A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part II

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Continued from A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part I.

Cultural Night – the TOMA Song

The cultural night also featured a well thought of fashion show that displayed the evolution of Igorot tapestry which was very well received by the American audience. A re-enactment on how the Igorots first met with American missionaries was done through pantomime, and then came one of the more emotional moments I’ve experienced in the reunion – the singing of the AY TET-EWA AY TOMA SA? (Is that really a bedbug?).

I believe I’ve sung this song once or twice a year during my elementary years. It’s a marvelously funny song about the bedbug (toma), and it entails having a leader sing a question, and the audience sing back a response. The first 2 lines goes like this:

Leader: Ay tet-ewa’y toma na? (Is this really a bedbug?)
Audience: Tetewa ay toma sa. Dake-dake’y toma sa ya kadak-kelan ay toma. (Yes, that’s really a bedbug. That’s a huge bedbug and it’s the biggest bedbug ever.)

And it goes on with a series of about a dozen or so questions, and the answers sung to each question is attached to the answer of the earlier questions and so every answer sung by the audience will end with the declaration that yes, that’s really a huge bedbug and it’s the biggest one. EVER! It’s similar to the “12 days of Christmas” and that other English song that goes “There was a tree, the finest tree that you ever did see…”. To me, the TOMA song is way more special.

To someone like me who is used to singing the song almost every year while growing up, it brought back warm feelings of early years in Sagada. I remember a particular December evening in the 1980s – most likely during the lantern parade, that a young guy and gal – in their first year in high school, dressed up in traditional Igorot attire, standing before the Sagada community gathered around the town’s basketball court, and leading the TOMA song with such fervor that I remember it so well after 20+ years.

I learned during the conference that the song was written by Dr. Henry Scott, a teaching missionary himself, in the 1950s, and that it was meant to be a humorous adaptation of one of the more hated animals in nature. I’m thinking how it is a reflection of Sagada humor – blunt, frank, and embarrassingly funny sometimes. Somehow, I tried to have my sons enjoy the singing as much as I did to no avail. I guess it’s again a reminder that my Sagada upbringing is several planets apart from their Manila / Chicago-suburb experience. (Even my wife who grew up in neighboring Tadian doesn’t care that much about the TOMA song.)

Igorot gong-playing and dancing followed after the TOMA song. Members of BIBBAK – Illinois, who performed at a Baguio high school reunion earlier in the evening, also performed a Benguet dance. Towards the end, the tables and chairs were pushed to the side, and the audience was invited to community dancing. Plenty of them obliged. The evening ended after the dancing, with farewells being exchanged since some of the attendees were catching flights or driving home early that Sunday morning. For me, the reunion would officially end the next Monday morning when I brought an aunt who was catching a red-eye flight back home to Denver at the Chicago O’hare airport.

A note on the missionaries – Manang Marie, who I briefly chatted with after the cultural night shared her thoughts about honoring the missionaries through the preservation of the Igorot culture. She’s right. In a way, it took a group of outsiders to help the Sagada Igorot folks appreciate, understand, and take efforts to preserve their Igorot culture. These SMSSAFF reunions is not just about your typical high school gathering – in a highly inter-connected world where local traditions are slowly replaced by global trends, there is great value in being reminded that God has allowed us to be born in the place and culture we were in. We all have a past and a background and knowing such certainly keeps us from getting lost.

I started this reflection with a reference to memories of food from childhood years. The whole reunion experience for me was a different kind of food – a somewhat spiritual nourishment type that kept me grounded to my roots, and was a refreshing reminder of where I came from. I don’t know if I would be able to attend the next SMSSAFF reunion that is being planned in Toronto on the summer of 2013. Attending or not, I’m still glad I got to have a taste of my old hometown of Sagada right here in metro-Chicago, the city I now call home.

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