Tuesday, April 26, 2016

*402. GEN. LUCAS, KING OF BALUGAS.

LUCAS, KING OF BALUGAS, arrayed in regal splendor, in military uniform, boots, hat, and complete with military medals, badges and a swagger stick. 1922. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jim Biven.

Our history shows that Negritos (Balugas, now used pejoratively) , like other ethnic groups, have always been marginalized since the day lowlanders took over their lands and conquistadors drove them back into the far reaches of the islands, in uncharted mountains and forests. Still others were sold into slavery.

No wonder, Negritos continued to be nomadic in their ways, unable to integrate with other Filipinos. For many years, this has helped them retain their customs and tradition, including their system of leadership.

 The American Thomasite Luther Parker, in his report on work among Pampanga Negritos in 1908, wrote about a certain “King of All Negritos of Pampanga”, by the name of Lazaro. But while the Negritos did have their own leadership system, there were no “kings” to speak of. Among the clans in their community, seniority is equated to authority. The oldest member of the clan was sought for advice, especially when tribal transgressions took place, and was looked up to as a chief.

 It was an American general who first gave a Negrito a royal title--Gen. Johnson Hagood--who took command of Camp Stotsenburg in 1922. By the time of his assignment, the Negritos had become privileged visitors of the post, silently paddling across officers’ residences, peddling orchids, ferns, animals and cultural souvenirs like bows and arrows to the foreigners. Negritos had easy access to the camp, and Americans let them be—even gamely posing with the naked natives for photos.

Gen. Hagood was also fascinated by these dark-skinned Filipinos; he even wrote many anecdotes about them, which filled up 7 pages of his published 2-volume memoirs.

 Beyond his amusement and interest, Gen. Hagood shared the belief with fellow Americans that help and protection would not come from the local government; hence, he viewed the Negritos with paternalistic concern. The one who struck most his fancy was the Baluga chief, “General Lucas”, an elderly Negrito with a dignified mien and who conducted himself with a confident air.

 Gen. Lucas once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wielding a sword” and wearing an assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations”, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified him as “a prize bull”.

 Hagood proclaimed Gen. Lucas as “King of Balugas ”, and gave him a peace-keeping role in his region that was often beset by feuding Baluga tribes. He was elevated to kingship in the presence of hundreds of fellow tribe members and amidst great fanfare as Gen. Hagood conferred more decorations to the new king. He was given the titles "Defender of the Orchids” and the “Grand Commander of the Order of Dead Mules, Second Class”.

 Of course, the ceremonies were all done in good humor, but Gen. Lucas took his title seriously, even posing for an “official royal photo” smartly dressed in military regalia. What his fellow Negritos felt or thought of at that time can never be known, but for the next decades, they continued to become fixtures of Clark Field, with many families settling in “Baluga Village” in the 1970s. They enjoyed perks such as free medical care (the base hospital allocated a budget for them), free food from welfare groups run by the wives of American servicemen, and they could also set up stalls to sell “authentic” souvenir weapons (actually, Manila-made).

 King Lucas is now but a blur in our memory, a king of nothing with his small” kingdom” nearly gone—swallowed by Pinatubo, taken over by malls and resorts, stolen by unscrupulous land grabbers. Even the culture and traditions of his race are being obliterated and changed by modernism. Help from the government has been too long in coming. Yet, the hardiness of these simple, free-spirited Filipinos remains, but only time will tell if this is enough for their future survival.

1 comment:

the blogger said...

Fantastic Post. I always adore Philippines Natives. As a Pampangeneos Myself its very sad that after the Mount Pinatubo Eruption, After losing their high ground now they need to survive in the suburb where most people are arrogant and already forgot the root of our culture.