Drinking from the Pool of Talaandig Wisdom

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 On February 10, we had the honor of visiting the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon, Philippines, where we spent several days learning about Talaandig traditions, spirituality and indigenous practices of peacebuilding. The Talaandig consider themselves the “Guardians of the Mountain” (Jeremy Simons with Datu Migketay Victorino “Vic” Saway. Guardians of the Sacred Oil and Comb). 

“Go to the forest,” Datu Vic advises, “Listen to the Creator. Everything starts there.” And so, nestled among the mountains of Bukidnon, surrounded by the “leaping greenly spirits” of the pine & palm, we began our conversation with Datu Vic.

In recent years the Talaandig have started to vigorously re/claim their traditions, spirituality and land. Datu Vic explained that while studying cultural Anthropology and the religions and traditions of indigenous groups worldwide, he kept asking himself: Who am I?  From Where do I Come? His journey towards self re/invigorated his desire to re/member, sustain and continue the deep spirituality and traditions of his Talaandig tribe, in the midst of the ever-growing pressures to conform to conventional society.

For decades, the Talaandig’s way has been threatened: by the fighting factions and ongoing war in Mindanao, by multi-national corporations and by colonization and globalization. In an effort to confront these outside influences – and maintain connection to their ancestors, their land, their spiritual leaders and their traditions – they have begun the School for Living Tradition, educating their children in the Talaandig way.

They want to re/member with their children.

As Datu Vic says, the children must “drink from the pool of the ancestors –of the living, of the dead, of the spiritual world” – so that they can carry the Talaandig into the future. They must understand the past – all of the challenges the Talaandig have overcome – so that they, too, can become guardians of the mountain.

For the Talaandig, Creation began with 3 gods who came together at the Bublusan Balugtu, or the “sitting place of the rainbow.” The first was a 10-headed god, called Gumagang-aw, some heads were crying, some shouting, some arguing. They were loud. They were emotional. Gumagang-aw was the “forbidden god.” But Gumagang-aw was not evil. In fact, Gumagang-aw held the soil for creating.

The second god, Magbabaya, was “the god of creation.” Magbabaya held the power of life.

The third god, Agtayabun Migbaya, was the “god of peace.” And it was on Agtayabun Migbaya’s outstretched wings that Magbabaya and Gumagang-aw lived. Only Agtayabun Migbaya’s wings were expansive enough to hold in balance the two gods: Love and Anger, balanced together; Despair and Joy, balanced together; Life and Emotion, balanced together; And there they rested, in perfect harmony, on the wings of peace at the “sitting place of the rainbow.”

In order to create life, Magbabaya and Gumagang-aw needed one another. Creation was not possible with only one. Both forces are at work in the spirits and in the people. They relied on Agtayabun Migbaya, the god of peace, to create a peace pact for Creation.

For the Talaandig, Creation began with a peace process. From this peace pact, the gods breathed life into the natural world and eventually the four tribes of Mindanao emerged, the Talaandig, maguindanao, Maranao and Manobo.

The Talaandig ancestor, Apu Saulana, was given the role as peacekeeper. Saulana held the sacred jar of oil and comb, which he used to comb out the tangled hair of conflicts between clans.

The Talaandig have a lived-experience of metaphor, which lies at the core of community healing and reconciliation. These metaphors are employed through traditional rituals and practices. Blood corresponds to water, flesh to land, voice to the words of life, bones to trees, breath to air, body heat to fire, the soul relates to the creator. All elements of earth that give life are found in the body (Jeremy Simons with Datu Migketay Victorino “Vic” Saway. Guardians of the Sacred Oil and Comb). These elements are brought into the ritual sacrifices, in communion with one another and the spiritual world, to cultivate healing and reconciliation.

The metaphors are not just symbols, they are alive in the Talaandig traditions, alive through the communion with their ancestors. As Datu Vic says, “The spirits are the true custodians of land.”

When we arrived to talk peace, the Elders, Mothers for Peace along with Datu Vic and his wife, prepared the sacrifice of chicken, inviting water (blood), flesh (land), voice (life), bones (trees) to our communion. We communed together, inviting all the ancestors and spirits into our sharing, so that our conversations held the fullness of the natural and spiritual world, intertwined together.

For me, the most beautiful aspect of Talaandig spirituality lies in their ability to transcend dichotomies. Physical/Spiritual. Metaphorical/Experiential. Life/Death. Good/Bad. For the Talaandig there are no dichotomies, only different realities simultaneously occurring and interacting in the fullness of the world. In fact, We need both realities — “Bad does not mean evil, there is a time for the bad as well – there are times when anger and despair are needed, like when we must confront and acknowledge injustices.” It is only when both the 10-headed god and the god of creation are imbalanced that we experience conflict, only when they fall off the wings of peace that we witness violence and disorder. Peace is not found in the absence of Conflict, but in the balance of these seemingly contradicting realities.

On March 7, more than 1,000 people will gather at the Talaandig Hall of Peace to perform a re/affirmation of kinship pact between all of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, including the Bangsamoro (Muslim) tribes. We will have the privilege to witness the Talaandig tribe invoke, once more, the sacred oil and the comb: working through the knots of conflict that have persisted between the tribes of Mindanao for decades. The tribes will once again re/turn to the forest. listen to the creator. And ask themselves: Who are we? Where do we come from? 

And together, we will journey once again towards the sitting place of the rainbow, in search of the rest and healing found on Agtayabun Migbaya’s wings of peace.


Jeepney 101: 17 Steps to Mastering the Jeepney

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  1. Prior to riding a jeepney, you must completely memorize a map of the city, using major landmarks and malls, not street names, as your orientation.
  2. When deciding which Jeepney to ride, bring binoculars so that you can read the fine print posted in the front window of the Jeepney. Do not be thrown off if the landmark’s name is shortened. For example if you want to go to a restaurant that is en route to Gaisano Mall, find the small placard that says “Gmall.”
  3. Before getting on a Jeepney, make sure you have small bills or coins (no larger than 50 pesos=$1.00).  If you do not have small bills, find something to buy from the sari-sari cornerstore in order to make small bills. This is critical preparation for riding the jeepney. Jeepney drivers refuse to carry change.
  4. If it is between 7 and 9 in the morning or 5 and 7 in the evening, be prepared to push, shove and run to catch your Jeepney, beating as many people out of the ride as possible. No holds barred. Note that leaving the house at 8:30 and leaving the house at 9am result in the exact same arrival time to your final destination.
  5. When you finally find the right Jeepney, discretely hold the number of seats needed for your party out to the driver (like a catcher would do with a pitcher in baseball) as if speaking a secret code. *Please note* “seat” in Jeepney terms is defined as ¼ of a Filipino butt cheek, which is approximately 1/8 of an American butt cheek.
  6. *translation note* If the driver raises his eyebrows, he is welcoming you onto his treasured jeepney.
  7. When entering the Jeepney, fold your body in half, while squeezing 1/8 of your butt cheek onto your designated seat. Hold on tight to the rail above you for added support. Raise your eyebrows to say hello to your fellow jeepney riders. Begin the obligatory morning texting to fit in with your fellow jeepney riders.
  8. Remove all precious possessions from your pockets, as they will fall out due to the fact that your legs have been squeezed in and raised to eye level.
  9. Even if you have your fee (8 pesos=10 cents) ready, resist paying immediately. That will make you look like a pushy, harried, on-time foreigner. At all costs, you must not look like you are timely.
  10. Do not pay when you get off, as this will hold the Jeepney up for an extra 2 minutes. Instead, wait for the perfect moment to pay, allowing just enough time to look casual, while also giving yourself enough time to receive change before your stop.
  11. Yell “bayad” (payment) and pass your money two people in front of you. When they do not take your money, yell “bayad” once more, while jiggling your change. If they still do not respond, shove your money in front of their cell phones to distract them from their 1000th text message of the morning. *translation note* If the driver makes eye contact with you in the mirror and raises his eyebrows, he is asking “how many people are in our party and where you are going.”
  12. Like your filipino counterparts, you should consider bringing a handkerchief to protect your orifices from the black exhaust emitted by morning traffic. Despite using a handkerchief, do not be alarmed when all of your boogers the next morning are black.
  13. Whatever you do, do not move to the left (away from the  jeepney exit) when someone new enters the Jeepney. If you must move, move to the right, forcing the new Jeepney rider to crawl over you. Do not make exceptions for old people or mothers with babies, this will make you look like a foreigner and a schmuck.
  14. To stop the Jeepney yell “lugar lang.” You may also make a kissing noise with your  lips (sucking in air) or tap a coin on the metal roof. Or, for best results, do all three at the same time.
  15. Even if someone exits the Jeepney a mere 15 feet from your destination, do not get off. Getting off early will make you look like a foreigner and schmuck and will require you to walk 10 extra steps in the glaring heat.
  16. Do not wait too long to get off the  Jeepney, as you risk flying past your destination. This will make you look like a foreigner and schmuck and will require you to walk the glaring heat.
  17. To exit the Jeepney, once again fold your body in half, while simultaneously sliding your backpack on your shoulder and hop off as quickly as possible. Do not be alarmed if the Jeepney starts moving again while you jump off.
  18. Wait for the next Jeepney to take you to your final destination. Repeat steps 1-17.

“more fun in the philippines”

The department of tourism has recently announced a new campaign to attract tourists to the Philippines. The tagline: More Fun in the Philippines. The tagline might be lost on people who have never been to the Philippines or who do not know many Filipinos. The spirit of  joy in the Philippines is unmatched anywhere else in the world. A blanket claim, we know, and since we have not spent extensive amounts of time in every part of the world, it is also completely unfounded. But we stand by it! We have compiled just a sampling of why we agree with the Department of Tourism that it really is “more fun in the philippines”

  1. In-flight trivia and entertainment. On our flight from Singapore to the Philippines we knew we were making a cultural shift as soon as we stepped onto the plane. The in-flight entertainment is LIVE, and includes a trivia game with, yes you got it, real prizes! To top it off, everyone (despite age and class) is really really into the trivia game, working hard for the free Cebu-Pacific airlines tote. The trivia or in-flight LIVE entertainment is varied and sometimes includes karoake (yes, using the flight attendants announcement microphone). Whats more, this dance is incorporated into their safety demonstration! Buckle your seatbelts and turn up the beat, filipinos plan to get down if the plane goes down. And in response to a few criticisms, they added an all male crew dance.
  2. And the dancing doesn’t stop there…At the NCCC mall here, the staff stops what they are doing 4 times a day to perform a choreographed dance. And we mean everyone. This mall is 4 stories high. Watch and experience one of our daily encounters!
  3. You may remember a few years ago when a Filipino video went viral featuring Filipino prisoners dancing to “thriller” in one of the largest Cebu prisons. For a refresher, we highly recommend you watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KadX7lqgxpA&feature=fvsr and for a more recent production from the prisons of the Philippines, you can see the radio gaga dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAVVVMcTShQ&feature=fvsr as well as jai ho: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTMUZ39UHgo&feature=related
  4. UNO? I mean, who likes the game uno, right? Unless you are still young and just learning it might be one of the most boring games on the face of the planet, next to go fish. But somehow, filipinos magically transform the game of UNO into an exhilarating and laugh-till-your-stomach-hurts card game.
  5. Videoke. It’s the national pastime in the Philippines, but it’s not about singing well, its just about joining in together and singing your guts out. Bad singing can be heard on every street corner, but somehow coupled with laughter and chatter it becomes a wonderful reminder of the palpable joy that surrounds us daily.
  6. Filipinos LAUGH at everything. They love to laugh. When there is crisis, they laugh. When there is celebration, they laugh. When there is loss, they still manage to laugh. When something is funny, they laugh. When something is kind-of-sort-of-could-have-been-funny-on-another-planet, they laugh (usually followed by shrieks and more laughing).
  7. Filipinos love LOVE. Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy love stories, love quotes, romantic comedies. February 1st marked, for most filipinos, the month of LOVE. Our facebook accounts have been loaded with so many love quotes, not to mention valentines-themed posters that adorn every street corner, we didn’t realize this much cheese could exist in one city. Of course, the philippines makes national news about this time every year because they hold the guiness world record for the most people kissing at the same time. Indeed, Lovapalooza has become an annual tradition. And the sap quotes know no boundary: Men, women, old, young, can be heard shrieking with joy and sharing a giggle in the name of love. Pass the cheese, please.
  8. Icebreakers. You haven’t experienced icebreakers until you have experienced Filipino icebreakers. Every training requires several breaks with very energetically delivered icebreakers (songs, dances, etc) without distinction of age, social class or “professionalism” the best are trainings with older pastors who joyfully participate in all of the icebreakers. Another “training” phenomenon in the Philippines are different “claps” or “pak-pak” (round of applause you clap in a circle, the “rainbow” clap, the “fireworks” clap and the “rodeo” clap are among the top “pak-paks” used here).
  9. Of course, for us landlocked beings, its more fun in the Philippines because of our proximity to pristine islands: scuba diving, tropical fruits, fresh fish, moist cake on every street corner, its really hard to beat. Not to mention the frequency with which filipinos eat. They love snacking! So peanuts, caramelized bananas, taho, ice cream, and all kinds of wonderful snacks abound in every corner of the city! We eat breakfast followed by merienda followed by lunch followed by merienda followed by dinner followed by merienda… And for filipinos, its not a meal unless you have rice, so “snacks or meriendas” here include full plates of spaghetti, tuna sandwiches, and the list goes on…
  10. People Power. Perhaps the most powerful example of Filipino joy is the People Power movement. The People Power Revolution (or EDSA revolution) of 1986 nonviolently overthrew one of the worst dicators in Filipino history. Nonviolent activism doesn’t encompass the movement’s approach. Filipinos literally toppled the dictatorship with flowers, dancing, music and gifts. Photos abound of filipinos showering the military soldiers with cigarettes and flowers. It was a movement fueled, not by anger or despair, but by hope and joy and remains an incredible symbol of the power that continues to reside within the people of this country. Exuberant. Joyful. Infectious. Laughter.
How is it possible to have an entire country full of over-the-top extraverts who have a natural proclivity towards joy & happiness? Where does this abundance of {sustained} joy come from? Is it something in the food (stinky-dried fish does not strike us as particularly joy-inducing). Is it in the air (not unless you find joy in exhaust fumes and burning leaves & trash). Regardless of the mysterious source of incredibly infectious joy remains a mystery, it is hard to deny that it truly is “more fun in the Philippines.”
We’d love to hear your own examples of why its more fun in the Philippines (or WITH filipinos)!