Thursday July 19, 2018

Sustaining Matigsalug tribe's rich culture

IT WAS a gloomy Thursday morning, June 8, but seeing the brilliant future of the rich Davao tribe in Marilog District, the Matigsalug, brightened our day.

Upon entering the Matigsalug Council of Elders Marilog District, Davao City, Inc. (Macoemaddaci) Friendship Building, the site of the skills training culmination ceremony for the Matigsalug Indigenous Crafts Project that I was covering, we were welcomed by smiling Matigsalugs (the indigenous people who belong to the Matigsalug tribe) who donned their tribal costumes and accessories, beaming with pride as they showcased their products as output of their training.

In a room of very active and excited Matigsalugs, Ronel Andas, a seventh grader at Marahan National High School caught my attention. This young boy was, at that time, busy examining his personally-made beaded-bracelet, a tribal product of the Matigsalug.

“I made these myself (pointing to his beaded bracelets),” Ronel said in the vernacular.

Last summer, while most of the children were playing or enjoying their vacations, Ronel was busy training for the comprehensive crafts livelihood program, a joint program of the Aboitiz Foundation, Therma South Incorporated and the Department of Trade and Industry.

The training, which started last February, aims to capacitate a group of local residents in producing value-added products out of their traditional baskets, fashion accessories, and wearables. The training was divided in four groups specializing in: Beads and Agham; Pompom (Sangkad); Wearables; and Basketry.

Ronel, who was among the young recipients of the program, shared to SunStar Davao that he enjoys learning to craft their tribal products.

He said that for a day, he could make five well-crafted beaded accessories like necklaces and bracelets.

“Importante jud ni kay usa ni ka pamaagi na mas mailhan namo among kultura sa tribu. Nalingaw kaayo ko kay imbes na magdula ko sa dalan, moanhi na lang ko diri para makatuon. (This is very important because it’s one way of knowing our culture more. I enjoy it because instead of playing non-sense on the streets, I come here to gain more valuable skills),” he said.

While doing the training, when he sees opportunities to excuse himself from the session, he would go straight to their house to do his assigned chores like dishwashing and fetching water.

“Maayo pud ni kay pandungag sa akong adlaw-adlaw na baon. Nakadawat nako og P300 tungod aning training na ginabaligya pud amo mga nahimo, (This is good as it can be a source of income where I can get my daily allowance in school.)” he said.

Next generation

Sitting at a corner, waiting for the program to start is the tribes’ newly-taught but already outstanding dressmaker, Analiza Aguio.

The 29-year-old mother of two and a farmer shared that it is only with the training that she was able to know how to sew and make their tribal wear. In 2015, Aguio joined the pioneer group when DTI-Davao Region extended a donation of 12 sewing machines through its Shared Service Facility (SSF) program. The SSF donation paved way for skills on dressmaking where TSI donated P200,000 worth of sewing tools and raw materials.

“Karon lang ko kabalo pag apil sa training, katong bata pa ko wala mi natudluan kay dili man hilig sa panahi ang akon mga ginikanan, sa tinuod lang gyud, gamay na lang ang kahibalo ani sa among tribu mayo na lang kay naa ni nga programa aron matudluan mi unsaon, (It is only after the training that I know how to be a dressmaker because when I was younger our parents were not able to teach us simply because they also are not into it, honestly, only few Matigsalugs know how to sew our own tribal wear. Good thing, this program was implemented),” she said.

She added she invested time for the training as it can also be a good livelihood. A set of Matigsalug wear is sold at P700.

“I am a farmer and our income is not sufficient for my family’s needs, at least with the program, we have P200 as labor fee for every tribal wear sold. If you already mastered how to make then you can sew one set of wear a day, otherwise, it would take you weeks to finish,” she shared in vernacular.

But aside from it serves as their livelihood, Aguio shared that there is a greater purpose in learning tribal dressmaking.

“We belong to this tribe and it is only just to learn how to make our own dress, it is identity for us. Sadly, only a few if not none in our tribe know how. The elders are already not capable to teach the younger generation that is why I see that it is our unwritten mission to learn this and later on pass it to the younger generation,” she shared.

This was also echoed by a 59-year old Matigsalug woman, Lily Ortega Gelbero saying that despite her age it is never too late to learn.

Mindanao Trade Expo Foundation Inc. (MTEFI’s) Design Team representative Emi Englis, who was assigned for the wearables, said that they train the Matigsalugs how to make a marketable dress without compromising the authenticity of the tribe’s design.

Source of livelihood

In basketry, Arlene Mandiolay, who was also hailed as the most outstanding basket weaver of her group during the training, said she never thought that she can earn from weaving baskets.

Unlike the others, Mandiolay was already a weaver since she was 10 years old.

“Before, I was made to believe that this can’t be a source of income. We make baskets before but only for our use especially when we go to the market. I never really imagined it to be sold monetarily, before we can only sell it to our neighbors in exchange of goods like rice and clothing,” she said.

She is currently teaching her son on how to weave baskets, thus, weaving the Matigsalug’s future.

“It will took me a day to form a basket, that already include the finishing touches,” she said.

She narrated that getting the raw materials for the basket is not a piece of cake. She also said that it will take her some two hours of walk before getting to the site where she source the materials (Nito, Uway).

She sometimes go to the wild alone.

“On behalf of the tribe, we would like to thank TSI for continuously finding ways to promote our culture and environment. Your cultural and environmental interventions all these years have been very helpful to the preservation of our tribe as we believe that the moment our culture and environment is lost, the tribe’s reason for existence is also lost,” said Macoemaddaci President Datu Juanito Mandahay.

He underscored that for years they considered their tribe’s products not worthy of development but with the program they’re enlightened that it can still be of value to this day.

“It is indeed a welcome development because if we do this on our own, we can’t prosper as we only have limited resources and knowledge as our elders failed to pass on the ways on how to make our products,” Mandahay said.

Macoemaddaci is one of the indigenous people (IP) partner organizations of TSI in the continuing implementation of its Carbon Sink Management Program (CSMP) that aims to plant 1,000,000 trees within 10 years to rehabilitate the ancestral domain of the Matigsalug tribe in Marilog District, Davao City. The planted trees will also help offset the carbon emission of TSI’s 300-megawatt Davao Baseload Power Plant in Toril, Davao City.

Last June 8, some 50 Matigsalug trainees completed a series of skills training geared towards capacitating a group of Matigsalug women and out-of-school youth and organize them into a viable and sustainable community-based enterprise.

Members of the Davao Designers Pool of DTI 11 were tapped during the product development process, as well as during the conduct of the trainings.

“We are very impressed with the quality of these crafts made by our partner beneficiaries. We remain committed to help market these products not just here in Davao City and Mindanao, but also nationally and even internationally,” TSI Vice President and Plant Manager Valentin Saludes III said.

TSI reputation and stakeholder management head Jason Magnaye said the program involves the identification and production of viable indigenous products that can be produced locally using their indigenous materials and cultural design with the help of local craft designers and established exporters.

DTI-Davao Region assistant director Edwin Bangquerigo urged the trainees to use what they learn and pass these to their children and their children’s children to create a cycle of sustainability.

Marketing support

DTI assistant secretary for regional operations group Ameenah Fajardo said that these products needed to be marketed to ensure sustainability of the envisioned community-based enterprise.

The products of the Matigsalug trainees will be showcased during the Mindanao Trade Expo (MTE) at Abreeza Ayala Mall in August 2017, as well as during the MTE’s Manila leg in Glorietta Makati and SM Megamall come October.

“After the skills training, next is product development though we already have finished products but it is done through sub-contracting with our partner exporters, meaning the exporters bought the product then they enhanced it to be export-quality,” MTEFI executive director Marian Mahinay said adding the tribe currently produces bare products that need intervention of the exporters who have the facilities and advanced skills.

Some of the partner exporters are Great Gifs and Souvenirs, Tadeco Home and MTE which have export markets in Europe, Japan, and Asia, among others.

Mahinay said that their long-term goal is to market the IP products without exporter’s intervention.

“The key here is for them to continue applying their skills that it should not stop after the program but rest assured that we will always be here to assist them,” Mahinay added.

Tourism potential

Magnaye suggested to convert the Macoemaddaci Friendship Building to a showroom of the tribe’s products wherein tourists can come and witness the rich culture of the Davao tribe.

The idea was backed by Department of Tourism-Davao regional director Roberto Alabado III saying the idea, once realized, could give tourists a whole new level of experience.

“We want that it shouldn’t be just plain tourists buying a souvenir items but an experience wherein the Matigsalug will teach the tourists how to make a Pompom or beaded-bracelets and buy it afterwards, that way our visitors will get a more intimate immersion with the tribe,” he said.

He added that the tribe’s rich and unique tradition and culture is meant to be shared for tourists to even more appreciate and respect the tribe.

Davao City Tourism Head Generose Tecson said they target to open two tribal villages in Marilog and Tamayong, Calinan District before this year’s Kadayawan Festival for a more inclusive relationship with the Lumads.

The tribal villages will be established and will be open to visiting public, both tourists and locals alike, in the hope of educating and exposing them to genuine Lumad culture in the city.

With the programs and plans of the private and government offices and the eagerness of the Lumads themselves to preserve their culture, it will never be a gloomy tomorrow but rather a bright future for the people living in the land of promise.