During the final day of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, which is celebrated every October, the tribal council of the Bagobo Tagabawa invited us to attend their final ceremonies. We were told that, among several events of the day, “there will be a ceremony to officially include us as members of the tribe.” They actually surprised us by conferring honorary leadership titles along with our ritual membership into the tribal community. For this sacred embrace, we express our deep gratitude to the Indigenous Political Structure, the clans, and the families of the Bagobo Tagabawa people. By the Creator’s grace and mercy, we commit to fulfill the duties and responsibilities implied in this honor.

A ritual for an inter-generational relationship. From their perspective, PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee for Peace (CFP) are likened to a tribe. Joji and I are seen as the first-generation leaders of our tribe. Our inter-tribal partnership will continue to the next generations of PBCI-CFP leaders and workers. Unlike colonial-patterned partnerships, there is no benefactor-beneficiary category in this relationship. It is a sharing of life and resources, energized by the Creator’s love, equal in power and responsibilities, and mutually accountable to each other.

In our newsletter last month, we shared our long-term partnership commitment with the Bagobo Tagabawa because of an on-going dialogue and Participatory Action Research. We, at PBCI and CFP, are especially focused on helping the women entrepreneurs to gain access to entrepreneurial and technical expertise to build transformative, conflict-sensitive, inclusive agricultural distribution systems through a market-systems approach and strategic partnerships. In turn, we anticipate these market systems to create decent jobs, allowing the Bagobo Tagabawa women — a traditionally excluded group — to become active participants in a sustainable and regenerative economy.

This is part of their invitation to us in 2015 to journey with them and to stand in solidarity with them, specifically with regards to –

  • their struggle to protect their ancestral domain;
  • their struggle for their right to self-determination;
  • their programs and activities to preserve their cultural identity, like the School of Living Traditions;
  • their aspirations towards a sustainable and regenerative livelihood and development; and,
  • their dream of sending the youth leaders to the university without losing their Indigenous values and identity.

Honorary titles and tribal membership. The titles are made up of rank or designation – Bai for women, and Datu for men – followed by a name that reflects the impression of the tribal council on one’s leadership role. Bai and Datu can be translated as ‘tribal chieftain.’

Most tribal councils are very careful in conferring membership and honorary titles to those from outside their community, especially to Settlers like us. This practice of hospitality has been abused by many. We receive this sacred trust with much respect, deep gratitude, and utmost sense of responsibility.

Sihaya Ansibod is Bai Tigsalin. It literally means ‘Identifier.’ She is perceived by this Indigenous community as a facilitator in identifying good choices — such as livelihood products that are inherent in the context of the Bagobo Tagabawa.

Joji is Bai KasunayanIt means ‘Peace.’ The community acknowledges the holistic and tangible kind of peace Joji brings in our inclusive development conversations.

Lakan is Datu Pugawang. It means ‘MindSetter.’ They say our training and seminars often challenge them to go back to their Bagobo Tagabawa Indigenous being (spirituality, worldview, value systems, customs) as the primary set of lenses to evaluate external ideas of development and fund-driven projects. This is also an expression of trust as we are invited and given privilege to help train their next generation leaders to face 21st century realities while being strong as Indigenous persons.

We’ll stick with Tagalog Indigenous names. Even with our new Bagobo Tagabawa tribal names, we will continue to use our original Tagalog Indigenous names, Lakan and Lakambini, when communicating with you – to avoid confusion.

Thank you—our partner individuals, families, organizations, and networks—for your love through prayers and partnership in this justice-based peace and reconciliation advocacy.

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