On the way to Tobias Fornier (Dao). A little bit gloomy.
City to Dao
I’ve been preparing for this visit for a week: contacted the proper people for accommodations and meet-ups, budgeted my money to allot an amount for my own snacks and fare and for what I could bring to the community, charged my phones and camera, and prepared myself for possible scenarios while mentally noting tentative interview questions.
I came from Iloilo city the day of 20th and traveled to Tobias Fornier at around 12 in the afternoon. I haven’t had a particular playlist for this trip, just anything good and appropriate to the mood of the bus ride. It was a 3-hour travel, of highways in the first hour and of the refreshing seascape and landscape in the next two. Just as the famous line goes, Antique is where the mountains meet the sea. Indeed! The road going to Tobias Fornier via San Joaquin is like a borderline between the seascape and the mountainside. The air is fresh and cool. The hue of green mountains and of the emerald sea is rich, freshly bathed with the previous night’s rain.
Town proper to barangay
From the town proper of Tobias Fornier, or more commonly known as Dao, a local motorcycle transport called habal-habal will bring you to Barangay Igkalawagan in a span of 20 minutes, through the muddy dirt roads of the mountainside. It was always a bumpy ride going there.
Barangay to the sitio
And from the barangay, the sitio or the community is a 15-minute walk away, which requires hiking, crossing a river, and passing through rice fields. Nothing really dangerous but can cause scratches and bruises if one is not careful enough.
Of mud, bare-footing, and river.
Speaking of which, let me narrate the struggle of going there. When it’s summer, which it was during one of my visits, it was relatively easy to travel from the barangay going to the community. The river is dry so I didn’t take off my shoes and didn’t walk barefoot. Problem during summer is, it’s hot. It is easy to walk and hike but never easy to dodge the heat. I remember I was wearing long sleeves to avoid getting sun burns but it was really hot I was soaking with sweat the moment I arrived at the community. Not only soaking. But I was also panting.
In rainy season, however, it is undeniably a challenge. But these are the kinds of challenges I enjoy doing because I get something memorable from slipping or stumbling. My last visit there was raining very hard due to a forming typhoon. I went to the community four in the afternoon and did the documentation and interview. It wasn’t raining then but it rained the previous night that the river was flowing with ankle-deep torrent. By six in the evening, I’m stuck at the community due to heavy rain and strong wind. By 6:30, the rain stopped for a while, leaving only a drizzle and wind. I wrapped my knapsack with plastic so it won’t get wet. For me, I’d rather get wet than my bag. Hahaha! So I traveled the muddy and slippery path going back to the barangay with Ati children leading the way. It was really slippery, dim enough that I can only see my next step, it was drizzling, and I was barefooted, so not really a very good combination. Remembering it now, it kind of feels like a documentary video where the reporter gets hurt on the process. Thankfully, I did not. Or maybe a little.
I can remember going down a very slim path and I remember realizing that every step I take must be taken with precaution unless I want to end up wiping mud from my body and waking up next morning with muscle pain all over my body. And I remember, at some point, I was on all fours trying to hold on to the grass with my hands while struggling to climb an inclined land formation. It was hilarious. Really. And it was exciting because I’m all wet and muddy and I get to walk barefoot which was really a liberating thing to do, for me.
The Atis is one of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. The earliest inhabitants of this archipelago, dating earlier back to pre-colonial times. These people have kinky hair, big, flat noses, and wide lips. But their most distinct feature is their dark skin. The earliest Atis were nomadic in nature. But perhaps the discovery of farming technology has led them to stay in one place for a while. They were excellent hunters, both in wild and in water; making improvised spears to use in hunting and fishing. In the past, they weren’t really that collected in terms of living together. Atis used to live where their employers reside. For example, if they work for a family, or for a certain person, their bosses would take the Atis with them.
In the community of Ati where I go to, it is somehow notable how some of them has already have fair skin, not-so-flat noses, and relatively straighter hair. Due to modernization, the younger generation has been more inclined to the fast-growing culture and technology than sing their folk songs and practice their Ati traditions. It ain’t unusual for today’s generation of youth, Ati or not, to be fascinated with pop culture. However, if this continues for the Ati, we may lose some of their folk traditions, which is also our nation’s folk tradition. Fortunately, the elders are still faithful to their traditions, still knowledgeable of their songs and other cultural practices.
The community appearance
The community is but a small collection of houses. Twenty five families, to be exact. Although not the entire 25 families live in the allotted piece of land we call Sitio Pantad. Some of them live in the mountains, not very far from the sitio, tending to their animals and their farmed pieces of land.
The situation there is okay. I believe the Atis were born as survivors and they really are a tough people. Although a conversation over whiskey has revealed how they were really struggling to survive. During summer, they work for people to tend their lands. Very often, they capitalize on their labor abilities to survive, working for other people since they don’t have a land of their own. They look for crops such as sweet potatoes to dig up and sell. Sometimes, they sell fruits and vegetables for money. Not everyone from the community has gone to school. They said they can only afford to support themselves with food and other necessities to live that long, and school is expensive. Although I am happy to learn that some Ati kids go to school. And they may be poor in terms of financial aspect but at least they understand the importance of education. Although it saddens me when a kid told me that during rainy days, due to the demography of the place, they would go to school barefoot because of the mud. They may be deprived of quality school supplies like shoes and bags which come annually for the privileged, and Ati parents may work so hard to get their children a pad of paper, a pen, and sufficient amount to carry in hand to school, but I adore how they give the younger generation the chance to study. The old ones would say that the younger ones are fortunate to study. Some may have studied and left the community to work in cities while some have been married to people outside the sitio, thus they had to leave.
It is hard to see Atis accepting insults like they are typical things a person says. They talk about how people insult them for their appearance and the stereotypical stigma on them and these thoughts seem to have penetrated to their system to the point of getting used to it. They may be black, they may be inclined to be shirtless often, they may be outdated with technology, and they may be uneducated, but at least they have the decency to work to survive unlike other people. They live in their ways that seem uncomfortable to those outside the community. Outsiders insult Atis for their appearance. But it is ironic that those who have studied in institutions are supposed to understand the Atis better, but turns out their knowledge has made them more individualistic and judgmental.
Atis in Sitio Pantad said that there had been previous people/students who came to their community to do surveys or research but they didn’t had the initiative to offer a little help, say bring snacks for the people. Instead, after they’re done with what they came for, they would snicker of Atis. During our drinking session, I learned one thing from them: education doesn’t always mean understanding. Some may be educated yet remains unsympathetic.
And we started singing!
Brief history of folk songs
Their folk songs are usually in forms of a tanaga, or a four-line piece. They have similar tunes in some of the songs, perhaps to be easily memorized and easily sung. The themes were mainly of labor, the longing for the mountainside, tragic love stories of lovers leaving the other one, the lack of education among Atis, and a lot others. To be honest, they have been really enthusiastic on singing their songs and letting me document them because of alcohol running across their bloodstream. They’ve mentioned before how it would be easier to stir their confidence to sing if they’re a little bit tipsy. And so, on my latest coming there, I brought some whiskey with me and bottled beer for myself. It was actually funny because at some point, I don’t have to encourage them to sing; they’re the one insisting to be recorded. I ran out of battery and yet they still have some more songs coming out. It was priceless. I see them enjoy. It was like reviving the traditional twilight, post-work merriment of Atis before. They’ve told me that even before, Atis, used to have a little gathering around the sitio everyday after work. They would dance and sing and have fun. Unfortunately, nowadays, they barely do it.
My second day on the community was more of checking if I got the transcription right. It hadn’t been long and hard. After that, I went back to the barangay and got ready to leave. Of course, I bid people goodbye, especially the community, saying I will probably be back soon for more interviews. So by 12 in the afternoon, I walked the 30-minute way to the next barangay where the habal–habal would be. It was raining when I traveled back to town. I was drenched. But instead of having a bad mood for getting wet, I enjoyed the ride: wind and rain against my face for 20 minutes.
So, that was by far my experience on the community. On my return there I will pledge another blog so you can experience their tradition with me. 🙂
Perhaps, on my next visit I can bring with me food and other necessities they need like soap, laundry things, or clothes. And school supplies for the children. They would really appreciate and be happy of it. If, by chance, you want to donate: you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or you can sign here 🙂