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Digging into our ‘indigenous wellspring’

It is like digging into the gold mine that is our indigenous past and present, as if unearthing for the first time a treasure that has long been there but often ignored, taken for granted, and unappreciated.

Comes now a book that could not have been published at a more propitious time — the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity in the Philippines. It is not a history book, the author makes it clear. Then he adds that while it also deals with the indigenous belief system of both our ancestors and present-day indigenous peoples (IP), it is not an ethnographic study. It is also not meant to serve as a theological paper, though it has strong foundations in the scriptures and classical theological thought.

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Brother Karl M. Gaspar CSsR describes his latest book “Handumanan: Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring” (2021, Claretian Publications) as one with an interdisciplinary orientation, combining especially the fields of philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, and theology. Handumanan is a Visayan (Ilonggo and Cebuano) word that means remembrance/s.

Gaspar’s academic background is in Philippine Studies. He is not ensconced in an ivory tower but deeply immersed in so-called grassroots communities in Mindanao while also teaching, ministering, doing research, and writing. “Handumanan” is, I think, his fifth book, his first being “How Long?”, published in the 1980s, in which he chronicled his experiences in detention during the martial law years under the Marcos dictatorship. He joined the Redemptorists, a Catholic congregation, after that when he was well into his 40s.

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“Handumanan” is a whopping 500-plus pages, 600-plus if the endnotes, bibliography, and index are to be counted. But why notʍa page for every one of the 500 years, almost 400 of which were under Spanish colonizers, would hardly suffice. It is indeed an interdisciplinary wellspring of sorts, but at the heart of “Handumanan”—from my own cinematic reading of it—are Christianity (Catholicism in particular) and the indigenous in collision, in communion, in celebration, finding common ground in the sacred and divine.

Of his formidable opus, Gaspar writes: “While there are various themes that could be pursued by Filipino theologians that deal with various aspects of the quincentenary, mission might be one of the important themes to explore. There are various reasons for this choice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has declared 2021 as the Year of Mission (following 2020’s Year of Interfaith Dialogue, Indigenous People and Ecumenism).

“While there were other important reasons that pushed the Spanish Empire to send colonizers to Asia, the Church’s missionary desire to proselytize in order to convert ‘pagans’ was a driving force necessitating the accompaniment of religious friars along the Patronato Real contract.”

Gaspar adds that by the time the Spaniards were forced to give up their colonial hold of these islands, most of the Filipinos in the Visayas and Luzon (except upland territories in the North, Mindanao, and Palawan) had become Catholics. “Today — despite the inroads of Protestant churches — 8 of 10 Filipinos are Catholics. Those who never converted to Catholicism were the Moro people… and IPs who remained in the uplands.”

And so what does one, looking back, make of all that? What happened along the way and in between? Gaspar’s scholarship and grassroots experiences (as well as his being a religious and missionary) lead us to an understanding of what we are and what we have become. And, we hope, what to make of ourselves as a nation.

The book’s seven chapters cover Handuman sa atong kagikan, a remembrance of our ancestors’ way of life and belief system as the Spaniards encountered them in the 1500s, the colonial period with its tragedies, and present realities faced by the IP. It ends with reflections on “our contemporary mission.”

The author says: “We can learn the lessons of history so that we will not repeat the same tragic experiences of the past, especially in dealing with our indigenous peoples.”

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From Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Jose A. Cabantan: “I hope ‘Handumanan’ will set our hearts on fire… May we be more passionate in setting relationships right with creation, with our fellow pilgrims on earth, especially our indigenous peoples, and with Magbabaya, our loving Creator-God.”

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TAGS: Christiniaty in the Philippines, Handumanan, Human Face, Indigenous Peoples, Karl M. Gaspar, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
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