Blurring Frames and the Framer: Begnas in Sagada

makko’s discography of thoughts in: Poblacion, Sagada, Mt. Province (2 November 2013)

Cultures apart from our own are always fascinating. These fascinations would later become reference points for static yet dynamic judgments of appreciation, awe, familiarity, disparagement, envy, fear; and various emotional states and reactions which peoples of the earth possess. Indeed, experiencing this “other” culture in its various forms and manifestations have allowed us humans to feel what it is to be human – to feel alive in a sense, since it allows us to think about many other things, signifying consciousness, signifying life.

On the other hand, this fascination also holds true for experiencing and living our own cultures. Routine things such as speaking our language to communicate with others, extracting meanings from paranormal phenomena, eating cuisine prepared in a series of familiar steps and with familiar ingredients, among many other things experienced while growing up in our own particular cultural identity, have made us feel something that we cannot forget. Though we may be taking such daily events for granted for a while, a time comes when we become aware of such things, especially when it becomes a subject for comparison with other peoples and their cultures.

Weaving these two perspectives then becomes a much more exciting experience because you become not just an observer of another culture or a participant of your own culture, but instead play the two roles at the same time. In essence, you become a participant-observer. With this in mind, I am gladly presenting these series of installations of blurring the frames between the two aforementioned subjects. It is hoped that the distinction of the first, the tourist framing the “other” people; and the second, the local people being observed by these others (or tourists); are actually one singular frame, and the concept of the other framing the other is really not distinct.

The inspiration for these photographs of breaking the tradition of someone framing the other is taken from Raphael Blum’s “Cordillera” exhibit in collaboration with Kalinga tattoo artisan Fang Od. (Purissima Benitez-Johannot provides a very vivid description and rationale for Blum’s exhibit.) See the website of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, www.culturalcenter.gov.ph for more details or visit the BenCab museum at km 6, Asin Road, Tuba, Benguet (until its last unknown date for exhibit) for Blum’s installation.

Additionally, the framer of the photographs is also “blurred,” since although I am a Kankanaey (at the same time an Ibaloi) Igorot in the municipality of Sagada, the begnas ritual shown here, which took place in Poblacion, Sagada is much more festive than the begnas in our area in Pidlisan (Fidelisan), and Tanowong (Tanulong), ili(s) or settlements north of Poblacion. As such, I am not, strictly speaking in terms of place of origin, a participant of the begnas which took place in the photographs. On the other hand, I am also a participant since i-Sagada ak gedan (i am from Sagada as well). Nonetheless, the framer of the photographs is in a sort of blur, as it sometimes aims to take pictures of the tourists only (though he is not a tourist) as well as wishing to frame the ongoing begnas ritual (as an observer).

The begnas is a ritual for signifying the start of major community affairs and events, particularly related to agriculture. As such, the begnas may be held multiple times a year, depending on the event or ili (the local term for areas or places of settlement) in Sagada and elsewhere where begnas is practiced. In the following photographs, the begnas di yabyab is performed, which signals the start of the rice planting season in Poblacion, Sagada. In the following weeks after this begnas, folks would begin transplanting rice shoots from nurseries into the paddy fields, in what is called en-tuned (pronounce “e” like the “e” in clerk). (For more online information about the begnas, check this digital article of the Baguio-based newspaper Northern Dispatch Weekly at http://www.nordis.net/?p=14446)

Originally involving the village folk going to the dap-ay (men’s quarters or an all-purpose area for community affairs) for chanting prayers, distributing food, and playing balangbang and takik (gong dances), tourists have become components of the begnas nowadays. At any rate, this installation would not like to predispose you with arguments regarding negative and positive implications of such current happenings, although related blog posts would definitely be posted in the future. A reminder is however reiterated, that framing such arguments from a tourists’ or a locals’ perspective are also blurry, and requires a holistic and integrated approach for sifting through the sackful of differing points. For now, i will let the pictures talk for themselves, and hope that you could also see these deliberate “blurs” in the set of photographs taken.

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