In the heart of the Philippines, among the rugged landscapes of the Cordillera region, there is a man named Johanne Schorsch. But you might know him better as "Fangyachew," "Fanjacho," "Brother James," or "Jim Fangyachew." His story is unlike any other-a tale of a Dutchman who left behind the comforts of the Netherlands to embrace the Igorot way of life.
Fangyachew's journey is marked by a profound decision-to live as an Igorot. This choice goes beyond mere lifestyle; it's a transformation that has left an indelible mark on the Cordillera communities.
In this article, we'll delve into the remarkable life of Fangyachew, exploring his unique journey and the deep impact it has had on the people of Cordillera.
Fangyachew's Remarkable Journey
Fangyachew's journey is nothing short of remarkable. He made a conscious choice to fully immerse himself in Igorot culture, a decision that extended to his attire. Instead of modern clothing, Fangyachew opted for the traditional Igorot "bahag" (traditional loincloth). This distinctive choice signified his commitment to the Igorot way of life.
Fangyachew's dedication shines through in his daily routine. He carries out his work and travels to nearby towns and upland communities barefoot, clad in a well-worn bahag, a traditional loincloth. The sight of Schorsch, with his beard and bag of rice, walking several kilometers to the next village brings joy to his neighbors.
In Baguio City, he can often be seen walking around barefoot and with his bahag. This unique attire usually draws catcalls whenever he strolls downtown half-naked and barefoot. Despite the attention, Fangyachew remains steadfast in his choice to embrace the traditional Igorot way of life.
What truly sets Fangyachew apart is his unwavering dedication to the Cordillera communities. For more than four decades, he has been a steadfast friend and advocate for the people of the Cordillera region. His tireless efforts and extensive experience have left an indelible mark on these communities, creating a bond that transcends borders and cultures.
Fangyachew's journey also takes him to the Maligcong rice terraces in Bontoc, Mountain Province. He frequents this breathtaking landscape, even though he lives in a humble thatch-roofed house in Dipaculao, alongside the Dumagat natives and the "Ifuntok" families who migrated from the Cordillera in 1947.
Schorsch, also known as Jim Fangyachew, is fluent in Kankana-ey and Ilocano, allowing him to communicate effectively with the Cordillera communities he has come to cherish. He has mentioned that his workman's life in the Netherlands couldn't compare with the life he now shares with the townsfolk of Maligcong. Every year, he makes it a point to visit Maligcong to actively participate in tilling the rice fields, further exemplifying his deep connection with the Cordillera culture and his willingness to embrace the traditional way of life.
Understanding Igorot Culture
To comprehend Fangyachew's extraordinary journey, it's essential to grasp the essence of Igorot culture. The Igorot people are indigenous to the Cordillera region of the Philippines. Their cultural heritage is deeply rooted in the mountains and terraces of this rugged landscape.
Cultural Significance: The Igorots hold a special place in the Philippines' rich tapestry of cultures. They are known for their distinct traditions, which include intricate rituals, indigenous dances, and a close connection to their ancestral lands. The Igorots' significance extends beyond their customs; they are the bearers of a cultural heritage that spans generations.
The Power of Language: Central to Igorot culture is language. Two key dialects, Kankana-ey and Ilocano, are spoken among the Igorot communities. Language serves as more than a means of communication; it's a vessel for preserving their stories, values, and history. Fangyachew's fluency in these dialects allowed him to integrate seamlessly into the Igorot communities and truly become one of them.
Fangyachew's Impact: Advocacy, Community Building, and Environmental Stewardship
Fangyachew's presence in the Cordillera communities has left an indelible mark, and his impact is both profound and far-reaching. Over the span of four decades, his contributions have touched the lives of many.
Community Building: Fangyachew's dedication to the Cordillera communities goes beyond mere existence. He has actively engaged in community building, working closely with local residents to address social challenges and create a sense of unity. His presence has helped strengthen the bonds within these communities.
Advocacy for Alternative Health: Fangyachew, with his background in theology and psychology, is a proponent of alternative health measures. He has been a vocal advocate for holistic well-being, working closely with local communities to introduce them to these methods.
The Bahay Pananahimik Retreat House: In Dipaculao, Aurora, Fangyachew played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Bahay Pananahimik spiritual retreat house. This sanctuary not only provides a space for spiritual growth but also serves as a pillar of support during times of social crises.
Environmental Stewardship: When environmental concerns threatened the indigenous peoples of Aurora, Fangyachew was instrumental in mobilizing residents to launch a tree-planting drive within the compound of the retreat house. This initiative has since resulted in a thriving small forest.
The foundation responsible for Bahay Pananahimik has significantly contributed to the community's well-being. Moreover, it has revived traditional Igorot concepts in Dipaculao, including the construction of a dap-ay (community meeting place). This has allowed local residents to reconnect with their cultural roots through traditional dances and rituals. In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into Fangyachew's initiatives and their profound impact on the Cordillera communities.
In the following sections, we'll delve into Fangyachew's deep spiritual connection with Igorot culture and his insights into the choices facing indigenous Filipinos today.
A Profound Spiritual Connection
Fangyachew's journey goes beyond the surface-it's a profound spiritual odyssey that transcends cultural boundaries.
Embracing Cordillera Cultures: Fangyachew's immersion in Cordillera cultures wasn't merely an external adoption of customs; it sparked a deep spiritual connection. His understanding of the Igorot way of life goes beyond rituals and traditions; it touches the very essence of his being.
Misconceptions and Real Intentions: Some have misconstrued Fangyachew's motives, accusing him of advocating a return to a bygone era. However, his true focus lies in imbibing the Igorot's strong communal values, which remain relevant in the present. His goal is not to revert to the past but to preserve and celebrate the enduring aspects of Igorot culture.
Impact on Indigenous Filipinos
Fangyachew's unique perspective sheds light on the choices facing indigenous Filipinos and the positive transformations he has initiated.
Cultural Freedom vs. Societal Reputation: Fangyachew has keenly observed the dilemma that many indigenous Filipinos face. They grapple with choices between embracing their cultural freedom and conforming to societal expectations for a more "decent and well-educated" reputation. His presence challenges these perceptions, showing that cultural pride can coexist with progress.
Positive Transformations: In Dipaculao and Maligcong, where Fangyachew has made a significant impact, positive changes are evident. Initiatives like tree-planting drives and cultural revitalization have rejuvenated these communities. The once-lost traditions are being celebrated, and the bonds of community have grown stronger.
In the concluding section, we'll reflect on Fangyachew's commitment to authenticity and comfort in his choices, offering broader insights into embracing diversity and staying true to oneself.
In a world often driven by conformity, Fangyachew's story stands as a testament to the power of authenticity and the pursuit of one's true self.
Authenticity and Comfort: Fangyachew's journey from the Netherlands to the Cordillera region is marked by a profound commitment to authenticity. He embraced the Igorot culture and its traditional attire, finding a deep sense of comfort in his choices. To him, the "bahag" is not just clothing; it's a symbol of his connection to the Igorot way of life.
Embracing Diversity and Authenticity: Fangyachew's life among the Cordillera communities holds valuable lessons for us all. It reminds us of the beauty in diversity and the importance of staying true to ourselves, even when it means going against the grain. His story encourages us to celebrate our uniqueness and find comfort in our choices, just as he has done for over four decades.
Fangyachew, the Dutchman who chose to live as an Igorot, is not just a story of one man's journey-it's an inspiration to embrace diversity, authenticity, and the pursuit of our own true path.