I logged on to my friendster this morning and there waiting for me was a new testimonial. It was another one from my sister. She took my pseudonym Ironheart and came up with an acrostic of some kind. It was nice; all the words she said there was very touching and sincere. When I read it, a question came to me: Why can't Sarah say it to me up front? We are very close and she tells me everything (at least that's what I think, but who knows?] :) but why can't she tell me verbally all the things she writes in her testimonials. This question and a few more that I have asked myself over the years seemed to boil down to one thing: the Kalanguya Culture.
Tell a Westerner or a lowlander Filipino that her loved one has died and you will see the appropriate emotional response--she will cry and will need someone (or something) to embrace (typically). But try telling a Kalanguya and she will look down at the ground batting her eyelashes, and trying to keep the tears from falling (men even manage not to cry) even if they love the dead person very dearly. WHY SUCH AN UNRESPONSIVENESS OR IS IT?
I was born in a village deep in the forests of Nansiakan, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, in Northern Philippines. During that time, American missionaries were in the village teaching the Kalanguya people about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But not only that because they also kind of introduced western culture. I remember during a school break when I was in third grade, I was taking care of my two younger siblings (in most of the Filipino culture, it's automatic, that if you are older, the burden of taking care of the younger ones when the parents go to the fields will fall on your incompetent young shoulders) and we went to play near the house of the western missionary. After a few hours, the missionary came and gave each one of us a cookie. The older children in the house know the drill. When they give you something, say 'Thank you,' so that's what we did. Unfortunately, my barely three year old youngest sister failed to say her thanks so the missionary snatched her cookie and put it back in the can. My baby sister got upset and started to go wild. She begun howling and scratching my face so in desperation, I gave my half-eaten cookie to her. To the surprise of everybody, the missionary came back and took the cookie too. (I don't know why I still remember this so vividly. I can still feel the pity I felt for my baby sister at that moment.) To make the story short, we left the house and went home with me crying with my sister, out of pity and probably embarrassment too or even anger. Since then, to the best that I can remember, I never failed to say thank you for any favor that is offered or given to me, until such time that I was becoming very analytical about the culture of my people, then everytime a favor is done on my behalf, I feel a twinge of embarrassment and sometimes I can't bring myself to say thank you. Again, I ask myself why?
A year after the cookie incident, my dad took the whole family to live in a new village, and would you believe that during the first few months I suffered from a culture shock of some kind? See, this is a Kalanguya village, pretty much the same as the one we left but in this new village, there were no western missionaries. One time I went to my cousin's house. They gave us a basketful of sweet potatoes, a pound or two of sticky rice and lots of bananas. They had given us too much more than we can carry so I just told my cousin that we'll take what we are able to carry. Before I and my siblings went home, I said, "Halamat, Manang." (Thank you, (+ a polite address to an older sister.) To my big surprise, my cousin's face turned crimson. At first I was afraid that I offended her for returning some of the things that I can't carry. In a way, I did offend her but with a different reason than what I thought. She took offense when she heard me say thank you. She said, "Halamat ali ngod man ni! Hapa matey kan kabwahan!" (Lit. Why are you saying thank you? Are you dying tomorrow?) This rhetorical questions implied the meaning: "Do not say thank you because I might be the one in need next time and you will be the one doing me a favor!" Something like that.) At that early age (I was 9), many cultural questions (well, of course at that time, I still don't know that these things are cultural issues) have sprouted in my head: Why, on one hand, to a westerner, is it that not saying thank you is bad manners? On the other hand, why would a Kalanguya take offense when thanked? Is this just a matter of uneducated or uncivilized versus educated or civilized way of looking at things or behaving?
The Kalanguya people, like most Filipinos are helpful people. When a person needs help planting or harvesting rice, or building his house, his neighbours will come and help him. There is an unwritten code that you will help your neighbour when he needs help so what usually happens is that favors done are favors returned and so there is no need to say a word. For the unwesternized Kalanguya, Thank-You is too easy to say to repay a favor. The Kalanguya does not have the western concept of appreciation that a thank-you usually implies. But the opposite is surprisingly untrue because if you ask a Kalanguya if the reason he opts not to be thanked is because he is expecting a payback, he would be offended. Again, there is an unwritten code that acts of goodness should not be counted or even mentioned. (Usually, you will only hear some kind of appreciation for someone when one is talking about a dead person--eulogies, gagiks!)
What about sorry? The nearest thing that can express the idea of sorry in Kalanguya is the interjection, "Ahah!" One says this when he accidentaly inflicted pain on someone (like indeliberately bumping with someone.) As for thank you,the nearest word would be 'haballi'. Nowadays, more and more Kalanguyas are using this instead of the loan word Halamat but primarily, the meaning of 'Haballi' does not go beyond merely being delighted about whatever is happening or that which someone has done for somebody.
Even to this day, when you did something wrong and you say sorry to a Kalanguya, he would say something like (even if jokingly), "Andi ngoy agah ni sorry!" (There is no medicine for sorry!) This means that merely saying sorry is not enough because sorry cannot accomplish anything. It cannot undo whatever is the wrong that was committed. It seems to me that to them, 'sorry is a dead end,' a helpless nonsense. I am not saying that the Kalanguya does not say sorry even to this day! Believe me, my generation even overuse it! :( All I am saying here is that, like the "Thank You," sorry is considered to be too easy to say when you wrong your fellow. It is given in the culture that when you do something wrong, there must be something you can do to undo it or change it or pay it if it cannot be undone.
Well, what did I write all that for? Simple. So that you will know and you will not be shocked or get mad at me if I am an Ironheart, emotionless at times, if I do not say Thank You or Sorry often enough when I should. So that you will not think what an ice witch I mean ice queen I am. Hehehehe (kidding!) (To all the other readers, I wrote this for my husband who is from the south so pardon me for these asides.)
Seriously, I am just at a point in my life where I would really like to see all Igorots be proud of who they are.... etcetera etcetera.
What I think is that it is good that the Kalanguya people has learned to say thank you and sorry. The best thing about us Kalanguya is that we are very teachable and we learn and adapt very easily (sometimes too easily). We have learned to be sweet, to show our emotions so that people will be able to relate and open up to us, so that people will feel welcome. We have learned to embrace people we respect and love. We have learned to hug and kiss our friends. We have learned and adapt so many good and even 'not so good' things....
...... but now I am thinking that maybe the young generation could use some reminding of the no-sorry, no-thank you culture of the older generation because that culture inculcates responsible and accountable living--an excellent way of life that saddeningly, is falling through the crags of modernism.