Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago
Magandang hapon! (Good afternoon!)
I remember very well my first anthropology. I was then around 6 or 7 years old, a very innocent tot growing up in Tuguegarao (capital town of Cagayan). Among our yaya (child caregivers) was a young lady from Penablanca town just beside Tuguegarao, where the yaya invited my family for a visit one day.
In the neighbor town of Penablanca did I first encounter the Aetas (Atta in Ibanag language) who were natural inhabitants there, in the mountainous Sierra Madre side of the town. My eyes got transfixed on a little man, dark and kinky haired, and I looked at him wide-eyed without batting an eyelash, full of questions inside my head. Why was he looking so different, so diminutive in body built and height?
For the first time too did I see a White man, who entered my yaya’s house while I was still probing this small man. My gaze then got transferred to the huge man, and I was so wide-eyed then. It was surely bewildering for this innocent Erle Frayne to see the seemingly colossal White figure juxtaposed, upon his entry, to the dwarfish Dark man. What a strange world!
I always laugh with guffaws whenever I recall those days of innocence. I never thought that I’d some day I would take up sociology and anthropology (and later political economy), was enabled to comprehend the matter of ethnicity and race with greater depth and comprehension, and become a full-fledged social scientist. I also had Eros bonds with White ladies as soon as I reached middle age (one American, one European), and they shared banters with me whenever I narrated my first anthropology.
One thing that impressed me since that time on, when I met my first Aeta ‘subject’, was that the IPs were a bunch of folks who cared for their environment a lot. I remember that the Aeta man brought along lots of herbs, some of which were medicinal. I was also showed their huts when I went down the house to curiously see what things were in that area, and I saw lots of pets, livestock, gardens of families who were both Itawes (mainstream locals) and Aetas. Loves of my life all!
Having been exposed to diverse ethnicities as a child, I developed that sensitivity and multi-cultural orientation early. And I deeply scorned people who made fun of Aetas or any IP whatsoever. Likewise did I scorn folks who made fun of or disrespected ethnicities that weren’t of their own kind. Inside the classroom we were mixed Ibanags, Ilocanos, Itawes, Chinese, mestizos with European blood, and Tagalogs, and we loved each other’s company. In Penablanca they had IPs among the grade school classes mixing up with the Itawes. How pugnacious it was to hear ethnic profiling bigots!
Those experiences were very, very important as I’d find out later. Coupled with the sensitivity that I learned from my grandfather, who reared us grandchildren to do gardening, take care of pets and livestock, assured me of my ‘green consciousness’ early in life. The same experiences were also contributory to my choice to practice development work, and to go back to Cagayan upon graduation from the premier university in Quezon City (MetroManila) later.
After graduation I plunged right away into field works as part of my community development tasks for the Ministry of Human Settlements. I encountered the Aetas in the process. There was no lack of sympathy and partnering between us development professionals and the IPs then, as we did with the peasants and fisherfolks. IPs, peasants and fishers comprised the most marginalized sectors of Cagayan Valley at that time, and I guess since this time. We did everything we can within the limits of our mandated powers and tasks to get the IPs to the mainstream, including funding livelihood concerns.
Through all of my interactions with the IPs (including the Igorots of Cordillera), I was very conclusive about my observation that they had great respect for Mother Earth. Their practices of subsistence farming, hunting and foraging assured that the ecological balance will always be conserved, thus sustaining resource endowments for the forthcoming generations. They prayed before they would cut a tree, butcher a livestock (notably deer, cattle, swine), and hunting, ensuring a profound bond with the Earth and its endowments.
Having immersed myself in their lives, it surely pains me whenever I see every discriminatory and/or prejudicial act done to mistreat the IPs. Those narratives of native Americans who were rendered as target shooting fodder for White Americans during the Eastward expansion era fills me with rage. The continuing mistreatment of our IPs here, who are treated merely as ‘3rd world’ subordinates by their own city and town fellows, remain among the social issues of my advocacies.
If I were given a choice about which people to perish in the competitive decades ahead, between the urban parasites (who live in subsidies and food stumps from state and private Santa Claus) and IPs (who remain to be ecology balance conservers and self-reliance exemplars amid their simple life), I would prefer to see those urban laggards be swept off the Earth. But I don’t control the future, and who knows the urban laggards can be reformed, reshaped, microchipped for better control and productive behavior.
The Philippines is now 60% urban and barely 40% rural. If 1.5% were added to the urban population every year (which is too conservative an estimate), urban population will hit the 90% mark in 2028, and past the 97% mark in 2040. By that time, the dividing line will be largely the ‘urban-suburban’ divide, as anything ‘rural’ will simply be considered exotic.
I wonder where will that future context leave the IPs. Will they all become post-marginal and absorbed into the mainstream, behaving much like their urban and suburban fellows? Or will they simply silently disappear? I am no god incidentally, only a mortal who raises questions like anybody else.
[Writ 10 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]