ALPSIDE DOWNED: Surigaonon or Sinurigao?

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 20 Dec) – “History is not a fair weather subject. It is all-weather!” Fernando Almeda Jr., the well-known Surigao local historian, author and advocate for the Mamanwa indigenous group in the province, is prone to repeat to whoever cares to listen about history.

Thus, on a rainy December day, inside an apartment built in the 1970s that was renovated to become a private library and workspace of modern-day function, was born the Surigao Historical Society.

The rains were heavy enough to deter the uninitiated newcomer or tourist from stepping out, but the Surigaonon locals soon came in trickles, led by local historian Jun Almeda; Dr. Lucy Letim-Teves as representative of the Saint Paul University-Surigao, which is the current repository of the Surigao Heritage Center; and a smattering of Surigaonons interested in preserving local culture and tradition. Another group was also present online, led by lawyer Charlo Paredes, co-founder of the “Manunuyat” group that writes in Surigaonon; Maripaz Felicio Magno of the DepEd-Caraga; this writer and similar advocates.

The state of Surigaonon that they reported was troubling, to say the least. The youth of Surigao were losing much of the local language and were already prone or becoming comfortable to mixing in phrases of Visayan or Tagalog. Sir Jun, the oldest at 83, was expressing his wish to pass on the work of cultural preservation to a new vanguard, the younger generation or the so-called second-liners. He expressed dismay in his discovery that the wards in a “school for the Mamanwa” were being taught in English and Tagalog instead of in the local dialect. Or that the now-popular “Bonok-Bonok” festival in Surigao was actually ill-named because it was coined by cultural and tourism people, and not the by local linguists. Shouldn’t it be “Bonok-Danak,” he said, because those were the local terms that described the often violent downpours – quick to fall and just as abrupt in stopping – that fell in the province during the monsoons?

And what of the dialect – should it be called “Surigaonon” or “Sinurigao”? Although “Surigaonon” is formally and widely-used, a book advocating “Sinurigao” was already published to keep the issue burning. Then what about some terms in a dictionary published by a local pundit? Although acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive collection of Surigaonon words, were not some of the terms merely Castilian language-origins – like using “camote” for “kamote”? Should not a working team already check and improve on the terms used?

And how would history judge the Gonzales brothers who led the insurrection in Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte against the Spanish? “I have not known one single family – now I count six brothers – that has lost so many family members in history. Not even the Bonifacio brothers have lost that many,” Sir Jun told his audience. Also a controversial topic for the group: the Colorum uprising in the island of Bucas Grande, Surigao in 1924 against American rule – how would future historians treat their revolt?

Our task to preserve our cultural tradition in the form of language and tradition is not an easy task, Sir Jun told the motley group of scholars, pundits, the curious and those already long committed. Before his book “Surigao Across the Years” was launched in 1993, Sir Jun took on a mostly lonely task of piecing together Surigao’s history, his “love affair” with the city’s past having started in 1976 when he became writer of the Surigao Historical Commission.

Happily this time at the Zoom meeting, there were quantifiable plans and next steps to be done. The Surigaonon Historical Society would be formalized from the core group of 17 people who attended the first Zoom meeting last December 18. A page on Facebook would be created, along with a Messenger chat group. The working paper on the group’s rationale and objectives would be farmed out for comments. Online meetings would be held every third Saturday of the month at the SSS Lab workspace, the current working venue, while future meetings could be held at the university, especially when resource persons would be asked to come.

To sustain interest, the group plans to invite as occasional speakers the local Surigaonons who had published books or had made names for themselves in research, etymology, linguistics or history.

And the “endless storytelling” was still to come, as Sir Jun described the communal process of researching and uncovering local history, when he wrote in his book “Surigao Across the Years” (now in its sixth and decidedly final edition, according to the author).

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)