CAR- Cordillera Administrative Region

“El Arbol de Oro” and “Antamok”

Ma. Elinora Peralta-Imson Leafing through the pages of Manuel Ramirez Guerrero’s

1Prosa Literaria (Manila

1921) we come across “El árbol de oro” (The Gold Tree)* and “Antamok”, two

tales about the Cordillera. The first, it is specified, is a “leyenda igorrota” (an Igorot

legend) that explains “el origen de las minas” (Guerrero, 64), that is, the origin of the

gold mines in the area. Although no explicit statement is made to identify the second

tale as a legend, we soon discover that it too explains how something came to be, this

time “el origen del nombre de la mina” (Guerrero, 119) or how the mine “Antamok”

got its name. Philippine folklorist Fr. Francisco Demetrio confirms that both stories

are indeed legends, but does not elaborate on the matter any further (Demetrio 1969).

The discovery is significant for a number of reasons: (1) Manuel Guerrero has yet to

be identified as one of the Filipino writers who responded to the call for contributions

to Philippine folklore studies issued years earlier; (2) It shows that even a Manilabased Filipino writer in Spanish such as Guerrero took interest in the Cordillera and

its folklore, and took pains to write about it; (3) It can give an indication of what a

Fil-hispanic writer of the period thought about and knew of his Cordillera brothers;

(4) At least two new legends can be added to what we know of Cordillera folklore; and

(5) We can attempt to make them accessible to more Filipinos and the world.

Filipino interest in Philippine folklore studies may be said to have started during the

Propaganda Movement (1882-1895) as Jose Rizal, Antonio Luna, Pedro Paterno and

others sought to debunk the Spanish colonialist idea that Filipinos were inferior to

their Spanish colonizers because they had no pre-hispanic culture to speak of. They

addressed their writings to fellow Filipinos, majority of whom had come to believe

the Spanish line (preached since the beginning of colonization), and to the Spanish

authorities in Spain to convince them that given the wealth of Philippine preHispanic culture, Filipinos were not inferior, but that in fact the Philippines should

be made a province of Spain, enjoying the same rights and privileges as any other

Spanish province. On one hand, they wanted Spaniards to re-think their low opinion

of Filipinos; on the other, they sought to make fellow Filipinos proud of their own

cultural heritage and become keenly aware of their unique national identity (Imson


Isabelo de los Reyes was one of the propagandists: when censorship prevented

publication of his articles in Philippine newspapers, he would send them off to the

propaganda organ La Solidaridad. When José Felipe del Pan, editor of La Oceanía

Ma. Elinora Peralta-Imson | 98

Española in the Philippines, published an article entitled “Folklore de las Filipinas” on

March 21, 1884 and urged readers to send similar contributions, de los Reyes could

not but heed the call of his mentor on a topic so dear to his own heart. He began his

two-volume El Folklore Filipino (Tomo I, Manila: Chofre y Cia; Tomo II, Manila:

Imprenta de Sta Cruz, 1889) and started down a path that would eventually earn

him acknowledgement as the “Father of Philippine Folklore.” He delved into Ilocano

religion, mythology, psychology, types, customs, and traditions; included selected

poems penned by his mother Leona Florentino; explored snippets of Zambales and

Malabon folklore; and regaled readers with a humoristic illustration of what he chose

to refer to as “administrative folklore.” (One could almost imagine him doing so

tongue-in-cheek). Not being one to be satisfied with merely his own personal output,

de los Reyes even reiterated Del Pan’s call for contributions to Philippine folklore

studies in an open letter sent to El Comercio (published on March 21, 1885). He also

encouraged the establishment of a national Philippine Folklore Society with regional

branches all over the country (Lopez 2006; Mojares 2007).

De los Reyes put together some responses he received to his call in the second volume

of El folk-lore Filipino: Miguel Zaragoza’s “Alrededor de un cadaver” (Around a

Corpse) which narrates the goings-on during a wake in the Visayas; Mariano Ponce’s

Folk-Lore Bulaqueño” (Bulacan Folklore); Pedro Serrano’s “Folk-Lore Pampango”

(Pampango Folklore); Pío Mondragon’s “Folk-Lore Tayabeño” (Tayabas Folklore); and

a Miscelánea folk-lórica” (Miscellaneous Folklore) which consisted of two wills and

testament, a death certificate, official unpublished documents about the 16



Manila chieftain Lacandola, items of Pandacan folklore, and the life of Lam-ang.

For de los Reyes, folklore study was a resource for fostering a truly Philippine identity,

a national consciousness that would strengthen Filipinos’ sense of nationalism. Unlike

some of his contemporaries, he was not ashamed of his being an “indio” and an Ilocano

to boot (Mojares 2007).

In fact it was quite the opposite: he wanted to publicize

his ethnicity and his cultural heritage (Lopez, 5)


. He was, after all, a full-pledged

member of the Propaganda Movement.

Guerrero’s Prosa Literaria saw print in 1921. He too was so proud of his cultural

heritage that he published his collection of articles, folktales and sketches depicting

Philippine customs and legends written in Spanish . . . among them, “El árbol de oro”

and “Antamok”. Thirty-two years had gone by since Isabelo de los Reyes’ El folklore

filipino, and still the interest in folklore continued. Rizal and the propagandists were

well-respected by their peers and the generations that followed. They believed that

folklore study was a powerful resource for enhancing Filipinos’ nationalism and sense

of identity. Did not even the new American colonizers support the idea of Jose Rizal

as the national Philippine hero? Further, the Americans encouraged anthropological

research almost as soon as they arrived.


Guerrero could not but be influenced by the

| Ma. Elinora Peralta-Imson Ma. Elinora Peralta-Imson | 99

prevailing ideas of the time. Indeed he could only be a journalist worth the name if he

was aware of and responsive to the society around him.

Now, what, exactly, are legends? While it is true that Demetrio (1969) identified both

“El árbol de oro” and “Antamok” as legends, he did not discuss what features made

them so. On the other hand, our source for said stories is neither a trained folklorist

nor a Cordilleran. Should we not seek to establish said stories’ “legend-ness”? Why

should they even be studied at all? What advantages can be gained from such a study?

These are the questions this paper seeks to address.

Legends, according to scholar Mellie Lopez (2006), are narratives of local events that

happened not too long ago, featuring local characters, in a local place setting. “Half-fact

and half-fiction,” they belong to a bigger category of works and materials collectively

called “folklore”, that is, the traditional “lore” or knowledge of the people. Actually, as

Lopez herself admits, the meaning of “folklore” “depends on the speaker’s attitude

and orientation.” Hence, its definition differs from one country to the next. The

definition she proposes to use for the Philippines, and which we adopt for the purposes

of this paper, is the one submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and

Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1982, whereby folklore is “a group-oriented and

tradition-based creation of Filipino groups or individuals controlled by the expectations

and practices of their community as an expression of its cultural and social identity.”

Folklore has four sub-categories: verbal folklore, social folk custom, performing folk

arts and material folklore. Legends belong to the category of verbal narrative folklore

(Lopez 2006).

“El árbol de oro” and “Antamok”, according to her classification system,

are “place legends” because the first explains why a Cordillera geographical feature, the

wealth in gold mines, is thus; the second, on the other hand, seeks to explain how the

Antamok mine got its name (Lopez 2006; Demetrio 1969)

If legends as folk narratives are part of folklore, then they are constructs informed

by the traditional expectations and practices of the community that produced them.

As such, they too could provide the reader with “an expression of their community’s

cultural and social identity”(Lopez 2006, 36). Hence, a study of “El arbol de oro” and

“Antamok” should reveal features of Cordillera cultural and social identity that would

redound to a deeper understanding of said community’s culture and society. There

is a wealth of information in folk narratives for research in such areas as a people’s

language, psyche, values, customs, beliefs, practices, attitudes, and worldview. And we

must own such knowledge for us to be “active bearers” of tradition, that is, individuals

who “tell the tales and sing the songs,” so that those listening, the passive bearers that

are our Filipino students, will hopefully, when their turn comes, become the active

bearers when we are no more (Lopez, 162, 37-38)

On the other hand, it has become a matter of survival of our cultural heritage for us 100

Filipinos to heed the call of Isabelo de Los Reyes, to exert all efforts to retrieve the

bits and pieces of our folklore that have so far escaped the erosion of time and our

colonial experiences, preserve them as best we can and make them accessible to the

vast majority of our people and the world. We must preserve our cultural heritage

because it is what defines us as a people distinct from others, with our own truly

Filipino identity.

Moreover, the two tales were written in Spanish and included in a book published in

1921, almost a hundred years ago. How many of our fellow Filipinos today can read

and understand the language? How many copies of the book are still available? The

stories are thus virtually lost to most Filipinos. This paper seeks to address said loss.

Then of course, the writer, Manuel Ramirez Guerrero, is probably almost totally

unknown even to our more seasoned students of Philippine literature. We would like

to try to give our younger generations a glimpse into the writings of an earlier age, an

age of Filipino writers who wrote in a Spanish that was just as beautiful and eloquent

as that of any Spanish writer. An age that we can be proud of. A piece of our cultural


With this study we add to the list of Filipino writers interested in Philippine folklore

early on—Jose Rizal, Pedro Paterno, Antonio Luna, Pio Mondragon, Miguel Zaragoza,

Mariano Ponce, and Pedro Serrano—the name of one, Manuel Guerrero.

And because the tales tell of the region of the Gran Cordillera, they reveal what our

Filipino writers in Spanish knew of the Cordillerans then, and we thus recover two

more legends to add to the recovery effort of our national cultural heritage.