August 24

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The Indigenous People: A Tradition as Precious as Life Itself

The Philippines have a large number of indigenous ethnic groups living in the country. Their plight is largely unspoken. Tribal voices have historically been silent. These indigenous people are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Miraculously, these communal members were not absorbed by centuries of Spanish and United States colonization of the Philippines. A real gift as a result of this, is that they have retained their customs and traditions. It was precious to witness up close and personal.

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My Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Joan were missionaries in the Philippines for many years. My four cousins: Gary, Michele, Renee and Lucinda, were blessed to spend many years of their childhood here. I enjoyed their stories and seeing the many pictures of their Tribal House mission work. I am proud of their hard work creating a sustainable change in these indigenous communities.

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I myself have always admired those who are able to resist modern technologies and live the simple life. I have read such stories in the pages of National Geographic with great interest. Perhaps, that’s why some of my favorite family vacations are to national parks or scuba diving trips. Without electricity or available WiFi, modern gadgets don’t work. Hence you can relish in the beauty of nature, admire God’s work and be present in the moment.

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This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to rediscover the Indigenous people. I witnessed their identity as Filipinos. I saw their lifestyle and the warmth of their communities.

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I saw in these tribal people the true resilience of the Filipino spirit. They have a deeply ingrained dignity that has withstood the endless years of marginalization. Theirs is a simple life but one that offers many rewards. I am willing to bet the incidence of hypertension is much lower here as stress levels are undoubtedly much less. My traveling companion Ryan enjoyed unwinding on a bamboo hammick.

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I expected to have pity for them. In my naive eyes, I thought their living conditions would be hard. That was until I visited the community. My eyes were opened. I listened to their stories and saw in them a real spirit of life.

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Despite it being a Saturday, the children were gathered around, eager to learn. In many ways, they seemed further advanced than other Filipino children I have visited. Heck how many American children are excited to do homework on a day off school.

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Then came the realization that the pity is really on us. We are often too busy to be present in the moment. Rushing to the next meeting or on the phone while life passes us by. The pace of living is slower here and that’s a good thing. My work friend Elaine jumped for joy, literally!

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There is time to relax and observe your environment. I felt so refreshed here. I sat along the river and enjoyed the water breeze on my face. My mind was completely clear as I savoured the moment.

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The homes, made of bamboo wood, are surprisingly sturdy. They feature open air to feel the lovely wind blow along the water. In America, so many are tied to a high mortgage payment for a large home with no view. I say there is something to be said for living in a bamboo home.

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The tribal people displayed a variety of social organization, cultural expression and artistic skills. Amazingly open and friendly, this male leader wanted his photo with me. We actually could communicate a bit as Tagalog was their native tongue.

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Many indigenous community show a high degree of creativity. They sell bowls, baskets, clothing, weapons and spoons. The tribal groups of the Philippines are known for their carved wooden figures, baskets, weaving, pottery and weaponry.

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This group displayed great business savy. The river path leads to a great waterfall view and amazing rapids. The community operates a rafting business and locally advertises. This helps to supplement a flow of funds into the Nueva tribal community.

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The role of elder and younger women are somewhat delineated in social occasions. The elder women have a say in decisions. They help with care giving to the young as well. They are recognized for their wisdom gained from the long existence in their village. They largely uphold and pass on the traditions.

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The younger women performed other activities like cooking, as they had developed a “mastery” of these sort of tasks. One younger women told me of preparing and cooking a pig butchered by the younger male members. Indigenous grown rice was served alongside.

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In the 1990s, there were more than 100 highland tribal groups constituting approximately 3% of the population. The upland tribal group I visited seemed to be a blend of ethnic origin.

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Sadly, the indigenous communities are slowly shrinking as are their traditions. I saw this a bit here. Many young men were wearing donated American brand clothes. Nike would be proud.

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I left with such a great gratitude for the indigenous peoples. I have waited so long to first hand experience their culture and hear their stories. I hope their tradition can live on.

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In pondering this experience, I am reminded that another gift of a Pulse assignment is the ability to be fully immersed in your environment. I don’t have a family to cook dinner for. The house doesn’t need cleaned. Homework doesn’t need checked. No dogs to feed or walk, though I am sad about this.

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In the absence of daily responsibilities, I am much more present in the moment. I am completely focused, as I am assimilating to the brilliant culture of the Philippines.

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A challenge I see in coming back is finding a balance to maintain this somewhat. Americans are constantly on the go. Isn’t stopping to take it all in, now and again, a good thing? I think daily reflection will be a must for me. I encourage each of you to stop enough to appreciate the moment. This is something we not only need, but won’t regret doing.

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