Saturday, May 20, 2006

Benguet Cowboy and Camote Bill

Cordillera is probably the only place where American cowboy culture affects daily life. Bukidnon may have their horse fights but anyone there can tell the difference between Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn? Sta. Ana Racetrack may have their race track but where do their horses retire? In Baguio's Wright Park, of course. The gays may have adored the award-winning gay tragic movie, "Brokeback Mountain" but where can the gays have a chance to dance with real-life cowboys. The recent issue of Baguio Guidebook has one such story.

You may not have heard of "Benguet cowboy" but it has become a cultural meme (unit of cultural transmission or imitation) here.

Consider walking along the sidestreets here. Along General Luna Road, you will pass by shops selling made-to-order cowboy boots, belts, Stetson hats (remember the Dallas TV series?) and even leather gaucho pants.

From there, go down Belfrant Hotel and you see tapes of homebred cowboy singers produced locally and selling like hotcakes not only here but in Hongkong where there are many domestic helps from the Cordillera.

In the ukay ukay (second hand) stores here, the bestselling stuff at least in interior Cordillera are maong jackets and flannel shirts. A favorite FM station here features country western music from sun up to beyond sundown.

When one local cable station here pulled out its Country Music Television, many cancelled their subscriptions.

This is the only place with two politicians named Rocky.

To explain this fascination with American cowboys, people talk about Baguio a hundred years ago as a pastureland for cows. In fact, Mateo Carino, who used to own Camp John Hay and other parts of the old Baguio known then as Kafagway, was a ranchero.

Baguio used to be cow pastureland and most of its early pioneers were cowhands but it doesn't necessary translate to a cowboy culture as pervasive as now.

Gerard Finin in his recent book, "The Making of the Igorot: Contours of Cordillera Consciousness" said that the Cowboy fever has more to do with "Camote Bill."

Finin, who is deputy director of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Proigram in Hawaii and was first fascinated with the Cordillera when he became a Peace Corps volunteer, said that the mining boom in Baguio brought in American mining executives from the Cowboy West.

"Coming from states such as Arizona, Texas and California, most so called sourdoughs and mining engineers, before reaching the Philippines , either came out of the experiences that gave rise to Western folklore or identified with its content," Finin wrote.

The strong flavor of the American "Westernness" was evident in the poem, "Camote Bill," written by James Pike, an engineer of the Benguet Consolidated. It told about the cowboy lifestyle of his fellow mining engineers.

Finin said that the "Postwar education of educated highlanders" adopted the cowboy lifestyle as their cultural model, to differentiate from the "Hispanized" cultural traits of the lowlanders.

"In its outward form, young highlanders pursuing studies in Baguio or employed in the mines took to wearing pants made from rough cotton drill or maong that contrasted with the sharply pressed seda preferred by lowlanders. White shirts were shunned in favor of checkered patterns, frequently accompanied by neckerchief," Finin added.

Cowboy boots and country western music naturally followed the highlander transformation. Barndances and beef barbeques are still popular.
"On the one hand, the cowboy idea served as a powerful metaphor suggesting to highlander men and women their exceptional adaptability and strength to overcome the most adverse circumstances. On the other hand, the image also brought to mind a pioneering spirit associated with isolation that pioneers endure. Ultimately, it embraced the notion of highlanders as brave and heroic figures," Finin said.
So ride to the sunset, Camote Bill.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

many domestic helps for the Cordillera.

FROM the Cordillera.

9:47 PM  

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