SINCE I consider it a bad move to decline a speaking engagement especially on a topic that I am quite familiar with, I filed a two-day leave from work and joined members of the University of Baguio Alumni Foundation for a training at the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College. On a rainy Wednesday late afternoon, we took the longer Ambuclao-Nueva Vizcaya and Banaue-Bontoc route going to Bontoc since the Halsema Highway had a reported landslide caused by the downpour.
Since I do not consider myself an authority on the topic particularly on ethnography, cultural documentation and its research component, I accepted the invitation adding that I can only base my talks on personal experiences as one who has chronicled events, lifestyles and customary practices in the Cordillera for decades.
Although my approach was basically experiential and non-academic, I cited few insights from my earlier documentary works like the return of the fabled “Apo Anno” and “Sagada, the First Peace Zone”. I also briefed the participants on how I identified and approached my 1980s indie film “Camote Miners” through what I refer to as “reconnaissance” by looking at the subject from far and near and from up and below because I took shots of the pocket miners not only from inside their tunnels but also from atop a hill next to their dugout. My group, the Cordillera News Agency had a project with the Philippine Information Agency on Sagada as the country’s first “Peace Zone” in 1995 and I showed video segments on how we handled the story telling process through interviews with “cultural bearers” and on-site annotation by the late Jose Nicolas “Peppot” Ilagan who served as the on-cam narrator.
For a research work targeting on indigenous peoples, I cautioned the participants on what I explained as “saan nga agdurdursok” by asking permission from the community through either the installed Barangay officials or respected elders or tribal heads. In my earlier column, I mentioned about the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices where researchers must first signify their intents and purposes and seek approval from the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples prior to the actual conduct of field researches in areas where Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICC) are present.
There are certain taboos and cultural protocols that researchers and journalists should not ignore while conducting interviews and taking pictures in places occupied by indigenous peoples. It is also for this reason that the Cordillera News Agency and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) came up with a set of guidelines for covering customary practices and interviewing village folks in IP areas and it all boils down to cultural sensitivity, respect to age-old customary practices and responsible reporting.
Much has been said about insensitive media coverage and published articles or even blogs that are inaccurate and tends to put people especially the IPs in bad light.
Indeed, the event gave me another opportunity to interact with stakeholders who are particular in the preservation, codification, mapping and documentation of indigenous and customary practices through research and I came home more enlightened on the upland people’s way of life.
Ethnography is target-specific and researchers must not generalize customary practices from one tribe to the other as each has its distinctions. I also mentioned the need to validate and exact facts to verify pre-conceived notions and perceptions perhaps through focus group discussions and through validation from credible culture-bearers.
Cultural research to me is to correct wrong notions and perceptions and to articulate through documented information the truths and facts by getting recorded statements from credible people from the identifies target area.
For the participant’s workshop exercises, they suggested topics and subject matters such as the tattooing methods and its significance to tribal folks following the tattoo hype stirred foreigners who popularized Ina Whang-od Oggay who is now conferred by NCCA as Dangal ng Haraya Awardee for Intangible Cultural Heritage on “Manwhatok” as tattoo folk artist. The other topics suggested is the “Bagbagto” or stone-throwing challenge among young men in the Bontoc and nearby areas and the “Mannerwap”, a ritualistic rain dance that calls for the clouds to shed rains that are much needed by the community for their agricultural preparations.