Lîteng is a word in the Kalahan language, and it refers to a concept of gracious living that I came across in the village of Imugan, in Nueva Vizcaya, Northern Luzon, Philippines. From what I understood from my 6-months’ fieldwork two years ago among the Ikalahan — the indigenous residents of Imugan — it is a way of life in harmony with one’s surroundings. And for the Ikalahan, whose name means ‘inhabitants of the oak forests,’ their surroundings are steep mountain forests — lush forests thick and rich with a variety of trees, cold rushing streams, and wildlife. I am grateful to have experienced living in such an idyllic place among lovely, gracious people.
How does that concept of gracious living translate to everyday life? I found that most of the Ikalahan in Imugan that I spent time with were gentle and kind and soft-spoken. And most of all, every activity that they did, in particular the successful ones, they always attributed it to lighthearted, unstressed effort. “Pagay-ayaman laeng,” In the Ilocano language, the lingua franca among the mountain communities in Northern Luzon, Philippines, this means, “It was just for fun, it was only play.” .A man who had successfully put 4 daughters through university with the help of the crops he raised on his mountainside farms was the first who used these words. At the time I thought it was only his way of speaking. But again, a woman who expressed interest in my suggestion of raising Stevia, the naturally sweet leaf that has become a popular low-calorie substitute for sugar, said, “Just for fun, you know.” Nothing too serious or that involved too much calculation for monetary gain. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t, then that was fine too. It was all just for fun. These words would be uttered by other people that I met during that time.
I am thankful to have come across Lîteng — this traditional concept of living graciously, without too much stress and in harmony with one’s surroundings. I would like to think that this was a pre-Hispanic concept that was true for most Philippine communities, and that got wiped out or lost, together with most of our traditional culture with Spanish and subsequently American colonization and the introduction of foreign ways.
For me Lîteng also translates to being content with what one has and making do with what is naturally to hand. For me and my garden, this means trying to find ways to use the trunks and branches that have been pruned from the trees recently in a pre-winter clear-up. I’ve got a huge pile now that I’m waiting to make into decorative trellises or other useful things in the garden. I shall leave a small pile as well for all sorts of wildlife to spend the winter in. I’m hoping to shred the smaller branches for mulch. Birdfeeders and nesting boxes would be good to make too. Thanks to all this free material, my imagination is all excited about the possibilities for all sorts of interesting things for the garden. Just for fun, you know :-). Pagay-ayaman laeng.