Preserving heritage: A struggle and a hopeful journey

(This is a continuation of the in-depth report entitled "Bagobo Klata's Culture in the Modern World," published on October 2, 2023.)
Preserving heritage: A struggle and a hopeful journey
Ramcez Villegas/SunStar File Photo
Preserving heritage: A struggle and a hopeful journey
Bagobo Klata’s culture in the modern world

AT THE Indigenous People's Forum held on October 26, 2023, at the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Sandigan Hall in San Pedro St., Councilor and Indigenous People's Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Rudy Mande underscored the crucial role played by Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in their communities. 

"Should the mountain fall, so too shall the city," he said.

Mande cited the significance of the five major tribes in Davao City, including the Bagobo Klata tribe in Calinan, the Ata tribe in Paquibato District, and the Ovu Manuvo, Matigsalug, and Tagabawa tribes in Marilog District and Toril, respectively. 

He also noted that Moro tribes and the Muslim community in Davao continue to thrive, preserving their cultural practices.

“Naa pa tanan ang kultura sa dances, wedding gina-practice pa gyud namo kay dako nga tulubagon sa mga leaders kung kanang ang kultura walaon. Ang challenge lang gyud gamay katong mga new gen, mga bata lang ('It's not true that these tribes are vanishing; they are very much alive, as is their culture. The challenge primarily lies with the younger generation),” Mande said.

The gradual erosion of dialects within these tribes is a challenge they face. According to Councilor Mande, while some dialects have diminished, the cultures remain resilient.

“Naa man gamay nawala pero dili jud totally nawala kay strong pa gyud hantod karon, ako mismo isip IP mandatory leader dinhi sa Davao City, wala man gyud siya nawala. Bale ang amo lang challenge karon katong mga IP na naka minyo sa mga taga siyudad nga nag binisaya na sila, syempre unang mawala ang dialect. Pero ang kultura dili jud na mawala (While there is a slight loss, it's important to note that it remains strong, as the IP mandatory leader in Davao City can attest that our culture has not faded. Naturally, the dialect may fade first, but the culture will endure),” Mande added.

The Bagobo Klata tribe grapples with this challenge as well. 

Kristine Claire Tar, Hiyas sa Kadayawan 2023, affirms this concern.

"Modernization has significantly impacted our tribe in various ways. Some of the youth in our tribe have, unfortunately, lost the ability to speak their native language. I believe this is due to the influence of the surrounding society and community, as they, too, have lost the ability to speak the language," Tar said.

Today, inter-tribal marriages are common, making children often unable to speak their native dialect as they grow up in the modern world.

She said their efforts to pass down traditional knowledge within their tribe are ongoing.

On Indigenous Peoples' Day, they actively encourage the youth to practice traditional dances, promoting cultural awareness while imparting knowledge about the traditional dances of the Bagobo Klata tribe.

Ramcez Villegas/SunStar File Photo

She added that their deputy mayor supervises barangay activities to transmit traditional knowledge, which encompasses youth training, teachings about their tribe, and bead and accessory crafting, among other practices.

In the weaving aspect of the Bagobo Klata tribe, there are initiatives where the weaving techniques of Appo Rita are passed down to her granddaughter, Fely, who is now a weaver. 

Fely, in turn, imparts these techniques to the tribal women to ensure the weaving tradition of their tribes continues.

"Lisod gyud ipasa ang knowldege sa weaving katong spiritually guided ang matag weaver at the same time kulangan og materials very challenging gyud siya pero naay efforts among tribe na hinay-hinay ginabalik ug ginapasa sa future generations, continuous trainings, seminar, at the same time mga activites during our IP Day. Raising great awareness sa mga young generations sa among tribe (Passing down the knowledge of weaving to those spiritually guided presents a challenge. Additionally, weavers often face shortages of materials, making the process even more demanding. However, within our tribe, there are ongoing efforts to preserve and pass on this tradition to the next generations through consistent training, seminars, and special activities on our Indigenous Peoples' Day. This aims to instill a strong sense of cultural awareness in the younger members of our tribe)," Tar added.

Despite these challenges, the culture of these tribes remains vibrant. 

The IPMR and the Datu and tribal leaders from each tribe actively work to preserve their heritage through various initiatives and programs, all aimed at ensuring the tribes continue to thrive.

Mande said they have a program now to bring back the school for living traditions to all the children of IP — Bagobo Klata, Ata, Ovu Manuvo, Matigsalug, and Tagabawa. Their tribal learning center allows the children to learn dance and traditions.

During my interview with Pongngu Rosalito Anug, one of the forest guards and the tribal chieftain of the Bagobo Klata, he expressed his concern about their dialect gradually fading.

“Dako kaayog kaguol, ang mahitabo sa tribo nag anam og kawala ang original [dialect], kay karon nag ka-mainstream na eh mao bitaw ang uban sa Bagobo Klata unta dili ta magpatas-anay og pride kundi mag tinabangay ta kay ang sinulti-an namo kay hapit na gyud mawala. Ang Sirib na lang ang nabilin (It's quite disheartening to see what's happening in the tribe. The original dialect is slowly fading away, influenced by mainstream culture. Some Bagobo people believe we should set aside personal pride and unite, as our language is our common thread. We're nearing the brink. Only Sirib is now left)," Anug said.

His message calls for unity, emphasizing the need to unite for the environment's sake and cultural preservation. For him, preserving the culture is akin to protecting Mother Nature, a vital role of the Indigenous Peoples.

Ramcez Villegas/SunStar File Photo

Anug believes that setting aside their differences and working collectively is imperative for the well-being of future generations, prioritizing the preservation of the culture over personal pride.

This sentiment echoes what Mande emphasizes — that the Indigenous Peoples are inherently designed to protect Mother Nature on the rural side.

“Giingon nako sa ila na gi-design jud ta sa Ginoo dinhi sa kabukiran kay kung walay nay mag uma wala nay pagkaon ang siyudad kay syempre diri sa siyudad wala may mamaligya sa palengke kung ang mga naa sa bukid dili mananom, importante kaayo (I told them that God designed us here in the mountains because if there is no one to farm, the city will have no food because of course in the city there will be no one to sell in the market if those in the mountains do not grow crops, it is very important),” Mande said. 

He urged fellow IPs in the mountains and the city to help each other.

The National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) took the lead in celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Month last October, using this occasion as a means to preserve these unique tribes and to underscore the significance of their cultural practices.

NCIP plays a pivotal role in safeguarding and promoting the cultural heritage of these tribes, respecting their beliefs, customs, traditions, and institutions. 

The Commission actively advocates for and enacts policies, plans, and programs that prioritize the well-being of IPs, recognizing their ancestral domains and lands, self-governance, empowerment, social justice, human rights, and cultural integrity.

Eric O. Marteja, the Provincial Legal Officer of NCIP, has confirmed the implementation of measures and future initiatives to preserve the IP community during the forum. 

These actions align with the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. This law acknowledges and supports the rights of indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples in the Philippines.

"Naa ta'y lakang niana pinaagi sa atong IP IPRA, nga ibalik nila pinaagi sa ginatawag nato nga school of living tradition, kay dili nato ikalimod nga nagkawala tungod sa inter-marriages, nakig mingle napud sa dili tribo (We're taking a step forward through our IP IPRA, which we're reviving via the school of living tradition. We can't ignore that we've experienced some loss due to inter-marriages and mingling with non-tribal communities)," Marteja said.

NCIP also provides various forms of support to IP communities, such as recognizing their ancestral lands, helping with sustainable development plans, offering education, healthcare, legal services, and more.

The city also plays a role in preserving the cultural heritage of these tribes. 

Every August, as part of the Kadayawan festival, these 11 ethnolinguistic tribes proudly display their vibrant culture and traditions. This celebration is dedicated to showcasing the richness of their cultural heritage.

It's uplifting to see these tribes flourishing and vibrant. Yet, it's crucial to acknowledge their need for support in safeguarding their culture and traditions.

In the rapidly modernizing world, they also require assistance adjusting to the new environment. This challenge is just one facet of the broader array of issues Indigenous Peoples confront, all of which call for our undivided attention. AJA


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