Identity crisis/humor-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, January 25, 2013
LABELS hurt when applied with derision and condescension. As one Black or African-American pointed out, he loves hearing his wife greeting him, “Good morning, my sweet Nigger.” It’s different, he says, when he’s on the job and a fellow worker acknowledges him with a sneer dripping with racial slur: “Hello there, Nigger!”
It’s in the pronunciation, intonation and inflection. It’s in the syllabic stress. “Igorot” is more acceptable. “Iggorot” is contemptuous.
Tagging hurts when it tends to encompass and to stereotype. When he was mayor of Sagada, Mt. Province, former Presidential Assistant Thomas Champag” Killip was suddenly swamped one morning by text messages demanding him to rectify a national news headline. It was about the arrest of suspected robbery gang members who were poking their guns on tourists along the Halsema National Highway, also known as the Mountain Trail.
The news headline and story identified them as the “Sagada-Kalinga Gang.” The label was coined by the police who tagged them as such when the suspects were presented to the media.
Killip verified and then called for a press conference at the Mandarin Restaurant along Session Road. There, he clarified that while the suspected gang leader was born in Sagada, he never grew up there. As the other suspects were born in Kalinga, the police tagged them collectively as the “Sagada-Kalinga Gang.”
The Baguio media took the police report hook, line and sinker. They used the police-issued tag in their news dispatches to the national papers. It’s as unfair and unwarranted – and embarrassing to Igorots like me. I shrink each time I read or hear a news report that identifies suspects in an anti-marijuana buy-bust operation or robbery case as “Igorots.” Curiously, the tagging does not apply when the culprits are Tagalogs or Manilenos.
Then Chief Superintendent Victor Luga had just assumed command of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera when he learned of the tagging committed before his assignment here. An officer and a gentleman, he issued a public apology.
I recall that time a high school principal approached me after she visited Kiangan, the old capital of Ifugao province. She said it was a surprise to find the place so clean, free from red beetle nut chew spittle, contrary to what she thought. She apologized, perhaps knowing I’m her fellow Igorot who traces his roots to Hungduan, Ifugao.
The debate lingers on whether we, the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera mountain range, should collectively call ourselves and be called by others as “Igorots”. Despite its derisive connotation stressed by its bastardized pronunciation as “Iggorot”, it means “one from the mountains.”
The negative derivatives of “Igorot” were borne out of the equally lingering ignorance of those who do not know us. Some of us up here in the Cordillera are as guilty as those who continue to believe – and mouth – that we are descendants of an inferior race (“slight,” according to a former cabinet secretary), born with tails and who climbed down from their tree abodes only recently.
In the same token, some of us Filipinos still swear by our ignorance that some women from Capiz are of the “manananggal” type who detach themselves from the waist up and, with their bat wings and fangs, fly out against a partly cloudy sky on a moon-lit night, in search of blood to suck.
Some of us still attempt to detach and distance themselves from the term “Igorot” as our collective identity as indigenous peoples of the Cordillera. Despite its connotation of subjugation, however, we don’t mind being called “Filipinos,” after King Philip of Spain at the time his army colonized these islands in his name.
Perhaps, our denial of being Igorot and our acceptance of being Filipinos are both reflective of our colonial mentality or, as wags would have it, our mental coloniality.
The least we can do is to turn the tables when the occasion of ignorance presents itself. That’s what Igorot anthropologist Ike Picpican did that time some students from the tropical flatlands visited the St. Louis University Museum of which he’s the curator.
The students were instantly amused seeing some wooden spoons and ladles among the items on display. Their giggles broke into hearty laughter when one quipped in wonder, “Ang laki siguro ang bunganga ng mga Igorot, ano?”
“Bakit wala ba kayong nakitang ganyan sa bayan n’yo,” Ike asked after approaching them.
“Wala kayong nakitang kutsara ng mga ninuno n’yo sa museum n’yo?”
“Wala, sir, dahil wala kaming museum.”
“Meron naman siguro. Alangan namang hindi gumamit ng kutsara ang mga ninuno n’yo.”
Had I been there, I would have asked: “Tanga-saan by kayo kasi?” - (e-mail:email@example.com for comments)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 26, 2013.