ONE misty morning in the hinterlands of Sitio Contract, Datu Salumay, Marilog District, Davao City, a group of young Matigsalugs were busy scrolling on tablets, all eyes fixed on the gadget screens.

No, they were not playing some video games like city kids normally do but they were navigating a gadget that was playing their tribe’s dances and songs. All were mesmerized.

What the young Matigsalugs were enjoying was the recently-launched Matigsalug app, a mobile application that promotes basic literacy in the Matigsalug language, in the process, preserves their culture.

The app is a project of PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications and is touted as the first of its kind in the Philippines.

Among the Matigsalugs who enjoyed most the app is Peter A. Gulam, a grade six pupil at the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous People’s Education.

Peter sees the app as a more fun yet informative way of learning.

“Nalingaw ko sa app, daghan koy matun-an didto, naenjoy nako ang mga videos labi na tong gapakita sa among tribu (The app is fun, I can learn a lot from it. I enjoyed most those videos featuring our tribe),” the young Matigsalug shared.

Keeping traditions alive

With today’s reality where almost all is going digital, Datu Robert Siawan of the Matigsalug tribe expressed gratitude to the people behind the project as it helps in addressing their problem of keeping its culture and traditions alive.

He also shared that the app is but an effective way of capturing today’s generation’s attention to learning as the traditional way is becoming less appealing to the youth.

“We are more than thankful that we are chosen as the tribe beneficiary of this project, it is also a way of promoting our tribe’s culture to the world. Now, the young Matigsalugs’ way of learning is enhanced,” he said in vernacular during the app’s launching on September 14, 2018.

Traditionally, elders write down their history and traditions in a logbook and let the young tribe members to read it.

“There is really a need to put extra effort in promoting our culture so that it can be passed on to the next generation and also for our tribe members’ especially the youth to appreciate their own. This app can be very helpful. People who want to learn our culture can also use this app,” Siawan added.

Smart has donated initially a total of five tablets to the community for the Matigsalugs to use the app.

The app, now downloadable for free for Android devices, has interactive features teaching users how to pronounce letters properly and how to write the alphabet through tracing. It also teaches word association and how to count in Matigsalug.

Moreover, it lets users sing along to Matigsalug songs for children. It also features tribal dances and chants.

Addressing the tribe’s problem

Laila C. Macasampay, a tribal leader shared that a common problem in most of the Davao tribes is less indigenous people are speaking their tribal language. In today’s scenario, Matigsalugs are using mixed Matigsalug and Bisaya, with more IPs embracing the latter.

Asked why more are speaking Bisaya, Macasampay was quick to add that it is because of their own doing.

“A lot of Bisayas are living within and near our community and we are very welcoming, it is really in our tradition to be very hospitable which led to us using Bisaya language more often for our friends to understand us. We adjusted for better communication and in the process disregarded our own language, identity,” she said.

The challenge now, the woman tribal leader said, is to push all Matigsalug families to use their own language in their homes.

A 60-year old Matigsalug elder Carlita M. Camad shared the same sentiments with Macasampay emphasizing the app can be the answer when managed properly.

She was referring to the tablet to hopefully be used according to its real purpose – teach and reignite the Matigsalug youth’s interests to their own traditions in a digital and more fun way.

The elder Matigsalug wishes to familiarize herself with the tablet and the app. She is can’t read and write but she is positive that her children will help her be educated in time.

On the other hand, Macasampay also shared that though they are at first sceptic on the app at first because it might cause their children gadget addiction.

“But this will boil down on how the parents will guide their children in using the tablet, hopefully they’ll monitor it regularly,” Macasampay said.

Matigsalug parent Nora P. Calimpitan, 45, a mother of nine, vowed to monitor regularly her children while using the technology.

Smart Communication’s Matigsalug app project manager Kristine Magadia, however, clarified that the gadgets were turned-over to Pamulaan Center for Indigenous People’s Education.

“The gadgets will be most likely available in school. It is meant to be a supplement material for learning inside the classrooms. The volunteers will make sure that solely educational apps will be downloaded,” she said in a separate interview.

Believing that digital learning tools and content can improve children’s literacy skills and interest in learning especially when taught using the mother tongue, Smart has digitize educational content in local languages, hence, this project.

For the Matigsalug app, Smart partnered with tribal members of the Matigsalug tribe, as well as with the Pamulaan Center for IP Education for the provision of content.

Meanwhile, ACLC College of General Santos City and Davao City and Skeptron Business Solutions helped with the animation and digitization of content.

“Finally, after over a year we already launched this project. It really is a group effort from all the partners. After this, we will be launching similar apps for the B’laan, Tagakaolo, and T’boli tribes,” Smart Public Affairs Head for Community Partnerships Darwin F. Flores said in his speech during the launching.

ACLC Gensan and Davao president Maya Cartojano, for her part, said they are fully committed in making this project bigger. Apart from helping the beneficiaries, she said, it also helps boost the animation industry in the country. There are some 30 young animators involved in the project.

Smart has already launched literacy apps in Cebuano and Arabic, and is currently working on a similar app for Kapampangan, Waray, Chavacano, and the B’laan, T’boli and Tagakaulo indigenous peoples (IP) languages.

“Importante na mismo makabalo ta sa atongkultura og mugamit ta sa atong pinulungan, para bisan asa ka maabot dili nimo malimtan imong gigikanan, dapat imong ipasigarbo bisan asa ka muadto (As a Matigsalug, it is important that we understand our culture and we speak our language. By knowing and practicing your own culture, you can always remember your roots and be proud of it no matter where fate will take you),” Gulam, a young Matigsalug shared.