From the Archives 1999



An Appeal For Understanding

by Lambert Sagalla

With the advent of the Igorot Quarterly (IQ), the Igorot International Consultation (IIC) and the newly formed Igorot Global Organization – USA (IGO-USA), apprehensions are being raised as to what are the real motives behind these endeavors. These apprehensions are getting more intense sparking heated debates in the internet (bibaknets), in BIBAK gatherings, and in the preparatory work groups for IIC-3 in Baguio in the year 2000 including the just concluded Planning Committee Meeting in Vancouver Canada.

Foremost among these apprehensions is that, naming these organizations Igorot is divisive in the sense that the term Igorot applies only to the natives of Benguet and Mountain Province. Majority of Ifugaos, Kalingas, Apayaos, other constituents of tribal communities and lowland immigrants to said communities refuse to be associated with the name Igorot. They are proud peoples and would like to raise high the names of their respective provinces and/or indigenous origins. Certainly, they do not also want to be identified with a name which, in many instances, had been the object of derogatory stereotyping.

We could not fault the majority of Ifugaos, Kalingas, Apayaos and other constituents of tribal communities in the Philippine Cordilleras as well as lowland immigrants for their refusal to be associated with the name “Igorot”, because they do not deserve the derogatory references to that name. Likewise, because of these negative stereotyping we can not also blame a few from Benguet who claim that the name Igorot applies only to the natives of Mountain Province; and those from the Mountain Province who would rather discard their Igorot identity. [Ay apo, dakayo gamin nga ka-ka-iliak nga aglim-limus, isardeng yo man gamin nga ag limlimus nu kaba-elan yo pay la-eng nga agtrabaho, ta kaba-ba-in.]

Thus, they argue that why don't we change the name "Igorot International Consultation" to "BIBAK International Consultation" or "Cordillera International Consultation" - names which are more inclusive as against the name Igorot which is exclusive and divisive? Why don't we change the name "Igorot Quarterly" into "BIBAK Quarterly"? Why don’t we rename the "Igorot Global Organization" into "BIBAK Global Organization" or Cordillera Global Organization?

These questions have been dissected to the bone and debated with intense passion during IIC-1 in West Covina, California; during IIC-2 in Arlington, West Virginia; during the Planning Commission Meeting in Vancouver, Canada; and I am sure the debate will continue during IIC-3 and beyond. Thus far the name Igorot has endured during the first two IICs and in the Vancouver meeting. Who knows what will happen in IIC-3 and beyond?

Whatever the future holds, let it be known that the democratic process has been observed in the past and should be encouraged to dictate our future course of actions. Perhaps the previous IIC meetings have been dominated by proponents of the name Igorot, but there are still future consultations and perhaps the sheer logic of the reasoning of those who would like to change the name Igorot with Cordillera or BIBAK will prevail in the future.

It should be pointed out that there are many Igorots who have argued passionately in favor of the inclusion of the name “Cordillera” in the titles of IIC and IGO. These include our very own Igorot Mayor of Baguio, Mayor Mauricio Domogan; former Igorota Mayor of La Trinidad - Mayor Edna Tabanda; and the head of the Department (or Commission?) for Indigenous Communities – the Igorot Atty. David Daoas. Thus, let us continue to encourage all to ventilate their arguments for or against the name Igorot and respect the decision of anybody to reject or embrace the name.

With that, let me explain the rationale why many of us support the proponents of the name "Igorot" in the Igorot Quarterly, the Igorot International Consultation and the Igorot Global Organization.
The proponents of the name Igorot in the IQ, IIC and IGO believe that underlying all the rationalizations and posturing for discarding the name Igorot in said organizations are the negative connotations that have come to be associated with the name Igorot. Foremost among these are: beggars (Igorot nagpapalimus), dirty (para kang Igorot, hindi naliligo), black (ang Igorot ay ma-itim), pangit (ugly), “ para kang Igorot na walang pinagaralan” you are like an Igorot - uneducated, and other negative stereotyping.

Like the majority of the Kalingas, Ifugaos, Apayaos, Abrans/Tinguians, other indigenous inhabitants of the Philippine Cordilleras, and immigrants to that mountain range, the proponents and followers of the IQ, IIC and IGO also believe that they do not deserve such derogatory stereotyping. Instead, however, of discarding their Igorot identity, they have opted to stand by the name and defy such derogatory stereotyping.

Please do not misinterpret such defiance as an imposition of the name Igorot on all inhabitants of the Philippine Cordilleras. The proponents of the name Igorot in the title of the IQ, IIC and IGO have repeatedly explained that they respect the decision of anybody to be identified with whatever ethnic origin they represent and will not force anybody to join or support the IQ, IIC and IGO. Thus, membership to these endeavors have been made purely voluntary and open to all, regardless of ethnic origin, race, color, creed, political persuasion, age or sex.

All what the proponents of the name Igorot would like to achieve is to highlight the name Igorot in these humanitarian endeavors as a means of exorcising or cleansing the word “Igorot” of its negative connotations. Through the activities and/or projects of these humanitarian endeavors, we hope to show the world, that not all Igorots are beggars; that Igorots can also be educated; that they have become civilized; that they have had significant contribution to the defense of Philippine democracy and to nation building; and that they are also capable of being loved and reciprocating love.

The insistence on maintaining the word "Igorot", by its proponents, in the name of the IQ, IIC and IGO, is because of the fear that if we allow the negative stereotyping of the name Igorot unchallenged, the Igorot people will continue to be a butt of jokes, ridiculed, derided, rejected and/or discriminated against. Even the unborn Igorot will be adversely affected. "Ha-an pay nga na-iyanak ket ma-uy-uyawen, makat-katawa-an", “ma-irurumen”. It is the fervent hope of the proponents of the name “Igorot” in the title of the IQ, IIC and IGO to prevent this from happening for the sake of our children and children’s children.

At this juncture, I can anticipate what are in the minds of those who do not like to be called Igorots. I can also read your lips. "Ket problema yo dayta ah nga Igorots. Apay ngay inayon you dakami iti problema yo." “Bakit ninyo kami idamay sa problema na wala kaming kasalanan”. That is your problem, Igorots. Why do you include us, non-Igorots, in problems not of our own makings?

My friends, our determination to exorcise the word “Igorot” of its negative connotations stems not only from our love of the Igorot, but because we dearly love all of you our indigenous brothers and sisters of the Philippine Cordilleras – the Ifugaos, the Kalingas, the Abrans/Tinguians, the Apayaos, and other indigenous people - as well as lowland immigrants to that mountain range.

We want to cleanse the word “Igorot” from its negative connotations so that when you, my friends, are mistaken as an Igorot, it will not be an insult, a derogatory remark. We want to project a better image of the term Igorot so that when you are mistakenly called an Igorot you will not want to hit the guy in the face who called you an Igorot, but to just smile it off as you would, have you been mistakenly called a Chinese, a Japanese, an Indonesian or a Malay.

We want to cleanse the word Igorot of its negative connotations in the hope that non-Igorots when bestowed the name Igorot, would consider it an honor as I would feel honored if I were to be referred to as a Kalinga, an Ifugao, an Abran/Tinguian, an Apayao or other names of indigenous communities in the Philippine Cordillera mountain range.
For as much as we would like to identify you, at all times, by the name of the province or village where you come from, you can easily be mistaken as an Igorot by the outside world (including lowland Philippines). Why?

Since the conquest of Luzon by the Spaniards, the non-Christian tribes of the Cordillera Mountain range of Northern Luzon were associated with the name “Igolot”, “ygollote”, or “Igorot” by the outside world (including Philippine Lowlanders). The term “Igorot” or its earlier variants means mountain dweller. Most likely, the name became handy in anthropological, cultural and/or geography studies as well as for purposes of missionary, military, political and/or civil service administration.

It is true, many of our indigenous forefathers, perhaps even to this day, never heard of the name Igorot. Nor they ever experienced being called Igorots. But unknown to them, books, reports, studies, movies, other print, motion and broadcast media, were being made referring to all of us tribal communities of the Philippine Cordilleras as Igorots.

The following are a few examples.
“(The Ifugaos were called Igorots by the Spaniards from the time they first fought their way into Kiangan in the 1750’s till the great student of their religion and customs, Father Juan Villaverde, died in 1897; and as late as 1907, they were called not only Igorots but “true Igorots” by no less an authority than the late Dr. H. Otley Beyer, who married one of them and was buried with full honors of traditional Ifugao custom in 1966”[2].

“In summary, the following can be said about the word Igorot. It is an indigenous Filipino word originally meaning “mountaineer”. It appeared in the earliest records of the conquest of Luzon, and by 1700 it was applied by the early Spaniards to pagans living in the mountains of the present provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Benguet, Bontok and Ifugao, and extended to Apayao in the 1770’s and Kalinga in the 1880’s”[3]

Many of you can also recall the movies entitled “Igorota” and “The Flight of the Sparrow, the settings of which were mostly in Ifugao. These movies projected an image of a people similar in cultural practices - g-stringed, half naked, rice terracing, gangsa-beating, rice wine drinking, inhabitants of the Cordillera Mountain Range of Northern Luzon – which they generally referred to as Igorots. Such movies have been shown throughout the length and breadth of the Philippine Archipelago and even in foreign shores.

When the Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations, Carlos P Romulo, wrote in his book “Mother America, A Living Story of Democracy” that Igorots were not Filipinos, he was referring to the indigenous, pagan and culturally backward tribes of the old Mountain Province. The old Mountain Province was composed of Bontoc, Ifugao, Benguet, Apayao, and Kalinga. School textbooks referred to inhabitants of the old Mountain Province as Igorots.

The acronym BIBAK had always been associated to the old Mountain Province and the name Igorot. Thus, BIBAK students rose as a group to protest against Romulo’s statement that Igorots were not Filipinos.
So my friends, while we continued to call ourselves by the name of the village or province where we come from, the outside world (including lowland Philippines) have bestowed on all of us the word Igorot by the fact that we were all mountain dwellers sharing a common geography and having similar customs and traditions.

While the “Igorot” historical reference to all indigenous mountain people of Northern Luzon may have been a misnomer as illustrious Ifugaos and Kalingas would claim, historical accounts, text books, research papers and other print media as well as motion pictures on Igorot customs, traditions and culture may have been widely publicized to a point such that the mere mention or display of rice terraces, tribal dances, “wanes”, tapis, rice-wine drinking, beetle nut chewing and once-upon-a-time head hunting practices were more often than not immediately associated with the name Igorot.

Thus, my friends, unless you totally discard and forget your tribal dances, native attires, customs and traditions you can easily be mistaken as Igorots. Therefore, would it not be in line with the objective to hold in reverence your honored past, by helping in efforts to exorcise the word Igorot of its negative connotations? Would it not be to your best interest to support the IQ, IIC and IGO?
We can also agree that henceforth, we shall never call those who do not want to be called Igorots as Igorots. This, however, poses some serious difficulties.

Firstly, there are quite a number of Ifugaos, Kalingas, Apayaos, Abrans/Tinguians and other inhabitants of indigenous communities in the Philippine Cordilleras who do not mind being called Igorots and are even ready willing and able to defend their Igorot identity. We will then need to have a census to particularly identify those who do not want to be called Igorots and those who do not mind being identified as Igorots.

Secondly, countless Bontoc and Benguet Igorots have migrated to Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, and other parts of the Philippine Cordilleras and intermarried with the people therein. The same is true of many Kalingas, Ifugaos, Apayaos, Abrans/Tinguians, other cultural minorities of the Philippine Cordilleras and Filipino lowlanders. They have migrated to other places and intermarried with Bontoc and Benguet Igorots. What then shall we call the offspring of such inter-ethnic marriages? Will you then opt to disown such offspring if they have Igorot blood?

Some of these children, including unborn children, could be your very own flesh and blood. For nobody can really plan and dictate to what ethnic tribe his/her child or grandchild should not marry into. Thus, would it not be better to join the crusade of exorcising the word Igorot of its negative connotations, making it much easier to accept children of mixed (Igorot and non-Igorot) parentage into your respective families? Would it not be better to support the objective of the IQ, IIC and IGO to cleanse the word Igorot of its derogatory references?

Rest assured that the noble and rich traditions and culture of the Ifugaos, Kalingas, Abrans/Tinguians, Apayaos and other ethnic tribes of the Philippine Cordilleras will be highlighted in the functions and/or activities of the IQ, IIC and IGO.

Our brothers and sisters from the different ethnic communities of the Philippine Cordilleras, will it not serve your noble and proud traditions to come to the assistance of a people trying to improve themselves and rise above current prejudice, ridicule and discrimination against their kin? Encouraging Igorots to improve themselves and try to be their best in whatever endeavor and in whatever community they are in, is all what the IQ, IIC and IGO seeks to promote.

To our lowland brothers and sisters, is it not in consonance with the ideals of your educational attainments and religious upbringings to help a people seeking respectability through universally accepted norms of conduct? Education, hard work, cooperation and unity are among the ideals being encouraged by the IQ, IIC and IGO in the quest for gaining respectability for the Igorot people.

Meantime we encourage and congratulate the efforts of ethnic groups such as the Ifugaos and the Kalingas who have come out with their own organizations. Your success will be our success. As you can be easily mistaken as Igorots, we can also be easily mistaken as Ifugaos, Kalingas and other ethnic groups. You wear similar attires as Igorots, you beat and dance with the gongs as Igorots do, you practice rice terracing as Igorots do, and reside in the same geographic locations – the Philippine Cordillera - as Igorots do.

At this point, may I relate a true story. After one of the Philippine Independence day parades in Manhattan, New York, where the BIBAK contingent took part and became the crowd favorite, a group of Filipino lowlanders asked where we came from. I answered proudly “kami po ay Igorots”. They answered back, “ah tiga Ifugao”. I again shouted “kami po ay Igorote”. Again they answered back, ah tiga Ifugao.

My friends, whether you like it or not, our peoples’ destinies are closely intertwined. The success of any organization initiated for the betterment of our respective provinces or ethnic origins will be a significant factor in our quest for the overall progress of the descendants, relatives and friends of the rice-terracing, gangsa-beating, rice-wine-drinking, beetle-nut chewing, and once-upon-a-time head hunting tribal communities of Northern Luzon.
With more ethnic organizations formed such as those of the Ifugaos and the Kalingas, the more people will be actively involved in the mobilization of resources for the benefit of our closely related indigenous people.

The more ethnic organizations formed, the more hinterland communities of the Philippine Cordilleras will, hopefully, become beneficiaries of labors of love.

And if it is only for having aroused Northern Luzon ethnic pride, challenging as many ethnic leaders – overseas and back home - to wake up and harness their leadership and other talents for the benefit of their respective tribal communities, then the IQ, IIC and the IGO will not have been formed in vain.

The IQ, IIC and the IGO are all labors of love. Love for a people whose rich natural resources, customs and traditions as well as manpower resources have contributed so much to Philippine nation building but has not yet gained the respect that they deserve.

Instead of citing the Igorots for their countless sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives in defense of Philippine Democracy – during World War II, the hukbalahap and Muslim insurgencies, not to mention the Korean and Vietnam wars – many of our Filipino countrymen, would rather over look that kind of sacrifice and instead picture the Igorots as beggars.

Instead of sympathizing with the Igorots whose mineral, timber, agricultural, and water resources have been exploited for the sake of national progress, not a few of our country men would rather overlook such contributions of Igorot patrimony to nation building and instead discriminate against the Igorots.

Instead of projecting a better image of the Igorots to accelerate their integration into the mainstream of Philippine society, not a few Filipinos would rather alienate the Igorots by perpetuating derogatory stereotyping against them.

Instead of standing by and defending their people, not a few Igorot sons and daughters have succumbed to the pressure of derogatory Igorot stereotyping and would rather discard their Igorot identity.

These, among others, is what the IQ, IIC and IGO would like to address through labors of love hoping that in time, the Igorots will become a respectable segment of the indigenous tribes of Northern Luzon and in mainstream Philippine society.

For sad to say, it is only from our Filipino countrymen and in our very own indigenous tribal communities in Northern Luzon where discrimination against Igorots often times rear its ugly head and can easily proliferate and become disruptive to regional and national development efforts if left unchallenged.

I invite everybody to support the IQ, IIC and the IGO in the crusade for uplifting the Igorots, because someway, somehow, sometime, somewhere, you will be associated with an Igorot either through your church, workplace, school, marriage, BIBAK and the like. Be advised, that even the lowly Igorot can extend a helping hand even as I appeal to everybody to extend the lowly Igorot a helping hand.

In the final analysis, the IQ, IIC and IGO are not divisive endeavors or organizations as many of you fear. Instead, the IQ, IIC and IGO are undertakings dedicated to the proposition that a true and enduring unity - among the diverse tribal communities of Northern Luzon, with mainstream Philippine society and with the rest of the world - can only be achieved through respect and love for each other.

So, once again, once more, for the second twice, I invite all of you to consider joining/supporting the IQ, IIC and IGO. You will be surprised to see that the current leaders, members and/or supporters of these endeavors come from different ethnic communities of Northern Luzon, immigrants to those places, as well as foreigners. All welcome you regardless of ethnic origin, color of skin, race, nationality, religious belief, political persuasion, sex, age and/or educational attainment.

Thank you and good evening to all of you.

Lambert Sagalla

[1] This was supposed to be a speech to be delivered by Maltreb Aslagal (aka, Lambert Sagalla) during the BIBAK-NE General Assembly and Halloween Party on October 30, 1999 to appraise the members on the great debate as to the whys and whereofs behind the word Igorot in the name of the IQ, IIC and IGO. The speech was in lieu of a report on the accomplishments of BIBAK-NE’s Research and Documentation Committee for 1999. Aware of the length of the speech and the short time (two minutes) allotted for committee reports, Maltreb Aslagal thought it best to just print and distribute the same.

[2] William Henry Scott, Of Igorots and Independence, ERA, Baguio City, 1993, p. 48.

[3] Ibid., p. 70.


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