Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Sagada church bell

from The Agawa compassion: Life in the country

-a budding author from Agawa, Besao
-works now as a development officer at Easter School
-an account on the bell which now stands in front of the convent in Sagada
-notice the reference to the Agawa people eating more.

The Agawa compassion
Life in the Country
Vicente Sapguian

Wanted: More Igorot journalists. Often enough on Igorot history and culture, we detect prejudiced implications from foreign and non-Igorot writers. But we cannot utterly blame them if we do not help to clarify the issues ourselves. One need not hold a doctorate degree to become an effective journalist or writer. I’d say an Igorot who was raised in that ethnic culture is better than a non-Igorot scholar writing about Igorot folkways.

It is delightful to learn that a young man from Agawa has begun a research work on his people’s origin and culture. I sought the man thinking to get from him more details about some stories that I gathered from their place. You know what I’ve found? A small treasure. The young man has come out with a book detailing his people’s history, researched and written from what he calls the real authors of his book, the old folks at home!
Leon O. Lonogan came up with a book he titled “The Sun Sets at Sunrise: The Rise of the Agawa Tribe”. Lonogan started researching on the origins of his people in 1997. He then presented his first work as a term paper required in an Education subject during his undergraduate teaching course at Easter School. Agawa elders, in due time, saw the volume and made suggestions to go more extensive. Historical details shaped up more clearly as more elders and concerned Agawa leaders helped in the research to establish facts and beliefs. The latest unedited copy of the book has just been bound last August.

Leon O. Lonogan is presently working as development officer of Easter College, Inc. He also handles some classes at the school.

A good editor can help refine the Lonogan manuscript and make it competitive in the book market. The book with its historical episodes is surely a priceless treasure for the Besao people.

Aside from the adventures of the pioneers of Agawa and how “Linnapet” and the twelve months of the Agawa agricultural year came to be, the origins of the four barangays of Agawa are amply found in the book. Adventure fills the reader as he follows the exploits of Agawa forebears who carved a land and passed a culture of exceptional unity to their people, up to this day “a slave to none, dependent to no one, and crony of nobody.”

To give you a foretaste of the book, here’s an abridged version of a portion of the chapter on ‘Agawa and the Establishment of the Besao Municipality’.

“When the mountain villages were divided into municipalities, Agawa became part of Sagada while Besao was included as a barrio of the municipality of Bangnin. . . . Government projects or donations were given through the officers stationed in Sagada. All ran smooth in the political and socio-economic affairs involving the Agawa villages..”

“In those days, when there was no electricity to run machineries and there were no communication facilities, a bell was very important. It provided information to the people. It reminded the community of the time of worship, let know the hour of the day, called the people during meetings, attracted their attention when there was an emergency, and gave a warning in time of danger for the community. With this, government officials stationed in Sagada were given the assignment to bring a big bell from Vigan, Ilocos Sur to Sagada."

“In the beginning of the 20th century, the church of Sagada requested for the bell. This was to be carried all the way from Vigan to Sagada since there was no easier means of transportation during those days. Carrying government or church properties was one of the means by which Igorots earned money, for mining companies were not yet common. The people of Sagada were of course prioritized to do the work. They chose their able-bodied men for the job and off they went to Vigan.”

To shorten, the Sagada men failed and so were the second batch of carriers who came from Besao. The church bell was too much for them even with the employment of long sturdy bamboo poles with the cumbersome object tied at the center and carried by the men on all sides. It was the Agawa carriers who persevered.

“In Sagada, the church officials did not give up to secure the bell. The year was 1903 when they offered a higher pay for the job and promised a shirt for every carrier. Able-bodied men from Agawa decided to try. Led by Budkaeng, 20 sturdy men from Agawa started for Vigan. Among them were Aklatan, Tigilan, Sib-aten and Ciano, the youngest.”

“The chief officer in Vigan whom they called Seniora welcomed the third batch of carriers. She fed them well and prepared their food provisions for the tortuous trip back. She observed that the Agawa carriers were smaller than those from Sagada and Besao, yet they ate twice more than the bigger men. Hope ran through her. She demurred to judge strength by the size of a person.”

“As the way it used to be in carrying a heavy object, the Agawa carriers tied the big bell to a bamboo assiw. They slowly lifted the heavy bell then moved down the road at a snail’s pace until they were out of sight. The Seniora was much pleased. He hoped that the difficult job would at last be done.”

“The way from Vigan to Sagada was long and hard. The Agawa carriers walked unhurriedly but certainly. Sometimes they had to follow the long route to avoid passing through a narrow channel. At times they had to walk at night to arrive at a place with water to camp. Fortunately, it was summer, there were no rains to make the journey more difficult.”

“As the carriers reached Langyatan, the mountain that overlooks the Lepanto River, they rang the bell, that its sound was heard in the Kayang villages below. The people upon hearing the sound of the bell gathered food and brought it to the carriers. This is an indigenous way of helping people with a heavy load, a native practice called mangoto.”

“On the fourth day, the group finally reached the village of Malliten in the Kinali territory. They decided to rest and go fishing at the Balas-iyan River, leaving the huge bell at the Dap-ay. Down at the river, the Agawa carriers enjoyed feasting on the fish, including eels and wading. They decided to stay the night at the river to mannilew.”

“Up in Malliten, men from Sagada who were sent to meet the Agawa group arrived and prepared to leave with the bell even without the Agawa carriers. The thought of the rewards filled their hearts. They did not think of the efforts and difficulties undergone by their brethren from Agawa who brought the bell to the upland, now only about a fourth of the way herefrom to Sagada. Selfishness reigned in them. They contemplated of taking the reward by themselves, so off they went with the huge bell home without the Agawa carriers . . .”

This episode extends more. But as I have said, I can only give you a foretaste of what the Lonogan manuscript has in store for readers. Anyway, the bell now remains a treasure in Sagada.

The misunderstanding between the Agawa and Sagada carriers for the reward of money and shirts helped to kindle the eventual separation of Agawa from Sagada. Agawa soon joined Besao to form the Besao municipality that it is now. **

For reactions email vicsapguian@digitelone.com