Tibaldo: Ethnography and cultural sensitivity

IN MY years as a practicing member of the so-called fourth estate, I have encountered many learning experiences relating to my field coverages using various cameras and working gears. Most memorable is when I was thrown stones by an elderly woman who shouted and drove me away because she probably thought that I was an engineer surveying her land claim when in fact I was only filming rock formations around Baguio’s outskirts. The sight of a metallic 8mm movie camera mounted on a tripod and a carrying case was I guess the reason why I was unwelcome that time. Well, that was in 1983.

In 1995, the late Peppot Ilagan and I were doing a video documentary about Sagada as the country’s First Peace Zone and we spent days filming interviews, interacting with the village folks and observing customary practices. I needed to return to Baguio at a time when a Begnas, a sacred ritual for good harvest was about to happen. Luckily, a member of our Cordillera News Agency team arrived and as the elders of Sagada’s Dap-ay or village hall performs the rituals, they noticed my replacement taking shots at them from a distance. Because of the sacredness of the ritual being performed and the lack of prior consent on his pictorial coverage, our team member was nicely approached by one of elders and told to stop his act. Because of his intrusion to a ritual that was supposed to be solemn and sacred, he was restrained and made to pay a fine or “multa” in the form of bottles of gin for offering.

Another memorable coverage relating to customary practices happened sometime in 1998 when the legendary Benguet mummy Apo Anno was finally brought home to his original resting place in Nabalikong, Buguias from the National Museum where Anno laid for almost 18 years. Prior to his return, my wife Helen who heads the Philippine Information Agency consulted Ike Picpican among several experts on Benguet culture and the later came up with several research based rules to follow. Aside from the standard museum rule not to use flash photography so as not to effect certain radiation, newsmen are not supposed to sneeze. As a sign of respect and courtesy, then Philippine Star Chief Photographer Val Rodriguez, even offered a shot of brandy while verbally asking permission from Apo Anno to take pictures of his tattooed and preserved carcass. While rituals were being performed in Sitio Nabalikong, we were restrained from taking alcohol or engaging in a merrymaking activities. When everything has been set and done following customary practices and Apo Anno’s cave was finally sealed and padlocked, we again returned to the site forty days after to have some kind of a closure ritual which is commonly practiced to a recently departed relative or loved ones. That was also a form of debriefing to us covering news reporters who also needed to internalize and fully understand Cordillera culture.

Following the sad helicopter mishap of a Bell 412 aircraft that crashed in Barangay Tawangan, Kabayan, Benguet carrying Press Undersecretary Jose Capadocia and six others in 2009, Ariel Arcaina of PIA-Ifugao was among the first incident responders and he was able to send me footages he took of the crash site. I later heard that Ariel performed a cleansing rites commonly referred to as “Daw-es” because he was witness to a sad incident involving death. As a cleansing ritual, Daw-es is not only done to help the departed prepare for their new journey but also for the loved ones left behind. When typhoon Pepeng battered the province of Benguet in October 2009 and caused a massive landslide in Sitio Little Kibungan killing about 77 residents, my daughter and I were among the first to see the place before it became a big news nationwide. Months after, when all bodies were recovered and given appropriate burial rites, the volunteers, rescuers and media practitioners who covered the incident had a “Daw-es” cleansing rite at the site. Despite the heavy feeling of having witnessed the sufferings and death of town mates, the ritual officiated by an elder gave us the feeling of relief that after all, ones destiny is in accordance to one’s fate and belief.

Now that social media has taken the world by a storm and almost everyone has access to digital recording for both images and sound, things seems great however, some may need to understand people’s culture and customary practices before uploading and sharing to others sensitive matters such as tagging, branding and annotating specific Cordillera. With the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA)’s adoption of “free and prior informed consent” (FPIC) as a means to protect indigenous rights and interests, due recognition and regard must be given not only to the physical environment but the total environment including the spiritual and cultural bonds to the areas. More of this in succeeding column.

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