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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Lumad scholars in our midst

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) —   Something quite historic took place in the Board room of the Finster Building at Ateneo de Davao University last Wednesday, 15 March 2017. No, it was not the celebration of the 496th year since Magellan occupied what they later referred to as “Islas Filipinas” (which was to be remembered the following day, 16 March), nor to commemorate William Shakespeare’s reference to the assassination of Julius Cesar in the year 44 BCE in his play with name of the Roman Emperor.

It was far more modest, but for those of us constituting the Department of Anthropology of the Ateneo de Davao and the ADDU-Ateneo Institute of Anthropology (ADDU-AIA), something historically wonderful happened that day.  We finally produced the person who would be the first graduate of the M.A. Anthropology course of ADDU which was founded around five years ago. This person is Marites “Matet” T. Gonzalo. And to our pride, this person is a bonafide Lumad, a Tagakolu from the uplands of  Malita, Davao Occidental, the Tagakolu  homeland in Mindanao.

While the science of Anthropology is not exclusively the study of indigenous peoples, but being located in Mindanao, ADDU-AIA, the Lumad communities have a special place in the hearts and minds of those of us in this Department. And to our delight, the first person to publicly, successfully defend her M.A. thesis, comes from and has worked with her very own people. Thus the title of her thesis: “Ang “Kolu” ug ang Pakigbisog sa Pagpatunhay sa “pagka-Tagakolu.”

Marites “Matet” T. Gonzalo, a member of the Tagakolu tribe in Malita, Davao Occidental, the first graduate of  the MA in Anthropology program of  the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology at the Atneeo de Davao University. Photo taken after successfully defending her thesis on 15 March 2017.  Photo courtesy of AGO TOMAS

Yes, Ms. Gonzalo wrote her thesis in Mindanawon-Cebuano (as distinct from the tal Cebuano-Bisaya spoken in Central Visayas and mainly the rural areas of Mindanao). And during her actual defense, most of the questions and answers were in this language, although English and Pilipino inevitably were also spoken, along with the Tagakolu language. For if one reads her thesis, one encounters all four languages inter-mingling with each other.

It is to the credit of universities like ADDU that it has embraced the ramifications of a post-colonial academic requirements, which has been affirmed by Dep-Ed’s mother-tongue based thrust. Why privilege only Filipino when there are other dominant languages spoken by millions of citizens in this country. Eventually, perhaps not only will theses and dissertations be written only in English, Filipino and even Cebuano (in its various appropriatons) but also Ilokano, Bikol, Waray and who knows – in Tausug, Meranao, Maguindanao, Bagobo-Tagabaya, Subanen, Mandaya and so many others. For after all, if one uses Tagakolu, the Kalagans and Mandayas can very well understand the text.

One significance of what Ms Gonzalo accomplished is that she made it possible for us today to have a glimpse of the lives of contemporary Tagakolu, by understanding fully the symbolic meaning of the Kolu (the area around the headwaters or watershed). Kolu of course is related to the common Austronesian word – ulo (head) – and surprise, it also means head (as in headwaters!). The ethnographic aspects of their lives documented a century ago by the American anthropologist, Fay Cooper Cole (who in 1905 wrote “The Wild Tribes of Davao District, Mindanao) have survived where the kolu remains intact.  But as Ms. Gonzalo is “an insider” and has “the native’s point of view”, can speak Tagakolu and has grown up in this landscape, she could stand on Cooper Cole’s shoulder and add more layers of truth to projecting the Tagakolu’s identity.

Truly this is the challenge for Mindanawon anthropologists today, which has been pointed out in many fora and conferences. We cannot rely anymore on ethnographies researched and textualized during the colonial period and/or in the post-independence period but still done from the “colonial lens.” These have to be updated; many of the findings that had little grounding needed to be debunked. There is richness in our Lumad communities’ cultures – labeled mostly as indigenous knowledge, skills and practices (IKSP) – that have not been uncovered by past studies.

Ms Gonzalo, of course, is not the person to pioneer these efforts. There have been already research studies and publications on the Lumads in Mindanao that have tried to follow ethnographic methodologies much more “haom” (fitted) today following, post-colonial and post-structural theoretical frameworks. The literature is expanding, and thankfully most are now Filipinos, pioneered by the likes of E.A. Manuel and Marcelo Maceda and later to include Dr. Linda Burton, Dr. Eric Casiňo, Dr/Fr. Albert Alejo S.J., Dr. Macario Tiu, Atty./Dr. Gus Gatmaytan,  Fr. Rafael Tianero O.M.I., Mr. Manny Nabayra and others. But they are non-Lumad.

It is in this sense that Dr. Vel Suminguit (a Subanen, now professor at Central Mindanao University) and Ms Gonzalo could be considered trailblazers in this movement of Lumad youth  going to school all the way to graduate studies and doing very well in the field of Anthropology.  Of course, there are others in parts of Luzon (especially Batanes and the Cordillera) and Moro scholars from Mindanao. But for the Lumads of Mindanao, there still are only a few.

But right now at ADDU-AIA, we have five more scholars who are Mandayas and Bagobo-Tagabawa. And more are interested. At the Pamulaan Institute of the University of SouthEastern Philippines (USEP), there have been A.B. Applied Anthropology graduates. And for sure, across the colleges and universities in Mindanao, a growing number of Lumad youth are enrolled in the basic education courses, senior high and taking up college degrees. In time, the number of Lumad scholars studying Anthropology and related social sciences, could further expand.

When that happens, the procedure of seeking Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) before any scholar could enter a Lumad area and conduct a research study may have to change. Because the scholar is a Lumad person, which means he or she shares the right to give his/her consent.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of Mindanews. Bro. Karl M. Gaspar CSsR is Academic Dean and Professor at the St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City, teaches Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University and is a member of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team (RIMT). An author of several books,  Gaspar recently launched his latest, “A Hundred Years of Gratitude,” in celebration of his 70th birthday and 30th year as a Redemptorist Brother).

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