A dash of Ifugao humor

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, March 2, 2012


(This revisit of a piece way back was triggered by an e-mail ribbing from Igorot Global Organization (IGO) president Ceasar Castro who dropped what he was doing to welcome me last October. He wondered what IGO would have in return for my sharing Ifugao jokes at its 9th International Igorot Consultation come April at the Baguio Country Club. The retelling is for all of you out there - Igorots and Cordillerans by birth, blood, marriage, sentiment, choice and heart - who reconnected recently, provoking a parody of William Bloyd’s line: There are places in the heart which do not yet exist, into which humor enters to give them existence.)

INDIGENOUS wisdom and knowledge. Respect for the environment and understanding of sustainability. Thorough grasp of landscape engineering. Innovation, creativity, sheer industry, clear vision, mission, goals, objectives and targets.

Ecological and management gobbledygook may help you understand how in the world the ancient Ifugaos could have carved their magnificent and extensive rice terraces out of whole mountainsides. Still, keep these terms to yourself, as development jargon won’t work in the present efforts to restore the crumbling terraces that are included in the Endangered Category of the World Heritage List.

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Exclude forced labor as a strength in your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Slavery was never part of Ifugao history and culture. Wit and humor, as much as betel nut chewing, are.

Include the element of laughter and your hypothesis will be on the right track. It's no joke, especially if you're dead serious and at your wit's end figuring out how they were able to do it, sans iron implements, much less a bulldozer.

If shared laughter is off-tangent, what else could have sustained and inspired our Ifugao forebears during the tedious, cumbersome, protracted and back-breaking toil of leveling and stonewalling the terraces?

If not humor, what pushed them on to build the upland paddies that, we're told yet daunted to verify on the ground, would go halfway around the world if placed end to end?

Ask any Cordilleran about the Ifugao's natural wit and inclination or addiction to humor and laughter. They'll readily dish out a sampling to perk up your day.

Ifugao jokes are aplenty and continue to evolve, such that amusing anecdotes from other tribes are often mistaken, if not deliberately introduced as Ifugao in character and origin. Sharing a joke at the expense of the Ifugao character is safer, as Ifugaos relish jokes at their expense.

Even one-liners are enough signs and proof of the preponderance of wit and humor in the Ifugao mind.

This dawned on the late Baguio journalist Jose "Peppot" Ilagan and me while we were trying to unwind after conducting a basic writing workshop for kids in Lagawe, the capital town of Ifugao province.

We met provincial prosecutor Joseph Tumapang, who generously treated us to rounds of beer at his sister's restaurant near the provincial Capitol. After several bottles, the host turned serious and complained aloud that many of his lawyer friends in Baguio always expect a joke every time they see an Ifugao.

To avoid a clash over the issue, Peppot excused himself into the comfort room. He came out visibly relieved as he was grinning ear-to-ear. Fiscal Tumapang demanded to know what was funny.

“I just found there's only one comfort room here, and I like the explanation. From the door, I looked up and read the sign: 'He or she but not together.'

The same advisory is posted on the bathroom doors of the youth hostel in Kiangan,the former capital town of Ifugao where natives will tell you theirs is the seat of Ifugao culture.

Later, along the Lagawe highway, Peppot spotted a hairdresser's salon sign. Notwithstanding his receding hairline, he insisted on posing for a photograph beside the shop's trade name so he could mail the print to then President Fidel Ramos. It read: "Hair 2000."

A gasoline station in Banaue had no restroom. Instead of building one, the management put out a positive sign to discourage male motorists from answering the call of nature upon the establishment wall. It read: "Only Dogs May Urinate Here."

Amused seeing me taking a photo of the sign, a Banaue native narrated that time another Ifugao was rushed to empty his bladder on the wall. As it is the practise of boys, he looked up and saw the sign. Too late. So he raised his left foot and finished his personal business.

Like most jokes, Ifugao humor is better told than read, considering the impact of animated narration. Ifugao anecdotes are most effective, too, when told when told in the local dialect, diction and intonation. Given the nuances of language, something is always lost in the translation.

Perhaps translating the following dialogues in Ilocano would help readers get the drift:

An old man halted a Baguio-bound bus in Kiangan. The conductor peered out of the door and politely asked, "Papanan yo, ama [Where are you going, old man]?"

The old man shook his head, pointed to the door and replied, "Ania dayta nga saludsod? Dita uneg ti bus mo, ania pay ngay koma ti papanak; isu ngarud nga pinarak [What question is that? Inside your bus, where else? Precisely that’s why I flagged it down]."

He sat beside another Ifugao who was having a severe attack of hiccups. Wanting to help, he gave his seatmate shock treatment - a hard slap on the back. It worked, but the impact drew anger from the seatmate who complained to a policeman among the passengers.

"Apay kano nga sinipat mo ti katugaw mo? (Why did you slap your seatmate?)," the officer asked the old man.

"Sinipat ko a, apo pulit, ta kumittab mit (I had to slap him, Mr. Officer, because he was trying to bite me)."

Along the way, another Ifugao passenger handed a bill to the conductor and waited for his fare change. "Naggapuan na daytoy [Where from]?" The conductor inquired. "Kaniak [From me]," the passenger retorted. "Papanan na [Where to]?" The conductor asked. "Kaniam [To you]."

Upon arrival in Baguio, the Kiangan patriarch went to Burnham Park for his betel nut chew. A policeman saw him spit on the ground and approached. The Ifugao stood up and placed his left foot on the red spittle. The cop ordered him to raise his foot. The old man raised his right. When the cop told him to lift the other foot, he pointed out the obvious: "Mr. Officer, you know I can't lift both feet or else I'll fall down."

Ignoring the need for a cutting permit, an Ifugao woodcarver felled a huge tree, attracting a forest guard who rushed to investigate. "Apay nga pinukan mo daytoy kayo [Why did you cut this tree]?," the guard demanded. Matter-of-factly, the carver answered, "Pinukan ko a ta saan ko ngarud nga maparut [I cut it because I can't pull it out of the ground]."

"Adda kadi permisom, wenno kasuratan nga mabalin mo nga pukanen [Do you have permission or a document allowing you to fell it]?," the irate guard inquired. "Awan, ngem pinukan ko ta inmulak daytoy [None, but I cut it because I planted it.]"

"Adda papeles mo nga mangpaneknek nga mulam [Do you have papers to prove you planted it]?" "Awan, ngem ammok mulak daytoy ta nag-tubo. Adda kadi inmula yon nga taga-gobyerno nga nagtubo [None, but I know I planted this because it grew. Have you in government ever planted anything that grew]?"

Exasperated, the forest guard shouted in the vernacular, "Don't be a smart aleck; talk sensibly or else I'll arrest you." Unperturbed, the Ifugao retorted, "Are you angry? If so, wait while I set on this chainsaw so you can talk with it."

His anger turning to fear, the poor guard shifted to friendly mode. "Ok, I'll not book you anymore. Let's be friends, instead. Is your water potable? Can I drink it?" The logger offered his jug and, with the straight face, told his new friend, "You can even chew it, if that's what you want."

Having had too much to drink, an Ifugao youth fell asleep on the roadside while on his way home one evening. A policeman on the beat came to check, pointing his flashlight directly to the teener's face, waking him up.

"Ni, apay ngay bimmaba ti bulan? (Oh, why did the moon came down?), "the boy uttered in disbelief, prompting the cop to ask if he was drunk. The boy swore he was sober.

"No saan ka nga nabartek, am-ammo dak? (If you're not drunk, do you know me?)"

"Wen, sel, sika ni apo pulit. S’yak ngay, sel, am-ammodak? (Yes, sir, you're a police officer. How about me, sir, do you know me?)"

"Saan! (No!)”.

"Di sika ngalud ti nabaltik (Then you're the one who's drunk)," the boy concluded.

E-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 03, 2012.

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