It was in the late afternoon when I found myself looking for Christina Aben of the Ganduyan Museum. I was expecting to meet a young woman in her early thirties or forties. Instead, I met a wizened Igorot woman who spoke impeccable English.
Ms. Aben is the collector and oral curator of "everything" inside the Ganduyan Museum. She led me to the stairs and at the foot of it, we took off our shoes. We entered sacred ground. What greeted me was a room full of artifacts from the Cordilleras. It was awesome!
Ms. Aben began with her bead collection. These are her own collection which she started in the 1970s. The beads came from the lowlands at a time when the Igorots traded with outsiders and foreigners like the Chinese, the Indians and the Arabs. There were alligator teeth and mother of pearl shells in her collection. Such things were not found in the Cordilleras. She has a money belt, a warrior's purse and all sorts of beaded necklaces from different tribal groups of the Cordilleras. There I learned that beading patterns differ from one ethnic tribe to another. One could tell who's from the Kalinga, Nabaloi, Ifugao or Igorot. We moved on down to the men's accessories. From pipes to caps (used as pillow and water cup) and woven g-strings, anklets and armlets to warrior's garb, she has it on display. Most intriguing to me are the amulets and snake vertebra believed to increase the warrior's physical and internal prowess.
The display of spoons and drinking cups for wine are varied in size and kind. Men and women drink. For a man who has cheated on his wife, the wine cup is passed behind his back. When this happens, the cheating husband is kept away from the wife to be cleansed by the shaman. How the cleansing was done, I failed to ask. Next time, I will and yes, I'll blog about it.
For the Igorots, status are issues they treat with utmost importance. There are clothing that the rich could wear but the poor could not. The kitchenware were made from wood and metal, some from animal bones. But these are also classified by social class. Prince or pauper, the tribal Igorot does not wash their plates. Kamote, which is the staple food of the highlanders, atsara, meat and fish dishes were served on plates but the left overs, grease and stain from these viands and food were scraped. Washing was unheard of because of the scarcity of water. Water from the well was a precious resource meant for drinking, cooking and other activities for sustenance.
The divide between the affluent and the indigent persisted among ethnic tribes, however, in this modern times, these belief system no longer matter. Then again, in death, this division in social classes is still observed.
The Igorots hold many beliefs and symbols. Among the many, it is the lizard or the gecko that stand out. These animals bring forth luck and longevity. Doors, scarves, table runners, accessories are decorated with these cold blooded insectivores. Even the warrior's shield has a gecko or two. What I found most interesting among the many weapons on display is the concave end of the shields. It is meant to trap the enemy at the neck. Then, the warrior goes for the kill by chopping his head off. There goes the fabled head hunters of the Cordilleras.
For a typical city slicker, the whole thing would appear primitive or simply a mere memory of the Cordillera's pagan past. But for me, a city slicker, the Ganduyan Museum's collection and exhibit is a testimony to a unique but dying heritage that is a part of these islands. All seven thousand seven hundred of them!
At the end of the lecture, Ms. Aben shared that the museum is her life's passion. A cancer survivor, she has pursued the arts and is continuously doing so. Hats off to people like her. Long live the Ganduyan Museum!
*Ganduyan is the Igorot name of Sagada