• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

Message of Cordillera Women's Education, Action Center, Inc. on the 36th Cordillera Day

April 24, 2020

Today, we collectively commune with all courageous Cordillera men and women who sacrificed their lives to let the Chico River traverse its path unhampered, to breath the mountain air devoid of pollution, to witness for the first time ever the event of Cordillera Day (36th) in spirit. We know we are not alone in this unique gathering for in every corner of the earth are those who once in their lifetime were with us and they continue to stand with us in defense of our right to freely determine the course of our development as indigenous peoples.

Today, as a new pathogen wreaks havoc on the lives of anyone who succumbs to its virulence, we pause to pay tribute to all the health workers and traditional medicine men and women who painstakingly and persistently raised the level of health services integrating indigenous knowledge and practices into the primary health care system.

As indigenous peoples in the Cordillera, we owe it to our forebears for their determination to defend their lives from all threats to their health, to defend our ancestral land from any intrusion to destroy the land.

Historical accounts mention that our people are generally healthy, that epidemics seldom reach them. Albert Jenks’ account says, “when smallpox came to Bontoc in 1893 with a Spanish soldier who was in the hospital from Quiangan (now Kiangan), some five or six adults and sixty or seventy children died. The ravage took half a dozen in a day, but the Igorot stamped out the plague by self-isolation. The village elders and the community talked the situation over, agreed on a plan, and were faithful to it. All the families not afflicted moved to the mountains; the others remained to minister or be ministered to, as the case might be. Smallpox wiped out a considerable settlement of Bontoc, called La'-nao, situated nearer the Chico.”

Village folk strictly adhere to tradition such as the tengaw or obaya, a day designated as a cleansing ritual after an omen is observed in the community, a celebration of harvest or symbolic sowing of palay seeds or to wish for prosperity. Symbols such as the knotted stick leaves or pudong are placed at the entrance of the village, egress or ingress is not allowed during the period of tengaw.

Balance and harmony with nature pervades the whole way of thinking of indigenous peoples and is ingrained in their knowledge systems and practices. The Cordillera peoples rely on their own health knowledge and practices which complement the inadequate primary health care delivery. Dr. Caster Palaganas, et al, in the study Mainstreaming Indigenous Health Knowledge and Practices is a “response to the urgent need to capture and document indigenous health knowledge and practices before the influx of modernity into indigenous communities which undermines and obliterates these practices. Medically sound indigenous health knowledge and practices still face the threat of oblivion as younger generations are secularized and modernized rather than socialized into their indigenous culture”.

In the article Science and Spirituality Go Hand-in-Hand Among Mountain Tribes, Desiree Caluza mentions a study on indigenous health and practices of the Igorots of Dr. Palaganas invoking the power of spiritual healing over diseases covered by the indigenous and spiritual practices in the Cordillera region. The study focused on the traditional practices of various tribes in the region and that mainly contributed to the health and welfare in their communities. It presented health related research by various health practitioners in the Cordillera from 1980 to 2010.

“Unfortunately, indigenous knowledge has always been perceived as backward, negative and with no positive effect, but what the people don't look into is its principles and it being a way of life. If it helps in the health of the person, then it has a basis,” Palaganas said.

In this volatile period where our health, economic and socio-political lives are threatened dangerously by tyrannical rule through a military lockdown using the public health crisis of COVID-19 as an excuse, we must close ranks with each other and with the rest of our suffering people, institute measures to safeguard our health and strongly perform solidarity through the ob-obbo.

Board of Trustees