Issue of January 13, 2019
Mt. Province

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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Culture bearers in our midst 2

We had a chance encounter with this amazing couple, Thomas and Mary Ngalawen of Tocucan, Bontoc, Mountain Province. Our angels must have guided us to meet these amazing culture bearers. We needed guidance from the culture bearers of the different Cordillera provinces while rehabilitating and redesigning the shelves of the Baguio Museum. This was all part of the process involving the 2017 Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP)under the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

The AFCP supports projects to preserve a wide range of cultural heritage in less developed countries, including historic buildings, archaeological sites, ethnographic objects, paintings, manuscripts, and indigenous languages and other forms of traditional cultural expression.

When asked where the Tocucan name came from, the good looking septuagenarian, who I shall address dearly as tita Mary (with her permission) replied, “My husband Thomas is from Tocucan, Bontoc. He is a nursing aide and radio technician while I am a housewife and self-taught businesswoman.”

Nonagenarian Thomas was in fact the Bontoc man featured in the “Sinaunang Habi” book of former Sen.Nikki Coseteng, which also showcased some of their antique collections. They started their business in 1976 in Dangwa recording indigenous native songs – the first one to do it – and selling and repairing radios. They later moved to Maharlika building.

According to tita Mary, back then business was slow. She was new in the business of selling Mountain Province baskets. She was even discouraged by some that this kind of business will not flourish, but she learned the trade and foreigners started to come and order more of her antique products.

“The uncle of my husband gave me a beautiful jar. He said, kunin mo at ikutin o itago mo.” She decided to sell and it became the pivotal point of their business as she was able to sell it for quite a sum. Mary steadfastly observed and studied everything happening in her midst, especially when it concerned cultural objects, their authenticity and worth. Today, she is a consultant and member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and is consulted by many academicians and foreigners who are into establishing their own museums locally and internationally.

Mary Ngalawen has traveled the world invited by clients. She is a mother, a historian, researcher, healer and an entrepreneur. Her most important traits are her honesty and being a mother. She has a civil engineer son John, who helps his parents in the business, and has three apos by him. Her two daughters passed away, one during the 1990 earthquake and another one of illness.

I found out that tita Mary is extremely hardworking. In her younger years, she was an adventurer who rode horses and a sportswoman. In one of her adventures with horses doing research she almost died. Also, in her younger years, she danced and sang. The antique business is her life. To her, antiques breathe life. It’s her therapy.

Gemma Estolas, our museum assistant curator, and I are so impressed by this strong enigmatic woman. She is so knowledgeable and straightforward. She is definitely a culture bearer in our midst – a living tradition.

Congratulations, Mary Catbagan-Aplaten. Another culture bearer in our midst. She re-launched her book “Nan Nataguan Tako” last Friday at the Baguio Museum.

It’s coincidental that there are two Mary-culture bearers in our article this week. Mary Aplaten’s name is related to “Hapiyoh Mi” because she started the cultural group in 2000 at the University of the Cordilleras. It was recognized formally in 2003 when the city took notice of them when they joined the Panagbenga activities.

“Hapiyoh” means shield in the Ifugao dialect, symbolizing education, and “mi” means “our,” – “our shield.” In was her way of making the students aware by teaching culture and heritage students in her Socio 3 subjects through dancing and performances. Hapiyoh Mi cultural performances are unique because of the narration and annotation that goes with every performance. In fact, they did a lot of cultural performances at the Baguio Museum.

Mary started teaching at the University of the Cordilleras in 1995. She was an active student and was aware of the issues in the Cordillera. She got married in 1996 and this union made her focus more on family duties and nanay chores. Her love for culture pushed her to record and consolidate the voluminous materials she had at hand. This was not to happen soon as Cambodia called her in 2016 to put up schools and develop curriculums. She returned in 2018 and continued the book she launched in 2012.

Mary says this on why you should buy her book: “As Igorots, we cannot tarry much longer, lest we be left only to sigh in deep regret; if the shadows of the past leave us exposed to the heat of ignorance of our very own culture…”

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