Alonzo Saclag
Musician and Dancer, 
Lubuagan, Kalinga

History, they say, is always written from the perspective of the dominant class. It is not as objective an account as we were led to believe when, as elementary schoolchildren, we were made to memorize the details of the lives of Jose Rizal and the other notable ilustrados. History is about as impartial as the editorials we eagerly devour today, the ones that extol and chastise the exploits and the foibles of government, but with a distinct advantage: by virtue of its form, it takes on an aura of authority. And this authority is one ordinary schoolchildren and adults alike are hardly likely to challenge.

Seemingly maligned by both history and popular media are the people of the Kalinga. Even in the earliest Spanish Chronicles, they were depicted as so hostile that Dominican missionaries were forced to abandon their plans to build Christian missions in the area. Their more recent battle against the Marcos administration’s plans to build a series of hydroelectric dams along the Chico River only added to their notoriety. The very name they have taken on was a label tagged on to them by the neighboring Ibanag and Gaddang. It meant “enemy” – a throwback, no doubt, to the days when head taking was a common and noble practice, intended not only to demonstrate bravery but, more importantly, to safeguard lives and property.

Such was the emphasis placed on the fierceness of the Kalinga that, except for scholars, researchers, and cultural workers, very few know about their rich culture and heritage. Which is why the efforts of Alonzo Saclag, declared Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2000, become all the more significant. A Kalinga master of dance and the performing arts, he has made it his mission to create and nurture a greater consciousness and appreciation of Kalinga culture, among the Kalinga themselves and beyond their borders.

As a young boy in Lubuagan, Kalinga, Alonzo Saclag found endless fascination in the sights and sounds of day-to-day village life and ritual. According to his son, Robinson, he received no instruction, formal or otherwise, in the performing arts. Yet he has mastered not only the Kalinga musical instruments but also the dance patterns and movements associated with his people’s rituals. His tool was observation, his teacher, experience. Coupled with these was a keen interest in – a passion, if you would – the culture that was his inheritance.

This passion he clearly intends to pass on to the other members of his community, particularly to the younger generation which, he notes, needs to understand and value the nuances of their traditional laws and beliefs. Although Kalinga life and culture have remained generally unchanged partly due to their relative isolation, he observes that some of them are tempted by the illusion of city life. He actively advocates the documentation of their philosophies before they become completely eroded by foreign influences – whether cultural, political, or economic – and are completely forgotten by his people.

He cites as an example the budong or the peace-pact, an established remedy for the tribal wars that continue to rack their region. He notes sadly that some fail to grasp the true meaning of the pact and the lives that are lost in a tribal war. These he sees as akin to a sacrifice made to keep the peace intact. His attitude towards the present-day institution is one of uncertainty. His disillusionment stems from bitter experience. Notwithstanding the many tribal wars and peace-pacts he and his people have fought and sworn to, lasting peace stays elusive.

Much of his energy is channeled towards different preservation efforts. He has for years urged the members of his community to preserve their artifacts and archaeological sites. While the unwritten laws and epics chronicle their victories as a people, their artifacts afford us a glimpse into their day-to-day existence. One such artifact is the Kalinga gong or the gangsa, the making of which is a disappearing trade. He has endeavored to revive this dying craft. And to hold these and other treasures, he lobbied for two years with the provincial government to grant funds to convert the abandoned Capitol Building into a museum. His persistence was finally rewarded when, with support from the provincial government and other patrons, the Lubuagan branch of the National Museum was established.

His campaigns have brought him to schools where he discusses various issues with administrators. One striking result of these efforts is the children’s practice of donning the Kalinga costume for important school events such as graduation and First Communion. To celebrate indigenous values, he puts up skits and other creative presentations in various schools. At his cue, the mountains seem to resound as elementary schoolchildren learn the folk songs their parents and grandparents once sang. He has even argued for the broadcast of traditional Kalinga music alongside contemporary music in the local radio station.

To guarantee that his knowledge in the performing arts is passed on to others, he formed the Kalinga Budong Dance Troupe. He takes the young men and women who come to him under his charge and they learn about the music and dance of their ancestors. While many have expressed a genuine desire to represent and promote Kalinga performing arts, he admits that a handful have other, more personal, motives. Because the troupe occasionally goes on tour, joining it is perceived by some as a chance to see places other than mountains they call home. Who can resist the lure of foreign places, he concedes.

His own wife and children have joined him in his travels and performances, and though they match his commitment and his dedication, he acknowledges, with a playful grin, that his nine children have yet to equal his graceful movements.

While his young charges dream of visiting other places, he hopes to recreate a Kalinga village comparable to those he remembers from his youth. In it, he hopes to build a traditional structure that will house the art and artifacts of his people, a showcase of Kalinga artistry and genius and a source of pride for his community. He remembers with fondness the Kalinga House in the grounds of the Expo Filipino in Pampanga. Cool even in the midday heat, he says it served as a retreat not only for the Kalinga participants but also for some of the students who had visited the Expo.

Already he has purchased a piece of land where his village is to take root. To the people of his community, he has entrusted the task of planting a shelter of trees and other plants, providing the seedling himself, just as he did years before to counter the threat of erosion. In this village, he imagines waking up to a symphony of bird song, a rare occurrence of late yet one he zealously sought through his call for a prohibition on hunting.

But so far, the village remains a picture that he sees only in his mind’s eye. The house remains a vision on paper, peopled only by the folk of his imagination. The seedlings of wild fruit trees fill his house, like sentinels, waiting to be transplanted. One, in fact, has already begun to flower and bear fruit, proof of the long wait he has had to endure.

Waiting, however, is a small difficulty. The greater obstacle appears to be gaining the support of those who continue to question and challenge his motives. One would think that with such a noble purpose, one would have no trouble finding allies, not the least among the Kalinga themselves. Reality, though, suggests the contrary.

But Alonzo Saclag remains unfazed. With characteristic generosity, he does not, for instance, begrudge nor fear the efforts others take to put up a group similar to his much-celebrated Kalinga Budong Dance Troupe. Moreover, he welcomes the idea of collaborating with them, should the opportunity present itself.

In the meantime, he perseveres in his work, braving long hours of travel even in the face of a tribal war. His wife, Rebecca, who faithfully follows him wherever his travels take him, says this is his mission: to continue to nurture and uphold the Kalinga culture, the birthright of his children. (Salve de la Paz)

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