Monday, April 29, 2013

An Isinay Word Hunter's Story (Part 5)

Part 5. Joys of Isinay Word Hunting
THE ISINAY DICTIONARY that I’m attempting to put the rainbow on is definitely not a success story yet. In fact, I bought two huge dictionaries of other Philippine languages last year to, among other reasons, find out – and learn – what best practices as well as innovative approaches their authors employed to overcome the challenges posed by this still rarefied activity of making dictionaries.[1]
I believe, however, that in order to encourage other indigenous-language activists to try their hand at even simply listing all the words they could gather in their target languages[2], I thought I should share some of my delightful experiences as a word hunter (no matter how trivial these may appear):
1) Countless “aha!” and “eureka!” feelings upon hearing for the first time, or encountering again after decades of half- forgetting, certain words. Examples of terms that made my heart skip a beat, as it were, are manbinbiniyu^(dalaginding in Tagalog), manbajbajilat(agmulmulagat in Ilocano), anamme-on(animo in Tagalog, kunam la no in Ilocano), kamuntok(a fierce forest wasp/hornet whose round and one-holed nest is as big as bowling ball), and lupiit (a woody vine believed to have curative properties when boiled into a tea-like brew and drank by those with hangover, muscle fatigue, and beer bellies).
2) Meeting people, renewing kinship ties, and getting doors opened. Before I got into this habit of hunting words, I only nodded but seldom talked to senior folks in Dupax (vice versa). But when I toned down my being mambear (mahiyain, said to be the distinguishing characteristic of my father’s Isinay clan) and acknowledged that this and that fellow is the authority of this and that subject, my Isinay skies turned from gray to blue, as it were. Nowadays, whenever I go to Sunday mass, you would see me surrounded by a group of bibi-al (senior ladies) volunteering Isinay words they recalled while I was away. Out in the payaw (ricefields) farmers would park their araru (plow) and carabaos, then excitedly share their knowledge of, for example, the amurawun (molave tree), bittuh(talahib grass), manaleban (wild dove), and ato^tong (large water bug). After which I would mampatanir(say goodbye) but not before they would ask me to return soon so we could dine on laoya an aveyuwan (tinolang dumalagang manok) in their abung-abung (farm hut).
3) Delicious re-immersion in rural life and encounters with creatures. Had I not been serious in seeking out sources of now little known Isinay words, I would not have gotten used to hiking long distances (e.g. 10 km going out and 10 km going back) on abandoned logging roads that are dusty in summer and muddy during heavy rains. It was through these outings that I got to revisit my farm playgrounds when I was little, dip my body in sylvan streams and occasionally get leeches on my legs, and taste food that I have not touched before, such as arobo an immanuy (adobong kobra), intangtang an imbayang (tinuno a tigi, inihaw na pongapong), and itluh si eha (tailor-ant eggs).
4) Getting privy to now-little-known big events of yesteryears. One such instance was when I approached Ama Isio^ Lumanga, now in his late 70s and known to be a skilled hunter in his youth. I particularly wanted to know how and where he trapped deer and wildpig, but instead his animated recollection dwelt on when the Ibilaw (Ilongot or Bugkalot tribe, known at the time for headhunting) cut off the heads of one Isinay family when their soppeng (kaingin) allegedly intruded into Ibilaw hunting ground. And when a team of policemen and soldiers went to retrieve the headless bodies, Ama Isio^ served as guide. He avoided going to the hills after that because when the Ilongot culprits were arrested, he binansi (kicked) Taynge their leader right on the puli-puli (bone of the anus).
5) Picking up unique stories and other bits of local history. Ama Isio^ again, this time when he worked in the Dupax Nursery, recalled what he described as the biggest lohav (puor in Ilocano) that ever occurred in the nappu (watershed) of Abannatan Creek. After a couple of days and nights that the hills were burning, the fire-starter, himself a Nursery worker, confessed. He said he was umat-attay (defecating) among the giyun (cogon grass) when his gulir (bottom) was bitten by abubbulih (ampipit in Ilocano, large ants with pincers and acid sting), so in retaliation he set fire to the nest of the ants, ot sari mot (and that was it), the fire soon grew too big for him to dopdop(put off the flames) with branch swatters.

FOR THE SAME REASON that I shared some of my adventures as an Isinay word hunter, this sutsur would be incomplete if I didn’t tell why I used “Let The Isinay Forest Sing Again” as catch-title for this sharing.
Earlier, I was thinking of using the jigsaw puzzle as metaphor for the word hunting, collecting, and cataloguing that, as mentioned, I had been doing since 2008. But then my guardian angel (or whoever it is or was that keeps or has kept me warm and away from harm whenever I enter or would linger in real forests) has whispered that, yes, I should use the forest as metaphor instead.
Well, it’s not simply because I am a forester. It is rather more because the jigsaw puzzle suggests an inanimate or lifeless thing the completion of the missing pieces of which would mean the end of the game. In the case of forest, however, I thought it is a more appropriate metaphor for the Isinay language as a living system that symbolizes beauty, diversity, and harmony – and the need to sustain our love and caring for it for generations more to come.
Put another way, like what is sadly and tragically happening to the once fabulous forests of our country, we are now witnessing the Isinay language being pushed over the cliff of deterioration  – nay, even extinction – as a confluence of language-erosive forces that had not been there before.
Just like forests, many things could be done to keep a language alive. In fact, language activists who work in maintaining the integrity and richness of a language and saving it from deteriorating can learn from what we forest ecosystem stewards are doing to protect the biodiversity, aesthetic qualities, soil-and-water-conservation functions, and food- and wood-giving properties of forest landscapes.
One of them is to call public attention to the issue/problem. Emphasize the high price of losing the resource in question but also underscore what needs to be done. Knock on doors of stakeholders, build allies or team up with champions for the cause.
Another is to identify the hot spots and make these the priority areas for corrective action.  The hot spots are usually the homes, neighborhoods, and the schools where children may be taught to speak and value their native language or be drowned or washed away by the flood tide of the dominant or colonizing and media-supported language.
And still another is to fortify the natural protection as well as social defences of the area against agents of destruction. This calls for rejuvenation, reactivation, or redeployment of systems that made the area intact, unspoiled or unfragmented before.
The forest metaphor could also be applied to other endangered indigenous languages like Kalanguya, and the language of the Bugkalot/Ilongot/Egongot/Ibilao. These small languages also need help.
On my part, I really wish I could do more than build a  dictionary. But I only have one life. Anyway, my bottom line is this:  I’m not about to stand there and watch Isinay (the beautiful language that made my formative years in grade school very happy and memorable) die without giving a fight.

[1] One was Lee Ballard’s 1,148-page Ibaloy Dictionary, Phonology, Grammar & Morphophonemics (written over a period of 16 years) that I bought from UP Baguio for P1,500. The other was the similarly thick (1,135 pages) An English-Cebuano Visayan Dictionary by Rodolfo Cabonce, S.J. (who died while his book was in press) that I got for P695 from National Book Store.
[2] Aside from Isinay, at least two other indigenous and most probably endangered languages are found in the hinterlands of Nueva Vizcaya – the Kalanguya/I’wak language and the one spoken by the Bugkalot/Ilongot/Egongot.


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