Mangyan Day 2011: Portrait of Mangyan in a Festival

Government says Mangyan of Mindoro are not at all forgotten by the state with the outpour of festivals, competitions, street dancing and parades created for them and vouched by the Department of Tourism and local government units.

For years, indigenous rituals, traditions, songs and dances, handicrafts and produce of 26 Mangyan tribal communities in the island have been showcased in the Dugoy Festival, Kapakyanan Festival, Sanduguan Festival, Pamugu-an Festival, Kaaldawan Iraya, Apo Iraya Festival, Sulyog Festival and De Galera Fest among others.

The underlying question is have these festivals attributed to better life for indigenous people rather than being an appendix of exploit?

While it is easy to believe that these events are in reverence to their existence and raising awareness about Mangyan’s centuries-old folkways or encouraging respect and support from non-Mangyan or promoting environmental preservation la-di-dah, a hasty and hyped public display in a superficial context is a deception to Mangyan as a people with cultural heritage and history of struggle.

Concretely, an artificial festival is a perfect cover-up of government neglect to marginalized groups in terms of social services especially in education, health and agriculture. Second, it sanctions cultural disintegration as the state’s way to improve livelihood is in the name of commercialism and individualism through mass production of handicrafts, beads and ramit and through systematic preaching of the benefits of land titles, certificates and permits to ranch. Finally, it is an overt cooptation of cultural expressions in the name of entertainment, mainly for foreigners, as an invitation to invest on logging, mining and damning the island’s vast land, mountains and rivers. Such destructive cultural effort is nothing new, in fact a remnant of the 1904 St. Louis Human Exhibit in America that justified US benevolent colonization and fascism in the country.

Mangyan people who have been subjugated to tragic years of isolation and exploitation do not wish to be part of the demise of their own culture and ancestral domain that tourism programs or national policies subject them to.

A Festival by Mangyan for Mangyan

HAGIBBAT was born to weave together the stories of approximately 200,000 Mangyan scattered in the upland and lowland of Mindoro. Representing tribal groups Hanunoo, Alangan, Gubatnon, Iraya, Buhid, Bangon and Tadyawan, it is a federation that upholds their basic rights to land and life in all avenues.

A counter-festival organized by Mangyan has then become possible since 2008.

This year, Mangyan elders with select youth and children from different tribes gathered early in March for a cultural exchange workshop in preparation for a two-day Cultural Caravan that eventually culminated in the Mangyan Day commemoration held in Abra de Ilog, Mindoro Occidental last April 15 to 16.

While the activity also presented Mangyan traditions, produce and cultural expressions, these are not conducted in the same manner as such fests and programs led by LGUs and profit-oriented-non-profit-kind of NGOs primarily because Mangyan Day and its coinciding Cultural Caravan consciously highlight the Mangyan people’s actual experiences of national oppression, discrimination and human rights violation vis-à-vis their impact on their culture and way of life.

This is the kind of festival that amplifies the very voice of Mangyan from its most remote of sanctuary in forests to its most exposed homes in the flatlands.

Mangyan Apocalypto

The team for the Cultural Caravan was mainly composed of select young Mangyans who came or were sent by their tribal leaders Umpot, Talahugsay, Kuyay, Hagtaynan, Huwis, Aplake and Akbaye to share their experiences through music, song and dance; to integrate with other tribes and to learn more about political theater as a means in facing evil forces they encounter. I joined the team of facilitators and artistic staff along with other volunteer artists from the Southern Tagalog Cultural Network, Concerned Artists of the Philippines and Philippine High School for the Arts Alumni.

More than 30 young Mangyan aged 12 to 27 more or so, came as they were: bold but shy and quiet but curious who feel dizzy easily yet were full of energy. Being used in the greens, it was a kind of courage for them to take buses and inhale carbon or walk on cement and be wounded all the time. It even took weeks before they somehow accepted to be temporarily separated from their cows, chickens, carabaos, birds and monkeys to focus on our cultural activity. In the municipality, it was but natural for them to feel unease because they were not with their simple community of loving people and shady land full of edibles. Time and again, the elders would remind them to focus, listen, think and just freely sing.

Each of the tribe speaks differently although the languages of Buhid and Bangon, between f’s and ch’s, have a slight common pattern and are comprehendible among each other. For many however, even Filipino is an alien language although they have a stock of few words from their trade with Damu-ong either Tagalog, Ilokano, Bikolano, Bisaya and Moro settlers; from Koreanovela dialogues; from constant sessions with missionaries and from public schools hundred kilometers away. It was then an effort to speak and understand with each other through one-liner or simple Filipino sentence construction.

Language was not a barrier however for people of common experiences that even the ancient Yucatec Maya need less translation for young Mangyans. One cine session caught the participants tied-up to the epic Apocalypto. In spite of the film’s controversial inaccuracy to Mayan Civilization, it was amazing to realize how easily they could relate well to the misty scenery, the migrating tribes and the families pillaged of their sacred possessions then massacred if not imprisoned to slavery. They understood the wisdom spoken in the film and how the hero Jaguar can overcome fear by being confident in the forest where he hunts, “the same forest that his children would hunt when he is gone”.

Of great help among the contingents were Mangyan para-teachers who were and continuously trained under the literacy program of HAGIBBAT in its mounting of educational centers in Mangyan communities. Thus, despite being disregarded of education, participants can somehow read house rules, elements of performance arts and principles of nationalistic, mass-oriented and scientific culture.

Now, both elders and young can somehow write their name, the object that symbolizes them, the elemental causes of their fear, the sitio where they live, the mountains where they planted rice, banana, Singapore, San Fernando, Antipolo, sintoris and fruit orchards along with the rivers and springs where they drink. Most importantly, they have learned to count their produce by kilos and quantity with corresponding price to rigid labor and distance of walk. Interestingly, they can now easily estimate their age by months and years besides depending it on the season of crops, trees and vegetables when they were born of which count is affected by inconsistency of yield and effects of an Onding, El Niño and salination.

In terms of scripts, the Hanunoo and Buhid have sustained their traditional system of writing which documented Mangyan literature, their traditional song ambahan and courtship messages on bamboo poles, tree barks or pulp which is still also pound and sun-dried for clothing by some tribes. The new generation of Mangyan had to relearn the Mangyan characters of a,e/i,o/u by sculpting their name on wood the Mangyan way.

Elders had then criticized themselves for the shortcomings in passing on such knowledge along with other parts of their culture like the spontaneous creation of the Ambahan, the art of dying, spinning and weaving, the science of herbal medicine, the recital of the Daniw and the determination to defend and fight for land as their ancestors and the rest of national minority groups in the Philippines did.

Mangyan Past

Before foreign invasions, Mangyan people peacefully lived nearby shores with a smooth relation with Chinese merchants who barter their porcelain and silks with the native’s honeybee, accessory beads of colorful stones and gold, pottery and their popular habi of cotton and ramit.

The Spaniards came with their bloody sword and land-grabbing Regalian Doctrine that eventually marked the beginning of Mangyan dislocation. Natives had their own stoneworks and sundang but their way of defense then was to seek refuge in the forest for new beginning. They reached its interiors and peaks as the Americans and Japanese attacked with their own agenda of owning their natural territories, pressing them to cheap labor like in Dean Worcester’s sugar plantation while raping their minds and women.

Since then, Mangyan learned the feeling of fear that until at present, they fear anyone in pants and those with weapons of more advanced steelwork, paper and powder as their aggressors.

Mangyan Present

Today, the smell of Damu-ong cigarette hundred trees away fears them and distracts utmost their planting and hunting activities. Because of the hysteria of the past, it was a process for them to relate with other settlers in the island that they would shoo away from even good-hearted people who carry their cause like advocates of indigenous peoples.

Mangyan have learned however to distinguish the footsteps of an outsider and their tobacco as much as their intention of entering their village. The clamor of chickens and chirp of birds tell them so that one bad aroma comes from an army of Palparan, actually their uninvited constant visitors who would usually look for their cedula and COMELEC ID, ask them why they are carrying casserole and kitchenwares, why they have bolos on their belt, why they have banana leaves and puso on their head, why they do not have flashlights at night and why they are wearing black. Questions which, in my opinion only come from an ignoramus who loves to harass Mangyan people being heirs of rich natural resources and stereotype them as NPAs merely because they are one with the environment.

Ironically, Mangyan are treated by law as slum-settlers in the mountain. Where else can they go? Who would listen? They feel authorities are insensitive to hear the strained echoes from caves where their ancestors lay.

Indeed, the reality of aggression against the natives remains as the Regalian Doctrine remains under its new names: IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act), CADT (Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title), CALT (Certificate of Ancestral Land Title), DENR-NIPAS (National Integrated Protected Area System) and Mining Act of 1995 among others.

These papers and institutions come in jueting-like combinations to play on Mangyan: division of land to divide the tribe and their will to press their common demands; consent in large-scale mining as applied by Intex Resources, Agusan Petroleum and Pitkin Ltd.; construction of damaging dams in Bangon land; tolerate unlimited logging by influential families; pocket demolition through declaration of private ranches; unfair pricing in Mangyan produce and food blockage-human rights violations through military encampment-CAFGU recruitment.

Mangyan Future

The present reality of abusive concessionaires in the lowland; of tricky government officials whose election habit is to dole-out P50 for individuals and P500 for tribal leaders; and most especially the presence of angelic armies with a smell in their villages is a matter that Mangyan would rather not talk about because they are aware that many bullets are attentively listening, a post-traumatic effect of the extrajudicial killings, disappearances, strafing and hamletting of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo-Palparan tandem in the province and in the Southern Tagalog Region in general.

However, Mangyan can vividly tell how a Rat can ruin upland rice despite their watchful patuktok (bows and arrows) and regular pagninilo (organic clearing). This kind of pest can eat up the whole of your harvest in a day leaving you nothing, not even ipa for your poultry and soil. This pest loves to make other’s stomach angrily gritting in all seasons.

Mangyan can describe in detail how a Bayawak crawls day-in day-out to attack the people’s beloved dead, whether in the mountain, caves and rivers. This kind of carnivore loves fresh meat and warm blood but not really too picky with dead bodies of 12 or 40 days. It knows no respect for the living and the dead: a child, a woman, an elder or a tribal leader.

Mangyan can speak of a Vulture that loves to kidnap children in the guise of feeding them in its kingdom. It is the kind of King that declares all timber as its property, all skies and everything underneath: anything that grows and flows, anything that breathes and capped for labor are its business and war zone.

Finally, Mangyan can share hundred stories of Snake bites and snake-bite survivors. These kinds of venomous animals come in green, yellow, blue: plain, dotted or striped and love to rain your feet, fingers, head and chest with small bites, big bites and shattering bites. Their pang can paralyze half of your body then claim the whole of you. Amazingly, for many years now, Mangyan have proven an effective Marayaw cure courtesy of the natural pharmacy and hardware that is the forest.

These monsters the Mangyan saw dominating their nightmares, a denuded future wherein in the end, fish, tamaraws and human skeletons afloat in an almost dried-up Mag-asawang Watershed, Naujan Lake and Caguray River contrary to promises of mining applicants.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia noted that Mangyan have traditionally been an unwarlike people, choosing to give up an area uncontested rather than fight for it. This statement needs upgrading.

Mangyan Declaration in Rehearsal Shows and Bonfire

Mangyan do not like to imagine a lost generation and thus the necessity to discuss among themselves their past-present-future and their dire wants and not’s. They cannot allow ethnocide happening everyday in their villages, a reason to exchange betel nut, forging all elements of the Earth to one direction and together paint the soil with red spits.

As practitioners of social justice, antagonists of Mangyan’s genuine development are not exempted from the trials of tiggian and pang-aw wherein boiling pots of water and bench-like bamboo cell await them liars, fixers, profiteers, rapists and murderers.

Mangyan’s agong and budyong once again resounded in Mindoro, a signal of gathering their weapons for life: bangkaw, sundang, pakutkot, kalawit, balulang and tugda. People of Mansalay, Roxas, Pinamalayan, Socorro, Calapan, Victoria, San Jose, Sablayan and Abra de Ilog along with guests from Manila and Mindanao had witnessed the Mangyan Declaration of unity, dignity and harmony in rehearsal shows and bonfire.

Whereas the principle of Mangyan regarding land is very simple: that land is life lent from Apo Iraya (supreme god of people and nature) for the living to take care and cherish and that no individual has the right to enjoy it on his own benefit nor exhaust it.

What is wrong in merely wanting Filipinos to harvest their own minerals and riches of nickel, limestone, guano, coal, chromate, manganese, blackstone, gold ore, greenstone, redstone, gravel, marble, red clay, silica, yellow stone, talc, iron and quartz? What is unfounded in merely aspiring for an ancestral land where people can freely mount their solidap (house wall made of coconut leaves), where the youth can strum their gitgit (traditional guitar with three strings) between farming and where children can play sipa with coconut shells, jackstone with baby guavas or chinese garter with wild vines?

They long for lullabies of anxiety to fade as those recorded by Jonas Baes in the 1981 album Nostalgia in a Denuded Forest.

Thus, in an ambahan tradition, a Mangyan elder sang: “There is still much left of our ancestral domain: the fight for it. I hope all tribes would be united and all non-Mangyans support our struggle. ” #

About Joanna Lerio

cultural journalist, multidisciplinary artist, educator, traveller, dreamer, yogini, vegetarian, advocate
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