The Mansaka of Compostela Valley

Mansaka Portrait

Earlier this month I spent a week getting to know and learn more about the Mansaka people who live in and around Compostela Valley, Mindanao. The Mansaka are just one of a number of indigenous groups living in Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte, but they are the most numerous in the area. I had the kind privileged to spend time with a number of Mansaka families, witnessing life as it is today, both in their more traditional rural communities and in the modern city of Tagum. I learned about their many traditions, beliefs and the changes that are happening within the tribe, but more importantly, I witnessed an incredible sense of pride, even among the younger generation, and what it means for them to be called Mansaka. READ FULL STORY AND SEE PHOTOS

The Forgotten Ten Exhibit a Success

The Forgotten Ten exhibit came to a close last week after a successful opening and two week showing at the Yuchengco Museum. The exhibit will now move to a number of universities around Metro Manila before the prints are retired to different organizations. We had a lot of support in promoting the event including the Manila Times, Smile Magazine, Rappler, Business World, Choose Philippines and a number of social media sites and blogs (including ferdzdecena, langyaw and pinaytraveljunkie). This really helped us get a good turn-out which we are very thankful for.  The exhibit provided a great way to reach out to more people and helped us make important connections for continuing the project into the future.  Thank you to everyone who came to the exhibit or supported the event in some way, it wouldn’t have been possible without your help.

People of the Mountains – Igorots of the Cordilleras

Three weeks in the Cordilleras of Luzon and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of experiencing the rich cultures that make up the Igorot people. This is a common trend I have experienced while working on the Katutubong Filipino Project and one reason I hope to extended the project longer term, perhaps for another three years. More time is needed. This is especially true when trying to tell the story of the Igorot people who live in six different provinces with over 20 tribes all speaking different languages, practicing different rituals, and have different beliefs and cultures. Visiting the Cordilleras was like stepping into another country for me, a drastic change in geography and people’s general positive outlook and attitude toward their own way of life. Although I wasn’t able to visit all six provinces that make up the Cordilleras, this trip did provide as an excellent introduction to the area and whetted my appetite to learn and experience more on a return trip. READ FULL STORY AND SEE PHOTOS

The Mangyan of Mindoro

Last month I made a long awaited trip to the island of Mindoro to visit some of the different Mangyan groups there. This trip took a few months to arrange and I was very excited our journey happened as I have been wanting to visit Mindoro for a long time. Although, we knew it would not be easy to get access to the different communities we wanted to visit, our contacts and non-stop effort explaining and promoting the Katutubong Filipino Project helped us significantly on this trip. There are 8 different Mangyan groups (Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tau-buid, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunoo and Ratagnon) on the island of Mindoro and all are distinctively different including their languages. Mangyan is just the collective term used for the indigenous peoples found on Mindoro.

Something unique to the indigenous Mangyan of Mindoro is how well organized their groups are. All eight groups have active tribal councils and they are very strict about what visitors can enter their communities. Each group also has formal bylaws with penalties for different crimes that are committed. To enter the different communities we had to get clearance from the tribal leaders, the tribal councils and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples with formal letters and documentation about our project. It was all a little daunting and we never knew if we would be approved or not until we arrived. In the end we made some wonderful friends with the different mayors (tribal leaders) and they all seemed very excited about the work we are doing. We are very thankful for being approved by all the communities we visited and we are already excited about our return trip. READ FULL STORY AND SEE PHOTOS

On Mindanao’s Lumads and Horse Fighting

Over the past month I have made two separate trips to Mindanao in the hopes to document the ethnic sport of horse fighting that is still occasionally practiced by the areas Lumads (indigenous peoples). My first trip was during Davao’s Kadayawan Festival, which is an annual week long celebration featuring the different tribes from Davao. This festival is like most other festivals in the Philippines, complete with street dancing, beauty pageants and plenty of people walking around the streets. In years past horse fighting was one of the side events at the Kadayawan Festival and was the sole reason I made the trip to Davao. Sadly, the tribal Chieftain, Datu Causing Ogao, who was in charge of this years horse fighting was murdered only three weeks before the festival. This murder was one of three tribal murders in the same time frame throughout this part of Mindanao. The New People’s Army (NPA) took responsibility for these acts, but as of now there still has been no investigation by the government into the matter. Needless to say, the horse fighting activities did not happen. Many of the tribes decided to either boycott the festival or were afraid to leave their homes due to the murders. Because I was already in Davao, I ended up spending my time with the different tribes that did gather for the festivities. Most of them were staying at local elementary schools and I tried to make the best use of my time by taking portraits of the people I met. READ FULL STORY AND SEE PHOTOS

Back in the Sierra Madres with our Agta Friends

Things often do not turn out the way you might expect them to. Such was the case during my recent trip back to the Sierra Madres. I returned to a part of Isabela and Cagayan provinces to visit some old Agta friends from last year. Upon returning this time I had a plan to go on a hunt with some of the men, a hunt for wild pig, deer or monkey. These are game items that the Agta still hunt for occasionally in the forest to eat or sell to locals. I was excited about this trip and thought with the contacts I had made everything would fall into place fairly easily. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Uncontrollable circumstances such as bad weather, broken transportation, and previous obligations of my contacts lead to a serious amount of time waiting. Watching the pouring down rain, sitting on the side of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere and waiting for conditions to become just right for a hunt. Conditions that never happened during my two week visit. READ FULL STORY AND SEE PHOTOS

The Palawan Tau’t Bato of Singnapan Valley

The Tau’t Bato (Tao’t Bato, Taaw’t Bato) are really just a subgroup of the larger Pala’wan indigenous group. They speak the native Pala’wan language and practice many of the same beliefs of the Pala’wan. The only difference being this particular community, those living in the area of Singnapan valley, take shelter in the large nearby caves during the rainy season. Because of the heavy rains and flooding within the valley during the wet months taking shelter within the caves is their best protection. During the dry season each family has its own land and house within the valley. The name Tau’t Bato was given to these people by President Marcos back in the 70′s because of their cave existence.
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Staying Motivated While On The Road

by: Nahoma Maentz

I consider myself fortunate to have done a bit of traveling around the Philippines when I was younger. While others may have their sights set on going overseas, I was more hooked locally. I wanted to see my own. Get to know it first before “conquering the world”. I was always intrigued about the rice terraces of Banaue, the mummies in Kalinga, the reefs in Apo Island and Malapascua, the Philippine eagles in Davao, the lush forests in Negros Island, of the high Maria Cristina Falls, of that aircraft debris up in Mt. Manunggal and more. I’ve always wondered, what could be in all those 7,107 islands that make up the archipelago? I kept hearing in school that this country is rich in natural resources. All those black and white textbooks said it. All those backpackers said it. All those Philippine post cards showing turquoise-green waters located in God knows where said it.

So I did go, whenever I could afford to and saw with my very own eyes that it’s not a lie. Indeed, the Philippines is an absolutely beautiful country, from its mountains down to its seas. No doubt about it. It’s worth exploring every nook and cranny. Well, except the big cities.

Oma with Tumihays family in southern Palawan, a Tau't Bato tribe.

With the Katutubong Filipino Project we get to see more of the country especially those locations that are harder to reach. While I am grateful for this rare opportunity, going to all these almost inaccessible places is starting to take its toll on me, physically and emotionally. Whereas those long and bumpy, very dusty bus rides from before meant nothing but sheer fun to my once youthful, adventurous spirit, I find myself whining lately. I am slugging, so to speak. My husband can very well attest to that.

I can’t however allow myself be overcome with these inconveniences. It is certainly true that there are days when I’d rather be stuck in my comfort zone than out in the field. When I’d wish for a softer bed to lay on at night. And better-tasting meals. There is one thing however, that I believe will carry me through until the project is finished. And they are the people we encounter, the local folks – our trike drivers, boatmen, the kagawads and barangay captains, the sari-sari store owners who gladly volunteer to cook for us, our little companions during bath-times in the river. They who have been our trustworthy guides, who didn’t ask for much or anything. Most of the time, these are the people who linger in our memory long after we’ve settled back into our normal lives.

The beauty of the natural environment will always leave me in awe but the people we meet in these far-flung areas are by far, the most nurturing to the soul. They live in downright simplicity in places that, for one who lives in and deals constantly with the trappings of a ‘modern’ world , seem so out there. Forgotten. Left behind. Nothing that you would fancy materially. Their life is very simple but really, what more can one need other than food, a roof above their heads, a family? Whatever they lack in an otherwise material world, they make up with their kindred spirits. I am always humbled every time our tricycle driver picks us up early mornings with such eagerness and his trike proudly waiting, all cleaned up. We tell him where to go and almost always takes us somewhere else, beyond our expectations. He waits patiently. He communicates on our behalf. He shares with us a little bit about himself, what makes him happy, his hopes and dreams and at the end of the day, invites us into his home for some gin and fish soup.

There is that one time too after the usual devoid-of-comfort, 3-hour bus ride going into a remote barangay, where we ended up staying at a Kagawad’s house. Not only did they give us the best room (to think we were complete strangers!), our stay also allowed me to witness a most loving relationship between a lola and Carl, an 8-year old grandchild with cerebral palsy. I’ve never been this close before to one afflicted with such and now that I’ve seen what it is like, I’d say nothing else must have kept them going except pure love. I secretly shared that special bond for the three days we stayed with them, delighted just to watch them together. Carl is a happy boy loved by everyone around him and I went away not a bit bothered about the ride going back into town.

Oh, and that night of singing nursery rhymes to Tumihay’s children deep in the valley. What a joy! I started it to entertain them as there was just no way for us to understand each other. They all fell silent as they watched me sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars and other silly songs I could think of. When I got done with one, they wanted me to sing some more because for them it’s “mangayun” meaning, beautiful. My heart literally melted. How easy it is to please them! I could only wish I had more time to sing for them. They are a lovely bunch of happy kids.

These are just among a few memorable characters we’ve been fortunate enough to have known. We don’t get it easy all the time as not everyone can be pleasant to deal with. But I’ve noticed that in all the places we’ve visited so far, we always manage to find exactly the right person that can point us to where we ought to go. It’s as if Someone was making sure we are guided well and I take that as a great blessing.

I am convinced now that in every long, arduous, back-breaking journey that still lies ahead of us, there’s a pot of gold waiting when we arrive. I have learned not to worry too much anymore. Someone will be there to take care of us. Without fail. For human kindness abounds in every corner of this planet. Gentle yet strong enough to move us in many, unimaginable ways.

When in my youth the scenery was all I could think of, that seems not to matter anymore. I hold closer to my heart now every person, child and family that offered the best of what little they have, opened their doors freely and welcomed us in. Knowing that they are everywhere, especially in places most unfamiliar to us, is enough for me to set aside any discomfort and focus on what is life-enriching.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ” Philippians 4:8

Coron and the Calamian Tagbanua

The Tagbanua people are descendents of some of the oldest people in the Philippines likely coming from Borneo and historically had strong relations with Brunei. Today there are various subgroups of the Tagbanua throughout the province of Palawan. In Coron, the Tagbanua are distinct from the Tagbanua on mainland Palawan, not only in their language spoken but also their general way of life. The Calamian Tagbanua (those living on Coron Island and on mainland Coron/Busuanga and surrounding islands) have adopted a sea oriented way of life, living off of the ocean and its resources. The majority of Tagbanua in Coron live in two communities on Coron Island (a different island than mainland Coron). In recent years Coron Island has had an influx of visitors, both foreign and local, because of it’s stunning beauty. Many tourists will spend a day visiting a few different lakes on the island which are open to the pubic, including Kayangan and Twin Lakes. However, the majority of Coron Island is still off limits to guests who do not have permits to be there. In 2003, Coron Island and its surrounding waters was declared ancestral domain for the Tagbanua and they now restrict where people can visit on the island. We are told that many of the most beautiful lakes on Coron Island are sacred burial grounds for the Tagbanua and only those Tagbanua who own land on the island can visit them. Although getting to the sacred lakes would not be possible, Coron Island would still serve as our starting point to explore the Calamian Tagbanua. READ FULL STORY WITH PHOTOS

The Tigwahanon Manobo

The Bukidnon plateau is home to seven of the 18 different indigenous groups found in Mindanao. After doing some research I decided it would be a great place to visit for starting the Katutubong Filipino Project. Although our travel to Bukidnon was fairly short we learned a lot about the Lumad people (the Visayan word collectively used for all indigenous people in Mindanao). We spent most of the week with a Manobo community high in the mountains of San Fernando municipality. The Manobo people are just one of the 18 Lumad groups found in Mindanao, however, they have a number of subgroups with slight language differences and practices. The different Manobo tribes are semi-autonomous from the Philippine government and have their own laws, practices and judgements given by tribal chieftains (Datus). Read Full Story with Images