Getting to Know the Igorots – The Impact of Money
It is often said that money is the root of all evil. It is also said that money
makes the world go round. Whatever the truth, money is a fundamental
part of our societies and we tend to accept it as a necessary evil at worst
and as a necessity and a positive influence at best. But is it really good
for us? Can it buy us happiness?
When the Igorots of the
Philippines ruled the Cordillera
there was no money. Goods were
exchanged on a barter basis, perhaps a bag rice for a gold
charm or two bags of rice for a pig and so forth. At that
time the culture was interesting too. If you were poor or
homeless you would be welcome in my home. My wealth
was my fields and perhaps my pigs and chickens. Having
you in my home was handy because you could help me in
various ways and that help would of course increase my wealth particularly if you help me work
the fields. So there is a net gain for me to look after you.
This kind of economy worked perfectly in the
mountains. Since there was benefit to helping each
other there was no one on the streets begging, there
was no one without a roof over his or her head. In fact
not helping someone in trouble would have been an
insult to the people of the community, it was essential
that everyone was cared for whether healthy and
strong or weak and infirm.
Then came money when the Americans managed to
get into the mountains. At first the people didn’t really
know what to do with it. Whatever they needed could
be had by traditional barter. But over half a century
there were more and more things that couldn’t be had
through barter. Slowly, gradually, money became a
growing issue and need. As hearths were replaced
money was needed to buy the propane for the stove.
As candles and torches were replaced money was
needed to buy electricity for the lights. Eventually
taxation was introduced which also required money,
the government couldn’t build a road with bags of rice.
But, now came a cultural shift. Where my wealth was
initially in my fields and in my granary, increasingly
with each decade wealth was measured more and more
in terms of how much money I had accumulated and
stored away. Oh the fields still had value of course but
only in relation to how much money I might get by
selling them, and my harvest had a similar value, it was dependent upon what I could earn selling
it in the market.
Suddenly if you came to my house now to
seek my help I would not be inclined to
welcome you in. To feed you and house you
would cost me money now, it would reduce
my wealth and even if you did help me in
the fields, the odds are that I would gain less
from that help resulting in a net loss to my
wealth. Suddenly, the indigent were no
longer welcomed into the homes and were
instead forced into the streets to beg and to
try to find shelter from the rain.
Money also made it possible for me to acquire things that I had never acquired before. But now I
had to lock my house to protect these new acquisitions and at the same time there were people on
the streets that would covet them and try to
take them from me. As money became more
common I no longer needed to work. I could
hire people to solve my problems for me. In
the longer term this led to things like
garbage cascading down the side of a
mountain, like beggars in the streets of
Baguio, like more and more people
suffering because they could not afford
health care. It led to a culture of coveting
possessions instead of sharing lives. It led to
increasingly more domestic challenges as
spouses started to argue about not having
enough money. And money created commerce. Instead of a weekly market in our local
community larger and larger retailers and services came into being forcing us to have ever more
money to be able to afford those things they sell and that we are convinced we have to have.
Gone was that nice life where I worked hard to plant, and later harvest, my fields and in between
relaxed often for a month or two. These were replaced
by my having now to work at least five days a week to
be able to afford all the things I have started to covet. To
recover some of my free time I buy a washer and other
labour saving devices but it’s a vicious circle for now I
have to also work harder to be able to afford to get these
devices repaired when they break.
These are all issues I never thought about until I
personally witnessed the growing effects of money.
Today I look upon money as a necessary evil too, it’s
our form of barter but at the same time it’s also an evil for it has destroyed our compassion for
our fellow man and woman and it has ended our leisure time. It’s an evil for many earn money
without producing anything. I don’t have a replacement for money so I have to accept it but at the
same time I also mourn the loss of values, customs and leisure time that existed before it came
into being. Something to think about.