Visit with the Kalinga People in the Village of Guinaang, 2004

The story of Guinaang is related here to illustrate the spiritual journey Thelma took from the Inupiat village of Point Hope in the high Arctic of Alaska, to the Kalinga mountain tribal village of Guinaang, north and east of the Banaue Rice Terraces, Luzon Island, Philippines.

As a girl in Claveria, Thelma became offended when she observed the racist treatment accorded to mountain tribal people when they came down from the mountains to trade in Claveria.

Thelma’s father, Eugenio Garcia, was of mountain tribal heritage, with distinctly Negrito features, and she observed that her townspeople would sometimes disparage him for that, and she resented it.

Thelma arrived in Alaska at a time when the Alaska Native land claims movement was just gathering strength, and she and her husband, Jon, became involved as advocates of the land claims movement when it was still politically dangerous to champion the land claims of Alaska’s Native people.  She compared urban Alaska’s racist history toward Alaska’s Indians and Eskimos with the racism meted out against the mountain tribespeople visiting Claveria, and against her dark-skinned father.

When Thelma was elected President of the Anchorage Filipino Community in 1971, she was the first woman to hold that office, and she inherited the responsibility for conducting the annual Founder’s Day banquet, at which traditionally the Community featured Filipino folk dancing.   There had never been any mountain tribal dancing at these annual banquets.  So Thelma set out to remedy that, and she began insisting that Igorot tribal dances be included in all Anchorage Filipino Community dance performances.

“Igorot” is a word used to generally describe the indigenous culture and people of the mountain provinces.   When used by the Filipino lowlanders, it is a term of denigration, used not unlike the “n” word in America.

So, Thelma began collecting traditional Igorot tribal costumes and drums, and gongs and other indigenous cultural artifacts, and she began training young Filipino dancers to perform Igorot dances at the annual banquets.  In time, several mountain tribal families moved to Anchorage, and Thelma organized them into a dance troupe that performed in schools and at the State Fair.

One day, Thelma met a dynamic woman, Juliet Omli-Cawas Cheatle, a leader of BIBAK Northwest, a regional organization of Philippine mountain tribal people residing in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.  Juliet Cheatle was originally from Lubuagan, Kalinga, and she had an active tribal dance group in northern Washington.

Cheatle and Thelma began collaborating, and Thelma invited Cheatle and her group to perform in Anchorage.

Thelma and Juliet Cheatle recruited Juliet’s sister, Betty Ordono, a civil servant working in Baguio, to organize a dance group made up of Kalinga students attending college in Baguio.   They made a plan for the students to travel from Baguio to Claveria to perform for Thelma’s hometown, Claveria, where Igorots still suffered from racial discrimination, though not as badly as when Thelma was a girl.

The Kalinga students would arrive in Claveria from Baguio at the same time Thelma would arrive after visiting Guinaang with her son, Christopher, his wife, Julia, and her daughter, Titania.  Thelma arranged for all the travel involved, and arranged for the use of Claveria’s gymnasium for the Kalinga dance performance.

And so it came to pass.   The annotated photographs below tell the story, presented here as an example of Thelma Garcia Buchholdt’s cultural leadership, and commitment to the mountain people of the Philippines.

(Click on Slides Below to Enlarge)

 

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      After Thelma gathered everyone in Manila, they flew to Tuguegarao, Cagayan. There they were met by Juliet Cheatle's brother, Dr. Ignacio Cawas, Jr., who transported Thelma and her party via jeepney to his home in Tabuk, Kalinga. They spent the night preparing for the trip to Lubuagan and Guinaang.  

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      After their jeepney was loaded with supplies for Guinaang, the party set off on a difficult and dusty ride over narrow, bumpy winding roads ...

       

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      ...to Lubuagan, where Juliet and her sister, Betty, introduced all to their teacher, Mr. Cirilo Bawer. Mr. Bawer's students performed for their visitors at the Lubuagan cultural center maintained to promote Kalinga dance.  

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      Leaving Lubuagan, the party headed upwards to nearby Guinaang.  Their jeepney drove them as close to Guinaang as possible, near the bottom of the mountain, and from the end of the road Thelma and her party had to walk for nearly an hour to a bridge crossing the Pasil River, then up a steep and exhausting trail.  About three quarters of the way up the mountain path, Thelma, exhausted, could go no further, so some men carried her in a sling to a point where the party was given a ceremonial greeting  by the village of Guinaang.  The children of Guinaang had been released from school in order to join in the greeting.  

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      Thelma and her party were hosted by Peter and Libertie Agabas, Juliet and Betty's cousin and  his wife. Their house became intently watched by scores of children curious about their visitors.

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      Guinaang is a charming mountain-top village overlooking beautiful valleys scattered with several other nearby villages.  

       

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      Here, Thelma and husband Jon visit Nora Tagway and her two-year-old daughter, Thelma Tanya Tagway.  This picture was taken during Thelma's second visit to Guinaang in 2006.  It was at this time that Thelma learned that the child had been born near the time of her first visit in 2004 and that the baby had been named Thelma in Thelma's honor.

       

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      In the evenings Thelma and her party were honored with beautiful choral singing and dance.

       

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      Finally, in the early morning hours of her departure, because of the dew slickened steepness of the trail, the village decided to carry Thelma back down the mountain.

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      Juliet Cheatle and Betty Ordono, together with Dr. Cawas and his family, drove to Claveria where they met the Tong-nga-Tong dance troupe as they arrived from Baguio,  students trained by Betty Ordono...

       

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      ... who then rehearsed especially for their performance before the Claverianos along side the Cabicungan River on a cloudy morning.  

       

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      After greeting the audience from the podium, and greeting the mayor of Claveria, the show began with a performance by Tingguian dancers from Apayao, in the mountains inland from Claveria, who Thelma invited and arranged their transportation down to Claveria and back.  

       

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      A large Saturday afternoon crowd in the gymnasium enjoyed the Kalinga suite of dances.

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      Betty Bagcal, one of Thelma’s best friends, who retired after a 30-year career in Anchorage, Alaska.  Ms. Bagcal, a member of a prominent Benquet family in Baguio,  accompanied the Tong-nga-Tong dancers from Baguio.

       

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      Titania, Thelma, Juliet Cheatle, and Julia, Thelma’s daughter-in-law, the morning after the performance.

       

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      The dancers and Betty Bagcal, depart on the long ride up to Baguio.

       

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      After the performance in Claveria, Christopher Buchholdt posed for a photo with Dr. Ignacio Cawas, Jr.; Dr. Cawas’ mother-in-law Mrs. Ulep; his wife Dr. M. Lenore U. Cawas; and two of their three daughters.

       

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      The party rested from their journey for a couple of days at Fort Ilocandia, near Laoag, Northern Philippines only 5-star hotel.

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