Last Sunday, 07 March 2021, I had the pleasure of meeting a tribal chieftain. As we traveled through the hilly landscapes of Northern Mindanao, Bai Jerlina Owok entertained us with stories from her journey as the Bagobo Tagabawa chieftain in Binaton, Digos City. She shared the story of how she reclaimed her identity as a Bagobo Tagabawa when she conquered Mount Apo—the highest mountain in the Philippines.
As many from the younger generations turn away from their identity because of the fear of being looked down, the role of a tribal chieftain is to recall their culture and traditions. For Bai Jerlina, a way to do this was to climb Mount Apo.
Conversations with Bai Jerlina gave me a deeper understanding on their connection with nature (as they plan on reforestations) and how tied their culture is with their coffee (as they plan to establish sustainable livelihoods within their barangay).
From the many stories that she shared, the one that stuck with me the most is their political struggles. I have seen these from various news platforms but hearing it firsthand struck me differently.
“They always see tribal communities are a minority… they forget that everything big starts with something small… they don’t know the kind of impact we have.”
Hearing those words from her was an eye-opener for me. It made me aware of my tendency to take in something new and instinctively see it through my own lens. That day I learned that my perspective is limited by my own bias and that to “empower” these people was absurd. They already have the power and all that’s left to do is acknowledge that and genuinely listen to them.
It truly was a great honor to be around the presence of such a strong woman and passionate leader.
PeaceBuilders Community Inc. (PBCI), as Peace and Reconciliation missionaries, saw this as an opportunity to amplify the voice of the Bagobo Tagabawa and funnel their power through Bai Jerlina Owok meeting Datu Migketay “Vic” Saway of the Talaandig in Bukidnon.
08 March 2021 marked the 10th year of the kinship between Indigenous Peoples and Moro in Mindanao. Indigenous Peoples and Moro, together with settlers, came together and gathered at the Talaandig ancestral land in Songco, Lantapan Bukidnon to commemorate this historic event. PBCI is invited to this annual celebration and as a settler and an outsider, I felt really privileged to witness all this.
The burst of colors and the beautiful music all created this scenic proof of how rich our pre-colonial culture is. The First people of the Philippines— it’s humbling to see how they strived to preserve our real homeland.
To quote Bai Jerlina Owok: “If naay Tulugan, buhi ang tribo” (If there is a Tulugan, the tribe is alive). Tulugan, as a place where culture and tradition are practiced, will keep the tribe alive. The Talaandig has done this, and they’re doing it so sensationally.
Along with the sublimity I have seen and experienced from the whole event, one thing I’ll never forget is Datu Vic’s statement about peace in Mindanao.
“Abi nila kita ang problema… sa ato magsugod ang kalinaw” (They think we are the problem… so peace starts with ourselves).
As most of our nation’s population still think that conflict arises from areas with Indigenous Peoples and Moro people, this kinship can prove that peace is where they’re at and peace starts here—with them.