Last of the Balugas
O Caca, O Caca Cabalat capaya Sabian mu nang tutu Nung ena ca bisa Ceta pu cecami Dacal lang baluga Mangayap la ceca Biasa lang mamana.
(O Brother, O Brother Whose skin is like papayaâ€™s Just tell me at once If you donâ€™t want to fight anymore Because where I come from I can gather many a baluga Much better than you in using bows and arrows.)
I am Pandaca, named after the second smallest fish in the world. This name I take with both disdain and pride, and it reveals certain truths about me: Iâ€™m less than five feet, born on the mountains of Mariveles, as a boy wanderer, I trekked Luzon southward settling on the mountain of Pinatubo.
You know what happened to Pinatubo.
I resettled on the mountain of Arayat; why I live in the mountains is because I am a Baluga â€“ curly hair, thick lips, bright rounded eyes, black. I am the one you prefer seeing standing on some cliff, wearing g-string, holding my bow and arrow up in the air, in an act of targeting a wild boar. I am the one you imagine playing a nose flute atop a tree in the middle of the night, under the yellow of the full moon. I am suspended in space as a silhouette of your romantic imagination, the anito of your imagined mountains.
Youâ€™re right in imagining me that way. I was that way to your forefathers. And that vision, whether you like it or not, will remain in your minds, for your forefathers cannot forget, your genes cannot forget.
I was here before any of you arrived. I was the one who walked the land bridges that connected this land to mainland Asia. I started planting crops on this volcanic soil. I did not fight when you, the Indonesians from Sumatra peopled the land now called Pampanga; I did not fight when you, the Malays from the Peninsula started pushing us up to the mountains. I did not hesitate to settle in the mountains â€“ the mountain is my sacred place, the home of my goddess Sinukuan. I much enjoy the company of my forest animals than what you call civilization.
True, my destiny is to guard the mountains of Northern Luzon. True, I refused to join you, the lowland people; I am a minority. I never learned to live the way you do â€“ my only form of dealing with you is by bartering my hunting prizesâ€™ meat for your salt, or rice, or blanket. But since my forests have been depleted of resources and inhabitants, I lost everything, even my natural right to live on the land I occupied long before any of you. You arenâ€™t stopping until youâ€™re sure Iâ€™m extinct from the earth. Youâ€™re destroying the people God had appointed to protect your land. Youâ€™re destroying your land. And if you suffer what you suffer now, you must blame it on yourselves who preferred destruction for profit, or you who remained complacent, indifferent, uncaring, and afraid.
I sit on top of my tree. But the tree I am sitting on now is among the last few trees on this mountain. I wonder how you, you who got rich by the wanton destruction of this forest can sleep at nights â€“ you cut this country piece by piece, acre by acre, you killed the trees that lived for centuries in a matter of seconds â€“ and you called that progress.
While youâ€™re sitting in the balcony of your mansions in Switzerland or America or Baguio or Tagaytay, people like me, the Balugas, have to come down from this mountain, family by family; and we knock on peopleâ€™s doors begging for food. Only to discover the ones we hope could feed us are starving themselves.
So if you still imagine me standing on the cliff of a mountain, let that remain in your dreams forever, because youâ€™ll never see forests again, youâ€™ll see these mountains leveled to give way to new subdivisions, and I, just like the forest animals will be extinguished from the face of the earth. Youâ€™ll never see me again after my generation.
Yes, I am still surviving â€“ but what is survival if youâ€™re slowly dying of hunger? I remember the days when our tribe was full of healthy individuals, I could hear the peals of laughter of the children, I could hear the rustling of the forest canopies. I remember the times all we did was to roam and settle where we wanted to settle, oh we were so free then, and everywhere we went, something was for us â€“ a roof provided by the trees, food by wild animals, eggs by flocking birds, and the goddess of our tribe, Sinukuan.
Where have all those days gone?
Weâ€™ve lost the tunes we played with our nose flutes, we lost our darting instruments, there was no more use for our bows and arrows, there is nothing left. All I see now around me is empty flat-land, so flat I could see the city miles and miles away. I remain sitting on one of the trees on this mountain, embracing it for the last time. Weâ€™re both resigned to our irreversible prospects.
The treeâ€™s spirit, a spirit who is barely in her teens, is searching for her mother who was felled a few days ago, her century-old grandparents were killed in an instant without a cry â€“ too shocked to even realize what happened. I tried soothing the spirit of the tree but it was no use. We both could hear the in-coming trucks and the buzzing of the sawing machines towards us. Iâ€™d never leave my tree because, without her, Iâ€™d have no more reason to exist. I exist only because she exists.
I close my eyes and hum the old tunes handed to me by my forefathers. I close my eyes to imagine the world of long agoâ€¦itâ€™s the memory kept inside my brain, accumulated since the beginning of time â€“ I see my fellow Balugas marching on the slopes of mountains, so sure of their walks, so sure of their dominance of the earth given to them by the gods. I see my Baluga tribe: mothers wrapping their children with the skin of the buffalo, I see the children prancing about, I see food everywhere. The soil is so fertile in Pampanga that if you throw a seed, in two years, the seed would have turned into a tree, all by itself â€“ full of fruits, you harvest it without a sweat. This land, this land gifted by the gods to the Balugas is dying.
There are so many things Iâ€™d like to tell you before I die with my tree.
I wish Iâ€™d lived in another land and with other people who take care of their world and respect all their people. I wish to have an after-life in another land where trees and forests and jungles are still thriving. It doesnâ€™t require too much intelligence to return our jungles and forests and their inhabitants back to earth â€“ how many Ph.D.â€™s do we need to restore our countryâ€™s environment to its balanced state? Do we require thousands of specialists to recover our environment? Look at this mountain, now flat and devoid of life, it stands here for nothing. What does it need to recover? Trees and just leaving it alone â€“ Is it too much of an asking if we start protecting our mountains and lands and whoever damaged them must account for their recoveries â€“ whoever cut those trees must plant them back! Or have we degraded ourselves to such low levels that what we all desire is to grab lands, bulldoze all their contents and when devoid of everything, sell them to the highest foreign bidders whoâ€™d build on them chemical factories as we care less if they dump all the worldâ€™s toxic wastes upon the land?
You have done so much talking already about your reputations and rhetorics and promises and plans; when will you come up here and watch me, the last of the Balugas? When will you climb up this mountain so youâ€™d see how puny we are now, how weâ€™re reduced to skin and bones? When will you realize that the Balugas are humans and have a culture worth respecting too?
The only ones who climb to see us here are these men driving trucks and bulldozers. As in the past, theyâ€™d order us to â€œGet off the trees, you monkeys, or elseâ€¦â€ This time I wonâ€™t be scared anymore. Iâ€™d let my body splinter and spread across this empty land. This is the last gift I can give to this land.
And I know no one would give a damn.