Chapter 23: Looking for Our New Home

Before we left Manila, we went to the home base of Summer Institute of Linguistics, SIL, where we talked to the director who told us we probably should go up to the north to stay. We should try to find a language group to work with near our sponsoring mission, the Philippine Mission Churches of Christ of Northern Luzon, Incorporated, which was in Aparri.

We would want to keep in close touch with them. We went up with Sid Boudreaux to Aparri, and we stayed with Sid and Marj in their apartment near the Aparri Bible Seminary. They planned to go to the States on furlough in just one week, but they were available to help orient us to things in Aparri and to their apartment, which would be our home as long as we stayed there. The only other missionary there was Ann Tolliver, and she was a real blessing to us that first year especially. Our first week, we were busy getting acquainted with the lay of the land in Aparri itself. We learned where to go to do our shopping for various things, fruits, vegetables, meat, groceries mainly, and to do whatever else they thought we would need to do. They had a man with whom they exchanged money from dollars into pesos, so we got acquainted with him early on, and it happened that it was in his grocery store that we shopped.

Our main job, of course, was to find a group of people who needed a Bible translated into their language. We had no idea how long this would take, or how difficult and trying certain parts of the adventure would be. We had been provided with a list of candidate languages. The plan was that we would visit an area in which each was spoken, armed with a list of Ilocano words, and compare the list to the equivalent words of the candidate language. If they were too close linguistically, the language would be rejected as one not needing its own translation. If not too close, it would be considered as a possibility for translation.

The first geographical area for us to search was the Cagayan Valley because we were already right there. Aparri was located at the mouth of the Cagayan River, which flows north, draining much of northern Luzon’s excess water into the Pacific Ocean. The Bible Seminary loaned us a jeep and driver, very helpful additions, and our driver was fluent in both Ibanag and Ilocano, two of the local languages. Thus, were we well equipped for our search.

The first group we visited was the Negritos, people who were small of stature and who had dark skin and very curly hair. They lived in several areas in and surrounding the Cagayan Valley, and were very mobile. However, the nomadic lifestyle of the Negritos was a reason for not wanting to work with them as we were not physically or psychologically constituted to live as they do. They needed a younger and more adaptable team to do their translation. Besides that, they used Ilocano regularly.

We did a check of our wordlist at the home of one elderly man, who was the chief of his Negrito group in that area. While we were doing this, an old lady next to the chief kept trying to tell him not to tell Chuck his words which were their words for the Ilocano words he was giving him. We wondered what she was trying to tell him. Later, when we left there, our guide told us this lady thought if the old man told us his words, we would perform some incantation over them so they would be removed from his mind and he would no longer have them.

Another group we visited was the Itawes. We were sent in that direction by some men we had met in Aparri, as that was their own language, and they wanted us to go work there. We had some interest in that area, but put it on the back burner due to other considerations. It is important to know that when I was a teacher working in Wiley Canyon School, a brand new school in Newhall School District, my room was set up so that if the temperature of the room fell below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the heater would go on, and when the temperature rose above 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the air conditioner would go on. I was in that air-conditioned room constantly for all the six years I taught in that school, and my body was acclimated to it. We quickly found that this was not the case in the northern Philippines. It was so hot in the Cagayan Valley, that we took a thermometer with us just to see what the temperature really was. We took the temperature about 1:00 PM every day, and it was always about 93 degrees. How could I ever live in that area? We visited several towns over a period of about two months, and everywhere we went, the weather was always hot. We thought we should attempt to go up to the mountains instead.

In the first two months, we had eliminated the Cagayan Valley as our new home. Besides, life in the lowlands is not particularly difficult, and we felt that we needed to go someplace where it was more primitive in order to justify the time and expense involved in going to Jungle Training Camp. Also, before we came, we had told people in the US we were going to work with a mountain group. So we felt we should visit at least one or more such groups to see if that might be where we should live and work.

Travel to the mountain groups would be beyond the scope of our jeep and driver/translator. So from then on, we were on our own. We packed our bags and readied ourselves to go to the mountains of Abra, a province to the south and west of Cagayan. We had to go along the coast to go around a mountain range to get to the mountain people we were looking for. We were taken by some brethren from Aparri to a point where we crossed the Cagayan River and reached the bus terminal for bus lines going to Abra, our destination. We got on a bus and began our journey, yelling goodbye to those we left behind. Remember, we were now on public transportation, so we were at the mercy of whatever vehicles were available in the area.

(One point needs clarification before we go any further. The designation of political entities in the Philippines can be confusing to Americans because the words they use mean something different to us. The Philippines is divided into cities and provinces, which are like states in the U.S. Strangely, cities are not considered as being in or part of the provinces that surround them. The provinces themselves are divided into municipalities or towns which are like counties. They in turn are divided into barrios, which are also called barangays, which are like towns in the US. In the provinces, the town name applies to the town as a whole and also to the place where the government building is, which is called the town hall or the municipio, (like the county seat). The local group of houses is called the centro or the poblacion. There will likely be more than one barrio in a town. On a map, the centro is the location of the dot and the town name.)

Before long, we came to a bridge which looked like it was about ready to fall apart. We all got off the bus and walked to the other side, just in case it collapsed while the bus was crossing it. But that didn’t happen, so when it got to the other side, we boarded it again. The area along the route was beautiful, the scenery was lovely, and the ocean to our right was absolutely gorgeous. The mountains to the left were scenic, too, and the weather was good, so we thought the Lord was smiling on us as we went. After going along the coast of the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, we headed east. Eventually we got to Bangued, the capital of Abra which is an inland province of the Cordilliera Mountains to the west of the Cagayan Valley. There was a hotel there which we made our home while we decided where to go next. The language spoken in Bangued was mainly Ilocano, the same spoken in the lowland area of Ilocos provinces. However, there were several other languages spoken further up in the mountains. We would have to go up there to go over the word list with them.

In June and July of l974, we made several trips into rural areas of Abra, checking climate, living conditions, lifestyle, and getting word lists. There were several towns in the mountainous regions of Abra near Bangued, and we visited each one, noticing each town had its own language and/or dialect. After getting the word lists and realizing the people in these areas were able to use Ilocano fairly easily, we decided they didn’t need a translation of the Bible in their own languages. There was another town in Abra which was more remote, Tineg. We wanted to go there to see if they needed their own translation. To get to this town, we would have to take a bus and go a long distance into the mountains in addition to hiking at least two days in order to get there. However, we learned that there was a barrio of Tineg much closer to Bangued. Although there was no road going there, we could get there by hiking from Bangued. So, we hired a guide to go with us since we didn’t know the way ourselves, and after taking a jeep to the beginning of the trail, we began our hike. (Remember, in 1974 this was a very remote area of the country, and may yet be so today.)

We were fit to do this because of our time in Jungle Camp in Mexico. After hiking most of the day, we reached a small barrio, which was across a river we had been walking beside most of the day. Our guide left us there, and it was time to cross the river. Since there was no bridge, we had to wade through the river. It was a little deep and there was a bit of a current. Also, Chuck doesn’t know how to swim, but he was game to hold hands together and cross it anyhow. We got across, and were met by the folks in the barrio who were glad to see us. We told them who we were and why we had come to visit them. We asked if there was someone who would help us with our comparative word list. It took us into the evening to do that, and they were very hospitable, inviting us to stay all night. We were able to get the word list from them and to sing songs afterwards, and then we went to bed. I can’t remember what else happened that night, but the next day we were able to go back to Bangued. From what we had learned from the word list, it seemed obvious to us this group might need a Bible translation of its own.

We felt we needed to verify the word list to determine for sure whether the language would be a good candidate for its own translation. We decided we would have to make the three day journey to Tineg centro, Agsimao, which we had previously heard about. It was at the municipal building in Bangued we learned how to get there, so we took a bus and started out. We had some baggage with us, which we put on top of the bus.

We got to Lagangilang, which was as far as the road was paved, and after that the road was gravel or dirt. Our next stop was Bitwen, a small district along the road which was our point of departure from the road. At Bitwen there was a Reforestation Agency Station. We got off the bus and went into the station. After introducing ourselves to the men there, and telling them what we had in mind to do, we asked if we could leave our bags at their station, which was a secure place, and asked them for directions to Agsimao, the main barrio or Centro of Tineg. They gave us good directions, telling us we would go through the town of Lacub on the way, which was one mountain away from Bitwen. The next day we began our hike. Along the trail it began to rain, so we stopped at a house nearby. The people who lived there were very kind to let us come in and stay there that night. Although they didn’t know English, and we didn’t know their language, we were able to sign to them and vice versa and answer questions they were trying to ask. We found out their names, and they found out ours and how many children we had, and many other things.

Then we told them, still by using signs, how we had gone to the other barrio and had to cross the river, etc. They laughed and laughed at Americanos who would attempt such a thing. After a simple meal, they sang some of their songs for us, and we sang some of our songs for them. Finally it was time to go to bed. Since the house was made of bamboo, and had a split bamboo floor, we slept on that on a mat, and they provided us with a blanket and pillow. We got along well.

There was no more rain in the morning, so we went our way. We needed no guide as we had been told how to go, and we followed the trail. It led up a mountain and down into a valley. The trees were beautiful, and the trail wended its way in the shade, which was delightful. Eventually, we got to the town of Lacub, which they had told us we would have to go through to get to the town of Tineg. By that time, it was time to stop again, eat supper and stay overnight. Everywhere we went, people were very hospitable. We knew they fed us their best, and gave us good places to sleep. Of course, they had no beds like we have in the States, but they had clean places for us to stay, and they had a pillow for us and blankets. It got cold at night even though the afternoons were very hot.

The next day we continued our trip. About an hour out of the main part of Lacub, the trail went through a small barrio, also the home of the Vice Mayor of Lacub. To get there, we needed a guide because the path led right along a very steep precipice above the river one could pass only by holding on to certain places and putting your feet in exactly the same spot the guide put his. That was a very scary place. After visiting with the Vice Mayor and his wife a little while, we went further along the trail to Tineg, two mountains farther up. We arrived at the Centro, Agsimao, about 3 P.M. in the afternoon of Sunday, July 14, 1974. We went to the home of the mayor, Pedro Benwaren, the youngest mayor in all of the Philippines, they said. He was very hospitable. We made arrangements to go over our word list with them later that day.

While there, we were invited by the rural health lady to go to a bamboo hut where there was a sick child. On the front porch of the hut there was a young deer that had been killed. We understood that when they opened up the deer’s abdomen, what they found there would help them know what to do with the sick child. She took us inside where several people were sitting around on the floor. We were seated, and sat there while an elderly lady went through a lot of gyrations to call on the spirits. This included men playing on gongs while the lady got up and did a dance. The spirits were to tell her what to do to help the sick child get well. This was part of a ceremony, along with the killing of the deer and learning whatever they learned from that. We could not understand the language she used, but it sounded different from the one others of the family were speaking. I thought at that time this was an indication we surely should go there to do a Bible translation so they would realize they could call on the Lord instead of the spirits of the enemy. We met the catechista, the Catholic priest’s helper in that barrio, and she said these people needed to know Jesus Christ. They didn’t know Him, and she was hoping we would come back to do the translation of the New Testament into their language.

We went over the word list that afternoon and came to the same conclusion we had come to when we went over the word list at the first barrio of Tineg. When Mayor Benwaren learned we might want to come to his town to translate the Bible into their language, he was very enthusiastic about the prospect. He helped us find a house we could rent (the home of Vice Mayor Rogelio Layugan), and he promised to have 100 men, if we needed that many, at the road at Bitwen to meet us to carry our cargo. With this assurance from the top man in the municipality, we were confident the Lord was leading us and opening the door to this place. The conditions we saw there placed a real burden on our hearts for these people. We did not at that time have all of our goods with us. We had a few things, but no food items or other things we intended to go to Manila to purchase and take back with us. That night, we stayed overnight with the mayor of Tineg at Agsimao, and the next day we started back to Bitwen, where the Reforestation Agency was on the road. We stayed at the home of the Vice Mayor of Lacub on our way back because it was a two day trip to get back down.

In our minds, it was settled, Tineg was where we would go to do our translation.

Our choice was based on the following factors: Tineg was linguistically the most distinct (i.e., least like Ilocano, so less likely the people would be able to use the Ilocano Bible unless they had learned Ilocano as a separate dialect); Tineg was geographically the most remote (i.e., less likely that in a few years the area would be filled with Ilocanos, with the result that the local dialect would be overwhelmed and there would be no more need for a separate translation); Tineg was culturally and religiously the most primitive (i.e., their mouths are red from chewing betel nut; they call on the spirits ‘anitu’ in time of sickness and other needs); and Tineg was economically the most deprived (i.e., clothing is ragged and inadequate, food variety is limited). The low population of the group, 2,000 by government census figures, which we have reason to suspect are quite low, was not a deterrent to our going there. Nor was the presence of the NPA, New Peoples’ Army, a Maoist, anti-government group, a deterrent.

We were so sure this was the place we were to go, we went from there to Manila, got our supplies for six months and got ready to return to Abra.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s