Starweek Magazine

Vizcaya's Ammungan: the quest for common identity

- Charlie Lagasca -

MANILA, Philippines – The once obscure province of Nueva Vizcaya will make a bid to be at the forefront of the concept of unity in diversity with the coming together of its various tribes and ethnic groups in the first grand Ammungan festival.

This five-day event depicting the quest for a common identity among the diverse cultures in this landlocked province will culminate today, the province’s 170th founding anniversary.

Formerly called Panagyaman (an Iluko term for thanksgiving), the annual festivity has been renamed Ammungan (coming together) to symbolize the province’s quest for a common identity for its inhabitants amid their various cultural and ethnic origins.

Vice Gov. Jose Gambito, director general of this year’s event, said this refocusing of celebrations, while not doing away entirely with the thanksgiving thrust, seeks to emphasize unity in diversity among the province’s more than 400,000 culturally-diverse inhabitants.

“There will always be an essence of panagyaman in the celebrations. We are only fine-tuning its focus to emphasize the coming together of the various tribes and ethno-linguistic groups in the province,” he said.

Probably having the most number of tribes or ethnic groups among other provinces in the country, Nueva Vizcaya, 70 percent mountainous, is home to tribes like the peace-loving Gaddang; the shy Isinay; the hardworking Kalanguya, Kankanai and Ibaloi; the diminishing Iwak tribe; the Ifugao, the architects of the famous rice terraces; and the Bugkalots, known during their head-hunting days as the fearsome Ilongots.

Likewise, among those who have found their home here are those originating from the Ilocos region, whose speech is now the lingua franca, as well as Tagalogs, Pangasinenses, Kapampangans, Bicolanos, Visayans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Americans, Europeans, Arabs and other nationalities.

Rudie Bueno, Ammungan Foundation executive director, said this forging of unified identity among the inhabitants was symbolically depicted by the formal launching of the Tribu Biscayano on May 21, which also featured the Watwat Food Festival held at the six-hectare capitol compound.

Watwat (or padigo in Ilocano) is a Kalanguya term for “sharing and giving,” traditionally done by dispensing consecrated meat to all present in a village affair.

During this event, the various ethnic groups, led by Rep. Carlos Padilla and Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma who hail from the province’s originally Isinay-dominated areas, partook of various tribal delicacies consecrated as watwat, and shared by all, whatever their provenance, at the symbolic Tribu Biscayano village.

“Once tourists see the uniqueness of our celebrations through this concept of Ammungan and Tribu Biscayano, we believe that we may be able to generate more curiosity and interest about the uniqueness of Nueva Vizcaya,” said Gambito, who hails from the Gaddang-dominated Solano town.

The watwat festival, he said, will “enable people (to be provided with) a glimpse into the culture of each ethnic group, fostering unity and understanding.”

“In the process, we hope we will be able to institutionalize Tribu Biscayano as a symbolic common identity for all of us who are either a native or migrants to this province,” Gambito said.

An important aspect in the coming together of the tribes, Bueno added, has been the intermarriage of people from various ethnic groups in the province, resulting in the blurring of ethnic lines among many Novo Vizcayanos.

“This fact of intermarriages may be a factor eventually leading to the reality of Tribu Biscayano covering all the ethnic groups in the province,” he said.

Nueva Vizcaya, which once covered the whole of Quirino province and Isabela’s southern part, was created on May 24, 1839, through an executive order of Spanish Governor General Luis Lardizabal, its creation getting the stamp of approval of the Spanish Crown the following year.

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