The Stories of Nayo Lungan

Collected on 6 December 2014 in Lamkwa, Klubi, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Transcribed and translated into English from Tboli with the help of Bo-i Jenita Eko. Nayo Lungan, I would estimate, is in his late 60s (the Tboli do not reckon their birth years). These stories were collected late in the evening, in the gono bong (long house) of Klubi, in a circle of friends, family, coffee, and Tanduay. 


The Tboli people were created by H’yu We and Sidek We. After creating them, the people at first could not speak. And H’yu We asked help from Litek (thunder) to catch all of the created men and women. The first people were so terrified of Litek’s booming voice when he called them that they eventually found their own voices and started to speak. That is why, when it thunders and lightning strikes someone dead, it is said that Litek has claimed his own voice back from that person.


When H’yu We and Sidek We were creating the Tboli from clay, H’yu We said that the clay figures should be placed beside the rocks so that when these beings fight each other, they would not be able to die. She also suggested to Sidek We that they could be placed in bamboos so that they would not be seeking food forever. Sidek We, on the other hand, suggested that the clay figures should be placed in bananas, so that the beings could die even whey they are young, when they are in the middle of their lives,  or die in old age.


There was no water, no lake then. The people before would only get their water from three sources: amo teweng (early morning dew) [the dew then was as large as a bamboo container], lumet (a tree which stores water), and the mto sekel (rattan).

The first person was Boi Henwu. She lived in Tebewow (which is now the so-called “three fingers” in Lake Sebu.) She was living with two companions, Ukan and K’ban. The Tboli were said to come from K’ban, that’s why they are sometimes troublesome. Both Ukan and K’ban are bong busaw (lit. big witches). Ukan follows the evil Sidek We and he also helps in the delivery of children, but only the male babies. Ukan even kills the mother after delivery of the child.

Boi Henwu likes to take a bath, but only in the upper part of the gono (house), her feet never touching the ground. She had a house-help, and this helper would fetch for her the water that she uses for her bath. One day, he was not able to catch the early morning dew, and Boi Henwu was so enraged she beat the house-help from toe to head.

Boi Henwu said, “Why is there no water?” And he answered, “even the rattan has no water.”

When the house-help fell asleep, he dreamed of a spirit giving him instructions saying, “I pity you. This is what you should do. Look for the white frog in the middle of S’bu, it is hidden by a takul leaf. Raise the leaf and you will find the frog.”

The house-help always had with him several containers, even if there was really no water then. He went to the place told to him in that dream and found the takul leaf. He lifted it and found a white frog. He then raised the frog and water emerged from the ground. He filled up all his containers and placed the frog to where it was before and the water stopped flowing.

For many days, it was his secret. He would go to the frog, lift it, and fill his containers. His house companions became suspicious and interrogated him why he always had water in his containers. They were also wondering why he looked washed and clean than before.

He eventually told Boi Henwu the source of the water after eight days.

When Boi Henwu found the water, she took a bath which lasted from early morning to late afternoon.

Other people eventually found out about the source of the water, and the water grew and grew filling up the lake that it is now.


In the olden times, there were two trees in S’bu, the Nabul and the Kekem. That is why there is still a placed called Tekekem and Lemnabul. And when the sun shines brightly in the sky and the lake is clear, one can even see the stump of the fallen Nabul tree under the lake.

The people before could climb the giant tree Kekem which reached the window of angels in heaven. That is why hundreds of thousands of Muslims cut the Kekem and the Nabul. They reasoned that if all the people would climb the trees to reach heaven, then there would be no one left on earth.

When they fell the Kekem, some of its branches fell into the sea. Its main trunk became the Ala river and its smaller branches became the tributaries of the river. Most of its branches fell in the mountains, that is why many of the springs are hidden in the mountains.

When they fell the Nabul, its branches also fell in the water, that is why there is still a place called Lësok Gaaw.

The branches of the Kekem are like the designs of the tnalak cloth. The design “Btek tofi gaway” was named after the patterns on the Kekem branches. But some of the women find it difficult to copy the designs on the branches that is why Fu Dalu would come to them in dreams.

During that time, Boi Henwu had a pet python. That time when S’bu was filled with water, the Kekem tree was still there. Boi Henwu ascended to heaven with her python. You can still see the marks of the python in Tebewow. It’s the reason why there is an eclipse. Boi Henwu’s python would try to eat the moon in the sky.

When the Kekem tree was cut, another branch also fell in Sitio Bulat. There is a spring there now called Tebul Doyow. It’s said that there is a rock in that place that used to be a snake.

Ukan went to live in Bak Ngëb (a cave system in Lake Sebu). K’ban went down to the lake of S’bu (that is why the lake claims many lives). And Sidek We owns the Hikong Bente, the last waterfall in the “7 Waterfalls”. Boi Henwu ascended to heaven.

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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.

 

References:

 

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).

“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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnoecology as Situated Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Domain of the T’boli S’bu

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

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

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

The Total area of Lake Sebu is 89,138 hectares or approximately 11.59% of the total land of South Cotabato. Its biggest barangay is Ned with 41,247 hectares or 46.3 % of the Municipality. The smallest barangay is Lahit with only 528 hectares or 0.6% of the municipality’s land area. (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010)

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

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

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

The Lake Sebu Watershed Forest Reserve is a protected landscape under Proclamation no. 65 signed on August 4 1966, covering a total of 9,900 hectares. Lake Sebu (S’bu is the T’boli word for lake) is a natural lake in the municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and within the Allah Valley Watershed Landscape region. The lake itself and the rivers that drain from it is part of the Allah Valley Watershed which covers South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The Allah Valley Watershed is the southernmost tributary of the Pulangi River that drains in Illana Bay in Cotabato City. (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

The total delineated area of the Allah Valley Watershed is 252,034 has. that extends to the Province of Maguindanao. Surface waters that are drained along the Allah and Banga rivers subsequently find their way into the Liguasan marsh, the second largest in the country. The Allah Valley Watershed is a major sub-watershed unit of the Cotabato-Agusan river basin in Mindanao. It covers the jurisdictions of the Province of South Cotabato (Municipalities of Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah, and Sto. Nino, Banga, Norala) and the Province of Sultan Kudarat (City of Tacurong and Municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Lambayong and Bagumbayan). (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

The following are the neighbors in the Sulan Compound:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

halay – unhusked rice, generic

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

halay blabud – brown, semi-round, large kernels

halay blibóy – white, elongated kernels

halay blinow – smallest, white kernels

halay blogo – large kernels, nice for making puffed rice

halay fut – striped skinned, white kernels and heavy

halay hegna/hlóng – a variety of very fast growth

halay hulô gunù – red skinned, white kernels

halay kambing – brown skinned, whiskered, white kernels

halay kbahù – red skinned, small, white kernels

halay kmagi – red skinned, elongated, white kernels

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

halay nadal – yellow skinned, white kernels

halay nongul – any kind of rice that is not glutinous

halay óngô – very small, white kernels

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

halay sgandal – striped skinned, long, white kernels

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

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

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

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

hulut balut – striped skinned, red kernels, glutinous kernels

hulut dlong – brown, large variety, red, glutinous

hulut koti – dark skinned, black, glutinous kernels

hulut wak – glutinous, dark purple skin and kernels

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

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

Alab/galab ­– sickle

Asay – hatchet

Badung – bolo with a curved, wide blade

Bakbak – hammer

Bangkung – work bolo

Beyung – long-handled axe

Blis – sharpened piece of bamboo used for harvesting corn

Dadu – plow

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

Dwél – prybar

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

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

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

Éhék –  sharpening stone

Fala – shovel

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

Fiku – pickaxe

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

Get – handsaw

Hokol – short wide-bladed bolo

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

Kadas – harrow used in field work

Kbahù – small all-purpose knife used by men

Kdang – type of work bolo

Kleng huhed – fancy knife (bolo/kris)

Klo – weeding tool

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

Kongò – large bolo having a curved end

Lebaha – razor blade

Legadaw – sickle

Legadì – file

Lendasan – anvil

Lenggaman – rice harvesting knife

Limbas – iron file used to sharpen metal

Lumak – scabbard

Okol – digging stick

Sanggut – hoe with a pointed blade

Sokul – hoe

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

Suk – bolo, generic

Tabas – bolo with a long curved blade

Tahù – blade of an abaca stripper

Tefek – largest work bolo

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

Tiba – bolo used for cutting tall grass

Tók – bolo with a long blade

Tumba – large, thin, wide sharp bolo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tngel – Full moon.

kbit – still very large.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sélél – month of March

stileng – month of July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid.

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

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

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.