Velez: Of bahag, lost tribes, and misappropriation in Kadayawan



THERE’S controversy on the winner of last week’s Kadayawan Indak Indak dance competition.

The Sindac Anib Performing Ensemble from Bislig, Surigao del Sur, won the Open Category for groups coming from other regions. The controversy is sparked by the group’s costumes composed of beaded G-strings or bahag. With their buttocks exposed, spectators took fun by taking selfies of these buttocks.

The Indak-Indak is a competition open to schools and cultural groups to perform a dance that is culturally appropriates of the 11 tribes in Davao.

The Indak-Indak organizer Harold Quibete, an event organizer, explained why Sindac won the competition.

“If you are going to read the mechanics, the open category is free interpretation, it may be a fable, a legend or a folklore, an adaptation and the contingent (Sindac Anib) did not carry any tribe,” Quibete was quoted in this paper.

This is where the confusion begins. Cultural workers and netizens took to Facebook to point out: isn’t the Kadayawan an effort to make people understand and appreciate the culture of the Lumad and Moro tribes?

One netizen, Melissa Barrera, who has a mix of Obo Manobo and Klata Bagobo blood, says historically Manobo people don’t wear the bahag.

“In fact, the bases why the Manobo are sometimes called ‘Ata; Manobo is to differentiate them from the Atea of Luzon, because the Manobo do not wear the bahag,” she said.

She pointed out that some tribes in Mindanao wear bahag using tinalak (bark) and not beads as these performers wore.

Even the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Caraga Region criticized that neither the Manobo nor Mandaya tribes in Bislig have worn the bahag.

Cultural worker Bejay Absin has taken to Facebook to raise points that festival organizers should be responsible on interpretation and representation.

“We are talking here about culture, heritage and identity,” he said. “As part of the mechanics, the storyline, inspiration were taken from the tribes. Nothing wrong with that. As cultural workers we are thought to always give back. The easiest way we can give back is to involve them, to give them the chance to say yes this represents us.”

In the strictest sense though, cultural activists and workers said this issue reveals the problem of cultural appropriation, which is is defined as elements from another culture are being adopted or borrowed by a dominant culture with little understanding (Nadra Nittle).

They also point out how festivals like this are commercialized and irreverent, the real Lumad and Moro are being discriminated and driven away from their ancestral land due to militarization and “development” projects.

There is so much to learn about how we need to appreciate the roots of Davao and respect them not just through festivals, but by giving back to them their land and culture.


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