View Full Version : A Dutch Igorot

10-10-05, 17:46
Dutchman finds freedom as an Igorot

First posted 04:27am (Mla time) Oct 09, 2005
By Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer News Service


Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the October 9, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

BAGUIO CITY — From the flatlands of the Netherlands, this Dutchman found freedom in the mountains of the Philippines.

And the Igorot of the Cordillera and the Dumagat of the Sierra Madre, who became his neighbors and friends in the course of 27 years, are realizing that he has been teaching them to rediscover their own freedom as well.

Johanne Schorsch, 61, goes about his work and visits neighboring towns and upland communities in his bare feet and a worn-out bahag (G-string).

His neighbors are delighted by the sight of the bearded Schorsch walking kilometers to the next village toting a bag of rice.

But not everyone is amused. In Baguio, for example, Schorsch draws catcalls whenever he strolls downtown half-naked and barefoot.

Filmmaker Jo Banasan said the spectacle of a white man in a G-string living among the mountain folk had started to offend a number of Cordillera professionals.

the cynicism of young Igorots who view the Dutchman with distaste.

"They sometimes confront Schorsch about his attire, and challenge him to explain why he prefers the G-string to a [pair] of jeans," Banasan said.

She quoted an Igorot as angrily telling Schorsch: "Why? Do you think Igorot are a backward people?"

But by the filmmaker's account, Schorsch has a handy reply: "I'm not ashamed to be Igorot."

For all occasions

In the more developed towns of the Cordillera, many young Igorot refuse to wear a G-string even during community festivals and ritual feasts-annual occasions when they are required to wear the colorful costumes and headdresses of their forebears.

But Schorsch keeps G-strings for all occasions, according to his friend, musician Rafael Kapuno.

"Like the average Igorot 100 years ago, he has a bahag for work, for the times he stays home, for pasyal (leisure walks), and for festivals," Kapuno said.

In a phone interview from Dipaculao, Aurora, where he lives, Schorsch said the communal lifestyle of the Igorot and the Dumagat was his "way of living."

He frequents the Maligcong rice terraces in Bontoc, Mt. Province, although he lives in a thatch-roofed house in Dipaculao, alongside the Dumagat natives and the "Ifuntok" families who migrated from the Cordillera in 1947.

Schorsch has applied for citizenship, and it is likely he will be wearing a G-string when he takes an oath of allegiance to the Philippines in 2006.


A theology and psychology graduate of a Dutch university, Schorsch traveled to Thailand to immerse himself in Buddhism before settling in the Philippines in 1978 to advocate alternative health measures.

Years later, Schorsch convinced Infanta Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen to build Bahay Pananahimik, a spiritual retreat house and support foundation, in Dipaculao.

The foundation, which manages the retreat house, has helped the community deal with social crises.

When logging began to disturb Aurora's indigenous peoples, Schorsch persuaded the residents to begin a tree-planting drive in the 2.3-hectare compound of the retreat house.

A small forest now thrives there.

Banasan said Schorsch started introducing forgotten Ifuntok and Dumagat concepts to Dipaculao when he realized that the town's migrant Igorot did not even speak their old language.

She said Bahay Pananahimik built a dap-ay (community meeting place), where resident Igorot could revisit their traditional dances and rituals.

The foundation also launched a scholarship fund for Igorot and Dumagat youths, said Ben Kiwang, one of the scholars.

Spiritual connection

Schorsch said his initial immersion in the various Cordillera cultures did not spur his decision to wear the native attire.

He said it was only in the 1990s that he discovered his "spiritual" connection to the Igorot.

Some critics have accused him of advocating a return to "the Stone Age," little knowing that he was more interested in imbibing the Igorot's strong communal values, he said.

These concepts, he said, were still applicable in current times.

Schorsch said his workman's life in the Netherlands could not compare with the life he was sharing with the townsfolk of Maligcong.

He visits Maligcong every year to help till the rice fields.

The townsfolk call him "Fanjacho," after the family who adopted him there.

Planting seeds

By Schorsch's reckoning, what strikes him most about indigenous Filipinos today is the fact that they would rather lose "the freedom granted by their culture" for a reputation in society of being "decent and well-educated."

He said he was not comfortable about the attention he was getting, but was acutely conscious of the seeds he had been planting in Dipaculao and Maligcong.

Most of all, he said, he was being true to himself: "Hindi ako artista. Hindi ko isusuot ang G-string kung magpapanggap lang ako na kumportable akong nakabahag (I'm not an actor. I won't wear a G-string if I'm just going to pretend I'm comfortable wearing it)." With a report from Desiree Caluza, PDI Northern Luzon Bureau

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