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]