Proud, and strong
“Siguro lumad,” quipped one of my staff, referring to a man offering to clean our windshield. Lumad refers to non-Muslim indigenous peoples (IPs) from Mindanao.
I actually wasn’t sure if the man was lumad. He looked Negrito, and could have been from one of such groups scattered in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
I wasn’t sure if I was to feel good that the term “lumad,” originally a Cebuano term that means “native,” is now better known to Metro Manila residents after they had their “Manilakbayan” last month, with a 750-strong delegation from more than a dozen indigenous groups camped out last month at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran. The Manilakbayan was intended to publicize the plight of the lumad in Mindanao involving militarization, assassinations and displacement, as well as the shutdown of alternative schools that the government says are fronts of the communists.
I suspected that my staff was associating the windshield lumad with an altogether different Manilakbayan—an annual exodus where large groups of IPs descend on Manila (and, lately, other large urban centers) in November and December, not to fight for their rights, but to beg. It used to be the “Igorot,” the generic term used to refer to IPs from the Cordillera; then their numbers dwindled and they were replaced by the Negrito from Pinatubo in Zambales, and the Badjao from Mindanao.
This year I haven’t seen any Badjao yet, but the numbers of Pinatubo Negrito have grown. They keep their distance, staying on the pavements or sidewalks, holding up signs declaring themselves as being from Pinatubo and needing assistance, and approaching vehicles only when called.
It’s sad when you think of how the IPs in the streets come from groups that opposed Spanish and American colonization, only to be reduced now to paupers. I think, too, of the contrast between these beggars and the lumad we hosted at UP and in Baclaran, where even young children were self-confident and assertive.
On their last day in Manila I dropped by Baclaran to say goodbye to them. We talked less of the political issues and more of the basic concerns of community, of family, and of going home, which for many of them were evacuation centers.
UP’s hosting of the lumad was not without some controversy, with the usual warnings: “But they’re organized by the NPA (New People’s Army).” My reply was simple: “And who else is doing anything, and with what options?”
One proposal is to leave the indigenous communities alone, in pristine, Eden-like surroundings. This option is untenable because, quite simply, there is no Eden or Eden-like places left in the Philippines, if not the world.
Back in 1975, as a student, I was with a volunteer group trying to get to Paracelis, a remote town in Mountain Province with a large indigenous population of Gaddang. I was not an anthropologist then, but was caught in the excitement of the discovery of the “lost” Tasaday in South Cotabato.
Even the government employees were not sure how we could get to Paracelis, and we finally made it by asking for directions along the way, in a long trip involving bus, jeep, truck and hiking. When we got to the barangay we found a sari-sari store selling Coke, cigarettes and canned food.
(The Tasaday, incidentally, turned out to be not a lost tribe. Isolated, yes, but with contact with other lumad, and “Bisaya,” or lowland, groups. They are now part of the lumad networks.)
So, is the solution “integration,” or bringing the communities into the mainstream? That is in fact being done through public schools, often resulting in a paradoxical situation where they lose their traditions but are unable to survive modernization. The IP beggars in our urban areas are emblematic of this paradox. Many have lost their traditions, some of which could have helped them to survive. Once upon a time, the fathers and grandfathers of some of these Pinatubo Negrito beggars trained US soldiers in jungle survival. Today, the young ones wouldn’t stand a chance in the jungles of Zambales… or the jungle that is Metro Manila.
There are, to be sure, efforts to set up schools of living traditions, preserving language and local culture. One of our UP anthropology graduates, Butch Rufino, has been sending me descriptions of the Department of Education schools doing very good work with IPs.
More than culture
The DepEd schools’ objective of cultural conservation is shared by the alternative lumad schools, but the latter also promote an awareness of rights, and the importance of community organizing for those rights.
All this is not new. I was pleasantly surprised during the Manilakbayan to run into old friends, mainly Catholic sisters, who I had worked with in the 1970s in Mindanao. Through the Catholic dioceses’ social action programs, we established community-based health programs in both Bisaya and lumad communities.
Long before the Department of Health introduced barangay health worker training, our Catholic social action programs were training villagers with minimal literacy to take care of local health needs. In addition, the health workers were also taught to organize their community, and to bring up issues of access to safe water, to food, and to land. Then, as now, that kind of work was considered subversive.
Really, of what use will cultural conservation be if people are driven off their land? The Badjao beggars were certainly aware of their culture, always striking in their colorful malong, but which is now used to catch people’s attention… and bring in alms. I’m not sure their plight is that much worse than other IPs being used in other parts of the country to dance in front of gawking tourists.
In November at one corporate board meeting, I was startled when the chair asked me to say a few words about the lumad at UP. I delivered an impromptu explanation about their problems and afterwards, one of the board members told me of how, as a child, he would hear older people telling stories of IPs being shot to death “like rabbits” for trespassing.
The lumad who came to Manila are not closed to new ideas. They have their Facebook and Twitter accounts, politically-oriented, of course. When Save Our Schools-UP Diliman was launched, we watched music videos jointly produced by city-based professionals and the lumad. They’ve even talked about accepting mining companies in their communities, but on their terms, with the communities deciding what their collective future will be, and not merely a few individuals benefiting.
In Baclaran, I watched the young lumad with some sadness, uncertain of what lay ahead when they would return to Mindanao. But I could understand, too, why they have been so firm and steadfast. The lumad children are not about to be shot down like rabbits, or to roam city streets begging. Their future survival lies in growing up with self-esteem, fiercely independent yet able to stand up together, proud, and strong, declaring: “We are lumad.”
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