Exploring “Experience and Expressions” in Climate Change Anthropology

Lake Sebu at dusk


The truth is, I have never heard of Wilhelm Dilthey until I’ve read “The Anthropology of Experience” edited by Victor Turner and Edward Bruner – and I am a Philosophy major. In his introduction to the book, Bruner presented him as a German thinker when Kantianism was the trend in Philosophy.  This is palpable in the way he critiqued the philosophy of a priori principles, meaning-complexes and absolute value norms, in his theory that assumes that all thought processes arise out of experience (erlebnis – what has been “lived through”) and derive their meaning from their relation into experience, and therefore critiquing the Kantian a priori.  For Dilthey, “reality only exists for us in the facts of consciousness given by inner experience” (as cited in Bruner, 1986: 4).

Dilthey asserted that experience is the ”foundation of the whole edifice of knowledge” going on further to say that it is “only by reference to experience that we can define what we mean by saying that anything ‘exists’” (Hodges, 1952). Bruner worked on Dilthey’s notion of experience to expound on an “Anthropology of Experience” where lived experience, “as thought and desire, as word and image, is the primary reality” (Bruner, 1986: 5).  As lived and embodied, experience becomes a critical focus of anthropology because it is a causal point for personal and community action which directly affects persons, outcomes and therefore cultures.

Reading Bruner talk about Dilthey’s notion of experience brings me back to my proposed study of climate change in the T’boli community of Klubi; a study on “experience and expressions of climate change”. Climate change, as a reality in the sense of something actually existing outside of the knowing self and in opposition to a notional idea, demands that social scientists turn their focus on how it is experienced and expressed especially in indigenous communities who are considered most vulnerable to climate perturbations. How is it represented in the language of our research partners? How is it told? What are the emerging expressions of this global phenomenon in the local communities that are the traditional partners of anthropologists? Are expressions related to climate perturbations becoming part of the dominant narratives? And as the peoples’ “articulations, formulations, and representations of their own experience” (1986: 9) how is climate change adaptation or response appropriated in those articulations?

Bruner expanded the concept of experience by including “feelings and expectations” (4), “images and impressions”, (5) as sources of experience. It comes to us not just verbally but also from the richer sphere of images and feelings, which goes beyond languages. We may say that given the ‘reality’ of climate change – of existing perturbations in the weather and unreliable traditional agricultural calendars as in the case of the T’boli – feelings, expectations, thoughts, images and impressions are also actively imprinted in the mind, which in turn are expressed, articulated in different modes.

Bruner accepted the idea that experience is “self-referential” – reality is experienced only by the person and that we can never completely know the experiences of another. Basically a study of the other, this then became the problematic in the anthropological study of experience. How can the anthropologist study another’s experience? He states:

 How, then, do we overcome the limitations of individual experience? Dilthey’s (1976: 230) answer was that we “transcend the narrow sphere of experience by interpreting expressions.” By “interpreting” Dilthey meant understanding, interpretation, and the methodology of hermeneutics; by “expressions” he meant representations, performances, objectifications, or texts. (1986: 5)

In my study of climate change experience and expressions among the T’boli S’bu, I start with the different experiences, but these can only be culled out from their own articulations of the changing weather patterns, inconsistencies with the agricultural calendar, their ‘feelings’ in the changing temperature, and the images that comes to mind given these perturbations. These expressions that include Bruner’s “representations, performances, objectifications or texts” encapsulate the experiences of the T’boli S’bu.

Questions on expressions and articulations of climate change may be asked: How are their mythologies appropriated in these perceived weather patterns? What rituals are employed to ‘fix’ these inconsistencies in the agricultural calendar vis-à-vis the weather? What are their impressions and desires in the midst of these uncertainties? What structures and episodes in their narratives of folk heroes and heroines help them in decisions related to agriculture and weather perturbations?

Bruner further clarified the relationship between experience and expressions:

 The relationship is clearly dialogic and dialectical, for experience structures expressions, in that we understand other people and their expressions on the basis of our own experience and understanding. But expressions also structure experience, in that dominant narratives of a historical era, important rituals and festivals, and classic works of art define and illuminate inner experience. (1986: 6)

One example, to further understand this experience-expressions relationship, is the k’mohung and seselong connection. K’mohung is the T’boli term for the “fish kills” that regularly happen in Lake Sebu. Several perspectives on the k’mohung are evidenced in the narratives related to it.

One narrative suggests that it is a curse. 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 an informant, whenever there is a fish kill, the fish pen owners will give the dead fish to the T’boli or sell them at a much lower price.

Another perspective views it as a gift from Fu S’bu, owner/spirit of the lake. My informant described a time before the Ilonggo settlers put up their fish pens and when the lake was still covered by water lilies and lotus plants. She shared that whenever there is a k’mohung , people would see fish and shrimps floating in the surface, but not quite dead, “as if they were dizzy”. They can easily “pick these fish and shrimps with their bare hands,” she said. Indeed, outside Western, Modern Science, one will view this as a gift from the lake, almost congruent to the biblical “manna from heaven”. This idea of a gift clearly opposes that notion of a “disaster” and in fact, it only became widely-known as a “disaster” when the Ilonggos came and put up their fishery industry in the lake. The disaster-gift dichotomy clearly delineates not only economic valuations of the lake, but also belief or supernatural categorizations of the natural world.

Here, the experience of the k’mohung is expressed in different narratives that show polar notions between the curse-gift discourse based on different circumstances and point of views – differing but still constituting peoples’ articulations, formulations and representations of the experience. On one hand the experience is akin to sacredness, as a gift from the spirits, while the other as curse to their livelihood. Expressions are indeed “rooted in a social situation with real persons in a particular culture in a given historical era” (1986: 7).  Bruner manifested this rich array of expressions, saying “every telling is an arbitrary imposition of meaning on the flow of memory, in that we highlight some causes and discount other; that is, every telling is interpretive.” (7)

These narrative expressions of a singular ‘reality’ but of plural experiences, continue on to shape a particular cultural action – that of the seselong.

The Focus Group Discussion I conducted in Brgy. Klubi on March 30, 2013 described the k’mohung and seselong in this way: after a leme-et, a type of weather defined by occasional strong rains and wind coming from the north, and then suddenly clearing (my informant likened the leme-et to an impending typhoon), T’boli in the uplands would then gather their rootcrops and other produce from their gardens to prepare for a seselong, a system of barter trading between the upland-living T’boli and the lake-side dwelling T’boli. During the leme-et, people surrounding the lake would also prepare for the seselong by observing the lake for the telltale signs of the k’mohung. My informants shared that there are no celebrations or rituals conducted during the seselong, something that I didn’t foresee especially in the case of an event that may be deemed supernatural or an event that gathers people from the upland and lakeside. The seselong becomes an opportunity for the lakeside dwellers to trade their gathered fish in exchange for the rootcrops of the upland T’boli.

This pattern in the activities and interaction of the upland and lakeside T’boli, provided by the seselong, may be viewed as a distribution of resources and exchanges of protein and carbohydrates-rich food between the two groups of T’boli. This intertwining of the natural world and the cultural aspect of the T’boli seselong may be viewed as one of the solutions to what I assume is an imbalance in the protein and carbohydrate diet of the two groups. In the old days when the T’boli were still exclusively hunters and gatherers, this system of exchange provides an easy source of protein for the upland T’boli whose main protein source are the animals that they hunt in the forest, in exchange for their carbohydrates-rich rootcrops. In turn, the lakeside T’boli whose diet consists mainly of protein from the fish caught in the lake, exchange their fish for the upland T’boli’s rootcrops.

The T’boli’s experience of the  k’mohung also turns our attention to indigenous meaning-generation. By studying the different expressions of narratives and the system of seselong that springs from the experience, I can engage with Bruner’s method of starting with expressions to understand the experience because the “basic units of analysis are established by the people we study rather by the anthropologist as alien observer” (9). Anthropological understanding of climate change adaptations and responses of the T’boli S’bu may also use this approach.

Bruner’s interpretive approach of the experience-expression relations operates on two levels:

 The people we study interpret their own experiences in expressive forms, and we, in turn, through our fieldwork, interpret these expressions for a home audience of other anthropologists. Our anthropological productions are our stories about their stories; we are interpreting the people as they are interpreting themselves. (10)

Although I disagree with Bruner when he says that anthropological studies are intended for a “home audience of other anthropologists”, believing that the ultimate audience of the anthropologist are his/her community partners, I still agree in this bi-level operation of cognition where people interpret their own experience while the anthropologist interprets those expressions to gain access to the original experience. In once instance, for example, I was invited to attend a tutul (chants) performance of several master-chanters of Klubi, Lamdalag and Lamcade. Several times, community members listening to the stories would cut the singing and comment on the story’s episodes relating them to contemporary issues, such as mining in T’boli municipality or treasure hunting in Lake Holon, yet the story itself (of the hero Tudbulul) is of mythological time, a story outside time, indeed serving as “meaning-generating devices which frame the present within a hypothetical past and an anticipated future” (1986: 18). Their own interpretations of the age-old stories, relating them to contemporary problems and issues give me adequate hope that among those stories and tutul performances, I may perhaps glean the hows, and whys of the T’boli S’bu mind in the ‘reality’ of climate change and from these expressions – of performed texts and dormant meanings in folk narratives – I may catch, even for a brief moment, a T’boli S’bu ‘experience’ of climate change.




Hodges, H. A. The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. Routledge & Kegan Paul (1952).

Bruner, Edward and Turner, Victor eds. The Anthropology of Experience. Chicago: University of Illinois Press (1986).

Emotions in their Cultural Contexts: the Case of Lila Abu-Lughod’s Analysis of Bedouin Ghinnawa

 The night of the beloved’s parting

Cloudcover, no stars and no moon…

(A ghinnawa in Abu-Lughod, 1985)

Before I was introduced to the anthropological study of emotions, I have always thought of my feelings, may it be of love, annoyance, anxiety, anger, or grief, as something that exclusively resides in the realm of my person – somewhere, as the poem alludes to, hidden in the cloudcover, no stars and no moon. It is, for me, something that is personal, private and secluded from the prying eyes of the public. For one, this may be because I was raised in a family that is never totally honest and transparent with our emotions. There seems to be (at least this is how I feel it) an unspoken rule in our family to settle, cope or appropriate our own individual emotions, until of course to the point of breakdown when one simply needs to talk it out to our parents or my sisters. Secondly, added to this pervading family attitude, is my adoption of ‘western’ values and mindset that glorifies privacy of emotions and individual freedom, something that may be attributed to my exposure to American media and ‘white’ literature.

It is quite interesting then to read Lila Abu-Lughod talk about emotions and how its study is “essentialized, relativized” (Abu-Lughod and Lutz, 1990, 3) and given focus as an important ‘psychobiological process’ that reverberates in a movement from within and then occasionally (but ultimately) shared by a community – emotions that becomes social and public. Her study focuses on emotions as cultural products reproduced in individuals as an embodied experience. Abu-Lughod argues that we must ask not just what the cultural meanings of various emotions are and how emotional configurations might be related to social life, but “how emotional discourses are implicated in the play of power and the operation of a historically changing system of social hierarchy” (Abu-Lughod and Lutz, 1990).

Lila Abu-Lughod is an Egyptian-American anthropologist who did much of her fieldwork among the Bedouins in Egypt, especially in the community of the Awlad ‘Ali. She is internationally recognized for her contributions to feminist anthropology, to studies of power and resistance (inspired by Foucault) and to the politics of gender in the Middle East (www.anthrobase.com). She explores these and other issues in her monograph “Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (1986)” and in “Shifting Politics in Bedouin Love Poetry” as part of a collection in “Language and the Politics of Emotion”. She further explored the dynamics of emotions and the politics of sentiments in a feminist perspective in “Modest Women, Subversive Poems: The Politics of Love in an Egyptian Bedouin Society”.

In Modest Women, Subversive Poems and Shifting Politics, Lila Abu-Lughod describes a genre of poetry known among the Egyptian Bedouins as ghinnawa:

[… ] known in Egypt as the ghinnawa (little song) and in Libya as ‘alam or sob. Reminiscent of Japanese haiku in its brevity and condensation of language, but the American blues in emotional tone, the ghinnawa could be considered the poetry of personal life. (Abu-Lughod, 1986)

The ghinnawa, added Abu-Lughod, are “recited in the midst of ordinary conversations between intimates although they are also sung when people are alone working” (1986) and often “special weight is attached to the messages conveyed in this medium and people are moved, often to tears by the sentiments expressed.” (1985). As recited poetry, often in weddings and other gatherings, they are private expressions of emotions that come to inhabit the public sphere. One description gives us the cultural and personal significance of the ghinnawa:

It is one of the most cherished types of Bedouin poetry, and people find it very moving. One woman said, ‘Beautiful poetry makes you cry.’ The poems carry sentiments, especially about people’s personal situations and their intimate relationship about people’s personal situations and their intimate relationships to others. One of the most common themes of the ghinnawa is love. (1986)

The title of her essay “Modest Women, Subversive Poems” (1986) already captures the essence of the dynamics happening in the ghinnawa poetry and the Bedouins.  Abu-Lughod talks about how hasham, or modesty defines the Awlad ‘Ali women, an “internal state of shyness, embarrassment or shame” and in her analysis, marked by a strong feminist stance, “the denial of sexuality” (1986). Hasham defines the good woman, while gawya (willful) and ghaba (slut) describes a bad girl or woman. She mentions several cases of these traits but it is clear from her articles that a woman ought to be distant and passive, no excesses for desire or love, showing no public affection to her husband, or veiled in the sense of self-effacement mandated by the community. Yet Abu-Lughod is careful not to sweepingly target Islam for this attitude:

“Rather than looking at Islam, we need to look at Bedouin social structure, based on the priority of social relationships of consanguinity and organization in terms of patrilineal descent, to understand why expressing sexuality or romantic love might be defiant. “ (1986)

But here the interesting question was raised: why are the ghinnawa poems full of romantic, sometimes implicitly sexual, and just generally un-hasham content? One example she cites is the case of Safiyya who was divorced from the man she had been married to for almost twenty years and who “showed an aggressive nonchalance that was fairly typical of the way Bedouin women speak of their husbands, trying to appear uninterested”, an attitude that fairly speaks of hasham. Yet Abu-Lughod describes a scene between Safiyya and several other women in which Safiyya suddenly recited a poem “that everyone knew was about her husband” (1986). Here appears a different Safiyya, a woman full of loss and love:

Memories stirred of the beloved

Should I release, I’m flooded by them…

Oh eyes of mine be strong;

You cherish people, and then they’re gone…

Abu-Lughod further emphasized that “modest women regularly expressed ‘immodest’ feelings in ghinnawas”.  This seemingly polar attitude and sentiment was analyzed by Abu-Lughod in the context of the social structure of the Awlad ‘Ali Bedouins. She considers the semi-nomadic, agnatic, patriarchal and patrilineal characteristic of the Awlad ‘Ali as important causes of this disjunction between hasham attitude and the subversive nature of the ghinnawa. She explains that “love and the bonds it might establish between individuals are not just threats to the framework that orders social relations, but are also talked about as threats to the solidarity of the paternal kin group” (1990) and that “through their poetry [they declare their] experience more than what their modest actions reveal” (1986). As a group based on an agnatic political system and a cultural preference for “patrilateral parallel cousin marriage”, love and marriage are considered as threats to this system and hence subsumed in the code of the hasham under the “prior and more legitimate bond of kinship.” (1990) She explains further:

The threat marriage represents to the solidarity of the agnatic group and its challenge to the authority and control of the group’s elders is counteracted at every point by social and ideological strategies. (1986)

Abu-Lughod calls the ghinnawa as “the Bedouin discourse of defiance” (1990). Emotions stifled by hasham and the exacting social structure opens up like a dam in the freedom of poetry. We must note that the Bedouins are nomadic desert people before the Egyptian state imposed structures external to their customs and traditions and that they are proud of their noble past as politically independent, hence sentiments “that challenge the social system and the authority of the elders, are not just tolerated or not disapproved of but actually admired” (1990). The ghinnawa then are celebrated as distinctively Bedouin and that the defiance that it embodies captures the very essence of how they see (or saw) themselves as autonomous and free. She also shows how this emotional discourse in the form of the ghinnawa come to have new social meaning and a different social basis as the Bedouin political economy is being transformed. She concludes with the use of discourse as the object of analysis in the study of emotions, “inseparable from and interpenetrated with changing power relations in social life” (1990) and emotions as “something worth analyzing critically rather than universalizing”(1990).

Several insights can be gleaned from the case presented to us in the Shifting Politics and Modest Women, Subversive Poems. One is the method of analysis used by Abu-Lughod in explicating the play of the cultural and personal spheres using verbal art and another is the local application of her conclusions.

Abu-Lughod’s use of oft-considered ‘non-documents’ such as oral narratives, songs, poetry or folklore genre adds to the growing body of studies that reclaims fragmented voices in order to assert these non-documents’ force in the world. Cyril Conde’s “A Theory of Kadungung in Ibalon and Osipon”, Reynaldo Ileto’s “Pasyon and Revolution”, Herminia Coben’s “Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities” and Rosario Cruz-Lucero’s “Ang Bayan sa Labas ng Maynila” are indeed fine specimens of this kind methodology. Conde, for example, uses the osipon genre of Bikolano literature to stitch together the lost fragments of the epic Ibalon, while Ileto uses the narratives in the Pasyon to provide a “history from below” and an alternative view of Philippine History from 1840-1910. These non-traditional sources of information rest on interpretive approaches to make (more) sense of mainstream academic areas thereby representing other contexts and forces that shape a community.  Coben writes that these performances of verbal art are “situated in a social context” and it is “precisely that social interaction that enables verbal art performance to transform, not simply reflect, social life” (2009, 1).

Abu-Lughod was aware of these social interactions when she interpreted the dynamics of ghinnawa within the social structure of the Awlad ‘Awli Bedouins. The spoken word then, may it be in the form of poetry, riddles, sawikain or osipon, forms an important part in the methods of anthropological inquiry because it exists within the cultural ideal and subsists in the psychic energies of the individual within a culture. Cognitive and Psychological Anthropology will find a treasure trove of information within these forms verbal arts waiting to be explicated and ultimately to help us, as Geertz claimed, “understand the other’s understanding”.

Several local applications of her method can be relevant to a wide variety of subject matters. One example is the folk narratives (e.g. the tutul of the T’boli) of Indigenous Peoples regarding climate change, issues they are currently facing (i.e. land acquisition, indigenous peoples rights) or even to a study of the sentiments towards politics and politicians expressed implicitly or explicitly in the Bikolano tigsik. Abu-Lughod’s conclusion that emotions also reside in the public sphere, often hidden in verbal arts, yet articulating hidden tensions in the social life of the individuals, is also applicable in the study of different cultural groups in the Philippines. In this Sama Dilaut riddle, for instances, the sentiments of the sea-gypsy comes alive:

Music from the sea, dancing ashore.

(Waves and coconut palms)



Angigal mandea.]

(Goyak maka selok)

(Coben, 2009, 356)

Here, the Sama Dilaut paints using a commonplace genre, the tension in which he is in, of being a “flotsam” as the Tausug would pejoratively refer to them, of being geopolitically marginalized, and then one can also sense the intimate “conjunction of the land sea” embedded in his worldview. All this in one riddle of the Sama Dilaut. How much more in a compendium of Philippine verbal arts?

In the ghinnawa, Abu-Lughod found a veritable source of information that opens up a community’s ideals, structure and the individual’s appropriation of her emotions within a very exacting, even stifling social structure. She showed the pragmatic force of poetry (and other verbal arts) in the anthropological understanding of emotions that is both personal but sometimes (relative to the culture) acquiring a social dimension.

Indeed, the ghinnawa speaks of love, loss, partings and joy, and  at the same time revealing a people’s soul – hiding, in a cloudcover, no stars, no moon…

Sources Cited:

Abu-Lughod, Lila and Lutz, Catherine A. Language and the Politics of Emotion (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction). University of Cambridge: Press Syndicate (1990).

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Shifting Politics in Bedouin Love Poetry. In Language and the Politics of Emotion (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction). University of Cambridge: Press Syndicate (1990). 24-45.

___________________. Honor and the Sentiments of Loss in a Bedouin Society. In American Ethnologist, Vol. 12, No. 2. (May, 1985). 245-261.

___________________. Modest Women, Subversive Poems: the Politics of Love in an Egyptian Bedouin Society. In Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies), Vol. 13, No. 2. (1986). 159-168.

Coben, Herminia M. Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities (Poetics, Society, and History). Manila: Ateneo de Manila Press (2009).

www.anthrobase.com. Abu-Lughod, Lila (b. 1952). Retrieved on July 10, 2013.

Agos at Paghamon

Mga bantang dala ng Sagitarrius Mines sa yamang-tubig ng Gitna at Timog Mindanao


“Ang tubig ay buhay at kabuhayan.”

Saan pa nga bang lugar sa Pilipinas mas higit na nagkakamukha at nagkakatuturan ang katagang ito kung hindi sa mga bayan ng Timog Mindanao na ngayo’y naging sentro ng tunggalian sa pagitan ng mga nagtutulak ng pagmimina sa bayan ng Tampakan at ang mga naglalayong pangalagaan ang yamang likas at tao dito? Sa isang proyekto na binasbasan ng gobyerno, pitong ilog na pinagmumulan ng tubig ng Timog Kotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao hanggang Kotabato ang nababantaang maapektuhan ng pinakamalaking minahan sa bansa: ang SMI/Xstrata Tampakan Copper-Gold Project.

Maituturing na mga taong-tubig ang mga taga-Mindanao. Sa tubig umiikot ang mga iba’t ibang kultura sa islang ito at kabahin na nito ang kanilang pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan: Danao, Ranao, Lanao, S’bu, Suba, Kaulo, Pulangi, Agus, Laut, Sug, Salug, E-el… Lahat ng mga ito ay nagpapahiwatig ng tubig sa kanyang iba’t ibang anyo bilang ilog, sapa, lawa o dagat. At sa mga pangalang ito’y makikilala natin ang Min-Danao, Maranao, Maguindanao, Lawa ng Sebu, Manobo na galing sa Man-suba, Taga-Kaulo, ang ilog ng Pulangi, Agusan, mga Sama Dilaut o Badjao, Tau-Sug, Matig-salug, ang mga lugar ng Alab-el at Marb-el na galing sa B’laan para sa tubig, e-el. Tunay ngang sa Mindanao, ang tubig ay siya ring ating buhay at pagkakakilanlan.

Sa bayan ng Buluan, probinsya ng Maguindanao, kakabit ng tubig ang kabuhayan. Dito, sapat ang biyaya ng lawa ng Buluan para buhayin ang pamilya at para mamuhay ng sapat sa pang araw-araw. Ikatlo ang Buluan sa pinakamalawak na lawa sa Mindanao kasunod ng Lanao at Mainit. Pinamamahayan ito ng mga Maguindanao na kung saan tinuturing nila ang lawa at ang pinak ng Ligawasan bilang kanilang cultural heartland – ang sentro ng kanilang pamumuhay, kasaysayan at yamang-kultura. Pangingisda at pag-alaga ng bangus at tilapia ang pangunahing kabuhayan dito. Malayo at hindi makikita ang bulubundukin ng Tampakan dito – para sa kanila isang pangalan ng bayan sa Timog Kotabato lamang ito at ang panaka-nakang kwento na dating sakop ng Sultanatong Maguindanao ang Tampakan. Mangilan-ngilan lamang ang nakakaalam na ang dalawa sa mga ilog na nagsusuplay ng tubig sa lawa ay direktang apektado ng minahan sa Timog Kotabato.  Hindi maikakaila na ang Lawa ng Buluan ay nasa gitna ng mga naguumpugang prinsipyo at interes sa Tampakan.

Ilang kilometro mula sa Buluan ay matatagpuan ang panukalang Tampakan Copper-Gold Project ng Sagittarius Mines Inc. at Xstrata na umaabot sa siyam na libu’t anim na raan at limang ektarya (9,605)ang kabuuang lugar ng minahan o katumbas ng dalawang Lungsod ng Maynila. Maaari rin nating ihalintulad sa dalawang daan at labing siyam na libu’t siyam na raan at walumpo’t dalawang (219,982) palaruan ng basketbol. Matatagpuan ang panukalang dambuhalang minahan sa mga probinsya ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani at Timog Kotabato. Aabot sa walong daang metro ang lalim ng huhukayin para makuha ang pilak at ginto ng bulubundukin ng Tampakan – doble sa taas ng Empire State Building sa Estados Unidos. Limang daang (500) ektarya ang lawak ng hukay nito. Bukod sa malaking hukay na gagawin ng SMI/Xstrata ay mayroon ding dambuhalang estraktura o dam na haharang sa mga ilog para gawing imbakan ng mga nakalalasong bato at kemikal mula sa mina.

Para maisakatuparan ang minahang ito, kinakailangang harangin, ibahin ang landas o tuluyang tuyuin ang pitong ilog na nagmumula sa mga bulubundukin ng Tampakan, Kimlawis, Bololsalo, Columbio at Malungon. Apat na sanga-sangang sistema ng mga sapa at ilog ang direktang maapektuhan: ang ilog ng Taplan na umaagos patungong ilog ng Marbel na siyang dumadaloy patungong Lawa ng Buluan, patungong pinak ng Ligawasan na tuluyan namang lumalabas sa Look ng Illana sa Kotabato; ang ilog ng Alip sa Columbio na umaagos patungong bayan ng Datu Paglas sa Maguindanao, papuntang Ligawasan at Look ng Illana; ang ilog ng Padada sa Davao del Sur na dumadaloy papuntang Look ng Malalag; at ang ilog ng Buayan sa Malungon, Sarangani na dumadaloy patungong Look ng Sarangani.

Matakaw sa tubig ang kahit anong minahan, mas lalo na sa isang dambuhalang minahan katulad ng Tampakan Copper-Gold Project. Bawat segundo, mangangailangan ito ng siyam na raan at walong litro (908 L) bawat segundo na kukunin mula sa ilog ng Mal at gagawing walong daang (800) ektaryang dam, na magsusuplay ng tubig para ipanghalo sa mga nahukay na bato na siya namang ipapasok sa tubo na magdadala nito sa baybayin ng Maasim, Timog Kotabato, upang ibenta sa mga kompanya. Ang siyam na raan at walong litro bawat segundo ay pitumpo’t walong libo’t apat na raan at limampu’t isang (78,451) kubiko metro ng tubig sa isang araw – tubig na sana’y nagamit ng libu-libong magsasaka ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Timog Kotabato at Sarangani. Sa pangambang dulot ng pagbabagong klima o Climate Change, higit kailanman na dapat pangalagaan ang mga natitirang gubat na sumasalo ng tubig sa kabundukan, at ang mga ilog na kabahin ng ating pagkabuhay.

Sa katunayan, nagbabala ang mga dalubhasa sa Manila Observatory at PAGASA na sa loob ng dalawampung (20) taon ay makakaranas ng papaunting pag-ulan ang Timog Mindanao. Tinaguriang buslo ng pagkain o food basket ng Mindanao ang Katimugang Mindanao, at sa harap ng panganib na dala ng pagbabagong-klima kailangan nating tanuning ang ating mga sarili kung alin ang mas importante para sa ngayon at sa darating na mga araw: ang mina o ang pagkain? Ang ginto’t pilak o mga ilog na nagsisilbing patubig sa ating mga bukirin? Ang dambuhalang hukay ng mina o ang mga kabuhayan natin sa ating lawa?

Higit sa lahat, “ang tubig ay buhay”. Siya ay ugat ng pagkabuhay, pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan. Ngunit magiging tapat lamang ang katagang ito kung magkakaisa tayong mga mamamayan sa pagharap sa hamong dala ng pagmimina. Ang laban para sa tubig ay higit pa sa kahit anong relihiyon, lahi o kulay ng balat. Ang tubig ay biyaya na bigay ng Maykapal para sa lahat, at hindi lamang sa iilang ganid at gahaman sa kinang ng pilak at ginto.

Ngunit magiging totoo lamang na ang tubig ay buhay, kung ang ating mga ilog, sapa, lawa, pinak, look at dagat ay buháy! Tutulan ang pagkasira ng ating katubigan! Tutulan ang SMI/XStrata!

Claude Levi-Strauss and Maurice Bloch: Conjunctions and Disjunctions in the Theories of Language, Cognition and Anthropology

In the study of myths, their language and representations, Claude Levi-Strauss occupies a most honored status as being on the forefront of multi- and trans- disciplinary approaches to its study. His encyclopedic treatment of linguistics, ethnology and even philosophy of language, and his “taste for formal logic” (Bernard and Spencer, 1992) in his structural approach provide a staggering source of information and a fundamental foundation for cognitive and psychological anthropology. Although there have been dissidents in the field of structuralism and especially Levi-Strauss’ “Structural Study of Myths”, it nevertheless opened a dam of academic interests both to anthropologists and non-anthropologists ranging from the disciplines of Literature, Philosophy, Culture Studies and Psychology.

Maurice Bloch acknowledged this great debt of academia to Levi-Strauss in his obituary to the latter:

“The fame of Claude Lévi-Strauss, who has died aged 100, extended well beyond his own subject of anthropology. He was without doubt the anthropologist best known to non-specialists. This is mainly because he is usually considered to be the founder of the intellectual movement known as structuralism, which was to have such influence, especially in the 1970s. He was one of those French intellectuals – like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur – whose influence spread to many other disciplines because they were philosophers in a much broader sense of the word than the academic philosophers of the British and American tradition.” (Bloch, Claude Levi-Strauss Obituary, The Guardian)

Maurice Bloch himself is a product of this structuralist and post-structuralist ethos proposing a new approach to cognitive anthropology. He challenged the views of Levi-Strauss and Structuralism, which asserted that myths (a form of thinking) follow the same logic of language. Bloch argues “we tend to imagine thinking as a kind of silent soliloquizing wherein the building blocks are words of their definitions and the process itself involves linking propositions by logical inferences in a single lineal sequence.” (Bloch, 1998) He proposed instead, that “everyday thought is not ‘language-like’, that it does not involve linking propositions in a single sequence in the way language represents reasoning. Rather it relies on clumped networks of signification which require that they be organized in ways which are not lineal but multi-stranded…” (Bloch, 1998) Both thinkers are spurred by the idea that “Anthropology draws its originality from the unconscious nature of collective phenomena” (Levi-Strauss, 1963) – a notion that has for its core the mind-brain stuff which is also the realm of the discipline of Psychology.

This paper then seeks to uncover the conjunctions and disjunctions between Levi-Strauss and Bloch in their theories of cognitive anthropology to determine the best approach in the study of risk perception and the influence of narratives to cognition as employed in the study of climate change risk perceptions and the effects of narratives (myths and folklore) on these perceptions.

Among the anthropological theories, Structuralism is one method of analysis that is concerned first and foremost with language and the problems of languages (Ehrmann, 1970). As applied to anthropological inquiries, it developed into an “analysis of myths which are of the nature of language” (Ehrmann, 1970). Structuralism attempts to uncover these internal relationships which give different languages their form and function and which extends to the structures of the unconscious.

Edmund Leach gives us the argument for Structuralism:

“[W]hat we know about the external world we apprehend through our senses. The phenomena which we perceive have the characteristics which we attribute to them because of the way our senses operate and the way the human brain is designed to order and interpret the stimuli which are fed into it. One very important feature of this ordering process is that we cut the continua of space and time with which we are surrounded into segments so that we are predisposed to think of the environment as consisting of vast numbers of separate things belonging to named classes, and to think of the passage of time as consisting of sequences of separate events. Correspondingly, when, as men, we construct artificial things (artifacts of all kinds), or devise ceremonials, or write histories of the past, we imitate our apprehension of Nature: the products of our Culture are segmented and ordered in the same way as we suppose the products of Nature to be segmented and ordered.” (2009)

This apparent segmenting of nature by the mind, reflected by the segmentation of culture, is what structuralism attempts to understand through analyses of the products of culture i.e. kinship, narratives, religion. Levi-Strauss developed this approach in his structural study of myths and kinship.

Structuralism arose out of the concept in Linguistics that there lie “covert rules in language that users of that language know but are unable to articulate” (Briggs and Meyer, 2012). These hidden rules, somewhere in the mind of the speaker, ensures mutual intelligibility among users of that language. The absence of “grammar” or explicit set of rules in indigenous languages suggested that humans based language on models and structures in the mind – abstractions in the sense that it cannot be perceived directly by the senses. Linguistics suggests that a concept, in the realm of the mind, is given a signifier, and different signifiers are strung to form sentences with a complete thought: from words to sentences, to paragraphs, to stories. Different cultures arbitrarily assign what word suggests what concept; then we have language. But all these sprung from concepts in the mind and how that mind views the world it perceives. These interactions of the world and mind, as vividly explained by Linguistics, were used as an analogy jump-off point in Structural Anthropology.

If linguistics exhibited the presence of structures in the mind, cultures can then be studied by analyzing the language, not the grammar or rules of that language, but its various expressions which includes myths. Claude Levi-Strauss pointed this out when he said that “myth is language: to be known, myth has to be told; it is part of human speech.” (1963, p. 209) Culture, according to him is also composed of hidden rules that govern social behavior, very much like language. Structural anthropology asserts that “the underlying patterns of human thought that produce cultural categories that organize worldviews” (Briggs and Meyer, 2012) operated within culture and that its analysis will help us understand a particular society’s worldview and how they conceive the world in their mind. In Levi-Strauss’ study of kinship among the Brazilian and Papuan tribes, he used the same rules of linguistics and the breaking down of the language to its smallest units (i.e. phonemes) to analyze these structures also present in the mind. He asserted: “Linguistics teaches us precisely that structural analysis cannot be applied to words directly, but only to words previously broken down into phonemes. There are no necessary relationships at the vocabulary level. This applies to all vocabulary elements, including kinship terms” (Levi-Strauss, 1963, p. 32). In this multi-disciplinary approach between Linguistics and Anthropology, Levi-Strauss argues that linguists provides the anthropologist with etymologies which permit him to establish between certain kinship terms relationships that were not immediately apparent. The anthropologist, on the other hand, can bring to the attention of the linguist customs, prescriptions and prohibitions that help him to understand the persistence of certain features of language or the instability of terms or groups of terms (1963, p. 32).

In his structural study of myths, Claude Levi-Strauss noted that myths worldwide have similar and general themes/motifs because of the same human needs and aspirations, yet strikingly dissimilar because of the different social and environmental phenomena of a given people. This also suggests that human thought processes are the same in different cultures and these can be proven by the binary oppositions (between light and dark, man and woman etc.) present in myths worldwide, as Levi-Strauss posited. He further remarked about the universal quality of myths, “Whatever our ignorance of the language and the culture of the people where it originated, a myth is still felt as a myth by any reader anywhere in the world. Its substance does not lie in its style, its original music or its syntax, but in the story which it tells.” (Levi-Strauss, 1963)

Myths are indeed, powerful. They are, in the words of Carl Jung, collective dreams, which also open up to private meanings. They have the power to yoke communities under one mythos yet also have the transformative energy that stirs individuals. Claude Levi-Strauss noted this power yet he was also conscious of another significance of myths in the study of Anthropology and Sociology – that of the underlying social structures that those myths, he thought, contain. He explained his method in an essay The Structural Study of Myth and postulated that “If there is a meaning to be found in mythology, it cannot reside in the isolated elements which enter in to the composition of a myth, but only in the way those elements are combined” (p. 210) and that “the true constituent units of a myth are not the isolated relations but bundles of such relations, and it is only as bundles that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce a meaning” (p. 214).

These characteristics of myths, of the general patterns of mythic themes and specific roles of myths in different societies suggest its functional importance to cultures and how it influences thought-processes. But for the study of risk perceptions effected by narratives, I am not interested in those general patterns so obvious in world mythologies. These general patterns are more in the realm of Psychology in what Carl Jung would include in his discussions of archetypes. As a thesis, I am more interested in those combinations of mythic elements that hide in their texts, social structures (kinship, gender relations etc.), perceptions of risk, experience of severe weather disturbance embodied in their mythos, value systems, and meanings for a given people. One must extricate, not unlike an archeologist, amidst the seemingly non-important rubble of mythic language, all the while avoiding the sins of generalizations and being too subjective in our interpretations.

Maurice Bloch, in his many articles and books, encouraged the same interface between cognition (in the realm of Psychology) and social and cultural life (Anthropology) that is also helpful in the study of risk perceptions and how narratives, as one part of a culture, influences perceptions and cognition. What he has written on this subject faces two ways: “on the one hand, he criticises anthropologists for exaggerating the particularity of specific cultures; on the other hand, he criticises cognitive scientists for underestimating it.” (www.wikipedia.com) He further developed Levi-Strauss’ structural approach by criticizing the lineal notion of language as used in the study of culture. He asserted that “language is an inappropriate medium for evoking the non-lineal organization of everyday cognition.” (Bloch, 1998) This assertion stems from the fundamental problem of the etic and emic point of views – in which the anthropologist has no way of fully knowing the thoughts (including deepest aspirations, and ways of knowing) of the people in a particular culture. Even through interviews and other methods usually employed by anthropologists, information is still gathered in a ‘lineal’ language in which informants give a retrospective account of their thought processes. In this sense, no true etic information may be acquired through language as it passes through the different life-world, system of organization and grammar of the anthropologist. Bloch explains this problem:

“[…] anthropologists naturally attempt to produce accounts of intellectual processes which will prove persuasive to their readers, and readers, along with the anthropologist’s informants, expect account of the thought of the people studied to match the folk theory of thought. As a result, a kind of double complicity is all to easily established between anthropologists and their readers and between anthropologists and their readers and between anthropologists and their informants – a double complicity which leads to representations of thought in logic-sentential terms.” (Bloch, 1998)

To answer this problem, Bloch suggested a new approach in which actors’ concepts of society are represented not as strings of terms and proposition but as “governed by lived-in models, that is, models based as much in experience, practice, sight, and sensation as in language.” (Bloch, 1998) He explains these approach and mental models in What Goes Without Saying, a chapter in How We Think They Think:

“The core of the approach, usually known as connectionism, is the idea that most knowledge, especially the knowledge involved in everyday practice, does not take a linear, logic-sentential form but rather is organized into highly complex and integrated networks or mental models most elements of which are connected to each other in a great variety of ways. The models form conceptual clumps which are not language-like precisely because of the simultaneous multiplicity of ways in which information is integrated in them. These mental models are, what is more, only partly linguistic; they also integrate visual imagery, other sensory cognition, the cognitive aspects of learned practices, evaluation, memories of sensations and memories of typical examples. Not only are these mental models not lineal in their internal organization but information from them can be accessed simultaneously from many different part of the model through ‘multiple parallel processing’. This is what enables people to cope with information as rapidly as they, and probably other animals, do in normal, everyday situation.” (p. 24)

Though both stemming from the problem of language in their development of theories on cognizing and thought processes, Bloch departed from Levi-Strauss’ concept of a lineal, rigid and logical interpretation of narratives, to a more holistic understanding of mental models that includes other sensory perceptions. Language for Bloch is just one of the many ways to understand a certain culture. For him, culture and social organizations in particular, may be understood through mental models. One example is his study of the Zafimaniry conceptualizations of maturation, marriage and women and men. He asks: (1) the mental model of what people are like and how they mature, (2) the mental model of the differences and similarities between women and men, (3) the mental model of what a good marriage is like. This approach departed from the solely linguistic interpretation as asserted by the Structuralists to an interpretation of thought processes that includes the interaction of “biological processes to other biological and physical processes” – into a picture of culture integrated and not just superimposed on material facts gathered by the anthropologist.

Levi-Strauss and structuralism argued that human beings naturally and unconsciously classify (binary) concepts as shown by his study of the myth of Orpheus and Native American myths, yet Bloch suggested that these concepts are formed through “vague and provisional ‘prototypes’ which anchor loosely-formed ‘families of specific instances.” (Bloch, 1991) He uses the concept of the ‘house’ to drive at his point:

“… The concept of a house is not a list of essential features (roof, door, walls, and so on) which have to be checked off before deciding whether or not the thing is a house. If that were so we would have no idea that a house which has lost its roof is still house. It is rather that we consider something as a ‘house’ by comparing it to a loosely associated group of ‘houselike’ feature, no one of which is essential, but which are linked by a general idea of what a typical house is.” (Bloch, 1991)

In this case, then, the best way to proceed with the study of risk perceptions is not to be tied up with the logical and rigid formulation of Levi-Strauss but also to employ the holistic approach of Bloch that advocates for the extrication and understanding of the people’s mental models in the writing of ethnography. Levi-Strauss’ structural study of myths may be employed in understanding the representations of units of myths that may be able to help in understanding how the researcher partners understand, cognize and perceive the risk of climate change. Bloch’s connectionism, on the other hand, is a helpful tool in connecting these units of the myth and their representations to the over-all study of climate change risks. Through the use of sensory images and concepts, representations extricated from the myths may in turn present a fuller meaning or representation and may be better communicated to the research partners.

Sources Cited:

Bernard , Alan and Spencer, Jonathan eds. Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology. New York: Routledge (1992). 504.

Bloch, Maurice (1991 June). Language, Anthropology and Cognitive Science. Man, 185, 183-198.

_________________. How We Think They Think. Colorado: Westviews Press (1998). 23

_________________. Claude Levi-Strauss Obituary. Posted in http://www.guardian.co.uk. November 3, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2013.

Briggs, Rachel and Meyer, Janelle. Structuralism. http://anthropology.ua.edu, retrieved August 30, 2012.

Ehrmann, Jacques. Structuralism. New York: Anchor Books (1970). ix

Leach, Edmund quoted in Moore, Jerry. Visions of Culture: an Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. UK: AltaMira Press (2009).  237.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology 1. New York: Penguin Books (1963). 18.

http://www.wikipedia. Maurice Bloch. Retrieved July 27, 2013.

Sa Lawa ng Buluan, Maguindanao

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“Lake Buluan is a lake located in the island of Mindanao, Philippines. With an estimated surface area of 61.34 square kilometers, it is the third largest lake in Mindanao, after Lake Lanao and Lake Mainit. It has an average elevation of 4.5 meters.

The lake is sandwiched between the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat. The lake falls under the political jurisdiction of the municipalities of Buluan of Maguindanao and President Quirino and Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat. The lake actually consists of adjoining marshy basins of the Pulangi, Maanoy, Buluan, Alah rivers, which are all tributaries of the Mindanao River.” (Lake Buluan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Buluan. Retrieved 8 June 2013)

Lake Buluan is threatened by mining in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

“To be” in Klubi

_MG_3597 _MG_3579 1 6 5 4 3 2 7 8 9 10 11 13 12 19 16

[All photos were taken in Sitio Lamkua, Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Southern Philippines, with permissions from the elders of Klubi. Photography by Mr. Nikki Ayubo]

For more on  T’boli ethnography please visit: Blotik Ehek (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and Climate Change: When Traditional Knowledge Becomes Unreliable and also K’mohung and Seselong: Cultural Adaptation of the T’boli S’bu to the Fish Kill Phenomenon in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. 

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


 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.


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.

Mineral Reservations and the Schizophrenia of DENR

Republic Act No. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 states:

“When the national interest so requires, such as when there is a need to preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development, or certain minerals for scientific, cultural or ecological value, the President may establish mineral reservations upon the recommendation of the Director [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] through the Secretary [DENR]. Mining operations in existing mineral reservations and such other reservations as may thereafter be established, shall be undertaken by the Department or through a contractor: Provided, that a small-scale mining cooperative covered by Republic Act No. 7076 shall be given preferential right to apply for a small-scale mining agreement for a maximum aggregate area of twenty-five percent (25%) of such mineral reservation, subject to valid existing mining/quarrying rights as provided under Section 112 Chapter XX hereof. All submerged lands within the contiguous zone and in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines are hereby declared to be mineral reservations.” (RA 7942, Sec. 5)

In the interest of discussion on this topic, let me enumerate some key points:

  • What specific “national interest” is required to declare a mineral reservation? Are we talking about an economic interest or an environmental interest?
  • What is the primary objective of declaring areas as a mineral reservation? Is it for preservation or for utilization of strategic raw materials?
  • How much shall the government actually earn from mining within mineral reservations?
  • What are the existing mineral reservations in the country?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary has directed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to identify more mineralized areas throughout the country for “possible declaration into mineral reservations.”[2] Secretary Paje said that the additional mineral reservations is a move to “provide equitable access to mineral resources and to generate additional non-tax revenue for the government.”[3]

In a nutshell, the identification of mineral reservation areas has become one of the reforms proposed by the MGB  to enhance revenues.

It is clear from the statements of Sec. Paje that the “national interest” that made DENR  declare more mineral reservations is economic while the environmental interest to “preserve” because of the “ecological value” of the area is side-lined.

One of the confusions which arises in declaring an area a mineral reservation is whether that area will be preserved (as in the case of forest reserves and national parks where forests are left unimpaired for future generations[4]) or will minerals be extracted, utilized and exploited.

One such example of the term Mineral Reservation referring to “preservation” of the environment is Proclamation No. 297[5] by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The area under the mineral reservation is the Municipality of Monkayo, Compostela Valley Province where gold, copper and other minerals are mined. Unregulated small to medium-scale mining operations have, since 1983, been undertaken in that area and in the process, has caused grave environmental, health and peace and order problems in the area. In this Proclamation the national interest stated is to “prevent the further degradation of the environment and to resolve the health and peace and order problems spawned by the unregulated mining operations in the said area.”[6]With that declaration, mining operations in the area have been undertaken by the DENR directly like the PMDC Diwalwal Direct State Utilization Project. However which way one views it, the Compostela Valley Mineral Reservations is a glaring example of not acting until it is too late. To date, violence and impunity still mars the mining activities in that area.

The “national interest” advocated by Sec. Paje and the MGB, compared to the abovementioned Proclamation, falls on the provision “preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development”. What Sec. Paje has in mind then is to declare minerals-rich and mineable areas into Mineral Reservations in order to acquire more non-tax revenues for the government and NEVER to preserve them for their “scientific, cultural and ecological value.”

And how much are we talking about here?

The IRR of the Mining Act of 1995 provides us with the following:

  • Taxes and Royalties
  • Excise Tax: 2% (BIR)
  • Royalty: 5% (Market Value of the gross output)
  • Sharing: 40% LGU
  • 60% National Government
  • Fees from permit applications

The MGB is looking at generating some 6.9 Billion[7]in revenues and royalties nationwide should the mineral reservation program materialize.

There are currently nine mineral reservations in the country located in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Zambales, Bulacan, Camarines Sur, Samar Island, Surigao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Zamboaga del Norte, and all offshore areas throughout the country. DENR is planning to add 15 more minerals reservation.

It is my opinion that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is suffering from its long-time bout of Schizophrenia. How can one be an agency that protects and at the same time exploits the environment? This program for the declaration of more minerals reservation in the country for the sole interest of its economic value and not for the preservation of its ecological value adds to the growing call for an alternative mining legislation that will finally put the cork to the many loopholes of the Mining Act of 1995.

And when will the DENR and the National Government wake up from their dreams that mining will be the virtual saviour of our economy?

(First posted February 4, 2011 in my blog panaghoytanodlupa.blogspot.com)

[1] Republic Act No. 7942, Section 5, under Mineral Reservations.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Presidential Decree No. 705, Revised Forestry Code, Section 18.

[5] Proclamation No. 297 Excluding a Certain Area from the Operation of Proclamation No. 369 Dated February 27, 1931, and Declaring the Same as Mineral Reservation and as Environmentally Critical Area.

[6] Ibid.

[7] MGB mulls Antique as Minerals Reservation Area,http://positivenewsmedia.net/am2/publish/ Cities_And_Towns_23/MGB_mulls_Antique_as_mineral_reservation_area.shtml

K’mohung and Seselong: Cultural Adaptation of the T’boli S’bu to the Fish Kill Phenomenon in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

It is worthwhile to note, even in a partial ethnography, that in the highland lake complex of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato,  Southern Philippines, the T’boli people integrated into their culture a special system of adaptation to the fish kill phenomenon that naturally occurs in the lake. “Naturally”, of course, is taken in the etic point of view, denoting information culled out from external and varying reports of “rising temperature”[1] and “oxygen depletion”[2] in the lake that kills fish and other freshwater organisms like shrimps.  “Naturally” also emphasizes on the fact that the fish kills in Lake Sebu are not recent phenomena and, until recently, human-induced, brought externally by the proliferation of tilapia aquaculture, but a culturally-embedded, and so antiquated, phenomenon evidenced by the presence of the word for this “annual”[3] occurrence in their vocabulary: K’mohung.

This paper is an attempt to explore the cultural adaptations of the T’boli people surrounding Lake Sebu to k’mohung using the anthropological lens of Cultural Ecology.  It seeks to describe the k’mohung as explained to me in a focus group discussion (FGD) conducted on March 30, 2013 in Brgy. Klubi, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, and focusing on local understanding of the phenomenon and activities connected to k’mohung. This brief paper on Cultural Ecology uses the approaches of Julian Steward in studying the interaction between culture and environment. These approaches are: “(1) an explanation of culture in terms of the environment where it existed, rather than just a geographic association with economy; (2) the relationship between culture and environment as a process (not just a correlation); (3) a consideration of small-scale environment, rather than culture-area-sized regions; and (4) the connection of ecology and multi-linear cultural evolution.” [4] (Sutton and Anderson, 2010)

I first chanced upon the word k’mohung (other literature spells it as ‘kamahong’) from a conversation with Dr. Leah Vidal, chairperson of the Anthropology Department of the Ateneo de Davao University. She was discussing about the climate change studies of the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology in collaboration with the other institutes of the university when she mentioned about the presence of the word k’mohung among the T’boli surrounding Lake Sebu. This indicated, among other things, that the occurrence of the fish kills has been deeply embedded in the lives of the T’boli that they have to conceive a signifier, a word for the signified, that is, the fish kills.  This greatly interested me because before that conversation I thought the fish kills were a recent “disaster” to the fishermen and fish pen owners of Lake Sebu. My recent FGD in Lake Sebu verified my assumptions that even before tilapia aquaculture in the lake, fish kills are regular occurrences and that they can even predict when it would happen.

Hydrogeology of Lake Sebu

Before going to a discussion on the k’mohung, a short introduction to the geography of the area. Lake Sebu (6° 10.45’ N and 124° 43.95’ E) lies about 700 m above sea level and is located in the mountainous Municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato (Socio-economic profile 1995). 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.[5] 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.[6]

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).[7]

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.[8]

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’lebel (zigzag), Hikong Lowig (booth), Hikong K’fo-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.

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[9]. 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 Ilonggo 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”.


K’mohung and Seselong

The latest massive fish kill on the first week of August, 2012, downed 8,000 kilograms[10] of tilapia in a single week. This was considered a “disaster” to the local fish pen owners, the Local Government Units, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, even media reports paint a grim event in the fishery industry of the municipality, a view solely founded on its economic value. But local T’boli I interviewed see it otherwise. One narrative suggests that it is a curse. 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 an informant, 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.

Another perspective views it as a gift from Fun S’bu, owner/spirit of the lake. My informant described a time before the Ilonggo settlers put up their fish pens and when the lake was still covered by water lilies and lotus plants. She shared that whenever there is a k’mohung ,people would see fish and shrimps floating in the surface, but not quite dead, “as if they were dizzy”. They can easily “pick these fish and shrimps with their bare hands,” she said. Indeed, outside Western, Modern Science, one will view this as a gift from the lake, almost congruent to the biblical “manna from heaven”. Imagine, after a hard day’s work of fishing, farming and hunting, one sees fish almost beckoning to be picked up. This idea of a gift clearly opposes that notion of a “disaster” and in fact, it only became widely-known as a “disaster” when the Ilonggos came and put up their fishery industry in the lake. The disaster-gift dichotomy clearly delineates not only economic valuations of the lake, but also belief or supernatural categorizations of the natural world.

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 the absolute 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.

The FGD in Brgy. Klubi described the k’mohung in this way: after a leme-et, a type of weather defined by occasional strong rains and wind coming from the north, and then suddenly clearing (my informant likened the leme-et to an impending typhoon), T’boli in the uplands would then gather their rootcrops and other produce from their gardens to prepare for a seselong, a system of barter trading between the upland-living T’boli and the lake-side dwelling T’boli. During the leme-et, people surrounding the lake would also prepare for the seselong  by observing the lake for the telltale signs of the k’mohung. My informants shared that there are no celebrations or rituals conducted during the seselong, something that I didn’t foresee especially in the case of an event that may be deemed supernatural or an event that gathers people from the upland and lakeside. The seselong becomes an opportunity for the lakeside dwellers to trade their gathered fish in exchange for the rootcrops of the upland T’boli.

This pattern in the activities and interaction of the upland and lakeside T’boli, provided by the seselong, may be viewed as a distribution of resources and exchanges of protein and carbohydrates-rich food between the two groups of T’boli. This intertwining of the natural world and the cultural aspect of the T’boli seselong may be viewed as one of the solutions to what I assume is an imbalance in the protein and carbohydrate diet of the two groups. In the old days when the T’boli were still exclusively hunters and gatherers, this system of exchange provides an easy source of protein for the upland T’boli whose main protein source are the animals that they hunt in the forest, in exchange for their carbohydrates-rich rootcrops. In turn, the lakeside T’boli whose diet consists mainly of protein from the fish caught in the lake, exchange their fish for the upland T’boli’s rootcrops.

Traditional rootcrops[11] of the T’boli include: biking (wild root plant which is much like sweet potato), bok (wild yam), kleb (taro), klut (wild root plant that is extremely poisonous but can be eaten if prepared right), legasing (peanuts), lembong (wild tuber plant), likón (wild, edible tuber plant), tlahid (a kind of taro), ubi (sweet potato), ubi koyu (cassava, manioc). Freshwater fish and other organisms found in Lake Sebu include[12]: alù (mudfish), betulù (a kind of small round fish), blanak (a kind of large, reddish, scaly fish that appears at the time of harvesting the early rich), blinow (tiny fish), bonol (a kind of fish , brown, white-bellied, scaly, very tasty but spoils easily), ilaw (a kind of white-speckled fish with pointed nose and mouth), kéténg (any of various edible, bivalve mollusks as clams and oysters and their shells), kili (eel), kléngé (crab), kulóng (large shrimp), óngô (kind of fresh water fish that is small and somewhat round, resembling the mudfish but is about the size of one’s index finger) and tikung (small shrimp). 

These rootcrops and fish listed in the dictionary of Awed et. al., may well be the products exchanged during a seselong. In the absence of any ethnographic data dating to when seselong was still practiced before agriculture and aquaculture were introduced in Lake Sebu, one can only deduced to what products were actually exchanged based on available linguistic information as compiled by Awed et. al. The dictionary (the only extensive dictionary of the T’boli language) itself proves to be problematic in studying the language of Lake Sebu T’boli, for it does not include the k’mohung and seselong. This may be explained by the fact that the dictionary was compiled by missionaries residing in the municipality of T’boli, and hence miles from the T’boli groups experiencing the k’mohung. In this light then, we can cautiously surmise that the seselong is exclusive to the T’boli surrounding the lake.

I have described seselong functioning as a cultural device for the exchange of food all within the event of a k’mohung, and this corresponds to Steward’s recognition that the ecology of humans have both distinct biological and cultural aspects. Societies could adapt, as demonstrated by how the T’boli S’bu adapted to the k’mohung and the protein-carbohydrate disparity between upland and lakeside groups,  in any number of possible directions, rather than being subject to environmental determinism. In fact, the seselong may also viewed under the lenses of the rational choice theory in which people decide how to achieve their goals on the basis of their “deliberate, individual consideration of all available information”[13] such that this cultural practice of exchange was adopted because it seemed, at one time, the most rational thing to do under the existing circumstance of the k’mohung.

Steward suggested that “all adaptations are short lived and are constantly adjusting to changing environments.”[14] This is indeed the case of the seselong in Lake Sebu and although the k’mohung persists in the natural environment of the T’boli S’bu, the practice now belongs only to the dark corners of memory. With the changes in the uses of Lake Sebu, the cultural practice of seselong may have been transmuted to other forms and expressions.

Here the story of the man cursing the fish pen owners becomes a lucid expression of the indigenous people’s call for the reclamation of old ways and still older gods.

[1] Williamor Magbanua and Jeoffrey Maitem, “Massive fishkill in Lake Sebu leads to decline in fish sales”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 31, 2011.

[2] Allen V. Estabillo, “Fish kill hits Lake Sebu anew; officials push for regulations”, Mindanews, August 9, 2012.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson, “Introduction to Cultural Ecology”, (Altamira Press: UK), p. 22.

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

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] 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.

[10] Estabillo, Ibid.

[11] Silin A. Awed, Lillian B. Underwood and Vivian M. Van Wynen, “T’boli-English Dictionary”, (Summer Institute of Linguistics: Manila, 2004) p. 618.

[12] Ibid., p. 627.

[13] Sutton, p. 25.

[14] Ibid., p. 22.


The Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao held at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on 15th-16th November 2012 gathered together various stakeholders of the small-scale mining sector coming from different parts of Mindanao and Luzon, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), government functionaries and instrumentalities, local government units (LGUs), people’s organizations (POs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), mass media, international and local technical experts, environmental advocates and the academe. The two-day confab was ADDU’s continuing bold engagement, after hosting the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao (“Mina para sa Nasudnong Interes sa Katawhang Pilipino?”) in January of this year, to generate a minefield of ideas that extends a far wider discursive arena in understanding both the practical and theoretical truths about mining as an industry, and its impact on the environment and on the lives of various stakeholders.  This appropriate form of academic exercise is a concretization of ADDU’s mission as a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit university that is committed to “engage(s) vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy” (cf. ADDU Vision-Mission Statement). To the extent that this conference is convened by the ADDU itself (as a university that seriously wants to engage “…in robust research, excellent instruction and formation, and vibrant community service” (cf. ADDU VM), it therefore proceeds with a core understanding of the specific role that it plays in society―that of a corporate change agent that promotes education as a leverage for effecting social transformation.

Among the more prominent issues that surfaced and were highlighted during the conference were the following: The question of mining in the greater context of environmental justice and the pursuit of the common good; the contribution of mining to the complex problem of environmental degradation;  the relationship between large-scale mining (LSM) and the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM); the economic, social and human costs of mining; the mining of extractable mineral resources vis-à-vis the question of national patrimony; the impact on national laws and local ordinances relative to mining as an industry; and mining as an indigenous practice in areas covered within ancestral domain.

The conference became a venue where critical issues about ASM, as a specific sector of the mining industry, were brought to the fore, discussed by a phalanx of experts and advocates who presented not only pertinent issues on ASM but also cutting-edge technology on how to better improved safety measures on industry practice.  Highlighted in these discussions were concerns pertaining to the use of more modern and safe technology, as well as the ill-effects of using mercury and other toxic substances.  It also provided opportunities for the presentation of case studies on current best operational practices of ASM not just in Mindanao, but as far as Benguet and Camarines Sur in Luzon, notwithstanding the showing of some flagrant practices that wantonly disregard concerns for human rights and the environment, as documented in other mining areas in Mindanao.  But inasmuch as these presentations opened more avenues for thorough discourses on the floor, especially during a series panel discussions after each presentation by a group of discussants, there were pressing and recurrent issues which critically defined the collective sentiments among those who attended the conference. These issues, as agreed and concurrent to by the participants themselves, thus form part of the statement which ADDU, as convenor, declares as a concrete by-product of the two-day conference.

The following twenty-point statements and/or declarations articulate the conference’s corporate position in its bold stance to bring the important concerns pertaining to ASM to greater public consciousness.

  1. The conference declares the need to formally organize the federation of small-scale miners. This move for a more organized confederation hopes to address the greater clamor towards the formal recognition of small-scale miners as a sector.
  2. The conference clamors for the legalization of the ASM industry.  This call is born out of the concern that small-scale miners are often perceived as illegal, as compared to large-scale mining corporations (whether local, multinational and transnational) which―because it operates, by and large, through export-driven economy―is generally perceived as a legitimate sector.
  3. The conference expresses desire to create a nationalized mining industry that will look at the best interests not just of miners but of all stakeholders, including stringent measures to protect the environment from hazards, risks and natural and man-made calamities.
  4. The conference calls for a thorough review of the Central Bank policy on the sale of gold, especially as it applies to transactions made by small-scale miners.
  5. The conference calls for a review of the taxation system of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and its bearing on ASM.
  6. The conference expresses the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), to be replaced with an Alternative Mining Bill or a People’s Mining Act. This controversial law is said to have favored large-scale mining, notwithstanding its weak mechanisms in protecting the environment from wanton destruction caused by irresponsible mining.
  7. The conference calls for a thorough review of the questionable provisions of Republic Act 7076 or the law on Minahan ng Bayan, and the recently signed and promulgated Executive Order (EO) 79 as this is perceived to be anchored on RA 7942, and therefore, unsupportive of ASM.
  8. The conference calls for assistance extended to Zamboanga and other similar militarized mining areas, and to call for an investigation on human rights violations experienced by members of the local community in these militarized areas.
  9. The conference similarly demands for an end to blatant forms of militarization within mining sites and tenements, and calls for the disbandment of private armies of both LSM and other “big lords” of ASM.
  10. The conference declares its support for small-scale mining operation that is mercury-free.  Corollary to this, the conference also expresses the need to find alternative technologies relative to ASM that are safe and environmentally friendly.
  11. The conference calls for continued lobbying for assistance from line agencies in the government such as the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), as these are appropriate agencies that are better able to assist small-scale miners both in practice and in law.
  12. The conference calls for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in the new and proposed legislation(s) on mining.
  13. The conference demands for the recognition of an authentic free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) instrument issued by members of the IP communities in matters pertaining to their acquiescence in the use of their ancestral land for mining and similar purposes.
  14. The conference demands the strengthening of community livelihood programs in mining areas so that more jobs and employment opportunities could be generated, thus helping the local economy.
  15. The conference demands for the protection of environmentalists and advocates who express and manifest strong opposition to open-pit mining. Towards this end, the conference further demands the passage of a law that protects the rights and welfare of people advocating for the environment.
  16. The conference calls for more support coming from the LGUs to small-scale miners.
  17. The conference calls on the national government to respect the power and jurisdiction of LGUs, particularly in appropriating legislations relative to ASM.
  18. The conference highlights the role of the academe community in providing technical assistance to small-scale miners, as well as in raising public awareness on the mining as an industry.
  19. The conference specifically calls for more international support for ASM as an industry, in the form of continued collaboration through knowledge-sharing and technical assistance through expert know-how in the use of better and safer technology.
  20. The conference supports the establishment of best practice system(s) in ASM for proper and appropriate benchmarking.

Along with these twenty-point statements, the university, through the success and the inspiration generated by the recently concluded ASM conference, continues to promote a comprehensive, holistic and empowering understanding of mining and other environmental issues in pursuit of its university vision and mission.


[Proceedings of the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao will be made available starting March 25, 2013 at the Ateneo de Davao University]