Monday, January 26, 2009

Mangyan, Aeta fold write own storybooks

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Feature/
By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

WHY DID THEY become poor and oppressed when their ancestors used to live in an Eden-like setting that was vast, verdant, rich and peaceful?

These questions are answered in the storybooks for children written and illustrated by the Mangyan and Aeta peoples themselves.
Poverty and discrimination have long defined their lives. Considered a breed apart, they lived on the edge of society. Whoever wrote the song “Negritoes of the mountain, what kind of food do you eat?” for Filipino schoolchildren of the post-American era did not realize then that it widened, rather than narrowed, the gap between the aboriginal Filipinos and the rest in society.
And so they wanted to write their own book, tell their own story. Pepito Caquipotan, an Alangan-Mangyan, did just that. So did the Aeta elders of Quirino and the Alangan Mangyan elders of Mindoro.
Three storybooks for children, told, written and illustrated by the Mangyan and Aeta themselves, have been published by the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous People’s Education in partnership with indigenous community schools.

The stories are in three languages—the language of the storyteller, Filipino and English—all running simultaneously on the same pages. These books are the first in the Kuwentong Katutubo (indigenous peoples’ stories) Series.

Scheming settlers
Short and easy to read, the books are not just for grade schoolers. Even adults could pick up lessons from them. The illustrations, done by the Mangyan and Aeta themselves, are big, unsophisticated and colorful.

“Diya, Kanyam Buay” (The Land is Our Life) is about how the Mangyans lost to scheming settlers the land and resources that God, whom they call Kapwan Agalapet, entrusted to them. It also tells about how they are working hard to claim what is rightfully theirs.

The book was written by Alangan-Mangyan Ma. Dolores Andrinay, Ligaya Lintawagin and Resureccion Taywan. The illustrator, June Anthony Galicia, is a Mangyan.

“In Agpalkuyugan Pepito” (The Journey of Pepito) is Pepito Caquipotan’s personal story about how he strayed from the Mangyan folkways, was drawn into a school fraternity and all kinds of vices and became alienated from his community. It also tells about how he returned to the fold via the Tugdaan Center for Learning and Development.

But he also reveals his hesitations. Could he see himself wearing G-strings again? Would he be able to learn the Mangyan ways again?

Blood of God
“Istorya na Lima a Dinum” (The Legend of the Five Rivers) deals with a story told by the Aeta elders of Quirino of how Apo a Talon (the god Talon) saved them from the drought by cutting his veins and letting his blood flow to become the five rivers, Anak, Manglad, Ngilinan, Dabubu and Dibuluan.

It was written by Carlos David, an Aeta, and illustrated by Avid Sanchez, David Pantaleon (both Aeta) and Roger Pumihic. Pumihic also did the illustrations for “The Journey of Pepito.”

But this book is not the Aeta people’s first.

In 1992, the Aeta of Zambales, with the help of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, published a coffeetable book (“Eruption and Exodus”) on their experiences of the Mount Pinatubo’s eruptions.

As the story goes, Talon commanded the Aeta’s ancestors: “As long as you stay in this territory nourished by my blood, you will never go hungry. Protect it and it will be yours for generations.”

Without land or livelihood
Alas, as in the case of many ancestral domains of indigenous peoples (IP) in the Philippines and all over the world, huge profit-making ventures have encroached upon their lands, driving them to the edge, rendering them landless and without means of livelihood.

The books also provide context and background information on the indigenous peoples. The Aeta of Quirino belong to the Negrito ethno-linguistic group found in Southeast Asia, most of whom were former hunter-gatherers. There are 33 known Negrito languages, one of which is the Kagi language spoken by the Aeta people in Quezon, Aurora and Quirino.

According to Pamulaan, the Aeta are the original possessors of the Sierra Madre mountain range of Eastern Luzon which the Aeta refer to as Diolanes. They were the original and sole inhabitants for thousands of years before non-Negrito people migrated to the Philippines 5,000 years ago.

The Alangan are among the seven Mangyan tribes of the island of Mindoro—Alangan, Batangan, Buhid, Iraya, Hanunuo, Ratagnon and Tadyawan. Altogether, the Mangyan people number some 63,000, but each tribe has its own language, culture and traditions.

Mangyan syllabary and way of writing has not been rendered extinct and efforts are being done to popularize it among students.

Next generation
Anthropologist Benjamin Abadiano, 45, founder of the Davao-based Pamulaan and president of Assisi Foundation, said there would be more in the series.

Pamulaan, the first of its kind in the Philippines, is a college for indigenous peoples from all over the country. Abadiano, 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership, along with the Holy Spirit Sisters, helped the Alangan Mangyans establish Tugdaan in 1989.

The Assisi Foundation, through its Peacepaths program in Quirino, aims to strengthen the Aeta people’s organizational capabilities so that they, especially those affected by Typhoon “Paeng” in 2006, could have better access to education, food, water and alternative sources of livelihood.

“We hope the book series would help portray the various realities and challenges faced by the IP,” Abadiano says.

“Through these books, we hope the wisdom, knowledge and practices of the IP could be documented and promoted for the coming generation, so that they would be valued, not just be the IP, but by the rest of society as well.”