Ilokano, Amianan Studies and Northern Luzon Cultures

Ilokano and Amianan Studies, Northern Luzon Cultures,
and the Universities from the Regions:
Towards a Theory and Praxis

Aurelio S. Agcaoili
University of Hawaii-Manoa

A Hermeneutics of Mixed Purposes

My take on the issues that enmesh the concepts and realities of Ilokano Studies, Amianan Studies, the cultures of Northern Luzon, and the role of the universities from these regions is admittedly pre-shaped and pre-formed by my advocacy interests to preserve, perpetuate, and promote Ilokano and Amianan languages and cultures. The voice of about 30 million people that trace their heritage from these languages and cultures has largely been stifled and marginalized through the centuries and it is high time this voice was heard.

There is an inseparable tripod in the attempt to resist and reclaim: to resist the onslaught of hegemonic cultures and languages and to reclaim ownership of a language and culture—even to languages and cultures—that somehow partly defines the claimant. In the context of Ilokano Studies, the language and culture is specific to Ilokano. In the context of Amianan Studies, the languages and cultures that we are here committed to preserve, perpetuate, and promote are the languages and cultures of all the peoples of Northern Philippines so that while we acknowledge the position of Ilokano in this part of the country as the lingua franca, we recognize at the same time the right of other languages and cultures to co-exist with this lingua franca. The commitment thus of Ilokano language and culture and its advocates is to respect and assure the non-Ilokano communities their fair share of a democratic cultural and linguistic space afforded by any self-respecting nation-state that, among others, advertises itself as ‘democratic.’

I admit that my being a culture and language teacher is itself a perspective that provides some biases and prejudices in the way I look at this emerging body of knowledge we call Ilokano and Amianan Studies, and these biases and prejudices are built-in from the logic of such a perspective.

I recognize that this is itself a kind of an intellectual ‘uma’ in the Ilokano and Amianan sense, a ‘lichtung’ in the Heideggerian sense—a clearing—through which I get to see the world from the forest of ideas, and the seeing is about (a) what is it to be an Ilokano in an ever-changing world; (b) what becomes of an Ilokano in an ever-changing landscape and topography of experience; and (c) what is it and what becomes of an Ilokano in an ever-changing geography of pain and struggle and sacrifices both in the ‘ili’ and the ‘pagilian’—the town and/or country—that is both a physical and psychical territory, a memory and emotion, a sense of affiliation and a sense of reference, a parameter and premise for belonging to a group.

We extend the very same logic of the issues raised about the Ilokano to account the bigger context in which we locate him, and the questions are ever-constant, recurrent, persistent, insistent: (a) what is it to be a people of the Amianan; (b) what becomes of the people of Amianan in an ever-changing landscape and topography of experience; and about what it means to be a people defined and determined by a certain linguistic identity. For a people is defined and determined, first and foremost, by the kind of language that they speak and that, the claim about bloodline and gene pools do not what an ethnic group finally makes.

I must admit, however, that my long years of cultural advocacy work in many fronts, such as teaching in the University of the Philippines and now at the University of Hawai`i and experiencing what is it to be a teacher of an ‘othered’, marginalized language and culture, have given me that rare privilege of being a messenger to an Ilokano Everyman.

Searching for a Framework

The experience of ‘marginalization’ whether as a teacher or a student—and I have been both—in the context of a hegemonic positioning of a dominant culture, is a multiple struggle, endless and everyday. In the Philippines, as in all the lands of exile of the Ilokano, Hawai`i included, this marginalization despite claims to diversity and multiculturalism and multilingualism, is as subtly sinister as the unwanted epistemologically tragic consequences of neocolonialism. Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of Earth” has talked about this and points to us the evolving of a social agent and actor that acts as the new lord and master, even if the former colonizer is long gone; Renato Constantino’s many essays on the effects of what he called ‘neocolonization’ including his work on the need to form a liberating critical consciousness, “The Miseducation of the Filipinos,” reminds Filipinos of the need to be always on the guard for that which mis-shapes and deforms and misinforms consciousness, including the ‘Englishization’ of the mind-sets of the Filipino people, with such Englishization bringing about the erasure, in a systematic fashion, of the native consciousness that could have provided a measure of looking at possible alternatives to a captive consciousness without necessarily invoking a grand past that is not there but only imagined and held on to as a symbol of a collective memory; Zeus Salazar’s theoretical proposal for a “P/Filipinolohiya”—studies about the Philippines—that is framed by a recovery of the essentials of the ethnos, the ‘lahi’, the ‘puli’; Prospero Covar’s “Araling Pilipino” frames a notion of an ‘anthro’ that is both respectful and respecting of tradition and chance and posits the dynamic of political engagement; Bienvenido Lumbera’s courageous and daring act of re-claiming of the aesthetic, literary, and cultural experiences of the ‘native culture’ almost erased by the apparatuses of multiple colonial experience; Paulo Freire’s notion of a pedagogy of liberation not only “for” but also “by” and “with” the people; and Virgilio Enriquez’s concept of ‘liberation psychology’ that, among others, returns to the site of personhood and community defined by the terms of Philippine culture and world view, and thus by a specific Philippine language and the terms offered by that language—all these and more provide the theoretical impetus for a rethinking of Ilokano and Amianan Studies, herein referred to as IAS.

IAS is thus a form of studies that is grounded on a political and clearly epistemological intent: one that is intended to re-name the Ilokano and Amianan experience whose name was erased because of many national and extra-national factors, including the factors of extraterritoriality that attends to that aspect of this same experience that is rooted in exile and diaspora. The role of the universities that have interests in this form of knowledge, some of them as a matter of both cultural and moral duty, is to provide a venue for the fermentation and production of such a body of knowledge, with the view that such a body of knowledge ought to be, in accord with a liberating dialectical hermeneutic framework, ‘open in its closedness/closed in its openness.’ As such, this body of knowledge is not to be taken as an end in itself but always to be seen as part and parcel of a bigger whole, and always sensitive to issues and concerns that have something to do always—without any exceptions—with studies about the Philippines. In effect, what we are talking about here is that Ilokano and Amianan studies must have that inherent capacity to re-connect—to have that ‘connectivity’—with other studies about Philippine society, culture, and politics.

Re-framing ‘Studies’

In articulating the ‘studies’ in IAS, there is a need to return to some premises and principles by way of definition. This form of ‘studies’ in the IAS is essentially pre-formed and pre-shaped by the hybrid nature of contemporary knowledge, with an avowed acknowledgement of the cognitive effects and consequences of cultures coming into an interface—of cultures coming into a connection/connexion—such that the nexus of these cultures can no longer be claimed by a single owner but becomes a shared knowledge available for appropriation by a culture needing it.

There is a certain idealization in the notion of ‘nexus’ here, as if ‘domination’ and the ‘empire’ and the ‘colony’ are by-gone realities of contemporary life. IAS holds that domination is ever-present; that the ‘empire’ is much around in various ruses and guises and transformations, and the colony is still as real as the medieval times when the whole world was still in the hands of two superpowers, Spain and Portugal. The dominance of each of these ‘rulers of mankind’ may be a foregone conclusion, but the effects of their rule of that ‘other’ of the world remains intact, albeit in more subtle forms. But the subtlety of these forms does not guarantee the healing of the ‘souls’ of the nations, countries, and other body politics the colonizers, imperialists, and invaders ravaged. Another thing: Spain and Portugal have granted independence to their colonies but other contemporary superpowers have re-claimed the economic, political, linguistic, cultural, economic, and aesthetic spaces these former colonizers vacated. It remains true to say, therefore, that there exists, and in a more sinister form, dominant and dominating cultures and their effects on ‘dominated’ and ‘subjugated’ cultures are layered and multi-hued, in effect made tacit and implicit, but nevertheless not necessarily less powerful, less coercive, less oppressive.

These lead us to the ugly realities of a particular country and nation-state that went through a long history of subjugation by at least three colonizers and invaders like the Philippines. We speak of the almost irrecoverable power of triple linguistic and cultural erasures that produced and reproduced the truths—and by extension, meanings—manufactured and produced by the colonizers and invaders. Following Constantino’s historical accounting of the formation of a new breed/hybrid of colonizers—the ‘neocolonizers’—the logic of colonization gets a refurbishing in the very logic of a systemic realigning of the same subjugating power of neocolonization and made more powerful by the access to economic resources limited and made accessible only, to a powerful few, essentially an elite economic class, whose class extends to politics, the media, and all other cultural forms, including the imposition of a language of power, commerce, and education.

It is in these difficult structural realities of the Philippines that we come to see ‘studies about the Philippines’ as windows through which we can have a critical reflection of ourselves as a people and as a nation, and through which we draw segments of the same studies in keeping with some acknowledged fidelities and loyalties to the particular culture and language a Filipino finds affinity. In effect, we are here advancing the idea that the twin and complementary ‘studies about the Ilocos and about the Amianan’ are first and foremost part of a body of knowledge, and this body of knowledge, much bigger in scope and political and epistemological direction, is the ‘studies about the Philippines.’ Conceptually and logically, IAS is a slice of ‘studies about the Philippines’—‘Philippine Studies’—and cannot be outside it as it draws from it the very seed of its creation, production, formation, and sustenance, inextricable as it is from its tree and ground, even if it is at the same time allowed to grow and bloom and mature as a branch of the same tree, and in that same ground. What we need to do here is to assure ourselves—those who will venture into this form of knowledge—that the felicities and faith in what we are doing are in there and ever-present: the many form of felicities that we have to forge with other disciplines and knowledge/s and the faith that what we are doing is for the greater good and in keeping with the obligation to contribute to the pursuit of the ends of community building as required by the social contract of which, as inheritors of Ilokano and Amianan languages and cultures, we are signatories.

Even as we say that IAS finds its ‘connect’ with Philippines Studies, herein referred to as PS, some clear premises must be stated: (i) that IAS, like PS, must be oriented to a theory and praxis of a liberating world view, away from the neocolonizing effects of consciousness pre-formed and pre-shaped by a neocolonizing way of life authored by, and perpetually reproduced by the apparatuses of a neocolonial state; (ii) that IAS, like the PS, must look at itself as a whole strategy of re-claiming what were erased or made to disappear or destroyed by centuries of systematic oppression, brutal occupation, and
‘satellization’ by other countries or cultures that have played a ceaseless game of domination against the cultures of the Ilokanos and of the peoples of Amianan; and (iii) that the key issue about a Philippine ‘national culture’ must be subjected to interrogation in an effort to account the reality of multiculturalism and multilingualism—a reality that points to diversity and at the same time requiring, for political purposes, unity. How to keep this ‘meson,’ the healthy balance in all of these, is difficult but it is not impossible. Here we deny the equation of difficulty and impossibility, arguing that in the building up of an imagined nation—an imagined political entity that serves as the instrument for the pursuit of common ends for all the ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines and the various Philippine communities in the diaspora—it is, indeed difficult to come up with a balance between all these opposing realities but nonetheless, there is the political and ethical obligation to find that balance as is demanded by the social contract, and which, in itself, one of the organizational bases of the social contract.

Forms of Knowledge and ‘Knowledges’

One of the key problems of the ‘scientificization’ of the current understanding of knowledge is that when ‘knowledge’ does not go through the rigor of what is generally understood as ‘the scientific method’ that begins with a problem and the search for that predictable, calculable, and repeatable procedure to subject the problem into ‘anatomical’
parts, such a body of knowledge must be rendered ‘unscientific.’ This kind of a position brings into the extreme the ‘shanghaiing’ of knowledge by today’s positivistic science and arrogating unto itself all claims to knowledge that follows the rigid scientific procedure that is hewed on prediction, calculation, and repetition. We register here an objection to this view of knowledge and propose the broad understanding of what human knowledge is all about and the even more democratic possibility that, in fact, human knowledge cannot be one and entire and whole even if this is the ideal but is, in reality, plural, tentative, exploratory, more-or-less, fluid. In looking at human knowledge this way, we are able to give a discursive space for other knowledge/s apart from the kind of knowledge that is familiar to us, and thus, is convenient and comfortable to us. It is discourse that we are after here—that reality that we have to guard in the coming into a conversation with all ‘others’ that are not really ‘others’ in the grand political project to create unity in diversity, a sense of the ‘et pluribus unum’ that allows the co-existences of all forms of expressions of human life.

In IAS, we reject this subtle tyranny of this model of ‘scientific knowledge’ that marginalizes and erases the sincere and honest attempt of the ‘studies on the human and the social’ to make us understand what is it to be human and what is in human society that makes that society ‘human.’ This rejection does not reject the constructed truths of
the ‘studies on the natural’ which studies is sometimes referred to as ‘the hard sciences’ or, in some instances, in its most extreme form, ‘the real science.’ In IAS, as in the PS, we see the creative connection, the constructive interface of both models of human knowledge, seeing that one needs the other for insight, and the other needs the other for explanation. For indeed as it were that ‘the studies on the human and social,’ also called ‘the studies of the cultural,’ presents to us insights that require explanation while the ‘studies of nature and physical world’ presents to us explanations of phenomena but such explanation needs re-framing so that we can draw from it an insight into what the world as ‘kosmos’ is all about. In practical terms, we ask the question: Does IAS need ‘the hard sciences,’ to wit, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, botany, genetics, botany and the like? The answer is yes. Corollary to this question is: Does botany have to have a nation? The answer is no, but it pays to have botany that makes use of itself in a particular culture, language, and body politic. For what would the use of botany if it cannot even tell the floral diversity of a place and therefore a culture or a language that have something to do with botany in the first place?

At best, our understanding of modern science today must have to be reformulated and brought back to its conceptualization that roots itself from the notion of the Latin ‘scire,’ to know. There is this act of knowing—this ‘to know’—in the cultural studies as there is in the studies of nature, if, for some reason, we recognize the tentative split of these two forms of knowledge. But in recognizing the beginnings of human knowledge as we understand it today, human knowledge with a broader, more encompassing strokes—in recognizing these two broad forms—we realize that there is no set logic that prohibits and prevents us from looking at other forms, other models, other possibilities. This is also in keeping with the fact that ‘the science of nature’ has yet to give us a full explanation of what is in there in nature and so is ‘the science of the human and the social’—also called ‘the science of the cultural.’ A re-reading of many cultures and societies and their models of human understanding and thus, of their own version of ‘human knowledge’ would make us realize that human knowledge comes in various forms and packaging depending on so many variables, including the variables of the cultural and the linguistic.

IAS as Resistance and Re-Claiming

The relevance of IAS is that of its project and program to resist and to re-claim.

Resistance is seen here in the context of appreciation of the plurality of cultures and languages, and the plurality of societies and thus the need to draw up guarantees in order for this plurality to not become homogenized and ‘massified’ in the end. The idea of homogenization of languages and cultures may be a grand political project that has some genesis in the need for the ‘nationalization’ of a language, for instance; or it may mean the need to ‘purify’ a society, and thus the culture of that society by going the route of ‘Aryanism’ and thus the eventual ‘Dachauwization’ of all that is impure, which could be those related to immigrants and exiles, and those of the margins, those that are not part of the mainstream—or of anything not held sacred and dear by the holders of power.

While the project to ‘nationalize’ a culture or a language, for example, is a political necessity for the survival and unity of the ‘national’ body politic, the act of ‘nationalizing’ is not value-free as it carries with it the burden of recognizing one culture and thus, one language, against all those ‘other’ cultures and ‘other’ languages. In effect, there is something laudable in the effort to bring together seemingly disparate groups of people in a nation and country by reason of their various ethnolinguistic heritages so that a ‘national’ conversation could come about. But here we have to safeguard the inherent rights of the ‘othered’ cultures and languages in a nation to exist, to survive, and to view the world and human experience in accord with the lenses provided by their ‘othered’ cultures and languages. If in the ‘nationalization’ of a language and a culture results in the death of the ‘othered’ cultures and languages, such a nationalization becomes a self-defeating because self-destructive exercise.

This is where resistance comes. We can project this scenario and account here the aggression and invasion of global, imperialistic, and international cultures and languages and the ‘othered’ cultures and languages of a nation suffer another death after a rigor mortis. We add here the histories of colonization and neocolonization and we can only guess why cultures and literatures and languages from the margins ought to raise their voice, already muffled as it is by the dominant culture and language, and demand a fair share of space in the national conversation and national discourse. This is re-claiming of the right of marginal languages, literatures, and cultures to be—as well as their right to become. IAS, as in PS, is thus a crucial issue linked with the indispensable issue of the being of the Ilokanos and the peoples of Amianan and their response to the challenges of that which is ahead of them, their becoming.

IAS as a Strategy for the Struggle to Survive

The dialectic of being and becoming in IAS is grounded on the reality that with the invasive consequences of national, modern, and global cultures, the ‘minoritized’ peoples and cultures must be vigilant of their right to survive and thus, would need to strategize their way of survival. The consequent extinction of any culture as a result of the domination of a more powerful because mainstream, and more politically and economically entrenched culture is bad enough. But the terrible end of any culture as an exhibit of the museum of the culturally extinct and thus irrecoverable is an unforgivable result of cultural aggression of a dominant culture or cultures.

The Role of the Universities in IAS

Universities, by nature, are state apparatuses, marked for that ideological role of producing and reproducing citizens that ought to know their civics. The universities work with the reproduction of consciousness and operate, in a rather tacit way, through some established canons of human knowledge, generally accepted, or at times, legislated. There is in the universities that propaganda about them being the ‘marketplace’ of ideas, but that is only true for a certain extent as they, unwittingly, become agents of the same manufactured truths and meanings produced and reproduced by society itself.

It is in this context that the universities can either become agents of change or perpetrators of the same ruses and guises and artifices of a dominant culture. The continuing use of a foreign language in the Philippines as the measure of knowledge learned and acquired in the school system is one example of a lopsided view of what human knowledge is all about, the human knowledge that is ‘human’ because it opens doors to liberation, discourse, and emancipation from the bondage of ‘mass’ thoughts and mindsets. The continuing denigration of a native culture and language by the very same people who are expected to nurture, sustain, promote, preserve, and perpetuate their culture and language happens in the very sacred and august halls of the universities, the alma mater of knowledge that has not allowed the virtue of critical reflection to set in.

The question thus for the universities in the Philippines particularly those from Region I, Region II, and the Cordillera Administrative Region is this: How ready are they to take part in this duty of equipping their educands with the skills and tools necessary for critical reflection?

A Note to an Exploratory Conclusion

IAS as a form of knowledge will go the way of interrogation, as it should. It does not purport to possess all the answers to the questions to be raised. But it will have to exhaust the means to raising the questions well and from there, draw the germ to some tentative, exploratory, dialectical answers. The more important thing to do at this time is to prepare the ground for the endless dialectic of question and answer to come about with humility and freedom. If IAS shall have raised the right questions well, then more than half of its task is done. It is the raising of the right questions that matter most in human knowledge that is ‘human’ because it is ‘critical’ and it is critical it is not content with the answers based on the logic of convenience and truth produced and reproduced by a society that does not have the boldness and daring to do what is just and fair to its people. IAS, thus, in some, is also a work in the pursuit of social justice and cultural democracy.


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