Last 02 September 2018, Lyndee Prieto, of the Initiative for International Dialogue (IID) sent me an invitation to join them in a peace pilgrimage: “The elders and leaders of the Erumanen ne Menuvu and the Maguindanawon living in the communities in Carmen, North Cotabato,” the invitation letter says, “are inviting you to listen and witness as they revisit the various facets of boundaries that connect them as neighbors for many years and sealed by local peace pacts.”

This two-day peace pilgrimage is a major signpost on what might be happening in the future as a continuation of an on-going peace dialogue between the Erumanen Ne Menuvu first nation and the Maguindanaw first nation.

I was glad I decided to participate. The experience happened almost exactly as they have stated it in the information packette they sent me.

The memories and stories were shared for the first time in public in order to teach the younger generation of the elders’ legacy in keeping the peace amidst the history of conflict, poverty and injustice.

Kakap Dulunan, a shared term akin to “revisiting boundaries,” was a two-day community listening ‘pilgrimage’ as Erumanen and Maguindanawon elders from various clans share their stories on the “pagalatan”/”peheleten” (traditional boundary) and how they strived to peacefully co-exist guided by the legacy of these covenants.

The day started when the Aromanen Ne Menuvu youth were a bit intimidated by the heavily armed Maguindanawon youth (who were also members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front). Yet, after heart-to-heart talks using their indigenous peacebuilding approaches, the day ended with renewed affirmations of their kinship. They are optimistic that this is indeed a new chapter in their journey as inter-dependent, self-determined peoples.

What especially touched me was the number of youth who travelled with their elders and embraced their history. They highlighted the Mamalu-Tabunaway story which is the soul of the IP-Moro relations. As I listened to both the Menuvu youth and the heavily-armed Maguindanao youth, I sensed a renewal of relationship, a spiritual cohesion between two tribes who have gone through land-based conflicts and were able to settle those conflicts through their traditional peacebuilding approaches.

I had the chance to listen to the personal journey of this mujahid (Arabic: مجاهد‎, the term for one engaged in Jihad or ‘struggle’). He has been struggling to defend his ancestral domain from being encroached by external political and economic powers that threaten their way of life.

Listening to the elders of both Maguindanaw and Aromanen elders is actually a chance to experience a glimpse of their struggles and triumphs as they journey towards justice and peace. My intention was to extend solidarity and give encouragement to these self-determined peoples in Carmen, North Cotabato along with my peacebuilding colleagues. But they encouraged me more and inspired me more, through their actions and words, to continue listening as a bridge-building, just-peace field worker.

I have been enriched by the stories of these honorable tribal leaders from various Lumad and Moro communities who focus on strengthening their kinship and their indigenous, time-tested, effective, and sustainable peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. 

One of the Menuvu elders have lost two of his sons, a few years ago, in the hands of Maguindanawon militia and still led his people towards a process of transitional justice within their cultural contexts.

A Maguindanawon elder displayed a native machete—a token of a 400-year old peace pact between their tribes—to publicly declare a new chapter of an ongoing justice-based peace process with the Aromanen Ne Menuvu first nation.

This “taak”—a native Erumanen machete—was kept by the Maguindanawon tribe for 400 years as a recognition of their traditional peace pact. An exchange of tokens usually symbolize the mutually accepted, negotiated agreement. The Erumanen tribe said the Spirit of the Creator Magbabaya will guide them when to publicly display the Maguindanawon machete in their safekeeping—that is, when there is genuine, sustainable peace and mutual respect between the two tribes.

The lives of the elders, their respective journeys, and their leadership deeply touched me. Their contributions to peacebuilding exemplified what John Paul Lederach describes as “innovative approaches to create a time and a place to address, to integrate, and to embrace the painful past and the necessary shared future as a means of dealing with the present.”

Because of what I have observed, I believe that the formal peace agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will have a big chance of being sustained.

My heart is grateful for IID and the elders of the Maguindanaw and Menuvu first nations in North Cotabato for allowing me to share in their journey.

This five-minute video captures the highlights of this community-based peacebuilding.

Permanent link to this article: https://peacebuilderscommunity.org/2018/09/i-was-invited-by-iid-to-join-a-community-based-peacebuilding/

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