Pride in Indigenous Heritage

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To give all you peoples out there some necessary background information, I am an Igorot on my mother’s side of the family. To give a brief description of who Igorots are, we are a tribe of indigenous people living in the Cordillera Mountainous regions of the Northern Philippines. Like other aboriginal people all over the world, we have been subjected to quite a lot of discrimination based on our ethnic background–to the point where we have been described as monkeys with tails, that we’re not Filipino and suffered a lot of discrimination to the point where Igorots of younger generations are doing their best to disassociate themselves from their cultural heritage. 

When I heard that Carlos P. Romulo, a diplomat, statesman, journalist and soldier from the Philippines, had stated that Igorots are by no means considered Filipino. I couldn’t help but wonder what made him think of such a thing. It turns out that he’s been trying to disassociate himself with the indigenous mountain people of the north; that he considers us to be wild, primitive and black. At first, I was very offended. Granted, being half, I wasn’t born with the bronzed skin that my mother has, but I was offended for my mother.

I was offended for a good long while, before I got thinking. Romulo described us as being on par with that of the Aboriginals in North America. Saying that “the Igorot has a better claim to the Philippines than we–as the American Indian has prior claims to America” (pg. 59 Mother America, Romulo, Carlos P). Granted, it still didn’t make up for the offence I felt when he proceeded to describe us as primitive. I would like to counter this statement by saying that because Romulo claimed that we have claim to the Philippines as well, that makes us every bit Filipino as the rest living in the country or descended from those who emigrated from the Philippines. My mother’s family was born, bred and raised there until they moved to Canada nearly two decades ago. In the eyes of international law, my mother and her family is Filipino. She is born on Philippine soil and has an indigenous Filipino cultural heritage.

If anyone, however, continues to disagree, then I would like to point out the original use of the term “Filipino” by the Spanish occupation. In fact, the term “Indios” was used to describe the native islanders living on the Philippine soil when Spaniards first started colonizing the Philippines. The Spaniards in fact are the original “Filipinos”, the foreigners who colonized the nation for centuries, and it wasn’t until during the late 1800s and early 1900s did the native islanders began to call themselves Filipinos when they were taking up arms against Spanish rule. Prior to that time, Filipinos are Spaniards living on the Philippine Islands, some mestizas and mestizos, are considered to be Filipino, but never the native islanders. They are people who bow to a sovereign rule, a monarch living an ocean away.

But because we Igorots never submitted to this rule, we were not considered “Filipino” by the Spaniards, and by that definition, I’m ok with it. Why? Because knowing what happened in history, and knowing what the original usage of the term is made me proud. It made me proud because we resisted. We fought back, and we fought like the warriors we are. We resisted assimilation, we resisted colonial rule, we resisted the attempted destruction of our homes in the mountains, we resisted the exploitation of our gold and our natural resources for so long that the Spaniards eventually stopped wasting their efforts in trying to impose their rule. And for that, I am proud to call myself an Igorot, or to get even more specific, a Kankana-ey of the Applai tribe with blood ties to the municipality of Sagada, never mind a Filipino. 

Let the others call us what they want. They can discriminate, they can insult, they can remain ignorant, but we carry the pride in the fact that we resisted and that our culture is still alive today and still thriving not only in the Philippines but all over the globe. This is not something that can be easily said as there are some cultures that were very nearly lost throughout the course of history and was sped up by means of colonialism.

In fact, I believe that anyone with indigenous background will be proud of their heritage. I believe that they are the living proof that colonial rule and missionaries never truly succeeded in assimilating any aboriginal of any nation, and that cultural heritage will be very difficult to make disappear forever. They’ve suffered, they’ve bled, but they survived, and they did their very best to resist any invading force, and their descendants are living proof.

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The main reason why I wrote this blog is because as I was watching a clip of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visiting an Australian Aboriginal Reserve in Uluru, I recalled a memory of an encounter back home in Canada. The performing group that I am a member of, Matineb (a group dedicated to learning and performing traditional Igorot dances) was at a fundraiser for Typhoon Hai-Yan and I met another Filipino there. When I told her who I was with, she was very surprised. When she saw the rest of Matineb, she became even more surprised and I can only guess that even though she wasn’t expecting tails coming from our backsides, she was expecting that we act like the wild, primitive natives we are stereotyped to be. I couldn’t help but shake my head at her presumption.

 

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