“WHO are your ancestors?” was the first thing I was asked when I reached the Mat-an booth in the Ibaloy Heritage Park. It was an aunt who had given the question, most likely to test me. I did not want to embarrass my mother who was present in the exchange, so I did my best to trace my ancestry up to the generation of the great-great-great grandparents.
My mother, who is also Ibaloy, belongs to Mat-an, one of the participating clans in this year’s Ibaloy Festival. She is the daughter of Ben Ebanio, also Ben Ebanjo, also Ben Ibanjo, depending on the Ibaloy dialect pronouncing the name. Ben Ebanio lived in Asin in Tuba, Benguet where my sister and I spent a childhood among the star apples and the hot springs.
Ben Ebanio was the son of Esja, also Isjia, also Isya, depending again on the Ibaloy dialect pronouncing her name. Esja tilled her own land, planted the star apples my sister and I would be enjoying generations later. It is said she met her husband while she was selling fruits along the Asin River.
Esja was the daughter of Anchales, also Anchalis, also Angchales, who had eight children. Anchales was brother to Palispis and Banadya. Their father’s name was Mat-an, after whom our clan is named. Mat-an is a son of Buyagan and Shamja. And so on.
It was all of those clan reunions we were forced to attend. Prior to the pandemic, my mother’s side of the family held annual clan reunions. Not only did the frequency of Anchales reunions compel us members to become familiar with the faces and names of cousins (as the half-joke goes: reunions are schemes to avoid unintended incestuous relations), they also refined our genealogy, checking it and counter-checking it and updating it. Even if it meant elders saying the same story over and over again, seeing the same faces every year, Anchales here and Anchales there.
Last Saturday in the booth designated for Mat-an members in this month-long Ibaloy Festival, a bangkilay was spread out on the grass. The altar had rice, meat, tapey, and tobacco. A prayer was said and we ate meat with our ancestors. Genealogies printed on tarpaulins loomed over us and connected us to the Ibaloy universe: memory tapestries are being actively made there in the Ibaloy Heritage Park. What kind of apo would I be if I did not know where I came from?
This is, of course, an orientation that is not for everybody. One can live through the present world unbothered by matters of ancestry but still be fulfilled with purpose and a strong sense of identity. I am not one of those people. I still believe that one needs a sense of genealogy in order to survive. This is not an impulse that comes from me alone: it’s a historical one. The impulse to remember comes from a history of disenfranchisement, the Ibaloys’ near-erasure and attempts at revival in our city spaces. Call it Palispis Highway. Call it Kafagway. There is still power in names. What kind of city would we be if we did not know where we came from?