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AFS 2014 Field Notes: Archeo Reflections

September 3, 2014

Inside the jeep, as the view of the dorm became smaller, we said goodbye to Cagayan de Oro city as we looked forward to the adventure and opportunities of learning that awaited us in Initao.

A rural setting roughly over two hours away from Cagayan de Oro City, Initao is a peaceful and less populated town where farming and fishing are the main sources of livelihood. Pigs laze all day under nipa huts as chickens loiter freely even in the streets. There is a mix of concrete houses and bahay kubos. The streets are quiet as the local transportation, sikad (which we got to ride on our first day in Initao), is pedaled manually and does not use fuel.

The objective of the training this time is to learn about the different archaeological research methods with the production of an archaeological site report in mind. Prior to excavation, archival research was first made. Folklore gathering through interviews was held along with the excavation process. Field trips and special lectures were also included to deepen our archaeological research and enrich our knowledge of the theories, concepts and methodologies of archaeology.

Two archaeological sites in Initao were identified by the UP-ASP archaeological research survey in 2007. Both the Gamay nga Ilihan (small natural fortress) and the Dako nga Ilihan (large natural fortress) has promising surface finds and rich oral history. We chose to excavate the Dako nga Ilihan which is located on top of a hill overlooking the Iligan bay. To get to the site, one must cross the Bugwak river where a bridge is almost in its completion. The site is surrounded by heavy vegetation and to get to the top, a 30-minute to one-hour hike is necessary. We aimed to investigate into the past functions of the site and the meanings associated with the place based on oral histories and archaeological excavation. Before the excavation itself, we had prepared ourselves by reading UP-ASP articles about the area and by orienting ourselves with the folklore of the community. We also secured permission from the National Museum and the municipality of Initao. The Initao local government unit welcomed us warmly by feeding us good food (and drinks) and by providing us the security of a warm home to rest by.

We found the “rhythm” of archaeology field school training very different from that of social anthropology’s. With only have two weeks in Initao, we followed a strict schedule every day. Our days start as early as 6 o’clock in the morning because we need to prepare the food and the equipment necessary for our excavation. Around 8 am, some of us were already in the site. We end the day by leaving the site at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The hiking and excavation itself amidst the scorching heat of summer can be physically taxing. We were always reminded by ma’am Janine to take water breaks to keep ourselves hydrated.

In Initao, we were living with a family and it was only proper that we become good guests and less of a nuisance to them. Tasks related to house management, food management, forms and artifacts, and group equipment were relegated to different groups. Tired after a long day of excavation, we still needed to process the day’s excavation, write on our journals and logbooks and also accomplish the tasks assigned to our committees.

Some of us found archaeology’s pace relaxing because it allowed us to properly manage what time we have for ourselves. It also provided us opportunities to engage and learn with the people in the community. Sharing a drink with Kuya Tata, Kuya Balete and Kuya Jing made us see their view of archaeology and what heritage means to them. Visiting the nearby market or buying cream bars after a long, tiring hike provided us an opportunity to meet and listen to the people of the community, allowing us to have a glimpse at their stories. While looking at a breathtaking sunset, a former fisherman provided insight on the current state of fishing in the area. At the same time, it provided us an opportunity to introduce ourselves, explain the discipline of anthropology including archaeology, and also have an engaged discourse with the locals themselves.

We only spent two weeks in Initao but the everyday hike, the beautiful sunset by the beach that greets us on our way home and the tapioca treat that our batch came to love coupled with Ate Gagang’s warm home made us want to stay a bit longer. Field school, both in Cagayan de Oro city and in Initao made us reflect on ourselves and on our discipline. It cannot be stressed enough that we learned a lot this summer in field school. Yet the one thing that almost all of us have come to terms with is being flexible at all costs, no matter how much you feel like throwing a fit or punching someone in the face — to make best out of bad (or passing) situations and to make do of the much and not the many. It’s a value that is often overlooked but proves to be very useful in the end. And this perhaps is the lesson that we would like to pass down to the next batch of field schoolers.