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Should Igorots Assimilate?

In his lecture the other day, Dr. Bacdayan said that the senga anchors Igorot identity. He raised the question, "Should Igorots assimilate or not?" His answer to this was: "The Igorot should not aim for assimilation."

Instead, he said, Igorots -- and I think this goes for all people who carry an identity other than those condoned by dominant cultures -- should aim for integration and participate in the nation on their own terms.

The interaction during the open forum was as interesting as the lecture itself.

An officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples was present. She too was an Igorot from Sagada. She said it made her uneasy when Igorots are described as "animists" and "ancestor worshippers." She took issue with Dr. Bacdayan's use of these terms. In relation to her comments, one student, also an Igorot asked about the conflict between the Anglican religion in Sagada and the continued performance of rituals. In turn, Eric de Guia, a.k.a. Kidlat Tahimik, observed that we tend to always look for conflict in things that may not really be opposed to each other in essence. Dr. Bacdayan then asked Kidlat whether he saw any problems between Western influences and indigenous traditions, to which the filmmaker replied that as a romantic artist, what he sees is a coming together of these things. Inclusiveness. And then to round things of nicely, Dr. Julie Cabato, an Ibaloy and one of the pillars of the Baguio community addressed herself to the NCIP officer. Dr. Cabato said that she is a Roman Catholic but that she also still religiously adheres to Ibaloy ritual when occasion calls for it. She said as Catholics they never had a problem with it, and their priests never had a problem with it. "So," she addressed the NCIP officer in a kindly tone, "be at ease. Just be at ease with it."

Several questions followed about culture and identity -- many of them from Cordillerans young and old. The last question was from a student of anthropology who asked a typically hyfalutin and convoluted question about whether strengthened cultures were a threat to national identity.

Dr. Bacdayan paused and said with classic Sagada humor, "It's a good question. But could you repeat that please?"

Everyone in the room laughed. The student good-naturedly obliged.

Dr. Bacdayan pointed out that everywhere now people are realizing that there is strength in diversity. His conclusion was simple and straight to the point. "I just can't imagine us not being ourselves, becoming lowlanders, shall we say."

This reminded me of that moment in Benedict Anderson's lecture in UP in January 2011 when, after being asked the umpteenth question about identity he said, "When people feel they're missing soul here," he pointed to his heart. "They think they can fill it with identity."

Dr. Bacdayan spoke about his own culture and Benedict Anderson about nationalisms. But they had the same message: Be true to your soul.

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