Monday, November 23, 2009
Sagada as a tourist spot came alive in the early 70s when electricity once more lighted up the place. Sagada was lighted up in the 20s - when most provincial capitals were doing with kinki, a kerosene wicker lamp - with a steam engine fired by sawmill wastes. Depression in America wrought havoc on the local nascent money; economy and Sagada went dark. Even the Episcopal mission work was imperiled. The indefatigable Rev. and Mrs. Staunton - she was a nurse by training and who also taught home crafts - had left in 1924. They were given a warm adieu, with men and children volunteering to lug their personal effects on the road via Bagnen.
Hippies flocked and along also came local writers and artists, part internal refugees from Martial Law. Not much literary output or artistic work came from them, during and after Marcos, and many preferred to be apparatchiks afterwards.
With insurgency burgeoning, engulfing nearby Abra and Kalinga toward the end of the Marcos regime, the Philippine military establishment got locked into their idea fixed that somewhere in and around Sagada thrives the daemon of this rebellion, which survives to this day on account of, so goes their theory, foreign funding - the white turista connection.
In the 60s, a denizen by the name of William Henry Scott came to stay. He had spent sometime in China, like the earlier missionaries, but as a scholar. He had to pack up when Mao's armies overran China and went briefly to Harvard, before joining the Episcopal mission, first at Laoag, eventually at Sagada.
The early Episcopalian missionaries were also refugees of a sort. After decades of missionary frenzy the congregatons in deeply-ingrained Confucian China consisted of only "rice Christians". When the Philippine territory was opened up Bishop Charles Brent, then directing missionary work from Shanghai, lost no time in getting the Episcopal Church of America established in the Philippine Islands and appoint him as its bishop. Many of his fellow churchmen thought this was a demotion but they were dead wrong.
If there ever was something resembling an establishment church in America it was the Episcopal, which remains within the Anglican Communion. Bishop Brent was an unabashed imperialist, when imperialism was the ethic of the day. He was convinced, like Kipling, that God had placed the destiny of the world at the hands of the Anglo-Saxon race.
In terms of faith he had not much need for the bulk of Filipinos, already Roman Catholics, but the pagan cultures of the Cordilleras fascinated him and he decided to erect the fortress of his faith at the most central of the Cordilleras, and high up, rather than at Bontoc which had more people, at sparse Sagada.
Today Sagada (and the nearby town of Besao) remain solidly Anglican, down to the villages. And the many fundamentalist cults, appealing largely to the untermenschen, which have penetrated many a Philippine village, have yet to make a toehold here. There is a special way the people from these towns regard each other above the rest of the tribes. The Protestant Ethic has melded well with native enterprise and industry.
Unlikely the outwardly self-effacing "rice Christians" of China or the bulk of the Roman Catholic Filipinos who had baptized en masse before frailes, the Kankanae natives came slowly to the Anglican fold, taking piece by piece from the bundle of Christian civilization.
And, unlike many tourist spots in the Philippines, Sagada remains a community where tourism is integrated with life and culture of the place, which makes it more pleasant to stay here than any place else.
Interest in Cordillera cultures outside of the overacted display of "native" tableaux, began to pick up when some of the writings of Dr. Scott, an anthropologist-historian, found their way into popular publications. And Scotty, as he was known to all was never a dry, humorless pedantic writer - the bane of all those who are seekers of truth - even when he wrote for scholarly journals.
Noting the passing of traditional society in the Cordilleras, Scott observed wryly: "pork barrel has taken the place of headhunting". Scott also remains the foremost historian of northern Luzon from Conquest times. He made available to a wide reading public, in a number of interpretative essays, old Spanish texts of eyewitness accounts of the encounter between Spain and the Igorot.
A bright lass from St. Mary's School, exasperated by the history of the Iberian debauchery and greed in the Philippines, pointedly asked Scott: "Why did you not come earlier to colonize us?" To which Scott replied, "If we did you would not exist. Look what happened to the American Indians."
Well, Sagada exists as it does today, thanks to the concatenation of historical events, which even a non-believer like this writer is willing to subsume under the Will of God.
(NOTE: Sagada's recorded history could only be traced until very recently. This is the reason why this page is entitled as Recent History. The text above is condensed from Ross Tipon's manuscript, "The old and the New: The Town Itself".)