by Rachel Guimbatan-Fadgyas
As I write this, Throwback Thursday of the last week of the Indigenous Peoples Month in the Philippines is about to end. I thought I had to finish this task because I promised myself to recognize some people who worked on this before this special month ends.
Sometime in June 2005, my elder friend Teddy, a politician who had become a citizen then, asked me to draft a detailed outline of an indigenous knowledge (IK) transfer project proposal. It should not be more than 3 pages of a project concept which our friend in UNESCO Bangkok kuya Ric (+), requested for us to write. According to him, this IK education initiative could be of interest among our friends in Japan. I was then in my second year of volunteering in the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo) after my stint in the Provincial Local Government as the local consultant in indigenous knowledge systems (IKS). It was an expertise that I started to gain for world heritage and environmental safeguarding at a time when few were talking about it. To my younger mind, IKS was a fresh and exciting concept that I only began to appreciate after being forced to talk about indigenous terrace engineering of the Philippine Rice Terraces World Heritage Site on account of winning a prize award for translating the construction principles of the indigenous Ifugao house into modern architecture. Two weeks worth of perusing Conklin’s Ethnographic Atlas of Ifugao and farmers’ interviews that I presented in the stakeholders’ workshop earned me that recognition. I proved myself capable in integrating modern civil engineering formulas and indigenous knowledge. Back then I was not confident talking before the farmers who are actually the experts in agriculture and terrace engineering. But I took it upon myself to articulate their knowledge into contemporary engineering terms. And something else interested me further. The international consultant who became my counterpart gave me a copy of an ICSU report which he co-edited on the Declaration on Science adopted by the World Conference on Science (WCS) which was convened in Budapest, Hungary in 1999. The Science Agenda recommended the recognition of traditional knowledge, and government support on cooperation between holders of traditional knowledge and scientists in pursuing sustainable development. Grand ideas started to stretch my mind! In a remote corner of my brain was the place called Budapest, which turned out to be an important city in my life later. But I digress.
So two to three pages of a project concept on IKS transfer required more imagination. I was then pursuing my master in urban and regional planning in the city, which required me to travel back and forth from the province several times a month. I would stay in a small flat with my nieces whose friends also stayed with us and whose relatives occasionally stopped by. In one of those occasions one of my nieces who is in design school herself asked me what makes an Ifugao house design special. I remember thinking that if I showed them any oriental Asian indigenous hut, they would not be able to spot the difference. Incidentally the brother of their friend who came by for a visit at that time was also pursuing agricultural engineering in UP Los Banos. I visualized him to be part of this project (which he did later). Those two realities made me imagine of a program that would breed a young core group of IK experts in architecture, agriculture, engineering, biology, botany, etc. who will become the teachers of the younger generation. First, we let IK holders train them as an elite group, then they become the future teachers. That was the grant proposal that I wrote. Later, when I presented this in SITMo, another mentor of mine, manong James (+) suggested that I change the term “breeding” a younger generation of IK experts to “nurturing” IK experts among the young generation. And Nurturing Indigenous Knowledge Experts (NIKE) among the younger generation was born.
Shortly after, kuya Ric accompanied our friends from the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan to visit Ifugao in October 2005. Because I was in school, our boss Teddy assigned my colleague Esther to show them around . At around April of 2006, we started the first phase of the project, which I designed as a survey and mapping of indigenous knowledge resources in Ifugao. Teddy introduced to us a young college graduate to join the team who I found to be articulate in online discussions. His name is Armand. There were five of us in that team. Esther volunteered to handle the Ayangan parts of Ifugao. Maribel (+) volunteered to map Banaue. Godfreda volunteered to survey Hingyon and Armand covered Hungduan and Kiangan. I steered the group, collected their outputs and consolidated these in my report. Later in their work, Armand had to take over Godfreda’s work and Stephanie who is Esther’s sister took over her work after realizing that the nature of the work requires less-familiar faces in the community.
Back then, I was acutely aware that this could be the only opportunity given to us to do this survey so I required everyone to include in their reports their personal accounts of their mapping methodology and the methods they used to “extract” information. I required this for documentation purposes and as an insurance that our outputs are real and the products of our decisions at that time. Should there be debates that challenge what we did or if it happens in the future that some would fail to acknowledge how these all started then we show them our diaries. Our narratives by the way are kept in the NCIP repository just in case someone is interested to read about these. In the last parts of our narratives we outlined the lessons we learned. I had the luxury to read all narratives again which I pulled from my e-storage. It brought me back to days of hope and fierce pride. Given permission I will quote what the others shared but for now I can only share what I wrote. In the last paragraph of my personal narrative I wrote the below:
1. Our words express our culture better. This phase of the project is all about mapping the situation of our cultural resources. While constructing the maps from the facts gathered, replete with geographical coordinates and spatially referenced themes simplified into several layers, I think about the stories in between each layer, relayed orally, which can simply be captured in print with the letters of the alphabet. While image maps can say a thousand facts, nothing beats the letters and words we combine to map our personal views of what we have. They simply express human relationships that make up a culture, that tell our history, that transmit knowledge. I have learned a lot about my history in the past century from the personal accounts of RF Barton, a foreigner, who I think was way ahead of his time when he wrote for the Tuwali people in an unabashedly biased manner the way internet blogs are written today. Hence the insistence on the team to write their written reports in their own style and in the first person with the reminder that this is not an academic exercise, nor a romantic journey, but an education venture. We want to explain our culture through our personal experience, map our history through our own eyes, perhaps not seeing all the lessons through the trivial things we mention, but hopefully saying something that maybe heeded not too far in the future.
2. Schoolteachers are important knowledge resources. Nobody among the team members have pursued the teaching profession but in one way or the other have been nurtured by educators. Three of the team members are products of schoolteachers. While I was writing this final report, an impromptu cultural exchange with the Tagbanwa group from Palawan or southern Philippines was held in the office premises attended by schoolchildren, their parents, some local legislators and the municipal mayor. It was arranged at a short notice so that the proper paraphernalia accompanying each performance was either missing or improvised. The Ifugao war dance, Bangibang, now a performing art, was demonstrated by the mayor, some children and one of our volunteers who armed themselves with curtain rods which we imagined as spears. After the program, two of my colleagues began to describe the last real war dance that they saw more than two decades ago. I remember a time when we, about 400 pupils in all were brought out of our classrooms to the street to watch the Bangibang, of what seemed to my six-year old eyes like a train of long flapping red leaves coming from the uphill bend of the road, constantly moving, alternately in eerie silence and in rhythmic cacophony of sticks beating on wood. The lead dancer was a mumbaki, who did not look as formidable to me as the stories they tell about him. From what I just learned recently, it was my first grade schoolteacher who requested the lead dancer to slow down ‘so that the children will see.’ Apparently my colleagues and I were able to see the last of the real thing because a teacher thought about the next generation.”
On this note, I end my first blog entry with much appreciation for the schoolteachers of the old and the younger generation.
HAPPY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES MONTH!