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January 12, 2004

REINERIO A. ALBA

The idea of seeing fellow Filipinos from the south like the Tausug, Maranao, among others, in their traditional dress in the midst of the Ifugao Rice Terraces is something for the books. This is just what the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) did in November of 2003. As implementor of the Philippine Cultural Exchange Program, NCIP brought together youth leaders, community organizers and educators from various ethnolinguistic groups from Visayas and Mindanao to travel, dialogue, and participate in cultural immersion activities with selected Indigenous Peoples’ communities in Ifugao (Banaue, Kiangan, Mayoyao, Hungduan).

The program was first implemented in 1989-1992 by Department of Tourism (DOT) in cooperation with the Office for Northern Cultural Communities and Office for Southern Cultural Communities (now NCIP), Office for Muslim Affairs (OMA) and the Philippine Information Agency. With funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the program was implemented anew in 2003.

The participants were 18 individuals whose ages ranged from 17 to 41, all belonging to the various indigenous groups and lowlanders from CAR, NCR, Regions II, VII, IX, X, XII and ARMM.

The one-week program involved spending a day in each of the chosen villages (Kiangan, Mayoyao, Banaue, Hungduan, respectively) with each of the participant experiencing the welcome ceremonies of each village, the ceremonial drinking of the baya or native wine, the dancing of the traditional Ifugao dance, and the presentation of the participants’ talents to the villagers in return (most performed their dances and songs), in a kind of a mini-cultural show, the community feast afterwards, and each of the participants sleeping with their host family at the end of the day.

The hike proved to be difficult for some of the participants who were not used to such hikes either uphill or downhill. The place was also expectedly cold for most of them, considering that it was barely a month before Christmas. Also, with Muslim participants around, a most interesting image not usually associated with Ifugao did materialize high up in the cold mountain: at certain hours, the Muslim participants who were also already observing fasting at that time would be found laying out their prayer mats while facing the sun.  

While there, the participants learned about the existence of the School of Living Traditions in Kiangan. An SLT is one where a living master/culture bearer or culture specialist teaches skills and techniques of doing a traditional art or craft. The mode of teaching is usually non-formal, oral and with practical demonstrations. The site maybe the house of the living master, a community social hall, or a center constructed for the purpose. The Ifugao SLT focuses on passing on the weaving traditions and other slowly vanishing craftsmaking that are part of the Ifugao culture. Most participants agree that they would like to see the same set up in their own provinces and realized the value of passing on cultural knowledge.

Ifugao was also chosen as a venue because of its “traditional resource management” as explained by Governor Teodoro B. Baguilat, Jr in his speech before the participants, where the communities themselves take care of their resources. The carvers of Barangay Poitan in Banaue (one of the host barangays), for one, get only enough wood from the communal forest and supplant these trees with new ones according to the number of trees used. This community participation is also at the core of the ongoing implementation of the three-year Restoration and Preservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces Master Plans where the people are involved in its various consultations.

During a discussion facilitated in Bgy. Poitan, participants were also able to share their brief assessment of the exchange program. The other participants, though not that eloquent, were still able to express their ideas, either in broken English or Filipino, and participated in the discussions as encouraged by the other members. Comments on the whole zeroed in on the observation that political and other social biases long-ingrained between Filipinos from the North and South areas can be smoothened out much easily if only each side could keep an open mind and understand that we all are coming from a multi-faceted culture.

On the last day, the participants were made to write down their re-entry plans or small measures of immediate actions which they would like to do upon return to their respective provinces. Everyone agreed to share what they had seen in Ifugao and the other culture that the “cold” mountain had bred. The coordinator from DOT also pointed out that the participants should link up with their barangays and respective non government offices (NGOs) in their areas when they think that proposing a certain action would benefit their communities.

Generally, the PCEP-Ifugao Leg was successful in terms of covering its two objectives: (1) To offer community and student leaders of indigenous cultural communities the opportunity for cross-cultural exchanges; and (2) To use travel and tourism as a tool for cultural awareness and understanding and contribute to the ongoing campaign to unify our people.

With those two objectives met, the realization of the program’s other important objective, which aims to “help establish productive partnerships and relationships among various ethnolinguistic groups,” should not take too long a time to happen.