April 20, 2024

Every 30th day of December for over 85 years or so, the traditional bonfire of the Baguio Apaches is lit.
At the Ibaloy Park in last year’s edition was a motley group of Braves, families and friends led by outgoing Chief Jona Vergara, who had a tumultuous yet highly successful year leading the Nation.
There too were five of seven peons pumping up for their initiation that was forthcoming at the end of the evening.
It was in 1939 when a group of Baguio-born boys mostly belonging to Boy Scout Troop 56 got together to basically hang around, play basketball, sing songs, and have plain, simple fun. They must have loved the old cowboy movies at Pines Theater where my old man Arturo worked and inspired by the Indians who fought for their land and people with tremendous spirit. They then began calling themselves Baguio Apaches.
A culture of fellowship, fun, food, family, and faith was embedded as the Apache braves sang, danced and partied around the bonfire lit by the spirit of a Supreme Being. Food was always chili beans and hotdogs as the boys sang scout chants, Christmas songs and Cosby oldies but goldies with “It’s a sin to tell a lie” as the unofficial anthem.
The boys became leaders in their own right, in their selected fields all committed to a Cherokee’s tender loving care for the city of their birth. It has evolved through the years but the culture of brotherhood remains.
There is no written constitution and by-laws, (though we are coming up with a code of conduct) because the Nation was governed by tradition. No board of trustees either but there is a tribal council of elders and past chiefs who contribute their wisdom, when asked.
Now, as acting chairman, I have stood by the policy that ATC is advisory and we must give the chief the leeway to rule with autonomy. There is no election (anymore) but a rigid selection process determined by the elders on who will lead the Braves next.
Being a Brave makes one feel at home like he has a blood compact to be a brother. One gets an assurance of people lending a helping hand, advice or consolation at times of need and sorrow or enjoying laughter, booze and music, the latter being a must in every Apache gathering, singing and belting out songs passed on or newly learned.
We too have Indian names and mine is Yodeling Bear while Rudy Paraan is Bald Eagle, necessarily “not” pertaining to his top.
Rhey Bautista is Golden Snake while son Pedz is Hard Rock. Ricky Chan goes by Blue Thunder while Mario Simbajon is White Mountain.
Membership to the Apaches is open to all but you must be invited and endorsed by at least one active five-year Brave.
Originally, a peon must be Baguio born but a few years back, the stringent qualification was relaxed to being Baguio-bred with no character, reputation, or integrity issues. Then you go through one grueling year of “peonship” where, among others, you are required to “bless” or make “mano” to each and every single Brave you meet anywhere.
You serve and wait no matter who you are or who you think you are on the Braves during meetings and other occasions as if you are a second-class citizen and do anything and everything you are commanded to do.
Fear not though, because all peons are treated with respect and given the dignity they deserve as human beings. At the end of the year, all Braves vote whether to accept a peon or not (blackballed) and once you are in, the final test is at the bonfire where the paddle is bigger than the oar of a boat and the fist bigger than Pacman’s fist landing in my kidneys courtesy of relative Darwin when I went “usok”! Oops. Sorry I am not allowed to reveal what happens next.
Adam Lou Ferrer “Great Hawk” has been called and chosen as the next chief of the Apaches for 2024. Although his roots is in Nueva Ecija, Baguio has been his home since. When Doc Willy, the row row bots and I joined in 2012, Adam was the perennial quartermaster taking care of food during campfires. As his peon, I drove for him in his marketing chores and saw in him his kindness but firmness.
He is an active member of the Baguio Jaycees and its senate and an ardent believer of the “creed” that “faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life and service to humanity is the best work of life.” Same mantra he will apply during his chieftain.
Thus 85 years of tradition goes on guaranteed to last forever. The spirit shall live on and the Apache nation great again!
This 2024, while life is always full of fear and hope, let us choose to be with hope. Cras noster – Tomorrow, be ours.
The future is ours.
Sigh.