15 December, 2019

Indigenous peoples document their past to save their future



Compostella Valley, Philippines – Some indigenous peoples in southern Philippines recently trained about how to document their age-old political structures and culture not only to “correct wrong stories written about us” but to also ensure that what elders used to have transmitted orally be finally written and taught to the youth and the next generations.

“Ang dokumentasyon ay simula para itama ang mga maling naisulat tungkol sa atin (This documentation training seeks to help correct whatever misperception written about us),” said Bernardo Limikid, a Mansaka from Maragusan, Compostella Valley.

Limikid was among 42 Manobo, Mansaka, Mandaya and Erumanen ne Menuvu (all indigenous groups) youth and elders who underwent a May 22-23 “Enhancement training on Indigneous Political Structures” in Maragusan, Compostella Valley in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

The training was part of the continuing “community-strengthening efforts” of the Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biological Diversity Program of Tebtebba, a Baguio City-based global non government organization concerned with indigenous rights and development. It aimed to enhance the capacities of indigenous peoples to engage in local and national dialogues with governments and other entities in asserting indigenous peoples’ “self-determined development” or development indigenous peoples choose based on their particular context and needs.

“Simulan natin ang aksyon patungo sa pagpapalakas sa hanay ng tribo tungo sa pag-unlad na gusto natin para sa ating mga anak. (We start doing what we need to do to strengthen the movement of indigenous peoples towards the kind of development we aspire for our children),” said Lumikid, who chairs the Mansaka Limpong Organization in Maragusan and currently the indigenous peoples’ mandatory representative in his town.

The two-day training focused on the importance of documentation by the community of their traditional practices, which included their socio-political structures.

Many participants noted that many outside researchers and writers have already written so much about their ethnic group and their cultures but nothing have been written by their own community.

Elderly participants said they know much about their ancestral lands but fear that the younger generation does not know as much.

“The younger generation should learn as much as they can while their elders are still alive,” said Vicky Mackay, an Ibaloi woman from Benguet province in northern Philippines, who participated in the training.

A Mansaka datu agreed. “Magiging kasalanan namin sa aming mga anak at susunod na henerasyon kung ang aming kultura ay hindi namin naipasa nang tama sa kanila. (We would be accountable to our children and the next generation if we are unable to pass our culture to them),” said Rustom Matucol, a Mansaka datu from Maragusan.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) encourages indigenous peoples’ organizations to come up with their own documentations as a requisite for the confirmation of indigenous political structures.

“Noong una, ginawa naming ang dokumentasyon para kilalanin an gaming organisasyon bilang mga katutubo. (At first, we did our documentation so that our indigenous organization be given a certificate of confirmation),” said Datu Ronald Babelon, an Erumanen Ne Menuvu.

The datu finally appreciated the reason behind the NCIP requirement. “Pero kalaunan, nakita naming na ang dokumentasyon ng among kutura at tradisyon pala ay hindi para sa NCIP kundi mas para sa aming kapakanan at ng aming tribo. (As we proceeded, however, we realized that the documentation of our culture and traditions were actually not for the NCIP but more for us and our tribe),” he said.

The Erumanen ne Menuvu started documenting their indigenous political structures in 2011. Their documentation is now contained in a book, which will be launched within the year.

As with other indigenous groups, documentation was new to the Erumanen ne Menuvu as they had to hone their writing and other technical skills. But the exercise proved beneficial as it gave both elders and youth the opportunity to work together on a significant undertaking.

“At first, we did not even know how to use the laptop and other gadgets for recording,” said Babelon. “But we learned a lot along the way. We had to engage our youth. The elders served as resource persons, our youth did more of the writing.”

Most participants appreciated the training, saying “it was the first of its kind.”

“We attended lots of trainings about so many things but this was the first training that talked about ourselves,” said Simli Cabendario of Katipunan, Maragusan.

For some, the training opened their eyes about their potentials and what they could do to ensure that their rich cultural heritage will be passed on. “Marami sa amin ang nagising ang natutulog sa diwa sa training na ito (Many of our sleeping sprits were awakened by this training),” said Christian minister Jun Angga, a Manobo from Magpet Cotabato.

The training also has elicited renewed commitment from the youth, who vowed to continue transmitting the rich traditional heritage they inherited from their elders.

“We [the youth] are the second liners of our elders. With efforts like this, we will not be afraid that our cultures will die with our elders,” said Erica Motalam, 23, an Erumanen ne Menuvu from Aroman, North Cotabato. “When I go home, I will share what I learned with other youth members in my community. We have to uphold our culture.” (Helen Biangalen-Magata, Tebtebba