MANILA, Philippines?The mighty carabao challenged a snail to a race on the rice terraces in Kalinga.
He was confident of victory, but was surprised to see the snail alongside him no matter how fast he ran.
Tired and frustrated, the carabao finally accepted defeat, not knowing there was a snail crawling on every step of the rice terraces.
This fable, told and retold by generations of the Ichananaw in Kalinga, illustrates what excessive pride can do. It is only one of the tribe?s many legends that, the elders fear, the younger generations exposed to the modern world may no longer get to hear.
Thankfully, Ichananaw lore has found an ally in Australian Maria Cameron, whose leisurely visit to the community last year turned into a mission to help the tribe preserve its oral customs and traditions in storybooks.
Cameron, 26, lived in the remote Ichananaw community of 104 families for five months. She stayed with one family, visited every house, talked with the elders and listened to their stories.
Her husband Edwin Wise, also 26, stayed in Metro Manila to coordinate with other groups and collect more materials.
On Friday at the Australian Embassy in Makati City, Cameron presented the fruits of their work?26 books documenting the stories and songs of the tribe.
?These books will help the younger generation ? appreciate their own history,? Cameron said.
But the project means more to Cameron than just helping an isolated community.
?We were able to meet a lot of very good friends in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen,? she said.
3 hours on foot
The Ichananaw are among the tribes living in the mountains of Tinglayan, Kalinga. Electricity has yet to reach the small community that lies at the end of a three-hour trek from the municipal road.
It was Wise who first learned about the Ichananaw from his friends, exchange students at the Ateneo de Manila University who found the community during a trip up north almost two years ago.
Wise, who was in the Philippines to do research on Metro Manila for his doctoral studies in urban sociology, made his own visit to the community in January 2008 and quickly made many friends.
Two months later, when his wife, a government employee in Melbourne, Australia, arrived in the Philippines to work as a volunteer at the Ateneo Center for Educational Development, he took her to the community.
Cameron fell in love not only with the breathtaking view but also with the people. ?They took care of us superbly,? she said. ?I have never been taken care of that way before.?
It was during the visit that Cameron and Wise learned of the fears of the Ichananaw elders.
?They were concerned that with the younger generations frequently interacting with the outside world, many of the youth no longer know how to sing some of their traditional songs,? she said.
Request and invitation
The elders requested the couple to help the tribe document its customs and traditions, and a community leader, Fargwog Aga-id, invited them to stay there for a year.
Cameron promised to return after completing her stint as a volunteer, and Wise decided to put his studies on hold to work on the project.
Said Cameron: ?Our skill and interest matched their request.?
The goal was to produce books that could also be used at the Dananao Elementary School, where at least 160 Ichananaw children are enrolled.
In February 2009, the couple began a five-month-long work that introduced them not only to the dedication and enthusiasm of the Ichananaw but also to the willingness of many other volunteers to help a small community preserve its identity.
Some 67 people directly contributed to the fieldwork, Cameron said.
The project was conducted under the aegis of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development. The couple also received financial support from the group Volunteering for International Development from Australia, which is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development, and from the Philippines-Australia Studies Center at the La Trobe University, where Wise is pursuing his doctoral studies.
But starting the project was not a breeze.
Cameron presented the idea to the Ichananaw at a big gathering, and many members of the tribe said they had grown tired of ?being used? by volunteer groups.
But Cameron detailed the goals of the project and ultimately earned their trust.
Dananao Elementary School principal Arlene Dawing said that prior to the project, Ichananaw songs and stories were merely told and retold orally.
?We are worried that we cannot stop the influence of modern lifestyles on our younger generations,? she said.
Dawing graduated from St. Joseph?s College in Quezon City in 1990. She chose to return to the community to serve, and has been teaching at the school for 17 years.
She was among the elders who told Cameron of the stories and songs they learned from their parents?legends explaining how their mountain village was formed, and fables teaching good values like humility and trust.
The Australian Embassy funded the printing of the 26 books that include illustrated storybooks, a collection of photos, a compilation of songs, a book authored by one of the elders, and a dictionary of Ichananaw, Filipino and English words.
The group Ilustrador ng Kabataan provided the illustrations for free.
The storybooks are written in English, Filipino and Ichananaw and, according to Dawing, can be integrated in the language and reading classes of the Dananao Elementary School.
Said Australian Charge d?Affaires Stephen Scott: ?The project seeks to improve the quality of education provided by the Dananao Elementary School in Kalinga through the provision of educational materials suited to the needs and culture of its indigenous tribe, the Ichananaw.?
The books were launched on Friday as the Australian Embassy celebrated Australia?s National Aborigines and Islander Day Observance Committee Week.
The observance is aimed at commemorating the contributions of indigenous Australians in many fields, the embassy said in a statement.