Ayee Kabunian … there exist the Aplae who
from Besao, Sagada, Tadian, Mangkayan, and Bangnen,
descended down into a fertile land occupied by Tingguians.
The Tingguian asked the Aplae,
‘why did you leave your homelands and joined us here?’
The Aplae replied,’We are tired with wars.
Our neighbors are cruel to us and our kinsfolk.
Please accept us, we pray, to live with you’
The Tingguian responded, ‘we have the same experience.
We left our lands and swidden farms because of wars
brought by the absence of bodong with our neighbors.
That is the very reason why we came to this place.
Yes, we want to live with you.’
The Aplae and the Tingguian started living together
and named their place of meeting: Anggaqui
There are at least three theories circulating as to the genesis of the Bago nation. One is the appropriation of the ‘wave migration’ theory presenting the Bago as a distinct ethnic group that paddled its way from some south-to-east Asian lands to the shores of north-western Luzon until their settlements were driven deep into the foothills of the Cordilleras by other more superior migrating groups. This was the theory forwarded by the late Rogelio Salibad (Bago: the Forgotten Hilltribe). These theories, in either their pure forms or reconciled version, became the dominant narrative adopted by the Bago Cultural Society. The second is the more popular theory that the Bagos are the offsrings of intermarriages between the Ygollotes of Gran Cordillera and the Ilocanos of the lowlands west of the Cordillera mountain range. This is the theory or the story being popularized in and through the official websites of Bago municipalities.
The third theory springs from oral tradition: that the Bago descended from the bands of Aplae emigres from what is now the Bontoc, Mt. Province, and Benguet provinces and the Tingguian settlers of Anggaqui, now Quirino, Ilocos Sur. Some surviving Bago elders have been sharing these stories in their rites and ritualizations, either in fragments or as a whole, but these remain inaudible to the ears of official Bago ethnographers, historians, and politicians. There always is a good argument for oral tradition more than the now suspect wave migration theory and the popular quasi-official ‘Igorot-llokano intermarriages’ theory.
The Case for Oral Tradition
Advanced by the late Rogelio Salibad, the ‘wave migration’ theory stands on a shaky ground and does not tally with the ancient and contemporary geographic and ethnographic spread of the Bago communities. The intent of Salibad, as read by Apo Boaquen, was to extol the Bago as a distinct national community – as major a nation as the Kankanaeys, Bontocs, Ifugaos, Ibalois, Kalinga, Isnegs, and Tingguians of the Cordillera region. The second theory popular in the literatures of the Bago Cultural Society is not only, to say the least, simplistic and inaccurate. This also fails to appreciate the first sintatako pacts of our Bago forebears – the ancients who planted the first seeds of the Bago nation.
What about that story being told us by our surviving elders? Is it not the case that much of what we know of ancient times came to us through our age-old rituals? Below is an invitation to revisit our thoughts and theories about our origins based on materials postcolonial scholarship is more positive about.
The ancient prayers of surviving Bago elders offers a narratological frame that could weave together the different strands of thoughts and queries regarding the origins of the Bago nation. What oral tradition recites is that the Bagos are the descendants of the families and clans formed in Anggaqui by emigres from what is now the Bontoc, Mt. Province, and Benguet provinces and the Tingguian settlers of Ilocos Sur (formerly Lepanto sub-province of the old hispanic Mt. Province)-Abra border region.
Below is a re-statement of the late Rev. Manuel Waley’s description of the Senga, the context of the Sapo a Tiguey, and his transcription of the said prayer. Rev. Waley, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines who also taught in public schools, put this in writing in an attempt to preserve a tradition that is already nearing extinction among the Bagos.
The Bago Story According to the Tiguey of Apo Sawate.
Whenever the Bagos conduct the senga, a clan’s thanksgiving rites, the papangoen (elders) sing the tiguey, the traditional sapo (prayer) that chronicles the story of the Bago people – starting from when their ancestors decided to leave their original homelands in the upper portions of Gran Cordillera to settle in the south-western foothills of the mountain region.
In a senga, not less than ten sumasapo (prayer leaders) say the prayers. They squat around and say their prayers in succession. Several genre of prayers are said, the bitleng, ban-og, sedey, daw-es, dameg, awid, liao, legleg, batiag and others – until all are praying at the same time, creating a cacophony of voices. The sum result of this ritual praying is called the sabusab. Inside the house, in a prominent corner, there sat another pangoen who prays the tiguey – outlined as follows:
Some Aplae people left their mountain communities in Besao, Sagada, Tadian, Mangkayan, and Bangnen to stay away from tribals wars
The Aplaes descended into Anggaqui, a land already occupied by Tingguians (the indigenous peoples of central Cordillera – most probably of the Maeng group)
The Tingguians welcomed the Aplaes and the two nations lived together. Families and clans were formed out of intermarriages. The sintatako was established
The community moved from Anggagui to a fertile land at the foot of the mountain region
The community grew and became numerous. Space became a problem. A number of the
population needed to move to another place
The elders came together in a tongtongan (meeting) and resolved who will stay and who will leave for other open spaces
To decide who will stay and who will leave the elders arranged for a gabbo (wrestling match) among the male members of the clans. The winners of the match will stay and the losers will leave
The wrestling match lasted for three days and three nights but there were no winners and losers.
All the clans left the place which they named Nagtablaan,meaning, ‘where the wrestling match was a draw’.
Half went north [toward the northern part of Ilocos Sur and the southern ends of Ilocos Norte provinces]. Half went south [towards La Union and Pangasinan provinces]. The clans established settlements along the way – at the foot the Cordillera mountain range.
The following may be read from the tiguey chronicling the story and/or making of the Bago:
The Bago forebears were not at home with wars
The Bago people were welcoming and included everyone as part of the community (Sintatako)
The Bago people settled their conflicts peacefully (Tongtongan)
The Bago people did not stray away from the mountain and erected altar tables (Papatayan) around which they established their settlements
Succinctly put, the Bago people practice radical hospitality, settle their conflicts peacefully, and live close to the mountains.
Toward A Five-Phase Formation of the Bago Nation
According to oral tradition, the tiguey prayer (sapo) in particular, the Bago nation could be inferred as having evolved through at least five different phases or periods: (1) the beginnings of nation-building in Anggaqui (the Anggaqui Bago), (2) the descent into the Ilocos lowlands (the Nagtablaan Bago), (3) the north and south-ward movements (the Settlement Bago), (4) the period of Christianization and Ilocanization (the Ilocanized Bago), and (5) the Bago diaspora (Diaspora Bago).
First, there was the Anggagui Bago. These ancient Bagos were formed by pacts and intermarriages made between Cordillera indigenous communities, most prominent among them were the Aplae-Kankanaeys (of the old Mt. Province that include the Bontoc, Lepanto, Amburayan and Benguet sub-provinces) and the Tingguian communities of Upper-South Abra (possibly the Maeng-Tingguians). There were no ‘lowlanders’ involved in this process of community or national formation. The Bago was here formed as a distinct people evolving its own way of life and gradually separating itself from its mother tongues and cultures.
The Anggaqui Bago thus descended into the Ilocano lowlanders’ lands with an already established identity. This spatial descent was the genesis of the post-Anggaqui ‘Nagtablaan Bago’. I propose that in this Nagtablaan phase – the Bago became more culturally/nationally defined. The encounter with Ilocanos at this stage was more spatial than anything else. At this point Ilocanos still regard the highlanders or the Ygollotes of the hills as half-beast with tails. There surely were cases of intermarriages with Ilocanos during this period but they were few and negligible.
Following the sapo a tiguey, the Nagtablaan Bago grew in number and decided to look for other settlements. This was the beginning of the establishment of Bago settlements northward to San Emilio and beyond and more notably, southward to as far as Labayug in Sison, Pangasinan. This period of dispersal and settlement is what i am proposing as the ‘settlement’ phase of our formation as a people. At this point our intermarriages were mainly with highlanders (Tingguians of Abra, Kankanaeys and Ibalois of Mt. Province and Benguet). Our current day clan reunions provide us clue to this fact (The Annos and Kaladawis, for example, were Kankanaeys from Benguet who, in the third-generation Anno family lineage, got entangled with the Ammangs and Ong-ongans of the Bago settlements in Sta Cruz and Sudipen) Still, at this time, Ilocanos generally looked down at hill tribes as half-beast with tails.
Intermarriages with Ilocanos were a more recent late 20th century phenomenon among the Bagos, that is, when they started embracing Christianity en masse. Christianization, along with the political integration of Bago communities into Ilocano political units and the age-old trading connections, facilitated the Ilocanization phase in our national formation as Bago. Intermarriages with Ilocanos happened mainly during this period since, as Christians, the Bagos were now accepted as fully human and no longer the half beasts that wag a tail. This however happened when the Bago as a cultural community was already well-established as a cultural community.
The fifth phase of the Bago national formation is being constituted by the establishment of Bago communities and settlements in many parts of the country: in Kalinga, Apayao, Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, Aurora province, and in various parts of Mindanao. From this second movement emerged the diaspora Bago. Notable is the pattern of diaspora Bagos intentionally settling on the foothills of mountains, wherever region the Bagos move in to – never abandoning what they believe as the abode of Kabunian.
From the ancient Bago to the diaspora Bago (the y-Kalinga, y-Apayao, y-Mindoro, y-Mindanao Bago). There now is the y-London, y-Vancouver, y California Bago. This is yet another phase in the evolution of the Bago nation. But let us not easily subscribe to the popular theory of “Bagos as offsrings of intermarriages between Cordillera ‘tribals’ and lowlanders’ for this fails to appreciate the first pinnanyoan dancing and the first sintatako pact-covenant which gave birth to the Bago nation.
The Gospel of the Bago Story
What is the point of the Bago story in our quest for indigenous life-affirming values and for that common ground with the Christian gospel? The rest of this essay will dwell on four major values indigenous to the peoples of Cordillera – as appropriated and lived by the Bagos in their evolution as a nation.
Sintatako and the Bago Spirituality of Radical Hospitality.
The sintatako developed as soon the Aplaes and the Tingguians in Anggaqui accepted each other. As chronicled in the tiguey, the emergence of the Bago community is anchored on this sintatako spirit. The sintatako is that radically inclusive ‘we’ spirituality with which members of the community and the pan-Cordilleran commune senses common identity, oneness, and solidarity.
Sintatako was also what formed the families and clans, led them into peacefully settling conflicts within the community. As the ancient Bagos moved from Anggaqui to the lower portions of south-western Cordillera into the lowland Ilocano territories the sintatako also expanded and upgraded itself into new and more creative ways of interhuman relationship and community building. It transcended the spiritual and practical horizons of a delimited sintatako self-understanding to become more embracing of the other and become more appreciative of the values of community and solidarity within pan-Cordilleran realities and beyond. This culture of radical hospitality served the Bagos well as they further dispersed and established new settlement s within and outside the Cordillera region.
Dispersing and settling also diversify (integration or reintegration of Tingguian, Kankanaey, Ibaloi Ilocano cultures) as can be gleaned from the first Bago diaspora leading to the settlement phase of national formation. Amidst this diversification the Bagos remained bound and kept together as one nation by the sintatako.
‘That we may all be one’, the very prayer Jesus of Nazareth for his flock, is at the very core of the Bago indigenous self. The sintatako calls for community building and community solidarity. You may be a Kankanaey and I am a Tingguian but we can be one community. I can be a Bago and you are an Ibaloi or an Ilocano but we can be one community. The ancient Christian prayer was for God’s people to become one. That is not only an import from the Christian Gospel; or something from outside us. It is indigenous to us – and the Bago story is just one variant of many stories about how indigenous the deep sense of community is to all who are created in the image of divinity.
Tongtongan and the National Quest for Peace
Secondly, the point of the Bago story is that dialogue and peace covenanting is indigenous to the peoples of the Cordillera
The descent of the Aplaes, the ancient Bagos, may suggest flight in the face of crisis – but other ways of resolving conflicts were revived and instituted from their root traditions like the tongtongan. The tongtongan, an arbitration body, an unwritten justice/court and counseling system shared with other Igorot communities settle problems peacefully. It covers all aspects of conflicts: misbehavior and crimes, marital woes, land disputes, abuse and rape of women, murder, burning of forests, poisoning of rivers, etc.1 One of its notable features is its participatory nature. Hearings are held public in the abong (roofed assembly space) and everyone is invited and free to express his/her opinion.2
According to the tiguey, the land problem created by an expanding population was settled, as agreed upon by the papangoen (council of elders), through a gabbo (wrestling match) with the agreement that whoever wins the match will stay and the loser need to settle elsewhere. This is one case in the tiguey chronicle instituting the tongtongan or the tongtong system. Through time however the tongtongan has expanded to include voices outside of the papangoen.
In the present day, the tongtongan as a system is being used by the Bagos and Kankanaeys in Bakun, Benguet in their continuing resistance to mining operations and other threats to their mountain abodes and ancestral lands. Through the tongtongan, Bakun-Aywanan for example, were able to work for the permanent suspension of the memorandum of agreement between the mining firm Royalco-Philippines and the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples, including the rejection of explorations in the area in 2008. This was the same case in the struggle of the Bagos, Maengs, and Kankanaeys of Quirino, Ilocos Sur [– what used to be the Anggaqui area] to save the Abra River from 2003. The Tongtongan ti Umili has led to the organization of Maquitacdeg, a pan-Cordilleran group (Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes) organized to stop the large, destructive mining operations and expansions of Lepanto Mining Company.
The tongtongan, from the very beginning settled disputes and conflicts, facilitated the relocation and redefinition of the expanse of what is now known as the Bago homeland [ – the south western foothills of Gran Cordillera];3 and continue to bring together members of the community as well as neighboring and distant communities in solidarity and acts of resistance vis-a-viz development aggression, social marginalization, and cultural imperialism.
Begnas and the Celebration of the Bago Social Vision
Thirdly, the point of the Bago story is that thanking and acknowledging the work of a ‘higher being’ is indigenous to humanity; and that this link with the higher being engenders social vision that is being celebrated regularly in indigenous eucharistic events like the Begnas.
We are naturally radically a eucharistic community. Again, this is not an import from Christian sacramental theology. It is something indigenous to us – and the Bago people are just one prototype. You go to a Bago village and ask for the papatayan and the older folks will say: it used to be here or there. The papatayan is the traditional offering table of the Bago where they hold their begnas, their eucharistic celebration. Long before the WCC has conceived of the feast of life as the penultimate if not the ultimate end of its ecumenical work and pursuits, the indigenous communities like the Bago-Igorot are already living it. Our begnas or our canao, the feasting that we do to bring our kakailian and strangers together are radically eucharistic – and also practices what Diaspora theologians are calling for: radical hospitality. Feasting in the tradition of the Cordilleran Begnas is both the beginning and the end of the praxis of community building and peacemaking. We feast because we are a community; because we are at peace with one another. This eucharistic begnas community, too, is all-inclusive. It gathers and welcomes people, nature, and spirits together in a feast of life.
According to the tiguey of our papangoen, the ancient Bagos emerged out of the tadek or tayaw, or pinnanyoan dancing between the Kankanaeys and the Maengs. We danced together – with the land, and we came into being. We are children of this dancing with the land. That is the story of this forgotten hill tribe called Bagos. That, too, is the story of many of our indigenous communities. That, too, should be our social and even ecclesial vision. It should be one of dancing, and feasting, a eucharistia to The One who gifted us with a homeland.
The Papatayan and Bago Eco-Theography
Fourthly, the point of the Bago story is that a people have covenanted not to stray away from the abode of Kabunian, from the mountain.
The Bagos perform their begnas or annong at the foot of mountains where their papatayan (sacrifical tables) are. It is also around these altar tables that they establish their settlements. With the exception of some few later communities [in Sta. Cruz, Candon, and Salcedo in Ilocos Sur, and Rosario in La Union], Bago settlements always are located at the foot of mountains. Like the highland Igorot communities (like the Ifugaos), the Bagos revere and invoke the mountain as an all-seeing guardian, an assurance of Kabunian’s protection. This physical attachment also signifies the Bago’s attachment with the mountain and creation. The mountains were never bald (Hornedo).4 Mountains are necessarily constituted by more than grasses. Life form is supposed to be in abundance. Bagos tell of stories when God abandoned mountains because there is no more life in them. A living mountain points to the presence of divinity and provision of divine protection. To exist apart from the mountain or ‘outside’ of the ecosystem is uprooting and de-peopling. The community has to live in eternal connection and communion with the land and creation. That’s not only Godly. It is also called earth-care. This is the same point the eucharist is pointing to, when the cosmos is made one, feasting for life abundant. And in the eucharist the point of the Bago story meets the point of the good news of God’s story in Jesus Christ.
The Bago settling in hills at the foot of Gran Cordillera is thus not only a geographic fact but a theographic fact for this group of settlers. Like ancient Hebrews and ancient humanity in general, the mountains are God’s abode, and, as the Hebrew psalmists sing out – from where our salvation would come.
As soon as Bago communities started abandoning their swidden farms in favor of the tobacco industry, a major source of livelihood among lowland Ilocanos but which requires logs for tobacco drying, the hill tribes started cutting their trees – and ‘abandoning’ the mountain, i.e., severing that umbilical cord connecting them with Kabunian and the deity’s sacred dwelling. This is a sad commentary to our indigenous values and tradition – a kind of separation from the ground of our being.
Sintatako, Tongtongan, Begnas and Papatayan: toward an indigenous spirituality for the struggle
The prodigal people called Bagos who breached traditional cultural and geopolitical boundaries early in the history of Gran Cordillera were truly pan-Cordilleran from ancient times. In the succeeding stages of their national formation, they reconnected with the Tingguans, Kankanaeys and Ibalois through peaceful co-settlements and intermarriages, then again, in another diaspora, established settlements in Kalinga, Apayao, Benguet, and other mountain provinces. They may already be radically Ilocanized in many ways because of their forced political integration into Ilocano government units, through Christianization, trading connections and later intermarriages with Ilocanos, but they maintain, live, and still celebrate (1) the sintatako spirit – of pan-Cordilleran solidarity; (2) their tongtongan ways of resolving disputes and conflicts, and of instituting justice and peace; (3) their begnas – that link them to divinity; and (4) still dwell and establish their communities around the papatayan close to the abode of Kabunian: the mountain. I am not being romantic about the Bago people who do not even exist in our official ethnographies (especially that of Donriquez’ NCIP!), and whose politicians [actually lowland ‘tra-pos’ to the core], at times, posture themselves as representative voices and faces of IPs in the Cordillera.
The point of the Bago story is that there is, for indigenous peoples, a ready ground and resource for national and cultural renaissance, and a ground for a build-up of spirituality for the struggle. It suggests that IPs can return back to their roots — in a progressive and dynamic sense of traditioning; that there are cultural resources and arguments for pan-Cordilleran nationalism and solidarity which is our contribution to wider nation building; that there is a deeply indigenous eucharistic spirit and realization of ‘eschatology (social vision)’ in the Bagos’ begnas; and that at the heart of the Bago papatayan is a spirituality that links us to the mountains – reaffirming of the IPs’ eco-centric self. In other words, the Sapo or the Tiguey of some ‘forgotten hill tribes’ can also serve as catalyst for the political resurrection of those among us who still are dead in our indigenity, dead in our ideological captivity, and dead in our cultural and spiritual colonization.
This spirituality formed through various stages in the making of the Bago nation, when re-viewed and re-lived in the context of suffering and resistance of IPs in the region, would bring about a saturnalia of resistance as these are grounded on something radically spiritual: the community (sintatako and tongtongan), the social vision (begnas), and the earth (papatayan). Ayeeee Kabunian!!!
Kabunian dagiti ap-appomi/ Nangiturong ti dalanenmi
Manipud idiay Anggaqui/ Nakayanakan iti puli
Babaen panangidaldalanmo/ naipasdek ti sintatako
A nangreppet iti tribu/ Panagmaymaysa a napudno
Iti gabbo dagiti ammami/ Nagnunummoanan Pangpangngoenmi
naunday iti balubal/ Ngem awan tumeng a limmukay
Manipud iti Nagtablaan/ Sika ti nangidaldalan
Linong inkam nagkamangan/ Saklot inmi naginanaan
Saanmi a pinanawan/ Sakaanan kabanbantayan
Disso a nagdatdatonan/ Nagsaadan ti papatayan
Inturongmo iti dapdapan/ A dimmanon ti Amburayan
Napnoan kam ti panagyaman/ Y-Duplas ken Y-Bulalaan
Agtultuloy iti pannagna/ Agturong idiay a daga
Pakasarakan iti talna/ Ken ti pudno a wayawaya