Change is as inevitable as time, and this is true of what has been accepted as traditional cultures.
Traditions change as new values are developed, adopted, and integrated by a society. The Kalinga of today are different from the Kalinga some fifty years ago because people change as they alter their physical and social environments since the perturbations impose upon them some feedback to which they must respond. Thus, it is erroneous to assume that the ethnic groups that are now living in the fringes of urban areas of the Philippines are representative of prehistoric cultures of the land.
Ethnic cultures have moved as far forward in time as the social developments in the metropolitan areas. The distinction of development, however, has diverged due to parameters of other kinds. The existence of items of material culture identified with earlier periods is of no help at all for such survivals as often are likely to have lost their original function and context in a society.
An example of this is the polished stone adze which before was a utilitarian cutting tool but now assumes a purely ritual function. It is now used as a talisman among the Ifugao to make the warrior bulletproof, and as a cockfighting charm among lowlanders. So many changes have taken place that the question has been raised as to whether there is still some validity to the existence of some ethnic groups as they have been known heretofore.
Some of these groups, especially those that live near urbanized areas or are within reach of the sphere of government, the market and educational systems, no longer look nor behave the way they used to. The reason is that the state coordinates, that are factors in the development of specific ethnic groups before the coming of the colonizing western powers no longer exist or at the most are mere vestiges of what these were.
Apart from the internal changes that take place within each community as a natural course of things, more drastic are the pressures from outside that alter the character of ethnic groups. Even internally, societies change without influences from outside. Culture traits change depending on the individual actors in the society—a powerful leader may pass away and with a new kind of leadership, the direction of the community might veer in some other ways. A shift in the environment of subsistence, the rise of another powerful person—all these cause alterations in the way the people are organized. Pressures from outside the society are even more compelling and effecting changes in shorter time frames.
Colonized peoples are even more subjected to changes that drastically alter aspects of their cultures. The way a group of people organize their subsistence strategy largely defines how they organize their society. While the domestic type of economy that defines the traits of cultural communities changes little through time, the introduction of the network of the national market system with catchment areas that include international sources has affected microeconomies. Self-sustaining domestic economies have begun to cease from being merely producing-consuming entities and have now interlinked with the marketing network. Cash cropping, for instance, has become the byword of agricultural production, and with it the recourse to monocropping of intensive agriculture. The system of multicropping and intercropping characteristic of ethnic agriculture is no longer viable since now there is a need for the production of surplus in the trade-off with the markets. Thus, households have become dependent on the market system as whole communities are dependent on the production of others in satiating their own consumption needs. New needs are created for consumer goods of which there were none before.
The use of money has become a necessity for survival in market relationships. Even more drastic is the superimposition of an alien political structure upon the local leadership organization. The national political structure has now encompassed heretofore isolated communities with a kind of leadership organization that infringes on traditional leadership forms like the community council of elders and relegating the latter to secondary functions. Often those that occupy the positions of government in the civil structure are those members of ethnic communities that are young and relatively more educated since these are the ones that can relate better to the national institutions. The elderly and less educated elders who ordinarily occupy positions of authority in the communities are now subordinated to this younger generation, resulting in internal cultural conflicts.
Different social institutions, too, contribute to the degradation of local leadership since issues are now elevated from the sitio to the barangay and higher, to the municipal, provincial and national levels in either the executive, legislative and judiciary areas of concern. The end result is the degradation of traditional authority and the restructuring of internal relationships within the group. The most leveling factor of all is the public education system introduced from the West. The reduction of learning of generations into standardized gradation among age groups has pervaded the cultures of ethnic groups, changing entire systems of ethnic knowledge, values, loyalties, perspectives, internalizations, needs, and whole sets of cultural traits.
Education within an ethnic group is culture-specific while nationalized education establishes a generalized standard that develops people in a larger scale that transcends ethnic boundaries. This is further aggravated by the official emphasis on the development of a national language through the medium of public education. Language has been said to be the bearer of culture. There is nothing in the culture of a society that is not reflected in the vocabulary of the group.
The degradation of an ethnic language can only mean the erosion of traits in that culture. The introduction of a new language necessarily induces changes in the parameters of that particular culture, including its original language. The internalization of concepts through the medium of language and the externalization of these is altered since the culture of the introduced language is internalized by the receiving culture. What public education has not reached in terms of influence, mass media, especially in the form of the transistor radio, have made incursions into in order to affect changes in erstwhile isolated communities that before this tended toward conservatism. New tastes and needs ranging from consumer goods, personalities, leadership, opinions, and points of views are continually developed and then altered by relentless bombardment through the airwaves, further contributing to the destruction of traditional value systems. Indigenous religions which differentiated peoples were the first to go among major ethnic groups.
The great religions introduced by the Western powers were an efficient leveling device that destroyed entire systems of beliefs and with these indigenous values that bind together members of a community, exchanging these with new ones which are alien if not outright contradictory to the traditional forms. The end result is the gradual eradication of ethnic boundaries especially in areas of greatest contact between groups. Where one can move through the islands before and see differences among people through their manners of dress, types of architecture, modes of subsistence, and organization of communities, now there is a visual continuum where cultural breaks are no longer perceived.
One will be hard put to recognize the ethnicity of a person unless that person states this or speaks his native tongue. The Filipino nation is emerging without doubt, at the cost of the disappearance of individual ethnic groups. This is so because the parameters that led to the development of ethnic groups no longer exist, and have been replaced by new social factors. There are survivals of ethnic cultures in areas still distant and isolated enough to remain relatively untouched by external influences. But these are more the exceptions than the rule. Even these communities have developed needs attuned to the market system which have made them dependent on external providence. It is only a matter of time when the onslaught will reach them. Communities by now, in different degrees, have become mere terminal points in the development of the peasant-urban continuum. They are no longer discrete and independent cultural entities. There are divergences, convergences, and parallel developments in societal change.
The cultures of the Filipino people are much too complex and compounded to be reduced to generalized statements that are not just sociological principles. The beauty of ethnicity is in the particular aspect. It is the shell-inlaid wooden earplug of a wizened Abiyan Negrito woman, the friction decorated blowgun of the Pala’wan, the chanting of the Alim by an Ifugao membunung or again, the I’wak ritual practitioner reciting the bilang, enumerating the deities with which they have accord and the names of the ancestors with whom they maintain kin relationships.
Yet even these particular aspects of culture change through stimuli both from within the structure of the society and from pressures impressed by external factors. Thus “traditions” develop in time where these were not present before, as the ati-atihan of Aklan and the moriones of Marinduque. Thus in time, too, even these change, for the interpretation of cultural values between groups is a constant where there is social contact. What maintains the ethnic boundaries, however, is still the particular culture that defines what change is sociologically relevant to a population and how this can operate within the limitations of the ecological niche. Thus we witness the paradox of persisting cultures that are in reality altered to respond to the perturbations in the social and the physical environments. This is because ethnicity is not of the static past, but of living peoples. But like all things, even ethnic peoples change at the birthing of a nation.