“The Spirit of the Creator was there!” That was the constant existential feeling I had while participating at the Talaandig Day Celebration. It was held last 14 October 2022 in their ancestral territory at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad. That day of festivities was actually the final event of a whole week of rituals and celebrations. It was indeed a day when, from the perspective of our team at PBCI and CFP, we participated in activities that harmonizes us with the Creator, with our being, with others, and with the creation. Our team also accompanied the traditional leaders of the Bagobo Tagabawa Tribe to meet the traditional leaders of the Talaandig Tribe, praying and hoping that the two Indigenous communities become partners in inclusive development.
The Spirit of the Creator was there.
It’s the presence of Divine Energy and a feeling or perception of Reality when people, nature, resources, and events harmonize together. This sense of Reality is fueled by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The name of the Creator in the Talaandig cosmology is Magbabaya — the highest and the most powerful deity addressed as Lintowangan nanlimlag diwata nangaroyan balos sa nanggantian, “the Spirit who made trees, stones and people.”
While enjoying the celebration, I remembered the story of an ancient Semitic prophet, Ezekiel. At the end of his book, he had a vision of the fair distribution of land among the tribes of Israel. The story ended with a statement: “The Lord is there.”
That prompted me to pray for the just distribution of land in this country, especially the rights of the Indigenous Peoples to defend, protect, and regenerate their Ancestral Domains. I also prayed for the full enjoyment of their Right to Self Determination.
Bridging Talaandig and Bagobo Tagabawa Peoples
Last year, Bai Jerlina Owok, Chieftain of the Bagobo Tagabawa in Binaton, came with us to celebrate the 2021 Kinship Affirmation between the Indigenous Peoples, Bangsamoro, and Settlers. We introduced her to Datu Migketay Saway, spiritual leader of the Talaandig Tribe in Lantapan, Bukidnon.
Our intention and motivation for bridging Indigenous Peoples is to help fulfill what we’ve heard from the elders of the Talaandig Tribe — the Five Pillars of Kinship established in the traditional peace pact of their ancestors: (a) co-operation; (b) mutual sharing of information; (c) mutual protection of life; (d) recognition and respect; and, (e) mutual obligation to help the needy.
Foundations of PBCI-CFP partnership with IP communities
My wife, Lakambini, and I are grateful for being embraced by this tribe. The relationship was spiritually and culturally affirmed when we became one of the Ninongs and Ninangs of Aduna and Jay. Beyond this inter-personal relationship, our team at PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee for Peace (CFP) sustains our relationship with the Talaandig community based on what we refer to as The Four Pillars of PBCI-CFP Partnership with Indigenous Peoples.
1. Peace and Reconciliation. Through the eyes of faith, we envision a PAR Movement based on salaam-shalom. We see various peoples’ initiatives toward making our land and people harmonious in all their relationships. We see our local communities influenced by a culture of peace.
2. Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices. IKSPs are local knowledge developed over centuries of experimentation and are passed orally from generations to generation. It was found to be an important catalyst to sustainable development due to their direct connection to resource management and conservation.
3. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP is “the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.”
4. Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. This is Republic Act 8371 — “to recognize, protect, and promote the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities or Indigenous Peoples, creating a National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), establishing mechanisms and appropriating funds” to sustain its purposes.
Our partnership with the Talaandig Indigenous People
Our friendship began in 2007 when they hosted the Mindanaw Inter-Tribal Conference organized by the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement. Since then, our relationship grew deeper.
In 12-13 February 2012, we celebrated our partnership and formalized it through a ritual offered to the Creator — known to Hebrew writers as Elohim, to New Testament writers as Theos, to the Talaandig people as Magbabaya, to the Islamic believers as Allah, and to the Western Christians as God.
In 07-08 March 2012, we were tasked to document the Kinship Re-Affirmation of the Indigenous Peoples and the Bangsamoro. We joined over 1,000 people at the Talaandig Ancestral Territory for that historic event. For the first time in 492 years, 13 Bangsamoro tribes have come together with 18 non-Islamized indigenous tribes to reaffirm their shared ancestry and commit to the 5 pillars of Kinship established in the traditional peace pact of their ancestors, namely — co-operation; mutual sharing of information; mutual protection of life; recognition and respect; and, mutual obligation to help the needy.
In 09 April 2012, the PeaceBuilders Community were given permission by Datu Migketay Saway, along with his fellow leaders at the Talaandig Tribe, and the top executives of Unifrutti Group Philippines to mediate in a peace dialogue between them and to mutually search for healing for their wounded past.
In 08 March 2014, we witnessed again the re-affirmation of this beautiful IP-Moro kinship. It was organized by Datu Migketay Saway and by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus.
In 25 March 2015, Willard Metzger, then Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada, led the PeaceBuilders Community’s Field Operations Team in presenting to Datu Migketay Saway our Plaque of Recognition as Senior Consultant at PBCI.
In 16-20 May 2017, three Manila-based consultants of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) went on a five-day peace learning tour in Mindanao. They went to Datu Migketay for a courtesy call and sought his advice for them as PBCI consultants.
In 08 March 2019, we went again to the Talaandig Ancestral Territory to celebrate the IP-Moro-Settler Kinship. It was during this time when we, the Settlers, were embraced by both the IPs and the Moro as their ritual kin.
In 07 May 2019, Joji and I were invited to serve as principal sponsors at the marriage ceremony of Datu Saway’s daughter, Aduna Saway with her groom, Jay Manpatilan. It was a great joy to be invited into the merging clans and respective tribes of this beautiful Talaandig bride and this handsome Higaonon groom.
In 09 March 2020, Datu Migketay Saway and the tribal leadership invited us to participate in a joint worship event — Indigenous Spirituality, Islam, and Christian. There were about 300 people from all over Mindanao who came. Together, we worshipped the Creator of all human beings. In this inter-faith activity, we come humbly with some common perspectives: (a) that the Creator is our common Provider-Sustainer; (b) that in this world we live in, there is an interplay of spiritual and physical dynamics; and, (c) that in this physical-spiritual world, we all aspire for love, joy, justice, and peace. We affirm these truths along with our IP and Moro sisters and brothers. These are Creator’s truth for all truth is Creator’s truth.
In 08 March 2021, we first introduced the Chieftain of the Bagobo Tagabawa Indigenous People, Bai Jerlina Owok, to the Talaandig Indigenous People. Our prayer and hope was that, the two Indigenous communities we are currently serving, would become partners in inclusive development and social entrepreneurial initiatives.
Bonding with Binahon family
Last June, Henry Mark Binahon and Regina Mae Ongkiko got married. They invited us to be one of their principal sponsors. Now, we are their Ninong and Ninang and were so glad and grateful to relate with them in this way.
Henry Mark is a Talaandig. His parents, Henry and Perla, are respected agro-forestry farmerpreneurs. Their farm is within the Ancestral Domain of the Talaandig Indigenous People.
Regina Mae is a Tagalog. Her parents, Boyet and Chi, are our friends and colleagues in peacebuilding. In fact, Boyet is the current Vice President of the Board of Trustees of PeaceBuilders Community.
After the official activities of the Talaandig Day, we took this opportunity to take our extended family photos.
More memorable moments we’ve captured
Various interactions and transactions happen in celebration events like this. Networking, renewing old friendships, making new friends, comparing notes on community development initiatives, and reviewing promises made based on written or unwritten agreements are made, wittingly or unwittingly, in festive occasions such as this.
It’s a joy to see Aduna leading the ceremony. My wife, Lakambini, and I are grateful for being embraced by this tribe. The relationship was spiritually and culturally affirmed when we became one of the Ninongs and Ninangs of Aduna and her groom, Jay. This inter-personal relationship solidifies our growing relationship with the Talaandig Indigenous Community. We treasure this relationship, especially with the Saway clan.
It’s a joy to publicly affirm our partnership with the Talaandig IP Community. Both the Talaandig Elders and our PBCI-CFP Leaders have been expressing the mutual blessing for having each other as a partner.
It’s a joy to see Bai Jerlina Owok become known among Bukidnon’s IP communities. As a chieftain of the Bagobo Tagabawa IP Community, I see Bai Jerlina’s bridging leadership as she develops a deeper relationship with the leaders of the Talaandig IP Communities in Bukidnon.
It’s a joy to see representatives of a major corporation connect with Bai Jerlina Owok. This business corporation operates within the Ancestral Domain of the Bagobo Tagabawa. Certain legal, formal, and ethical issues need to be ironed out. The dialogue seems to have gone pleasantly and justly.