Treasure trove in thick books | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Treasure trove in thick books

We are advised never to judge a book by its cover. We are also advised not to judge people because they are not books. However, we have to accept the fact that what initially attracts us to a book on a shelf or a person in a crowd is the cover!

The thickest Filipiniana title I ever owned is “Cornejo’s Commonwealth Directory of the Philippines” bound in an attractive red cover with gold lettering. It’s a one-volume marvel of over 2,700 pages that, when unread, is better used as a doorstop or a more intellectual replacement for a dumbbell used for strength and building arm muscle.


With the exception of memoirs like those of Lee Kwan Yew or Henry Kissinger, we rarely see very thick books in stores because these scare away customers who worry about the price or the time and effort it will take to read them. In the Philippine section of bookstores, the thick books that stand out are Vicassan’s Filipino-English dictionary and the Filipino translation of the Bible. I write about thick books today because of a surprising discovery I made while browsing through Dr. Carl Wilhelm Seidenadel’s “The First Grammar of the Language Spoken by the Bontoc Igorot” (1909). It’s an obscure work I would never have even opened despite its impressive cover, but I was glad to discover that hidden in the linguistic gobbledygook that will make philologists swoon were folklore and folk songs of interest to anthropologists, and a first-hand account of the 1899 Battle of Caloocan of interest to the historian.

Seidenadel did not have to do field work in the Philippines for his grammar; rather, his material came from interviews of 30 Igorot who formed part of a traveling troupe abandoned by their recruiters [Messrs. Felder, Krider, and Schneidewind] and were squatting in Riverview Park, Chicago, in 1907. Cordillera people were crowd-drawers in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, where they were billed as “head-hunters” and “dog-eaters.” Due to insistent public demand for Igorot in fairs and carnivals in Europe and the United States, recruiters traveled to the Cordilleras with the promise of easy money and a trip to “Milika” [America]. Seidenadel’s informants were not immediately repatriated to the Philippines; some had to stay and pursue their legal suit against their recruiters.


Fangued of Samoki, together with over 200 warriors from all over the Cordilleras, were recruited by Isabelo Abaya (1854-1900). Abaya is now revered as a hero of Ilocos Sur for leading the “ikkis ti Candon” (first cry of Candon) in March 1898, which led to the capture of Candon from the Spaniards and the beheading of the Spanish parish priest together with two friars who were unlucky enough to be visiting at the time. In the second phase of the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War, Abaya was under Gen. Manuel Tinio and the Brigada Ilocana. Unfortunately, Abaya does not come out very well in the account of Fangued of Samoki, which was transcribed and translated from the original Igorot by Seidenadel as follows:

“The insurrecto don Bilong [Isabelo Abaya] comes to Bontoc and tells lies at Bontoc. He says, speaking, you Igorot, go with me, take ye your battle-axes, your shields, your spears and the gongs. Let us go to Malolos. Go ye to dance then much will be your money. Then hear the people, the young men are unsteady (as to) their thoughts. They say speaking perhaps a lie that I, Fangued from Samoki, do not like to go because my sister, they imprison for my not ‘coming along.’ Then I go with them because they bind my sister. Then go the men; takes with him Ngawid the men; then he is chieftain of the Igorot.

“Then we start and come to Fangnin and then they take also some men of Fangnin. Fangnin is near Bontoc. Then we take one pig and kill it for food of the men who go to Malolos. Then we start in the morning and come to Gayang. Then had been prepared our food and they had killed a buffalo as our meat. Then we eat at noon and we come to Cervantes. Then we sit down and cook our meal.

“We are five Bontoc men, eight men from Samoki; then those from Mayinit, Tucucan, Malikong, Genugan, Sagada, Titipan, Tulubin, Kanou, Agawa, all the townsmen had gone to Malolos. When we had eaten at Cervantes and we come to Ankaki, prepared was all our food. They had killed a cow for our meat. Assembled were at Cervantes all townsmen. Then it is morning and we start and come to Concepcion. Then we start from Concepcion and come to Candon and there meets the music band us. Then we come to Candon and marches around the band with us at Candon. Then we stay in a large house five days and we eat five pigs, because we’re angry [hungry?], we Igorot. Then we kill the pigs of Candon-people. Then we start and come to Takutjing. Then we enter the houses of Takutjing and people take (quickly plunder) their coats; afraid are the Takutjing people. We are two hundred and fifty Igorot. Then we start very early and go to Namagpakan. Then had been cooked rice, but no meat. Then we go and take (by force) one horse and bring it to our quarter. Then we cut it and cook the horse. Then we do not eat, because like flesh of men is the sight of the meat of horse.”

How can a catalogue of complaints be important to historians? (Conclusion on Friday)

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, books, History, Looking Back, opinion
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