A. Paulita Roa .
MANY do not know about the importance of pubic memory except those who are interested on the subject of history and culture. Whether we are aware about it or not, public memory is so much a part of our identity as a people and even about our land. A good example of this was when the late Councilor Adolfo Balinado bestowed on our city the descriptive title as the “City of Golden Friendship.” This was not given out of fancy thinking but he based it on public memory. Like, we all know that through the years, we are reputed to be open and friendly to visitors in our city. This is different from other places where the people are wary or suspicious of strangers.
A big contributory factor for this is that Cagayan is geographically located on the central coast of Northern Mindanao. During the Spanish colonial period, this was the main transit point of the island for travellers who came from Visayas and Luzon. The inter-island steamers brought them here then they proceeded to other parts of Mindanao. So the Kagay-anons are used to having strangers in town on a regular basis. The word “golden” can mean two things — gold has been present in our land since time immemorial and that the Kagay-anon brand of friendliness is as valuable as their gold.
Local oral tradition is part of public memory like the old name of Cagayan was “Kalambagohan” — this was because a long time ago, the banks of our river was filled with lambago trees (hibiscus tilaeus). Kalambagohan in Binisaya means the place where lambago trees abound. Now, this is remembered as one of the old street names of our city. There used to be an active group in the city known as the Voice of Kalambagohan Society in the 1960s. I wonder why it was disbanded years later.
Lambago was a kind of a mangrove plant that was endemic to our river. It bore colorful flowers and attracted many fresh water fishes like the pili, balanak and the priceless pigok which is known as the “isda sa mga Kagay-anon.” Today, our river has water lilies that can be a problem in the long run. We need to plant the lambago trees along our banks as a way of reviving our city river.
At Plaza Divisoria is the bronze statue by National Artist Napoleon Abueva of the late great City Mayor Justiniano R. Borja. Our public memory regarding all the things that the good mayor has done to the city can be seen in the hospital, a major street of the city and recently, a bridge bearing his name. These are testaments of the fact that he is not forgotten and his memory is honored long after he has gone. So are the streets of the city that bore the names of our local heroes and distinguished people of the past. One thing that I observed though is that only one street was given to a woman — Acadia Valenzuela, the heroine of Lapasan. Could it be that our city has no more women who are renowned for their accomplishments in government, culture, academics and even in time of war? I think not!
Paul Shackel wrote in his book titled, Public Memory and the Search for Power in Cultural Heritage: “What aspects of the past are remembered and how they are interpreted are important issues that allow us to see how public memory develops.” A downside on this is the biggest cultural blunder committed in our city when cultural stakeholders fabricated and progressively distorted our local cultural heritage by promoting the yarn that the Kagay-anons descended from the Higa-onons. So for the past years, our fiesta celebration and dance festivals centered on Higa-unon dances and costumes. Truth to tell, there is no public memory of our being “kaliwat sa Higa-unon” for our ethno-linguistic identity is that of a Bisaya and many will agree with me in this aspect.
Overall, there is a profound need to know and even study local public memory because it is a vital component that helps define us, Kagay-anons, and because we can then relate to our past in a deeper and more significant ways.