FIRST PERSON: What makes one a Bukidnon-Tagolwanen?

By Datu Manhanayan Atty. Burt M. Estrada

Datu Manhanayan Atty Burt M. Estrada reads the introduction of the book The Bukidnon Tagolwanen Moral Code: Bunkatol Ha Bulawan Daw Nangka Tasa Ha Lana during the launching on July 20, 2018 at the Bukidnon Studies Center in Bukidnon State University BukidnonNews.Net photo

Editorʾs Note: A Binukid version ʺNa Inu-Inu ha su Sabuwa ha Bukidnon Tagolwanen?ʺ is also published on BukidnonNews.Net.

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/14 January 2019) What defines oneʾs ethnicity? What makes one a native? What makes one a Bukidnon Tagolwanen?

Is it the place where he lives? The language he speaks? The kind of clothes he wear? Is it the religion he practices? The common misconception is that the IPs or natives are those who still live in the hinterlands. They are the people who are secluded from today’s “modern society”. Those people that dress, speak and look native. As a young boy growing up in Malaybalay in the 1980s I must admit that I had the same misconception.

I knew our family was regarded as a Lumad or native of Malaybalay but it did not matter to me then. As far as I was concerned I thought I could not possibly be considered as a native as I did not know how to speak the native dialect. I did not wear any native attire. I was living already in the poblacion and not in the forest and I did not believe in any of the religious practices that I sometimes witnessed.

By the age of eight, my father, retired judge Benjamin Propia Estrada, started bringing me every year to the head waters of the Tagoloan river or Sabangan. I was most excited to go hiking and camping with my father. What startled me was that I saw my father with the “natives” and participated or even led them in the activities which to me appeared to be something forbidden by our Catholic faith. I thought I saw a pagan exercise of sacrificing chickens while murmuring words that had no meaning to me. I knew my father to be a staunch Catholic. He was a very active church leader in our community.

I wasted no time asking him why he was participating in the native rituals when we are Christians. My father who I learned was anointed as Lumalambong Datu Manlumakbaw, told me that they were worshiping God. The same God that we worship in our church but through a different way, the way how our ancestors worshiped God even before the Spaniards arrived in our country. This opened my mind and my hearts to accept that I was a native – a Bukidnon, a Tagolwanen.

Almost every year since I was eight, I would accompany my father to our yearly pilgrimage to the headwaters of Tagoloan river. Although I initially went there mostly for the fun of it as I believe most of the people there did too, I slowly listened and tried to understand what was going on. Everything was spoken in the Binukid dialect which was still a very alien language to me. As I listened to the elders I would ask my father to explain to me what was being talked about. There I learned of the Batasan or the moral code of the Bukidnon people. I learned that the place where the rituals were held was considered as a very sacred place. I learned that it is regarded as the bedrock of civilization in Bukidnon. I learned that it is the source of law and governance for the Indigenous People of Bukidnon. I learned about the Bungkatul ha bulawan daw nang ka tasa ha lana” which is regarded as the “Golden Rules” of the lives of the Tumindek or natives of Bukidnon.

What struck me was the principles or norms enshrined in the Bungkatul ha bulawan daw nangka tasa ha lana were very similar to what is being taught by the Bible. Those were very simple yet basic principles laid out to be followed in any consensus building, agreement or conflict resolution; Kilalaha (mutual recognition and respect). Sayuda (Mutual sharing of information or transparency or honesty); Buliga (mutual help); Pabatonbatona (complimentary); and Pauyag-uyaga (to uplift each other).

The principles were basic and so familiar yet thought of as obsolete or impractical in the modernized world. Similar to how the Bible teaches us to love even our enemies, the principle of the Batasan seemed just wishful thinking that may be perceived as weakness.

I relayed these thoughts, like the similarity to Christian teachings, to one of the elders during one of our yearly pilgrimage in our sacred grounds. He told me we had an ultramodern culture. He added that what was being labeled by modern society as primitive was actually more advanced than the perceived modern way of thinking.

He told me that our culture sustained life for centuries or perhaps even millennia, while modernization has only been for less than 500 years yet it created many problems already for man. Problems like poverty, hunger and inequality were not experienced by our forefathers. Under the Datalan hu Agpangan daw Lamahan or framework of governance and society, each member of the community has a vital role to perform and everyone works for the betterment of the community while enjoying the opportunities and protection the community provides him.

Adherence to the Batasan allows for a harmonious relationship with others. It creates a culture of cooperation rather than competition. It sustains life as it respects all forms of life and truly believes that we are not owners of any resource (land, water, etc.) but mere stewards for the next generation. According to such elder, while we cannot deny modernization as a reality, we may be able to offer counter-influence. He said that what has been offered so far as a remedy to the excesses of modernization have all been borne of the same mind-modernization. These “solutions” cannot solve the problems modernization created for a thing cannot be changed by itself.

The Indigenous culture is something untouched by modernization, it is apart from modernization having preexisted it. In order to change something, you have to be divorced from that which you seek to change. I am of the firm belief that if we are able to influence others towards our Batasan we might help create a better tomorrow.

I used to wonder why I have not come across any literature of things I heard during our yearly pilgrimage. I then understood that the Bukidnon relied heavily on oral tradition rather than written accounts. There was a time when there was much debate among elders as to whether or not the Batasan should be reduced in writing.

Both sides had compelling reasons. I came to understand that the reliance to oral tradition was not out of resistance to the new way of life but rather based on the profound belief that the moral code is a living tradition and calls for a story teller, a living example, an embodiment of these moral codes in order to ensure that they are passed on the future generations.

The fear of putting such closely held traditions to ink and paper would render it a dead letter only for scholarly works was indeed a very valid argument. However, if our culture is to be preserved, it was clear that something has to be done to win over the attention of our youth from the vast influences in the “modern world”.

Photo grab of the front cover of the book

We do not contend only with books of philosophies and teachings from foreign lands, the media and social media bombard us with all sorts of ideas everyday. I remember my father asking Datu Makabadbad-Russell Daquitan Aquino to come up with a written material that would serve as a medium to remind our kin of who we are and to explain to others who we are. Thanks to the efforts of Datu Makabadbad, we have a transcript of our moral code. Thanks also to our friend Will Kopp who has offered to help us publish our moral code. While being a French national, Will Kopp believes that the moral code might be what our country and the world needs. This is a testament to the universality of the norms enshrined in our Batasan. 

I also remember so vividly that while we should endeavor to have a written form of our moral code, the most important thing is still to be living embodiments of this moral code. To live as Bukidnon Tagolwanens who adhere to our Batasan. 

Not everyone has the opportunity to have a parent who would teach them these moral codes. Not everyone has the opportunity to be amongst tribal elders to listen and bask in their wisdom. But now everyone can have the opportunity to learn of this moral code thru the publication of this book. Everyone can be a Bukidnon Tagolwanen if he ascribes to the Batasan. 

A person is defined not by the place of his birth, not by the language that he speaks, not by the clothes he wears and not even by the religion he practices. A person is defined by his moral code. (BukidnonNews.Net)

FIRST PERSON is a views column open for select speeches and written material by authors coming from Bukidnonʾs different communities and stakeholders. This is the Introduction written by Atty. Burt M. Estrada or Datu Manhanayan for their book, The Bukidnon Tagolwanen Moral Code: Bunkatol Ha Bulawan Daw Nangka Tasa Ha Lana. The tribe launched the book on July 20, 2018 at the Bukidnon Studies Center in Bukidnon State University. Datu Manhanayan (one who arranges, prepares, fixes) is the siel (assistant) of Judge Benjamin P. Estrada, Lumalambong Datu Manlumakbaw, the Salangkuan or Tribal Chieftain of the Bukidnon Tagolwanen. He is now acting as the tribal chief and chair of the council of elders. He also sits as the general manager of the Bukidnon Tagolwanen Mulahay hu kabukalagan Agricultural Cooperative (BUKTAMACO). BukidnonNews.Net obtained permission to publish this part of the book.