Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Apo Keeg, The Man of Tadian Mountain Province

He was the oldest man I have seen who could appreciate pictures without glasses on, that was more than twenty years ago and Apo Keeg  was already more than a century old that time in 1994 when I last saw him.  He passed away after a few years after the interview I had with him. Unluckily I wasn’t present and I missed a lot of opportunities to have taken his picture as he was paraded around town to give him the respect that he deserved.  

Yes, Apo Keeg is considered a hero in my town and he was a real hero to his people.  

 I sat beside him on the long wooden chair, watching his century-old smile that I haven’t seen for a few years.  Back then I was on emergency leave from my job in Hong Kong because my father passed away.  Although my vacation wasn’t for fun I was still delighted for the chance of interviewing the man I had idolized for many, many years since I was still a young high school girl.  I was hoping to write an article about him in one of the magazines owned by a Filipino in Hong Kong.  He has been always a favorite of mine even when I was young and was hoping to someday become a writer and write something about him.  But the interview was impossible because Apo Keeg has returned to his childhood days.

Apo Keeg’s life story was related to me by my elder brother, Manong Pacio.  Some were murky memories that I heard from my father a long time ago when he was still living with us.  I had clarified it with my brother and made sure the stories were correct.  This is not a complete story but the most important events and achievements of Apo Keeg are here.  I hope to write some more about Apo Keeg in the future.

Apo Keeg - ( Apo is an address used as a respect to older men and women.  It could also mean a high regard or respect for a person of authority.) – as he was addressed by all of us was a man who was old and wrinkled but the years he had spent on earth was considered very fulfilling not only for him but most especially for his people.  A man like him is rare and I would have loved him to have lived a thousand and one years.
The author with Apo Keeg in October,1994.
Apo Keeg’s life came as an issue of curiosity and a source of inspiration in my dreams of becoming a writer while I was a young girl playing on the streets with other kids my age.  I never even had that simple notion that Apo Keeg who looks so cute and fragile was that strong a man to have done such enormous achievements both in strength as well as brains.   I am perhaps the luckiest woman to have been the only one who has given him something special even if he has been gone from us for a long time.  This is such an honor for me to do for him and to the people of Tadian, Mt. province.  In the hope that the great works of Apo Keeg will be preserved. I made my research and wrote something about his achievements in life.

The years that Apo Keeg had spent on earth is considered a record for he was able to live a long life of 115 years and beyond that are the treasures that he has handed down to his people.  Many years ago, he was one of the most honored men in Tadian.

Tadian wouldn’t have become a town if not for Apo Keeg.  Apo Keeg worked hard for the transfer of the municipality from Kayan to Tadian.
In 1942 amidst the World War II that ruined countless properties and killed countless number of people, Apo Keeg joined the forces to fight for his people.  Despite the dangers of joining the forces, Apo Keeg ignored it and fought instead.  There were always dangers of course but perhaps Apo Keeg was one of those spared from the devastating war because he had a mission to fulfill for his people.  His courage and loyalty to the people won the hearts of everybody and he was appointed municipal councilor, despite illiteracy.

When Apo Keeg was appointed councilor, his grade 2 son has to teach him to scribble his name.  But illiteracy wasn’t a hindrance in Apo Keeg’s dream to serve his people.  He did everything to make the people realize that he was worthy to be a leader.  He served the people with no bad records and bad issues about his service from 1942 – 1944. The issues over illiteracy didn’t stop Apo Keeg from running for mayor in 1945.   There was loud clamor from his supporters for him to run for mayor because they have proven his worth when he was still a councilor.  The support he had from the people was so great that his opponents feared his victory over them.  To get rid of his votes, his opponents snatched the ballot boxes to make sure that Apo Keeg will lose.

In those olden days when life was still very primitive in the mountains, when paper and pens were not in stores and very few people went to school, the Igorots used colored papers to cast their votes.  Apo Keeg chose green as his color.  During the election, the ballot box of Apo Keeg was stolen. Perhaps his opponents thought Apo Keeg will lose his votes from his supporters but the people were wiser than the educated opponents.  While Apo Keeg’s opponents were busy trying to cheat for their victory, the people were smarter than them.  Who could have thought of banana leaves as substitute for the green colored paper?  Casting their votes using banana leaves, Apo Keeg won by a large margin over his rivals.
As a public servant, Apo Keeg has been loved by the people.  

Here are the titles that the people have given Apo Keeg:

Father of the People and Father of the Igorots

As a Father of the People, Apo Keeg has been always available for the people.  People approached him for every problem they had, and Apo Keeg tried to do everything he could to ease their problems.

Head of the Igorot Traditions

As the Head of the Igorot Traditions, Apo Keeg was always there to teach the other men to perform their rituals which they believed could cure sick people, cleanse bad vibes and drive away bad spirits around.    I have always believed in the beliefs of my people up to now because I could see the relevance to real life situations and they work for me and the others.  Would you believe that the old men have a ritual for men and women who are in the critical age of not getting married too?  Yes, with just a few rituals, the man or the woman would be tying the knot with someone.  It is hard to believe but then I was there and I’ve seen everything.

Miracle Doctor

Apo Keeg was known as the Miracle Doctor.  This was his greatest contribution to his people as a public servant.  Apo Keeg was known for delivering babies in this world just like a real doctor.  According to the people whom I interviewed, they considered Apo Keeg as a better doctor for delivering babies than the midwives and the real doctors around.  This made him the most sought after by women who were laboring.  In those days when there was no easy access to medical gadgets and machines, Apo Keeg has proven that even with just the bare hands, he was able to deliver a hundred babies on earth, thus his title, Miracle Doctor.

One very remarkable incident happened in 1960 when a woman had a still birth and the baby was pronounced dead.  Being a gifted doctor, Apo Keeg didn’t lose hope upon seeing the dead baby.  He burned an old army blanket (blanket from the US army that came from relief good for the minorities and from World War II).  He put the placenta over the burned blanket to warm then slowly pushed the liquid to the baby’s stomach through the uncut cord.  After a few minutes, the baby moved.  The baby lived and grew up a healthy boy. I came to know from a kind kailian that the baby was Elmer Hull. He is a half-Igorot, half-African. His mother is from Tadian, Mt. Province and he is a country music singer until now.

Apo Keeg is a man of his time.  What he did was more than what any leader had done to his people and from there his people had reserved some traditions that up to now are being practiced.  Although a lot has changed in Tadian, the fact still remains that Tadian will live to be a place molded by the best man I’ve ever known in my younger years.

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