by: Dino Cavestany
The Apayaos are a river people, getting their name from the warm waters of the Apayao River. They can be found in the northwestern end of the island of Luzon from Abulog up to the Apayao River. This mountainous area is rich in life with its dark tropical rainforests.
These virile people are said to have come to this region in two waves, a few thousand years ago; the Indonesians by way of Southeastern Asia, and the Mongolians by way of Central Asia. These two waves found a home in the northern end of the Cordillera Central Mountains. Their cultures amalgamated into a new one. Physically, the Indonesian strain dominated; but Mongoloid features are present, especially the short Mongol.
The Apayaos are kind, hospitable and generous. They are highly aesthetic in temperament, are self-reliant, and honest. If by some ill fate you drop something, even money, on the trail, the finder will return it to you. They believe that if a man steals, his wife will leave him; or, if they acquire money unfairly and buy rice with it, the rice, when eaten, will give them no strength. As born psychologists, they enjoy working on you so that you will think and act as they desire. They like a practical joke even when it is on themselves. In fact, even accidents are taken as jokes and the one who has been injured is the one who laughs the hardest. When going through hardships, they show true endurance. Their code is to laugh and joke near the end just as if they had only awakened from a good sleep.
The Apayaos are courageous and freedom loving. The Spaniards never did conquer them, and even the Americans had a difficult time establishing their government. The American military control continued for many years, and only in 1923 was a civil government established. During the first part of the Japanese occupation, Apayao was a place of refuge for fleeing Americans, and after the fall of Corregidor, Cabugao was made the headquarters of the USAFFE of Northern Luzon. The Japanese were not able to establish themselves in these mountains until March, 1943. They found the people unwilling to cooperate, so they left on August, 1944. When the Americans returned, almost every Apayao volunteered to help in defeating the Japanese. Many acted as 'bobl men' without pay, and served as cargadores, messengers and laborers. Thus, they even neglected their farming.
The life of the Apayaos has much to do with the rivers and streams of the country along which most of them live. They do not live on the river flats, but on the mountain sides for safety. Many of their communities are named after the streams near which they are located. The streams serve these people in many ways. They are a source of food, and a supply of water for drinking, washing, bathing and swimming. They also add to the beauty of the scenery. Much of the transportation is on the streams, and the men are expert boatmen and raftsmen. During the rainy season, transportation on swollen rivers is perilous; but it is carried on somewhat. The result is that many a banca has overturned in the raging rapids; much valuable merchandise still lies deep at the feet of those rapids; and many a family mourns the loss of a loved one. Therefore, stories of the streams often occur in the legends of these people.
The people on these streams were isolated from each other for many centuries such that there has come to be quite a difference in their dialects and customs. Along the length of the Apayao River are three separate groups. They can understand each other in some ways.
The Apayao are a communal people. They have a very simple government. In each family the man rules supreme and orders his woman what to do. A group of 15 to 30 families build their houses close together, babalay, for mutual aid and protection under one leader. This leader, maingel, holds his position because he is the natural leader, is wealthy, and is the strongest and fiercest of all the warriors. He has absolute power, but is surrounded by advisors, pangmarwan. They have also won their position through ability. Though advisors of the maingel, they can be advised by the common man. The next best man of the leader is his first assistant, and so on. So if the leader passes away, the next best man becomes the new maingel. The maingel and the pangmarwans sit together in a court to judge anyone who has broken the common law. Disputes between individuals are settled by intermediary peace makers. It is notable that fines are paid not to the government, but to the injured party. This may be in the form of jars, beads, animals, or other valuables.
The Common Law enjoins that man must not steal, tell false stories of others, court the wife of others, nor make trouble at a feast. It further enjoins that man must respect the rights of individuals, give food to visitors, and that parents shall teach the children the old legends and customs, as well as correct them that they may grow up properly.
The Apayao have a very complete system of social etiquette which might be characteristic of a high culture. It displays a nice sense of fitness and an innate kindliness of nature. Hospitable customs make the visitor's stay a happy one. There is even no embarrassing sense of indebtedness for gifts of service or materials to be expressed; they have no words meaning "thank you" in their dialect. When one goes on journey, there is no word meaning "goodbye". One just walks away. When he returns, even after a long absence, there are no words of greeting, of welcome.
The Apayaos are very modest about their persons. A woman must not allow her legs to spread when squatting to a sitting position, nor allow her tapis to go above her knees. Even when there are no women around, while the men are bathing and swimming together, they keep their private parts covered with one hand while they are out of the water.
Community spirit in a barangay is strong. They have common interests and often work together in exchange of labor. When one builds a home, all the neighbors come to help, making a party of it.
Each barangay is surrounded by a bamboo picket fence. The bamboos are filled with little stones so that they cannot be easily cut. It has all oter barangays as enemies, but a peace pact, budong, is often made between them. Peace pact holders are appointed and held personally responsible to make sure that it is not broken. Each barangay is held accountable for the acts of any of its members. Then they are allies, helping each other in warfare and being mtually responsible for each other's property and personal safety. There is danger of forays at anytime from other barangays. So war is always imminent. There may be old feuds to settle and deaths to be avenged. This is augmented by the fact that each warrior must take at least one head to establish himself, both in society and in the heart of the girl whom he desires.
The Apayao name for a god is anito. It is hard for anyone to explain how all the 'acts of God' are the activity of one's personality because some acts are benevolent and others are malevolent. The Apayaos believe that different 'acts' are the doings of different anitos.. Natural phenomena are explained as being the work of some anito. Each ooccurrenceor activity is governed by an anito. Therefore, the anitos may number to the thousands. Thus, an Apayao is always conscious of his relations to the anitos; and so is very religious.
The Apayao folklore is the fabric upon which they weave the pattern of their future. It is woven from materials such as religious beliefs, customs, habits, and daily life. It has remained the same during many centuries.
The Apayao tell their stories in two ways. The short way is used in times when they just happen to meet each other, or are resting for a while. The long way is used when time hangs rather heavily during the confinement of the torrent rains, or in the long evenings. These story hours are much enjoyed and are the principle amusement of the people. An old woman or man, steeped in the lore of the past, makes the best storyteller. He spins out his tale using a certain pleasing time, sanimela, which at times is rather monotonous and at other times becomes thrilling and excitingly thrilling, according to the drift of the story. Very few of the tales have no religion in them.
Apayao Life and Legends by Lawrence L. Wilson
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