Thursday, June 7, 2007


Pula, Asipulo, Ifugao 450m-1,935m above sea level

Pula is a sitio of Asipulo, Ifugao Province's newest (they say 'youngest') municipality, which is accessible from historic Kiangan town by a long stretch of road that is occasionally paved, frequently rough and bumpy and is never without surprising twists, turns, inclines and descents.

Road to Pula
The rough journey to Pula is soothed by an unending vista of mountains and valleys and terraces, though not the majestic kind that is popular like in Banaue; of pockets of roadside houses, chickens crossing, dogs sunning, and locals engaged in farm work. Clear streams and puddles break the path. Best of all, the air is pure.

When we got to Pula to attend an event, we were told that it was the first time the locals had ever hosted a gathering of such size with guests from elsewhere, let alone foreign guests. We totaled about 50 or more.

Pula is about 20-30 minutes from Asipulo's municipio, depending on the mode of transportation. We were brought to Pula in a local jeep, one which makes the jeeps of Manila wimps by comparison. More functional than anything, the structure of the Ifugao-made jeep is what heavy-duty is all about. It is roomy, longer than the ordinary jeeps that seat 10 people per bench; it is higher than an off-road 4x4 with roofing supported by a grid of exposed angular bars. It is made that way to better carry additional passengers and goods on its roof. (My other trips were as a passenger on a motocross motorcycle and in a tricycle. The motorcycle ride experience will be in a separate entry.)

Life in Pula is basic. There is one house in the centro that sells lowland comforts such as Coke, cigarettes by retail, sachets of shampoo and such. Because of the altitude, Coke is sold unchilled but still kept cool by the weather. Jonalyn, one of our local hosts, mentioned that sometimes, bottles of cola are buried in the ground to keep them cool. There is no electricity in Pula. Some houses in what is the centro are close to each other. Our host's ancestral house, however, is up deep in the mountains, accessible via a trail that took us, the unprepared and uninitiated, an hour or so, but which the locals traverse leisurely and sure-footed for about 10-15 minutes or maybe even less.

One has to stay in Pula overnight like we did to learn what it is like to live in a pure sense: water flows straight from the mountains through a hose that is hung overhead, rice is from the fields, vegetables are picked when ready to be cooked and coffee &mdash real coffee &mdash is harvested from the robusta trees that grow wildly in the surroundings. Meals are simple and shared and the host members make sure there is food for everyone. There are comfortable beds in the house, yes, and more chickens running about; pineapple and camote abound. Surprisingly, our host has electricity up in the mountains powered by solar energy. But it is only for lighting in the evening, nothing else (I did see a mini component, but perhaps only used for special occasions). Life is simple and seamless; domestic work is shared by both men and women and, even without the benefit of a timepiece, chores flow naturally from one to the next. Nothing is in excess and everything is doable and just right.

The latrine is separate from the house. One's private rituals are blocked from view by hardwood slabs that cover only the essential. There is no malice among the people of Pula anyway. However, chickens innocently stopping by from the gap between the ground and the slabs may witness the ritual. Again, water is not a problem.

The Kalanguyas, Ayangans and Tuwalis
Asipulo is made up of three major tribes: Kalanguya, Ayangan and Tuwali, all sub-categories of Ifugao.

The people of Pula, probably the most hospitable I have ever encountered, are mostly Kalanguya and Ayangan and subsist on farming and gardening &mdash though not the leisurely gardening we know. Gardening means growing crops in one's immediate surroundings for domestic consumption. If the harvest is good, the extra produce is brought down to the bigger towns to be sold. Pork and chicken, of course, are the main sources of protein. However, pork is luxury, chicken is special; fish is sometimes available but rare.

This place is where chivalry is alive. Women are highly regarded and treated with respect. There are small, but increasingly frequent, cases of abuse but this is caused by outsiders who marry into the locals. Sadly, these outsiders are generally referred to as Ilocanos, mostly from the nearby lowland areas of Nueva Vizcaya or across mountains from neighboring provinces.

All the people of Pula, and Asipulo in general, call themselves Ifugaos regardless of tribal identity. Ifugaos are hard working, well behaved, shy, quiet and clean. They may occasionally stare but not to size you up like they do in the lowlands. They weigh their responses carefully so as not to offend or be misinterpreted. They all speak, or understand, Ilocano but have their own dialects. Above all, Ifugaos are peaceful. Asipulo, we were told, has the lowest crime rate in all of Ifugao Province. Why? Because disputes are discussed among the elders with the aim of settling any arguments in an even-handed and justifiable manner. In fact one can feel the peace and sense that the people themselves are at peace with their existence. It is purity in the simplest of terms.

Richer in more ways
Asipulo is frequently indexed as a fifth-class municipality. To many of its residents, being classified as such may not be important to them and their existence &mdash many are literate and most people are polite. They may belong to such a classification but poor they are not, certainly not in spirit and resources, and, most especially, goodwill.

Pula is not for the faint-hearted, closed-minded, humorless and ill intentioned. My Pula experience is such that I bring back with me its wealth: the strengthening and reinforcement of the Filipino values of pakikisama (camaraderie, cooperation), pakikipagkapwa-tao (regard for others) and just downright appreciation for things pure and simple.


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