Thursday, November 17, 2022

On the Right Way of Wearing the Igorot Bahag

While doing research for a paper I'm currently writing, I came across this photo of an Igorot gentleman in an old travel book published in 1980 (Insight Guides: Philippines; APA Productions). It had me thinking about the controversy several weeks back regarding the male contestants in a pageant who were allegedly wearing the bahag the wrong way. 

Igorotland was up in arms lambasting the pageant organizers and the wearers. I found the controversy weird because I thought people were overreacting. I kind of understood why people were unhappy with the way the bahag were worn. The flaps of the bahag were exaggeratedly tucked on the sides to highlight the male form. There are those saying that the bahag was transformed into a sexualized prop. I get what they are saying.

However, I have bigger issue with the criticisms saying that the bahag were not worn the right way. This begs the question, what exactly is the right way to wear a bahag? 

Over the years, I've seen a lot of photos of our Igorot ancestors, mostly taken when Americans armed with cameras set foot in our mountains. And in these old photos, you can see that there is no ONE way to wear a bahag. Some wear the bahag with the flaps fully extended. Some tuck the front flap over the groin. And yes, some tuck the front flap or the back flap on the sides which make them look like they are wearing a brief instead of a bahag.

Tucking the flaps of the bahag to the sides is also a real practice. Majority of our Igorot ancestors worked in rice fields. To prepare these fields for planting, they are often knee-deep in water and mud. Practicality suggests that you tuck the flap over the groin or on the sides to prevent the cloth from getting muddied.

In conclusion, the organizers of the pageant may have exaggerated the wearing/tucking of the bahag but the way it was done wasn't too far off from reality.