“We are going home to Benguet!” Mama announced over breakfast one morning.
“Benguet?!” I whined. “Do we have to?” From Papa’s stories of his trips there, Benguet was this faraway province on top of a mountain. I just knew the long trip was going to be boooring!
“Yes, we have to. We are going to visit our family, and our tribe–the Igorots of Bay-yo,” Mama said with a smile.
“Mama!” I wailed as I crossed my hands over my chest and growled. I didn’t like to be called an Igorot. My classmates teased me when I first introduced myself as an Igorot, and from then on, I stopped mentioning it to anyone.
“I’m sorry, ZsaZsa, but I don’t understand you,” she said patiently. “We come from a long line of native Filipinos. Before the Spaniards came, we were already here, growing our crops, developing our crafts, and caring for our families! You should be proud to belong to such a unique group.”
I sighed. Mama looked long and hard at me, as if saying that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
I had lived in Manila all seven years of my life. I knew the noisy horns of our jeeps, the colorful billboards along our paved roads, and the people dressed in their uniforms going to work and school. But I knew nothing of Benguet, except that it was high up in the mountains and that we belonged to a tribe.
Finally, it was the day of our trip. Papa woke me up early. “It’s a long trip, honey. Pack your jacket because its going to be cold.”
“Why are we called Igorot anyway?” I asked, still cranky that I had been woken up.
“Well, our name literally means that we are from the mountains,” Mama explained.
“Ok, now I know what an Igorot is. We don’t have to actually go there,” I said, hoping to still change their minds.
“We can’t just tell you what an Igorot is. You have to see it for your own eyes. You have to experience what it is like to be from the mountains.” Mama raised an eyebrow at me.
The rocking of the car lulled me to sleep. When I woke up, we were by the road on the mountainside.
“Just in time!” Papa said. “Look at the zigzag roads we are passing through!”
Even I couldn’t help but stare at the roads we were passing. Beside us was the mountain, and we were going around it. The view of the pines trees and the clouds touching the mountain took my breath away. I opened my window slightly and felt the cold wind hit my face.
Mama pointed to me the sides of the mountains with what seemed to be carved flooring. “See those? That is how we planted. Even if it is very hard to plant on mountains, the Igorots were able to figure out how to do it. We call our rice fields kapayyew.”
“Wow!” I couldn’t help but smile. “It looks wonderful, Mama. Can we see it up close?” She nodded eagerly.
Finally, we had arrived! Everyone was dressed in colorful woven fabric.
“I’m glad you’re here!” An elderly woman approached us.
“Yes, it’s time for ZsaZsa to know her roots,” Mama said.
“Let’s get you dressed so that we can teach you how to dance the Bendian!”
Mama dressed me in the same striped cloth and wrapped a thin woven belt around my head. It was fun hopping and raising my hands together with the children of the tribe. Then we shared a meal of Pinikpikan and Innasin. I was excited to try everything. The elders told me stories of my parents and they were very nice in answering all my questions. I even took many pictures with them. When the day ended, Mama sat beside me.
“Did you have a good time today?” She asked as I smiled sleepily.
“I had the best day! Thank you for bringing me to Benguet. I can’t wait to show my classmates pictures of our tribe!” I said as I kissed her goodnight.