Monday, February 3, 2014

Senior Citizens & the Endangered Isinay Language (Part 3)

A Word-Hunting Forester

WE MAY THUS consider my initiation into the world of dictionary-making as nipeyar (providential, guhit ng palad). As a forester the closest to the world of dictionary-makingthat I got into was polishing the glossaries of forestry technical reports and checking the operational-definition-of-terms sections of MS and PhD theses passed on to me for editing.  

Neyir porat esep uwar an mileleman si pangapyat diksyonaryo. (It was never in my mind to meddle in making a dictionary.) And considering that a dictionary is vital in the revitalization of Isinay, I must admit I didn’t have an inkling either that my professional and personal interests in forest conservation would be expanded to include language conservation. 
I don’t know who spilled the beans but, in a manner of speaking, I barely warmed my seat as a word hunter when somehow news got around that there is this native son of Dupax who is a UP Forestry graduate now living in Baguio, and who is making the rounds of elderly Isinays asking the genuine Isinay words for this and that, so that they could be included in the making of an Isinay dictionary.

Consequently, in December 2010, this forester was invited as guest speaker -- using pure Isinay -- in the first anniversary of Bona^ si Isinay (Lahing Isinay), an SEC-registered organization aimed at working on revitalizing the weakening Isinay language in Dupax.

The group got interested in the dictionary that I was working on, and soon a number of its members made it a habit to go to my mother and volunteer words they remembered from somewhere.
Whereas before I was only on nodding acquaintances with many of the senior Isinays of my hometown, this time whenever I go home and I would meet them after Sunday mass we would all go animated in front of the church noisily exchanging jokes and moribund words -- like rain-drenched frogs -- using a merry mix of unadulterated and contemporary Isinay.

Four of my Isinay language and culture consultants among the senior citizens of Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya.   Upper photo: Uwa Encing Ranjo-CastaƱeda and Uwa Deusdedit Campo-Marquez.
 Lower photo: Uwa Josefina Daggao and Auntie Leoncia Castillo-Seupon.
I wonder if it was pure coincidence or if my mother has taken the cue. But each time I go home to Dupax nowadays, there is always an occasion for my mother to convene her fellow senior ladies. It could be a prayer to commemorate the death anniversary of a relative, an afternoon merienda to celebrate somebody’s birthday, or a wedding anniversary.  

It is during these gatherings that I get to add some more words to my collection, and to check with them what this word or that one that I saw mentioned by a friend in Facebook means, and to please use it in a sentence.  Recently, I got invited to join the lunch MWF meetings of the Senior Citizens Association of Dupax del Sur (SCADS) whenever I am in town.
It would certainly be these same senior ladies (bavaket) who I would consult later when I do the cross-checking, validation, definition, and “use in a sentence” stages of the Isinay dictionary I'm working on.

Thrills and Surprises

IT'S NOT an easy task, this one on compiling words, checking and cross-checking them with authoritative speakers, cataloguing them, and later putting them out as a neatly packaged dictionary. But it has given me and continues to shower me with countless thrills and surprises.

Let’s set aside for a while that the dictionary project that I have embraced as my component share in the Isinay revitalization movement of Dupax, Bambang, and Aritao (the three Isinay towns of Nueva Vizcaya) has made me a better person. What excites me is that it is now emerging to be a serendipity angel.
It has not only given me reason to have deeper appreciation this time for my native tongue and Isinay roots but also to be in love again with my birthplace and boyhood playgrounds.
It has endeared me with the darauway (elderly) Isinays and in the process opened to me the idea of documenting certain heretofore little known bits of history and culture, as well as forest use, among my Isinay ancestors. Three instances:
  1.  Among the lalahay (old men) I have met is Romy Tamba who still remembers the names of the trees and birds that, prior to the coming of commercial loggers, used to abound in the forests of Dupax. As a former driver of a logging truck for the logging concession that tapped the dipterocarp-rich forests of Dupax, he also knows the names of mountains and rivers as well as the history of the sawmills and logging companies that opened up the sylvan areas of our town to exploitation.
  2.  There is also a bi-al (senior lady) who recalls that her father used to gather beeswax and dye material from the nearby forests of Dupax to be used in processing the raw materials for her mother’s pan-ave (cloth weaving) livelihood. This same lady (Leoncia Castillo-Seupon), who I later learned to be my distant aunt, also mentioned how the uwes (blanket) and indong (G-string) that her mother Felipa Mayangat wove were treasured by well-to-do Igorots, particularly those in Bokod, Benguet. 
  3. Then there is this former hunter and nursery worker (Isio^ Luma^nga) who had a fascinating story about how the reputedly biggest forest fire to happen in Dupax started. Lasting for "duwan ehaw, duwan lavi" (two days, two nights), it was intentionally set, he said, by a fellow forest nursery worker to get even with the abubbulih (giant red ants) that bit his gulir (buttocks) when he went to move his bowels among the tinder-dry giyun (cogon grass).

My word collection alone has also opened my senses to certain realities in Isinay country, particularly why Isinay is on the brink of extinction.
One reality is illustrated by the fact that a number of genuinely Isinay words are already alien to the current generation of Isinays. Let me cite three examples:

  • The Isinay for flood is datong, but this has now been replaced by the Ilocano layus. 
  • The Isinay for rainbow is tavungeyon, but even adult Isinays today now use reynbo. 
  • The Isinay for effeminate males is binavayi, but the pervasive influence of TV has replaced it to bakla.

Speaking of TV, this modern gadget has indeed become not only a bad influence among the younger generations of Isinays (and, I guess, in other indigenous languages and cultures as well); it has also lured kids to use Manila Tagalog and to shy away from using the native language.

Moreover, because of TV, children in Isinay land no longer play outdoors, and so they don’t know the Isinay for the following:
  • Fullmoon  (tallivong) --  Isinay kids are not interested to sing songs associated to it anymore, preferring instead to watch telenovelas.
  • Dragonfly (atittino^) -- Isinay kids are no longer thrilled at catching one by the tail nor can they even distinguish this insect from the cicada (duluriyaw). 
  • Beans (gayya^) -- Isinay kids don’t join their elders in tending the vegetable garden anymore; instead of the legume veggie beans, they know Mr. Bean.

In re-training my tongue and verbal faculties to go the Isinay way again, I also recalled certain things that are no longer used or their Isinay names already unknown to local folks. Their obsolescence was simply because the raw materials for making such objects as well as the sources (mostly forests) of those raw materials are already gone.

A classic example is be-ang (sagapa in Ilocano). This is a circular kitchen item made of split rattan and used to keep an earthen cooking pot from tilting or rolling off the table. It is also used as a headgear for women to stabilize the big banga carried on their head when they go to fetch water from the well. You don’t see this gadget anymore because there are no more sources of awwoy (rattan) to make them with. 



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