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Jun 06

TOUCHING BOTH EARTH AND SKY (PART 1 of SADANGA CHRONICLES)

By: Glo R. Abaeo

Lads from Betwagan, Sadanga pose with old wooden shields and spears after reenacting the old traditions.

I was standing above a ridge one time, my feet were grounded but I feel the skies. It was like freedom in an unexplainable way. Complete abandon of self that makes me want to dive from where I was to embrace the expanse of reddish land below. The valley and villages in miniature cupped in the enclave of my palms, and if only I could pluck them to keep, press them like flowers between book pages and preserve them like they are now to look at in the future, then I would. So I watch the valley and the villages instead, allowing the view to sink in and root itself in my thoughts. It may not be the same the next time around, yet I wish it will stay this way. With the trees hugging the rocks and the mountain facades, sweeping down to a village with terraced farms, a few dirty kitchen smokes evident from the distance reminding me of warm dinner with the village folks.

The wind running through my hair reminded me of another thing though. That encapsulating freedom I got from communing with the lowly beaten earth and the great powers of the illuminating sunset skies, that spells pride for me. Pride in the most unconventional way, uncommon with city folks like me. Pride to come back to a land that was once my Daddy’s play grounds. Pride to set foot and embrace a culture that stood the changes, pride to be part of a tribe that ate out of the sodden earth that they have fought for in history to protect. Here I was, in a land that I trace my roots from.

Sadanga is a place not so often visited. It sits on high ground above the mountains surrounded by other municipalities. The path to take was once a dirt road, the fine, dry dust following your trails when you go driving or walking by. Up, up you go to that lonely path and suddenly stop midway to a diversion road. One goes up to Sacasacan and the other downhill to Poblacion. Before choosing your way is an interesting spot right there, this place called Opucan, where a lone memorial stands. This is where Mother Basil Gekiere lies, the Belgian ICM sister who came and chose to stay and helped educate Sadanga with other CICM missionaries such as the great Fr. Leon Quintelier. The people laid her to rest here, on a knoll to overlook the people she came to love.  So like a checkpoint this place stands to watch everybody who happens to come by. Another few minutes going downhill will get people to Sadanga Poblacion, the Municipal Hall sitting smack in the middle where it is most accessible to everybody. Right below on another adjacent village fronting the Municipal Hall is Barangay Demang. Accentuated by a river below the rice paddies, you could view the provencal scene in its simplest and most natural essence. The Catholic Church sits a few paces away from the Municipal Hall and the Police Station, and it is a busy place. The church is one place where they gather and commune and gladly some of the most important events and gatherings in Sadanga are church based. Proof that Mother Basil and all the other people who started Christianity here are successful, and the present parish priests of the Vicariate are doing well continuing it. This has helped dispel the conflicts that used to mar the rivaling tribes. Most people has opted for peace these days so Sadanga is a very much quiet and safe place to travel to.

Opting to take the diversion road uphill on the other hand would take you to my Dad’s hometown, a place called Sacasacan. This barangay overlooks most of Sadanga in its entirety, with Bekigan and Belwang to the extreme left, Poblacion and Demang below. Sacasacan is the oldest seat of government in this municipality. This place is so strategic that the American once built a garrison here and a watch house. Over across a ledge is a magnificent view of the rice terraces. The “ators” still exist, preserved the way they were, of kugon roofs and stone walling. Life here is still so rural that one can enjoy it to the simplest. You work and play and you survive.

A man from the Municipality of Sadanga wearing an "okrong" or "sokrong" (wicker headgear) with his pipe stuck on it.

What is pretty striking here, is the fact that most old men and women still don the traditional “wanes” (g-string or loincloth) and “tapis” (wrap-around woven skirt) as an everyday clothing, not only as a garb during occasions. In the early mornings you can chance upon them sunning themselves out on their yards or gathering with others and smoking their pipes, something they stick on their “okrong” (headgear made of wicker) when not in use. They would be squatting there speaking of old times or their crops and anything under the sun. Then each would go his own way, and as old as they are most would still consider doing chores of pounding rice, or making “fvayash” (rum from sugarcane) when in season, or weaving baskets or feeding the livestocks. Age is nothing to make them want to idle their time, perhaps the very reason that their body age are much younger than their actual age.

3 sets of old jawbones (sangi) were threaded and used as handles for this gong, a symbol of triumph and glory during the war times.

Who would have thought that these old, wrinkled men were once gallant warriors? In the days of old when their optimum security depends on themselves, the menfolk are united to stand against the odds of war. There are still some relics to relive those days, “kalasag(s)” or wooden shields that were actually used as well as the “tubay(s)” (spears) that are now being passed on to descendants as heirlooms. The coming of the 70’s and 80’s saw most of the fierce fighting of the Municipality of Sadanga with other clans within itself and some as far as other Provinces. And along with the trophies of “sangi(s)” (jawbones) and or upper part of the skulls taken from the Japanese war time, the more recent ones were added. These were usually used as handles for the musical instruments called “gangsa” or gongs. These olden tradition has long been abandoned and the people are now bound by peace and the longing for it to be maintained forever. The younger generations, to count myself in, have been doing our shares of making this possible, often acting as peacekeepers.

So many traditions here that are so ancient it does not stop to fascinate me. Every little thing screams of life, as in for every man a scar has a story to tell.