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Well into the first week of March, we’re all waiting for summertime to arrive. Even for a Norwegian, even a Norwegian from the southernmost part of Norway, the weather is devastatingly cold. At nighttime, the temperature creeps down towards 10 degrees Celsius, and even during the day, it barely surpasses 15. This is certainly not the climate one associates with the tropical Southeast Asia. How could they survive here in the olden days when men wore only a loincloth and a blanket and the women left their upper body uncovered?
Apparently this time of the year should be warmer and dryer. But the rain just can’t stop pouring down. However, as anywhere else in the world climate change is frequently mentioned. Even one of my Pentecostal informants commented upon it the other day when we talked about how cold it was: “Everything is changing these days. Only the love of God stays the same!” In a world where things really seem to be changing quite fast, perhaps the massive turn to God is a turn towards stability?
Having regained a little motivation again by making a home visit to Norway during Christmas, I headed to Baguio to attend the 1st International Conference on Cordillera Studies at the University of the Philippines, Baguio. Except for having written and prepared a paper for presentation at a conference session on religion and indigenous people, I was quite unprepared for what waited me in terms of conference audience behavior. What could be more different from a usually quiet and/or drowsy (usually both) audience at Norwegian anthropological conferences than this mostly Filipino crowd that, in good Filipino style, found it absolutely necessary to arrive through the squeaking doors five minutes into the speak, read out loudly the keywords on the Powerpoint presentation and found it so very much more convenient to chat loudly with others as the speaker gave his presentation than wait till he’d finished. And without surprise, the session “Music and literature” which was heavily based on playing music examples from a CD was held in an auditorium where the microphone had a constant feedback, where the loudspeakers could hardly produce a clear sound and, well, the CD-player didn’t work… But aside for such minute problems, I found the conference very interesting. A lot of interesting people to talk to, a lot of interesting papers presented, and a very nice introduction to the Filipino anthropological expertise working in the different university departments around the country. I think that it’s often easy to forget that the countries in which we conduct our fieldworks in many cases possess a significant anthropological expertise that can be an important resource in our work. All credit to the Cordillera Studies Centre at the University of the Philippines, Baguio, for arranging the conference.
During my various research periods in Ifugao I have never experienced any situation where ethnic identity has been a disputed subject. But here at the conference in Baguio, where many of the participants were representatives from the various “indigenous” people of the Cordillera mountain region, ethnic identity, or perhaps better, disputes about ethnic identity came to the fore. A relatively uncontroversial paper on two folk songs sung by people in the Ilokos-Apayao border area spurred a heated debate among the audience about the use of such terms as “Apayao”, “Lepanto”, “Ifugao”, and “Cordillerans”. The debate finally calmed down, and an Australian anthropologist commented that this was indeed “a remarkable session”. I have never seen a clearer example of Barth’s boundary centered ethnicity in practice.
Finally, some good news: since an incident where a young man was shot and killed during a quarrel outside one of the videoke (the Filipino version of karaoke) bars, the mayor has now released an ordinance prohibiting the operation of videoke bars in a certain part of the town as these allegedly “destroys and ruins the future life of the youth, create noise/disturbance within the community and quarrel among customers resulting to injury and death”. Unfortunately for us, in the part of town where we live, videoke bars are still permitted. We still have to bear with the never ending out-of-tune singing of such charming songs as “Hotel California”, “Living on love”, “Wind of change” and the more up-to-date “Suicidal”. If there are any ethnomusicologists or music interested anthropologists out there who want to study something bizarre, I suggest you take a closer look at videoke singing in the Cordilleras!