Thursday, January 17, 2013

Facebook, Isinays and the Isinay Language

IF THERE IS one modern technology (aside from the Internet as a whole) that is greatly helping save the Isinay language from the jaws of extinction right now, I can think of no other thing than Facebook.
One day soon, in fact, when I shall be writing the acknowledgement section of the semi-multilingual Isinay dictionary that I have been working on since 2008, Facebook will be one of those that will get very special mention.

YOU SEE, when I embarked on the said Isinay dictionary project, I thought it was only going to be “for domestic consumption.” 

Like I do it just for fun. (I think I even confessed somewhere that I thought of coming out with the Isinay dictionary for lack of better things to do when some health problems sometime ago prevented me from consulting jobs that required travel.)

But the hunting and listing of now nearly forgotten or even mawaywayir mot (moribund) Isinay words later took on a different color. This was when the darauway (senior) Isinays who I would dangarangon (pester) for the Isinay term for this and that each time I would go home to Dupax, were now the ones volunteering Isinay words they remembered being used siriyen poto^ (long time ago). 

Yes, my fellow Isinays were now sort of turning the table around. People who I only got to greet with a nod or a smile not very long ago would now approach me to ask: “Dioy mot si listamar tiye?” (Do you already have on your list this one?) 

I would also receive surprise text messages now and then, sometimes in the middle of the night, reporting the Isinay name of this object and that, or the Isinay equivalent for this Ilocano noun, this Tagalog verb, or that English adjective, etc.

The dictionary project was now a community – nay, even a collective Isinay people’s – project. 

Big Help from Facebook
CURIOUSLY, Facebook (or rather the Isinays who dabble in it) would come into the picture each time I would think there are no more new entries to add to the dictionary. They are not directly saying it but the posts give you the sense that there is an urgent and primary need, indeed, for a dictionary of the Isinay language.
Thus, if one day soon the would-be dictionary would be perceived as sort of light at the end of the tunnel for the Isinay language and, for that matter, the Isinays’ identity as a people, part of the credit should go to Facebook.

Consider for instance that through Facebook, I was able to extensively increase my list of words from both versions of Isinay – Bambang and Dupax-Aritao. Even as a significant part of my childhood was spent in the Buag part of Bambang (which thus made me learn some Bambang Isinay by osmosis), it was actually in Facebook that I got to learn the lexical and phonemic differences between Bambang Isinay and the Dupax-Aritao Isinay language that I grew up with.

Examples of Bambang Isinay words I picked up from Facebook: ansisinno (dragonfly), beyavat (guava), mansijlob (twilight), mansiporopdong (gather together), masing-aw (delicious).

Examples of Dupax-Aritao Isinay words I met via Facebook: anamme-on (on the surface, seemingly), antamotni (I'm not sure now), mamborobdang (dawn, sunrise), sinluayah (cluster, bunch), sinpajapaj (large quantity).

Other Lessons
IT WAS ALSO through Facebook, particularly through the reminders of Mr. Alfonso Castañeda Magalad (based in Melbourne, Australia, and better known to us younger Isinays as Uwa Alipong), that I learned that some words we’ve been using are Ilocanized. For example, the correct Isinay for “nakaila” is inila (we/they saw) and instead of “baket”, better to use bi-al (mature/elderly old woman).

In fact, such a timely interjection by this illustrious Isinay advocate and grandson of Alfonso Castañeda (the first Isinay to become Governor of Nueva Vizcaya) has sent me to weed out a hundred or so Ilocanized entries in my list of words.

If we did not have access to Facebook and did not reach out to our fellow Isinays, we Isinay language activists would have taken many, many years to learn or unlearn many things as regards the usage of many Isinay words and phrases. 

Indeed, apart from being a channel of communication – or language education, if you may – Facebook has also become a virtual library insofar as the Isinay language as well as Isinay-related issues are concerned.
I say library because if we combine the Isinay posts in Facebook, there are now probably thousands of profound exchanges, recent and vintage photos, remembering of the good old days, bits of history,  as well as jokes, prayers, songs, riddles, and even quarrels – in Isinay – now recorded in and circulating all over the world.

There were of course a sprinkling of topics that ruffled feathers among some FB-using Isinays. One of them is the fact that some Isinays are ashamed to speak Isinay in public. A very recent one was the attempted transfer of the cross-topped 1990 earthquake monument that for more than two decades now has served as symbol of Isinay community unity at the St. Vincent Church of Dupax del Sur.

Isinay Unification Tool
LOOKING BACK, had there been no Facebook and we merely relied on email or texting, we Isinays would not have had an exciting, quick, colorful, and enjoyable way of communicating with one another. 

Consider, for instance, that ISINAY GLOBAL ASSOCIATION, the leading Isinay group on Facebook, has as of today 952 members – presumably all Isinays, descendants of Isinays, or people married to Isinays. Another group, TAON YA ISINAI, has 770 members (mostly from Bambang). And a third one, ISINAY FRIENDS, has 336 members (mostly Isinays from Dupax).

Many members of these three Facebook groups are members of two or all of the said three groups.

There’s no discounting, indeed, how Facebook has become a great help in many Isinays becoming friends with one another. FB also was a go-between in many a member's renewing partnerships or finding relatives with their fellow Isinays amplamu dattun suung di mundo war si ittuan da besan (no matter what corners of the earth they are in now) and also no matter how the geographical distances are. 

As an Isinay, I also dare say we FB-using Isinays would not have become more unified at least insofar as reinvigorating the Isinay language – the soul and perhaps the only remaining evidence of the Isinay culture – is concerned.

By Way of Conclusion
I REMEMBER how it was when I still didn’t have an account on Facebook. Back then, I merely relied on documents available in the internet for sources of Isinay words and phrases that either I have already half-forgotten or I have not yet encountered in my word-hunting consultation meetings with friends, relatives and fellow senior citizens in Dupax del Sur.

Take it from me, fellow native language savers. Facebook is a short cut and a time- and resource-saving road en route to finding additional words, phrases and idioms in the language of your interest as well as giving illustrative examples of how to use such idioms, phrases, and words in a sentences.

Matuwa tiye (this is true), the making of a dictionary, particularly a comprehensive one and most probably the first ever for Isinay especially in its endangered state, is a humongous challenge. Mari mos an tajtaje. (It’s no longer a joke.) 

But thank heavens, Facebook has helped energize not only the Isinay soul in many of us but also fanned the dying embers of many Isinays’ love for their Isinay roots. 

I just hope that the embers would soon become bright flames that would continue to burn – no matter how cold the nights are and no matter how strong the winds.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 5)

CONNECTING THE dots now, I feel sad that even those whose childhood was lived near the forest are not aggressively tapping their experience to help keep the Philippines nature-rich and beautifully green.

My favorite nature writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, himself once a forest dweller (when Walden Pond was still sylvan and biodiversity-rich), had a quotation that touches on this: “Each more melodious note I hear brings this reproach to me, that I alone afford the ear what would the music be.”

Another pertinent call comes to mind: “We didn’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrowed them from our children.”

What I’m really trying to say is that we adults have a moral duty to pass on to our children a still healthy and livable world and to guide and hand-hold them on how to keep that world bright and wonderful.

No matter how brief or infrequent, exposing kids to things of nature such as hills and rivers, including the flora and fauna and culture that are associated with them, can work wonders to young people’s attitude and behavior towards nature and the environment later in life.

I happened to walk along this teach-your-children-well trail when, even as I was a weekend father most of the time when my three “forest products” were in their formative years, I made effort to find quality time to teach them to be at home with the things of nature. Yes, through playing under the pine trees and sylvan outdoors that – fortunately for my kids – Baguio still had at the time.

My children are all grown-ups now and (probably as a natural hangover of those days when it was still pure joy to see them delight in playing with pine cones and dandelions) I recently got into the habit of nudging them with these lines:

“When you have kids of your own, don’t forget to give me and your mom freedom to bring them out – like what we used to do when you were small – to play hide and seek under the trees, pick dandelions, chase butterflies, catch tadpoles, pitch tent on the grass, build bonfire and roast corn and camote, etc.”

A FEW MORE personal trips and dips down Philippine forest memory lane:

As a young forester I happened to play bit roles, as it were, in the information, extension and communication (or IEC) aspects of forestry, using my hands-on learning and exposure to forests and nature as, oh well, wind beneath my wings.

Among my pleasant memories was having been part of the UP Los Baños team that tried to seduce teachers in Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City, Caloocan City, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Lubang Island, Iloilo, Antique, and Sultan Kudarat to love forests – and to in turn pass on that sylvan love to their pupils (as part of that nationwide program in the seventies that sought to inject Forest Conservation in the curriculum of public elementary schools).

I was also fresh out of college when the UPLB College of Forestry’s outreach publications – Conservation Circular, Forestry Digest, Makiling News, the Ilocano forest magazine Anaraar – were literally and figuratively my bedmates. And as part of my assignments I once wrote a news story about illegal logging in the watershed of Pantabangan Dam. The item became front-page material in one issue of the Manila Bulletin, was made into an editorial the following day, and reportedly caught the attention of then President Marcos, who consequently sent a phalanx of government foresters to investigate the matter.

I got assigned next to handle the publications and communications activities of the then UPLB Northern Luzon Forestry Extension Office in Pacdal, Baguio City. It was pure joy going to far-flung villages of the Cordillera and the Ilocos region and conduct film showing and community lectures on forest conservation matters. Equally memorable were the climbs to Mount Pulag that I joined to, among other things, be up-to-date with what was happening to the second highest mountain at the time.

Also worth putting on record is that I played supportive role in the training on forestry extension of several batches of Forest Guards of the then Bureau of Forest Development in Baguio City, Benguet, Pangasinan, La Union, Abra, the two Ilocos provinces, and Mountain Province. Courtesy of the BFD officers of Baguio City, these forest guards were mainly the ones who planted the pine trees now serving as oxygen generators as well as carbon-dioxide absorbers around the Baguio Convention Center.

While in Baguio, easily one of my memorable extra-curricular activities was my having been an instructor (on a part-time basis) at the University of Baguio which was then offering the BS in Forestry degree. This was where I had a student who would later become what I call “my beloved forester’s guard” and mother of my “forest products.”

At the time, my little writing skills as a forester started to bear fruit. For instance, I qualified for an assignment as Philippine correspondent of the FAO Forest News (and each time I would get my pay check in dollars from Dr. Chandrasekharan, I would go buy myself a new pair of Levi’s).

When I got “pirated” from UPLB to the BFD central office, I got immersed as one of the water boys of social forestry and upland development. That was in the early 1980s when we were yet convincing fellow foresters to balance timber-focused mindsets with concern for agroforestry and the poor forest-based communities.

Perhaps because there was no one else intrepid enough to do the job, at one time I was a speechwriter – on forestry matters. It was not an easy assignment, being a ghostwriter. But, oh my, how I enjoyed putting words to the mouths of my superiors at the then Bureau of Forest Development and the Ministry of Natural Resources, including then President Marcos!

For a couple of years, too, I was a forestry voice on radio – handling such Ilocano programs as “Kabakiran” and “Kayo: Pagbaknangan ti Tao.” And on the air, I would occasionally insert Isinay lines, particularly to call on my fellow Isinays to go slow in their making soppeng and to instead plant more trees so that our rivers would not go dry (mabdu-anan) in the hot summer months.

Years later, I got lucky to land a Research Fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu where – under the tutelage of one of the foremost Filipino forestry communicators Nap Vergara – I co-edited one of the pioneering books on social forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.

My Hawaiian experience was soon followed by a two-year assignment in Bangladesh, this time as Extension/Communication Specialist of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Nandyan na rin lang tayo, may I add a few more things:

1) the little list of books, magazines, journals and newsletters on forest ecosystems, social forestry, upland development, and environment that I edited/co-edited;

2) the almost fifty fellow foresters and a few in associate disciplines who I helped in crafting and/or polishing their MS and PhD theses, most of them at UP Los Baños;

3) the more than a hundred technical personnel of the DENR (particularly those at the Central Office and in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4A, 4B, 5, and CAR), who I shared tips on how to confidently write better, meatier, more readable, and more grammatical reports, office communications, project proposals, and the like;

4) a couple of success-story comics on agroforestry that I did for the Society of Filipino Foresters (one on the Kalahan forest community and the other on a trail-blazing rattan planter); and

5) my little stint with a World Bank-funded project that sought to pump-prime some 120 LGUs in the Bicol, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and Caraga regions en route to their taking care of their natural resources, including watersheds, marine resources, mangroves, ecotourism potentials, wildlife, and remnant forests.

Yes, I guess you could say katas ng kagubatan ang dugong nananalaytay sa aking katauhan.

But I really wish I could do more. A senior citizen now, and with the sunny forests, meadows and rivers of my youth admittedly no longer as poem-inducing as they used to, I feel I no longer have the stamina for forestry IEC work.

Perhaps teaching appreciation for leaves, trees, birds, beetles, cicadas, bees, dragonflies, fireflies, fish, hills, ponds, and rivers to my grandchildren yet to come would compensate for this shortcoming?

Well, I just hope that my fellow senior foresters would follow suit and that, by doing so, the kids would become better and smarter natural resource stewards of the Philippines and, for that matter, Planet Earth, than we have ever been.

- - -

(Thank you for your patience in reading this story)

Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 4)

FOR MANY YEARS we thought that the Amorsolo-painting-like nature of my hometown, especially my boyhood barrio I-iyo (aka Palobotan), would never end. But the picture began to change when bulldozers and strangers on board noisy trucks they called “six by” arrived.

At first we were glad to see new faces. We were also happy the strangers improved the muddy road that passed by our barrio and opened up new routes in the hills that avoided ricefields and river crossings. As children, we were excited, too, each time a logging truck stopped on our way home from the upland farms and the driver allowed us to sit atop his load of gigantic logs. We enjoyed how the wind brushed our faces like we were riding a carabao running non-stop up and down the mountain trail.

But it didn’t take long before our appreciation for such logging-induced amenities faded. The bulldozing of riversides to either build or stabilize logging roads appeared to go on forever. The resulting mud and silt did not only make our fishing fruitless but also drove the fish and other river edibles away. With the new roads and the free rides, more and more people also opened up forested areas to kaingin and settlement.

Opportunities for wage labor were available to locals in the timber-cutting areas and in the sawmill, yes. But only for a few able-bodied males.

As if on cue, incidences of beheading (pamutu in Isinay, pammutol in Ilocano, pamumugot in Tagalog) in the forest fringes vanished as the presence of strangers on the hillsides and riverbanks may have proved too big a challenge to the hardy and jungle-savvy Ilongots.

But as if  in exchange, we got problems we didn’t encounter before. Farm huts (abung-abung in Isinay, kalapaw in Ilocano, kubo in Tagalog) where anyone could seek shelter at night or when caught by thunderstorm, started to lose their resident salt, rice kettle, and firewood. Banana groves, corn fields and peanut farms whose produce have yet to be tasted by their owners had significant quantities of their edible parts missing.

Before the loggers came, our rivers never got murky (mailut in Isinay, nalibeg in Ilocano, malabo in Tagalog) nor ferocious (marange in Isinay, narungsot in Ilocano, mabagsik in Tagalog). But a few years after logging started our swimming holes became chocolate-colored and flood waters (datong in Isinay, layus in Ilocano, baha in Tagalog)  from upstream obliterated or washed away bamboo clumps, food-rich thickets, vegetable farms, and ricefields (payaw in Isinay, taltalon in Ilocano, palayan in Tagalog) by the riverside.

I wrote an essay many years ago for the Forestry Digest about such price my town had to pay for allowing its forests to be ransacked by non-natives. Titled “No More Poems for My Children,” it lamented how my would-be kids and other children would be deprived of their forest heritage. Many years later, my sentiments got echoed by Asin with their “Kapaligiran” song:

                                              Ang mga batang ngayon lang isinilang
                                              May mga ilog pa kayang lalanguyan...
                                              May mga puno pa kaya silang aakyatin
                                              May dagat pa kaya silang matitikman?


Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 3)

MY EXPOSURE to forests had its roots in the fact that as a child I happened to shuffle between two homes both of which gave me opportunity to explore the outdoors. One was my parents’ house near the western hills of town where my playmates were Isinays. The other was my grandparents’ place in the barrio nestled between the river and the cattle-grazing tracts, and where our neighbors were all Ilocanos.

In both worlds, almost all boys in my time were of the outdoors type. As such we often wore slingshots on our necks. We used the slingshot to hunt wild chickens (kalatan in Isinay, abuyo in Ilocano, manok ihalas in Bisaya) and monitor lizard (baniyas in Isinay, banias in Ilocano, bayawak in Tagalog), and to drive away field rats (gandaw in Isinay, utot or ba-o in Ilocano,) and rice sparrows (tulin In Isinay, billit-tuleng in Ilocano, maya in Tagalog) that fed on our ripening rice crops.

The slingshot was a toy but when no one was looking, we also used it to bring down seductive guava or mango fruits. It also boosted one’s bravery when sent for errands that required passing by houses with unfriendly dogs or geriatric trees believed to house sinampade, lampong, kapre, enkantada, ansisit, and other supernatural beings said to be dwelling in forests.

Please don’t get the impression though that playing outdoors was an everyday thing for me. No sir. As the eldest (pangiyuwan in Isinay, inauna in Ilocano, panganay in Tagalog) of eight children, I had to squeeze in time for my books and class projects while doing such chores as sweeping the yard of fallen starapple leaves, feeding the chickens and pigs, watering the coffee and ornamental plants, running errands for my mother, and taking care (mangahayam in Isinay, agaw-awir in Ilocano, mag-alaga in Tagalog) of baby sisters.

Saturdays were not all slingshot time either. I had to be around my father when we needed to mend fences, tend the backyard vegetable garden, or split firewood (manisij in Isinay, agbalsig in Ilocano, magsibak in Tagalog) . It was my duty, too, to bring a cavan of palay to the rice mill and back when Mother’s rice bin (pampurutan in Isinay, pagbagasan in Ilocano, palabigasan in Tagalog) was running empty.

But you will note that even such chores, including the ones I had in the barrio -- such as taking the carabaos to pasture or helping weed the upland rice and the squash and beans in the kaingin (soppeng In Isinay, uma in Ilocano) -- were not completely divorced from the forests and related “fields of the Lord.”

Whenever a hen has hatched eggs, I would search the bamboo groves for termite nest-balls to feed the chicks. To make the rice-bran feed more delicious to the pigs, I would comb stream banks for the herb Amorphophallus campanulatus (called imbayang in Isinay, tigi in Ilocano, pongapong in Tagalog, pamangkilon in Bisaya, tokod-banua in Pampanga, bagong in Bikol, corpse flower in English).

In the barrio, while the carabaos grazed, my friends and I would play hide and seek among the arosip and wild guava trees. If in the ricefields, we chased the tuklingin Ilocano, siboj in Isinay (gallinule) or the wild ducks (engaj in Isinay, papa in Ilocano) that searched the mudholes for stranded shells, frogs and fish. We gorged on the fruits of kaluttit and bujnay in Ilocano, painted our faces ala-Indian with appatut (achuete) seeds, and carried firewood on our sunburnt shoulders on the way back home.

MY TOWN’S FORESTS are not known to have ever hosted charismatic (or ‘elite’) wildlife such as the Philippine eagle, the tamaraw, and the tarsier. Such lack of fascinating creatures might however be counter-balanced by the presence, as mentioned, of the Ilongots. Yes, when I was little, the tribe lent color and a sense of adventure to our forests, apart from having the heart and jungle skills that could put them at par with the American Indians.

Our forests may not have been as photogenic as those of the pine stands of the Cordillera either. But at the time, if one happened to survive a plane crash in our side of the Nueva Vizcaya wilderness, at least there was plenty of wild food he could stay alive with.

For example, bush meat from deer (laman in Isinay, ugsa in Ilocano, usa in Tagalog), wild pig (bavuy si eyas in Isinay, alingo in Ilocano, baboy-damo in Tagalog), civet cat (amunin in Isinay, mutit in Ilocano, musang in Tagalog), fruit bat (pani-i in Isinay, paniki in Ilocano, bayakan in Tagalog), and monitor lizard (baniyas in Isinay, banias in Ilocano, bayawak in Tagalog) were common table fare then.

Each time I had scabies on my legs -- said to be acquired from eating eel (dalit in Isinay, igat in Ilocano, palos in Tagalog) -- Inang Baket would ask my uncles to go hunt monkeys the adobo meat of which would make my skin allergies disappear.

Similarly, our streams and rivers were jungle-survival paradise. Seldom murky then, they always made fishing a delight. With bare hands or with small nets one could get enough shrimps to make into “jumping salad” seasoned with bagoong, fern, and green mango or wild tomatoes.

Not to be outdone, the ricefields have not yet fallen hostage to chemical fertilizers and pesticides at the time. Thus, it was safe to collect the shells that we call basikul, ambeveyo^ and genga in Isinay (bisukol, leddeg, birabid in Ilocano) and the edible freshwater algae we call bahase in Isinay (barbaradiong in Ilocano) that were at the time part and not pests of ricefield ecosystems.

During heavy rains when fish and shells were hard to find, other organic food could be found in the riverbanks or in the fringes of ricefields. They may be considered exotic food now, but pith of the fishtail palm (called umu^ in Isinay, ubog in Ilocano),rattan shoot (tangpat in Isinay, barit in Ilocano), and the edible jungle fern tabahat were common then.

Usually in April-June, many of us became entomophagous (insect-eaters) as the white eggs and nymphs of the tailor ant (eja in Isinay, abuos in Ilocano, kara-kara in Tagalog) became abundant in the trees near the timberline. At twilight we trooped to grassy spots near the river to catch the also delectable May beetle (called e-ve in Isinay, abal-abal in Ilocano, salagubang in Tagalog). We also considered as delicacy the fat yellow worms (called bate-vate in Isinay, tateg in Ilocano) that wriggled under decaying tree trunks.

When rats, locusts, and mayas (tulin in Isinay, billit-tuleng in Ilocano) diminished our rice harvest, we turned to the wild yam (karut in Ilocano and Isinay; nami in Tagalog; kalot in Bisaya) for alternative staple food.

The essayist Maximo Ramos put it well: “We had gizzards of stone.” Indeed, such appetite for genuinely natural and organic food forms a huge chunk of my happy memories of being nurtured by wild food that most children of today will probably not be able to taste anymore.


Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 2)

IF GUARDIAN angels that shield children from harm really exist, the one assigned to me must have worked non-stop 24/7 for many years. This included my pre-teenage years when I would join my grandfather and uncles in clearing, burning then planting patches of ublag (second-growth) forests to make swidden farm (called soppeng in Isinay, uma in Ilocano, kaingin in Tagalog,) and, when going home to our village base after an exhausting day, we would hitch rides on top of huge dipterocarp and narra logs hauled down from the mountains by rickety logging trucks.

There were stories of upland farmers getting stung by the cobra (called immanuy in Isinay, karasaen in Ilocano, ulupong in Tagalog) and getting chased by a simarron (feral carabao). But I only had minor bruises, thorns lodged on the foot, and skin allergies caused by contact with what I like to call the “babies” of butterflies.

Well, as kids, perhaps we didn’t encounter life-threatening situations because we heeded our elders’ counsels, for example: not to use our bolos this way or that way, especially when in the water. Grandmothers cautioned us not to stray too far, not to climb trees, not to start fire, and not to go swimming during high noon, when malevolent spirits were said to go after hard-headed boys.

As was natural for kids in my time, however, we were not always saints. When someone warned us not to go near this part of the barrio because of the presence of honeybees (iyu-an in Isinay, uyukan in Ilocano, pukyutan in Tagalog), we only half listened. Why? Because the mere mention of honeybees awakened images in our mind of super saccharine honey (inintin si iyu-an in Isinay, diro in Ilocano) waiting to fill our little mouths, and how much beeswax (lilin in Isinay, allid in Ilocano) the honeycombs could be made to strengthen our carabao ropes and make fishing lines water-proof.

Finding the beehive was easy as almost always blue-green birds we called kulepplew in Isinay (pirpiriw in Ilocano) would noisily hover around the host tree to feast on the bees. We could not resist applying our slingshot skills on the birds. But when our shots would instead hit the bees, to the river or the nearest farm hut we would run as swarms of the angry insects came looking for the culprits.

We committed venial sins, too, in summer when the song of the cicadas, the call of the birds, and the scent of the ripe fruits in the wilderness were at their most seductive pitch. Thus, if not looking for bird’s nests or ensnaring cicadas (duluriyaw in Isinay, ari-ari in Ilocano, kuliglig in Tagalog) with sticks coated with jackfruit latex, you would find us climbing trees. There were plenty of guava, aratiles, tamarind, anonas, bignay, mabolo, santol, and duhat trees then, many of which were on private lands but, as was the rural norm then, you could pick and taste for free their sweet offerings for as long as you leave some for their owners.

Not even rumors of what they call kumaw in both Isinay and Ilocano (sipay or manunupot in Tagalog) -- said to kidnap gallivanting kids, put them in jute sacks, and squeeze their blood out to fortify bridges in downstream Magat or Cagayan River -- could keep us from enjoying life among the birds and the trees.
Let’s put it this way: Once revved up, it would probably take heaven and earth to wean kids away from Mother Nature.

FOR THE RECORD, one thing was more scary for us than the blood-using kidnappers mentioned above, including tree-dwelling supernatural beings. This was when the bagbag tree (Erythrina species) started to shoot forth its blazing red flowers, signaling the season when Ilongot braves came downhill in search of heads, at the time mostly of Ilocano and Isinay kaingineros, male or female, to collect.

While the kumaw and tree-dwelling spirits may have been fiction fostered by mothers to keep their children from escaping farm or household chores, the Ilongots were real people. Even during off-season for headhunting when they would come downhill to trade their dried venison (laman in Isinay, karne ti ugsa in Ilocano) and wildpig meat, split rattan, and deer-skin with our salt, tobacco, and blankets, we were afraid meeting them outside the barrio. This was because for a couple of summers past we did see their bloody handiwork, swarming with flies while displayed in the plaza for community mourning and proper disposal, minus their heads.

To those who are hearing the name for the first time, the Ilongots are a forest-dwelling tribe, now preferring to be called Bugkalot, whose headhunting tradition has kept virgin forests in southern Nueva Vizcaya and parts of the Sierra Madre and the Caraballo mountains off-limits, first to Spanish missionaries and Ilocano migrants, then centuries later to big-time loggers, miners, ranchers, swidden farmers, rattan gatherers, and yes, even bird-hunting, river-fishing, and fuelwood-gathering kids.

The aviator-naturalist Charles Lindbergh and the Stanford University anthropologist Renato Rozaldo started to befriend them in the 1960s, and soon they stopped chopping off the heads of landgrabbers and other exploiters who dared to intrude into their forest-rich ancestral territory.


Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 1)

NOTE: I had been tied up last September polishing my forestry feathers thru participating in the before, during, and after exigencies of the 2012 Society of Filipino Foresters National Convention held Sept. 19-21 in Subic. Fortunately, among my outputs for the convention was an essay that filled five pages of the souvenir book. Originally titled "It's Time to Pass the Forest-Care Baton", I thought it would be cool to offer it here as a five-part post and with minor tweaks to suit this blog's readers. Warning, my dear readers: the essay, even as I did chop it to bite-size reading lengths, is quite kilometric. But should you want to have a sneak preview of the nature-blessed playground that I had when I was a namummutoj on nabongbongas an unga in Dupax, this should be a fruitful read. After all, much of its contents touch on the wonderful world of Isinays and the personal experiences of Isinay Bird not so long ago which I guess are relevant to the whys and wherefores of this blog.

chipping in to the celebration of the International Year of Forests in 2011, I jotted down my recollections on how it was to live in a place and at a time where and when there were plenty of forests. Before I knew it, the memory bytes took on a body of their own that I thought I should share not only to my fellow foresters but also to parents and lolos like me who wish to sow the seeds of nature appreciation among their kids.

Well then, the illustration below by my veteran nature-education artist friend Dante N. Pecson of Agno, Pangasinan, captures much of how kids were -- girls or boys, be they Ilocano or Isinay or half-breeds -- when I was little.

Yes, apart from being more respectful to the elderly, we Isinay kids were very much at home then with trees (ayu), birds (mantetteyav), rhinoceros beetles (dumoh), May beetles (e-ve), dragonflies (atittino^), spiders (aawwa), fireflies (i^-irong), cicadas (duluriyaw), butterflies (kukkuyappon), bees (ababvayung), grasshoppers (durun), preying mantises (paspasusu), ant lions (sutsunay), snakes (iraw), house lizards (batbatilaw), mole crickets (e-e), earthworms (kolang), tadpoles (tohong), frogs (tadah), rats (gandaw), bats (pani-i), monkeys (araw), and what have you.

Conversely, we knew what poisonous vines (wa-ah), hairy worms (atattaru), wasps (alaksiyot), and large ants (abubbulij) to be wary of. And we knew that the wawini flowers and the kamiring trees are to be avoided, otherwise we would be scratching any which way on our body the rest of the day.

Unlike many of today’s over-accessorized yet nature-malnourished kids, we made do then with what our sylvan surroundings gave us. No battery-operated nor even plastic toys. The closest to “high-tech” things we got to touch were the rubber of our slingshots (baris in Isinay, palsiit in Ilocano, saltik in Tagalog) and flat sardine cans that we converted into toy trucks (gargarusa) with fruits of the tibig (called lavay in Isinay, tebbeg in Ilocano) for wheels.

We made airplanes out of dragonflies (atittino^ in Isinay, tuwwato in Ilocano, tutubi in Tagalog, alindahaw in Bisaya) that we caught by the tail on grassy grounds. At night we chased fireflies (i^irong in Isinay, kulalanti in Ilocano, alitaptap in Tagalog, aninipot in Bisaya) among the gumamela shrubs.

We also had fun with fronds of the betel nut palm (muma in Isinay, bua in Ilocano, nganga in Tagalog) for horses, low-lying mango branches for swings, banana trunks for boats, bamboo poles for musical instruments (such as torotot) or for kiddy war-game weapons (such as the one we call kalido^do^ in Isinay, palsuot in Ilocano, sumpak in Tagalog), and hollowed-out sour fruits of the pomelo (lojban in Isinay, lukban or sua in Ilocano, suha in Tagalog) for boxing gloves.

BY HINDSIGHT, I can tell with conviction now: To get kids to bond with Mother Earth, start with what they like to do best ― play.

That was how I learned to identify many trees, birds, vines, orchids, insects, herbs, and grasses -- long, long before I became a forester.

Being allowed to go outdoors was also how I learned to climb trees ― emboldened at seeing smaller guys able to make their way up a tamarind tree and enjoy its marasaba or kalangakang fruits, while lesser mortals just make do with what those up there would throw. (Yes, reminiscent of Jose Rizal’s story about ripe bananas, the bully monkey, and the smart turtle.)

Playing in the green outdoors with friends helped me master what wild fruits were edible, which shrubs to avoid for their itchy leaves, what bushes hosted beetles, and what trees not to cut for fuel because they caused cooking pots to crack.

Our playgrounds were, however, not confined to wooded places, nor what we did every day was gallivant and play.

When goats or carabaos under our care were put to pasture, when waiting for the wild pigeon (manaleban in Isinay, alimuken in Ilocano) to perch on its feeder tree seemed to take forever, or when our slingshots could not touch the feathers of the tariktik high up in the kalumpit tree (kaluttit in Isinay, kallautit in Ilocano), to the river we would go.

There was always a lot of things to do in the river. We would teach one another how to swim (man-iyat in Isinay, aglangoy in Ilocano). We would test our ability at staying submerged in the water and holding our breath for as long as we could in a game called pinnaliwliwan in Isinay (pinnautan in Ilocano). We would overturn river stones to search for dragonfly nymphs or freshwater bugs (ato^tong in Isinay, allukap in Ilocano). We would practice catching fish with bare hands (a method called mangemu in Isinay, agkammel in Ilocano). We would take turns scrubbing the dirt off our backs using smooth rubbing stones (called bubbur in Isinay, is-iso in Ilocano, panghilod in Tagalog).

Usually in summer when the river became shallow, we would divert the flow of the stream (a river-fishing process we call seyup in Isinay and sarep in Ilocano) and be able to bring home as good excuse for getting suntanned all day a bamboo-tube full of gobies (sappilan in Isinay, bunog in Ilocano, biyang-bato in Tagalog), shrimps (ajdaw in Isinay, lagdaw in Ilocano, hipon in Tagalog), and crabs (ajasit in Isinay, agatol in Ilocano, talangka in Tagalog).

Often, a couple of carabaos would be enjoying the water near our favorite swimming hole. If the owner was not around, we would use the docile animals as diving board. Alternatively, we would test one another's bravery by searching a nuwang's belly for leeches (bilavil in Isinay, alinta in Ilocano, linta in Tagalog) feeding on the animal's blood. I cannot do it now but, at the time, I was some expert at turning the slimy blood-fattened leeches inside out with a stick pushed on one end, with blood oozing and all, before letting them squirm again in the water.

Depending on the season, river banks were our supermarket then. Ferns, button tomatoes, wild ampalaya, and other edible plants were common. Palm piths (umu^ in Isinay, ubog in Ilocano), bamboo shoots (tumpup in Isinay, rabong in Ilocano) and the wild tuber called karot in both Isinay and Ilocano (kalut in Bisaya, nami in Tagalog) were free for the taking.

During the rainy season, edible mushrooms (amabuvun in Isinay, uong in Ilocano, kabute in Tagalog) and fungi (such as the urapping and tangtangila in Isinay, kudet and kulat in Ilocano, tengang-daga in Tagalog) were a delight to hunt in the thickets.

BE IT IN the hills, forests, or streams, my friends and I exchanged notes as well as folklore concerning the natural world. We shared tips on what vegetation was the favorite nesting place for certain birds, which larvae or lizard you could touch, what snakes were venomous and which ones you could sleep with. We debated on which python (ine^eyaddang in Isinay, beklat in Ilocano, sawa in Tagalog) killed by one’s grandfather or uncle was bigger or longer, what part of the woods was believed to be haunted by lampong or banij, and which mountain stream or trail led to Ilongot territory.

From playmates I also learned which herbs could cure ringworm and other such skin diseases, what leaves could stop the bleeding of wounds, and how to use the shrub called kuribetbet in Ilocano (salibukbuk in Bisaya, halibukbuk in Bikol, alibutbut in Kapampangan, pandakaki in Tagalog) to shrink boils, mollify allergies, or prepare the male organ for circumcision (kugit in both Isinay and Ilocano, tuli in Tagalog).

As friends we traded know-how on which leaves could be used to stupefy (pantuba) river fish and thus make them easy to catch, how to ward off terrestrial leeches (mato^ in Isinay, biled in Ilocano, limatik in Tagalog), and which ponds (banaw in Isinay, ban-aw in Ilocano, lawa in Tagalog) had plenty of tilapia.

But even as we shared tips on which fruiting trees attracted the birds pirruka, alimuken and kolasisi, rarely shared was the live tree where one got his martines chicks. Also kept as secret was where the wild ducks (engah in Isinay, papa in Ilocano) and the jungle fowl (kalatan in Isinay, abuyo in Ilocano, labuyo in Tagalog) were roosting.

For multi-purpose toys, our favorite was the mini version of the dalaydayan used by our elders to haul logs, bamboo or rattan poles from the forests using carabao power. Instead of real logs, however, we hauled banana trunks from the cutting area (naneveyan in Isinay, nagtebbaan in Ilocano) to the garbage pit; in place of carabaos, we hitched the sled to friendly dogs; and most of the time we used the toy to babysit younger siblings.

My Isinay friends in the town proper were more advanced. They had mini logging trucks, with tansan (softdrink bottle caps) for headlights. They used these toy trucks to haul slabs and thick barks of dipterocarp logs from the sawmill, and would enjoy riding on them on downhill parts of the road. My father once crafted one such truck for me and I had fun fetching firewood (itungu in Isinay, pagsungrod in Ilocano, panggatong in Tagalog) and sawdust with it, until its wooden axles and wheels gave up.


Gaddang Country a Century Ago

ISINAY BIRD'S NOTE: Of course, Bayombong, Solano and Bagabag were definitely Gaddang land and were not (and still are not) Isinay territory, but if only to give our readers a big picture of the province of Nueva Vizcaya a century ago, it would be interesting to include here the experiences and observations of the American military professor Willcox in those originally Gaddang towns. By the way, the Mr. Forbes mentioned here is the Harvard-educated William Cameron Forbes, who the Wikipedia says is "an American investment banker and diplomat (who) served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1908 to 1913 and Ambassador of the United States to Japan from 1930 to 1932." Thus, because Forbes was Governor-General at the time he was with the American group that visited Santa Fe, Aritao, Dupax, Bambang, and the rest of Nueva Vizcaya in the summer of 1910, he must have been the highest Philippine official to ever visit this part of the Philippines in those good old days. This part of Professor Willcox's report covered the April 30, 1910 leg of their journey to Nueva Vizcaya.
THE MAGAT IS another of those turbulent, uncertain rivers of the Archipelago; we were not sure as we neared it whether we could get over or not. When up, it carries waves in midstream six to seven feet from crest to trough. But we had no such ill-luck, and bancas soon came over for us, the horses swimming.
While waiting for them we had a chance to admire the beautiful country; on one side tall spreading trees and broad savannahs, on the other the mountain presenting a bare scarp of red rock many hundreds of feet high; immediately in front the cool, green river, over all the brilliant sun, not yet too hot to prevent our thinking of other things.

Once over, we had no occasion to complain of our reception! All the notabilities were present, of course, mounted, but in addition there were three bands, all playing different tunes at the same time, in different keys, and all fortissimo. No instrument was allowed to rest, the drums being especially vigorous. One of the bands was that of the Constabulary, playing really well, and with magnificent indifference to the other two. I am bound to say they returned it.

We had the Constabulary troops, too, as escort, a well set-up, well-turned-out and soldierlike body. What with the bands, the pigs, the dogs, the horses, the children, the people, it was altogether one of the most delightful confusions conceivable, not the least interesting feature being the happy unconsciousness of the people of the incongruity of the reception. However, we formed a column, the Constabulary at the head, with its band, and were played into Bayombong, with the other bands, children, dogs, etc., as a mighty rear guard.

Our first business was to listen to reports and addresses. So we all went upstairs in the Government House, the presidencia; the Governor-General, Mr. Worcester, and the presidente took their seats on a dais, while the rest of us, with the local Americans and some of the native inhabitants, formed the audience, and listened to a report read by the treasurer. This made a great impression on us, so sensible and businesslike was it; not content with a statement, it went on to describe the affairs of the province, the possibilities of agriculture, and what could be accomplished if the people would turn to and work, and in particular it made no complaints.
Apparently this report alarmed the presidente, for he left his seat on the platform as soon as he decently could, and delivered a speech intended to traverse the treasurer’s report. His concern was almost comic: the idea of saying to the Governor-General that a great deal could be done locally by work, when there was a central Government at Manila!

Mr. Forbes, as usual, made in his turn a very sound speech, based on his observation in the province, on its fertility, its possibilities, the necessity of improving communications and of diversifying crops. I noticed here, as elsewhere in the province, the excellence of the Spanish used in speeches. As for the treasurer, we were informed that he had been taken in hand at an early age by the Americans and trained, so that in making his reports he had developed the ability to look upon the merits of the question in hand. But he must feel himself to be a unique person!

We rested here in Bayombong through the heat of the day, part going to Governor Bryant’s house, the rest of us to that of Captain Browne, the local Inspector of Constabulary. I have a grateful recollection of his hospitality, as well as of that of his brother officers, with whom we dined.

Nor must I forget the Standard Oil Company. For had not Browne rigged up a shower, consisting of the Standard five-gallon tin? A muchacho filled it with water and pulled it up over a pulley, and you got an excellent shower from the holes punched in the bottom. In fact, the Standard five-gallon tin is as well known in the East as its contents, and is carefully preserved and used. We had several opportunities to bless its existence.

Pleasant as was the nooning, it had to end: we mounted and rode on to Solano. On the way Bubud insisted on drinking from a dirty swamp by the roadside, although there was a limpid stream not fifty yards ahead which he could see as well as I. But there was nothing for it but the swamp; I accordingly let him have his way, only to find the bank slippery and the water deep, so that he went in up to his shoulders, with his hindquarters on the bank.

While I was trying to pull him back, he got in his hindquarters, and then, in further answer to my efforts, sat down in the water! And such water! Thick, greasy, smelly! A carabao wallow it was. He now gave unmistakable evidence of an intention to lie down, when a friendly hand got me up on the bank, whereupon Bubud, concluding he would get out too, emerged with a coat of muddy slime.

This seemed to have no effect whatever on his spirits, for on entering Solano a few minutes later, to the sound of bells and bands, with banners fluttering in the breeze, he got into such a swivet that before I knew it he was at the head of the procession, having worked himself forward and planted himself squarely in front of the Governor-General’s horse, where he caracoled and curvetted and pranced to his heart’s delight. As soon as we got out of the barrio, he was quite satisfied to take a more modest position, but occasions of ceremony seemed to deprive him of all realization of his proper place in the world.

The people of Solano made a great effort to have us stay the night, but it was impossible; we had to get on to Bagábag. Solano, by the way, is the commercial emporium of this end of the province, for there is not a single shop in Bayombong.

So on we went, through a calm, dignified afternoon, the country as before impressing me with its open, smiling valleys, its broad fields, its air of expectant fertility, inviting one to come scratch its surface, if no more, in order to reap abundant harvests. In fact, it seemed to me that we were riding through typical farming land at home, instead of through a Malay valley under the tropic.

And if anything more were needed to strengthen the illusion, it was a college yell, given by a gang of Ifugaos (the people we were now immediately on our way to visit) repairing a bridge we had to cross! They did it in style, and naturally had no cheer-leader; time was kept by beating on the floor of the bridge with tools. For this uttering of a shout of welcome or of other emotion in unison is a characteristic trait of the Ifugaos, like their using spoons, and can be likened to nothing else in the world but our American college yell.

Our reception at Bagábag was much like all the others we had had: bands, arches, addresses, one in excellent English. But on this occasion, after listening to a speech telling how poor the people were, how bad the roads were, how much they needed Government help, etc., etc., Mr. Forbes squared off in his answer, and told them a few things, as that he had seen so far not a single lean, hungry-looking person, that the elements were kindly, that they could mend their own roads, and that he was tired of their everlasting complaint of poverty and hunger, when a little work would go a great way in this country toward bettering their material condition.

This, of course, is just the kind of talk these people need, and the last some of them wish to hear.

We were now on the borders of the Mountain Province; literally one more river to cross, and we should turn our backs on Nueva Vizcaya. And with regret, for it is a beautiful smiling province, of fertile soil, of polite and hospitable people, of lovely mountains, limpid streams and triumphant forests. In Dampier’s quaint words, spoken of another province, but equally true of this one, “The Valleys are well moistened with pleasant Brooks, and small Rivers of delicate Water; and have Trees of divers sorts flourishing and green all the Year.”

Its people lack energy, perhaps because they have no roads; it may be equally true that they lack roads because they have no energy. However this may be, the province can and some day will grow coffee, tobacco, rice, and cocoa to perfection; its savannahs will furnish pasturage for thousands of cattle, where now some one solitary carabao serves only to mark the solitude in which he stands.

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]

Isinay Country a Century Ago (Bambang)

ISINAY BIRD'S NOTE: This part of the American team's journey to Isinay land and other parts of Nueva Vizcaya took place on April 29-30, 1910. From the Ilongot village of Campote, Dupax, the group of Willcox went next to Bambang. It is interesting that the American military professor put a note here about the Isinay language (which in his book he wrongly spelled as “Isanay”) as “the native language of Bambang” and “spoken elsewhere only at Aritao and Dúpax.” Not only that, he also described Isinay as “a dying tongue, doomed to early extinction.” Written in 1912, the document may be the first to mention that sad observation about the Isinay language. On another theme, it is also worth noting that Willcox said something about the trees he saw in Isinay country, in this case, narra. For, indeed, Aritao, Dupax and Bambang were at the time known for their huge trees, not only narra but also dipterocarps and molave. He also mentioned fly-catcher birds which were probably the swallows that we call pipingngaw in Dupax (sallapingaw in Ilokano, langaylangayan in Tagalog). For its part, I guess the “sensitive plant” he described here is the bayim-bayin (baim-bain in Ilokano, makahiya in Tagalog; scientific name: Mimosa pudica).

THE RETURN TO the main road from Campote was a great improvement over the advance. The sun had partly dried the trail, and his vertical rays enabled us to see about us a little, and realize what a tremendous phenomenon tropical vegetation can be. Some Philippine trees, for example, the narra, throw out buttresses. One we saw on this trail must have measured twenty feet across on the ground, from vertex to vertex of diametrically opposite buttresses, the bole itself not being over two and one-half feet in diameter, and the buttresses starting about fifteen feet above the ground.

But the greatest difference to me personally was in my mount, Connor having lent me his pony, as admirable as mine of the day before had been wretched. In spite of the fact that Connor had to stay behind at Campote and could catch us up later, this attention on his part was one of the most generous things that ever happened to me, for certainly the pony he got from me was the most irritating piece of horseflesh imaginable. I am glad publicly to give him my warmest thanks again! Mr. Worcester was well mounted, too; he rode this day at two hundred and thirty-five pounds, and his kit must have weighed some thirty more, yet his little beast carried him soundly to Bambang, our destination, about seventeen miles, twelve of them at a “square, unequivocal” trot, by no means an unusual example of the strength and endurance of some of these native ponies.

In what seemed a very short time (but the trail was comparatively dry) we broke out of the forest, and again had our lovely valley below and in front of us. At the top we saw some giant fly-catchers, a bird of so powerful and erratic a flight that no one has so far, according to Mr. Worcester, succeeded in killing one of them. It may be mentioned here that we saw very few birds or any other animals on our journey.

Shortly after beginning the descent, some of the party, impatient of the zig-zags, decided to go straight down, the temptation being a cool green stream at the foot of the mountain; half an hour afterward, on turning a point, we could see them disporting themselves in the waters, and at that distance looking very much like Diana and her nymphs in the usual pictures.

Back in the main road, we stopped to rest at a point covered with a sensitive plant so delicate that, on stepping on it anywhere, the nervous thrill, if that is what it is, would run three or four feet or more in all directions before dying down. From this point we turned north, our way taking us through a broad open valley, past rice-fields and between clumps of flowering guava bushes.

As we neared Bambang, where we were to spend the night, we were as before met by the local notabilities on horseback; and breasting a rise, we saw our road down in the plain in which this town lies, lined on both sides by all the school-children of the place, dressed in their very best clothes, some of them American fashion with shoes and stockings and looking mighty uncomfortable in consequence. Nearly everyone had a flag. Riding into the town, we found the plaza crowded with men and women, dressed mostly in white, and what with the flags, the church-bells clanging with all their might, the crowd, and the children trooping in, our cavalcade made a triumphant entrance.

We dismounted at the presidente’s, where muscatel and cocoanut milk were given us. A little muscatel goes a long way, but this is not true of the milk when one’s tongue is hanging out from riding in the sun, and there are only two or three cocoanuts. Filipinos apparently are not fond of this drink, and we nearly always had to send out and get more. No sooner were we in the house than addresses began, one of these being in Ilokano. The native language of Bambang, however, is the Isinay, spoken elsewhere only at Aritao and Dúpax, a dying tongue, doomed to early extinction.

Bambang, like nearly all the other Nueva Vizcaya towns we had seen or were to see, shows signs of decadence. It has a good church and convento, a great plaza, and is surrounded by a fertile country, but something is missing. After dinner, I went over and called on the padre, one of the Belgians, whom we had met the day before. He informed me that Bambang had many Protestants, which he explained by the sharp rivalry between the Aglipayanos, or members of the “native” church, headed by the secessionist Aglipay, and the Catholics. To avoid the issues raised by this rivalry, many natives would appear to have abandoned the errors of Rome (or of Aglipayanismo, as the case may be) for those of the Reformation.

When I got back to the presidente’s, everybody had turned in, and the house was dark. However, I found a bed not occupied by anyone else, but of my bedding there was not a sign. So I stretched out on the petate of my bed, only to wake up later shivering with cold, which I tried to remedy by fishing around for cover in a pile of straw mats, from which I extracted what turned out in the morning to be a jusi table-cloth, through which you could have shot straws. It is altogether a mistake to imagine that one can not be cold in the tropics. [Footnote: The petate is a straw mat covering the “split bottom” of the native bed. There is no other mattress, and the “split bottom” constitutes the springs. Once accustomed to it, the bed is cool and comfortable.]

The next day, April 30, we rode out at six, a splendid morning; Bubud felt the inspiration, too, for he got on capitally. We soon reached the Magat River on the other side of which was Bayombong, the capital of the province and our first halt of the day.

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]


Isinay Country a Century Ago (Dupax)

ISINAY BIRD'S NOTE: This part of the travel report of of Lieutenant Colonel Cornelis De Witt Willcox took place on April 28-29, 1910. From Aritao, the team of American visitors from Manila, led by then Governor-General William Cameron Forbes and the Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester, went to Dupax. Up until now, Forbes and Worcester are the highest-ranking American officials to ever visit Dupax. This particular segment of the series shows that even at the time, Isinays as well as Ilongots were already good hosts to visitors. According to a typescript of THE HISTORY AND CULTURAL LIFE OF DUPAX, the Presidente of Dupax then (1910-1911) was Don Marcelo Doctor. When I read this part of the travelogue, it was my first time to come across the word Campote, and for a while I thought it was not part of Dupax. But when I consulted the book THE ILONGOTS 1591-1994 by Fr. Pedro V. Salgado, I found out that the Ilongot community generously described here was not only a part of of the old Dupax but also that it “still exists today, along the road that leads to Belance”, a barangay of Dupax del Norte.

A SHORT RIDE through the charming, smiling country (part of it might have been France), over a really good road most of the way, brought us to Dúpax. On the way we were met by some of the American officials of the province, among them Mr. Norman Connor, Superintendent of Education (Yale, 1900), and by two Belgian priests, De Wit of Dúpax and Van der Maes of Bayombong. The natives met us, all mounted, with a band, so that we made a triumphant entrance, advancing in line to the presidente’s house, while the church-bell pealed out a welcome.

Dúpax must, like Aritao, have been a point of some importance in the past. It has a large brick church with a decidedly Flemish facade, and a detached pagoda-like belfry. Its streets are overgrown with fine soft grass, and its houses had somehow or other an air of comfort and ease. Here we made quite a stop, first of all quenching our thirst with bubud, beer, cocoanut milk, anything, everything, for we had ridden nearly all the way so far in the sun. We then sat down to an excellent breakfast, and smoked and lounged about until two, when fresh ponies were brought, and we set off on a side trip to Campote, where we were to have our first contact with the real wild man, the Ilongot.

These people, the Ilongots, although very few in number, only six thousand, stretch from Nueva Vizcaya to the Pacific Coast, inhabiting an immense region of forested and all but inaccessible mountains. Over these they roam without any specially fixed habitation. They have the reputation, and apparently deserve it, of being cruel and treacherous, as they certainly are shy and wild.

It was these people who killed Doctor Jones, of the Marshall Field Museum, after he had been with them eight or nine months. So recently as 1907 they made a descent on Dúpax, killing people and taking their heads. When they mean to kill a man fairly, according to their ideas, they hand him a fish. This is a signal that he must be on his guard: to refuse the fish is of no use, because by so doing one puts one’s self beyond the pale, and may be killed in any fashion. We heard a story here of a Negrito stealing a pig from two Ilongots who had a Negrito brother-in-law. Failing to recover the pig, they decided that they must have a Negrito head, and so took their brother-in-law’s.

Pig-stealing, by the way, in the mountain country is regarded much as horse-stealing used to be out West. Besides the spear and head knife, the Ilongots, like the Negritos, with whom they have intermarried to a certain extent, use the bow and arrow, and are correspondingly dreaded. For it seems to be believed in Luzon that bow-and-arrow savages are more dangerous than spear-and-ax-men; that the use of this projectile weapon, the arrow, induces craftiness, hard to contend against. An Ilongot can silently shoot you in the back, after you have passed. A spear-man has to get closer, and can not use an ambush so readily.

Now our Government in the Philippines, by and through and because of Mr. Worcester, had made repeated efforts to reach these Ilongots, to bring them in, as it were, and only recently had these efforts met with any success. For one thing, it is a very serious matter to seek them out in the depths of their fastnesses if only because of the difficulty of reaching them; many of them even now have never seen a white man, and would escape, if I recollect aright, on the approach of our people.

But in 1908 some fifty of them did “come in,” and, gaining confidence, this number grew to one hundred and fifty in 1909. They, or some of them at least, now sent an invitation to Mr. Worcester to come and see them, and he accepted on condition of their making a trail, saying that they could not expect a man of his stature to creep through their country on his hands and knees. This trail they had built, and they had assembled at Campote, four hours from Dúpax, for this first formal visit. It was the desire of Mr. Worcester that this visit should be happy in all respects; for, if not, the difficulties of intercourse with this people, already great, would be so seriously increased as to delay the civilizing intentions of the Government for many years to come.

We rode off at about two o’clock, passing under numberless bamboo arches, on an astonishingly good road, built by Padre Juan Villaverde. About two miles out we left the road, turning off east across rice-paddies, and then followed a stream, which we crossed near the foot of a large bare mountain facing south. Up this we zigzagged four miles, a tiresome stretch with the sun shining full upon us. But at the top we had our reward: to the south reached a beautiful open valley, its floor a mass of green undulations, its walls purple mountains blazing in the full glory of the afternoon sun. At the extreme south, miles away, we could make out Las Salinas, Salt Springs, whose deposits sparkled and shone and scintillated and danced in the heated air.
Grateful as it would have been to rest at the top and enjoy the scene, we nevertheless had to turn our backs upon it, for we had yet far to go over an unknown trail, and it was most desirable to get in before dark. So we turned and now plunged into a forest of tall trees so thick overhead and so deeply buried in vines, and creepers and underbrush generally, that just as no light got in from above, so one could not see ten yards in any direction off the trail. This effect was no doubt partly due to the shades of evening, and to our being on the eastern slope of the mountain.

And that trail! The Ilongots, poor chaps, had done their best with it, and the labor of construction must have been fearful. But the footing was nothing but volcanic mud, laterite, all the worse from a recent rain. Our ponies sank over their fetlocks at every step, and required constant urging to move at all. Compared to the one I was riding, Bubud was a race-horse! Cootes, Strong, and I kept together, the others having ridden on.
As the day grew darker and darker, the myriad notes of countless insects melted into one mighty, continuous shrill note high overhead, before us, behind us, in which not one break or intermission could be detected. Anything faster than a walk would now have been unsafe, even if it had been possible, for at times the ground sloped off sharply down the mountain, the footing grew more and more uncertain, and part of the time we could not see the trail at all.

Indeed, Cootes’s pony stepped in a hole and fell, pitching Cootes clean over his head, and sending his helmet down the mountain-side, where Cootes had to go and get it. Soon after this, though, the forest thinned perceptibly, the trail grew better, and we met Connor, who had turned back to see how we were getting on, and who informed us we had only one-half hour more before us.

Going on, we were greeted by a shout of welcome from our first Ilongot, standing in the trail, subligate, or gee-stringed, otherwise stark naked, and armed with a spear, the sentinel of a sort of outpost, equally naked, with which we soon came up. They were all armed, too, spears and shields, and all insisted on shaking hands with every one of us. You must shake hands when they offer to, an unpleasant matter sometimes, when you notice that the man who is paying you this attention is covered with Toenia imbricata, or other rare tropical skin disease. Noblesse oblige, here as elsewhere; besides, a consideration for your own skin may require you to put aside your prejudices. The trail now turned down over a broad, cleared hog-back, at the flattened end of which we could see two shacks and a temporary shed for our mounts. Smoke was rising cheerfully in the air and people were moving about. This was Campote.

It was too dark by this time to see or do much. We had supper, looked up the place where we were to sleep, and then collected at the lower of the two shacks. Here we received visits, so to say, from as many Ilongots, grown men only, as could get into the place. In truth, we were as much objects of curiosity to them as they possibly could have been to us. To Mr. Worcester the occasion was one of business, explaining through interpreters why we had come, what the Government wanted, getting acquainted with the cabecillas (head men), and listening to what they had themselves to say. One of our visitors was a grandfather, remarkable, first, because of his heavy long beard, and, second, because his own grandfather was alive; five generations of one family in existence at the same time.

Campote, I may as well say it here as anywhere else, is merely a point where Connor has established a school for children, under a Christianized Filipino teacher. Some thirty children in all are under instruction, the average attendance being twenty-four. It is almost impossible, so Connor told us, to make these people understand why children should go to school, or what a school is, or is for, anyway. However, a beginning has been made. They all have a dose of “the three Rs”; the boys are taught, besides, carpentry, gardening, and rope-making, and the girls sewing, weaving, and thread-making from cotton grown by the boys on the spot. They ought to show some skill in all these arts; for the native rice-basket is a handsome, strong affair, square of cross-section, with sides flaring out, and about three feet high, and some of their weapons show great manual skill. The garden was on show the next morning, displaying beans, tomatoes, cotton, perhaps other things that I failed to recognize or have forgotten, anyway, a sufficient garden. There is besides an exchange here for the sale of native wares.

One of our party had ridden a white pony, and was much amused, as were all of us, to receive an offer for his tail! There is nothing else the Ilongots hold in higher estimation than white horse-hair, and here was a pony with a tail full of it! But the offer was refused; the idea of cutting off the tail was not to be entertained for one moment. Certainly, he might keep its tail: what they wanted was the hair. Would he sell the hair? No; that was only a little less bad than to sell the tail itself.

On our way back to the shack in which some of us were to sleep (the school-house it was) we noticed an admiring crowd standing around the pony, tethered under the house, and all unconscious of the admiration he was exciting, most rudely presenting his hind-quarters to his admirers. But that was not his intention; the crowd – half women, by the way – wanted to be as close to the tail as possible. We left them gesticulating and pointing and commenting, much as our own women might while looking at crown jewels, but not so hopelessly; for the next morning, when we next saw the pony, nearly all the hair had been pulled out of his tail, except a few patches or tufts here or there, tougher than the rest, and serving now merely to show what the original dimensions must have been.

While we were undressing in came a little maiden, who marched up to every one of us, shook hands, and said, “Good evening, sir.” We were pretty well undressed, but our lack of clothes looked perfectly natural to her, perhaps inspired her with confidence. She said her name was Banda, that she was thirteen, but of this she could not know, as all these children had had ages assigned to them when they entered the school; after greeting us all, and airing her slight stock of English, she withdrew as properly as she had entered. A trifling incident, perhaps not worth recording, but in reality significant, for it marked confidence, especially as she had come in of her own accord. We all agreed that she was very pretty.

The next morning we turned out early, and got our first real “look-see.” Campote is completely surrounded by mountains, the hogback dropping off into the valley below us. About four or five hundred people had assembled, men, women, and children. As a rule, they were small and well built, but not so well built as the tribes farther north. The men were fully armed with spears, bows and arrows, shields, and head-knives; gee-strings apart, they were naked. Some of them wore on the head the scarlet beak of the hornbill; these had taken heads. Quite a number, both men and women, had a small cross-like pattern tattooed on the forehead; the significance of this I did not learn. The shield is in one piece, in longitudinal cross-section like a very wide flat V open toward the bearer, the top terminating in a piece rising between two scoops, one on each side of the median line.

The women had on short skirts and little jackets (like what, I am told, we call bolero jackets), the bosom being bare. Around the waist they wore bands of brass wire or of bamboo stained red and wound around with fine brass wire. These bamboo bands were pretty and artistic. You saw the children as they happened to be; the only thing to note about them being that they were quite bright-looking. What the men lacked in clothes they made up in their hair, for they wore it long and some of them had it done up in the most absolute Psyche knots. Such earrings as we saw were worn in the upper cartilage of the ear. It may be remarked, too, that the women had a contented and satisfied air, as though sure of their power and position; we found this to be the case generally throughout the Mountain Country.

The purpose of the visit being to cultivate pleasant relations with and receive the confidence of these shy people, the real business of the day was soon opened. Mr. Worcester took his place in the shade of his shack, and proceeded to the distribution of red calico, beads, combs, mirrors, and other small stuff, the people coming up by rancherías (settlements or villages); none of the highlanders seem to have any conception of tribal organization, a condition no doubt due to the absence of communications. A cabecilla, or head man, would receive two meters, his wife one, and others smaller measures. This sort of thing was carefully studied out, so far as rank was concerned, for it would never do to give a common person even approximately as much as a cabecilla. One ranchería would take all red beads, another white, another blue, and so on. Not once did I see a trace of greediness or even eagerness, though interest was marked. The whole thing was conducted in the most orderly fashion, the various rancherías awaiting their turn with exemplary patience.

The issue over, dancing began. In this only men and boys took part, to the music of small rude fiddles, tuned in fifths, played by the men, and of a queer instrument consisting of two or three joints of bamboo with strings stretched over bridges, beaten with little sticks by the women. The fiddles must be of European origin. The orchestra, seven or eight all told, sat in the shade, surrounded by an admiring crowd. Among them was a damsel holding a civilized umbrella over her head, whereof the stick and the rib-points were coquettishly decorated with white horse-hair tied in little brushes, doubtless furnished by our white pony.

The dancing at once fixed our attention. Two or three men, though usually only two, took position on the little terreplein below the shack, and began a slow movement, taking very short, formal, staccato steps in a circle against the sun. Keeping back to back and side to side, they maintained the whole body in a tense, rigid posture with the chest out, head up and thrown back, abdomen drawn in, right hand straight out, the left also, holding a shield, eyes glazed and fixed, knees bent forward. Between the steps, the dancers would stand in this strained, tense position, then move forward a few inches, and so on around the circle.

After a little of this business, for that is just what it was, the next part came on, a simulation of fighting: and, as everything before was as stiff, strained, and rigid as it was possible to be, so now everything was light, graceful, agile, and quick; leaps forward and back, leaps sideways, the two combatants maneuvering, as it were, one around the other, for position. It was hard to realize that human motions could be so graceful, light and easy. Then head-knives were drawn, and cuts right, and cuts left, cuts at every part of the body from the head to the ankles, were added to the motion; the man on the defensive for the moment making suitable parries with his shield.

The dance completed, the dancers would advance and face Mr. Worcester, put their heels together in true military fashion, hold their arms out right and left, and make a slight inclination of the head, a sort of salute, in fact, to the one they regarded as the principal personage of the party.

We saw much dancing later on in our trip, but none that equalled this in intensity and character, apart from its being of a totally different kind, Heiser managed, with some difficulty, to take a photograph of the tense phase of one of the dances; it gives a better idea of the phase than my imperfect description.

The dancing was followed by archery, the target being a small banana stem at some thirty paces. This calls for no especial comment, except that many hits were made, and many of the misses would have hit a man.

More interesting was an ambush they laid for us, to show how they attacked. While collecting for it, to our astonishment the entire party suddenly ran in all directions at top speed and hid behind whatever offered. On their return, in four or five minutes, they explained that a spirit had suddenly appeared among them, and that they had had to run. On our asking how they knew a spirit had turned up, they asked if we had not noticed leaves and grass flying in a spiral. As a matter of fact, some of us had, a very small and very gentle whirlwind having formed for a second or two. They had seen it, too, and that was the spirit.

It was now mid-day; we had tiffin, and began preparations for our departure. The various arms, shields, and other things we had bought were collected to be cargadoed back to Pangasinán. Among them, alas! were not two beautiful head-knives, which their wearers had absolutely declined to part with on any terms whatever. They resisted the Governor-General even. I give a photograph here of a knife and scabbard that Connor sent me on later. It is a handsome one, but not as handsome as those two jewels!

Our last performance was to look at the garden and to see the school at work, making thread and rope, weaving mats, and so on. I take it that this school was really the significant thing at Campote, apart from the significance of the occasion itself. We spent but little time over it, however, our interest in the arts of war having left us only a few minutes for those of peace. Nevertheless, here is a beginning that will bear fruit, and in the meantime Connor rides alone and in safety among these wild people, which proves a good many things, when you select the right man to do your hard work.

Mr. Worcester, as we rode off, expressed the liveliest satisfaction with the meeting. These people, returning to their rancherías, he said, would talk for a year of their treatment at the hands of the Americans, of the gift of palay (rice) to four hundred people, for two days, to say nothing of two vacas (cows) and of other gifts. Next year, he hoped, half of them would come in; besides, the start made was good; the presence of so many women and children was a good sign.

And equally good was the total absence of old women. For these are a source of trouble and mischief with their complaints of the degeneracy of the times. They address themselves particularly to the young men, accusing them of a lack of courage and of other parts, taunting them with the fact that the young women will have none of them, that in their day their young men brought in heads, etc. Thus it has happened, especially when any native drink was going about, that trouble has followed. It is the practice, therefore, of our Government when arranging these meetings to suggest that the old women be left at home, and if so left, it is a good indication.
- - - - -
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]