This group is the result of a serendipitous meeting between Lars Kjaerholm, a visiting anthropologist from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Mayor Benito Siadto of Kibungan. They decided to organize a modest "Benguet Symposium" in which different people could get together simply to share information on what is known and what has been written about Benguet, and what we don't know yet.
It was a small and relaxed gathering. Mayor Benito Siadto came with five members of his LGU, including daughter Bren, a UP graduate who is now working as his secretary. Academicians in attendance were Lars, Professors Myrna Sison of Benguet State University and Ike Pikpikan of St. Luis University, both of whom are also members of Maksil ni Ibaloi (MAKNIBA), Professors Caster Palaganas and Letty Tolentino of U.P. Baguio, and yours truly, phd wannabe. The local media was represented by Chi Balmaceda-Guitierrez, Jack Carino, and Dave Leprozo. Prof. Ray Rovillos, Dean of the UP Baguio College of Social Sciences, was the moderator.
The meeting started as a quiet discussion on relevant literature and ongoing studies on Benguet. But when it was the turn of Mayor Siadto to talk about NGO, LGU, and research initiatives in Kibungan, the dry academic discussion quickly transformed into a lively brainstorm on potential research and development initiatives for Kibungan.
Here's a peek at some of the exciting things we talked about:
Two mummies have gone missing from Kibungan. The media representatives were asked to start an investigative report and try to trace their whereabouts. The mayor suspects that antique traders or collectors might have "connived" with some locals and bought them for a measly sum. He wants the mummies returned and protected in situ.
The LGU is also keen on encouraging the continued cultivation of traditional rice varieties.
They also have plans to start a School of Living Traditions. In this regard, workshops will be held in Kibungan to train local teachers to become local historians.
Mayor Siadto also asked how research could be connected to the development of tourism in Kibungan. Many of those present stressed that Kibungan should set its sights higher than the average, kuripot, sloppy, backpacking crowd. Some suggested an emphasis on cultural and educational tourism. Lars stated that he was interested in bringing anthropology students from Denmark for a winter/summer school term in Kibungan. Homestay programs were suggested. And then, of course, we couldn't get away from jargon so somebody said "local capacity-building" and then somebody else exclaimed, "not just that but local pride"! Mayor Siadto expressed a sharp interest in the concepts of limits to acceptable change and the carrying capacity of small communities.
So the academicians volunteered to participate in future research and planning sessions and to give local training workshops on cultural resource mapping and eco-tourism. The LGU promised to set aside small funds to host the volunteer researchers and trainors. Lars said he would beginning planning a winter school for January next year. The media pledged to write about Kibungan as a destination, and to try to look into possible leads on the mummies.
Dean Rovillos enthused that the meeting was a nice example of how local governments, media, and the academe could collaborate on specific issues. Ever the practical one, Kulot asked how this was all going to push through without seed money, knowing fully well that the LGU would be able to commit a small amount only. When Lars hinted that Aarhus University supported networks, we decided this was the beginning of a "loose network" (a network on the loose?), and we would call ourselves the Friends of Kibungan.
This is just the beginning though...