On Ethnocide and Culture Authenticity of the Cordilleran Culture

A few years back in a family gathering, an elder asked a girl, “What will you be wearing on your wedding day? A tapis or a wedding gown?”  The girl replied, “Why should I wear a tapis!  I would look so plain and ordinary on my wedding day.”

The response intrigued me. I wondered what could be so wrong about choosing a beautifully woven tapis over a plain white dress. I realized then that is not the tapis that is the problem, it’s the mentality of the person.

A tapis, is a traditional woven wraparound skirt worn by Igorot girls. It’s not surprising nowadays that in the highlands, the wearing of tapis is so rarely seen.  Placing it in a broader context, it becomes apparent that the girl’s thoughts, along with the same sentiments shared by this generation’s Cordilleran IPs, are exactly what fuel the progressing  ethnocide of the Cordilleran culture.

On his TED talk, world-renowned botanist and National Geographic researcher Wade Davis emphasized the concept of ethnocide, or the deliberate disappearance of an ethnic culture.  There are many inter-related factors for this phenomenon, globalization being the umbrella that holds them all. It’s a problem and it had been a problem for decades now.

What I would like to focus on, which I think could be a good starting point, is the way of thinking of the Indigenous People themselves, especially the young ones. How do we view ourselves as a collective group and carrier of our culture? How do we view our culture? How do we live the ways of our people?

As I see it and as I know many would agree. We are trapped in a minority identity consciousness. We are so aware of what the world thinks of us along the civilization scale that we try, at every turn, to fight that. Times had evolved and so are our motives. Instead of establishing our identity as an IP, we are shedding it off little by little, unconsciously. This is inevitable but is it necessary?

If one tries to walk around Baguio City, one would notice the abundant displays of souvenirs. They come in carved bul-uls, machine-weaved tapis and bahags (because not everyone owns one nowadays). Travel to Wright Park or Botanical Garden and you’ll see elder Igorots wearing traditional attires making money out of picture-taking with tourists.  In Baguio, culture is becoming “for sale.” Go out of Baguio. Go to Kalinga, the land of traditional tattooing and you’ll realize that even that practice is dying. In fact, Whang Od is the only Kalinga tattoo artist alive. Go to Ifugao, the land of man-made terraces and you’ll find out that the young ones no longer want to work on the terraces and would rather leave. This is what change does to our ways. This is ethnocide.

So what now?

BE AWARE. That should be the first step. Be aware of where you stand in the fight towards cultural protection and preservation. Be aware of how true you are to your roots and your heritage. Secondly, try not to disown your ethnicity.  It’s who you are. It’s in the blood. Try not to kill it. One might question the practicality of embracing one’s own culture in this modernized era. It can be done.

A year ago, while doing a research paper, I encountered ‘culture authenticity.’ The concept introduces the staging of culture to create its own reality in this fast-paced time. In a way, it salvages what’s left of the culture.

A. Salvador-Amores, author of ‘Batek: Traditional Tattoos and Identities in Contemporary Kalinga, North Luzon Philippines ’ stated that the appreciation of Kalinga tattoo by the young Kalingas (who no longer practice the art) and their knowing of what it meant, presents the idea of authenticity towards a culture. “When one becomes true to one’s roots and essence, one becomes authentic.”

This idea should be emphasized. What we have now, even if it’s not what it was before, for as long as the essence is true, is authentic.

Cultural revival through festivals, weaving traditions, tattoo festivals, epic chanting, dance festivals, etc. is cultural authentication and vice versa. We may no longer wear tapis going to the market but we can integrate ethnic colors in our local designs. We may not tell everyone we meet where we come from but we may as well wear an ‘Igorotak’ t-shirt once in a while. We may no longer go through the painful process of Whang Od’s tattooing but we may copy the tattoo designs in henna. We may not be dancing our cultural dances in the rituals and occasions suited for it but when we dance our dances, we become true to our roots and ethnic identity. Our showmanship of Igorot-ness is a trend of cultural authentication. This is revival.

I’m not saying, we do all this. We can’t. We can, however, try not to throw them all away.

It would be a relief if we continue proving our worth in fighting for our rights as the Cordillera People’s Association is doing. It would spark more hope if we become more aware just as some are now immersing themselves in indigenous researches like the Tebtebba Foundation.

We should take inspiration in Wade Davis’ challenge not to live in a world of monochromatic unity but celebrate a world of poly-chromatic diversity. So think about it. Wouldn’t it be much better if you glow radiantly with pride in a red and black stripped tapis on your wedding day?


[Image: 'Igorot Women' by James Claridades]



Closing Remarks (For Today)

Go to bed and tell yourself that it’s alright. That things happen and they happen not because of your fault. Get used to the idea that control happens internally. Acknowledge that it is you who create your own pains and that it is you who can help yourself get out of it.

When you go back– when you attach logic to that memory–tread your way back carefully. Do not run away or try to hide from the onlsaught. Face it with both feet on the ground and shoulders squared. Your weapon should be your love for yourself.

And you’ll feel good. You’ll feel good knowing that the power is yours and the combat is under your control.

Make your own armour of victory. If you already did, then by God you should be proud.

There’s a Switch Off Button

There is a magic button in our minds that has the power to shut down every thought, revive a feeling, or shift gears towards the multitude of domains waiting to be touched and opened up inside.

Negativity overrules the positive of our day to day experiences. That’s a fact. That’s the nature of the mind. A simple derogatory statement, a line from a song, a look from a stranger, a touch, can affect our stable state of peace. It ruins the day. It ruins the mood. It negates the mind’s possible response to any succeeding positive encounter.

“I don’t like you”

It might just be that, the negative stimulus of every other stimulus. You heard it. You absorbed it. Now it’s on loop in your head like a demon on pursuit. You’ll walk from point A to B ignoring everything and everyone you see on the way. You sit in class and listens with half ear while your instructor delivers the best lecture in his life. You don’t notice the sincere smiles and the efforts of someone to engage you. You don’t notice anything else.  Everything passes by; the time, the people, opportunity and yet you’re still there trapped in that state of disturbance.  All you think about is that one statement.

You dwell on it, turning the phrase it over and over your head. I don’t like you.

Your consciousness starts delving for deeper, sub-hidden meanings that do not exist. What’s wrong with me? Why? How can someone say that to me? Then you zoom in those feelings. You begin to hate the person who said it. You start hating yourself for thinking that you probably deserve what was said. Your stomach starts churning with insecurities, hate, anger, sadness. You throw everything on that one statement. Nothing else matters.

The button, this is where it matters. It is up to ones’ control and willpower to push the button and stop the train of thoughts. STOP. Just stop. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. It doesn’t take anything. There’s no cost to pushing that button. Try it. Do it. You can. Everyone can. Think of the times you were a child. Rather, go back to the child in you. The child in you who pays attention and who appreciates the simplest of the wonderful. The child in you who disregards the hurt and focuses on the pleasure. The child in you who merges with your spirit of jovial abandon, who retracts from the world of pain and ejects it at the right time, at the right moment. Find the child in you, the innocent and the happy.

I don’t like you. All right. It doesn’t make me stop liking myself. I go inside, to my personal defender.  I reconnect with my inner voice. I listen to it and I know your like or dislike is not in my control. I do not desire to control it. I only desire to control my mind, of how I think about that statement, on how I choose to not let it dominate my chances of having a good time, a good day, to feel good about myself.

I have control over the button. And I use it wisely. As I am.

Written Words for the One Who Inspires No Words

There will always be times when you feel shitty about yourself, when you feel like YOU have abandoned you, when you feel like your own monster has eaten the very soul of your existence and wiped it completely off so that nobody, not even you, would ever remember or see a tinge of the rainbow’s hue that it once had. There will be times when you feel nothing and everything, times when tears won’t come but the heart gets flooded or when tears flood and the heart empties its essence.  There will be times when love is a vacuum and you are the robot trying to piece it all together. There will be times when your throat would block up all the inhales and only give way to the exhales that comes in forms of sobs –white noises.There will be times when your pillow would be nothing but wet all night from your tears or the piece of paper in front of you absorbs all the salty drops with all the words running in your head but no words written.

There will be times when the person you miss the most, or think you love the most, is just a click of a send button away or a call away but it felt like billions of galaxies and universes separate you together and that you cannot reach for him. No matter how much you want to there is always that barricade protecting —no — inhibiting you to push and connect. There will be times when you seek for his voice, crave for his touch, and just want his presence but he simply is not there. He is not there. You cannot hear his voice or feel his touch or see the deep black of his eyes. He is not there. You are. You are here, now, alone but not by yourself. Woman. You are not a woman you are a girl who needs too much and given a few. You are a girl who knows what is and what is not but not told what should and shouldn’t be. You love. And yet love simply is not there. He is not here, now, with you. He is far. A hundred kilometers away from you. He is far. With the devil in his glass and laughter in his eyes. He is far. His phone would beep and he would check, see your message and perhaps smile then shut it off and gulp his gin thinking. He is far. Thinking. Not of you. Knowing you he would turn back to his conversation, he would talk about his exploits, his conquers, and his fears and his wishes. You had no place there in his spoken words. Not in his far away place. Not there, not now. Your place is in a dark room with a single bed on a free day. Your place is in the locker, within a scientific calculator, in a literature piece that he couldn’t understand and if he would, he wouldn’t care for the feeling that comes with it. Your place is in a void that not only you can fill. Your place is not love nor will it ever be. You are not love or the love or the lover. You are she.her.that girl. that. Your place is near. Your place is not here, not now, with him. Nor is it far, then, and with him. Your place is this, this. With I. With I. With I.



You heard their screams
You felt their pain
They haunted your dreams
Fighting, fighting in vain
All along you suffered

Peace enveloped you
but rage burned within.
So to write and write, you did
‘till the ink faded.
Pen became the sword,
Your words became the words of a general.

Jose Rizal the hero.
We celebrate you!



Open your eyes.

How do you see yourself?
Like a butterfly in metamorphosis
or a limestone at the bottom of the sea?

How do you see others?
Like blurred lines in an action image?
Like dancing faeries
or double-edged knives?

How do you see the world?
Like a distant melody
or like juggled balls in a carnival?

Do you perceive the future through a tinted window glass?

Close your eyes.
Come awake.
Open them once more.




      Every aboriginal group has their own way of expressing religious beliefs. For the Ifugao people of Northern Philippines it is the Bul’ol aslo known as Rice gods. Usually carved in Narra wood, the Bul’ol is a consecrated image used in agricultural rituals. It manifests the natives’ belief in supernatural interventions and ancestor worship and thus, differentiates the Ifugaos from other indigenous groups that doesn’t have the kind of ritualistic system and body of native deities the Bul’ols represent. 

          However, like many artifacts and ethnic markers, the Bul’ol is loosing it’s purpose as an object of native ritual. What is retained is it’s value in the appreciation of indigenous art. 


Pewter repousse painted with black patina and mounted on wood (artist: Liza Ann Acevedo-Illagan)







Bul'ol carvings exhibited at ben cab museum 


The Indigenous People of the Philippines throughout Colonization

(How Majority-Minority Dichotomy Came to Be)


       Ehtnic discrimination issues in the Philippines are slowly fading into dust. I could say almost obsolete. But why is it that still, Indigenous People (IPs) never shed off their fierce sense of ethnic identity? Try debauching their culture and tradition and they will chew and spit you off and make sure you live a miserable life. (No pun intended)

       I remember the comedienne and TV actress Candy Pangilinan who joked “Akala niyo Igorot ako? Hindi ako Igorot, tao po ako! (You think I’m an Igorot? I’m not an Igorot, I’m human!)” This earned her Persona Non Grata declaration in the City of Baguio and a legion of angry natives in the summer of 2009.

       Why such sensitivity? This issue goes back into history. During the Spanish colonization the division between Filipinos was defined between the Christianized and the non-Christianized. When the Americans came it was strengthened deeper into Low-landers vs. Highlanders. Let us elaborate with the history further.

 Spanish Colonization Period (16th- 18th century)

       IPs resisted the colonization. How? Well if you live in the mountains, know the mountains like the back of your hands, and hunt heads for leisure then I’m pretty sure you will be left alone. In return, the Spaniards labelled them as Infieles (unfaithful), Remontados (people who refused Christianity and fled into the mountains), Salvajes (savage or wild). They were generally referred to as Tribus Indipindientes by Spanish chronicles.With the exception of the Moslems in the south and the IPs, the rest were then converted into Christianity. Clever Spaniards huh? Which better way to conquer a pagan than a sword and a cross.

       So it began. The Christian Filipino natives adapted to the life and ways of the colonizers. Now of course they also developed the mentality that they are different from the non-Christians.

       One distinct characteristic of Philippine History during the Spanish era is that there is very little written accounts regarding the Indigenous People. This strengthens historians’ beliefs that indeed, the IPs were simply left to thrive on their own lands during this period.

 American Colonization Period ( 19th century)

       If the Spaniard colonizers used fear and faith, the Americans used the better weapon. Education. They had allowed—no—provided a better life for the natives thru their humanitarian ways. They were able to gain entry into the mountains and into the hearts of the IPs.

       However, every colonizing country has a goal and that is always the acquisition of power. This time, the Americans were wiser. They set up a colonial bureau called the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes to undertake scientific and ethnographic research. The implicit political goal of course was to use the data to derive strategies for effective colonial subjugation and control. They called it the civilizing mission. Sounds hmm…What can I say. Bravo!

       The project highlighted the barbaric, the wild peoples, the uncivilized (Dean C. Worcester). Ah! There is that word. Uncivilized. In short “Tribes” replaced Salvajes and were used to justify American colonial pursuit in the Philippines.

        Let’s dig deeper.

        The “scientific expedition” of the bureau generated the data which eventually formed the corpus of knowledge for state legislation. For example, the encouragement of games like baseball had replaced head taking. Alright in that area I say I’d rather play baseball than go take somebody’s head off. Here’s a tricky one though. Examples include the studies on physical features of the Filipinos vs. Tribes. (Albert Jenks) Now that is an innocent scientific sociological and biological study you might say. But now it raised issues of who is fairer than who, which group are generally short, who are physically more attractive.

Here’s how Aetas and Negritos (one of IP groups) were described in June 1898 issue of the National Geographic:

 “Race of blacks of almost dwarfish statue, with flattened noses, thick lips, and closely curling hair.”

       There were also advanced notions of racial typologies. Which means the western civilization was used as a standard of cultural evolution.

       So what does all this have to do with issues of differences? You might ask. To simply put it, the American period heightened the ethnic differences among the Filipinos. They divided the natives, made them fight each other, to conquer the whole.

       Dean C. Worcester even claimed:

      Incapacity and inhumanity of Filipinos to govern over the non-Christian;

       “Insurmountable barrier” of hatred between “lowland Filipinos” and “non-Christians.”

Ahm. I’m not sure exactly what that first claim means but nevertheless, it sounds negative. The second claim however, I have a feeling that was a bit of exaggeration. But it’s Worcester. Of course his claims I’m sure had sufficient grounds.

        Always, there was a distinction. There was an imprinting of impression not just to the outside world but within the country itself that the Filipino people are not one. The IPs were concluded as inferior and the non-IP’s the superior simply because the IP’s does not meet the western standard of “civilization.”

       The good news is, times had changed.

      I thank the Lord I was born in this generation where ethnic discrimination is no longer a problem of the advancing society. Where my people are no longer called Salvajes or Uncivilized. Where my fellow Filipinos no longer would ask me if it’s true that I have tail and I like eating dog just because I’m an Igorot and that’s enough to consider me an outcast. Sure, derogatory connotations still exists but it’s no longer an issue of inferiority and superiority.

       Today the problem is no longer IP’s vs. non IP’s but urbanites vs. rural dwellers. Technology has become the standard of civilization. Ignorance becomes the basis of inferiority. Well I don’t have any issues with that.

       For as long as there wouldn’t be another Candy Pangilinan-like jokes, the Indigenous Groups continue to uphold their culture and tradition and wear their ethno-linguistic identities like a badge, nobody would take away their Indigenous rights, then all is well with history.



Primary Source of Information: Lectures of Dr. Leah Enkiwe-Abayao
Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines-Baguio
College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History

Photo by: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images AsiaPac