Monroe Ganisi Taclawan: Uggayam Chanter and More

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Scott Magkachi Saboy

  • Special thanks to Rhoda Salabao Tangbawan for providing the culture bearer’s personal data.

Uggayam is an indigenous chant which originated from the Vanaw people of western Kalinga, northern Philippines. It has been widely adapted among some other Igorot groups like the Kankana-ey and the Bago.  Improvisatory in style, its lyrics vary according to any festive occasion and may be sung in the form of a prayer, a welcome speech, a pep talk, or some other similar forms of discourse.  Function-wise, it is similar to the Sugsugna/Sogsogna, the non-epic form of the Ullalim, of southern Kalinga. Among the iVanaw, it is never sung during a wake or a burial but can be chanted after the post-burial cleansing ceremony called the waksi ‘shaking off [one’s grief]’ which may be marked by traditional dancing and gong-playing.

Uggayam Chanter

Monroe “Vyanataw” Ganisi Taclawan (21 January 1933 – 21 September 2015) was a prominent iVanaw chanter who had graced multiple events with his familiar uggayam.  In 1992, he was among the Filipino indigenes who represented the country to the Indigenous People’s Congress in New York where he was asked to lead a prayer.  In an interview with him in 2013,* he recalled that as he was chanting his uggayam, all the other IP’s were visibly in deep communion with him even though they did not understand what he uttered. He also said that after his prayer, some Native Americans came to shake his hand and tell him that they were touched by his chant. 

Some time after that, he had the privilege of sitting next to then-President Fidel Valdez Ramos on one occasion where he was again asked to offer an uggayam prayer which he gladly did, mostly in the Iluko language, before a largely Tagalog-speaking audience. When he sat down, the President leaned towards him and whispered something like, “Mayat. Ngem saanda a na-aw-awatan tay sinaritam!” (Great. But they did not understand a word you said) at which they both laughed, intriguing those watching them.

He always readily granted requests for an uggayam, just like when we asked him to do the chant during two special occasions at the University of the Philippines Baguio, even though he had trouble walking back then. He was quite an entertaining storyteller, too, as evident in some of the audio recordings I have of his um-umag (folktales).

Below are video and audio recordings of Mr. Taclawan chanting the uggayam in two separate interview sessions:

Pangat (Chief/Leader)

He was not just a keeper of oral tradition, however.  He was also a pangat ‘leader’/’chief’ whose home in Barangay Pinget, Baguio City had always been open for visitors, especially fellow Kalingas who would meet there to discuss bodong ‘peace pact’-related matters.  It was to this local government unit which he devoted much of his life, having served as its barangay captain from 1968-1999.  Prior to the establishment of the barangay, he was the community’s Neighborhood President in which capacity he led several other pioneers to get prospective residents to sign up (see Mrs. Glory Gundran-Taclawan’s write-up below).  In that 2013 interview, he said they met opposition to their TSA (townsite application) and struggled against many other issues that got compounded by the year.  At one time, others were ready to give up seeing that it was “impossible” to live comfortably there without a decent road or water supply.  But being the amiable and persistent leader that he was, he successfully encouraged them to hold on until the basic utility services were set up in the whole area. Barangay officials during his time did not have salaries, so it was remarkable that they were able to implement their programs, projects and activities largely through the volunteerism of the residents. Things have changed since then: barangay officials now have salaries and other fringe benefits, and the bayanihan spirit that was once strong in the community is no longer as vigorous. That was why Mr. Taclawan once joked that maybe it would be better that barangay officials had no salaries at all so that their constituents will continue to volunteer their services to the barangay, and not just cast all community responsibilities on the local officials “who are being paid to do all work, anyway.”

He was also one of the founders of the Blessed Association of Retired Pensioners (BARP) for which he served as a member of the board from 1999-2015.  This organization has been so successful that it now boasts of a seven-story building in the city and hundreds of members.  One other founding member, Franklin Dumaligan (a relative of Mr. Taclawan), shared that among many elderlies in Baguio City and the Province of Benguet, membership in the BARP had become a badge of success so much so that when they feel a non-member is condescending, their usual retort is, Ay waday BARP mu? (literally, ‘Do you have BARP?’).  [The other founding members of the Association were Leonardo Abuan, Hilda Adaci, Emmet Asuncion, Federico Balanag, Angelito Barrientos, Bienvenido Barrientos, Augusto Daplayan, Alejandro de Asis, Lamberto Doria, Claro Estira, Bartolome Piquero, Norma Quilan, Alejandro Quitoriano, Bernardo Ochoco, and Tranquilino Ramos.]

Teacher

He was also a teacher, having taught at the elementary department of Easter School (now Easter College) for 40 years (1957-1997), a testament to his perseverance which he developed from a childhood marked by the harsh realities of life in the hinterlands of Kalinga.  One of his recollections of the hardship he and his contemporaries had to go through when they were in college was walking for two days each time they travelled from their village (now sitio Saltan) to where they boarded a bus for Baguio City.  They would bring with them gayonan (oranges) to sell in the city so they could survive. But since their income from fruit-selling was not enough to sustain them in the city, they would work for Fr. Al Griffiths of Brent School International every Saturday for two to four pesos, which was a huge sum of money for underprivileged students in those days.  Desirous of finishing a college degree, he begged the kindly Fernando Bautista, founder of Baguio Tech (now University of Baguio), to give him a scholarship which the generous educator immediately granted. Parenthetically, it is the Cordillera’s good fortune that the Bautista patriarch chose to put up in the City of Baguio a school that has given out scholarships to Igorots like Mr. Taclawan and, in the process, equipped them for public service.

He was married to Glory Gundran-Taclawan from Aringay, La Union who is also a retired teacher from Easter School and has been a Barangay Kagawad (councilor) in Pinget since 2011.  His four children have all been successful professionals: Christine, a BS Commerce graduate and a businesswoman; Marilou, also a BS Commerce graduate and a government employee; Eric, a medical doctor and a board exam reviewer; and Boyet (Monroe, Jr.), a Physical Therapist who now lives in the USA.

  • The interview was made on 18 June 2013 at the Taclawan residence in Pinget, Baguio City, in relation to the “Vanaw Language Documentation Project” under the auspices of the Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) of UP Baguio. Our team leader then was Prof. Ruth Molitas Tindaan. The rest of the team included Professors Junley Lazaga, Isah Caguicla, Io Jularbal, and myself. Mr. Taclawan and Mr. Franklin Dumaligan were our first sources of Vanaw lexical data.

More details about Monroe Taclawan as a local political leader are provided by his wife in the following article:

MONROE GANISI TACLAWAN, BARANGAY CHAIRMAN

By GLORY GUNDRAN-TACLAWAN

In March 1966, Monroe Ganisi Taclawan came to build his hut in the boundary of Easter School and the reservation land of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) through the guidance of the late Mr. Eugene Pucay, Sr., a member of the Easter School Board to, see to it that no one will start building huts or introduce any improvements within the area of Easter School as homeless families were starting to excavate, levelling hillsides to put up huts on vacant lots in Baguio City, in places like Holy Ghost, San Vicente and Quirino Hill.

Being an employee of Easter School, Monroe agreed to prevent squatters to introduce any kind of structure or improvement or to cut down trees within Easter School jurisdiction but made acquaintances with the few squatters who came ahead as members of the neighborhood association.

1957 found Monroe as the Neighborhood President, helping everyone in the neighborhood in typing and filing the blanks of townsite application (TSA) forms.  Due to similar problems, the neighbors though coming from different places with different dialects and cultural backgrounds came together when Monroe called for meetings and bayanihan to make foot pathways to the spring and to Easter School and make plans to follow up their TSA papers.  Pathways to and between huts were cleared for safer and easier access to new neighbors through bayanihan.

Monroe became the Barangay Captain in the 1968 National Elections. With him as barangay officials were Mr. Samuel Polacao, Mr. George Gacawen, Mr. Luis Saysayen, Mr. Malafu and Mr. Agusto Ano. The barangay was named Pinget, not without protest, but after some explanations on the values which the term connotes, the representatives from the diffdrent puroks agreed to the name.  The name was also approved by the succeeding set of barangay officers in the persons of kagawads William Balag-ey, Cerilo Sanches, Tomas Batawig, Eugenio Velasquez and Samuel Polacao.

As expected in new settlement areas where people just up up shacks and huts without plans, huts just mushroomed anywhere so the first task of the elected leaders was to arrange the huts following plans for road network in the barangay. This initiated the following projects and programs to meet the evolving needs of the community:

  1. Creation of puroks and electing purok leaders;
  2. Development of springs found in Easter School, Buyog, and Purok 4;
  3. Establishment of streets, roads and alleys;
  4. Application for electrification in the barangay;
  5. Setting up a Day Care Center for feeding programs;
  6. Organization of the BNC, along with the appointment of the first BNS, Mrs. Crispina Gawe (now Liwanin);
  7. Identification of Barangay lots for public use in the following zones:
    1. Purok 1, where two locations are now squatted by two families;
    1. Purok 4, where the Day Care Center now stands; and
    1. Purok 8, where four lots were apportioned for what is now known as Pinget Elementary School.
  8. Bulldozing of road at the entrance of Pinget barangay (accomplished through the bayanihan spirit with stones donated and laid out on the road);
  9. Readying a canal for the fast laying out of the main water piple along the newly established entrance road;
  10. Assisted Mrs. Betty C. Abrera in starting Grade 1 class in Pinget, which was held in the multipuprose shack in front of the chairman’s house;
  11. Holding of the first popularity contest to raise funds for barangay projects, with Ms. Francisca Alacyang as the Queen for 1973;
  12. Construction of the barangay hall through the voluntary labor of the late Mr. James Tibanggay;
  13. Organization of women as barangay tanods;
  14. Organization of purok leaders;
  15. Establishment of an adult literary class in the barangay through the initiative of Mrs. Glory Taclawan and the suggestion of the women of the barangay, including Mrs. Demetria Polacao and the late Mrs. Levina Balag-ey;
  16. Negotiation with Mr. Watanabe to pass through the barangay and into the Dreamland subdivision on the condition that he would help in the construction of the road going to Upper Pinget  which was then seen as a long way from development due to the need for rocks and big boulders to be broken to make a pathway; and
  17. Consensus voting held in 1989 made Mr. William Balag-ey as number one due to the number of his kailian who came to also put up their huts in Pinget. Mr. Monroe Taclawan became the number one kagawad. Mr. Balag-ey later became the second barangay captain and assumed office in January 1990 and served in that capacity until December 2007.

During the time of Mr. Monroe G. Taclawan as Barangay Chairman, LGU officers were not given any honorarium. He began to receive an honorarium of six hundred pesos per month when he became a kagawad in 1990.

2 thoughts on “Monroe Ganisi Taclawan: Uggayam Chanter and More

  1. Author’s gravatar

    His wits as an extemporaneous speaker is put into uggayam which he is known for. Yes, we miss his uggayam in occasions, and to us, he is an OUTSTANDING Dad. Thank you for sharing his Biography to the world.

    1. Author’s gravatar

      We all miss his uggayam, indeed. Thank you ma’am Desiree for the e-visit! 🤗

      Reply

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