April 17, 2024

SAGADA, Mountain Province – It’s 9 p.m. in this tranquil town and most of the establishments are closing.
The wind is mandating shops and restaurant owners to close their doors while the sound of crickets is becoming audible. The cool weather convinces people to turn their lights off lights and go to bed.
Alapo Gibanay lights her fireplace to boil the remaining balaniw (lemon grass tea) she cooked this morning. The light from the fire touches every wave of her grey-white hair and wrinkles on her face. As the fire grows, fat from the etag (smoked meat) hanging above the fireplace drips. She sits on her old bangkito (chair) as she begins telling a story.
She said in the olden times, her ancestors are buried in caves and hung on limestone rocks. She tells their strong connection to nature and the spirits living in those areas. The tradition and beliefs molded the umili (community members) to respect these places.
She hopes the younger generation will carry on the tradition their ancestors passed on to them.
Cultural and natural attractions are part of Sagada’s treasures. The town reflects the rich culture and practices through the heritage tourist spots that capture the heart of tourists.
Sagada is an avenue for heritage tourism. The community reinforces its members to be empowered in promoting their own cultural identity and eco-cultural tourism.
Mayor James Pooten, Jr. said that because of the cultural/historical background of the cultural and natural sites, they have become eco-cultural tourist sites.
The people must protect these sites because the community considers them as sacred sites as they showcase the town’s history and culture.
“On the cultural aspect, tourists can watch activities, such as the begnas but they are allowed to stay at least 50 meters away from where the activity is held. They are not allowed to take photos or videos without the consent of the local community or the elders.”
Traditional and municipal laws are essential in protecting heritage spots. Tourists are often told to respect the culture and the people, should be modest when in town, and conserve water.
Tourist destinations must be run by the local tour guide organizations, the number of tourists visiting a site should also be limited and only local transport groups are allowed to ferry tourists to and from the tourist sites. Visitors are also encouraged to walk.
Rose B. Nardo, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples personnel, said, “Some tourists violate these laws and of course we cannot control vandalism. It’s high time for the community to impose the rules and regulations with the help of the local government unit, council of elders, and the community members to protect our heritage tourism. We should have the power to strengthen these laws so that we can preserve our heritage spots.”
Alfredo B. Batane, Jr., records officer of the sangguniang bayan, said the caves, forests, and mountains should be maintained as heritage parks. These have been used before as an avenue for prayers when a member of the family is sick or during rituals.
Even with modernization, people of Sagada still value the culture and rituals of their ancestors.
Jaime Dugao, an elder said, “The solemnity of the heritage places are being lost to tourists unlike before particularly that caves are very sacred as burial grounds. In the heart of the community people, our feelings are attached with the spirit of our ancestors living there.”
He added that due to the frequent visits, even the umili are becoming detached from their relationship with nature and their ancestors’ spirits as these sacred sites are becoming viewing areas.
Dugao said heritage culture should be valued and maximized first before tourism. The people should abide with the municipal laws and traditional laws to preserve what the ancestors passed on to the umili.
It is the responsibility of the younger generation to ensure heritage conservation through their engagement in indigenous knowledge education.
As far as heritage tourism is concerned, the umili will be the keepers of vibrant culture and traditions. — Pullen Angway