THE DARAGHUYAN of Bukidnon number only about 1,200, but their presence cannot be ignored by those who want to visit Mt. Kitanglad. Tourists, local and foreign alike are required to participate in a ritual sacrifice led by the tribe’s elders before commencing on a trek there, which was why before we set forth for the mountain, we had to stop by the local market for a few things that would be used as our offering in the ritual: a lapad of rum, a bottle of local Chinese wine reputed to have aphrodisiac properties, a pack of crackers, a few pieces of hard candy, and a box of cheap cigarettes, and the main attraction: three live chickens.
A 4×4 truck took us up the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad, as close as it could to Sitio Inhandig where the tribe resides. And then we had to go by foot to the tribe’s hamlet. It was a short distance, but hiking up a hill and crossing a stream while trying to placate several nervous fowls in your hand could be quite challenging. Okay, very challenging. Any temptation to curse at the heavens, however, was wiped away by the warm smiles that greeted us at the hamlet.
We gathered around an altar alongside everyone in the community, all of them dressed in traditional garb — black and white pieces of clothing highlighted by streaks of angry red, which they say represents the blood of their people. Then female village elder Bae Inatlawan Adelina Tarino began chanting and banging a gong to call on the spirits of their ancestors, who they believe reside in the mountains. In exchange for our offering, the spirits would grant us safe passage.
The practice has been adopted by the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the Mt. Kitanglad natural park to show its respect for the customs of the indigenous lumad tribes of Bukidnon, and to underscore the importance of the mountain to the history and the psyche of the people who have lived there before anyone else. But we were in for a special treat as media people, and after the ceremony, we were led back to the heritage house, a small hall where the tribe gathers for meetings and performances. There we were entertained with a colorful medley of traditional dances from the Daraghuyan youth that represented courtship and mating rituals, hunting and gathering practices, and childbearing processes, among other things. Suddenly all the humiliation the squawking chickens subjected me to on the way to the community seemed all worth it.
Kids from the Daraghuyan tribal community.
We learned later that children receive their dance training from the tribal school, where they are taught not just how to read and write, but also to learn about the culture and history of their tribe.
The strong sense of pride among the Daraghuyan kids, though, has inspired them not just to look back, but also to move forward. When the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs (KIN) offered scholarships to young tribe members to continue their education in lowland schools, they gladly took up the offer, knowing that the education would help them serve their community in good stead.
Interestingly, that same sense of pride in their history has also helped them adjust to life in the lowlands, making them strong enough to withstand challenges such as bullying from classmates and being away from their home. Today the older of these children actively work with the KIN to find ways to continue funding the scholarship program. They also constantly try to find ways to augment the livelihood of tribe members, training fellow Daraghuyan to create and sell mud paintings, charms, and other traditional handicraft.
The whole tribe, it seems, has decided that the only way it could continue to thrive is to look to the future even while being grounded in the past. No one embodies this more than their leader, Bae Inatlawan. Apart from her duties in the village as a leader, a teacher, a shaman, and a healer, she also has a seat in the executive committee of the PAMB as a member of the council of elders. In the board, she is actively involved in dialogue with politicians, government officials, NGO representatives, and other stakeholders of Mt. Kitanglad, helping shape policy which would affect her people.
She worked with the PAMB and the Malaybalay City, both of which endorsed the Daraghuyan’s ancestral domain claim before the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. On March 20, 2009, the Daraghuyan received approval for their claim, which means that the tribe now legally owns some 4,200 hectares of land within the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park – the first tribe to have been awarded so in Bukidnon.
This has given them the right to manage and develop the territory, as well as to restrict entry. It assures them as well that they would no longer be driven away by lowlanders from their land, sparing them from the fate that once befell their ancestors.