Wanay Baluyan is a new graduate of our PeaceBuilders School of Leadership (PBSL). She’s a native of the Banao Tribe from the Cordillera Region in the northern part of the Philippines. Part of her training at PBSL was to get immersed cross-culturally with another tribe. As a result, she was ritually adopted by the Tagabawa Bagobo Tribe from the Southern Mindanao Region. This relationship contributes to inter-tribal solidarity among various Indigenous Peoples struggling for their right to self-determination. She wrote her story just before she went back home to her native community.
I am humbled by this embrace by Bai Jerlina Owok who adopted me as her daughter. This gift of relationship with the Tagabawa Bagobo people became possible only by the Creator’s grace. I pray that this connection would help bridge the Indigenous Peoples of the North and of the South towards a solidarity of all the aboriginal peoples in this whole archipelago. May my life be one of the funnels of this blessing that would unify our multicultural peoples in this rich and beautiful land.
When I was just starting as a volunteer missionary at PBCI in Kalinga, I was amazed and inspired with the stories of Ate Tala about her experiences in Mindanao and the different people living in the area.
Real life stories are so powerful.
Then I started to dream to have my own story — a story that can bring hope and opportunity for other people to dream also.
Uncle Royce Lingbawan, one of my elders, keeps on telling me: “Masapul un sika nat mantuwiliyan janat pajam un aanak kan yajanat sumarunu un aanak” (Be a role model to the young generation in our tribal community). With these, I prayed to my Creator to bequeath me a life journey that I could use to inspire other people too, which was answered through my 2-year internship at the PeaceBuilders School of Leadership.
Prior to my exposure to the different ethnic groups of the people in Mindanao, I was so ethnocentric. I believed that my culture is the best among cultures in the different Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the country.
Part of my internship training has been my exposure to the different ethnic tribes in Mindanao.
I was introduced to one of our partner communities at Coffee For Peace, the Bagobo-Tagabawa Tribe. There, I met one of the tribal chieftains, Bai Jerlina Owok. During one of the coffee conferences, we were given the chance to have a sincere conversation. She asked me about my vision in life. So, I told her how the Creator opened my heart and mind to the wisdom of my tribal elders. How their dreams for sustaining our Banao culture and for inclusive developments programs for our tribe, the Kalinga Province, and the Cordillera Region became part of my being. I told her the purpose of my stay in Mindanao, that my elders supported me in this training.
That night, she expressed her disappointment about the challenges faced by the young generation who are bullied and discriminated by other people, especially the non-IP. This is the major reason why the young generation tries to hide their identity as indigenous persons. She then asked me if I had experience being discriminated by other people. I told her how I earned respect from non-IP in the midst of their prejudices among Indigenous People. With these, she invited me to give an inspirational message to their young generation during their 2018 Sinubbadan Festival. During the event, she introduced me to her tribe and acknowledged me as an honorary daughter in their tribe, witnessed by her tribal members; then she said, “You may call me Ina”.
After a year, Ina Jerlina invited me to formalize my confirmation as an honorary member of their tribe through a ritual they refer as “Pagtanggap”. Before the ritual, she introduced me to the other tribal leaders. The chieftains of the tribe performed the ritual led by Ina Jerlina. The ritual started with a prayer and a tribal chant. I was cleansed with water in the head that was fetch from the crater of Mt. Apo. It symbolized, I was informed, spiritual cleansing and their recognition and embrace as an honorary member of the descendants of Apu Sandawa. My limbs were also cleansed with water that contained extract of indigenous plants to give me strength as I journey with the tribe. Afterwards, they dressed me up with a full Bagobo-Tagabawa dress. They gave me a name. I am Bia Masune — which means Princess of Peace. After the ritual, they invited me to give a public reflection as being newly embraced, honorary member of the tribe.
After the ritual, one of the chieftains name Matanam Rolly Ayo Ruis literally embraced me in his arms and said: “Always remember that you have an Ama here in Sta. Cruz, from now on, call me Ama”. He was as well the municipal Indigenous People’s Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur.
During the ritual, I felt the energies of the tribal elders. They were so strong. Some of them were spirits of approval while some were spirits of introspection. I keep on praying to my Creator that I may have a listening and discerning spirit. After the ritual, I cannot help myself from crying. I know those were tears of happiness.
I am so grateful to the Creator for this newly established relationship. I never expect this kind of highlight on my journey here in Minadanao. I am honored to be part of the descendants of Apu Sandawa. I asked my honorary Ina regarding her basis for embracing me to their tribe. She said: “It is purely based on love, respect, compassion and responsibility as well”.
This relationship broadened my weltanschauung. My understanding of cultural relativism deepened my respect towards other culture. My tendency to be ethnocentric is being significantly minimized, mostly motivated by my respect to my own culture.
One of my elders who is an Anglican Priest wrote a comment on my photo dressed with a Bagobo Dress: “Inpailam un mavalin manvovojong winu mansusunod jin I-Banao ya Lumad” (You portrayed that the Banao Tribe and the IP’s of Mindanao can embrace each other as sisters and brothers).
I am humbled by this embrace by Bae Jerlina Owok who adopted me as her daughter. This gift of relationship with the Tagabawa Bagobo people became possible only by the Creator’s grace. I pray that this connection would help bridge the Indigenous Peoples of the North and of the South towards a solidarity of all the aboriginal peoples in this whole archipelago. May my life be one of the funnels of this blessing that would unify our multicultural peoples in this rich and beautiful land.
Aiza is Wanay — a proud indigenous woman from the tribe of Banao in the Province of Kalinga. She is a Registered Nurse with specific expertise on health advocacy. Along her professional journey, she gained skills on systems administration, event coordination as well as community-based learning facilitation. She is also a dedicated environmental activist. Her dream is to continue her passion to help her people in the area of community-based health care and inclusive development initiatives — such as coffee farming, processing, and marketing. A graduate of PeaceBuilders School of Leadership, Wanay leads to rejuvenate the coffee plantations in their tribal lands in Kalinga, starting with the properties her family owns.