With his perfectly groomed white hair, a mix of white and black eyebrows and welcoming smile, Ikit or Lolo (grandfather) Coteng sits comfortably on a wooden chair as the sunlight streams through the window of the balcony when we arrived at his home.
His welcoming nod and gracious smile relieved the tiredness we felt from hiking from the national highway going up the hilly mountain village of Barangay Alab Oriente, Bontoc, Mountain Province where he lives.
I first saw this man of his photo taken in December 2018 when I wrote a news story about him as one of the centenarian awardees in Mountain Province recognized by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). At that time, I based my news story on the details and personal interview conducted by the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) to him.
Believing that Ikit Coteng has lots of things to share, we endeavored to learn his story. And it has been an awe-inspiring and humbling experience to know the story of this wizened man.
Herbert Malecdan Todyog, popularly known as Lakay (old man) Coteng or Ikit Coteng has reached another milestone in his life when he turned 101 years old on March 10, 2019- a long years of living that most people cannot reach. Based on his Certificate of Baptism, he was born on March 10, 1918, in the small village of Alab Oriente, Bontoc. However, per accounts of Ikit Coteng, he was already a teenager when he was baptized by certain Father Dogum of the Anglican Church in their village. Thus, he could be more than 101 years old.
Talking to Ikit Coteng is like travelling into a time travel machine that brings back the past into life. With his jovial personality and sharp memory, it can make anyone sit with him the whole day and listen as he clearly recounts his life experiences. He answers questions in detail and correctly remembering every person’s name.
He recounted his blissful adolescence when they used to go to the river banks to play “walakda” after a back-breaking day of plowing the rice field. The “walakda” or known as “fagfagto” in central Bontoc of which the group of men who hit most of their opponents with stones win.
He narrated how he and his family, together with the other villagers had to evacuate and seek shelter atop the forested mountains during World War II.
Pointing to the road, he recalled how the now concreted and improved Bontoc –Sagada Road had been a narrow trail of Spanish soldiers riding on their horses.
But what other best question to ask a centenarian, but his secret that he was blessed with a long and healthy life with hopes that we can reach his age too.
For Lolo Coteng, there is no secret recipe for his long life. When asked by this writer of the question, he laughs and said that they ate what they grew. They ate what they had, and it was healthy. It came as no surprise that having a longer and healthier life is choosing the right and healthy food to eat and living a healthy lifestyle. According to him, their only staple food is what they have planted from the uma located far from where they leave. He reminisced how they navigate the hilly mountain village going to the uma and going back home with his mother carrying on her head bundles of “safog” or “sabog” while he, his brothers and their father carry on their back big sized camote, ube and cassava. They pair the locally grown food with sabeng or fermented cassava. He narated that sometimes, his parents exchange a plate of pound sabog or safog to a plate of pound palay from the Kadangyan (rich family) in their village.
When he reached his adulthood, he did not drink liquor but sometimes drinks basi (sugarcane wine) produced from the processed sugarcane. He also smokes tobacco on his pipe up to present but never tried to smoke a cigarette.
With the simple living in the village and the way of life their parents taught them for survival, he learned the process of fermenting cassava and turning it into “sabeng”, which has been part of his daily food.
Pointing at the backyard of his home, he shared that he used to plant sugarcane in his backyard and has a sugar cane milling station in place where they process the sugarcane into basi.
Having never been hospitalized, he witnessed two most significant events in the country – World War I and World War II. He can still walk, has clear eyesight, has a sharp memory and has good hearing sense. We cannot argue more of the reasons how he attained that span of life.
Ikit Coteng is the third born of the five children of the late Todyog and Tagibanay. Lolo Coteng’s siblings are the late Mangabo, Ballogo, Bartolome, and Gayak.
He is married to the late Janet and they are blessed with one child who also joined the Creator. From his only biological son, he has four grandchildren. From his four grandchildren, he has now 23 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren. Aside from his biological son, he has an adopted daughter, Emma who is now staying in Baguio City.
Not given the opportunity to obtain formal education because of the hardships of life, Ikit Coteng worked hard to send his daughter Emma to school who finished a course, Bachelor of Commerce.
The 101-year old Coteng lives alone in his house where his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and adopted daughter visit him and provide him his basic necessities. The family of his grandchildren, Anthony Coteng and his better-half Wilma Coteng together with their children attend to his needs as they live near the centenarian’s home. Lolo Coteng prefers to live separately from his grandchildren’s families despite their efforts to convince him to stay with any of them.
Talking to Ikit Coteng and learning from his wisdom of leaving the 100 is worth the effort. Like climbing the mountain to reach his home, we should aspire to reach that height, not just because it is there, but because the view from the top is unsurpassed.
By Alpine L. Killa