Where towering mountains in Cordillera nod their majestic heads with the mountain people, legends handed down around campfires tell that in these beautiful yet brooding mountains, “ders gold en dem dar hills.” (Adda balitok dita bantay).
This, for a fact, the early Igorots knew their “boondocks” (bantay or mountains, if you will) were awash with gold.
Less legendary but true as well, it was related that early Igorot gold hunters can distinguish speckles of gold among rocks merely by spitting on them.
A true story abounded about a mining superintendent of Lepanto Mines when it started mining in Lepanto, Mankayan, Benguet, how he matched a group of unschooled and unlearned Igorots with assays of the mining company.
The assays were trained in detecting all sorts of metals on the ground. But time and again, the Igorot miners defeated the assays in detecting gold just by spitting on the rocks while the assays couldn’t immediately determine real gold from the fool’s gold, the yellow pyrite usually mistaken for gold.
As repeated in legends long ago, but which were true, “Nu balitok id Suyoc, manyukayuk!” (Gold in Suyoc was aplenty!)
That precious yellow metal, called “gold” by Americans, “oro” by the Spaniards and “balitok” by the Igorot, and “ginto” by many Filipinos, had drawn fortune-seeking mortals to the hills, mountains and rivers of Benguet Province and adjoining areas of this upland region.
The Espanyol, who came in conquest of the Philippines, know a sickness of the heart, (or whatchamacallit it as greed?) that only oro can cure.
Gold was the addicting reason the Spaniards tried to subjugate the mountain people through military expeditions, for they discovered gold was used then by the highlanders to barter provisions from the lowlanders, particularly the need for salt, lowland commodities, prized pottery, etc.
But the highlanders, stubborn as hell, fiery like their saleng, and with only spears, bolos, shields to wield while flaunting their bare buttocks in G-strings, routed the conquistadores back to the lowlands.
The Espanyol, who looked down upon the highlanders as savages, and called them “Ygolote,” (mountain people). Ygolote or Igorot, no matter.
The feisty mountain people showed the Espanyol before then, that settling on the uplands and divesting it of gold contents resulted to heads being chopped off, taken as bounty with “aweng” (sound) of the gangsa.
Amy Guesdan, in her song, “Balitok,” sings, “Balitok, isu amin ti kapapatgan/Aglalu idiay Benguet, probinsya ti kaigorotan.
For Benguet, truly, is a province, “nga inda ap-apalan, ta addu ti pagminasan/ Nabaknang a daga/Addu ti maawis na nga agtrabaho/Agtegged ti pagbiag da,” says Amy’s song.
Oho! Gold! But while all that glitters aren’t gold, perhaps we look back to a saying, “make new friends, but keep the old; the new friends are silver, the old friends, the gold.”
Yep. Friendship, an ardent temper susceptible to tender emotions of the soul which increases in enjoyment of each other’s society and a felt satisfaction and tender sympathy to the woes of life.
Similitude of mind being the basis of friendship, this daily laborer says, “Nu adda balitok diay kadwa tayo, nag-imasen, our friend has found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.”
Singer Amy intimates in her song that gold, when not properly handled can alter character and decays solid and old friendship.
She sings, “Balitok ti kapapatgan/Ngem nadagsen nga iganan/ Nu di mu alwadan/Mapukaw tay kapanunutam/ Gayyem malipatam a namingmingsan/Agraman panagsao, napangas kan.”
Amy’s song relates how a person who found gold turned different, “Nagbaliw nga insigida/Ti takder ken ugali na/ Ti kunana, balitok, agnaynaynay, awan ti gibus na.”
Amy may as well be intimating instant wealth is no reason to look down on others.
Indeed, this daily laborer notorious for hunting for nothing, “saan na pay napadasan nga maka-eggem ti uray paltek ti balitok. “(Hold a speck of gold in the palm of his hand).
But in the olden days, serious traditions govern even the slightest act in gold extraction.
In the 70’s, the late and esteemed Baguio newsman Oswald Alvaro, who mentored this daily laborer, related: “Ading ko nga Bony, adi kabalin ay irugi dan menpala wennu men-bukwal nu maga din manok wenno beteg ay mapalti din sag-en di minasen da.”
Alvaro, who hailed from Mankayan, Benguet, simply meant that for the early Igorot gold panners, “Before even the first spade of excavation was struck or raised, there had to be an offering of a chicken or pig, its bile read for a propitious sign signifying favor of the gods.”
Unfavorable signs read from the animal bile meant the Igorot miners must stay their hand, bide their time, tending their farms or other chores perhaps, until another reading offers a go signal from their deities.
The well-liked newsman Alvaro, further related that even before embarking on gold hunting, they refrain from eating.
“Men-ngilin da, nu kaat nay agew, itdun di mang-il-ila,” (they refrain from eating. How long this takes depends on the signs,) Alvaro explained.
Early Igorot gold hunters bore in mind strict rules that governed behavior when inside the tunnel.
“Addi kabalin din mengig-gik-gik, umtot ya men-tae sin uneg di usok,” (No giggling, defecating or farting inside the tunnel), Alvaro said.
“And definitely, no horsing around with women,” Alvaro stressed.
Heck! D’you believe Igorot miners respected women’s lib? Shucks, they did. Why? No women were allowed to venture inside the tunnels.
Neither were the women allowed to go near the tunnels exit and go yelling out a miner’s name, nor a wife going near the tunnels calling out their husband to come out so she can whack the head of her hubby with broom or frying pan for him failing to go home the night. Those are big NO-NO!
“Addi kabalin ay enda bugbugawan nan asawa sin sangun du usok, tay inayan” Alvaro stressed.
Such had been the heyday of early Igorot mining tradition that family members have been known to forego education, if only to take a crack on that yellow elusive metal.
Wizened gold prospectors swear on the graves of their forebears that gold fever is something of a disease for which a medicine has yet to be discovered to cure this malady.