What it takes to be human sometimes

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By Ramon Dacawi


Friday, July 18, 2014

(THE issue of identity, in relation to colonial and cultural subjugation, remains an issue. Even Igorot expatriates who, we thought, resolved the issue on whether to call themselves such during the second Igorot International Consultation many years back here in Baguio, are still stoke the issue now and then. It's a theme that keeps on replaying, like this piece we wrote last year. – RD)

Ronald Kollin, fellow Igorot and college buddy who came home after Christmas the other year for the internment of his sister, Manang Frances Laoyan, was the first to design T-shirts proclaiming “Igorotak” . Accompanying that proclamation of identity was the admission: “Igorot Pride, Hard To Hide”. His original design turned out to be a bestseller at the first Igorot International Consultation in Los Angeles in 1996.

Ronald never registered his idea as his intellectual property. It was enough to drive home the message amidst the lingering ignorance over who and what an Igorot is. Now and then, the term triggers debate even among those who trace their roots to the Cordillera where we, Igorots - either by birth, blood, sentiment and choice - come from.


The case of Cayat, the Igorot who was convicted in 1937 for having in his possession a bottle of commercial gin, somehow helps put historical context into this issue of identity. As the colonial laws that the governed the Native Americans then also governed the “non-Christian tribes” of colonial Philippines, Cayat had not right to possess or, worse, drink spirits other than his native “tapuy”.

Then young lawyer Sinai Hamada, an Igorot belonging to the Ibaloi tribe, appealed the case up to the Supreme Court after he and Cayat lost the case in the lower courts. The duo questioned the constitutionality of prohibiting tribals from buying, possessing and tasting commercial liquor, rights exercised only by other adult humans who were Christian or non-tribal Filipinos.

Commonwealth Act 1639, the basis for Cayat’s conviction, was repealed by Act 476 which took effect on June 18, 1939. It was a one-sentenc e repealing act. While there was no explanation why, Hamada’s taking on Cayat’s case to the end did open the window for the national legislature to see things from the indigenous view. It helped shatter the one-way mirror through which the colonizing West saw the “Third World” it labeled as such.

It’s true, the real voyage of discovered lies no in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes, in this case from the perspective of the indigenous and the colonized.

Once, in an international conference, a resource person from the West used the label “Third World”, referring to much of Asia and the still-developing nations, in his paper presentation. A delegate from India later questioned the tag demanding to know what gave the speaker the right to label India as “Third World”.

As per account of cooperatives advocate Paeng Gayaso, his fellow delegate from India rightfully pointed out that his country was already at the peak of civilization when Europe was still in the medieval age.

That brings us to when the office of then Baguio Mayor Luis Lardizabal was being swamped by letters from the West condemning our practice up here of butchering and eating dog meat. Over generous shots of gin and sautéed dog meat for “pulutan”, the mayor’s staff that included the late newsmen Willy Cacdac and Freddie Mayo worked out a response.

You need not look far in trying to protect animal rights, the mayor’s reply, addressed to the letter writers from Europe, began. There should also be a stop to the cruel fox hunts in Europe wherein the poor fox is chased, shot and its body ripped by hounds, only to satisfy the hunter’s need to experience the thrill of the hunt.

Fox hunting, considered by advocates as part of rural culture, was eventually outlawed in the United Kingdom by the controversial Hunting Act of 2004.

Four years earlier, the Congress of the Philippines passed The Animal Welfare Act which banned the killing of dogs and animals except “cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles”.

The Philippine law, however, exempts from prosecution the killing of animals, including dogs, “when it is done as part of the religious rituals of an established religion or sect or a ritual required by tribal or ethnic custom of indigenous communities”.

During deliberations on the bill, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asked whether the measure would include human beings, as humans also belong to the animal kingdom. Taking the drift, Senator Edgardo Angara qualified that its does not cover human beings as humans had already enacted enough laws to protect themselves from each other.

Eight years back, I read about the case of a man in California who was apprehended for possession of marijuana. Whatever happened thereafter, he initially argued that the MJ was intended for use in a religious ritual, not a pot session.

Whatever. Cayat’s case brings to mind the experience of Albert Namatjira, the Australian Aborigine noted for his impressive paintings, not in the traditional tribal form but in water color he was introduced to by visiting non-Aboriginal artists.

In recognition of his artistic genius and stature, Namatjira was granted Australian citizenship in 1957. He was the first Northern Territory Aborigine to be accorded such status. As citizen, he was allowed to vote, own land, buy and drink alcohol.

As an Aborigine, he was expected by custom to share what he had, which he did. As a result, he was charged of providing alcohol to non-citizens (his fellow Native Australians), and was sentenced to six-month imprisonment.
Conflicts between customary and state laws left Namatjira a broken man. When he got out of jail after two months, he could no longer paint. He died a year after, in 1959. (E-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 19, 2014.


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