THERE’S nothing like being behind closed doors talking with the 11 Hiyas ng Kadayawan candidates. There you get to see them face to face and listen to their thoughts, dreams, and the struggles of their people.
Hiyas ng Kadayawan is the pageant in the Kadayawan Festival to search for the festival’s muse.
But unlike all other festival muses, this one focuses on the cultural roots of the candidates.
“Ever since, I’ve been against pitting women of the tribes against each other,” says festival consultant Id Acaylar. But given the mechanics of the search, somehow it becomes more than just a competition, but more of a much-needed venue, a stage on which a candidate is given the very rare opportunity to speak to an audience and bring out their stories.
Thus, the Hiyas is not a beauty contest since beauty and stage presence is not in any of its criteria. Rather, it focuses on the candidate’s knowledge and grasp of their issues, culture, and arts; their identities.
Amid the loud cheers inside the Almendras Gym during the finals night, as kin, tribesfolks, and supporters root for their candidate, the audience is given a glimpse into their people’s situations.
Three, in showing where they live, showed how life has been since the big fire that started in Isla Verde: the Sama, Iranun, and Maranao.
Cesa Mae K. Tangkih of the Sama tribe, which counts among them the SamaDilaut better known as Badjaos, lives right at Isla Verde in a temporary shelter made of “trapal”. The same with Bai Mina a. Elata of the Iranun tribe.While Hida-ya B. Pola’s neighborhood is just as stark.
Asked what is their tribe’s most pressing issue and what is her advocacy, Cesa Mae broke out in a heart-rending speech about the state they have to live in since the first in April as she appealed for faster action for them to be allowed to build permanent homes once more and be provided the much-needed water supply.
Since the fire, she said, they only have one water source for everyone.
“Even if we will not have electricity yet, anyway we only use electricity at night for lights and we can use flashlights and solar for that, but we cannot live without water. We cannot pray without water, we cannot cook without water,” she said.
During the closed door interview Cesa Mae couldn’t help but break down in tears when asked about their community.
It has been very difficult hence, she said, because they are still not allowed to move back in and build their homes. The City Engineer’s is still doing some other stuff, she said. It was difficult at the evacuation center, it’s just as difficult in their trapal houses.
Susan M. Batawan, who was crowned Hiyas ng Kadayawan, was a standout from the very start. From the Ata tribe, her hair was long and kinky and her skin darker than all others. But her grasp of their situation and her simple dreams for her people can win you over.
Taking up BS Elementary Education major in Pre-School, Susan said she really intends to return to her village once she finishes her course and teach the young children so that her people will not be caught in the cycle of poverty that many of them are caught in right now.
Living in Tapak, Paquibato district, the most remote barangay of Paquibato that can be accessed through Sto. Tomas or Panabo in Davao del Norte.
The third of nine children, she is the only one among her village-folk who has reached college level.
“Kay lasang pa man ‘tong amoa, ako ra gyud nag-inusara didto (Because our place is very remote, I am the only one in college from there),” she said. “Ako lang ang wala nagminyo og nagpadayon og eskwela,” she added when asked who among those in her tribes in their 20s are like her.
Three younger sisters are even already married.
But she is determined to get her degree and become a teacher, so determined such that when asked a hypothetical question of what she will tell Education Secretary Armin Luistro if given a chance to talk to him, all she wants is the education secretary to do is to assign her there.
“Ang akong ikasugyot, hatagan ko og pabor nga didto ko makatudlo sa lugar na akong gikahimutangan (all I can say is that the secretary grant me the favor of assigning me in my village),” was how she said it.
Egged on what else she would ask given the opportunity, she said, “I-deploy konimodayon” before breaking in engaging laughter.
She dreams of having more Ata teachers and less youths who marry early.
“Mahimo man gud siyang poverty cycle. Sakultura, ang bata pa ipaminyo na kay makatabang ang bata sa ilaha, pero nahimo na hinoon complicated ang problem sa tribo kay kulang sa edukasyon (It’s a poverty cycle. While it is in our culture to marry young, with the perception that by marrying young the children can help their families, the problem of poverty becomes more complicated since this means the children go without education),” she said.
Noteza M. Nogan of the Ubo-Manuvu tribe is in a similar situation. Among the 11 candidates, she is the only one who has not reached college. She graduated high school from the Philippine Women’s College she said, but there is no longer money for higher education. She considered applying for a scholarship with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) but had to let go of that dream because the NCIP only gives P15,000 per scholar.
“Dili man gyud ka makaita og ikadugang niana. Ang akong papa, tabangonon gyud kaayo siya (I do not have any means to raise our counterpart. My father is in dire need),” she said.
There are a total of 18 siblings in the family. Six from the first wife and 12 from Noteza’s mother because of the practice of duway.
Tribal folks still practice duway or having more than one wife.
She found work in the household of a chef but had to leave because of the Hiyas.
She learned a lot there through YouTube, she said, because her employer would encourage her to learn to cook many recipes with the help of YouTube.
Thus, she has found creative ways to enhance even their indigenous cooking.
“Ginabutangan nako og gamay creativity (I use a little creativity),” she said, thus she does not only boil cassava and gabi as they would do, but have also been making chips out of these.
Given the opportunity, she would really want to be a lawyer. But at 20, that will mean a lot of sacrifices, including not giving up having a family, maybe.
She wants her people to have their own lawyer who can defend them, as they have been ill-represented and made to suffer slow judicial processes like a cousin who was arrested without a warrant and who appears to have been just a victim of mistaken identity. He was incarcerated for two years and still nothing happened to the case. He has since been released, but has not been cleared of the crime.
“Mag-lawyer sa akong tribo sa dili madala sa customary laws (I want to be the legal counsel of my people in cases that are beyond the coverage of customary laws),” she said.
Noteza is from Lower Kibalang along the Kulafu River in Marilog District.
Just as desperate for education is Chally Lou A. Lacaran, who in desperation landed in an AB Theology course at the Davao Vision College in Catalunan Grande. This school trains preachers.
Like Noteza, she tried applying for a college scholarship with NCIP, but unlike Noteza, she was not even granted interview. She was not even entertained all because of the color of her skin.
Fairer than normal Matigsalogs, she was rejected.
She is Matigsalog, she insists except that her father had Hiagonon and Bol-anon blood.
Her knowledge of their ulahing oranda and komapoy and their people’s myths would show she has a full grasp of their culture. But she was not given the chance to prove this to the NCIP. Thus she was not accepted.
She researched on what schools offer full scholarships for lumads like her and she found Davao Wisdom Academy.
“Mao 'to pagkabalo ko naay scholarship sa Davao Vision College, nag-apply ko. Natingala nalang ko sa interview na nag-God-God na man 'to sila (When I learned that they grant scholarship at Davao Vision College, I immediately applied. I was perplexed when they started talking about God during the interview),” she said.
But she’s not about to give up on her beliefs saying she has found parallelisms in the Christian and bible-based beliefs to theirs, including what it takes to reach heaven, considering that their great ancestor Datu Tulalang, also reached heaven along with several others.
Kessia Carol D. Tar of the Bagobo-Clata tribe, a BS in Accounting Technology student of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), is of a tribe that is fast disappearing, and it causes he distress.
Determined to learn more about her roots, she said, it has been very difficult because very few of her people know much to share.
This is very sad, she said, because the Bagobo-Clata tribe is among the first ones to be truly educated and yet were not able to preserve much.
Kessia counts among her ancestors Datu Baguio, after whom Baguio District was named. From Datu Baguio’s lineage had come lawyers and other professionals.
“I envy those tribes nana-preserve nilaang culture,” she said. There are still those who know, she said, but it will take a lot of effort just to find them.
“Kami natribo, kailangan pa naming ma-learn ang mga kultura na dapat pinasa sa amin (We still have to research on our culture that should’ve just been handed down to us),” she added.
They’re trying to recover lost ground she said, but reaching out to the youth and the children and fanning their interest in their dialect and songs. That will do, for the moment.
There are more stories to tell, both heartbreaking and funny and heartbreakingly funny. But with 11 stories to tell, there will never be enough space. Aside from the Sama, Iranun, Maranao, Matigsalog, Ata, and Bagobo Clata, the other candidates and their tribes are: Liezel Mae O. Anca of the Tagabawa-Bagobo, a 19-year-old Bachelor of Elementary Education student Bai Azmyelah M. Latip of the Maguindanao tribe taking up BS Finance at the Ateneo de Davao University. Fahmia E. Basari of the Tausug tribe living in Tibungco and a BS Biology student, and Amiela T. Lubama a BS Elementary Education student from the Kagan tribe in Waan.
The fact that they were able to tell their stories, however, have somehow already given them the impetus to hold on to their identities and claim these as distinctly theirs that is worthy of living up to and keeping. If only for that, then the Hiyas ng Kadayawan pageant has already fulfilled its goal.