Olsim: The Ibaloy Today


OUR national tourism policy is more than numbers that help generate employment and pump the economy but also includes the preservation of culture and heritage.

As government workers who are dealing with these issues, we are often invited to related conferences as part of our work. One of the most memorable, perhaps, is the Ibaloy Studies Conference entitled “The Ibaloy Today” which was organized by UP (University of the Philippines)-Baguio a couple of years ago.

I remember that on the said event, I was compelled to stand up and address the room’s white elephant after many confusing queries pertaining to my generation.

“How do we, the multi-cultural children- the one-halves, and one fourths, address our identity? What is the implication of being a multi-cultural child in the Ibaloy’s advocacy of cultural preservation?” I nervously rose. After I let “the” question out, the speaker, Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, heaved a sigh not knowing that the inquisitive person in front of her is just one of the many babies she ushered to this world via caesarian section.

Dr. Cabato’s story of the “vanishing Ibaloys of Baguio City” echoes the many fears of the Ibaloys in this age – the displacing of its people, the fading of its culture, and the disappearance of its identity.

“That is indeed a very difficult question” she continued. The questions actually broke the room - each participant looking side and up, asking the ceiling the same thing.

There was no real answer.

Earlier before that, messages were given asking the obvious question: “Who are the Ibaloys?”

One politician, who admitted that he has no Ibaloy blood but can speak fluent Ibaloy, shared that he is considered by many as one of them simply because he lived as an Ibaloy, and speaks the Ibaloi language. Does that mean that those who do not know how to speak Ibaloi, despite having Ibaloy parents, like most from the later generation, are not considered Ibaloys? Is being an Ibaloy by blood? Or by cultural orientation (as being able to speak Ibaloi)?

NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) commissioner Zenaida Hamada-Pawid (a one-half, one- fourth herself) answered my query in less than three parts. She started her story by recalling her experience as a young Anthropology professor of UP who is tracing her ancestry by collecting the genealogy of the five biggest clans of the Benguet villages. What she and other researchers found out was that all of the people in the southern Cordillera can trace their roots to only one people, the Kalanguyas (Ikalahans), a distinct sub-group of the Ifugaos.

The Kalanguyas (from “Keley ngoy iya” a term used to pacify misunderstandings), in turn, are blood brothers of many different ethnic groups, not only from the Cordillera region, but also of the people from Region I and II. “Enshi nai-afafil” I smirked.

If we go deeper, we will find out that our different tribes in the Cordillera region belong to the same Austronesian peoples in Southeast Asia and Oceania. This means that we belong to the same family with the Taiwanese Aborigines, the majority ethnic groups of Malaysia, east Timor, Indonesia, Brunei, and Micronesia, as well as the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii (and many other groups).

“So how can the young Ibaloy today understand how is it to become an Ibaloy of the past?” She asked. “The Ibaloy is a culture and people in constant change… they are not frozen in time”

“But if you want to know the core value of the Ibaloys, go ask the Ibaloys who perished in the Battle of Tonglo. Our ancestors who spent hundreds years of fighting to protect the ownership of our lands, properties, and resources.” She almost raised her voice. “The Ibaloys are not shy… they are strong and empowered!”

The room almost became somber. For some of the Ibaloys who were there, the obvious implication of her last lines hit them like a brick.

-o0o-

My late father, Alberto Ingosan Olsim Jr., descended from the Ingosan-Gabol Clan of Irisan, Baguio City who can trace their roots to Buguias (and areas near Ahin) and Kabayan, and the Olsim and Bacquian clan of Buguias, Benguet. He is a “Kanibal” (Kankana-ey – Ibaloy). He, however, grew up in Mt. Province because of his father’s choice to farm at nearby Bauko and Sabangan, Mt. Province.

It is a different case with my Mother, Marcelina Dulay Elwas, who is predominantly a “Bontokis” from Sabangan and, Samoki, Can-eo, and Gonogon, Bontoc, Mt. Province. She, however, grew up in the Ibaloy mining village of Itogon, Benguet where she lived and spoke like a true blue Ibaloy.

This (comically) means that I have an i-Benguet father who grew up in Mt. Province, and a Mt. Province mother who grew up in Benguet.

I was born in Baguio City, and was raised in La Trinidad, Benguet. I lived in a multi-cultural neighborhood who speak most of the Cordillera region’s “neutral” language – the “Ilokano” or “Baguio-Ilokano”, or perhaps our washed-out version of it. Our parents did not use the Kankana-ey or Ibaloi language in our home, just like many parents today.

So, how do we, the part Ibaloys, address our identity, especially in the Ibaloy’s call for cultural preservation in this modern multi-cultural society? Does it mean that one has to marry an Ibaloy to ‘promote and continue the blood-line’? Does it mean that we have to discourage the entry of other cultural groups? How can I compromise the preservation of the different cultures that I belong to (which are all equally wonderful)?

For us hybrids, we can only imagine in our silence.

In this multi-cultural generation in which the young Ibaloys have learned to love without the issue of tribe, language, or colors, they may hardly understand the importance of such “preservationist” call.

They can only learn the cultural constructs, the tools; language, cultural dances, symbols. They can only wear their names and their ethnic costumes. But beyond that, they have changed... just like this ever-changing world.

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