I was barely ten when I had my first close encounter with the Mindoro indigenous peoples. I ate, slept and played with Mangyan children each time of a year. During our town’s fiesta celebration, Mangyan families from the boondocks of Mansalay, daring the two-day and one night foot travel via Insulman in Batasan, gather at my grandparents’ residence in Capt. Cooper St. to witness the festivities of lights and colours. My Mamang cooked food them, prepared their beddings in a vacant store room near our family’s ancestral house. The Mangyan elders chewing nganga, with wide grin in their faces and smile in their red lips, simply nod every time my grandma reminds them not to spit on the cemented part of the pavement. She treated them as visitors and not as ordinary strangers seeking temporary refuge. Unlike the town’s wealthy matriarchs, she never drove them away.
Claro, her son, even risked his life for his friends in the upland in many occasions, they say but not going into specifics. They said that their chief cowboy made them change their attitude towards lowlanders who are mostly arrogant and mean. Each time my uncle sits on his weapons carrier truck heading to the mountains, boxes of canned sardines, kilos of dried fish, candies, sacks of rice and bunch of dried tobacco leaves were neatly piled behind his WC51 for his friends’ consumption. The Buhids are treated by him not only as his workers in the ranch but trusted friends. Because my Mamang loves his son, she cared for them. It was her son who gave them the first taste of the modern world. At the very tender age, I’ve learned stories how the Buhids hunt wild animals and nurture the ranch owner’s thoroughbred horses. He even related to me how good my uncle was over the saddle, on catching a stray cow with a rope and firing his revolver. There are many untold stories about his cowboy years that I’ve heard from David Ighay, the Mangyan chieftain, the one who speaks fluent Tagalog. After his cowboy days, my uncle also excelled in other manly actions like motorcycle dirt riding, scuba diving, practical shooting, among others.
I remember the much younger David Ighay, the lead cattle worker, always accompanied by his “bodyguards” Danum Dauy and Ligduman Humbos. I remember my uncle, in full cowboy outfit, with spurs attached to his boots, hat and all, going out of the truck with David beside him in red poplin G-string and his long waist-length hair hooped by a strip of cloth with floral design, no footwear whatsoever.
As they appear at the wooden gate and walk together on the pavement, they looked like The Lone Ranger and Tonto to me.
Even when I grew up and finished my studies, had a family of my own and got a job, he keeps on going down the mountains though my grandparents are now long gone and the ancestral house no longer there. And the ranches all over are just things of the past and Mindoro’s cattle business ceases to be as lucrative as before. He also drops-by at the houses my uncles and aunties and their immediate family for more than four decades already since the day they first reached our Cooper home of yore.
He brings native wallet, panuhugin (bracelet), kadyos (black legume), a knife or a broom for a present every time he visits us especially on important occasions such as fiesta and Christmas. Rice, used clothes, salt, coffee, sugar, medicines and a little cash were given to him in return. He had been close with all our clan members and treated him as a distant relative. David Ighay, upon learning that the cowboy already passed away, wept. And over cups of coffee that night many years ago, the aging Mangyan, who was already a teenager when the war broke out, told me wonderful stories how my uncle, generous and caring as he was, won the hearts of the average tribesmen, women and children alike, and gained the respect of prominent Buhid leaders in the highlands of southern Mindoro in the early 70s’.
Bapa David Ighay, tribal leader from Banaynayan in Panaytayan of Mansalay town, Oriental Mindoro gave in to senility and peacefully died on his sleep on the night of August 19, 2016. The following morning, following the Buhid burial custom, his remains were wrapped in a banig, placed in a big basket locally called buyog and immediately carried to their sacred ground atop the hill with the splendid Caguray River angrily rolling below. A Daniw was performed for the eternal repose of the chieftain’s soul.
Their stories at least to me in this particular moment, like that of The Lone Ranger and Tonto, cannot be told separately. ..
(Photo: From the movie “The Lone Ranger” (2013)