Friday, June 10, 2011

The Fabric of Highlanders: Scottish & Igorot

Scottish Highlands

Almost seven thousand miles away from the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines is another impressive range of mountains known as the Scottish Highlands. It is located north and west of the Highland Boundry Fault, which separates the Scottish highlands from the Scottish lowlands. Being an Igorot highlander, I have always been intrigued with the Gaelic culture of the Scottish Highlanders.

When reading about the differences between Scottish highlanders and lowlanders, I became fascinated knowing that they have many similarities with Igorots in that their language, food, clothing, physical features, religious and spiritual beliefs also set them apart from the lowlanders. The most intriguing of these is their clothing.  Like Igorot clothing, it not only identifies them, but it also envelops their entire culture.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Scotland is the male garment known as Kilts. The two words,”Kilt” and “Scottish”, seem to go hand-in-hand and are inseparable in my mind. Take the movie, “Braveheart," for example. Even though there are historic inconsistencies with timeline and apparel, the largest being the absence of kilts at the time of Sir William Wallace; the movie would suffer greatly had the men not worn kilts.  I can understand why Mel Gibson bent the timeline so as to depict a Scotland that many non-Scottish people identify with.

I also find it fascinating how their different tartans (colored patterns) eventually became associated with a particular Scottish clan or Scottish family heritage.  This is also true with the clothing of Igorots.  Though we do not have tartan patterns, an Igorot person's heritage can be identified with the patterns and colors of their traditional clothing.

Scottish Tartans
The kilt has been such a great part of the Scottish Highlander's culture for many years.  In fact, it was so great that the British government that ruled Scotland in the mid eighteenth century attempted to bring the Highlander warrior clans under their control by attacking at the very heart of their culture - their clothing.  On August 1, 1746, Britain created The Dress Act, which was part of the Act of Proscription of 1746. It essentially made it illegal to wear the clothing of Highlanders, which included tartans and kilts.

On July 1, 1782, the Act was finally repealed and a proclamation was issued in Gaelic and English that said,
"Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies."

Liam Neeson wearing the Great Kilt of the early 1700s
When I first learned of this discrimination, the first thing that came to mind was how the historic Igorot male attire, the Bahag or Wanes (more commonly known as G-String by westerners) came under attack when Filipino lowlanders used it to portray Igorots as having tails so as to cast a negative impression about Igorots. It may be hard for many to believe, but this silly notion still lives on in this modern and highly advanced society. Sadly, discrimination against our culture continues within the Filipino and non-Filipino cultures.

In 2010, three young Igorot men were discriminated against for wearing their native attire to former President Clinton’s “Embracing Our Common Humanity” forum in the Philippines. Both American and Filipino personnel tried kicking the three men out for wearing their native Wanes. A month later, the U.S. government finally apologized on behalf of President Clinton to Igorots and all Indigenous people.

On a much subtler scale, my Igorot friends and I partook in a large Filipino cultural event in Chicago today.  We led a parade consisting of Filipinos who represented various parts of the Philippines.  After the parade, we had the Igorot children perform dances inside the museum.  It turned out to be a great event, and the turnout from Americans, Filipinos, and other ethnic groups was fantastic.  This is our third year to participate in this event, but for the first time I had some mixed emotions because we were asked not to expose our buttocks for fear that it might offend children and others.

When I first heard of the request, my first reaction was, “But that’s how it is worn – without underwear.  If we are to share our culture, than why must we hide who we are?”  Then I thought of the Scotts and how they are able to easily get away with wearing their kilts without underwear.  "Wow, how lucky they are," I thought.

Today, we had some people wear a wanes for the first time.  My teenage nephew, who is half Igorot, was one of them.  I could see a sense of apprehension or discomfort on their part, but as the event moved forward, they quickly adapted to their new-found feeling of freedom.  I could also sense that there were those who would have preferred to have that "full" sense of freedom that comes without underwear.  Throughout the event, I couldn't help but think about the request to hide our buttocks.

My thoughts eventually led me to a greater sense of appreciation for our native attire.  Underwear or no underwear (preferably no underwear), the act of wearing and/or appreciating our native attire is crucial because once we lose our native attire, it becomes easier to lose who we are, and that is a bigger loss that no underwear can make up.

So, for all you Highlander men out there: wear you Kilts and Wanes with pride.

Igorot children line up for today's parade at Chicago's Navy Pier
Igorot children line up for today's parade at Chicago's Navy Pier
Igorot teenagers also partaking in today's parade


  1. Excellent way to open Western eyes — link your native dress to a similar and familiar dress of Western culture! The pictures of the kids are great too, looks like they're having a great time.

  2. Yaman, besat. Nakaadalak kasin. :-)

    Zeph Agayo, Igorot ay kankanaey isna Baguio ay Shudad. :-)

  3. heya ha, tetew ha ineyn pay kayman ha. . .

  4. wen pudno peman di discrimanation ti pada tayo nga pilipino a no apy nga sabali la unay panang judge ta d igorot.....

  5. xia man n uniqueness and belongingness tako

  6. Enjoyed! I am reading Diana Gabaldon's books OUTLANDER series. Very interesting

  7. Wow.. I'm proud ever since i was young as an Igorot, but i became more furious when i experienced being bullied as an indigenous. I was thankful with my experience coz now it has molded me to advocate One Cordillera in my own simple ways.. And that I know more than all these, God has a greater purpose. We were humbled yet strengthened and bravened. This article is another motivation. Salute to the writer!!


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