24 January, 2020

Understanding the Lumad

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Understanding the Lumad

Understanding the Lumad

A Closer Look at a Misunderstood Culture


This book hopes to help readers gain better insight into the Lumad culture. It celebrates the Lumads’ right to be different. It hopes to contribute to the effort of correcting the historical injustice done to the Lumads for centuries.



The Manobo village of Sitio Talos in barangay San Jose is just a 30-minute habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) ride from the town of Santo Tomas (also locally known as Tibal-og) in Davao del Norte. “Among the 11 indigenous communities we are supposed to visit, the village is the easiest to reach,” Ruel, a former staff of Silingang Dapit sa Sidlakang Mindanao (SILDAP-SE), said at the beginning of the trip.

Surprisingly, the road was well-kept, owing to the banana plantations that (unfortunately) replaced the trees in the mountains. But halfway through the smooth, rolling ride, we happened to turn around and found ourselves staring down a precarious ravine far below.

“This is what’s happening to us,” Datu Dumakonog Tumaytay, the Manobo leader in Talos, reflected as soon as we got to his place near the top of the mountain. “We are pushed deeper and deeper into the forest.”
“But why do we shun the life below?” he continued. “As Manobo, we don’t want trouble. We want to keep to ourselves. We like the peace, the breeze that only the mountains can give. We leave the chaos to those below.”

Beyond the bluish haze of distant hills lies the Pantaron range, the sacred hunting ground of the Manobo. The place still remained untouched by mining and logging. But another Manobo leader has been waging a pangayao (ultimate act of the tribe to seek justice) to defend the area against a big logging company whose project had begun to encroach into their ancestral land.

The Manobo is just one of the Mindanao Lumad groups whose stories are included in this book. But Datu Dumakonog Tumaytay’s remark echoed down the 11 indigenous peoples we visited in the course of the writing and the validation of this book.

In the Philippines, laws like the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) define the indigenous peoples as those who have been living in the land since time “immemorial” and who have retained their customs and beliefs, including the economic, political and cultural system, practiced by their ancestors even before the years of colonization.

But the movement of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas, which started in the Spanish period and has continued up to this day, had driven the Lumad (collective name for the indigenous peoples of Mindanao) deeper into the last remaining forests. These days, there are 18 indigenous groups living in the most difficult areas in Mindanao.

But it is not just the bad roads, the ravines and the difficult terrain that have separated the Lumad from the people below. Through the years, the Lumad have managed to keep their customs and traditions intact but differences in worldviews with settlers and other newcomers have given rise to long standing biases and misunderstandings.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has set the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples around the world. It has also re-affirmed the Lumad right “to their distinct culture” and the right to their ancestral lands.

But up to this day, the Lumad are not only driven away from their lands. Derogatory attitude towards their culture also continues to take root in the consciousness of non-Lumad, making life even more difficult for the Lumad. Oftentimes, we hear statements that plainly reflect this attitude.

“Ah, hugaw kaayo ka, mura man ka’g Manobo (You’re so dirty, you look like a Manobo)” or “Guapu lagi ka? Mura ka’g di Mansaka (You look handsome. You don’t look like a Mansaka at all),” are statements oftentimes spoken right to their faces.

By coming up with this book that introduces the culture of the Lumad, the non government organizations SILDAP-SE and Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) hope to address this bias.

This book hopes to help readers gain better insight into the Lumad culture. It celebrates the Lumad right to their distinct culture. It also forms part of the SILDAP-SE’s campaign to end other forms of discrimination against the Lumad. It is done with the hope that the new generation of Lumad in Mindanao will begin to appreciate deeper their culture, instead of being alienated from it.

Physical constraints, however, have limited the scope of this book to only 11 indigenous peoples in Mindanao. These are indigenous peoples that SILDAP-SE has already established contacts with, like the Mandaya of Davao Oriental, the Mansaka of Compostela Valley, the Dibabawun of Kapalong and the Manobo of Davao del Norte, where SILDAP-SE runs a number of schools for Lumad children.

They also include the B’laan of Mt. Matutom, the Bagobo of Davao del Sur, the Manobo of Agusan del Sur, the Teduray in Upi, Maguindanao, the Subanen in Zamboanga, the Higaonon in Cagayan de Oro and the Mamanwa in Surigao. They are indigenous groups that SILDAP-SE had established indirect links through the network of non government groups working with the Lumad.

Quite a number of books have already been written about the Lumad in Mindanao. But this is the first conscious attempt to involve the leaders of the community in the process of writing and research, in the hope that in doing so, this book will reflect the Lumad views and perspectives.

As a non government organization working with the Lumad for the last 27 years, SILDAP-SE took rigorous care in consulting with key leaders of the communities and convincing them to take part in the project. Researchers entering each of the areas followed standards of protocol, asking permission from the communities before doing the research. After the actual writing, the material was presented back to them for validation and review before it underwent another set of revisions and rewriting.

From the first Manobo village we visited for the validation activities, this book brought us to other Lumad villages more difficult to reach. On the way to sitio Batiano of Caraga town in Davao Oriental, a road was scraped to connect Caraga to the Maragusan town of Compostela Valley in the opposite side of the mountain. But villagers pointed out that the new road network actually led to villages where potential mining exploration would be done.

Towards dusk, in a Mansaka village in Maragusan, we sat, knees on our chins, in the porch of one of the houses, looking up at the looming shadow of Mt. Kandaraga, when Babo Felina Pacio, our Mansaka host, recounted the story told to her by her mother and her grandmother: how one day a long, long time ago, the ground around the daraga (maiden) crumbled, leaving untouched the place where she was seated. That was how the mountain “Kandaraga” came to be called. Babo Felina pointed to the portion of the mountain where a rock, shaped like a chair, stood. It was the rock where the maiden sat when everything else around her crumbled. “She must have been our great, great grandmother,” Babo Felina said. “We (the Mansaka) must have all descended from her.”

For SILDAP-SE, what is lacking even in the current attempts by groups to promote the culture of the Lumad is the understanding of the basic principle that gave rise to this culture. For a non-Lumad, a B’laan’s tabih is just another cloth or a souvenir.

But for the B’laan, a tabih is not just an item for sale. It is a part of life, linked to their relationship with the land and with each other. There is a whole system in the life of the B’laan that leads to the making of the tabih.
And so, it is with the Mandaya’s dagmay (woven abaca cloth).

In fact, there are lots of things in the culture of the Lumad that a non-Lumad needs to understand, says Allan DeliDeli, the executive director of SILDAP-SE. A Subanen timuay (traditional leader) we talked to during the validation workshop recounted with shock and horror how an academic researcher had “desecrated” their lake near the top of Mt. Malindang by catching the birds and butterflies the Subanen considered sacred and then, stripping the creatures of carcasses to bring them back to the city as stuffed animals.
Ironically, though, the places where the Lumad live are also considered as the country’s last frontier in the battle for resources. A map showing areas with the highest mining potentials and the last remaining forests in Mindanao actually showing that these are also found in the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.
Of the 23 top priority mining projects under then President Arroyo’s mining revitalization program, 10 are in Mindanao, mostly within the ancestral lands of indigenous communities. Aside from mining and logging, big plantations also encroach into these indigenous peoples’ areas; and despite laws like the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act that supposedly protect the indigenous peoples’ rights, big corporations still manage to enter their ancestral domain.

The majority of the Lumad communities included in this book voiced out their disappointment over the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and complained of manipulation in the way that the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) were taken to allow the entry of big companies into their ancestral lands. This is true with the Mandaya in Caraga, Davao Oriental and the Bagobo in sitio Tudaya, Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur.
Since everything about themselves—their culture, their political and economic system—is closely linked with the land, the Lumad find it hard to practice their own culture when they are driven away from the land.
In 2008, the plight of the Subanen struggling against the encroachment of a big Canadian mining company into their ancestral land caught the attention of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD sent the Philippine government a strongly-worded statement, calling to attention the government’s international commitment and the need to respect the Subanen’s right to their ancestral domain.

Sometimes, the struggle to defend the ancestral lands turned some Lumad into fugitives, as in the case of the Talaingod Manobo Datu Guibang Apoga of Salupungan ta Tanu Igkanogon. Datu Guibang waged a pangayao against Alcantara and Sons, Inc. whose Integrated Forest Management Agreement had encroached into their territory.

All the Lumad groups covered in this book consider the struggle for their ancestral domain and the right to self-determination as their most important concern. Without land, they could not practice their own economic and political system, their customs and their tradition.

They are hopeful that this research will help the government understand them as a people.
Except for the Dibabawun, most of the groups feel that their identity has been imposed on them by outsiders without their consent. Although this did not bother some groups, like the Mandaya of Davao Oriental, it was a source of concern for the Manobo of Talos.

Dibabawun leader Datu Biran Casigtuan observed how the difficult struggle for survival and the coming in of settlers have alienated the Lumad from their culture. “Sometimes, we don’t know where we come from anymore,” he said, “Especially when those who could tell us are no longer alive.”

This book hopes to contribute to the effort of correcting the historical injustice done to the Lumad for centuries. We hope that it can generate increased genuine interest in the Lumad culture so that people will gain insights and a deeper understanding of their way of life, and hopefully, address the age-old bias against them as a people.

We hope the Lumad can claim this book as their own.


                                                                         Germelina Lacorte


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