Waters of the T’boli S’bu: A Brief Survey of People, Hydrogeology and Expressions of Indigenous Knowledge

Introduction

“There has been a lot said about the sacredness of our land which is our body; and the values of our culture which is our soul; but water is the blood of our tribes, and if its life-giving flow is stopped, or it is polluted, all else will die and the many thousands of years of our communal existence will come to an end.” – Frank Tenorio, Governor of San Felipe Pueblo, New Mexico

“Water is life” and in many religions and belief systems, water is sacred in itself or a sacred gift from the Divine. From different world cultures, religious teachings, myths and legends, water plays a role in all aspects of our physical and spiritual lives, as an element of sustenance, cleansing, initiation, healing and gaining wisdom. Yet in these modern times it has become a mere commodity – a property interest to be bought, sold and traded. The manipulation of water rights for economic and political advantage now exists, perpetuated by governments and transnational corporations. Water is being depleted or converted into destructive uses. Through large dams, trans-boundary diversion projects, mineral extraction, energy production, recreational and agricultural industries and even bottled water, this sacred element is being exploited.

The struggle for water rights is one, if not central, to the struggles of Indigenous Peoples. Traditional fishing grounds, sources of drinking water and headwaters believed to be sacred are systematically diverted, fenced-off, polluted and encroached upon by corporations and large industries.  The entry of large-scale mining and plantations into ancestral domains has exacerbated the already precarious traditional lifestyle and cultures of these indigenous peoples.

Climate change has also been affecting indigenous peoples. Unstable and unpredictable weather affects indigenous peoples’ local natural resource management wisdom. The long-established knowledge of determining planting, fishing and ceremonial cycles has been altered. Climate change is a certainty and cannot be avoided. The problem is that it is accelerated by human-induced global warming. The latter is caused by human dependency on carbon-based fuel. A high level of carbon emitted and collected in the atmosphere causes what is called the greenhouse effect, which raises the earth’s temperature.

Indigenous peoples have been experiencing the impacts of global warming such as extreme weather changes, longer droughts and increasing rainfall, which causes floods and landslides. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has projected a steady decrease in precipitation for the next 20 years especially in Southern Mindanao, Philippines, where most indigenous peoples live, thereby aggravating the water crisis in the area.

To indigenous peoples this means that climate change is not something that comes in isolation; it magnifies already existing problems of poverty, de-territoriality, marginalization and non-inclusion in national and international policy-making processes and discourses.

Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines is home to several Indigenous Peoples/ethnolinguistic groups who are in the midst of these struggles, especially access to water. To draw a brief sketch on these ethnolinguistic groups, they are here enumerated as 2 groups, the Islamized peoples or “Moro” and the Non-Islamized peoples or “Lumad”. The Islamized peoples of Mindanao are the Badjao, Banguingui, Iranun, Kalagan, Kalibugan, Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, Samal, Sama, Sangir and Yakan. The non-Islamized groups are the Ata, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaunon, Mamanwa, Mangguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, T’boli, Teduray and the Ubo. They are characterized as a group of people who, based on ancestral origin, live in a specific geographical area, have a distinct value and sociocultural system, sovereignty over their land and natural resources and control of their survival by means of customary laws and institutions.

This study is a brief survey of a specific Indigenous People’s sources of water and expressions of indigenous knowledge vis-à-vis the national water crisis and as compounded by climate change and development aggression in their traditional territories or ancestral domains. Focusing its lens on the T’boli people of Lake Sebu or the “T’boli S’bu,” it will first define the geophysical and hydrogeological attributes of their ancestral domains including rivers, springs, watersheds and headwaters, most especially the Allah Valley Watershed that includes Lake Sebu and adjacent communities, then continue on to T’boli mythology on water. It ends with challenges to further study the climate change risk perceptions of the T’boli S’bu.

The T’boli people

 The T’boli, also known as Tboli, Tiboli and Tagabili, are indigenous peoples of Mindanao concentrated in South Cotabato where the southwest coast range and the Cotabato mountains merge to form the Tiruray highlands, in an area circumscribed by the towns of Surallah, Polomolok Maitum and Kiamba. As settlers from other Philippine islands arrived, the T’boli gradually withdrew to the mountain slopes and lived in scattered villages. Their cultural heartland lies in the highland lake complex of Sebu, Seloton, and Lahit. Lake Holon in Mt. Melibengoy (formerly Lake Maughan of Mt. Parker) in T’boli municipality, South Cotabato is also an important body of water in the T’boli traditional territory.

The T’boli are usually divided into the coastal-dwelling peoples, the T’boli Mohin of Maitum, Kiamba and Maasim, and the mountain-dwelling T’boli S’bu of the municipalities of T’boli and Lake Sebu, all in South Cotabato, Philippines.

The T’boli S’bu[1]

The T’boli S’bu are mostly located in the municipality of Lake Sebu in the Province of South Cotabato. It is approximately 40 kilometers away from Koronadal, the provincial capital of South Cotabato. Lake Sebu is approximately 6 hours away from Cotabato City, the Regional center of Region XI. It is bounded on the North by the Municipality of Surallah; on the Southwest by the Municipality of Kiamba and Maitum; in the East by the Municipality of T’boli and in the West by Palimbang of the Province of Sultan Kudarat. It is located at 6”10” N Latitude and 124”44”E Longitude.

The Total area of Lake Sebu is 89,138 hectares or approximately 11.59% of the total land of South Cotabato. Its biggest barangay is Ned with 41,247 hectares or 46.3 % of the Municipality. The smallest barangay is Lahit with only 528 hectares or 0.6% of the municipality’s land area.

The T’boli and Ubo Ancestral domain cover a total area of 39,852 hectares or 44.70% of Lake Sebu, including 18 barangay out of 19 Barangays, namely: Hanoon, Lower Maculan, Upper Maculan, Halilan, Denlag, Lamcade, Klubi, Lamdalag, Lamlahak, T’konel, Seloton, Poblacion, Lahit, Talisay, Bacdulong, Lamfugon, Tasiman and Luhib. The only barangay outside the domain is baranggay Ned. The largest portion of the domain, which is 20%, is within Barangay Lamfugon, Barangay Lamlahak and Tasiman equally covering 12% each, T’konel, Lamdalag and Klubi, 10% each. Upper Maculan 4%, Lower Maculaan, Hanoon and Lamcade 3% each, Luhib, Halilan and Poblacion 2% each. The barangays with the smallest land area are Seloton, Lahit, Bacdulong 1% each.

       CLIMATE

The climate of Lake Sebu belongs to the Fourth type where rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year. Its temperature is relatively cool like that of Baguio City. The dry season usually falls during the month of March to April. Significantly, however, showers usually occur during the afternoons between the month of February and May.

       TOPOGRAPHY

Lake Sebu has a rugged terrain. It is surrounded by mountain ranges, including Daguma and Talihik along its eastern portion, Mt. Busa in the south-eastern portion with an elevation of 2,064 meters; Pitot Kalabao Peak along the central portion with an elevation of 1,6000 meters and Mt. Talili in the eastern portion with an elevation of 1,410 meters. Barangay Poblacion of Lake Sebu itself is estimated to be 700 meters above sea level.

        SOIL TYPE

The soil within the forest areas is classified as undifferentiated mountain soil, which has no agriculture importance at present. Along the flat lands, the soil classification belongs to silty loam and sandy, which ranges from very good land to moderately good land for cultivation.

        SOCIAL STRUCTURE

In an unpublished manuscript written by Jenita Eko[2], a T’boli of Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu and President of the Lake Sebu Women Weavers Association, Inc., she shared that there are three social classes in the T’boli tribe. The first is called the Datu class. The community is usually headed by a Datu who is considered as the highest authority in the community. He has more property than most of the rest and allowed to have several wives. He is recognized as the authority to settle disputes and implement the customary laws.

The second class is the Tau Sool, middle class. This class is moderately affluent and is allowed to have one to three wives. Although they also have the power to settle disputes, they are subordinates of the Datu.

The third level is the Tau Dok or the slaves who serve the Datu and sometimes the Tau Sool. Slaves are mostly coming from the persons convicted of unacceptable social behaviour but who cannot pay the penalty for his infractions.

These social classes however no longer exist today, except for a few elders who are still considered traditional leaders and Datus. The family and clan structure however still exists with the elders serving as the head of the clan.

        GENDER RELATIONSHIP

T’boli men are usually recognized to be the head of the family. Men normally do the heavy works like T’miba or the kaingin, animal dispersing, hunting and bartering. Women, on the other hand, usually stay in their home, taking care of their children and doing household work. They also engaged in traditional work such as T’nalak weaving, embroidering, and brass casting.

Work differentiation based on gender is also passed on to the children. Boys are taught by their father or uncle about work done by male in everyday routine, while girls are usually oriented to be weavers, embroiderers and on work usually performed by their mothers or women relatives.

This practice of work differentiation is slowly eroding, with education and cultural mainstreaming, mainly among the youth.

         TRADITIONAL HOUSES

T’boli houses are made of bamboos and cogon grass. They cultivate the area that surrounds the house by means of T’miba (slash and Burn method). To the T’boli, a house situated in a hilltop is more secure and has a strategic advantage in relation to enemies. This is one of the reasons why they do not prefer to build houses in the valley.

The biggest house in the community is owned by the Datu. It is very spacious and usually has 25 posts and has 70-100 small posts that ensure the durability of the tribal house.  T’boli houses are not permanent, even if it can be useful for 10 years or more. This is because they believe that when death occurs in any family member, the house of the deceased must be demolished or burned.

Hydrogeology of Lake Sebu and Allah Valley Watershed

The Lake Sebu Watershed Forest Reserve is a protected landscape under Proclamation no. 65 signed on August 4 1966, covering a total of 9,900 hectares. Lake Sebu (S’bu is the T’boli word for lake) is a natural lake in the municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and within the Allah Valley Watershed Landscape region.[3] The lake itself and the rivers that drain from it is part of the Allah Valley Watershed which covers South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The Allah Valley Watershed is the southernmost tributary of the Pulangi River that drains in Illana Bay in Cotabato City.[4]

The total delineated area of the Allah Valley Watershed is 252,034 has. that extends to the Province of Maguindanao. Surface waters that are drained along the Allah and Banga rivers subsequently find their way into the Liguasan marsh, the second largest in the country. The Allah Valley Watershed is a major sub-watershed unit of the Cotabato-Agusan river basin in Mindanao. It covers the jurisdictions of the Province of South Cotabato (Municipalities of Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah, and Sto. Nino, Banga, Norala) and the Province of Sultan Kudarat (City of Tacurong and Municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Lambayong and Bagumbayan).[5]

More than 700,000 people depend on the land and water resources of the Allah Valley Watershed. The river valley and mid-stream section of the watershed support agricultural production for rice, corn, banana, pineapple and oil palm. The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is tapping about 1.5 billion cubic meters surface water to supply the water requirements of 27,000 hectares of irrigated rice fields. Although the forest land cover of the Allah Valley Watershed is decreasing, the peak of the Daguma mountain range on the western side of the watershed still contains fragments of primary forest that is a vital component of any watershed. This constitutes part of the remaining closed canopy tropical forest in Southern Mindanao. As per DENR-12 reports, about 97 floral species and 59 faunal species including the famous Philippine Eagle and tarsier are found in the mountain ranges. The Allah Valley Watershed has also rich mineral deposits such as gold, copper, and silver. It includes the three lakes and seven falls of Lake Sebu and Lake Holon (Maughan) of T’boli.[6]

The 3 lakes of Sebu, Seloton and Lahit are fed by underground springs in the mountain ranges of Daguma and surrounding mountains that made up mostly of porous sedimentary rocks that store and catch rainwater. Water from the lakes then cascades down the 7 waterfalls namely: Hikong Alu (passage), Hikong Bente (immeasurable), Hikong B’lebed (zigzag), Hikong Lowig (booth), Hikong Kefoi (wild flower), Hikong Ukok (short), and Hikong Tonok (soil). The water then travels down the Allah River that combines with the Banga River finally joining the bigger Pulangi river and Liguasan Marsh to drain in Illana Bay.

Current Conditions of Lake Sebu

The current use of the lake is fishing and recreation (such as boating). It is also identified as a prime habitat and spawning ground areas for various species of fish. There are no manufacturing plants around the lake but it is the receiver of all fertilizers and pesticide run-offs from the different plantations around Lake Sebu. The presence of uncontrolled installation of fish pens, application of feeds and communities dwelling along the lake, generally affect the physical and chemical condition of the lake.

The first tilapia introduced in the lake was Mozambique tilapia Oreochromis mossambicus brought by Mr. Cesar Freyra in 1956[7]. A few years after its introduction, the tilapia grew in number. In 1972, a fish pen project was initiated by Dr. Jose Velasquez from Manila. Many Ilongo immigrants followed him. Almost in the same year, farming of tilapia in fish cages was introduced by Mr. Freyra. Nile tilapia O. niloticus, a better species, was introduced in the mid 70’s. (Beniga 2001)

The Nile tilapia was cultured for 4 months without supplemental feeding and harvested when they reached 300-500 g each. The tilapia industry grew fast and is considered today as the backbone of the economy and the major propeller of Lake Sebu’s development. The industry contributes more than 50% of the annual municipal income and employs 10% of its total labor force (Beniga quoting Loco 1994).

The local government of the municipality of Lake Sebu has adopted several measures to protect and conserve its water resources. Reforestation is implemented as part of watershed management. Municipal ordinance No. 01, S. 1994 sets guidelines for the establishment of fish cages in the lake. This ordinance requires a 20-m wide passageway along the lake shore for any type of water vehicle. Construction of cages in this area is prohibited. Beyond the 20-m passageway, a 100-m wide belt offshore is allowed for fish cages. Lastly, 10 m is apportioned for the construction of secondary fence. A 2-m wide passageway is required between farms. The remaining central part of the lake is a free fishing zone. (Beniga 2001)

The Seven Waterfalls have been developed as an eco-tourism attraction by the Province of South Cotabato. Resorts, ziplines and other tourist attractions are now a common sight in the so-called “Baguio of the Southern Philippines”.

Water in the T’boli S’bu Mythology

Water and bodies of water play a central part in the mythology of the T’boli. Stories and legends with a water theme, motif or setting, in their cultural context, helps anthropologists understand indigenous people’s attitude towards natural resources, for example, why water cannot be owned or passed on, or how bodies of water acquire sacredness. The belief in these cosmologies and mythologies – that humans are not separate from Nature and that the supernatural world is inhabited by souls, spirits and gods thought to be human-like in their motivations, feelings and interactions –convey norms, ethical values and even technological rules which dictate the use of these natural resources.

Several stories by the T’boli have water themes, motifs and settings. Shaped by their environment, the T’boli developed stories set in their world of Lake Sebu and the Allah Valley forests and rivers. These stories may give us a glimpse into the attitudes of the T’boli towards the lakes, rivers, forests and animals in their proximate environment.

As Homo Narrans, we tell stories not only to entertain but to also teach indigenous science, expose multi-faceted truths, share deep-seated wisdom hiding in meanings and symbols. Stories help us in aletheia – the search for truth.

According to one story, the T’boli are descendants of La Bebe and La Lomi, and Tamfeles and La Kagef, two couples who survived a big flood after being warned by the god D’wata. Taking a huge bamboo that could accommodate countless people; they filled the vessel with food. When Mt. Holon (this could be Lake Holon in Mt. Melibengoy in T’boli municipality) was inundated, the four got into the bamboo while the rest of the population drowned in the swollen waters. When the floods subsided and the days grew warm, the fortunate couples split the bamboo open and emerged into the sunlight.

La Kagef and Tamfeles begot 12 sons and daughters. Sodot Henok and Nayong who begot the Tau Sequil (lowlanders); Dodom and Eva who begot the Tau Mohon, sea-dwellers from Kiamba; Bou and Bou and Umen who begot the Tau S’bu, the uplanders of Lake Sebu and Sinulon; La Bila and Mooma who begot the B’laan of Tupi; Dugo and Sewn who begot the Ubo (Manobo); and Kmay and Sodi who begot the people who became Muslims. From the loins of La Bebe and La Lomi sprang the Ilonggo and other Visayan groups, the Ilocano and the Tagalog.

In the story of Boi Henwu, Lemugut Mangay and Kludan[8], we also see the water motif as both portals of life and death. This is the story as written by Manolete Mora:

It begun when Boi Henwu and Lemugut Mangay (celestial messenger or angel) began courting. This earth (tonok) was still being created and the sky and heavens were still very close. After D’wata (the Supreme deity) created the earth and the sea and he made Boi Henwu and Kludan, the first man and woman. Lake Sebu had not yet been created.

At that time Boi Henwu and Kludan were traveling together. Kludan, who was still a youth served as her helper (nga nemuhen). Although they were not married he hunted and killed four or five pigs for her at a time.

Boi Henwu and Kludan together as they were, lived in different houses for sixteen halay (one rice harvest season, thus eight years). During this time Boi Henwu frequently desired to bathe.

One day Kludan told Boi Henwu that he would go hunting and asked her to wait until he returned. He returned at noon with eight pigs and water that he had supposedly obtained from the el luos  (a type of rattan that contains water).

This delighted Boi Henwu. Upon seeing the water she immediately began to bathe, exclaiming, “How pleasant it is to bathe, I have washed away all the dust.”

She looked radiant and beautiful with her hair worn in the tuko-en style. She wore anklets (singkil) up to her knees, bracelets covering her forearms and eight gold necklaces (lieg kemagi) .

Kludan had actually found another source of water while he was away but at first kept it a secret. Finally he told her what he had seen. She asked him excitedly about where he saw the water: “if you’ve seen water,” she urged him, “tell me so that I can bathe there.”

I cannot show you because of your big taboo (bong lii) against men,” said Kludan.

“Pardon me,” said Boi Henwu, “but you are like my child and I am like your mother.”

So Kludan desired Boi Henwu. Yet he knew that Lemugot Mangay had been sent by D’wata to bring her to heaven.

“It is better,” said Boi Henwu, “that you show me the water or our relationship will no longer be the same.”

So Kludan relented and together with Boi Henwu they searched for eight day and eight nights until they found the source of water. This was named (Lake) Sebu afer the man who first saw it in its entirety.

When they arrived there, Kludan instructed Boi Henwu to stand under the large nabul tree on the sunny side. From where she stood the tree looked like a crawling python. She then gazed up into the branches of the tree and her vision weakened as though she had become giddy.

“This is the nabul tree (Ficus religiosa),” said Kludan. “Now that you’ve seen it, it’s for you to find the water.”

When she turned over the takul  leaf at the bottom of the tree, the water of Sebu spurted forth thin as the thread of the needle (mesut el; which also signifies ejaculation).

“Ah,” exclaimed Boi Henwu, “this is the water.”

At the source of the spouting water sat a frog, which she picked up. It was as wide as three fingers, and had nails, fingers and feet the color of gold. It had a beautiful face and was white all over. The frog jumped into the pouch of her tube skirt (kelofoy; a pocket tied at the front of the tube skirt for carrying small items, such as betel nut, money, etc.) and said: “I’ve been hoping and waiting for you; this water is yours.

Boi Henwu’s hair was beautiful and abundant. It would have taken four women to hold, style and carry it. As she stood by the water of Sebu she wished for the companionship of a woman. Four suddenly appeared and they carried her hair until they reached her house.

Boi Henwu then suddenly turned to Kludan and said, “Now I will leave you and this place. D’wata has finished creating heaven and earth.”

She then said, “And I will beat the wooden percussion beam (k’lutang) before I ascend.” She played it until Lemugot Mangay came for her. As she ascended with Lemugot Mangay she threw down the two mallets and they transformed into barbets, a male and a female. In times past, the barbet was the wooden percussion beam mallet of Boi Henwu.

The barbets then said to Lemugot Mangay: “But now that you are leaving us in this world, how shall we survive?”

Lemugot Mangay and Boi Henwu replied to the barbets: “We shall provide you with food and you will continue to live.”

Boi Henwu had now found her partner. She had had no man before, only Kludan (the first man but who was also her ‘child helper’). When Boi Henwu ascended with Lemugot Mangay, Kludan returned to Lake Sebu, threw himself in and entered the navel of the sea.

Another version of this creation myth of Lake Sebu tells of a local princess who had a dream of coming to the mountain land of Sebu. The princess saw a big leaf. When she opened it up a white frog leaped out along with the gush of water which flooded the land and became the lake. From the heavens she threw pythons to the earth which formed the islands at the lake. And in order for the princess to pass by the lake, her brother parted the island. The name “Sebu”, according to this version, came from the T’boli word for lake or leaf.

One version of the Lake Sebu creation myth, as narrated by Jenita Batol Eko, tells of a long spell of drought in a village. The only available water was the droplets of water left on the leaves after the morning mist. In this story, a village woman was always seen by the other villages freshly bathe and with wet hair, as if she bathed in a spring. One day the villagers followed her to her secret bathing place and to their disbelief, a small spring was indeed bubbling from a small crack in the earth. Angry that they were tricked by the woman and keeping the source of water to herself, they tried to mob the woman but not until a white frog was startled and started to jump from one place to another, and from where it jumped, water came gushing forth until the place was flooded. Everyone perished from this flood and a lake was formed. It was named S’bu from the woman who discovered the spring.

One legend also explains the regular fish kill in Lake Sebu. As noted in the preceding section, Lake Sebu has been used for fishing especially fish ponds owned by non-T’boli. In this story, a T’boli cursed the Ilonggo fishermen, saying that the T’boli are the guardians of the Lake and that their fishes will die, unless they give the fish to the T’boli. Indeed, according to Jenita Batol Eko, whenever there is a fish kill, the fish pond owners will give the dead fish to the T’boli or sell them at a much lower price.

Several themes may be culled from the stories to help in the discussion of water symbolism in T’boli S’bu mythology: severe weather, white frog, and lake as a portal to the underworld. Analysing these symbols and their underlying meanings, set in their cultural contexts, will help anthropologists discern how the T’boli S’bu perceive climate change and the environment they are in, as well as how they give value to their environ. Analysis of symbols and archetypes in the myths will also help in the understanding of how the T’boli S’bu perceive the risks to their lived world, these risks may be climate change, development aggression or de-territoriality.

 The stories of the flood and the drought are themselves stories of climate change. In the collective memories of the T’boli S’bu, enshrined in their stories, are narratives of severe weather disturbances that had wreaked havoc to their communities. This is also a recurring theme in many other indigenous groups and world civilizations, from the Hebrew story of Noah, the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, the Tagalog story of the long spell of drought, the series of cataclysms in the Bikolano epic of Ibalon, and many others. Severe weather that wipes out villages remains in the collective memory of a given people and becomes myths and stories that inform the listeners that similar disasters may happen.

It is worthwhile to note that in the great flood story, Lake Holon was specifically pinpointed as the cause of the flood. A recent disaster took place in South Cotabato on September 6, 1995 killing at least 53 people. This was caused by the overflow of the lake water due to heavy rains. Mt. Holon is a crater lake of Mt. Melibengoy (formerly Mt. Parker) which last erupted on January 4, 1641, which according to volcanologists, created the present crater lake. It brings us to ask the question: was the great flood story of the T’boli, a memory of the recent upheaval of Mt. Melibengoy?

The great flood story tells of two couples who would later on become the ancestors of everyone in the country. It is also a story teaching listeners to be prepared in cases of calamities. Using bamboo and staying inside for days maybe something on the level of mythology, it still informs the audience that people have survived disasters before through ingenuity and the use of intellect. It teaches that severe weather is a constant threat, yet preparation and the recognition of the human spirit’s endurance, help overcome disasters.

The drought story, aside from informing the audience of Lake Sebu’s creation, also teaches of restraint. It is indeed human nature that the villagers became angry at how the spring of S’bu was kept hidden to them, but it was also the same anger that led to the destruction of the village. If they waited for S’bu to tell them of the spring, would the destruction of the village be averted? Was S’bu or the frog-god preparing the villagers to the final ablution? Nikos Kazantzakis writes in the Last Temptation of Christ, “Only when we reach the brink of the abyss, do we grow wings.” If only the villagers restrained their anger and approached the issue with cool heads, they wouldn’t have been erased from the earth. Should this also be the approach in the present problem of global warming and climate change? Is this what the T’boli S’bu doing now?

 The white frog also features constantly in the Lake Sebu creation story. The frog is of course amphibious, living half of its life on water and half on land. If the snake is the chthonic animal, living in caves and the underworld, the symbol of the keeper of the unknown and hidden wisdom, then the frog is the symbol of water and the mysteries of its depth. It is also the symbol of life and fertility for some culture, because they quickly reproduce during the rainy season. This may be read in the story of Kludan and Boi Henwu, which tells of a white frog jumping into the pouch of Boi Henwu’s tube skirt and saying “this water is yours”; an allusion to sexual intercourse. The frog is indeed a symbol of fertility because it signifies rain, or sometimes thought to bring rain. In some Mindanao indigenous groups, frogs are used in rituals to bring rains[9] and bring back the fertility of the earth.

It is also interesting to note Kludan’s reaction to Boi Henwu’s ascension. He jumped to the newly created Lake Sebu and thus becoming the god of the underworld. We see here in the version of Boi Henwu and Kludan story that Lake Sebu acquired its sacredness by their ‘sexual’ intimacy and the tragic and final act of Kludan. It is both a source of pleasure and despair – a fitting portal of the underworld. Kludan’s two acts are both elevated to the sacred hence Lake Sebu’s sacred attribute.

The story of the T’boli cursing the owners of the fishponds may not be on the level of mythology but surely forms part of the compendium on narratives regarding Lake Sebu. It is a definite pronouncement that the T’boli are the guardians and protectors of the lake. It shows that to them, the lake is not merely a source of economy but also a part of their political and cultural identity. It is inherited from their ancestors and it is their responsibility to take care of and to maintain; should they not take care of the lake their ancestors may get angry and bad luck may come. It is more than a pronouncement of collective ownership; it is also a declaration of stewardship.

A Challenge to Understanding the T’boli S’bu’s Attitude to Climate Change

Anthropologists and Sociologists agree that people are shaped by their environment. Yet human beings are also fashioning their environment to suit their needs, most often in unsustainable and destructive ways. This brief survey first situates the T’boli S’bu in their environment, most especially describing the bodies of water in their territory and the narratives on climate change and stewardship. It is an introduction to the many ways environment has shaped T’boli lives and culture. Being in a mountainous area with lakes and rivers, they developed mythologies that explain their lived world and teach traditional knowledge concerning disasters and ways of living, according to the environment they are in.

This is both an introduction and a challenge to further studies on how T’boli S’bu’s cultural values and beliefs inform risk perceptions, and how this in turn guides water resource decision-making.  It challenges more questions:

1. How does climate change and global warming affect the T’boli S’bu’s lived world?

2. How do they express the changes in climate patterns?

3. How do they address these changes in climate?

4. How do they participate in national and local policies on climate change mitigation?

5. How do they perceive and receive their mythologies and stories on climate change?

These problems offer a myriad of research topics on the T’boli S’bu. It also offers a challenge to anthropologists to go beyond the works of theorizing and observation to the world of participative action with and through the indigenous peoples who are their partners and collaborators in their studies.


[1]Municipal LGU-Lake Sebu- Socio-economic profile of 2005.

[2] With permissions from the author.

[4] Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance, “Watershed Resources Management in the Allah Valley Landscape”, Koronadal City, Issue Poster no. 2 series of 2007.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Zosipat M. Beniga, “The Status of Tilapia Aquaculture in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato” in CB Santiago, ML Cuvin-Aralar and ZU Basiao (Eds.), Conservation and Ecological Management of Philippine Lakes in Relation to Fisheries and Aquaculture, pp. 95-98.

[8] Manolete Mora, “Myth, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T’boli, Philippines”, Ateneo de Manila Press, Quezon City: 2005, pp. 29-32.

[9] Agnes N. Miclat-Cacayan, “Babaylan: She Dances in Wholeness”, Keynote Address for the Babaylan Symposium, St. Scholastica’s College Manila, July 22, 2005, p. 3.

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