A team of social workers, sociologists, medical professionals, graduate students pursuing masters degrees and an anthropologist, unhesitatingly yanked Daily Laborer out from the comfort of Baguio City early morning last week, to accompany them do field work along Halsema National Highway towns, finally decided last Monday afternoon around 3:30 PM to take respite at barangay Central, Poblacion Atok, Benguet before proceeding back to the City of Pines.
Shining was the sun that Monday afternoon, fair as the sun could shine, in a beautiful November day, bright yet gentle, warm but fresh, midway between the watering pot of October and the watering pan of November in the laughing hills and mountains of Atok.
Atok Municipality, to the Ibaloi is, “Nay patok shi shontog,” meaning, “On the mountain top,” is known for chilly winds, frost, cold temperature and boasts also the most number of the famed Benguet coffee or Arabica coffee grown in Cordillera highlands.
Already, cold November winds that come before Christmas have made its presence felt by chafing the skins of Atok residents, splitting their lips and piercing their bones, who long felt the warmth of the past months but now have to contend with the icing weather.
Spotting a homespun stall where whiff of boiling “kape barako,” fruits of the Arabica coffee wafted into the air, Daily Laborer steered the Manila group into it, had them comfortably seated and ordered barako coffee and home-made Atok bread.
Those in the group marveled verbally about the taste of the Benguet coffee that has gained international reputation. Daily Laborer, who drank too much blackened barako he felt his heart was as black as the coffee he loves to swallow, looked at the group quizzically then turned his attention to the sounds coming from the people nearby the other stalls in barangay Central, Poblacion Atok market.
For some moments, the chattering of the people at the market was a normal beehive of sounds. Then he heard it. From a distant stall, a woman’s voice was singing, subdued but clearly distinct, with a wisp of tenderness to it.
Daily Laborer glued his ears to the woman’s song and caught glimpses of the words of the song which went this way: “Kanayon ay ibagan ina. Anak ko, siya di nemnemnemem na; ulay sino di panbalinam, wingi em lugar ay napu-am.”
Sitting there, Daily Laborer tried to translate into his mind the words of the song into Ilocano and came up with,” Kanayon nga ibaga ni Nanang ko, anak ko, dim kuma liplipatan. Uray nu sadinnut pakadanunam, lagipem toy lugar a nagapuwam.”
Daily Laborer stood up then said to the group, “Wait here, I’ll be back.” He left the coffee stall then headed towards that distant stall and spotted a woman, still humming softly.
He estimated the woman probably in her late thirties. Lines began to grace her soft, beautiful face. A tuft of unruly hair kept falling between her eyebrows as she tried to tuck it away and happily said to Daily Laborer when she saw him, “Anya gatangen yu, Sir?” She was selling assorted goods.
To keep the conversation rolling, Daily Laborer surveyed her goods then settled to buying a black bonnet. They haggled for the price. In the midst of their conversation, Daily Laborer asked, “Ma’am, sika ba diay agkankanta itattay?”
The lady blushed slightly and said, “Wen,” paused, then continued, “Pangpalipas lang ti iliw!”
Daily Laborer pressed: “Ma’am, anya ba title diay kanta nga kakanta-em tattay?” And the lady answered, “Ay, aguray ka ta lagipek nu anya title na ajay.” For a moment she kept silent, then said, “Ay, Sir, ammokon, Sukisok ti title na didyiay a kanta.”
Daily Laborer nodded, then said, “Mayat didyiay kantam, Ma’am. Taga ditoy kayo ba ditoy Atok?”
“Saan, Sir, taga Nueva Viscaya ak. Naki-asawa ak ti taga Atok. Isu adda ak ditoy kadwak pamilyak. Naragsak ak ditoy, ngem nu maminsan ad-adda nga mailiw ak iti nagapuwak ijay Nueva Viscaya.”
Daily Laborer nodded again and said, “Addi bali Ma’am, dandani Christmas. Mabalin met siguro makapasyar kayo ti pamilyam ijay Nueva Viscaya.”
For a moment, the lady smiled wistfully and said, “Uray kayat ko agawid Nueva Viscaya, awan met da inang ken ama ijay. Nagawid dan ken Ama (she, pointed heavenwards) ken dagiti kakabsat ko adda da agbalbalay ijay La Trinidad, ti maysa adda ijay Baguio ken jay udi mi adda ijay Burgos, La Union. Awan metten da Lola ken Lolo mi.”
Daily Laborer understandingly, raised a hand in salute to her, bade her Merry Christmas and strode back where he left the group.
One of the ladies in the group, Martha Nadiles, graduate student from Baguio teasingly said, “Apay nagbayag ka manong Bony, napan mu samet inarem diay napintas nga aglaklako?”
Daily Laborer teasingly responded, “Wen.” And Nadiles teasingly countered, “Ket anya ngay sungbat na?”
Daily Laborer smiled broadly at Nadiles and said, “Ti sungbat na kanyak diay aglaklako ket kunana, Mr., mapan ka agbirok ti sukisok mo saan nga siak ti mapan mo sukisuken.”
But jestingly aside, Daily Laborer, got to thinking what the song meant to that Atok lady. How mutable is our existence.
That the resplendence of one day can be clouded by the next and the perspective becomes eclipsed ere the succeeding night. Happy creatures, we are, but we cannot, as a consequence, amply guess that which we admire in a passing moment, knowing as we do, our moments pass also.
Such could be the reason we are equally affected, or ought to be so affected, by what is intimate as looking back to our origins, evincing a kindred spirit and obtaining a renewed interest of not forgetting “diay lugar a nagapuwan tayo.”
Life happens to be, you may say, a resume and the chapters to it are choices we make. Can we live life in a way where we can look forward to looking back? Daily Laborer could not even answer the question he posed to himself.
Yet, there is no trait, perhaps, more common, or more amiable in human character, than the attachment which an individual feels for his/her native place.
Your native place, be you highlander, lowlander or from other regions in the Philippines, possesses that resistless, tender and soul-subduing influence as does the remembrance of past scenes and pleasures rushing upon the mind.
Your native hills, mountains, vales, the grooves, the murmuring rills, fields and meadows which witnessed innocence and your youthful and sporting years, arise before the imagination arrayed in all their charm.
To us, more pleasant would be the sight of the homes we grew or the verdant mantle of nature spangled with colors, than the beauty and verdure of a distant land.
He related to the group why he got interested to talking about the lady they heard singing while they drank coffee. Cecilia Daspilan, among the group, a highlander coed and graduate of Sociology said, “Ayna, manong Bony, apay saan mo nadengdengeg didjiay a kanta?”
Daspilan then fished out her cell phone, started “pindoting here and pindoting there,” and, with a smile of triumph said, “Ni, manong, kitaem daytoy.”
Daily Laborer peered into the cell phone and saw the word “Sukisok” on the screen, the explanation below the word stated the song was written by Mr. Wilson Bastian Langpawen and sang by Jirabel Langpawen Ablaza.
Daspilan said, “Denggen tayo diay kanta, a.” Doing CP pindot-pindot again, Cecilia waited for a moment, and then the song floated out from her CP.
At the end of the song, another in the group, Mayjane Arianes, from La Union, and a nurse graduate, said, “Kanayon ko nang-ngeg dayta nga kanta. Makapa-iliw met a talaga.”
Arianes switched to English and said to the group, “Memories have their purpose. It is always fine to remember what has made us what we have become today and reflect on what have made us stronger.”
They each started to soberly talk of their native places and got dead serious that that it affected Daily Laborer but alarmed him also of the group’s getting so grave-talking he cleared his throat to get their attention.
He said, “Cut it off, guys, finish your barako else I will be infected by your sober reflections on “wingi em nan lugar a napu-am,” I might be tempted to order a bottle of wine for us to slobber on and later for each of you to end up crying, or laughing on other’s shoulders.”
As they piled on the van to take them back to Baguio, Daspilan looked back and exclaimed, “Hala, agpaypayapay dagiti ban-bantay ti Atok. Pirme isem da!”