Few months ago I was invited by Mr. Elais Baquero, host of 888 Media Forum as panelist to represent Circulo Boholano de Cebu, Inc. (CBCI) to the said media forum — as many of you already knew, I am the president of CBCI, the oldest organization of Boholanos in the Philippines. It was held in Marco Polo Plaza, Cebu City and one of the media practitioners Mr. Choy Torralba asked me about what can I say about this catch phrase “Ija-ija Aho-aho” and how does our organization counter the negative connotation of this phrase. This catch phrase has been associated to Boholanos because of the way we replace the letters Y with J and the letter K with H. Thus the phrase “Iya-iya Ako-ako” in common Cebuano languange, it really has a socially negative meaning of being selfish and unhelpful
Of course I responded to Mr. Torralba’s question by emphasizing that it’s true there are Boholanos, just like any other regional groups who are unhelpful and egocentric but “Ija-ija Aho-aho” is not the clear picture of the real Boholano characteristics. In fact, Boholanos are very helpful, friendly and hospitable towards other people. TeamSapong.com for example had launched “Bohol Book Drive,” a campaign to collect old but in good condition books here in Cebu and give it to public schools in the rural areas of Bohol. Our CBCI Committee on Social Services also has a proposal to create an Assistance Center that will assist Boholanos who have transactions especially in medical and government agencies. Generally, we help each other and we think not only for ourselves.
I have the same observation with my college professor at Divine Word College of Tagbilaran, now Holy Name University Ms. Noelyn Dano when I recently asked her about her opinion about this phrase. Ms. Dano said that she also noticed that there are times we show that “Ija-ija aho-aho” attitude but it is not a dominant feature of Boholano culture; that this phrase is offensive sometimes because it’s not really true and other people use this to bully Boholanos. She added that Boholanos have very close family ties, which make us even more thoughtful to each other.
Where did it all started?
I’ve been asking my friends especially those who are old enough to uncover stories of where the phrase “Ija-ija Aho-aho” started. I also harrowed the internet for it but unfortunately, there’s no clear documentation of its origin or etymology aside from it’s a reduplication of Cebuano words. But wait, there’s this unverified narrative in one of the threads at Tubag Bohol that may be the story we could settle.
Niadtong bata-bata pa ko, kuyog ko ni Padre Jaime Neri, usa ka Jesuitang “anthropologist” nga nag estudyo sa mga karaang Pinoy (aborigine) nga namuyo didto sa Anda. Sa among kulokabildo, akong gipangutana siya, “Padre, unsa may sinugdanan ining ujat-ujat sa mga Bol-anon nga “ija-ija aho-aho” kuno ang ilang kinaija”. Matud niya, “Dunay tubag ana. Kadtong unang grupo sa mga Malayo (Shri Visayans) nga nanganhi sa Pinas duna silay kinaiya, mga kuripot. Kining grupoha nanimuyo kadaghanan dinhi sa Bohol ug adunay tipik kanila mipadayon paglawig ug nanimuyo sa Amihanang Luzon, Ilocos Region karon. Kining kinaiyaha nadala hangtud karon. Ang mga Bol-anon kuno kung magpainadlaw unya sa panahon sa tingkaon na mobiya sa mga kauban ug maglain sa iyang kaugalingon. Ngano, tungod kay iya isuwa ginamos ra pares sa kamote tungod sa iyang kakuripot. Busa, ujat-ujaton siya nga “ija-ija aho-aho”.
Mao sab tingali ning kantiyaw nga “pakisabaw ug pakibahog” tungod sa atong pagkakuripot. Magsuwa lamang kasagaran ug law-oy nga utan. Lami na nga bahog-bahog.
Wait, are we really “Ija-ija Aho-aho in general?
I’ll support Ms. Dano’s observation that there are times people in general, not just Boholanos would show some selfish attitude but it’s not a dominant trait among Boholanos. We are always concern to our family and friends and I find the moniker of Tagbilaran City as the City of Friendship true. We even advertise ourselves as an ideal and faithful lover through a song with a line “kung ikaw inday mangitag pamanhunon, siguroa baya Inday ang Bol-anon. Kung matuman mo swerte ka, ang Bol-anon buotan gajud, magmahal kanimu hangtud sa kahangturan.”
Ija-ija Aho-aho can also be associated of our being clannish or regionalistic. We tend to help first our people before others — looks like a downside. Members of Circulo Boholano de Cebu, Inc. are the best example of this. We usually hold our meetings in Neo-neo Grill or in Northwinds Hotel because owners of these facilities have Boholano blood. Our help and patronize fellow Boholano businesses.
In one of his speeches, multi awarded Boholano Dr. Jose “Ting” Tiongco described Boholanos as a group with noble culture that don’t beg; that a man must provide for himself and the community he belongs to. It means that we are free of the humiliating cultural muck of Mendicancy that the rest of our country is drowning in.
Best Boholano Practices
There are several practices in Bohol that would really rebuff the “Ija-ija Aho-aho” mentality. It made me very proud as a Boholano because some of these practices are still being observed in our town. A couple of times I brought some visitors in our place and they were amazed with what they have observed. Below are some of the practices:
My grandparents in Maribojoc, Bohol were farmers and we stayed in our ancestral house for several years before I moved to Cebu City in 2004. According to Mrs. Ellaine Louise Sampilingan, a teacher who grew up with farmer parents, hunos is an old system and is part of the traditional “bayanihan” or cooperativism in farming. Members of the hunos group (usually living in the same neighborhood) flock together to another member’s rice field to plant or harvest. It makes farming easy; the task that is usually done alone in 2 – 3 days would be accomplished in a day with the help of other members.
My lola used to bring me to hunos when I was young a couple of times and I observed during break time, members don’t feel exhausted. They had fun conversations over a simple snacks like camote, banana and sometimes with newly gathered tuba.
You’ve probably heard that Bohol aside from the white sand beaches and country side tourist attractions is very much known for having an extensive fiesta celebrations throughout the year especially on the month of May wherein almost everyday there is a chapel or parish that celebrates fiesta. Before the year 2000, most households prepare dishes from carabao meat during fiesta. Thus, the term kabaway was derived. A group of 6 – 8 members would pool money (usually Php3000 each members) as initial fund to be lent to trustworthy neighbors with interest. When fiesta is fast approaching, money from members contribution plus the interest from loans will then be used to buy a carabao; slaughter it and divide the meat to each members.
My uncle Albino Bago, from Manga District, Tagbilaran City is one of the kabaway leaders or organizers. Leaders usually get half of one share of meat as his compensation for managing the group, keeping the money and collecting loan payments.
These days, households that prepare food from carabao meat became fewer and fewer. Maybe because of the campaign from animal welfare groups that carabao should not be killed because it helps people in farming aside from it is the National Animal of the Philippines. Several people also stop eating carabao meat because of several death in the province that were associated with improper handling of the said meat while cooking — this theory is still yet to be verified though.
Although fewer people now eat carabao meat, the Kabaway groups still exist in Bohol but they are now buying cow or pig for their fiesta foodies…
Bringhouse is one of the Boholano practices that would really contradict the “Ija-ija Aho-aho” mentality. This means bringing home some food from a party for other members of the family who were not in the party to be able to eat the food. Thoughtful, isn’t it?
Pintikasi is our local term for bayanihan or doing things with community spirit. Residents in our village come together on a certain date being called by a chapel, barangay or purok leader to accomplish certain tasks like cleaning the streets, repair an old chapel, build a waiting shed and the likes without expecting to receive a compensation than the wonderful thought that the things they’re doing would benefit the whole community.
According to my favorite uncle Eufronio “Lolong” Reforeal, who is now based in Christchurch, New Zealand, bus-og is a local terminology most common in our town Maribojoc and some other towns of Bohol, wherein a group of individual families joining together as a small clannish community. Clannish community because it’s membership is usually limited to a certain clan and its extended families and relatives. It is a clannish organization aimed at providing physical, emotional and financial support when one member dies. When you come to think of it, bus-og is very important to most members; it’s like a psychologist, a banker and labor agency rolled into one.
What is its purpose? As implied from my above-description, the purpose of bus-og is to extend emotional support to surviving family members (emotional psychology 101) as well as providing financial support (bank) and physical labor assistance (labor agency) during burial when one member dies.
The short video clip above was taken during our mother’s burial. Our family was still in grief that time and we were grateful we have the bus-og of Diez Clan. Members of the bus-og contributed a certain amount of money, firewood and rice. The “Lihukon” or the labor committees were also efficient in helping us in preparing the burial and in feeding the visitors.
Boholanos in general are people who are more into helping each other. We can easily knock on our neighbor’s door to ask for salt… Tease us about Ija-ija Aho-aho, we don’t care!
If you know some best traits and practices of Boholanos that you wanted to share with us, don’t be shy to share it in the comment.