[COMMUNITY REPORT] Alanib River: Source of life, culture of the Talaandig people of Mindanao (First of three parts)

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By Aki L. Saway

SONGCO, Lantapan, Bukidnon (BukidnonNews.Net/16 Jan. 2022) Talaandig elders have been telling stories that the Alanib River is abundant of food and never runs out of water as it always flows. The river has always been part of the Talaandig people in Bulan-bulan (heart of the land, which is the modern-day Municipality of Lantapan) since our ancestors lived in our ancestral territory, a long time ago.

This river is a significant part of our history, identity, the rise of our civilization, our culture, our customs, and traditions. It is one of our sources of food and it gives life to our people in connection to our spirituality and community. Some of the creatures that can be found in the river are fishes like “pait”, “tambilulu” river crabs like “kayumang” frogs “bakbak” and other “kauyagan/suda ta wahig”.

Our indigenous knowledge, systems and practices are connected to this river. We practice our culture by paying respect to the custodian of the water, to the Great Creator and the guardian spirits as we annually hold "panalawahig" ritual for healing and cleansing. We also practice indigenous fishing especially if a member of our tribe gives birth. The method of fishing is held during night especially when there's moon "pangilaw/pangiwag" - a special method of catching river creatures to feed the mother and her baby to become healthy- is also practiced.  

There are variations in accounts of the origin of the river, according to our ancestors. Based on the accounts of Datu Mampaayun, this body of water got its name from a man, Alanib, who drowned in the river. Amay (Datu Migketay) also said Alanib came from the word "Liib" which means cave. In our nanangen" or stories from the ancestors, there was a cave near the river’s location from where it got its name Alanib.

It was sacred since time immemorial because it is part of our ancestral territory. This was the source of water at the beginning of civilization. It has been part of tradition that those who intend to climb Mt. Kitanglad need to bath in the river for cleansing first. Long before, the elders were very strict. You need to bath and change clothing first before the climb. Now, climbers will just need to bath or sometimes go through a ritual. 

In present times, we, the Talaandig People in Lantapan, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines have been facing threats to our culture. The influx of modernization and the rise of the digital age have somehow contributed to the degradation of the awareness that the land where we are situated, is the land of our ancestors, which they took care properly for our generation and the next.

We are in the stage where we face great challenges as our ancestral river dried up.

In the past decades, we the Talaandig people have been fighting and have encountered numerous challenges such as harassment from the government because we were not recognized during that time. We have been defending our ancestral territory, conserving our ancestral waters that include preventing toxic wastes that poisons the river creatures, and have fought for recognition that we have obligation to the river.

In 2020, the river completely dried up. This challenge was even worse.  It has hugely affected our people, as the river is a big part of our life. For us, Alanib River is sacred.  The river’s state has affected our culture and has posed a threat to the future of the tribe’s next generations.

I can only reminisce the past. When we were still younger, we enjoyed swimming in the depths of Alanib River. I missed the times when I could still hear its strong current and the other lively sounds of the river. I can still recall the times when our river was abundant with food and creatures that live in it. Some of our herbal medicines can be found in the river. The abundance of fishes, frogs and river crabs fill our stomach. It gave us life, strength, good feeling, mind and heart.

I missed the people going down the river doing their way of life. Some would catch fish, take a bath, wash their clothes, swim in the cold water and feel the warmth by hugging the rocks. It's sad to see that my nephews and nieces could no longer experience what I enjoyed before. I missed the times when our people still enjoyed the gifts of creation in this river, the natural happiness and the beauty of life. For us, it is was a paradise, a true gift from the Creator.

Alanib River is part of the ancestral waters of the Talaandig people within our ancestral domain. It is connected to our spirituality and well-being. We are accountable and responsible as custodians of our ancestral waters.

This means that our culture of panikup, panagup, pambuu, pamanuwit, panuluy, pangiwag/pangilaw (methods of catching fish, crabs and frogs and fish traps) among others are endangered. We have great accountability to the Creator if we don’t take action. The life of our people and the next generations depended on us. It is our customary right, Native Title right as provided by RA 837 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. It is our right to our ancestral domains and our right to self-governance – all birth rights and non-negotiable.  

Next: Deprivations surrounding a dried, sacred river

(Talaandig youth leader Aki or Nalandangan Mabantog L. Saway is an AB Sociology graduate from Xavier University. He works as an assistant of a law firm and is now a law student. Aki contributed this piece to “Community Report”, as volunteer from the Talaandig community to the Community Documentation and Reporting platform of BukidnonNews.Net. Email for comments.) 

IN PHOTO: Datu Migketay Victorino Saway surveys the dried Alanib River in Sungco, Lantapan, Bukidnon on May 12, 2020. File photo by Aki L. Saway 

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