This speech was delivered by my brother Atty. Theo Ayungo (Lawyer by Destiny) to teachers and IP elders last year (2015). I think that this is worth sharing especially that the topic on “improvement of the race” was trending.
I believe in the power of stories. I believe the poet Muriel Rukeyser when she claimed that “the universe is made of stories not of atoms.”
Hence, allow me to introduce myself with a story… I am an Igorot. My father traces his roots from Kalinga and Mountain Province while my mother traces her roots from Ifugao. I was born and raised in Natonin Mountain Province, one of the few remaining rainforests in the country. As a child we did not have electricity so there were no television sets. Our roads are prone to slides and almost impassable. Our only mode of transportation is through the air – we have this small airplanes courtesy of American missionaries. [my childhood memory of riding those planes are quite pleasant. The air strip is an elevated grassland in the center of the rice fields. I remember riding those planes and the scenery of my town from the air, quite nostalgic…] We also do not have “gasul” or “shellane” so we do not have stoves. We used fire woods for cooking so the four corners of our house is as dark as charcoal. But notwithstanding all of this, I had a very happy childhood. My father is a storyteller. During the night, he would gather us siblings and tell us stories about almost anything from local folklores to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales like Hansel and Gretel, classic stories like Robinson Crusoe and of course stories from the Arabian Nights.
Thus, as a child I had a wild imagination. I imagined myself as Robinson Crusoe surviving in an isolated island. I imagined that I am Sinbad travelling the seven seas. I imagined that I am Aladdin traveling the world with my magic carpet.
When I left my hometown to study in the university, I became acquainted with people who belong to the mainstream society. When I introduce myself as an Igorot I can see bewilderment in their eyes- and they ask innocent questions like, “bakit wala kang buntot” My cousin who was studying in the University of the Philippines told me this story when his class were deciding where to conduct their educational tour, one of his classmates stood up and suggested, “maam sa Baguio tayo gusto ko makakita ng Igorot”, since my cousin doesn’t have a tail and was dressed like everybody else none of his classmates suspect that he is an Igorot. In 2009, when the comedian Candy Pangilinan was performing in SM baguio she uttered the words, “Tao po ako hindi ako Igorot”.
You might have heard similar stories from fellow Igorots because I believe this is a common Igorot experience. In fact my elders suggest that if ever I will be asked again where my tail is, “sabihin ko lang daw wala sa likod nasa harap”. But don’t get me wrong, my classmates and most people from the mainstream society are actually innocent and they did not intend to offend me or my fellow Igorots. It is just that they have been told stories that Igorots do have tails. In fact the books they read confirms that Igorots do have tails. The books they read also describe the igorots as “dog-eating, naked, tattoed and gong beating savages.”
My classmates were told a single story about the Igorots- a story coming from the Spaniards- a colonial power who failed to subdue the people from the mountains. Sadly this single story was conveyed and proliferated to the colonized Filipinos, who now represents today’s mainstream society. And the said story became the only story that they knew about the Igorots.
When ma’am Marly asked me to be a resource speaker in this event, Chimamanda Adichie’s exposition on the danger of the Single Story comes to mind.
Adichie is a young Nigerian storyteller who said that our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories and warns that if we hear a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. She said that:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
It is because of this stereotye that some of us Igorots are not comfortable of being called Igorots. In 1958 Rep. Louis Hora of the Third District of the Old Mountain Province sought to prohibit the use of the terms moro and Igorot in laws, books and other printed materials. He stated that the term “Igorot” is a misnomer and was invented by the Spaniards to describe the people of the Cordillera as savage, head hunting and backward tribe of Northern Luzon. Representative Hora further explained that the term “Igorot” was invented in mockery of and to downgrade the different tribes which they failed to conquer and has no connection with ethnic classification.
Representative Hora has a point. In our place, there are different tribes. In our town alone, there are at least three dialects, the maducayon, the kadaclan and the Balangao. I speak the Balangao dialect. So representative Hora may have a point when he said that calling the different tribes collectively as “Igorot” actually downgrades the different tribes.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Hora Bill was not passed as many Igorots defended the use of the term “Igorot”. Jose G. Dulnuan, a newspaper columnist, has this to say:
“I am an Igorot. Let me be treated as I deserve – with respect if I am good, with contempt if I am no good, irrespective of the name I carry. Let the term, Igorot, remain and the world will use it with the correct meaning attached to it”.
Well, I hope that Mr. Dulnuan’s advocacy becomes a reality- that the world will use the term Igorot with the correct meaning attached to it.
And this, dear teachers is my challenge to you. REJECT the SINGLE STORY.
And in order to reject the single story, mingle with them, listen to their stories- their failures, their triumphs. And it is my hope that when you do this, you will see our indigenous brothers and sisters not as inferior beings but as equals.
By all means tell your students stories of their poverty and exploitation, tell them how our indigenous brothers and sisters were dispossessed of their sacred lands, but also, tell your students stories about their resilience and bravery, how they try to survive in today’s unforgiving world. Wouldn’t it be nice if you mention about how skillful the igorots are in farming as demonstrated by the banaue rice terraces. wouldn’t it be nice if you also mention about how brave they are as demonstrated by the failure of the colonial powers to totally conquer the cordilleras. wouldn’t it be nice if you also mention their role in protecting our freedom as demonstrated by the fact that 13 out of the 44 SAF commandos offered their lives in Mamasapano.
Dear teachers, you AFFECT ETERNITY. Your influence NEVER ENDS. By eliminating the SINGLE STORY about our indigenous brothers and sisters, you will create a generation that values equality, understanding and tolerance.
Read more of Atty. Theo’s Story at www.lawyerbydestiny.com
To my fellow Igorots, what is your story? Please share in the comment box below.