Welcome. See life through the eyes of an American Igorot Writer. This blog has a wide range of inspirational topics relating with ethnic identity, assimilation, purpose, character and much more. Although much is centered around Igorots and Filipinos; many others will find its contents inspiring.
Most people have at least one or
two things about their cultural heritage that remind them of their roots. For me, two things always come to mind: handwoven
fabrics and dipping sauce.
The fabrics are anything but
ordinary. Mainly red with black, white, yellow, and green accents; these pieces
of cloth represent my indigenous Igorot heritage. During my elementary school
years in Oak Park, Illinois, they were used to decorate the top of our dining
room credenza and other pieces of furniture. In Palm Coast, Florida, they covered
the same furniture moved there from Oak Park and my parent’s bed. The same was true in Forest Park,
As a child, I did not know the
significance of our fabric. I
thought they were just normal Filipino fabrics every Filipino family
owned. I remember stories
of how they were hand woven by my aunties in the Mountain Province back home,
but I was too consumed with becoming “American” to appreciate it.
It wasn’t until my early thirties
that I went home to the Mountain Province to see how they woven. I watched as one of my aunties sat on
the ground and demonstrated the process that went behind the creation of our
fabrics and gained an instant appreciation for it. I learned how each Igorot tribe had
their own distinct colors and patterns, and how they were used for clothing as
Since the fabric was always used
for decoration at my house; I didn’t realize how it played more of an integral
part of our ancestral attire. The
fabrics are used for the men’s “wanes”(bahag
or g-string) and the women’s“lufid
or getup”(tapis or
wrap-around skirt). Unlike the
fabric of other Igorot tribes, our Bontoc tribe fabrics are unique in that they
have symbols woven into the patterns.
symbols are images of a human, star, eye, shield, spear, snake, and
lizard. Each one has its own meaning,
which makes the Bontoc fabric even more meaningful. For instance, the eye
represents guidance and the human figure represents the Igorot warrior, who is
the epitome of bravery.
The second thing is the small
bowl of dipping sauce that accompanied almost every meal called
“Siwsiwan.” My parents always made
theirs with sabaw (soup stock), salt,
and sili (hot pepper). I always found
this to be a perfect pair with meat, but when it comes to fish and seafood; I
use a mix of soy sauce, sili, and calamansi. Another favorite is a
concoction of vinegar, garlic, sili, salt and red pepper. There were always different
variations, but these were the most common.
My parents made it a point to
always eat together as a family. Our
meals were almost always homemade and filled with memories. Conversation and laughter often
made its way to the table. I
still remember my mother sneaking a tape recorder into the kitchen to record
our babbling jokes, laughter and conversations. So much took place around
the kitchen table.
Both fabric and siwsiwan are two
of the many sinulid
(threads) that are woven into my “inner Igorot” fabric in life. Some say that one cannot identify
themselves as Igorot just by bloodline. Others
say one must be part of an Igorot community in the Cordilleras to be
Igorot. The whole topic of
how one identifies oneself as an Igorot can get very diverse depending on one’s
point of view. The same can
be said with many of the other ethnicities in America and abroad.
I may not intimately “know” the
land my parents once spent their entire childhood and much of their adulthood,
but it is part of me. Every
time I look at my family blanket on the wall or dip the pinch-full of fish into
my siswiwan; I am reminded of my parents, who were Igorot.
Thus, how can we first and second
generation Igorots in America and elsewhere outside the Philippines keep our
heritage alive in a world that often makes it difficult? Maybe it’s as simple
as keeping the siwsiwan at the
kitchen table with the family gathered around and the fabrics nearby.
Figures in the Lubid (from left to right): eye, man, lizard, star, star variation, snake, butterfly, shield, spear and flower.
All the figures, except for the flower, are woven into the garment. The flower is embroidered.
photo by: Christina Nguslab courtesy of: Maria Luz Delson Fang-asan