If you have nothing left to sell
but your culture
wouldn’t you don the g-string of your ancestors
to appease the appetite of tourists
for entertainment ‘round the Christmas bonfire?
Beat the gongs now
and wake the ghosts from their slumber.
There’s enough time to worry
about their wrath later
when the embers turn cold
and the winds grow strong
at sunset lake or sunrise mountain.
This afternoon you have opened a casket
of bones — or what remains of it —
for your lowland and foreign siblings to gawk at
then led them with gas lamps inside the womb
where unapologetic lessons of gross anatomy
by stalactite and stoneflow
turn into an opportunity for poking fun
at the very thing that brought you cash and fame.
Tonight you would beat a chicken’s wings numb
then singe its feathers with blow torch —
tourists wouldn’t care about such shortcuts
or the absence of prayers to the unseen
just the chicken chopped, thrown into a pot
then mixed with smoked salted pork,
rice wine, sayote, and enough local story-lies
to complete the exotic experience.
Before the night is over, take a stick and with its tip
of smoke and burning charcoal
stir against the blackness of night
the breath marks of your name, lest you forget
who you are and where you’re from
after this sleepwalk.
There’s a song in Sagada about an ark very much like Noah’s Ark. It’s a fun song perfect for small group bonfires. The song was written at the high school dorm sometime after the war — World War II.
But while the song talks about monkeys without tails and a lot of other animals, the song reminds everyone of what happened in 1908 (and several other times). While Sagada has a mountainous terrain, its valleys get submerged during storms. That one time, it was really bad.
Here’s what Staunton had to say:
Meanwhile, the song about the ark, Norton’s Ark, was written in the mid-50’s perhaps. There was a Physics experiment about buoyancy so they built a small dam in Latang (that small stream you pass by on your way to Bokong from Echo Valley). Well, a storm decided to show up, and the boat on that small dam was shattered into pieces (not sure about the shattered part).
Norton came long after Staunton, but the song about the ark and the flooding of 1908 –two different things — should remind the i-Sagada and visitors how fragile this small town is.
And so we go back to talking about buoyancy and head to Bokong. Who wants to do the buwis-buhay jump? Be sure to check there’s water before you actually jump. Who knows Bokong might totally dry up this summer.
Ya nu kanan ama
ay awitem nan gimata
ay ngata makisaa ka?
Gimata is a double bamboo basket tied to both ends of a wooden pole and traditionally carried by men on their shoulder.
Translation: If father says you carry this basket, would you come home with me?
It is part of the culture for the boy to help in the farm work if he decides to go home with the girl. If a boy goes home with a girl, it is assumed that he is courting the girl. That was before, at least.