Monday, January 14, 2013

Isinay Country a Century Ago (Aritao)

ISINAY BIRD'S NOTE: How did Aritao and its vicinity look a century ago? This segment of a five-part series contains the impressions of an American military professor who, along with a team that included the highest American official in the Philippines at the time (Governor-General William Cameron Forbes), visited Isinay territory in the summer of 1910. The team rode on horses all the way from Baguio down to Pangasinan via Benguet Road (now called Kennon Road in honor of its chief builder) and passed through the Villaverde trail in Imugan, Santa Fe, that since the Spanish period until the construction of the Dalton-Balete pass after World War 2 served as the southern gateway of Nueva Vizcaya. The following account was for the April 27-28, 1910 leg of the Americans' journey.

WE SET OUT next morning at five-thirty. Our journey so far, that is, since we mounted, had taken us over a preliminary range, and now we began a more serious climb. The morning was delightfully fresh and cool, with promise of a fine blazing sun later. Far ahead and above us on the skyline, we could see a cut in the forest where our trail crossed the divide. But that was miles away, and in the meantime we were ascending a lovely valley, pines, grass, and bright red soil. It was delicious that morning, riding under the pines.
“Pinea brachia cum trepidant, Audio canticulum zephyri!” 

And part of the pleasure was due to the fact that we had an unobstructed view in all directions, usually not the case in the tropical forest. At one point we had a full view of Arayat, at another of Santo Tomás, near which we had passed yesterday on coming down from Baguío. But fine as were the distant views we got from time to time, the great attraction was the country itself, through which we were passing. Barring the total absence of any sign of man, it might have been taken for Japan, in the neighborhood of Miyanoshita, without, however, any trace of Japanese atmosphere.

The valley was steep-walled, narrow and twisting, at one point closed by a single enormous rock nearly three hundred feet high – in fact, a conical hill rising right out of the floor of the valley, and apparently leaving just room for the stream to pass on one side.

A curious fact was that while the mountains were decidedly northern-looking as to flora, yet the groins, wherever possible, were thoroughly tropical. For in these water runs off but slowly, with consequent richness of vegetation. And yet, on the other side of the divide which we were now approaching not a pine could be seen, but, on the contrary, the typical tropical forest in full development. The watershed, our skyline, was an almost absolute dividing-mark. At any rate, there the pines stopped short.

At the divide we crossed from Pangasinán into Nueva Vizcaya. And with the crossing began the forest just mentioned, and a long descent for us. Our immediate destination was Amugan, our first rest halt. It is of absolutely no use to try to describe this part of the trip. If the confusion of trees, vines, orchids, tree ferns, foliage plants, creepers, was bewildering, so was the impression produced. But we saw many examples of the most beautiful begonia in existence, in full blossom, gorgeous spheres of dark scarlet hanging above and around us. According to Mr. Worcester, all attempts to transplant it have failed. Its blossoms would be sometimes twenty and thirty feet in the air. Nothing could exceed the glory of these masses of flowers, sometimes a foot and more in diameter, as projected by the rays of the early morning sun against the dark green background, the whole glistening and dripping in the rain-like dew.

Tree ferns abounded; we passed one that must have been over sixty feet high. At one halt the ground about was aflame with yellow orchids, growing out of the ground. And there was one plant that I recognized myself, unaided, the wild tomato, a little thing of eight or nine inches, but holding up its head with all the rest of them. As always, on this trip, however, it was the splendor of the country that held the attention, the wild incoherent mountain masses thrown together apparently without order or system, buttressed peaks, mighty flanks riven to the core by deep valleys, radiating spurs, re-entrant gorges, the limit of vision filled by crenellated ranges in all the serenity of their distant majesty. And then, as our trail wound in and out, different aspects of the same elements would present themselves, until really the faculty of admiration became exhausted.

And so on down we went, to be greeted as we neared Amugan by a sound of tom-toms; it was a party that had come out to welcome us, carrying the American flag and beating the gansa (tom-tom) by way of music. The gansa, made of bronze, in shape resembles a circular pan about twelve or thirteen inches in diameter, with a border of about two inches turned up at right angles to the face. On the march it is hung from a string and beaten with a stick. At a halt it is beaten with the open hand.

After crossing a coffee plantation, we reached a little settlement, where we off-saddled and took a bite after six hours’ riding. The half-dozen houses of this tiny village are of the usual Filipino type, and the very few inhabitants were dressed after the fashion of the Christianized provinces. Nevertheless, we here first encountered the savage we had come up to see; for not only did they have the gansa, but they offered us a cañao. This is a feast of which we shall have splendid examples later on, with dancing, beating of gansas, drinking and so on, and the sacrifice of a pig.

Here the affair was to be much smaller, all the elements being absent except the pig and drums. We had noticed as we dismounted a pig tied to a post and evidently in a very uneasy frame of mind, and justly, for, although the honor of a cañao was declined, on account of the length of the ceremony and of the distance we had yet to go, still they were resolved upon the death of the pig. He, however, at the same time had made up his mind to escape, and by a mighty effort broke his tether, and got off; but in vain, for after a short but exciting chase he was caught and then, an incision having been made in his belly, a sharpened stick was inserted and stirred about until his insides were thoroughly mixed, when he died.

We left them cleaning and scraping and dividing, and beating two drums, about four feet long, eight inches in diameter, covered with leather at one end. These are beaten with the open hand, the performer sitting on the ground with the instrument coming up over his left thigh, and produce a muffled and melancholy note. Mr. Forbes had some notion of buying one of them, but was told he would be simply wasting his time, both gansas and drums having an extraordinary value in the eye of their owners.

We moved on, gradually descending, rested at Santa Fé, a rest-house and nothing else, for two or three hours, and then turned north, following an affluent of the Magat River, by an old and poor trail, the new one having been washed out for three hundred yards some two or three miles ahead. And after dark we made Boné, our resting-place for the night.

We all slept in the school-house, for Boné is a Christianized village, and next day, April 28th, made a late start, for it was to be a day of easy stages. By nine o’clock, passing through an undulating champaign country, we reached Aritao, being met at the outskirts by gansa-beaters and also by the Christian school-children with medieval-looking banners, and all in their best bibs and tuckers; the heathen and the Christians mingling apparently on the best of terms. Aritao is an old town, now much decayed, but showing evidences of former affluence. It has a brick church, the bells of which were rung on our approach.

As there is some Government here, of course we had to pay a visit of ceremony, and were accordingly received by the presidente and other dignitaries in an upper chamber, the little children with their banners massing around the gate of the house and forming a really pretty picture. When we were all in, the presidente made the Governor-General and his suite a dignified speech of welcome, very well done, to which Mr. Forbes made answer in fluent and pretty good Spanish.

Bubud was then passed about—but this is going too fast! Bubud (called tapuy elsewhere) is an institution in the parts where we now were, and I had been hearing of it for days. It is the native (Ifugao) name of a drink produced by the fermentation of rice, a drink that varies in color and in flavor, according to the care taken in its make, but nearly always agreeable to the palate and refreshing. That offered us today was greenish yellow, slightly acid and somewhat bitter from the herbs added.

Unfortunately, it will not bear transportation, but we made up for this by carrying off personally as much as was convenient. It had a happy effect on my pony, too: all the way to Aritao he had been slower than the wrath to come, but from this on he showed life and spirit; in fact, he danced and pranced through every town we crossed for some days afterward. I always meant to ask if some one had given him any bubud at Aritao, during the speech-making; on reflection I am inclined to doubt it, but at any rate, in honor of the circumstances, he was known as Bubud the rest of the trip.

Source: Cornelis De Witt Willcox, 1912. The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon From Ifugao to Kalinga Franklin Hudson Publishing Company. [2005 by The Project Gutenberg Ebook]


No comments:

Post a Comment