AT THE bukids (mountains) where everything seems to have its own cadence, I once asked my two wizened datus (chieftains) what “magahat” and “bagani” really meant, not knowing that below (meaning city) some netizens were piling the stakes to burn the people behind a new teleserye that used bagani as its title.
My datus, Alikwas and Banakon, were Manobos from Agusan Sur who grew up in the farthest sitios of Loreto and spent their youth as part of the NPA until they surrendered.
One of the concepts that I looked for lucidity was magahat as I have kept hearing that every time I travel to the area. I knew I could Google it when I went back to the urban center but I was curious to know what it meant to Manobos who still lived among their tribes in their ancestral land.
According to Alikwas, magahat is a practice or the Manobo character of resistance and seeking justice for the tribe. Banakon underlined that most times, magahat meant revenge and could be extorted on anybody within the periphery of whom revenge is due. Thus, the act, according to Banakon, is similar to the Moro “rido.”
I asked about their most recent memory of a magahat and it was about a land dispute that they sheepishly refused to expound on. Alikwas added that magahats can be tempered by tribal council meetings and negotiations between the aggrieved group. But there were magahats that could run from one generation till the next.
They made me understand that a bagani is the hero who keeps the peace and order in the tribe. A bagani is also one who had a successful magahat.
The culture of the magahat and bagani is the traditional defense system according to both datus.
A bagani becomes one only after he have had a magahat run or a successful magahat or in simpler terms, after he has killed someone in the name of magahat. But being bagani is not the same as being a cosplay colonel.
A bagani undergoes training and rituals along with the datu who heads the tribe. One is trained how to: live in the forest, navigate through the treacherous trails of the ancestral landscape, use weapons, and of course, how to listen and understand situations that may aggravate or cause conflicts.
Alikwas iterates that baganis are not just bloodthirsty warriors but Banakon derides that baganis lose their charm when they haven’t fought for quite some time. Then both laughed.
Banakon wears a red, heavily beaded kerchief over his thinning grey hair while Alikwas dons a more elaborately decorated black, kerchief over a curly mop of hair. These are bagani headwear that they wore to a meeting with the Department of Education representatives to discuss education programs for their communities.
Nowadays, Alikwas and Banakon no longer wield arms, fight other tribes or the government. Instead, they have went back to their tribal communities eking out a living doing menial jobs or encouraging others to develop idle lots as farms.
Banakon is known in the community for his carpentry skills and can quickly put up a shanty using only his sharp polo and manila twine, not nails, to fuse bamboo poles.
Alikwas has become adept in nurturing indigenous plants like the tahi-ti that is sold in bulk to make household brooms.
Together, they also encourage the members of their community to send their children to school pinning hopes that an educated younger generation would mean lesser or no magahats. This stems from the fact that both are illiterate admitted that their ignorance has been used twice too many to exploit them or made them wage senseless battles.
In jest, I have asked Alikwas to teach me how to be a bagani. In the same manner he said I have to live in their un-electrified, no mobile phone signal, no running water village for quite some time and teach them how to read and write. I have been seriously thinking about solar panels and colored chalk lately.