Empowering the indigenous peoples

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Thursday, February 20, 2014

(Last of Three Parts)

IN INDIGENOUS Peoples Education, the transmitters of knowledge play very important roles. They could be the parents, the elders, the leaders, spiritual and cultural experts, historians, healers or tourism officers. I did my role in a hard way. I was made to undergo teaching-learning process.

My exposure in the Bukidnon Tribes of Sitio Sibato in Barangay Guimbalaon includes the following: learning by doing, learning by reflecting, learning by being, learning by connecting, and learning by associating.


The Bukidnon Tribe elders were in Negros Occidental before World War II. They were here as “sacadas” (transient workers). They came from the upland areas between Iloilo and Capiz. The first wave settled in Sitio Sibato. They preferred to work independently as farmers than to work as sugarcane workers under the “hacendados.”

With them, they brought their literature: riddles, sayings, parables, myth, fables, legends and beliefs. The council of elders could still chant the “Hinilawod” that they learned from the “Binukot Princess” of their original tribe. “Hinilawod” epic has been inspired by the story of ten Bornean Datus who landed in Panay. (This could be a subject to a bloody debate.) The Bukidnons are good artists. Artistic inclinations are shown in house designs (with symbols), carvings, indigenous dyes used in their clothes. They also engage in weaving, basket making, wood crafts, bead works and embroidery. Each piece of art refers back to their culture.

As settlers in Sibato, the elders establish community landmarks, an attribution of community to the name of the tribe and clans. They come up with their genealogy, identity, territorial boundaries, and provide qualifications to their leaders. Customary laws include marriage system (pangaluyag, pamalayi, pakasal, pamunsyon). Settlement of conflicts could be through a dialogue or thorough consultation with the council of elders. Their politics is based on justice or peace pact system by developing trust and confidence.

The economic system is simple. There is no cut-throat competition. They gathered food from the forest and later settled for organized farming.
The stream and the river serve as a rich fishing ground. They have identified crops for the rainy or dry season. They use herbal pesticides and organic fertilizers. (Gov. Marañon will love it.) They also hunt because there is enough in the wilderness. They raise animals in the open range (no ranching, or battery chicken). Each family is gifted to identify his own goat or chicken among the many.

Civilization is highlighted in their material culture. They have utensils, tools, weapons, musical instruments, woven clothing, body adornments, food and drink, fishing or hunting materials, harvest equipment, ritual facilities, and sacred symbols.

The religious beliefs and rituals are rooted in animism. They believe in diwata, bulalakaw, engkanto, and in the supreme power of the sun, moon, and stars. A medicine man with healing power prescribes the herbs to be used in illnesses; while the Babaylan intercedes with the spirits. The abode of the spirits (Palhi) could be lunok, dapdap, bungsod or gikab.

I saw the elder planting camote cuttings. It was one fine late afternoon. He was planting in the first row (panudlak). He was naked while murmuring to the spirits. When asked later why he was naked, he answered, “I want my camotes to be like my testicles (bigger). The spirits have approved my request.” Women are not allowed to do the “panudlak.” Women would have splits in the camote like you know what. I don’t buy the idea but it is a part of the superstitious belief.

Before planting rice, the elder would go around the field to talk to the spirits that they will protect the area from pests while “palay” is growing until harvest time. When “palay” is pregnant, harmful insects would like to eat them. The elder is making his own covenant with the spirits. The spirits will have 30 percent of the share, and they can harvest the night before the reaping.

The life of the IPs is interesting. They are the backbone of our present society. They are like us but they are also different. Nothing shapes our life more than the commitments we choose to make. They always define us.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 20, 2014.


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