Saturday, November 29, 2014

The 6 Most Common Misconceptions About Us Igorots And Our Way Of Life

Before anything else, allow me to reiterate the fact that indigenous peoples/groups in the Philippines are often awfully misunderstood. We, the Igorots of the Cordilleras, are in the same boat as the Aetas of Southern and Central Luzon, the Mangyans of Mindoro, the Lumads, Manobos and Subanons of Mindanao, and other groups I've failed to mention. Other people just keep on getting things wrong when they talk about us.

Now, I don't know the experiences of our Aeta and Lumad brothers. I leave it up to them to write about the many wrong ideas that other people have about them. But as an Igorot who lived all of my current life in the Cordillera, I've had my own share of experiences with people who carry the belief that Igorots live in trees. That Igorots are stuck in the 1920s while the rest of the world march on in the 21st century. Believe me, these just compose the tip of the iceberg.

People who do not belong to our group often have ideas about us that are either not true or grossly exaggerated. The roots of these misconceptions can be attributed to a lot of things, the two most logical of which are the lack of accurate information concerning us and the spread of faulty descriptions about us.

I'm sure you remember looking at a textbook when you were in elementary school and there in its pages is an Igorot man with a pipe stuck in his mouth, a moronic grin on his leathery face, and a haircut that seems to have been patterned after a halved coconut husk. Completing the picture is a soiled Igorot kid running around with nothing on except for the bahag that covers his most private part. This was when I was in elementary school. Unfortunately, such stereotypes continue to this day.

With that said, I've decided to try and compile the most common misconceptions that non-Igorots have about us. So here we go.

1) Igorots wear their g-strings and other traditional clothes at home.
To be fair, there's a bit of truth to this. There are still Igorots in some communities in the Cordillera region who prefer wearing the wanes (g-string) and ingay (wrap-around skirt for women). Most of them are elderly, folks who were born during a time when wearing the native attire is common practice. For a long time now, however, traditional attires are stored in bauls and used only during community gatherings, festivals, and events like weddings, baptisms, etc.

The biggest reason why many people think that Igorots still wear their traditional attires in their daily lives is the way we are shown in popular media. Every time an Igorot is shown on television, plastered on a newspaper, or presented in a book, he/she is always wearing the native attire. This creates the impression that it's what we wear when we go to the farm, when we walk down the street, when we go to work, or when we go to the beach.

2) Igorots are short and have dark skins.
We are often mistakenly believed by other people to have the salient features of our Aeta brothers. Some even go as far as saying that Igorots and Aetas are from the same tribe. That Igorots also have curly and kinky hair.

There's nothing wrong with being short. There's nothing wrong with being dark-skinned. And there's nothing wrong with having crisp and curly hair. I'm simply stating the facts here. These are the recognizable features of Aetas, not Igorots. There are Igorots who are short. There are Igorots who have dark skins. And there are Igorots who have curly hair. But these are not our salient features in the same way that the Caucasian race doesn't have "almond-shaped eyes" as a recognizable feature.

This misconception is wrong and can cause serious harm. I remember a year or so ago when a local television station posted a photo of one of its celebrity stars posing with what it then called Igorots. The people in the photo weren't Igorots. They were Aetas wearing Igorot garb. This sloppy portrayal breeds even more ignorance in people.

Igorot girl in Coney Island in 1905. [Context]

3) Igorots have tails.
This is a classic one. We Igorots hear it with such regularity that we often joke about it among ourselves. To state the obvious, a human having a tail like that of a monkey's is a physical impossibility. We didn't go through hundreds of thousands of human evolution to get rid of the tail only to take it back in the snap of a generation.

There are several theories why this misconception abounds. One is that our native attires look like tails when we wear them. The wanes for men can look like a tail to an outsider. The skirt for women has with it a woven belt that extends to the length of the skirt. It does also look like a tail when observed from a distance. The Ilocanos, Tagalogs, and Spaniards of old may have seen these and spread rumors (either seriously or jokingly) that Igorots have tails. Suffice it to say that the joke was passed down through generations.

In this age and times, only a person who has never read a science book can believe the proposition that a man (a tribe for that matter) can grow a tail similar to that of a baboon.

4) Igorots have huge feet and gnarly toes.
This misconception had its roots generations ago. In the olden times, we hunted in the mountains of Benguet, fished in the rivers of Kalinga and walked down to the lowlands to trade with the Tagalogs and the Ilocanos with nothing on our feet. Naturally, our toes sort of stretched themselves to the left and to the right. The corns and calluses on our feet grew making our feet look much larger than normal. But do we have huge feet? No, we have the same feet that our Ilocano and Tagalog neighbors had.

Historians and anthropologists like William Henry Scott who came to the Cordillera region to study us and our ways of life brought more fire to this misconception by detailed studies about our feet. The studies came with great pictures too. These scholars are not to be faulted of course. Their research were often sound. It was the wrong interpretations of some readers that led to the misleading information about our feet.

5) Igorots eat dogs as regularly as they eat pork and chicken.
To be fair, some of us do eat dog meat. But the vast majority of us don't. And the way other people say it, they seem to imply that we eat dog meat the way we eat rice. As a staple presence in our dining tables. That is just not the case. I for instance have a taste of dog meat for like twice or once and sometimes never in a year.

As to the root of this misconception, it dates back to colonial times. Spaniards have always described us as eaters of dogs. Then the Americans came. In the early 1900s, one particular business-minded American named Truman Hunt brought Igorots to the United States and displayed them in a human zoo.

The Igorots replicated a typical Igorot village and was told to go on with their lives the way they always did back home. Dogs were brought to them on a regular basis which they butchered and ate in front of shocked Americans. From there on, Igorots have always been looked upon as dog-eaters.

Igorots for show in Coney Island in the summer of 1905. [Context]

6) Igorots still live in cogon huts and tree houses.
Many people still think that we are very behind when it comes to being civilized and modernized. Many people harbor ideas that we still run around in forests in our bahags and climbing into our tree houses when the days end. The fact that our mountains are teeming with pine trees, in a way, gives a bit of a push to this misinformed idea.

Your turn.
If you have anything to add to what we already discussed above or you simply wish to chime in, feel free to leave your reactions and responses to the comments section below.