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Book goes to heart of Igorot people

/ 10:03 PM April 17, 2012

BAGUIO CITY—A book about the Igorot people was sold out even before it was out in the market. Those who attended the book launch in Baguio City last week had to jostle their way to buy the few copies left.

Why was it a bestseller? Those who sponsored and preordered copies of the 332-page “Igorot by Heart” had a common desire—to disseminate a book that can help correct persistent prejudices and biases against people in the Cordillera because of their “otherness.”

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Some 300 sponsors, mostly based overseas, intended to distribute 2,500 copies to libraries in the mountainous region, said Yvonne Belen, an Igorot migrant in Amsterdam, who helped edit the book.

Of the 2,750 copies printed, only 250 were available for sale during the April 11 launch.

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“Igorot by Heart” contains 14 essays of mostly Igorot authors. In her autobiography, Daisy Leones, calls herself “a Tagala by birth, a Cordilleran by affinity (her late husband was from Abra) and Igorot by heart,” a description from which the editors derived the book’s title.

The book is a collection of keynote addresses from the first eight international consultations of the Igorot Global Organization (IGO) from 1995 to 2010. Proceeds from the sale will help pay the tuition and other school expenses of poor Igorot students.

“This book will definitely help the Igorot recover their pride as it helps enlighten other Filipinos about Cordillera culture and history,” said Dr. Ellen Donato, Department of Education (DepEd) director in the Cordillera.

Its authors are another source of pride for many Cordillera folk.

“I feel deeply touched by the collective work of the authors and editors. This book was historic as it was written by Igorot people,” said Manuel Ano, who chairs the IGO-Philippines.

‘Otherness’

Ano said most books about the Cordillera were written by foreigners. “We need more Igorot people to write about our own culture and history,” he said.

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Most of the essays deal with the Igorot people’s “otherness,” which has made them a minority. The reason? They have maintained and preserved a way of life and world view, which is distinct from their Hispanized and colonized lowland brothers and sisters.

But that “otherness,” as the late Catholic Bishop Francisco Claver and other co-authors explained, must be a source of pride, not derision.

In his essay, “The Essence of Culture in our Lives,” Claver pondered on “The Wild Men of the Cordillera Central, Northern Luzon, Philippines, at the St. Louis World Fair, 1904.”

During the 1904 fair, some men and women from the central Cordillera were brought to St. Louis, Missouri, and stayed in an “Igorot Village” to show their “way of life,” which highlighted how they butchered and ate dogs.

“We now remember those exhibited ancestors of ours for the inner part of them that was not given much notice at the fair. The outer shell of their culture evoked curiosity, wonderment, possibly even amusement—and yes, indignation at the dog-eating part of it—and it was used for propaganda purposes to rationalize and justify American (or at least President William McKinley’s) imperialist ambitions,” Claver wrote.

“But their inner selves, their spiritual legacy—I would like to think they are yours too—they are ours,” he said.

What was the spiritual legacy of these “wild men?” Their “wildness” was “a function of their never having been fully conquered by Spanish arms, their not having been subjugated” like the rest of the country, the prelate said.

As expected, Claver said some Filipinos, particularly the “civilized, educated, elite of native Philippine society resented our ‘wild’ pagan ancestors at the fair, claiming that their being exhibited precisely as wild people gave a wrong—and unsavory—impression of Filipinos in general.”

He said those who came to the fair missed what lay below the Igorot “wildness”—the spirit of freedom. This, he said, had kept the people into successfully fighting off foreign domination for two centuries.

Identity

The book also features essays on identity, indigenous values, principles and traditional knowledge.

Businessman Richard Stone Pooten, who lives in London with his family, wrote about the importance of rituals in different periods of Igorot life—birth, marriage, family and death. Pooten said these rituals and their values had helped him and his family to be rooted in Igorot culture even while living abroad.

The emphasis on strong, intact families and their natural tendency to relate or be in touch with each other is pronounced, said Albert Bacdayan, a former teacher at Brent School who now lives in the United States after marrying a Brent colleague, Carolyn Sterling Bakke of Connecticut.

In “Igorot Bridge to Success in North America,” Bacdayan said: “I see a close-knit Igorot community in the entire [United States] and Canada and beyond whose members are concerned for each other, care for each other and who are proud of each other.”

As the Igorot people go global, they are not exempt from social issues that plague emerging modern societies, said John Dyte, the book’s chief editor. This is why Dyte agreed with Episcopalian Bishop Alexander Wandag, one of the authors, who stressed that “aside from understanding ourselves, we also have a responsibility” to respond to local concerns, such as education.

That responsibility, Dyte said, was to find “new and unique innovative solutions to old and emerging problems.”

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