Never has getting up at 2:30 in the morning felt so worth it. Walking the rarely quiet streets to the Peace Builders’ office and hopping in the truck, our team set off on a quick pace courtesy of our transporter, Kuya Toto, to the Talaandig grounds in the Lantapan district of Bukidnon. Watching the unfolding dawn peak over the mountains and settle in the valleys that pattern the landscape, there was a sense of sleepy wonder of what lay ahead as we made our way to the tribal grounds of the Talaandig. This, of course, was quickly punctuated by a breakfast stop at Jollibee, where we also picked up our friend Gordon and his wife, Grace. With the extra passengers, Jonathan and I hopped in the bed of the truck and felt the literal rush of speed to match our growing anticipation of the approaching experience.
Enter the Talaandig grounds. Welcomed by a great wooden sign with colored letters reading “Be culture conscious”, we followed a short but hilly dirt road peppered with homes occupied by screaming children, caring mothers, and the memories and experiences of lives lived fondly, but not without difficulty. Continuing into the grounds, past more and more people, we were given the honor of glimpsing a piece of what imbued these lives with meaning in the form of a dedication ritual to some young children in the tribe’s Hall of Peace. We entered the hall and were surprised to see it full of people. Despite the gorgeous art on the walls, to the school groups and other curious but respectful spectators, the center of attention in the second floor of the two-storey Hall of Peace was the ceremony taking place. A joyful and smiling Talaandig leader was drawing drips of water from a jar with a piece of a banana leaf and anointing the infants and toddlers brought forth by their parents, welcoming and dedicating them into the community; as this was happening, a table of tribal leaders prayed passionately with their hands outstretched toward the children. The colors, the smiles, and the positive reverence displayed by all involved illustrated the beauty – both aesthetic and spiritual – of this tribal community.
Yet this was only the first part of the day’s festivities. And a special day it was, for it was Talaandig Day. The procession in the Hall of Peace concluded with a ceremonial sacrifice of four chickens. After announcing the intent of the sacrifice and giving thanks to Magbabaya, their Source of worship, Datu Vic, the public voice and spiritual leader of the tribe, cut the outstretched neck of the chicken; the spilt blood signified the spiritual nature of the event, thereby strengthening the community and officialising its new members under the guidance of The Ultimate Decision Maker. Two more healthy chickens were offered, and a single black one to keep the bad Spirits at bay for such a joyous occasion, but these three were finished in the background. Promptly set to boil for lunch, the birds were taken away and the crowd moved on to the celebrations on the main field, but our team was fortunate enough to be privy to a quieter, smaller meal and coffee with some of the village elders.
After finishing the meal, which was filled with conversation, learning, and good spirits (brought about by the much welcomed caffeine as much as the smiles and warm food), we proceeded to the main grounds, which was busy with people. A flurry of handshakes followed, along with plenty of amiable exchange with tribal members belonging to the Talaandig as well as other members of the seven tribes of Bukidnon. We were treated to a colorful display of dancing and drums, the former of which our own Kevin Becira jumped in on with gusto. After this the ribbon on the long tables full of native fruits was cut and everything was quickly vacuumed up by the excited crowd.
Stomachs full, the event turned to more immediate matters, and speeches were given. Datu Vic’s older brother, Makaapukaw, opened the floor with a welcoming speech, also introducing the younger Datu for what was the keynote address. The theme for Talaandig Day this year was the Feed 10,000 Campaign, which is scheduled to take place one year from now. As leader of this campaign, the Talaandig – which means “Way of the Forefathers” – are asserting their traditional role as peacekeeper among the Bukidnon tribes. Hunger leads to uncertainty, so the logic goes, and the fear of the uncertain can be the root cause of conflict, so addressing hunger has the compounding effect of not just survival, but social stability and community well-being. Datu Vic called on all the tribal representatives to commit to planting food every day, and he himself pledged to work two hours a day to that end. His passionate leadership and oratory skills were at clear work, and the response was strong. Some more short homilies were given, including one by our own Pastor Clay and one by a respected Sister of the Catholic Church, and then Datu Vic’s daughter bid the crowd back to the Hall of Peace for lunch. Here we enjoyed the chickens offered earlier, and before we knew it the team was jetting back to Valencia to end the long day.
Despite our exhaustion, the team agreed it would have been fun to stay longer and soak in the Talaandig’s exciting culture. Alas though, we were content to have taken part in the festivities, and to have seen the dynamics of Bukidnon’s tribal community and the progressive direction it is being taken under Talaandig example. We look forward to next year (even though some of us sadly will no longer be here), and in the meantime, God willing, will continue our contact and deepen our relationship with this inspiring community.