October 20, 2011

Igorota in the City by Grace Bandoy

*This is an article/guest post by Grace Bandoy.:  Igorot – a term given to people belonging to the ethnic tribes found in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) particularly those found in the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Kalinga, Abra, Ifugao and Apayao.
Igorota – a female Igorot (I know, it’s the lamest description ever!)

My mother is from Kabayan Barrio in Benguet, an Ibaloi and my dad from Besao in Mountain Province, a Kankana-ey, so I guess I’m what one would call an FBI (Full Blooded Igorot). I can’t wear that FBI shirt though (it’s a famous t-shirt sold in Baguio), because they don’t have them in baby-tee sizes and style!!! Why do they have those damn shirts in XL only?!! The people making them are probably dim-wittedly thinking that only male Igorots are proud to wear them, well, they’re missing out on a huge market – the female ones who are as extremely proud!

My cousin Paul once said, “..dapat tayong mga guwapo at mga magagandang Igorots ang magyabang na Igorot tayo para isipin ng mga hindi Igorot na ang mga Igorot ganito ang hitsura! Hindi yung mga pangit diyan at mga war – freak ang sumisigaw sigaw na Igorot sila!!..” (..it should be us, the handsome and pretty Igorots who should brag that we’re Igorots so non-Igorots out there would think all Igorots look like us! Not those ugly looking and war-freak fellows who holler that they are!), he was drunk during that time but he was totally right. I just couldn’t agree with him more and he told it without conceit. Does it mean you have to look like Brangelina and boast that you’re Igorots? One has to at least look decent is what I hoped he meant.
/art by squeegool on deviant art
But then again, we were a pretty good - looking lot when he said that, so he literally meant it really.

Being an Igorot mestiza (half – Ibaloi and half – Kankana-ey) born in Baguio hasn’t been a breeze though when you’re growing up in this buzzing city in the 80’s. Baguio was already long predominated by lowlanders during my childhood. The Igorots were the silent minority while the Ilokanos, Pangasinenses, Tagalogs and Kapampangans were building their homes on every imaginable vacant lot for sale or not in the city of Baguio and putting up their businesses here, ostracizing the Igorots in the process, unintentionally, I thought.

All throughout that time, I felt it was difficult to beam with pride and broadcast to the world you’re an Igorot, because if you did, I felt you’d be treated as some second-rate, trying hard... And studying in an all-girl Catholic school in high school made it even worse. I went through this horrible teenage experience of denial, mortification and wishing on my ass I was American or Ilocano na lang (Ilocano instead)!!!

Plus, let’s not dismiss the brainless fact that even until now, tourists who come up to Baguio want to see an Igorot as much as they want to go to Mines View Park!! Igorots, even during these activist and alleged, unprejudiced age, are still thought of as Neanderthal freaks. How else will you explain those tourists lining up to have their photos taken with our Igorot lolos (grandpas) and lolas (grandmas) at Botanical Garden??!!

And then, uploading these photos in their Friendster and Facebook accounts with a photo comment that goes, “..me with an Igorot in Baguio..”

So one can just imagine how horrendous it was decades earlier in Baguio for a teenager to in-your-face state, “I am an Igorot.” I utterly regret being not proud during those times, but it can’t be undone.

Surprisingly, in college, being an Igorota didn’t seem to matter to me anymore, “I’m from Baguio and I’m an Igorot, so?!! Think whatever you want to think, I don’t fu*#ing care anymore..” was my proverbial vendetta. I’m not quite sure how it suddenly dawned upon me that I was an Igorota, but at long last, it was definitely liberating to not have to be embarrassed by it anymore.

Maybe being uncomfortable about it was just a teenage thing. Much like when you’re ashamed of being poor and not letting anyone know where you live because your house is small? The movie Pretty in Pink ultimately says it all.
Beckoned by the sky-scrapered, corporate life, I took the bus trip with the highest hopes of becoming an executive tycoon to that land of malls and “opportunities” that is Manila, just days from my college graduation with a degree in Commerce.

And after endless weeks of job-hunting and sweating like hell under that fiery Manila sky, I was finally a contractual administrative assistant at Jollibee’s main office at Ortigas Center in Pasig City. It was corporate and it was within the elevators and cubicled offices of the Jollibee Centre that I had to deal with being an Igorota for the nth time.

By then of course I was proud and I swanked about it a lot, when one day another moron went “Di ba mga Igorot may buntot?!,” (Isn’t it that Igorots have tails?!”), I went berserk and thought, “Okay, this is it!! I am sooo sick of all these delusions others have of Igorots! I vow to spend my life turning this misconception around, we’re humans too!”
Well, I didn’t austerely live by that vow of course because I was just a starry-eyed twenty-year-old during that time. But the one thing permanently nailed in me from that day forward --- I am overflowing with pride and forever will be, wherever I go, whatever I do…

I went on to become an OFW in Taiwan for two years, a voluntary youth representative, an events organizer, a die-hard rocker, photography enthusiast, party animal, construction worker, a writer in my own world, columnist, frustrated NGO executive, mountain climber, rock star wannabe, vegetarian has-been, lover… all the while being a pompous Igorota.

Today, in my mid-thirties, hibernating for months in this humble and pretty abode my father built when he was alive, a hardcore advocate for peace, justice and saving Baguio from further ruins a.k.a. modernization and concretization, unmarried, without a child, with a mother nearing her Senior Citizen year, with two other unmarried siblings, with a niece, without a lover, weightlifting, successfully executing cool yoga and figure skating moves, viciously hating the pollution and overpopulation in Baguio and with Six Hundred pesos plus in my bank account, I’m still bloated with pride!

And last month, while traversing the fully cemented Ambuklao road to attend my cousin’s wedding in Kabayan Barrio to have a breather since I’m not doing anything anyway, I almost shed a tear regretting why I haven’t trekked that road more often and truly appreciate those magnificent landscapes along the way.

That view of the Ambuklao Dam from atop in the early morning as the sun shed its first rays of light into the calm misty Ambuklao waters is the most divine thing I have ever seen.

“What the hell have I been doing when I could’ve been here all the time?!”, I repeated to myself a gazillion times during the 4.5-hour trip when I was awe-struck by almost everything we passed on by.

I have traveled to Kabayan several times before that recent trip, but was never mad and overwhelmed with such emotions as I am on that fateful day.

I even hated visiting Kabayan in the past because it was warm there, no exciting places I could go to and I was too lazy to walk around anyway, no cute guys I can make pa-cute to – there was nothing in Kabayan!

Now, I want to strangle myself for thinking that. The blood that runs through my veins was borne in that little, peaceful barrio in Benguet I use to hate.

And there are celebrated places there to go to if only I took the time to discover them - I could’ve made Mount Pulag highly popular as it is now years ago if only I spent the littlest time trying to scale that glorious mountain and sharing it to the world, and I could’ve been keeper of the Kabayan mummies if I had the passion I have now of studying, promoting and preserving them.

I could’ve exhausted a great deal of my life living there and making a difference instead of working my butt off in this city trying to become rich which I could never be anyway.

My journey to Mountain Province to attend the recent Lang - ay Festival was even more bizarrely haunting. It was only my 4th visit to that land my father hails from.

Well, there were all those regrets once again while I wallowed deep into sentimentality during the trip. But the breeze in Mountain Province is way cooler than when you travel to my mother’s place and I usually enjoy voyaging to Mt. Province more. Rice terraces and pine trees abound and you see a lot of them along the way.

The grand Lang – ay parade that featured each of the province’s commune individualities starring the municipalities’ elders and their most talented youngsters really had me wailing in tears inside, I could’ve cried like hell on the pavement during the parade but becoming the center of attention and stealing the spotlight from those beautiful Igorot people parading was the last thing I wanted to do. I held back my tears like crazy, I almost exploded out there!

I haven’t gone up to Besao where my dad was born but got the chance to walk around Sagada and swore I will go back there more often. Those two journeys back to my parents’ roots are slowly and incredibly spinning my life around!
Then by some baffling ‘call of fate’, just a day after coming back from Mt. Province, my sister mentioned that a family house in Besao owned by my dead Uncle Luke will be evacuated soon. My cousin Jerome living in that house will be migrating to Canada with his family, and I heard no one is interested to go live there after they leave.

I think I want to.

Besao is the next municipality after Sagada and transforming the house into a cozy Bed and Breakfast seems lucrative hehehe.

What have I got to lose? I will be living in Besao, earning money and taking care of the house at the same time, meeting people – visitors and locals, eating fresh veggies and fruits everyday, enjoying the modern amenities of TV cables, cellular phones and internets, hiking, swimming…why else would I want to live here?!

I even joked to a friend I’ll smoke weed everyday and when I feel like getting laid I just go to Sagada and choose which nationality I’d want to sleep with, he laughed his heart out in conformity.

“Balik – Bundok,” (back to the mountains) I told him.

How ironic it would be that I will be hitting the same road my parents took to come live in Baguio, I will take the same road back…

My father would be happy I guess and I think he’d understand. We’d probably go back there together if only he was here today while my mom thinks I’m losing my mind and she bet I’d be back here in two days unable to survive there. But I don’t really think so.

I think I now know where I should be - nearer to the Igorot core I was brought forth into. And I swear I won’t miss a thing about this city at all.

Balik Bundok….

(I still haven’t gone back to live in the mountains, my Bank Account remains as it is, I’m still in Baguio City fighting it out and my mom has passed away since, I love Baguio and I hope the thoutsands out here inhabiting it loves it too…)

Write Your Comments Below


  1. wow! my heart feels the same way as you tell about your life. i love it. hope i would read another story that is so inspiring!

  2. i feel you. i grew up too being teased because i am an igorot. amidst all the teasing, i was still proud to be one.

  3. hi, any chance you've turned your uncle's house into a bread and breakfast already? :-) my husband's family on his mother's side (surname: Basilio) is set to have their family reunion in Besao this coming first week of April, and we're eager to attend and introduce our children to their Igorot heritage...in case you're already in business, could you please contact me? many thanks

    1. Hi Toni,
      This is a guest post by Grace Bandoy. If you want to contact her personally, here's a link to her Facebook page. Thanks for visiting. :)


  4. hi mam Toni this is Grace Bandoy, we havent yet, my cousin just left for canada, we might be in Besao on April too, agsasabat tayo to idiay mam...