Asked to share any opinion on the heritage of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, the class remained silent. Not a few faces had the expression of boredom, obviously wanting to have the class end ASAP. Seeming a bit perturbed, the professor simplified the question into what makes the terraces important to the Filipino. Needless to say, the professor probably thought the class needed to retake the course again for its obvious ignorance. Or is it indifference?
This indeed took place in the last session of our SEA-30 class in UP Diliman. Our anthropology professor had so much to talk about in the little time remaining, and yet none of the important points and concepts she dumbed down for us were dumb enough, it seems. Aside from the lack of critical thinking that the said professor bluntly pointed out to the class in the session previous to the last, doesn’t this speak of a pervading culture of apathy in the youths of the Philippines?
Our Heritage beyond the Postcard
The Ifugao Rice Terraces, among other heritage sites in the Philippines, have remained as a trivial footnote memorized by students throughout the primary and secondary levels of education, demonstrative of the textbook nationalism indoctrinated to the Filipinos early on. What people generally know about it seems to have come out from a Department of Tourism postcard, preaching only the merits attractive to the foreign tourist. When we start becoming foreigners in our own country, it only means there is a problem in the national identity and consciousness of the Filipino people.
Our Heritage is an existing evidence of the past that not only speak of our country’s aesthetic and cultural wonders, but also reminds us of the historical roots of our present social constructs. Beyond being a picturesque man-made structure, the Ifugao Rice Terraces represents the power of the collective struggles of the Filipino people. Unlike other wonders of the world that were fueled by slave societies, the Terraces were a communal effort. It was not a monumental signifier of power or divinity, as what the Pyramids of Egypt or the Colossus of Greece was purported for, but an economic lifeline of the people.
Colonial Mentality and the Struggle against Forgetting
It spoke of a developed culture pre-existent even before the advent of colonialism came to Southeast Asia. This has been the primary point that Jose Rizal asserts in speaking of a Filipino culture independent of imposed Spanish social constructs. In fact, the ingenious agricultural practices in the highland cultures of the Cordilleras are now sought after by researchers on sustainable agriculture, indicative of our disastrous experiences with western-style green revolution agricultural practices.
Yet we seem to have forgotten all of this and the valuable lessons we can harness from the historical importance of our heritage, and as pointed out from the onset, this has manifested itself in the colonial culture of Filipino youths. We embrace the consumerist culture encouraged by imperialist globalization, encouraging us to have a taste for foreign cultural capital. Do we not listen to emo and pop while having a profound disdain for ethnic music? Do we not suffer from having a hard time in comprehending Tagalog, and consider those with flawed English diction as illiterate?
Emerge from the Hegemony
We learn in liberal colleges and universities that our cultural institutions like education, the arts, and mass media are rooted in centuries of colonial indoctrination, and the fact that it remains a fact for memorization to the majority of Filipinos instead of a point for indignation and a spark for social action speaks of how effective imperialist hegemony has brainwashed Filipinos into ineptitude. And yet time and again, people rationalize indifference with their individual hardships, with the usual “why should we sacrifice time and effort for social change when we already have much in our own problems to begin with?”
Let us remember why the Ifugao Rice Terraces were built in the first place. It was made to address the common individual problem of food for the Ifugao people, in the context of their rugged mountain terrain. It was not done by individual efforts, but by communal bayanihan to provide food for all. The same goes with our present economic woes: it is not a suffering unique to ourselves, but is among the many social problems rooted in the pervading social constructs that we ALL suffer from today.
The difference is, instead of a conflict between man and nature, it is a conflict rooted in the antagonistic relationships of classes in society. But then what makes we, the oppressed in the present, different from the Ifugaos then? Do we not face trials where few if not none benefit at all at the expense of us many? The answers lie in the recesses of history and heritage, and all we need to realize how to resolve the problems of society is to start learning from it, and not memorizing it.