TALUBIN, Mountain Province — Tribal leaders in highland Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) have already started to embrace and explain to their co-tribal members the need for their culture and tradition to adjust to the changing times even as traditional knowledge is at the core of their indigenous identity.
Preserving indigenous culture is crucial – a fact the Philippine government strictly adheres to – given its relationship between indigenous people in the country and the land they inhabit.
Philippine government holds fast the stand that traditional knowledge is at the nucleus of indigenous identity and that its transmission to succeeding generations must never be disrupted.
Indigenous traditional people’s knowledge, identity, culture, language, heritage and livelihoods and its transmission from one generation to the next must be preserved, encouraged and protected.
Given the present time of which situations are fast evolving, some of the culture and tradition in the highlands have re-adjusted, while still keeping the essence of how such culture and tradition developed.
There is increasing evidence that highland tribal regulatory processes including resource-management strategies among the different highland grouping in CAR vary across tribal elders and continue to evolve as time and circumstance call for it – or demands it.
Relationship with a specific place among highlanders is particularly important in that it provides a foundation for belief systems, knowledge and livelihood practices that underlie mechanisms through which change is experienced, understood, resisted or responded to.
CAR highland indigenous people cope and adapt to environmental changes or vulnerabilities closely linked to development patterns, pervasive structural challenges, land use, pollution, biodiversity change and the like.
In short, highlanders point to adjusting their culture and tradition as “resilience.”
Such culture and tradition readjustments were explained last week by Police Executive Master Sergeant Gaspar Suagen, of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Mountain Province Provincial Police Office (MPPO).
Sgt. Suagen hails from barangay Talubin, municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province and is assigned in the same province. Barangay Talubin lies on a crossroad leading to Banue, Ifugao.
One cultural practice made an example by Sgt. Suagen is the burial rite practiced in Talubin. For countless years, it was the practice of the Talubin tribe to bury their deceased immediately the following day after one day of vigil.
Such rigid Talubin burial rite has also been a practice in other places in Bontoc, Mountain Province.
However, Sgt. Suagen revealed that Talubin tribal elders, after witnessing events that posed stress and challenges to relatives of the dead, relaxed the tribal rules and allowed for the deceased to be buried after some days and nights of vigil elapsed.
One manifestation of challenge posed by this “one day watch of the dead” is that it leaves no room for other Talubin relatives who left Talubin to labor in far places to come home and pay their last respects to their loved ones who departed.
Sgt. Suagen made a clear explanation about this in cases of Talubin highlanders who have become Filipino Overseas Workers (OFW). Before, many as these OFWs wanted so much to come home and pay their last respect but were constrained not to, knowing fully well that their burial code leaves them no time to be able to see their loved ones who passed away.
Sgt. Suagen also explained that there were various instances whereby, Talubin relatives, having left their hometown and residing in other places outside of CAR, and in their desire to rush back home to beat the deadline “one day vigil, instead met unfortunate incidents along their way.”
“In their desire to beat the one day vigil by dropping everything they are doing and to rush for home to see for the last time their relatives who passed away, they have incurred unfortunate accidents or unexplained events along their way,” Sgt. Suagen explained.
There were also other unfortunate incidents that relatives experienced, like being able to reach home only to realize that the deadline has beaten them, for their dead has already been buried.
Talubin tribal leadership like other leadership in communities in CAR rest on skill, knowledge, attitude, spiritual counseling, mentoring, unquestioned integrity and good working relationship with their tribal members.
Sgt. Suagen revealed that Talubin tribal elders realized the changing times and circumstance constrict the movements of their co-tribal members as regards their burial practice. In oral decree, they relaxed the rules, which before, was inflexible.
Now, Talubin tribal elders allow living relatives to decide the number of days for vigil of a deceased, to leave room for OFWs and other relatives to have time to come home to give their last farewell to the departed, Sgt. Suagen said.
It was also noted by Sgt. Suagen that such change has been embraced by other tribal communities in Bontoc which also previously adhered to the one day vigil.
Before, the one day vigil practice left no room for argument for Talubin tribal people. It was a rigid rule. With sageness emanating from tribal leaders and redefining the one day vigil by relegating it to background, Talubin tribe folks have been given the leeway on decision of burial of their dead relatives.
The one day vigil was often a bone of contention among those highlanders who inter-married with Talubin folks and whose tribal affinity does not practice the one day vigil.
Talubin tribal elders’ have given their members individually, or collectively, to have a choice in responding to the changing times regarding burial of their dead and it depends on their ability to enable them to express their last sentiments to their deceased, Sgt. Suagen noted.
“Talubin tribal elders have made it a point that members of Talubin working outside Talubin and the Philippines do not have to unnecessarily rush for home during a wake, knowing our elders have given them ample room to come home,” Sgt. Suagen explained.
Talubin elders proved that resilience is a function that is needed to be undertaken for a combined result of coping, adaptive and transformative capacities, which in turn leads to persistence, incremental adjustments or transformational responses in the face of changing times, Sgt. Suagen expressed.
CAR tribal elders’ closeness and intimacy with the highlands promotes resilience, underpinning of moral relationship of responsibility to tribal members particularly during death time, access rules, sacred rites and others, helping members to reduce effect of changing times.
At the same stand, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues explained traditional knowledge “occupies a pivotal place in mitigating changing times. Transferring this information across generations helps them to cope.”
Indigenous culture and tradition of highlanders in CAR are inextricably linked to their lands, territories and natural resources.
On the other hand, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People holds the same conviction of the Talubin elders in their decision-making, stating, among others, “Indigenous people have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures, distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures and practices and in case where they exist, juridical systems or customs.”
Compared with others sites visited by tourists, like Sagada, Maligcong Rice Terraces or Banaue Rice terraces, barangay Talubin may not trigger much sight seers or trekkers vision line.
But Talubin, home to 1,766 persons or a total of 387 households and family total of 410 as of latest count by Philippine statistics Authority (PSA) is home of the Humuyyo Falls, now becoming famous, and visitors are now discovering and dubbing Talubin as “The land of Clear Waters.”
Talubin is the only barangay in Mountain Province possessing two rivers, the Agyo and Talubin Rivers.
The observation of visitors is correct. For the people of Bontoc source part of their major domestic water needs from the clear waters of Talubin and the Bontoc municipal government through the Water Works Unit has already plunked down millions of pesos connecting pipes to Talubin springs.
Ceasar Kalang-ad, of Bontoc Municipal Engineer’s office said these water sources include Gakhan Creek, Balabag Spring and Sullong Spring, all sourced from Mount Kalaw-wit and Mount Ap-apoy of Talubin.
Talubin is about 12 kilometers from the capital town of Bontoc.