Know Your Past
By Michael A. Bengwayan Ph. D
My daughter Frances once asked ‘Who are we Pa?” I paused and looked at her. I wanted to repeat what was told to me decades ago by my great grandma. But I dared not. We were the people of the rich valleys, lush and thick forests; of the clear and prestine waters. We were once true to The Way.
But then everything changed. Slowly, outsiders came. A giant called “guvmint”came. Followed by others with forked tongues. Without hesitation, these took the lands. They had papers showing they own the lands. Lands that own us. Some of us were forced out to give up the lands forever—the valleys, homes and mountains. In (Ambuklao) Bokod, (Binga) Itogon, Mankayan, Boneng, Tublay, Tuba, the people were forced to move to the setting sun, leaving a trail of tears. Not that our brothers and sister Ibalois cried when they were forced out. But the trail spoke of the sorrows of those who stood and walked in that trail.
All they did not leave though. Some, skilled in the ways of the mountains, fled back into the bosoms of the hollows and lived there. They farmed on the mountains, hunted, set up traps, planted and dug sweetroot from the ground. They fished with their hands under the banks of the cold creeks, and moved as silent as shadows. A people who were there but not seen nor heard.
In this rich Benguetland, slowly but surely as if evilly-designed, people called “poltishuns” and some called “eduketed” came. They did not love the freedom of the mountains and pines. They lusted for land and profit. They were bigger than the ogre “guvmint”. With their arrival, the century of our early Ibalois started to die. The time of surviving became more depressing.
I looked at my daughter. In her blood runs the strength and courage of the once-warring and head-hunting Bontoc warriors; her heart the peaceful, kind, patient and humble heart of the Ibalois; and the perseverance of the Ibanags. There would be a new century for them. There would be a time for blood, fighting and death. It will be a new world. But she will be fighting different enemies. Like here sister Phyllis before her, she has chosen to fight diseases that will plague mankind. Like her elder sister Grail who is fighting ignorance by teaching so that our people will not be cheated by the giant “guvmint”. Like her sister Abigail much ahead of her who is fighting for human rights. And; like her brother Michael Jr. ahead of her who is fighting retrogress using science and technology.
I looked far out in the mountains beyond our home, towards the west. The sun was setting, the tree spirits were rising. You couldn’t tell if it was the wind that whispered as it swooshed across the bent pines. I walked out of sight of the rims of the mountain Frances a step behind. I could feel the past spirits on the talking fingers of the trees. The sun was setting, I heard a mourning crow just above. My ancestors lived fully in these hills. But the hills will not be here long. Just a sight away, I could see destruction by a housing company called Go—-en as its machines plowed the land under unmindful of death it is causing.