Knowing original Ibaloi settlements thru gold trading
There was a village in Ibaloi lore called “Tonglo” where the trading of gold was said to be brisk and thriving. An account by Michael Armand Canilao in his book, “Of Gold, Spanish Conquistadors and Ibaloi Generational Memory” (Cordillera Studies Center, University of the Philippines-Baguio, 2011), has it that a Spanish punitive expedition in 1759 razed this village, killing hundreds of Ibaloi who fought the invaders.
This event, Canilao writes, had come to be known as the “Tonglo Massacre.”
But apart from a general direction of the place given by Spanish friar named Vivar in 1755 as “four leguas (24 km) east of Cava (La Union),” no one exactly knows where Tonglo is, only that it is vaguely recalled in Ibaloi oral traditions.
The event’s discussion is regarded as “taboo … to mask the absence or lack of credible evidence that such a massacre really took place,” says Canilao.
The evidence could be surfaced through archaeology, suggests Canilao, a senior lecturer in the archaeological studies program and Center for International Studies of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. “Perhaps [it] can offer a breakthrough in confirming if this massacre indeed took place or not,” he says.
The important consideration is where to begin the archaeological survey because while Vivar described a general direction of its location, the place could be anywhere in Benguet because Tonglo no longer exists in the contemporary listing of Benguet towns and villages.
Canilao says what can be deduced from Vivar’s description is that Tonglo would fall in the vicinity of present day Barangay Irisan in Baguio City.
Could it be that Tonglo is today’s Barangay Monglo of Sablan, Benguet, a direct artery to Irisan? Canilao says “there could be a big margin of error in Vivar’s estimate of Tonglo’s location at the time [because] it was unlikely that [he] traveled on a straight line.”
Canilao, however, believes that despite the presence of “background noise,” oral tradition is still important in the project that is the subject of his book, which is to trace the origins of the peopling of Benguet through the trading of gold.
The engagement of Ibaloi in gold trading, he says, dates back to precontact with Spanish colonizers because of lowland demand for gold bartered with “fish paste (bagoong), wax, honey, rice, salt, pigs, cows, carabaos, blankets, mats and abel (Ilocano cloth).”
The value of gold, on the other hand, was discovered through contact with pan-Southeast Asian seafarers, including the Chinese who exchanged gold for porcelain jars with dragon designs, which were valued for their role in rituals.
Canilao seeks to unearth these artifacts through the discipline of archaeology, and by extension explain the establishment of Benguet settlements using the evidence of “material culture.”
In his book, he starts the inquiry by looking into oral accounts written by scholars as ethnohistory, which suggests that the peopling of Benguet began as lowland dwellers, particularly from Pangasinan, followed the trails of Agno and Amburayan rivers to the eastern hinterlands.
Canilao suggests that gold is central to Ibaloi ethnohistory. However, the latter alone could not establish a pattern that links gold to present-day Ibaloi settlements.
He says this is because oral traditions’ earliest recollections point to the 18th and 19th centuries where wetland agriculture was already prevalent in Benguet and where later generations sought to interpret as happening at an earlier time.
Separating “background noise” from facts, Canilao had engaged in “surface archaeology” in selected places identified in ethnohistory to be the original settlement areas of Ibaloi in Benguet.
These are in Chuyo (Green Valley, Tuba), Palaypay (Pongayan, Kapangan) and Imbose (Kabayan). He says the surface method, which investigates grid areas that were plowed through, addresses questions on “human population history to expand settlement patterns and land use databases.”
In the three survey areas, only Chuyo yielded potsherds (pieces of broken pottery), an indication of previous human activity. Canilao says Palaypay and Imbose “did not show archaeological evidence.”
While archaeology did not confirm the ethnohistorical accounts of the original Ibaloi settlements, he says this is not surprising because wetland agriculture already obscured historical time lines in oral traditions, where informants are generally the landed Ibaloi elite called the “baknang.”