From village republics to "each his own"

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, April 14, 2014


THE village republic best describes the kind of loose governance that existed in these mountains, long before the days of colonization.

The village then was comprised of a clan, a union of families intermarried with each other. This was not an anomaly but mainly a function of terrain, isolation, survival and defense. People functioned for and in behalf of family or the clan and its need for survival.

Those mores survive even today. If you visit a remnant village of those times, in the interior of the Cordillera, it should not be a surprise to discover that most of the members are interrelated to each other and they continue to adhere to clan or tribal traditions.

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Tribal and clan affections are deep in the village. Ask a man or woman about his relations (not the city-bred or one from the "layasan" or born and grew outside of the village) and she or he may ignore you. You are asking your host to establish the village family tree - how each member relates to all. Depending on tribe affiliations, most of the members are counted as "tun-od," "tapi," or "ib-a," all denoting blood relationship. In Ifugao, one finds out his or her relationship to another, when the mumbaki(s) gather in a house to chant during planting and harvest festivals. The chants weave one individual to family and families covering a wide piece of land.

From clans, that relationship extends to tribal marriages, which is still part of the norm. Intertribal marriages did happen even if couples had to overcome relationship adjustments in their individual and tribal ways.

Governance in the village republic follows different structures among the Cordillera tribes. Generally, family and relationship loyalties mark the character of village governance in the hands of elders. These are old folks occupying prominence in the village out of their proven courage and leadership prowess, knowledge and experience, and credibility in advancing collective causes and interests.

The Cordillera's "village republics" to me were self-reliant and strong where elders and members cared for each other. The elders are the keepers of the village memory, its customs and traditions. They engaged the village daily wherever their opinions are consulted and during traditional community gatherings throughout the year. Village and individual survival are integrated, that is why they talk and make collective decisions, including when to plant and harvest crops. Every child born in the village is an elder.

The times have changed indeed. The "village republics" of these mountains, in their various shapes and forms, held fort for a time and eventually disappeared. Village governance under the Philippine Republic has taken over. Politicians, instead of family elders, in a chain and levels of command from Manila to the provinces, municipalities and barangays are in-charge of governance. This is a good development except that we lost that very essence of what makes us mountain men and women, the "we" of our ways of existence and survival. There is a great difference there, you see. The real force of life in the village is divisive politics and bought loyalties. Traditions and precepts, collegial outputs of family elders are not primary references in the stewardship of community life and its resources.

The times have changed too in the spiritual life of our "villages." The mix of animistic-ancestral reverence and worship of a supreme being called "Kabunian," was supplanted by sectarian ways and "truths." Today, one finds more than a dozen religious sects operating in a village. Today a family in a village follows a "to each his own truth and kind of worship during Sundays."

There was a time when these mountains was reckoned in the minds of its inhabitants as "Montanosa" who also interpreted it as BIBAK, still a reference to who they are as mountain folks, who beat the same gongs and other musical instruments. In those days, they can dance their kin tribes' dances and sing their chants together. It was an evolving "oneness" out of diversity, not the other way around, where the emphasis is on the differences with a pinch of hatred, a traitorous national and local agenda that degrades its own character. It does not challenge and builds but makes its people subservient to lesser aspirations.

Evolved, nurtured, and developed in the crib of our rugged terrains, characteristically "Cordillera" contribution to Filipino nationhood - the Spartan ways of our isolated village republics are but fading shadows in our memories. Well, as the times have changed, there may be as many Cordillera now as its population of 1,616,867 (2010 data), living in the hills, mountains, and vales (not yet counted) of its terrains. One singularity remains remain to be born for as long as we live in these mountains. I pick it out from the "village republics" of the ancients and the changes that happened over time. It is time we build together as mountain men and women, respecting, acting and living in the integrated nature of our environment. Here, "to each his own" ultimately leaves a legacy of shame and embarrassment - the homeland left to ruins and decadence. In these mountains, one individual, native or foreigner, family, clan or tribe, can no longer do their own thing without serious consequences on the lives of others. Is it now just geography in Northern Luzon, from "village republics" to each his own?

It is the Cordillera, an unread poem. Still ancient and forever a present home that continues to harness its generations of peoples to do the unthinkable in their time. To be elder heroes to the next, for we are yet evolving, kinsmen-and-women together, people of the mountains, one in many expressions.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 15, 2014.

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