BONTOC, Mountain Province – Deputy Presidential Legal Counsel Joseph Sagandoy urged the people of the province to preserve what is good in the culture of indigenous peoples and further enrich it in any way they can as culture forms an integral part of who they are as individuals and as a people.
In his message during the main program of the province’s 56th founding anniversary and 16th Lang-ay festival held at the Eyeb grounds, Sagandoy, who hails from Bontoc, said that coming together every year to mark the province’s founding anniversary and to celebrate the Lang-ay festival is the people’s way of honoring their rich cultural heritage and extolling the virtues of the communities.
He underscored that culture is the way of life of the people and officialdom of the province as it is shaped by the environment, knowledge, beliefs and experiences.
Further, the lawyer claimed that culture constantly evolves as the environment changes, as new knowledge is acquired, as individuals learn from new experiences and the interaction of the people of other cultures. As the community progresses, people may discover that some of the beliefs may no longer hold true. People may also realize that some of the age-old practices no longer serve any useful purpose or have even become burdensome.
According to him, all societies, in order to survive, have to adapt to changes in their environment and face new realities.
He pointed out that some parts of the culture of Mountain Province will gradually fade away but there are many aspects of the culture that have endured over time because they are inherently good or beneficial to the individual and the community in general. Sagandoy explained that when people talk of preserving culture, they do not mean holding on to all the beliefs and practices of their ancestors as the same is not simply possible because what people want to protect and continue to practice are those aspects of the culture that have proven to be useful and beneficial to them where the same are the values, beliefs and practices that have survived and have now become parts of their identity as Igorots from Mountain Province.
One of the most important characteristics of Igorot, he expanded, is that he is a peace-loving person and that what other Filipinos do not know is that ironically, the practice of head hunting by their ancestors was actually necessary for the promotion of peace during those times. Before the Spaniards and Americans came to the Cordilleras, Igorots lived in different communities which were physically separated by mountains. There was no king or datu or any individual ruler. There was no formal government or any form of central authority that maintained order or administered justice. But there was collective decision-making.
Sagandoy cited that another important thing about the Igorot culture is the value of hard work that is inculcated in the people by their families and the society.
Traditionally, work for Igorots involved agriculture such as working in the rice fields, growing vegetables, hunting animals in the mountains and gathering fish in the rivers and chopping and transporting woods from the forest for firewood to cook their food.
He admitted that nowadays, the aforesaid practices would be considered child labor and may be punishable in some societies but the same is part of the culture of the people of Mountain Province as they had been used to hardships and people teach their children the value of hard work and discipline early in life.
The Palace official stipulated that another practice which has helped most of the Igorots is the practice of ‘og-ogfu’ or Mountain Province’s own version of ‘bayanihan.’ While it is true that the said value is universal, the Igorot version is made stronger and made more meaningful because they still practice it even in almost all aspects of life from constructing a house, to aiding someone or a family in need, from maintaining common infrastructure for agriculture and many more. Since the Igorots constantly practice it, it became ingrained in the younger generation who will hopefully pass it on to their children.
Moreover, Mountain Province was also able to maintain its strong sense of community as Igorots may find themselves in far away places in the country or the world and yet when they see a ‘kailyan,’ it seems they find home in that ‘kailyan’ in that foreign land.
Sagandoy asserted that one other very important value of the Igorot culture is the concept of ‘inayan’ which encompasses their collective relationships with fellow men and women, with the environment, and with the available resources. The innate consciousness of the Igorots for what is right or wrong, and what is sustainable for the present and for future generations is encapsulated in their concept of ‘inayan.’
“We of course have to protect and preserve our indigenous art, including our colorful native costumes, songs and rhythmic dances. These are the physical or material aspect of our culture which identify us as Igorots. The shared beauty of these forms of art is reason enough to preserve them. But aside from their entertainment value, these dances and songs also enhance unity and sense of belonging for all members of our community,” Sagandoy quipped.
On the culture of resilience, he narrated that the people of Mountain Province had to survive on meager resources like land, and yet many of them have thrived in various professions both within and outside government. Despite being considered for a long time to be part of the 20 poorest provinces in the country, the Igorots have taken advantage of education as a stepping stone to a better future. It has given so many Igorots an edge over others in economic opportunities outside the Montanosa.
Sagandoy revealed that the Igorots were able to harness their collective strength and values, became resilient and thrived.
In the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, people have heard stories of various hardships people all over the country and the world have had to endure because of the lockdowns. But in Mountain Province, he said, people still fared far better than most precisely because resilience has always been part of their culture.
“We grow food for our families; and we look after those who need our help. Since we have a history of hardships, we anticipated the future, and know that only by helping each other, we will survive as a community,” he stated.
On culture as a guidepost for the future, Sagandoy reiterated that with all the problems besetting the present society, Igorots look to their culture for guideposts that can help them craft the future they aspire for. Whether it be their political future as a province in an autonomous Cordillera region, or a far brighter economic future with industries that have not been developed or tapped these past decades.
Sagandoy raised the issue on how can the Igorots strengthen their educational system so that the province will continue to produce many successful professionals, how do they harness their agriculture so that they can be at least self-reliant in basic commodities like rice and other food stuff, how will they re-imagine their vegetable industry so that they can rival that of Benguet and still protect the forests from denudation and their water bodies from pollution, how do they strengthen their local economies to allow for more gainful employment for the people and that the same are but a few of the questions that beg to be asked if the people of Mountain Province envision a more progressive and more sustainable future for their children.
As people to fathom and find answers to the aforesaid questions, he said it would do well for the people to look back into their rich history and culture and find guideposts to the future that they want and to the legacy that they want to leave their children.