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The conquered and unconquered

A. Paulita Roa

THIS can be considered a continuation of the essay that I wrote in my column last week for I feel that there are still many things to share on the issue of the Kagay-anon cultural identity. The main question that many asked me is whether the Kagay-anons are descended from the Higa-unon or are they Visayans. This question necessitates an in-depth study on these two people groups with sources coming from local oral tradition, ethnography, historical documents even the subject of physiography and the like. I think that this will make an interesting study to a graduate student of anthropology because this subject will immensely benefit our people.

Let me present three important points that will show why the the Kagay-anon and the Higa-unon do not belong to one people group as what the city’s cultural stakeholders as well as the tourism sector have been for many years trying to promote this cultural misconception that is harming our true sense of identity as a people.

  • Language – we all know that the Kagay-anon’s ethnolinguistic identity is that of a Visayan. The dialect spoken here is what is known as Cebuan Binisaya and has similar variants that is spoken by people living in the Visayas islands as well as in the northern Mindanao region. Take for example the word “nothing” as spoken by the people living in the mentioned areas:

Kagay-anon – wala, Cebuano – wa, Waray – wara, Ilonggo – waay, Surigaonon – waya, Bol-anon -waja

The Higa-unon would say its “hoda” and for added measure, the Maranao’s word for it is “duh.” Can you now spot the difference?

In the study of ethnic groups, it has been observed that they are often correlated with language areas. The Bisayan-speaking communities may speak their own version of the Binisaya that may have several variants in many of its words and even the tonal quality, but it can still be largely understood by many as shown in the word “nothing.” While the “hoda” of the Higa-unon is vastly different. Furthermore, one could not find at least 10 Higa-unon words that are part of the everyday speech of the Kagay-anon.

  • Cultural and Historical Differences – culture is basically defined as all the non-biological traits of a people group, society or even in a corporate group.It is also seen in the way of thinking and behavioural patterns of the people on a given time and place. The Recollect missionaries who were the first Spaniards to enter the Cagayan territory in 1622, wrote in their journal that the people’s customs were much like those of the Caraghas (Caraga) who were considered Visayans. It did not take long for the Visayans to be colonized by the Spaniards. In fact one can easily see the numerous Spanish influences in our customs and religious traditions. Many Spanish words are sprinkled in our everyday Binisaya like pachada, la mesa, tenidor, sapatos, la mesa, caldero, guapo and many more.

However, the biggest and most important factor for such a difference is the fact that like the Muslims, the Lumads of Mindanao were unconquered people. They were not subjugated by the Spaniards all throughout the 333 years of their colonial rule. The Higa-unons who belong to the Lumad group were reclusive in nature, they lived in remote areas, were able to practice their animistic beliefs and preserve their language, customs and traditions sans foreign intervention. The saddest part of it all is that they were looked down by the “conquered” people group as uncivilized and pagans that they were subjected to numerous abuse and exploitation by the lowland Christians. The prejudices are still rife today as it was over a century ago.

  • Geographical Barriers – Beyond the coastal plains and small hills that mostly defined the land area of Misamis Oriental, is the region of Bukidnon whose topography is composed of high mountains, deep canyons, limestone cliffs, thick forests and wide rivers with swift currents. This is the home of the seven tribes of the Bukidnon nation for many centuries, one of which is the Higa-unon group. For a long period of time, their contacts with the dumagats or the lowlanders were few and between because the rivers were not navigable and only primitive trails existed then. Overall, the difficult and harsh terrain could be another big factor why no regular cultural interactions and ties were forged between the two people groups for a long period of time.

It is my hope that this will give the readers not only added knowledge and understanding on the Kagay-anon and the Higa-unon but will have the impetus to stand up for what is right and true with regards to our real cultural identity, else I will become nothing but just a “voice in the wilderness.”


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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