinga, and Kapangan and Kibungan towns in Benguet.