Cordillera people, despite having different ethnicity and beliefs, have these together- bravery, territorial, cultural intimacy, and unity.
With the emerging evolution of culture, Cordillera has remained intact to its rich identity. More than 300 years of Spaniard colonization plus the dominion of Americans and Japan over the dignified country of the Philippines have not conquered the spirit of an ethical way of conveying the Cordilleran culture with this one-day event. Rather, the boost of portraying and showcasing the uniqueness of Cordillera has manifested in the image of the Man of the World, 4rth edition delegates. Happened on June 11, 2022, in Okada, Manila, the 22 candidates from 22 different countries have gathered in making the scene of the Bahag Competition possible. They all wore the same bahag coming from the various ethnic designs of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province. The event started with a flashing warm appreciation and dazzled but unfortunately ended in a set of ideal division and social confrontation. The controversy still wakes the netizen after the issue of alleged inappropriate use of bahag was represented by the delegates.
A bahag (g-string) or loincloth in English is a one-piece garment that covers the genitals and, at least partially, the buttocks and is occasionally held in place by a belt. It is termed depending on ethnicity- they call it kuval in Ibaloi (also spelled as Ibaloy); kubal in Ikalahan; ba-an in Tingguians; ba-ag for Kalingas; Bontoc and Kankana-ey call it wanes; abag for Isneg people, and wanoh for Ifugaos. Aside from it served as the main clothing of the early Igorots, it also represents the civil status of the people. The more color combinations and creative patterns you had, the higher your standing. It is worn by first pulling the long piece of cloth (sizes may vary depending on your height) in between the legs and protecting the genitals with a lengthier back section. The end result looks like two rectangles of cloth hanging in front and behind the waist, with a belt-like loop around the legs.
The description above is the usual way of wearing the said attire; nonetheless, Igorot people tend to tuck in the laid part of the bahag whenever they cross a river, hunt, swim, and actions that limit them from doing it freely. As Dr. Maria Catbagen Aplaten stated in an interview on June 15, 2022, there is no specific or required way of wearing the bahag as long as it covers your private parts but there are two usual ways of wearing a bahag- the proper and the tucked-in way. On which, tucked-in way of wearing is not as common as the usual way of wearing a bahag. Nevertheless, not in opposition to the ethical way of portraying the Cordilleran Bahag.
Stepping into the issue of inappropriate wearing of bahag, the Man of the World in the bahag competition was cornered with many criticisms and arguments coming from the viewers who, in disappointment expressed their rage as to the way the delegates wore the bahag during the competition.
The Ray Casa Group of Companies, spearheaded by Ms. Jennylyn Delos Santos Floresca who organized the event fully explained their side during the press conference that happened on June 12, 2022, at Easter College, Baguio City. Accordingly, the event was pursued given by the go signal of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Regional Office, and rest assured that there was an orientation or rehearsal for the candidates on how to properly wear and display the bahag before the competition. The pure intention of promoting the rich culture of the Cordillera was the main target of the organizers. According to the official statement of the Sine Cordillera, the bahag competition was just one of the segments of the Man of the World Pageant and did not represent the event as a whole, on which, there will be another segment for the swimwear competition. Ensuring that there was a cultural consultant to make everything in proper places.
Consequently, the NCIP had issued a public statement regarding the matter asking the group to prove the public wrong- alleged inappropriate way of wearing the bahag. But what comes next after knowing something unusual? This now covers the idea of researching and digging deeper into the unknown. Sometimes people tend to conclude something as inappropriate, wrong, or misleading because we haven't witnessed it firsthand nor heard it from one. But we missed the chance of knowing what's inside because of the cloudy pride of "I know it well" but manifests the opposite. After all, it is the unity that comes next after a moment of discussion, at its best, it is. This is not just a matter of researching more about our culture but it is also a matter of knowing and then promoting the knowledge we acquire. It is what this pageant advocated, promoting the beauty of Cordillera internationally, recovering tourism, and being the catalyst of change by creating jobs for the good of the majority. May we not enclose the positive side of the event but blur the negativities around while focusing on the main goal of the game- Masculinity with Responsibility; Beauty with a Purpose; and Culture amidst adversity.
Don't forget to watch and support our hottest contenders on June 18, 2022, at Baguio Convention Center as they fiercely walk to nail the new king. Buy your tickets at smtickets.com or any SM ticket outlets. See you there!
Grace Bilag Pedro, Sine Cordillera