Gomanan: The forge that binds the lives of the Bagobo-Tagabawa

GOMANAN, where the metal tools are forged.

The Gomanan or forge is central to the culture and traditions of the Bagobo-Tagabawa. From this forge, where blacksmiths make their farm tools and weapons, the Bagobo Tagabawa of Mt. Apo carved their living as farmers, forest harvesters, and hunters.

"In all, a Gomanan is more than just an instrument, it represents a way of life and cosmology that is unique to the Bagobo-Tagabawa of Mt. Apo," reads the Culture-based Conservation Publication 03 of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Sinab'badan kag Tugal'lan Ka Sibulan, Cemex, and the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

We arrived in barangay Sibulan, Davao City, last October 28 to the sound of women chanting outside a tiny hut where men were huddled around a fire, one of the men being seated high above the others holding two long sticks. It was a curious sight. More curious still as when the chanting continued, the man holding the sticks started moving these up and down alternately through two hollowed-out logs standing beside each other. The two logs are called the poriyop, and the sticks actually have a tuft of chicken feathers on its bottom end and is called ombac. The poriyop and ombac puff out air into the fire to keep the embers burning and make the metals malleable enough to shape into a bolo, a scythe or a knife first using a pagpag or mallet to flatten the metal on the landasan or anvil, the bontok or hammer to give it its final shape, and the limbas or file to give it the finished sharpness and sheen.

The whole forge is made up of different parts that have names in their dialect, underlining the equipment's central role in the tribe's life.

Aside from the ones already mentioned above, part of the setup is a gandongan that binds the tubes that feed the air into the fire, and karaponge or the exhaust.

"Dili tanan makagamit sa Gomanan (Not everyone can use the Gomanan)," said Datu Hernan Ambe, indigenous peoples mandated representative and tribal chieftain of Cavarizan in barangay Sibulan in Toril, Davao City. He explained that among te Bagobogo-Tagabawa, learning the ways of a blacksmith is a divine gift.

With their ancestors' lives directly connected to the earth and the forged metals giving them the capability to tame the earth and harvest its bounty, the tools and weapon maker reigns supreme.

It is in this context that when forging of weapons and farm implements commences, this is accompanied by the chanting of women asking for blessings from Manama (Supreme Being).

"Using a Gomanan is a huge responsibility given to an individual," the publication read. "There is a sense of gratefulness involved in the learning experience of a Bagobo-Tagabawa."

As the round metal turned red with heat and the blacksmiths, two of them in advance ages, picked these out from the fire to flatten this with the mallet, the chanting ended. Work has begun.

Ambe, after explaining the parts of the forge stressed that blacksmithing is a craft that the bagbo-Tagabawa hold in high regard, with reverence.

"Gomanan is sacred to the Bagobo-Tagabawa. We see it as essential to our lives. The Gomanan is the core of the Bagobo-Tagabawa's cultural practices, as everything is produced at the forge. Everything starts with the Gomanan," the publication read.

Aside from the hunting, gathering and planting food that entails the use of implements created from the Gomanan, even the looms on which the women weave their cloth and abaca attires also use implements made in the Gomanan. Even their houses are made with these implements.

"That is why the link between the Bagobo-Tagabawa and a Gomanan is strong and sacred, it is even comparable to marriage that becomes the foundation of a family," it continued.

The Bagobo-Tagabawa recognizes that just as the tools created in the Gomanan provide for their people, these same tools can be used to destroy.

"Hence, it is important for the Bagobo-Tagabawa to properly manage the forest and the whole ancestral domain. There is a need to revive the practice of blacksmithing and the values it brings in order to bring back a rich forest. There is a need to bring back to life the forests found in the ancestral domain," the publication read.

Incidentally, the Bagobo-Tagabawa of barangay Sibulan in Toril have a well-equipped and trained Bantek Pwolassannan or forest guards. It was the Bantek, through their fire-fighting skills acquired through trainings as well as learned from their experiences in the forests this group was key in the putting out of the forest fire that rages in Mt. Apo in March 2016.

Before the Bantek arrived in the scene to put out the fire from where it burned, volunteers and firefighters on the scene could only make “forest lines,” clearings separating fire-prone grasslands close to the fire scene and rainforests.

The Bagobo-Tagabawa of Mt. Apo hold this mountain as sacred land and are thus have made it their avocation until today to protect its forests and its creatures, especially the Philippine Eagle.

It is in nurturing the environment that the Bagobo-Tagabawa are bringing back the indigenous knowledge and practices of their ancestors, to put into context what they are advocating for: environmental protection and conservation.

"Our water and food come from the forest, just as everything we need to use has its roots in the Gomanan. It is in the forest that we can find the watershed. The next generation will have nothing if we do not protect our forests," it read. "If we take care of our forests, we will have a constant supply of water. Little to no calamity will take place. We will breathe fresh air, and the wildlife, particularly the Philippine eagle, will thrive."
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