Barlig is a remote town in Mountain Province, Northern Philippines. The written word did not reach the Ifiallig (the people of Barlig) until the early 20th century. Hence, for thousands of years the traditions of the people in the region were handed down orally through generations. Barlig consists of three villages: Barlig Central, Kadaclan and Lias. Before Barlig town was established in 1965 through legislation, the three villages functioned independently of each other and each of the villages considered themselves distinct, separate entities.
Long ago, the Ifiallig would sit around the fires of the ator (village council-house) to listen to tales of their hero-ancestors like Linmipaw and Amfusnun. When work in the payyiw (ricefields) is done, venerable elders and storytellers (umu-ufok) recount these stories in their own language they call Finallig. These stories (ub-ufok), handed down for many generations, serve as a record of their history, genealogy and cultural traditions.
There used to be a time when Barligís society revolved around the conversations and agreements forged within the walls of the ator. The ator was the seat of government and center of culture. The umu-ufok made sure that a fire was constantly burning, for one vital function of the ator was to provide the source of fire for village households. Today, however, the penetration of external religions, the public school education, the political system imposed by the national government, the introduction of electricity and new technology steadily erode the Ifiallig way of life. More importantly, the passing away of influential village elders, the umu-ufok, with no one to take over their role, will inevitably extinguish Barligís orature, and along with this will vanish the beautiful stories that have given honor and value to the life of a people.
In an effort to preserve Barlig oral folklore, Pia Arboleda conducted a retrieval and translation project of Ifiallig tales in 2001. With the invaluable assistance of Abigail Matib and Jef Cawaon Cablog, the stories were recorded in the original Finallig language in its natural setting from the mouths of the umu-ufok themselves. Venerable storytellers such as Pedro Padyangan, Arfonso Nacleo, Jerzon Ayongchi and Mateo Fiangaan narrated these ancient tales of enchantment. The stories were transcribed, translated and re-narrated into Filipino and English. In recounting the tales, the original structure of the narrative was preserved. From the first village, Barlig Central, 12 stories have been retrieved, 8 of which have been published as storybooks, Siblaw Taraw: Tales of Enchantment from Fiallig (2008) and Siblaw Taraw: Mga Hiwaga ng Fiallig (2008). In keeping with the times, Pia Arboleda and Jorge Andrada turned these stories into digital comic books narrated in Filipino with English subtitles. The stories came alive with powerful illustrations by Wrachelle Calderon Cablog, an artist from Baguio City. These digital comic books are the basis for the teaching modules designed here.
Ub-Ufok Ad Fiallig: Tales of Enchantment Teaching Module Project (UTEMP)
In 2015, Elena Clariza, a scholar of Philippine Studies, Library and Information Science, Education and Environmental Science, developed teaching modules intended primarily for undergraduate students of Philippine Culture and Folklore. This part of the project embraces the art of digital storytelling, which centers on the fundamental beliefs of critical digital pedagogy. It aims to empower learners by encouraging them to use prior knowledge and orality as a form of literacy. Additionally, digital storytelling produces a rich learning experience by engaging students through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. Through digital narrative stories, communities at the margins of society provide counter histories as they share their experiential knowledge. These are some of the guiding principles that inform the practice of Ub-Ufok Ad Fiallig: Tales of Enchantment Teaching Module Project (UTEMP). UTEMP’s example illustrates how critical digital pedagogy can be used to address power structures and reimagine the process of communication in an international and collaborative setting.
UTEMP honors diversity by crossing cultures and political borders. UTEMP drew upon traditional storytelling techniques by including international and local voices into the process. The project was a collaborative effort of the University of Hawai’i (UHM) Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UHM Filipino Language and Literature Program (FLLP), UHM Hamilton Library, and the Ifiallig people of Barlig, Philippines. As mentioned above Pia Arboleda, professor at the University of Hawai’i, conducted a retrieval and translation project of Ifiallig tales in 2001 in an effort to preserve Barlig’s oral tradition. Twelve stories were narrated by Ifiallig elders and retold using powerful illustrations by indigenous artists from the Philippines.
Using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Premier Pro, these illustrations were turned into narrated digital comic books or digital stories, which became the basis of the teaching modules developed by the UHM Philippines Studies librarian. Lesson plans focusing on universal themes such as home, cultural identity, family, and ancestral knowledge were linked to Hamilton Library Research Guides creating a pathway to the library’s resources. Precious Arao, UHM Lecturer led its implementation in 2016 at the UHM and Kapiolani Community College’s Philippine Literature and Language Programs.
UTEMP critiques oppressive power structures. Considering Freire’s teachings on the challenges education politics can have on students, Joe L. Kincheloe asserts that “this occurs when it acts as an authoritarian and reinforces a particular power structure over a certain group.” Hence, UTEMP was created to address the lack of representation of Filipino history, culture, and content in Hawaii’s school curriculum, which has caused a disconnect between student’s home and school culture.
In Hawai’i, Filipinos are considered an invisible majority despite being the second largest ethnic group in the state (14%) and its public school system (21%). No current professional development programs exist in Hawaii that specifically assist teachers in knowing the cultural backgrounds of their Filipino students. UTEMP aims to bridge this gap in two ways. First, by developing culturally relevant strategies to support their instruction. Second, by providing online resources and teaching modules celebrating the oral traditions of indigenous Filipinos.
Critical digital pedagogy is a method of empowerment. Students reported that learning about their culture through digital storytelling increased their understanding of themselves and their integral relationship with their community. They felt empowered because it taught them to think critically about their personal histories in relation to the existing power structures. Through guided reflections, they realized their potential as catalysts for social change. Participants at conferences where the project was presented applauded its mission of using technology in highlighting native voices. Further, they appreciated its creativity in bridging curriculum to library resources.
Focus on community. UTEMP continues to create multiple opportunities for K–12 teachers to tie in Filipino culture in their culture-based school courses. The development of these open-access resources and teaching modules, combined with outreach to faculty and students of the Hawai’i Department of Education, will hopefully bring Filipinos in Hawai’i back to their roots and will become a source of pride.
*Texts from the Ub-Ufok Ad Fiallig: Tales of Enchantment Teaching Module Project also appeared in Waddell, M., & Clariza, E. (n.d.). Critical digital pedagogy and cultural sensitivity in the library classroom: Infographics and digital storytelling with permission from the author.