You may have seen them, Igorot women in their traditional finery, some complete with their apongey (women’s headgear of beads and snake bone), their red/white pingay (tapis) of the pinnagui motif, and swinging bakget (waistband belt) making them stand out of the crowd along the streets leading to the University of Baguio Fastfood Centre.
What started as gag-ay (friendly chat) of senior women from Besao residing in metro Baguio during weddings, wakes, and other events, created the need to recapture the spirit of the obob-onan in the city. The obob-onan in Besao is the gathering of women, usually late in the afternoon, for a friendly chat. This also served as the news center where news of all sorts were aired. It was also the psychosocial intervention center where advice in the form of sharing of experiences somehow assuaged women’s travails. If single women then had their ebgan/ebebgan, women, mostly with families, had their obob-onan, thus you can see the young children also playing around the women. Any one can just drop though. This open solidarity center can be found anywhere, but especially along the road/pathway usually near a store. Anybody passing by would surely be greeted with “Into nan umayem? (Where are you going?) or Into nan inmayam?” (Where did you come from?). In our ili (community) those seemingly intrusive queries are the equivalent of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” As the sun sets, everyone goes home with fresh updates, even on the lives of so-and-so.
Life has changed … the ebgan is gone. Houses are big enough to accommodate a whole family so no need for the girls to sleep at the ebgan and boys at the abong/dap-ay. Gone is the obob-onan as TV is there for news and entertainment. It seems the craze now is “Probinsyano?” There is the cellphone to keep in touch with anyone. Smartphones provide more interesting updates on lives and politics, even fake news. There is Facebook, the obob-onan or dap-ay in the sky for many. However, there is nothing that beats face-to-face encounters.
Ties forged way back home in the ili are renewed constantly through events like weddings, wakes, baptisms, that keep the obob-onan spirit alive. It may have been this call of the obob-onan that fired the desire for some eBesao women to have space and time to regularly chat. Under the shade of the trees of Rizal Park on June 12, 1997, Ms. Martha Wagayen Aragon, a frequent balikbayan then from Calgary, Canada, convened her usual group of 10 women to brainstorm the formation of an association uniting elderly women from Besao. Two days later, the eleven women met again in a wedding and decided to have a second meeting the following day, June 15, 1997, at the Melvin Jones Grandstand for their scheduled line dancing session. All interested eBesao women were invited. Two younger women joined this meeting, which brought in resources to the group with young blood as the youngest then, Ms. Louisa Cuangey, was appointed as the secretary. The club is grateful to Louisa for the documentation of the early years of Bangan until 2003.
A year later, July 2, 1978, the association was incorporated as a legal entity with the Securities Exchange Commission as Besao Bangan Club, Inc., with membership open to all eBesao women regardless of age. Bangan refers to the first woman in Besao mythology.
From this eleven women, from meeting under the trees, from simply conversing, Besao Bangan Club has come a long way. Now, it has more than 300 members with a new official name (Besao Women’s Club, Inc.), a regular meeting place, regular meetings every second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., a robust mortuary fund, and some other programs and activities.
As it celebrates 20 years of growth, it may be well to revisit the purposes of Bangan, the organisation’s popular name. Bangan aims to promote harmonious relations by sustaining the bonds of friendship and understanding among its members; to provide be a unified and dynamic organisation of women that will support social programs and activities that benefit the elderly and other citizens; and to initiate measures that engage eBesao women from metro Baguio that will make their senior years more productive, more useful, more meaningful and more fulfilled.
I joined the club way many years ago but became inactive and only revived my membership this year. I remember my late mother relating to me this organisation and she became the first recipient of their mortuary fund upon her death in December 1997. As it celebrates its 20th birthday, Bangan surely has several to celebrate. As the obob-onan in the city, its regular meeting and the support it provides bereaved members and those in difficult circumstances are part of its objective of promoting and sustaining sisterhood. It is also the chat room, literally, as each table is often busy with everyone trying to get updates, news and share other human interest stories. Its mortuary fund lightens the burden of bereaved families. New members are welcomed and birthday celebrants are recognised monthly.
Looking at the present composition of the membership, it may be well to encourage young eBesao women to join. Bangan has a lot of resources from whom young eBesao women can learn. The senioras are living libraries of cultural knowledge. It is interesting to listen to the sharing of knowledge by the native experts and the meetings are opportunities for education. Cultural education and transmission are important components of the obob-onan. Although it is not specifically mentioned in the objectives of the organisation, Bangan can serve also as a channel for these components. Although it started with women from the old Besao Proper (Golinsan of yore), the membership now has expanded and open to all women of any age who trace their lineage to any of the barangays of Besao municipality.
Even as one eBesao, we have diverse cultures which make interesting exchanges.
There are also those who grew up in the city and more urbanised areas like the mines, while many have come from the provinces. There are also those who are retired as professionals and others who are still working. Despite these diversities, it is warming to observe the sisterhood, the spirit of obob-onan prevailing among the members. As an aside, I would have preferred the old name, Besao Bangan for when you say Bangan, there is instant recognition that this refers to the Besao Bangan, the women of Besao.
The current set of officers is led by Norma Longay Balitcha as president with Lily Gomuad Sapguian as the vice-president. They are supported by Georgina Rufino Mendoza as secretary assisted by Edith Wagayen Aragon; Pureza Ose Tarnate as treasurer assisted by Asunsion Cadaweng Belardo; Shirley Aptimes Arukod as business manager assisted by Gertude N. Diwayan. To help in smooth coordination of members in the different areas of metro Baguio, area coordinators have been assigned, as follows: Brookeside – Angeline P. Ocden; P. Burgos Nellie N. Guiagui; Holy Ghost – Cristy Aoasen Tomaag; Trinidad – Elsie B. Manecla; Pinsao – Rosalinda Atiwen; Poliwes – Ellen B. Sagandoy; Quirino Hill – Mercedes B. Agustin. For the program coordinators, we have the Project Smile coordinated by Martha Dogui-is Macgui-ing and they go on home visitations for the sick and others in difficult circumstances. The small loan program is coordinated by Dorothy M. Alwaden.
The 20th founding day commemoration will be held this June 11th starting at 2 p.m. with an interesting set of activities being prepared by the officers and the host chapter La Trinidad. May the spirit of the obob-onan continue among the generations of eBesao women! Entako maki-Bangan!