NOTE: I know I come from a people whose wisdom, joy, enlivenment comes from something deep and profound. And yet because of the damage done to our tongues and imagination by English and its emissaries, our language fails us when we try to express this depth of knowing and being. We end up falling back on bible verses, hallmark-like platitudes, popular song lyrics, mimicked lines from hollywood films, quotes from non-Filipino thinkers/writers. Where can I find this FIlipino indigenous wisdom today? Where and how does it show up? So I took to Facebook and posted a call: Tell us about the wisest words you’ve heard from a Filipino source (maybe an ancestor or a relative, a mythic story). Tell a story as to what these words have meant to you. Here are the early submissions.

February 15, 2018

Today, I was proofing the pages for a forthcoming poetry collection entitled HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago. I was astonished at the beauty of the lines. Lines like
                                                               Yes absence of green
                     as my bandaged wing swung to break stalactites — A mirror
                     -ed face only partially owns its reflection — Flying fish are
                      always wide-eyed always breathless always look unbelieving — 

                     Yes long-haired women exist, but outside the frame as
                      has been reality for centuries — Yes ziggurat tattooed on
                      an inner thigh, an area where inscription must have surfaced
                      with anguish, then desperation, then a hymn long-forgotten
                      as I'd forgotten how to attend to anyone's church--A body drowns
                      in light as a hand writes -- Eyes leak flames
 But why was I astonished? Did I not write the poems? Yes, but not really. HIRAETH is the last of nine publications to come out of a five-year(plus) project called “MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION” (MDR). MDR is a “poetry generator” — it contains a database of 1,167 lines and it allows its reader (including me as a reader) to make new poems from any combination of those lines. For over five years, I’ve created poems from this method — a methodology that actually allowed me not to think about the lines in the same manner as I would were I to write lines from scratch. This meant that I sometimes did not focus as closely on the lines (except for certain occasions) as on the method for grouping them. But proofing this forthcoming book required me to read the lines closely to check for misspellings and other typos. Through this close focus, I was surprised by their beauty, as well as astonished that I’d forgotten loveliness.

I wept with relief.
Relief because my encountering beauty meant that I had kept the faith I wanted to keep in poetry. The world can be so ugly — it warrants all the protests taking place worldwide against its ugly elements. Those ugly elements often take over the content (and form) of much contemporary poetry being written today — as they should if the poets so desired to address their environments in that way.
But I’ve always known my muse — and it’s a muse I’ve had to protect so that it wasn’t degraded by the ugliness surrounding us all. That muse is Beauty. I am proud that MDR’s 1,167 poetic lines — which first were created by me reading through my first 26 poetry collections — contain beauty. This, for me, means I didn’t betray my poetry — I was true to it, I was true to Beauty.

This is why the most meaningful quote — and story — from indigenous wisdom is, for me, the story of the Manobo woman elder who was among Mindanao indigenous elders at a conference in 2006. When they were asked by Filipino-American teachers how they could help, the Manobo elder Manobo replied, “Please allow us to express our beauty.”

As Leny M. Strobel said in recounting the tale during a FANHS conference, “She did not say ‘please give us our land back, give us freedom, give us justice, give us democracy, give us money.’ She said, please allow us to express our beauty.”
By articulating what she did, the Manobo elder clearly understood something very basic and critical about how humanity can preserve itself: that Justice ultimately enables each person’s ability to express their unique beauty.
                                                                                                                         — Eileen R. Tabios


1) “Make it Nice/Make Good”
This is what my grandfather, Silvestre Suguitan, said to us grandkids when:

… I got accepted to SFSU’s graduate program in TEFL/TESL, as in “Good Girl! Now, make it nice.” (do well, work hard, I’m proud of you.)
… in-fighting occurred between cousins, as in, “Sh-h-h-t! Stop throwing pillows and sit on the sofa. Make it nice.”
…my great-uncle was teaching me how to cook Filipino food, or my grandfather was demonstrating his own professional baking skills while laying out a dozen pies (everything from pecan to apple to custard to pumpkin), several dozen rolls of cookies peanut butter, pecan squares, shortbread w/cherry on top, walnut crescents, chocolate chip), as in “Ayan! That’s the way to do it. Make it nice!”

2) “Letting go means detaching from almost everything that will hinder you from being whole/empty. This includes emptying belief systems and even the idea of being grounded to the earth…” -Mamerto Lagitan Tindongan

…written to me last year when I consulted him about parallel challenges and was seeking his insights about the possible how and why of my relationship with those situations. This portion of his response is what I find most applicable when I am doing my own Work. In paraphrase I will share that he encouraged me to focus on myself because he knows I’m ready to hear and utilize that guidance. As I more frequently experience and recognize the place of wholeness and emptiness, I realize my pure energy and power.

3) “We’ll see.” — my mother, Anita Alfafara Suguitan (1932–1965)

She often said this. Sometimes it was in response to my or my younger brother’s asking for some kind of treat when we were out shopping, or asking permission to go to a friend’s house after school. But other times, it was to a future request for her to be a classroom assistant, or to bake cupcakes for a class party, or make a special halloween costume (she was a wonderful seamstress).
as in, “Mama, Carla’s mother mentioned she needs another mom as a helper for our Bluebird meetings.” “Oh yeah? Hmm,We’ll see.”

When she went to the hospital during the dead of night and my brother and I were being dropped off, for the second time in a year, at our grandparents’ house, under the eery orange street light, as we kissed her through the car window, for lack of something more meaningful to say, I said, “Well, show us the nice slippers you get from the hospital when you come home, okay?”

“We’ll see, baby.” My brother and I did not see her again until her funeral, two weeks later.
So, this phrase has become one I adopted and use often. It reminds me that the outcome of situations is not always in my control and therefore, perhaps not my complete responsibility. It reminds me of the lessons I learned as a child, given her delicate health condition, to be flexible. “We’ll see” also creates space and, appropriately uttered by someone like me, who became an acute observer of people, places, my surroundings, with neutral attention.

4. “Be a Good girl, Smart girl, Brave girl.” — my father, Arthur F. Suguitan
The mantra that my father said every single time he kissed us and sent us on our way, whether to school, to the store, dropping us off from the car. To be good, smart, and brave — in that order — covers it all. I somehow felt protected and empowered by his consistent wish. Even as an adult, I check in with myself about whether these elements are present in my actions.


"Mopiyon kohi diid potoy!" (Good words never die.)---Apo Salumay Iyong, Obo Manobo tribal elder from Mount Apo, Mindanao.

"Tao kayong naparito, tao rin kaming dinatnan ninyo." Greeting of Kaka Ito, a tribal leader of the Dumagat Remontado tribe when we arrived in their lean-to's up in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Tanay, Rizal. It was then that I really felt the meaning of "kapwa-tao" and "Tao Po! Tuloy!"


My mother-in-law Aurora Igloria, who in saying "Buhayin natin ang apoy" ("Let us bring the fire to life") made the simple, domestic act of lighting the stove to heat water for tea, an almost transcendent act. And my late father-in-law Ruben B. Igloria Sr. who said, after I thanked him for welcoming me to their home many years ago, "Kasama ang lahat sa pag-alsa" ("What rises, takes everything else with it").

And the elders in my Ilocano family/household would always offer this, in the face of any overwhelming experience (both positive and challenging/difficult, both joyous and sad): "Haan nga maymaysa ti aldaw." ("Today is not the only day," or "There is more than one day.") I see it almost as the equivalent of "This too shall pass," but in a language and imagery closer and more indigenous to what we know; and conveying a dignity in the face of experience that still acknowledges hope.


When we were at West Bay's Pilipino Early Intervention Project, Bulletx adapted the phrase "caring for each other" into "kapwa natin, Pananagutan Natin" which is more proactive than Rosa rosal's tv program "kapwa ko, Mahal ko".  Later it became the philosophy of service of non-profit agencies, the like of West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center in San Francisco and Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center (PBRC), it was translated or transformed into " Our Community, Our Responsibility." Again, later the federal agency Administration of Youth and Families, have made as their theme in their conference in early 1990s "Our Youth, our future, our responsibility."  I have worked in many non-profits in the Philippines, before NGO became the accepted name, we used to refer them as LO/LI for Legal Organization / Legal Institutions in the late 70s and early 80s, when PH was still under ML...but I have never heard or read the phrase "Kapwa Natin , Pananagutan Natin" and "Our Community, Our Responsibility" in the field or among LO/LI activists.


“Ang mangga hindi mamunga ng santol” Nang Del aka my mom, Adelia Amoguis Cahambing, Bol-Anon
~ ‘Mango will bear mango not a Santol fruit.’

We leave some fruits on the guava tree said the Kalinga grandmother to Jocelyn banasan. But why? asked the child. Because the birds can't plant.

Boy Masculino: If I have one problem I cannot solve, I add another one and then solve them all at once. The heart must also be full, not just the stomach or the pockets