(Due to Herald Express readers incessant request for another sequel to an earlier article published January 30, 2022 titled, “Beneath Still Waters,” which dwelt on the hidden secrets of the waters of Burnham Park Lake, and said request articulated in an internet message by Manuel Roux, from Baguio City, went to Saint Louis Boys High School but presently resides in Sydney, Australia, Daily Laborer complies and obliges readers command.)
History is full of people who will haunt us, who never want to be recognized but never forgotten for what they did, what they offered, what they created or what good they left behind.
Ghost stories, legends and folklores exist in every highland Cordillera town, big or small, new and old. Human beings, curious as they are, are fascinated with the afterlife and eager to somehow capture proof of the spirit world.
But what are these spirits that people are so eager to find proof of? As in the case of the still waters of Burnham Park Lake?
A kind nudge by someone Daily Laborer could not see but felt, compelled him to return last Monday early morning to Burnham Park Lake and “go to the other side” where it is said unseen ones can communicate and interact with the living.
Standing at Burnham Park Lake’s cement embankment that Monday morning, Daily laborer tried to look back to the years when Burnham Park Lake was a free, wide open, grassy area with its silent lake and when the place was still called by olden Ibaloi and Kankana-ey folks as simply “Kafagway.”
And the ghosts of the “wide open space and its water” came floating back to Daily Laborer, stealthy but unseen. What makes ghosts so respectable characters are that, nobody ever saw one.
They curtsied, bowed and said to Daily Laborer, “What’s it you want known of the secrets of the lake, we are here, at your service.”
Burnham Park Lake, as we know it now, was not known by that name before. Neither do we imagine its landscape teemed with wildlife, before.
Available historical records for the Spanish period in 1846 described it as a “wide grassy area” called “kafagway,” by the early Ibaloi settlers. It was turned into a “Rancheria” by the Spaniards.
Manuel Roux, in helping turn this article around for this sequel, researched further and found out that kafagway meant “wide open space” in Ibaloi, and messaged it to Daily laborer, which more or less matches with the wide grassy area described by existing records.
Records also depicted that the wide grassy area abundant of its water was used by early Ibaloi and Kankana-ey tribe folks as pastureland for cattle and the surrounding areas their hunting grounds. Kafagway of old – Baguio City as known today – was then lush with highland forests and secreted wild animals.
And these Ibaloi and Kankana-ey tribe folks of long ago who drove their cattle at the wide grassy area then let their four-legged critters drink at lake, we can very well describe them here as “ Kafagway cowhands, or Kafagway cowboys.”
Daily Laborer realized there was fortunate thing in the nature and construction of an Ibaloi or kankana-ey cowhand’s memory which rendered his existence possible.
In retrospect, the sorrows and dark days of the old cowboys of the lake were toned and softened, while the bright things of his life, the mirth and the song, were magnified and illumined by its waters.
Maybe, perhaps, maybe, the kafagway cowhand now gone, grew instinctively to search back for the things that have pleased, the merry trivialities that went to make his being a cattle man and watching his cattle or “baka” drink before the brink of the lake, a golden treasury of recollection and he welcomed most to his attention those things which most enticingly tugged his reminiscence back to him.
There at the old lake, the Kafagway cowboys worked together thought together, and perhaps best of all, laughed together while the lake shimmered with spirits that went before them. And these Kafagway cowboys, as they scanned the lakes and their herd, may have said many times, “Bakak amin iyay!” (Those cattle yonder, are mine).
They have done much that should be among the best of their memories.
Maybe, during those ancient years, they sat near the lake’s brink, hunched before a little bonfire, and watched the embers which now and then sprang into life and lighted up the somber angles of the lake with their ruddy glow.
Surely, during those ancient days, it was their ritual of having slowly wended their way along the grassy banks of the lake – youths in the first flush of glory and manhood or fathers in their declining years, but the number of their cattle increasing.
And in rising early to pasture their cattle at the wide open space or grassy areas, Kafagway’s climate was rather cold, nippy and at times even rainy. Nonetheless, it was retold by the ghosts, many times, that when the clouds did not intervene with the weather, the splendor of the lake was visible, even it was amidst the bulrushes that grew only in wetlands.
Amidst the bulrushes, the Kafagway cowboys too often spotted where the Benguet lilies grew at the edges of the lake where its waters softly cradled the lilies.
As was before, the cattle hands that roamed around the lake knew beforehand the self-conscious complacency and carefully assumed the retiring disposition of the Benguet lily and praised it as that – a modest lily. Nature has implanted this strain of humility in the Benguet lily.
How many times these Kafagway cowboys plucked flowers of the Benguet lilies at the lake, no one can ever say not even the spirits and spooks who communed with Daily laborer. But sure as the sun sets, these Kafagway cowboys gathered these lilies for reasons of their own.
One reason was the Benguet lilies could have been plucked beside the lake for a traditional marriage.
It could have happened these cowhands plucked Benguet lilies to grace a marriage occasion for a cowhand friend, and grinned in glee, knowing history holds it tongue to the “mambunong” (native priest who facilitates marriage ritual) who advised the newly-weds to work on their marriage through thick and thin, uphill and down, on the level, rain or shine, survive or perish, sink, swim or float – but never, for the sake of the newly-weds, never go dream drowning at the lake.
It could have happened also, that it was at the edge of the lake where that cowhand friend, before he got married, in the company of the beautiful lady (that he married) and mesmerized by the sheen of the lake’s mysterious waters, suddenly turned towards his lady friend and said in Ibaloi, “Pipiyan taha,” (I love you) then continued by saying, “Asaw en mowak ba?” (Will you marry me?).
And the cowhand’s lady friend, also dazzled by the enchanting gleam of the lake, knowing fully well that getting in love is one of the passions, the one most of all difficult to describe and not fully defined, nodded in agreement to the cowhand’s entreaty, there at the lake.
As Daily Laborer sat there at Burnham Park Lake’s embankment, imagining the adoration of that cow hand for a lady long time ago when the lake was known as Kafagway and that forced him to say to the lady “pipiyan taha,” it dawned on Daily Laborer he had read several descriptions about love, but these were written by those who were in love, (or, thought they were) and Daily Laborer wouldn’t believe such testimonies, even if he was under oath.
Needless to repeat over and over that these cow hands that roamed around the lake knew their natural history. For them, there is no tuition as cheap and handy as natural history.
There is a fine and beautiful alliance between all past times these centuries-old cowboys pursued on field, flood and open grassland around the mossy banks of the lake. All such past times, whether they followed it merely as past times, or as professions or as immediate means of sustaining life required sense, sagacity, patience and perseverance, an ancestry they have imparted for the present generation in Benguet.
The pedigree that we have received form our Kafagway ancestors are like money we received from them. We are not expected to live on the principle, but on the accumulation, and transmit the principle unimpaired.
It was said by the spirits living in the old Kafagway climate that it was rather cold to make early rising pleasant, and at times even rainy, compared to Baguio’s temperature now. Nonetheless, it was retold, many times, that when the clouds did not interfere with the weather, the splendor of the lake was visible, even amidst the bulrushes.
And behold, the warm season had passed, and the cold winds of the rainy season appeared, for it marked the period of herdsmen resting and not venturing into the lake –until summer came again.
The sun still sets in the same way over the western part of Burnham Park Lake and the wind still blows from the north and southeast. Day visitors and trippers continue to paddle around the lake trying to experience a bit of its lost wilderness.
Daily Laborer rose from where he was seated, gave Burnham Park Lake a nod and was about to depart when the lake said to him,”Come visit me again if you have time. For life is short.”
Daily Laborer nodded at the lake, approving what the lake whispered to him, and responded by murmuring, “Yea, life is short indeed, but if you notice the way some people spend their time, you would suppose life is everlasting.” Then he left.
And every year, there is a scare or two that reminds all of us how vulnerable the human condition really is if we look at the mirror of the lake, even with our cell phones.
For ghosts of the past of Burnham Park Lake – the kafagway of old – are still said to be round fully as plenty as at classic hours. We don’t hold the propriety of controlling their ghostly operations whenever they want to talk to any person or visitor to the lake. And they are jolly as you can be – though mysterious.
Burnham Park Lake is indeed an echo of our past and its local history, unique.