Blotik Éhék (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and Climate Change: When Traditional Knowledge Becomes Unreliable

Introduction

 Several studies conducted by anthropologists have already substantially concluded the effects of existing, anthropogenic climate change and how it compounds indigenous peoples’ vulnerabilities adding to “existing challenges, including political and economic marginalization, land and resource encroachments, human rights violations and discrimination” (Crate 2009). These studies underline the importance of using ecological and landscape approaches to climate studies, strongly relying on the emic point of view or the local people’s knowledge of their environment, geography and ecology.

Susan Crate used this approach successfully in her study[1] on the effects of climate change to the sub-Arctic Viliu Sakha communities in northeastern Siberia, Russia and noted the transformations of “both symbolic cultures and subsistence cultures […] reframe the implications of unprecented global climate change (Crate 2009).” Sarah Strauss[2], working with the community of Leukerbad in Switzerland, described and shared Leukerbadners’ stories of retreating glaciers in the Alps and warned anthropologists and scientists that “we are all feeling the effects, both long term and short term, of a changing climate, but the solutions that will be applicable to the global problem cannot be cast from a single mold.” Indeed, as landscapes, geography and cultures diversely vary on our planet, the challenge is to also diversify solutions to climate change to consider each local community’s socioeconomic and cultural capacities, resilience and vulnerability. This challenge falls particularly to anthropologists who “seek to understand and translate, helping make the experiences of one place/time/people intelligible to those who inhabit different lifeworlds (Strauss 2009)”.

In this study, focus is given to the T’boli people whose traditional domains include the highland lake complex of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, the Daguma mountain range, Allah River, the crater lake of Holon in Mt. Melibengoy and the coastal communities of Kiamba and Maasim in Sarangani, Southern Philippines.  Particularly, the setting is in Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu municipality, South Cotabato with a total land area of 509 hectares, the only barangay in Lake Sebu considered “100% tribal area” [3]. Klubi is 4. 59% of the total land area of the Municipality of Lake Sebu. Particular interest was given to the area for its mountainous “hilly to steep hilly”  (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010) topography and to contribute a mountainous, tropical and agricultural setting to climate studies whose noticeable main body of concern are the Arctic, coastal and glacial regions.

The T’boli are listed in ethnographies (cf Cultural Center of the Philippines Enyclopedia of Philippine Art 1994) as “a people in the mature hunting-gathering stage with horticulturalists”. While this maybe true when the ethnographic research was conducted, contemporary T’bolis have already cultivated vast hectares of agricultural land devoted to rice and corn. As a matter of fact, from the 89,138 hectares total land area of Lake Sebu, 24,404 hectares is appropriated as agricultural (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010). Many of the T’bolis still use traditional methods of planting corn and upland rice, relying mostly on astronomical bodies (sun, moon and stars, specially the blotik éhék) and geographic markers (mountains) to tell the season for planting and harvesting. But with the changes in climate and weather patterns, they are also increasingly experiencing difficulties in following any agricultural calendar. Field interviews with farmers describe March and April as the traditional months for planting, when there is no rain that may otherwise bring the farmers’ woes of forager and cutter insects and also the burrowing worms which eat the newly planted stalks. Some of the farmers, experiencing these difficulties, turn to non-traditional ways of planting like the use of fertilizers and planting hybrid rice and corn, just to secure their harvest and feed their families.

This study aims to describe their present-day agricultural practices, most specifically in the planting of corn and rice, and also to describe the climate-related challenges experienced by the T’boli farmers.

For this objective, this paper uses ethnoecology for its conceptual framework. Ethnoecology, generally speaking, is the study of what local people know about their environment, how they classify that information, and how they use it – an attempt toward the understanding of local understanding about a realm of experience.

In this paper, we try to describe and understand the T’boli’s natural resource management in agriculture and how local knowledge of the terrain, weather, climate and astronomical bodies inform their agricultural practices. The interactions of traditional agricultural knowledge with the effects of climate change will be analyzed to understand how changes in the natural system will revise (or has already revised) current practices in T’boli agriculture. Methods used in this study include individual interviews, archival research and participant observation.

This paper adds to the growing number of studies on climate and indigenous peoples and seeks to understand how indigenous peoples in mountainous habitats with an agricultural-based economy, are experiencing climate perturbations and how they are responding to the risks brought by climate change. By investigating their agricultural practices, the inconsistencies of traditional knowledge with their landscape and weather, and their perception on climate change, policymakers, advocates and planners may better understand how to inform, update and apprise the T’boli S’bu on the realities of climate change.

Ethnoecology as Situated Knowledge

The seminal work which introduced ethnoscience/ethnoecology to the humanities and social sciences is Harold Conklin’s The Relation of the Hanunuo Culture to the Plant World (1954) which was to “dismantle the dominant view on shifting cultivating as a haphazard, destructive, and primitive way of making a living” (Nazarea 2006). If Clifford Geertz underlined anthropology’s work of “understanding others’ understanding”, ethnoecology rests on the imperative that anthropological inquiry must increasingly seek to understand local understanding (the so-called native point of view) about a realm of experience. This includes systematically documenting and analysing folk classification and paradigms pertaining to plants, animals, color,weather, soils, water, illness and the human body until “only the most incorrigible remain unimpressed by the logic, complexity and sophistication of local knowledge” (Nazarea 2006).

Ethnoecology springs from the cognitive approach of studying peoples’ conception of events and objects, asserting that “culture is composed of logical rules that are based on ideas that can be accessed in the mind.”[4] This focus on the interaction between the society/culture and the mind seeks to understand and explain essential components of human social behavior.  The concept of a “Native Science” is also related to the understanding of the role of the environment intertwined with the meaning/s humans place upon their lives.

Linguistics, or the study of language, is integral to ethnoecology. Understanding the language and the native people’s linguistic system is one method to understand a native people’s system of knowledge of organization. Not only is there categorization for things pertaining to nature and culture thought language, but more importantly and complex is the relationship between environment and culture. Ethnoecology looks at the intricacies of the connection between culture and its surrounding environment.

This system of understanding local people’s understanding takes into account the social and cultural embeddedness of knowledge, technologies and practices inherent to natural resource management and “recognizes the plurality of forms of knowledge, world views and the ethical values connected to them within different social and cultural groups”. We take for example the T’boli’s complex system of classifying rice according to their color, size and shape of the kernels. Halay is the generic term for unhusked rice but more specific upland varieties abound in their language: éfél (small white kernels inside a mottled black and yellow husk resembling the color of the éfél ‘bumblebee’), kedegsan (medium-sized white kernels inside a yellowish-colored husk), alì (long, medium sized white kernels inside a dark red husk) or the sendangan (large, stubby kernels inside a yellowish-colored husk covered with tiny thistles).[5]

This unique (particular to a given group) system of classifying their material and social universe in turn, according to ethnoecology, becomes a means of gaining insight not only into the nature of man but also into the nature of culture.

Traditional Domain of the T’boli S’bu

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 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 XII. 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. (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010)

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

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). (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

The 3 lakes of Sebu, Seloton and Lahit (all part of the Allah Valley Watershed) 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’lebel (zigzag), Hikong Lowig (booth), Hikong Kefo-i (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.

Agricultural Practices of the T’boli in Klubi: Blotik Éhék (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and the Fu (Spirit Owners)

The study is set in Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu. The topography of Brgy. Klubi is hilly to steep to very steep (30% – up slope range). One would easily notice that there is considerable forest loss due to conversion of forest land to agricultural purposes. Going up from Korononadal City, capital of South Cotabato, to Lake Sebu, it is plain to see that many areas have been converted to rice and corn farms. Surallah, an important trading center between Lake Sebu and Koronadal, is considered a rice granary because of its wide valleys planted with rice, corn and other products. Surallah is predominantly inhabited by settlers from the Visayan islands, mostly Ilonggo, and as a matter of fact, the T’boli of Lake Sebu have to learn the Ilonggo language for them to be able to communicate with the settlers (most of them merchants) and for them to study in schools (most teachers are Ilonggo-speaking).

Going up Barangay Klubi from the Poblacion of Lake Sebu, commuters will have to hire a habal-habal motorcycle for P50 and go up a steep dirt road. This makes it also hard for the farmers who have to transport their produce from their farms up and down the mountains and explains why they opt to plant corn and rice instead of vegetables, as vegetables will not be able to stay fresh in this arduous trek down the mountain-farms.

Houses in Klubi are set in a compound of 1 family, usually numbering more than 5 houses but not exceeding 10 in a compound. The Sulan Family’s compound (research partner) has 7 houses not including their grinding center, the LASIWWAI office and the gono bong (long house), currently used as a Designers’ House for the women weavers.

The following are the neighbors in the Sulan Compound:

  1. Sitio Malun
  2. Sharon Gumatao
  3. Rio Sulan
  4. Rey Sulan
  5. Jenita Eko
  6. Eko Sulan
  7. Stephen Bihan
  8. Semlon Landayong
  9. Rodrigo Lamdayong
  10. Waning Lugong
  11. Ugon Nalon
  12. Dima Abid
  13. Lendi Tinggal

All of the neighboring families are involved in farming, directly planting and harvesting or helping in the marketing of produce.

Another noticeable feature of Klubi is the abundant water flowing in creeks and springs. A few meters of digging a hole would already tap in the aquifer as in the case of the planned septic tank for the Day Care center that they had to abandon due to the restrictions of the elders. Some families’ compound has a fishpond fed by this underground aquifer or a spring. At this point, it is worthwhile to note how the T’bolis of Klubi believe in the fun (owner or spirit). Several fu are said to reside and own certain natural resources like water (‘el), abaca (kdungon), rice (halay), forests (dlag koyu), wild animals (Taha Kilang – or in some chants , Tud Bulul and Taha Kilang are the same), Lake Sebu (S’bu), mountains (bulul) and others. My host family’s fishpond is believed to be inhabited by one of these spirits. The patriarch Eko Sulan used to give offerings near the fishpond to appease this spirit due to the belief that it claims human victims, in some accident or another.

The farm of the Sulan family was divided equally (even among women) among the sisters and brothers. This farm is located in Sitio Datal Sbuyon, Barangay Klubi mostly hilly to steep. Datal Sbuyon is a 45-minute hike from Sitio Lamkua, Barangay Klubi. Facing south of the farm is the mountain of Te Tofuk, and facing east is Meli Botu. They get water for their farms from the spring Sboyun, named after the spirit/owner (fu) of the water that comes from the aquifers of Te Tofuk. It is believed, by the people interviewed, that this fu is fickle and is regularly appeased with demsu or offering. ‘Fickle’ because there are times when the springs become dry and the farmers have to look for another source of water, and also because of the belief that disrespecting fu sboyun will also cause illness to the farmers.

The soil within the forest areas is classified as undifferentiated mountain soil, which has no agricultural importance at present. Along the flat lands, the soil classification belongs to silty loam and sandy, which range from very good land to moderately good land for cultivation.[6]  Soil in the rice and corn farm is dry while the abaca farms are moist, dark humus shaded by tall trees. The T’boli also believe that the soil is owned by fu tonok (lit. owner of the earth). This general belief in the fu may point to the local people’s cognition that resources are not theirs to exploit but as something borrowed from the ‘owners’ hence the rituals of asking for permission to use those resources.

Land ownership is considered communal. The watershed, forests, river systems, farm and pasture lands are considered communal properties and therefore their use and conservation are the responsibility of the whole community. Lake Sebu is an ancestral domain with a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claims (CADC) Nos. 003 and 004 facilitated through the Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Claim Association (LASADCA). The 2 CADCS (CADC 003 for the Ubo tribes and CADC 004 for the T’boli tribes) have a total land area of 19,377 and 20,475 hectares respectively (Logong 2000). In the case of the Sulan family, their farms are in the ancestral domain claim and no title from the government has been issued to them. According to an interview, the farm lands were acquired through the uncle of the patriarch Eko Sulan. His own father was a hunter and had no hand for farming. It was Eko Sulan who first cultivated the land and then passed it on to his daughters and sons. Jelly Escarlote, a farmer who manages a farm in Datal Sboyun and Lamkadi talked about land ownership in an interview:

Yung sa amin, sa tatay ko mismo tapos namana niya na rin sa lolo namin… Ang pag-aari ng lupa ay depende sa sipag mo. Kung gaano ang sipag niya, yun na rin ang lupa na mapa-sakanya. At sa ngayon, dahil hindi pa ito napatituluhan, kasi ancestral domain, mabagal siguro ang pag-ano ng NCIP.  Kahit yung assessment nila, parang on the table pa lang. (6 May 2013, 2:33pm)

T’meba or slash-and-burn is done to clear forests in preparation for planting. This is usually done during the beginning of March. Before, they used to clear small patches of forests to plant rootcrops and transfer to other locations for the next planting cycle, but in contemporary time, they no longer practice this due mainly to decreasing availability of land and increasing number of families who owns land. Land ownership is through clearing and planting. If a person clears a forest and plants it, then that land would be his or hers. During the time of Eko Sulan’s father, they would move on to another land after harvesting and let the soil rest. T’meba is done in another area where they would plant again. But this time, they are using the same plot of land and never let it rest for the entire year. Eko Sulan said that because of this they have lesser and lesser harvest each year.

Farmers are both men and women, and starting from a very young age, children are exposed to the farm life. Traditionally, farming is the exclusive domain of the men, but in contemporary time, women are now helping and even owning their farms as in the case of Jelly Escarlote and Jenita Eko. In the case of Jenita Eko, she is the 2nd child from the 1st wife of Eko Sulan. According to her, because of her father’s frustrations of not having a son, she was brought up like one by her father and so was exposed to hunting, farming and other men’s activities, most interesting is her involvement in conflict mediation. Her father and is one of the mediators in the tribe or tau mugut kokum.  Bo-i Diwa (a celebrated tau mugut kokum) is the aunt of her mother.

Jelly Escarlote is a farmer and member of Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI). She is also a pastor of the Alliance Church in Klubi. In an interview, she was introduced to farming through her father who would bring her to their farm in Lamkadi and taught her through hands-on experience.

Bata pa ako, sumama na ako sa papa ko lalo na sa pagtatanim ng palay. Mga ano siguro ako, Grade 4, nagoobserve na ako kung paano magtanim ng palay at paano rin magtrabaho sa palayan. (6 May 2013)

The T’boli S’bu were described in ethnographies as hunting-gathering societies, with swidden farms, and not until recently did they plant rice, corn and other agricultural products. Several interviews suggest that the great grandfathers of the current generation (i.e. Jenita Eko and Eunice Sulan’s) are still exclusively planting rootcrops and hunting for their food. The generation of Eko Sulan may be the first farmers of rice and corn in the area.

Planting may be considered organic, although there are already instances when they have to use insecticides. Jelly reasoned that when adjacent farms use insecticides, pests would transfer to their own farm giving them no choice but to also use insecticides. As much as possible, Jelly shared, they never use synthetic insecticides. Traditional organic means of killing insects include placing fak binuten (frog with warts, i.e. Hawaiian frog) in the farms to eat the insects, and wong (spiders) are also left to make their webs in the farm to eat insects.

Another method is to create boundaries of bamboo forests in between corn/rice and the abaca farms. The bamboos serve as natural screens for flying insects that might bring diseases from the corn to the abaca or vice versa. Madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium) bark is also used as insecticide by soaking it for 3 days then mixing with chili pepper (capsicum frutescens) and detergent powder. This is then sprayed to the corns to kill the worms that eat the corn stalks. In an interview with Eko Sulan, he said that there were no rat infestations before because they used to eat the field mice by setting different traps in the farm. He shared that when migrants increasingly brought in their different varieties of corn and rice, the diseases and pests have also increased

Melem éhék is a ritual done to call for rain. A sharpening stone is placed in the river and is said to call for rain within a few days. The symbolization, according to Jelly Escarlote, is that a sharpening stone always feels cool and it becomes wet when being used. The coolness and the wetness symbolize rain. The person making this ritual must bathe several times every day until the rain comes. Jelly shared that when she went to a place in CARAGA, Mindanao, there was also a similar ritual done by the family who housed them. A sharpening stone was placed in the river and then placed at the edge of the roof.

Several plants are planted in the gardens of the Sulan compound. This include: taro, garlic, malabar spinach (alugbati, Basella alba), Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa), cabbage (Brassica oleracea), cassava, eggplant, okra and sweet potato. While crops planted in the Datal Sboyun farm are: corn (sweet corn variety, Zea mays), upland rice (different varieties) and abaca.

The following are varieties of upland rice cultivated by the T’boli (Awed, et al 2004):

halay – unhusked rice, generic

halay awot – (a Visayan variety) short, round, white kernels, matures early

halay blabud – brown, semi-round, large kernels

halay blibóy – white, elongated kernels

halay blinow – smallest, white kernels

halay blogo – large kernels, nice for making puffed rice

halay fut – striped skinned, white kernels and heavy

halay hegna/hlóng – a variety of very fast growth

halay hulô gunù – red skinned, white kernels

halay kambing – brown skinned, whiskered, white kernels

halay kbahù – red skinned, small, white kernels

halay kmagi – red skinned, elongated, white kernels

halay kmamang – white skin and kernels, heads are scattered instead of in clusters

halay nadal – yellow skinned, white kernels

halay nongul – any kind of rice that is not glutinous

halay óngô – very small, white kernels

halay sendangan – large, yellow skinned with fuzz, brown kernels, very good for soup

halay sgandal – striped skinned, long, white kernels

halay swani – yellow, small, elongated skinned, white kernels

halay teng – large, elongated, black skinned, white kernels

halay tugom – very small, short, brown skinned, white kernels

hulut asam – black and white striped skin, red kernels, very small, glutinous

hulut balut – striped skinned, red kernels, glutinous kernels

hulut dlong – brown, large variety, red, glutinous

hulut koti – dark skinned, black, glutinous kernels

hulut wak – glutinous, dark purple skin and kernels

Animals domesticated by the T’boli in Klubi: dogs, cats, carabaos, cows, chickens, horses, ducks, goats and turkeys.

The following are the harvesting and planting implements of the T’boli in Klubi:

Alab/galab ­– sickle

Asay – hatchet

Badung – bolo with a curved, wide blade

Bakbak – hammer

Bangkung – work bolo

Beyung – long-handled axe

Blis – sharpened piece of bamboo used for harvesting corn

Dadu – plow

Dulis – scraper or knife used to scrape the burned hair off a pig or deer hide

Dwél – prybar

Egel – sharpened stick used for making holes in the ground when planting corn

Ehek – dibble stick, a pointed stick used to dig holes for planting rice

Ehek tefak – dibble-stick with a noise maker on the top so that it makes a clapping sound as the holes are made

Éhék –  sharpening stone

Fala – shovel

Fat dangaw – four-handspan long bolo used in bartering at weddings.

Fiku – pickaxe

Gbut – long work bolo, but accidentally broken off, with about one-fourth left at the base

Get – handsaw

Hokol – short wide-bladed bolo

Hotuk – hatchet or axe of the T’boli before World War II

Kadas – harrow used in field work

Kbahù – small all-purpose knife used by men

Kdang – type of work bolo

Kleng huhed – fancy knife (bolo/kris)

Klo – weeding tool

Klut – saw-toothed piece of rounded metal used for scraping and grating coconut out of the shell

Kongò – large bolo having a curved end

Lebaha – razor blade

Legadaw – sickle

Legadì – file

Lendasan – anvil

Lenggaman – rice harvesting knife

Limbas – iron file used to sharpen metal

Lumak – scabbard

Okol – digging stick

Sanggut – hoe with a pointed blade

Sokul – hoe

Sudeng – kris, a dagger with a serpentine blade used for trading between chiefs and worn by the bridegroom at weddings

Suk – bolo, generic

Tabas – bolo with a long curved blade

Tahù – blade of an abaca stripper

Tefek – largest work bolo

Teksì – tool (knife) used to strip abaca from the plant

Tiba – bolo used for cutting tall grass

Tók – bolo with a long blade

Tumba – large, thin, wide sharp bolo

The T’boli in Klubi uses the the phases of the moon, positions of stars and directions of sunrise, sunset, mooonrise and moonset to guide them in planting and harvesting.

Awed, et al described the phases of the moon in relation to rice planting:

This is specifically for the months of March sélél  and April, tdanan hotuk, the months for rice planting.

nengel ohu – it’s in the ground, can’t be seen. New Moon.

uluk lanab – it appears just above the ocean as large as a wild pig’s tusk. New Moon.

sebwól tikung – it is one handspanc above the ocean, red in appearance.

lulón klembew – it appears over the tops of the mountains.

nù lem léhéken – it appears halfways between earth and sky. Crescent. (Poor harvest if planted at this phase.)

slafin – it appears at the highest point of the sky. First Quarter. (Excellent harvest if planted at this phase, when the moon and blotik ehek ‘star for planting’ are in direct line, one above the other).

deng semfóyón – it has just passed the sky’s highest point.

stileng – it is halfway down the sky (by daylight reckoning), beginning to be large. Gibbous. (Poor harvest if planted at this phase, because the moon and the blotik ehek have passed each other).

mangu ­– becoming larger. (Not good to plant at this phase).

saif – Usually the best time for planting. Last Quarter.

tngel – Full moon.

kbit – still very large.

sotu knifuhen – ‘first night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

lewu knifuhen – ‘second night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

tlu knifuhen – ‘third night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

limu knifuhen – ‘fifth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as kifu lóbô ‘night of the wild things’ as animals, snakes. (Good harvest only if the owners themselves do the planting).

nem knifuhen – ‘sixth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as kifu likò ‘night of being afraid’ (because the darkness is so intense). [According to Jenita Eko, it is the ‘night of being afraid’ because the T’boli believe that many bad things happen during this night, most especially ‘robbery resulting to homicide’ committed by the Ubo tribe.

hitu knifuhen – ‘seventh night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as tanay ketfesen or tfes udì. (Good harvest if planted at this phase).

wolu knifuhen – ‘eight night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as tfes sumy or tfes bong. (Good harvest is planted at this phase).

syóm knifuhen – ‘ninth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as yewen bong; half of the moon is seen. Third/Last Quarter.

sfolò knifuhen tenth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as yewen udì; only a small part of moon is seen. Crescent.

sudù kdaw – Moon is no longer seen it sets the same time the sun comes up. New Moon.

limu butengen mbut bulón glimun ­ – ‘five nights until the fifth month starts (i.e. May 1, the last chance to plant rice).

sélél – month of March

stileng – month of July

tdanan hotuk bulón – the dry season, usually from the last week of February through March, after the field has been cleared while waiting for it to be dry enough to be burned (lit. time of resting).

In an interview with Eko Sulan, he shared that they should only plant banana when it’s a full moon and when the moon rises from the east. Rice and corn are planted during the full moons of March and April. Eko Sulan explained that when the moon rises from the ‘sea’ (this was explained as a metaphor for sea of mountains surrounding Klubi) or geographic west, accompanied by the star blotik éhék while it rises, is the proper time to plant rice and corn because the earth will be dry (hence no worms) and maya birds will not eat the corn and rice.

The star blotik éhék literally means the ‘star of the sharpening stone’. It is a celestial marker for T’boli agriculture not unlike the star Sirius in ancient Egyptian agriculture that marks the annual flooding of the Nile River. Éhék is the stone used to sharpen knives, tok or sudeng and other implements. Whetstones or water stones are hard rocks, and according to Eko Sulan, are also very hard to find. This star’s name, marking the agricultural planting season, may also be interpreted as preparing the farming tools for the coming planting season. When this star rises together with the moon, as if riding on the moon’s back, then that month is the lunar month for March-April.

Lake Sebu Municipality is a Type IV climate according to the standards and categories of the the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) which is characterized by “a more or less evenly distributed rainfall througout the year.” Climate data for a representative city, General Santos City[7], show that the lowest recorded precipitation in a year is during the months of March and April, 1.6 and 1.9 inches respectively. Annual average precipitation is 42.2 inches, with June having the highest average precipitation at 4.8 inches. This scientific data validates the practice of planting during the dry season to avert pests that multiply during the rainy season.

Another detail here: Eko Sulan added that the blotik éhék must not be flickering so much because this will also mean a bad harvest. Stellar scintillation is caused by “small-scale fluctuations in air density related to temperature gradients”[8]. This marker shared by Eko Sulan is part of the compendium of traditional knowledge on agriculture that, seen through the lenses of western, modern science, considers atmospheric conditions that are essential to a good harvest.

One of the striking observations during the interviews and fieldwork in Klubi was the increasing unreliability of these astronomical markers in the agricultural practices of the T’boli. Jelly Escarlote put it succinctly:

Noon, sinasabi nila, oh buwan ng Marso, buwan ng Abril, kahit hindi mo tingnan ang araw, kahit hindi mo tingnan kung saan siya magsikat o ano, basta yan na buwan, mabilang ng mga matatanda, yan ang buwan na maganda ang harvest, maganda ang lahat ng mga produkto, pero sa ngayon dahil sa pagbabago ng panahon, mahirapan na kami. Kasi hindi mo na ma-ano, hindi mo na mabibilang sa kalendaryo na ito pagmag-tanim ako ngayon, bilangin ko lang hanggang, isa, dalawa hanggang pitong araw, hindi pa yan tutubo ang mga damo, pero sa ngayon kahit ilang araw lang maya-maya uulan nanaman. So malaking epekto, nahihirapan kaming mag-timing sa pagtatanim ngayon. Kung minsan, ano na lang, sinusunod pa rin namin ang mga buwan na sinasabi ng mga matatanda na ganito, maganda ang pagtanim, pero ang problema, may deperensya talaga sa produkto tapos, sa tayo ng mga halaman. Kagaya nito (points to the corn field),  ito sinunod namin ang buwan ng pagtatanim ng mais dito, pero tingnan mo, kinain ng mga uod. Kaya kita mo doon sa baba, hindi nalinisan ng mabuti, kasi kung maulan doon lalabas yung uuod. Ulan tapos mainit nanaman, biglang uulan, biglang iinit. Yun lalabas yung mga uod. (6 May 2013, 2:33pm)

Erratic weather systems have been blamed by the informants for the confusions in the planting calendar. Although the stars, moon, sun and mountains are still there to tell them when to plant, the weather tells a different story. When the elders tell them that it is the right time to plant, as it is the dry season, it suddenly rains and brings with it pests that eats the newly planted corn stalks. In a Focus Group Discussion conducted on 30 March 2013 in Klubi, several of the elders answered that they will not change their planting calendar believing that the seasons will go back to normal. They shared the story of the long drought experience by the generation of Eko Sulan’s grandfather when there was no rain for months and all their crops failed. They said that eventually the rains came and the seasons ‘normalized’. This attitude may not be shared by all the farmers in Klubi, many of whom are no longer following the traditional methods of planting, but the elders are still thinking along these lines of ‘it will get better soon’.

One sees in these events the dilemma of following the old, static cultural system (illustrated here as the traditional knowledge in agriculture) in the face of a very dynamic natural system, but certainly any researcher must take into consideration the capabilities of a society to adapt and undertake “actions necessary to maintain the capacity to deal with future change or perturbations to a social-ecological system without undergoing significant changes in function, structural identity, or feedbacks of that system while maintaining the option to develop” (Nelson, Adger, and Brown 2007). Indeed, ethnographies of many different indigenous groups reveal their resilience in the face of adversities, human or environmental. But here, one is reminded of the synergy of a resilient ecosystem reinforcing the resilience of the social system (and vice versa). Indigenous place-based resilience requires understanding the traditions and sustained relationships with the land. Relationships are embedded in the land. This becomes tied to the personal identity, spiritual development of people, and their overall relationships with others. Can maintenance of community relationships be part of indigenous resilience? How can this be realized when place-based traditions are already being compromised by climatic perturbations? How can this relationship to the land be guaranteed when most are already leaving the mountains for the cities? Can the T’boli of Klubi be resilient to anthropogenic climate change, compounded by other “existing challenges, including political and economic marginalization, land and resource encroachments, human rights violations and discrimination?

The now unreliable blotik éhék may have a stark future as just another star against the millions twinkling in the night sky of the month of sélél. No one knows for sure, if the blotik riding the moon of a cloudless night, will still call the T’boli to prepare the okol, fiku or the tok, the sharpening stone eager in a dark corner.

References:

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

Awed S., Underwood L., and Van Wynen V. 2004. T’boli-English Dictionary. Manila: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Crate, S. Gone the Bull of Winter? Contemplating Climate Change’s Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia, Russia, In Anthropology and Climate Change, eds. Crate, S., and Nuttal, M. California: Left Coast Press.  2009.

Logong D. L. 2000. Experiences and Challenges of the Indigenour People in Co-managing Forest Resources: The Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Community Association, In Decentralization and Devolution of Forest Management in Asia and the Pacific, eds. Enters, T., Durst, P. B., and M. Victor. RECOFTC Report N. 18 and RAP Publication 2000/1. Bangkok, Thailand.

Nazarea, V. The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture and Sustainable Living, eds. Haenn, N. and Wilk, R. New York: New York University Press. 2005.

Nelson, D. R., W. N. Adger, and K. Brown. 2007. Adaptation to environmental change: Contributions of a resilience framework. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32 (11): 113.

Office of the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Lake Sebu Socioeconomic Profile 2010.

Simova, B., Robertson, T., and Beasley, D. 2012. Cognitive Anthropology, http://anthropology.ua.edu, retrieved August 30, 2012.

Strauss, S. Global Models, Local Risks: Responding to Climate Change in the Swiss Alps, In Anthropology and Climate Change, eds. Crate, S., and Nuttal, M. California: Left Coast Press.  2009.

Weatherbase. General Santos, Philippines. http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weather.php3?s=15889&cityname=General -Santos-Philippines.com, retrieved on 27 May 2013.

Wikipedia. Lake Sebu. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Sebu, retrieved August 24, 2012.

Wikipedia. Scintillation. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintillation_(astronomy), retrieved on 27 May 2013.


[1] See Gone the Bull of Winter? Contemplating Climate Change’s Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia, Russia.

[2] See Global Models, Local Risks: Responding to Climate Change in the Swiss Alps.

[3] Interview with Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator dated May 2, 2013.

[4] Bobby Simova, Tara Robertson and Duke Beasley, Cognitive Anthropology, http://anthropology.ua.edu, retrieved August 30, 2012.

[5] Silin Awed et. al, “T’boli-English Dictionary” as validated by Jelly Escarlote in an interview dated May 5, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weather.php3?s=15889&cityname=General -Santos-Philippines, retrieved on 27 May 2013.

[8] Scintillation. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintillation_(astronomy), retrieved on 27 May 2013.

One thought on “Blotik Éhék (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and Climate Change: When Traditional Knowledge Becomes Unreliable

  1. Pingback: “To be” in Klubi | Being Here, Now.

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