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Itogon, Benguet in the 21st Century

This is an excerpt from my research conducted from 2014-2015 on the Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey communities of Itogon, Benguet.

To say “Benguet,” many would think of a land far away, secluded in the mountains, with people having to resort to walking for hours along the trails just to get to the nearest town. One is left with the impression that people still use g-strings, bury their dead in their homes, and have pristinely preserved their traditions because of little or no contact with those from outside their community.

But as I arrived in Itogon, the largest municipality in Benguet, I was greeted with a 4×4 that will bring me to my host family’s gathering for a house blessing. Then I met the grandchildren who were busy with their iPads and iPods; the elderly men enjoying some San Miguel Beer; and some teenage girls putting on some make-up and taking pictures of each other with their smartphones. I was blown away. Every bit of “Benguet” that was all along pictured in my mind just didn’t fit in. It was like living in the suburbs of Baguio but with more trees, a way smaller population, fresher air, wider, open roads, and a skyline where the stars give way to one’s imagination.

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A view from the barangay hall: The hazy mountain at the distance is Mt. Ugo

There are three major indigenous groups in Itogon— Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey—with each group comprising the largest population for Barangay* Tinongdan, Ampucao, and Tuding respectively. The field notes below are excerpts from my research** funded and published by the United Nations Development Programme.

The Ibalois of Tinongdan

Barangay Tinongdan, the farthest from Baguio among all research areas, is reached in two hours by jeepney from the terminal at Lakandula Street, just across the City Market. There is only one ride for Tinongdan-Baguio which is at 7-8am; and the same ride for Baguio-Tinongdan which is at 1-2pm (or until the jeep is filled up). This makes it a challenge for the community to purchase their necessities, that’s why it’s common to ask for favors when a relative or a friend makes a trip to Baguio City.

Tinongdan, comprising mostly of Ibalois, is still largely agricultural. The area is suitable for agriculture because of the wide rice fields, hillsides, plateaus; and the presence of the Agno River which makes water available throughout the year. Rice is the main crop here, with coffee following suit. Other crops include camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), cassava, ginger, potatoes, celery, tomatoes, pechay (Chinese cabbage), saluyot (jute leaves), kintsay (Chinese celery), pako (fern), saksakdong (rice weeds), avocados, bananas, pineapples, oranges, mangoes and papayas. These crops are also grown through uma or kaingin, otherwise known as swidden farming, which makes planting available for previously cleared areas.

Households also engage in raising pigs, cows, carabaos, goats and chickens. Native black pigs and cows are particularly important because of their necessity in rituals. On smaller rituals, chickens are also used as sacrificial animals. This upkeep of pigs, cows and chickens goes to show the still-central role of rituals in the Ibalois’ lives.

Other activities include fishing, but this is usually supplemental and mostly for home consumption. The native rice wine (tapey), the important part of every ritual especially for cañao, is still manufactured usually by elderly women. Among the wealthy Ibalois, ranching is still present with cows set loose in their privately fenced ranches (estancia).

The Kalanguyas of Ampucao

One hour from the jeepney terminal at Lakandula Street, Ampucao is the most challenging to reach because of its high altitude and sharp zigzag roads. The largest barangay in Itogon, it is home to Philex Mines, the largest and most established large-scale mine in the municipality. Though the roads are zigzagging and an endless set of uphills, these are wide and thickly cemented because of the investment of Philex Mines on revitalizing Ampucao’s highways. It is not uncommon to see, every few minutes, large Philex trucks carrying unprocessed ore with signs of “No Riders” in front. This is for security of the Philex employees carrying the ores, the ores itself, and the riders. A recent incident point out to the immediate disallowing of riders in these trucks, with a rider being accidentally hit while stepping up for the truck. This, of course, had to be settled by the company.

The main industry in Ampucao is mining, both large-scale and small-scale. Mostly settled by Kankana-eys who have always been, traditionally, expert miners, and by Kalanguyas who eventually learned from the trade; and with a mineral-rich soil, it is no wonder that this barangay grew up as a mining community.

Though the people also engage in farming coffee, sayote (pear squash), camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), beans, bananas, ginger, and a few fruit trees mostly on swidden farms (inum-an), and selling fishes from the Ambuklao Dam, these activities pale in scope with mining. With Kalanguyas residing in high altitude areas, the water is also too cold for irrigation, making it almost impossible to engage in wet rice agriculture.

The area is large, the people are few, the houses are far apart, and the weather and winds are quite

unforgiving. As anyone would choose to agree or disagree on, the environment plays a big part in molding the community’s culture. This kind of environment could explain why households are, generally, more detached from their neighbors than the other research areas, Tinongdan and Tuding. Another possible contributing factor to this is the history of the Kalanguyas, originally living in scattered settlements and moving from place to place to avoid persecution from the Spaniards. Thus, families depend on each other; and seldom do they ask for favors from outside their circle. They had to learn to be as self-sufficient as they could be.

The Kankana-eys of Tuding

Tuding can be considered, distance-wise, a suburb of Baguio City as it is only five minutes away from Wright Park and the Mansion House. There is a feeling of being in Baguio but with smaller establishments, narrower roads, a crisper and cooler air, more trees, and a horizon that extends to the other parts of Benguet. It is also not uncommon to see mine tailings on the mountainsides, with small-scale mining as the main source of livelihood in this barangay.

Settled mostly by Kankana-eys who are, traditionally, expert miners, it is admirable to think how they can extract so much gold, silver and copper from such a small land. Small-scale mining is always a gamble: financiers provide food, shelter and the resources for the miners, and the miners continuously work to extract whatever they can on an usok (mining tunnel) which is in itself, also a gamble. The financiers and miners continuously work until they find something immensely valuable, but other times this is until all resources have been used up and nothing was mined other than soil and rocks.

The Kankana-eys also engage in swidden, and on a smaller scale, wet-rice farming. What used to be a chief means of livelihood, hunting and foraging are now more of past time activities. Many households keep pigs, chickens, dogs, carabaos and cattle as additional sources of food and income, and for ritual purposes.

These days, many people also venture into businesses like putting up sari-sari (convenience) stores and small eateries, but these are but sources for financing mines, or as alternatives when mine revenues run dry. Kankana-eys are traditional miners, and there is no question as to why generations after generations are into mining.

What’s in It for the Future?

I have laid out first-hand observations when I did my field work in Itogon back in 2014-2015. It is such a rewarding assignment, being given the opportunity to live in these communities for six months, and six more months of going back and forth to and from the main office in Manila. I have never experienced until then picking coffee fruits for consumption the following week, eating meat as a rather rare luxury, or not feeling in any way that I need money to survive. Everything that I needed was uprooted on land, the sea, and sky.

With nature as a central theme for survival among the Ibalois, Kalanguyas and Kankana-eys, what future does it hold for the present and future generations amidst the threats of capitalist-driven modernizations? Will they be forced to give in to the demands of local and foreign invaders who present themselves as benevolent assimilators? Only time will tell; but hopefully, I get to go back to Itogon with happy memories as I had on my first visit.

*Barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines.

** Title of research: “A Study on the Customary Laws and Indigenous Political Structures of the Ibaloi, Kalanguya and Kankana-ey Communities of Itogon, Benguet.”

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Havelis in Jaipur, India

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

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Havelis: a constant sight in Jaipur

An interesting constant feature in bazaars around Jaipur, India, is the haveli.

Havelis of Jaipur refer to “medieval north Indian mansions belonging to nobles” (UNESCO, 2011) that feature square or rectangular-shaped courtyard houses. These structures are hard to miss for they form the very fabric of bazaar life in Jaipur.

Without the unique typology of havelis consisting of bungalows, stepped terraces, multiple courtyards, well-defined chowkri (sector), and intricate window panes, Jaipur’s noble past can be easily overridden by urbanization. Putting historical socio-economic issues aside, on architectural and cultural preservation points of view, we can give Rajasthan’s* Tourism and Urban Development Ministry due credit for all the preservation work being done.

Many havelis are passed down through generations and to sell these heirlooms are considered unthinkable. Today, many havelis are transformed into commercial rental spaces, restaurants, and guesthouses. Usually, the first floor is for rentals; and the subsequent floors serve as a guesthouse which is also managed by the haveli-owning family. The owning family lives in the haveli, as well.

It is best to think of a haveli structure as divided into two: the single-family cluster (1) and the servant cluster (2). Between these two clusters lies a thin zenana wing, a waiting area reserved for the house’s attending ladies (today, these cluster differentiations are redefined as you will read below). A family’s status is determined by the number of clusters in their haveli: more clusters mean a higher status.

  • Why it’s a good choice to stay in a haveli:  R and I are grateful for the opportunity to live in a haveli all throughout our stay here in Jaipur. Living in one is like stepping back in time with marble floorings, pillars, carvings, antique implements, and paintings found even in the tiniest of rooms.

A haveli guesthouse is run much like how it was in Jaipur’s noble past, with the owning family in its own cluster, the guests in another, and the attending men and women in another. These days, thankfully, things have changed: the clustering now only refers to sleeping arrangements, and it is not uncommon to see the owning family, guests, and attendants sharing a meal and working together.

Staying in a haveli is one of the rare opportunities to live in a breathing museum. It is okay to get too comfortable, too!

  • As with any country in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

*Rajasthan refers to the northern state of India.

Source: Jain, S. (2011). Walking into the Microcosm of Jaipur. UNESCO New Delhi.

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How I Travel with a Full-Time Job

*As featured on Rappler on July 12, 2017 🙂

From January 2015- January 2017, R and I have travelled to 35 countries across four continents. We had the chance to walk around the Acropolis, marvel at the wonders of Cordoba, do long drives around the UK, and do our weekly groceries at souqs in Casablanca. The travel bug struck R and I big time and since then, we’ve visited four more countries and have already booked our trip to two more countries for later this year.

You might wonder– and this made us wonder as well– how can we travel so much while working full time, able to save for our future life together (more on that on a later post), while earning just enough?

We receive a lot of questions from family and friends on how we get to travel the way we do. Here are some of our “secrets” that help us live a traveler’s life that we’ve always dreamed of:

1. We work remotely

Working remotely is the biggest gift that we’ve received in achieving this dream, and is the main reason as to why we can sustain our travels.

Let me give an overview of how we work:

As for me:

I work remotely 8 hours a day, 5 times a week. I am lucky because my schedule is quite flexible that I can spread out my 8 hours as long as I cover at least three hours of New York business time.

Aside from my day job, I also work as the auditor of two co-owned small enterprises, both based in the Philippines. I do daily and weekly audits, and dedicate at least one hour a day to communicate with the manager on-site. I’m just thankful for all the technology available today that I’m able to do this task even when out of the country.

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How we usually work, with a standing desk in tow so we can take a break from sitting for too long (Kirkby Malzeard, Northern Yorkshire)

For R, his work schedule is more demanding. Since he works as a Support Engineer for an irrigation company, he has to work long hours and should be available for calls any time. He works 10- 12 hours a day for 5 days a week, then 5 hours for Saturdays. Sometimes, he also has to work for at least 2 hours on Sundays. The hours are really long. What’s great with his job, though, is he can work from his phone for some tasks so what he does is he purchases a local sim card and signs up for data. He does this for every country that we go to.

So, when we travel, we manage our day based around our work. Our work is top priority since without it, we cannot live this kind of life that we want. Usually, we only travel around on weekends; and we only go out on weekdays for dinner after all work is done.

2. Through research projects

As an anthropology practitioner (for I can’t really call myself an “anthropologist” just yet), I get to receive research contracts in and out of the Philippines. But these do not come to me as manna from heaven. I need to work for and apply for them. I’ve received more turned-down applications than accepted ones, so when I get them I make sure I give my best so I get referred to other projects, or I get to continue with the project when it gets extended.

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Who would have thought we will find ourselves staying in a container van in the middle of a moor for three months? (Kirkby Malzeard, Northern Yorkshire)

I would say the biggest factor as to why I got into research contracting is because of this UNDP research project that I luckily got accepted to back in 2013. More projects came pouring in after that, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity. There is a lot of room for improvement though since I only have a bachelor’s degree, and some projects are reserved for those with masters and PhD degrees.

It is through this job that R and I get to travel to off-the-beaten tracks including Itogon (Benguet), Kirkby Malzeard (Great Britain), Casablanca (Morocco), and Jaipur (India).

3. Through business trips

This opportunity is thanks to R’s company who is kind and generous enough to shoulder both of our travel expenses when R has a workshop, seminar, meeting, or conference to attend. He travels once a year in the US, once around Southeast Asia, and once in Europe. So in a year, we both get three trips cared of by R’s company!

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Staying in a country club: one of the many perks of R’s business trips! (Singapore)

And since R and I both travel smart aka within our means, it’s a great chance for us to travel beyond what we can afford. We get to travel on business class, stay at 5-star hotels, and eat in nice restaurants. Oh, why oh why do these kinds of trips have to end!

4. Through company trips

Once a year, in summer, our family receives a free trip thanks to a Philippine-based company that my parents are co-owners of. All the co-owners’ families receive this free trip, and so we all make sure we are available for this trip. It is definitely one of the rare opportunities for all our families to bond.

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Traveling inter-country by private bus. Again, something I can’t afford without this annual travel opportunity 😛 (Cologne, Germany)

Again, for this one, I make sure I get to join because I am able to enjoy a kind of travel that I cannot afford. Traveling around in a private hired bus, staying in 4 to 5-star hotels, and having private guides– It is the kind of travel that I wouldn’t want to miss!

***

These are the many ways by which R and I can travel so much for the past few years. When we set our sights three years ago into exploring the world together until we grow old, we did our best to achieve location independence with our work. It took us some years to get to where we are today, but it is not impossible to achieve.

We may not be able to afford many of the physical luxuries in life, but we definitely appreciate and are always thankful of the life we have today. We are now where we want to be, and we are forever grateful 🙂

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Market of Senlis in Senlis, France (Marché de Senlis)

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

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The Senlis street market within the medieval walls

Name of market: Marché de Senlis/ Market of Senlis

Address: Downtown of Senlis, L’Oise, Hauts-de-France, France.

Operating days and times: Tuesday and Friday, 8:00 AM – 12 NN

How to get there: via train from Paris Gare du Nord or Paris Gare de Lyon. The trip takes around 1.5 hours. If via car from Paris Gare du Nord, it takes around 45 minutes.

Website: www.en.senlis-tourisme.fr

Fast Facts:

  • Senlis is a medieval town built in the 12th century and stands as a testament to changes in the socio-economic and political climate of France. It is said that nothing much has changed since it was left in ruins right after the end of the French Revolution in 1799.
  • Aside from the local street market, other town attractions include the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Senlis castle, and the now-abandoned (thankfully) Roman ampitheatre which staged gladiator fights.

Visitor Tips: 

  • Arrive early especially if you’re looking to shop for fresh produce and homemade cooked foods. They sell out pretty fast.
  • It can help if you know how to speak a bit of French. Since this is a local market with trades dominated by the older generation, many stall owners will appreciate it if you at least know how to ask for prices and to count in French.
  • Why you should consider visiting: want to step back in time?
  • As with any country in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Market Find: Barbecue Skewers

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

Largely a meat-loving society, it is common for Filipinos to have meat viands and snacks paired up with steamed rice and sawsawan (dips).

Visitors to the Philippines may find it surprising to see barbecue skewers being sold in markets both in large and small markets. The fare is sold so casually that even kids are asked to fan out the skewers as they are being roasted with locally sourced charcoal and a makeshift rack.

At around PHP 10 (0.2 USD) per stick, it is not bad when you’re craving for a rich protein fix. As for health concerns, I think this issue has more to do with how soon and how much you want to adapt. We all can’t go on eating off a pack, don’t we?

Why I love it: although not a big pork and beef fan, I love the way Filipinos marinate these skewers which side more as a sweet fare. These are very filling and can be eaten on the go on its own or, as I prefer, as a main meal with rice.

Barbecue skewers at PHP 10 per stick!

As with any cultural element in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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Market Find: Churros

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

A main fare in Spain and in its former and current colonies, churros, also called tejeringos, calientes, calentitos de rueda, or calentitos de papas, have gained worldwide popularity thanks to their addicting texture and taste.

It is not uncommon to see churros in markets in Spain, Latin America, and in the Philippines. However, remember that churros have been indigenized depending on where they’re made. For example, in the Philippines, churros have inspired the creation of deep fried “donat” (a borrowing from the term “doughnut”).

Try churros plain, with dulce de leche, chocolate, or cinnamon as popularized by Disney Theme Parks.

Why I love it: I love how churros are so crispy on the outside yet with bursts of flavors inside. I also like how they’re so versatile that you can pair them up with almost anything. Churros are one of those guilty pleasures that you want to enjoy once in a while.

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Churros with dulce de leche filling (Seville, Spain).

As with any cultural element in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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Market Find: Ar-arosep/ Seaweed/ Sea Grape/ Green Caviar

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

The Philippines has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and its marine life is no exception.

One interesting find in Philippine markets in the Ilocos region is “Ar-arosep,” a local term for seaweed, sea grape, and green caviar.

Only seasonally available in high-end restaurants overseas, the Philippines is lucky yet again to be gifted with Ar-arosep that is best known to treat thyroid disorders. That is an advice taken from local elders who have precious wisdom passed down from generations.

Water pollution is the major threat to the increasing fall of Ar-arosep.

If you pass by Ilokano markets, be sure to look for this navy green, bush-like presence. It’s best enjoyed fresh with sliced Ilokano tomatoes (tiny but very sweet).

Why I love it: ar-arosep represents one of the few unspoilt beauties still available in the Philippines. It serves as a reminder that in the midst of commercial fishing and industrialization, there lies survivors that find their way into local markets.

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Ar-arosep: one of the many overlooked Philippine market finds

As with any cultural element in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤