|Blaan children sit under a tree near the Lamlifew Village Museum. The stewardship of the museum will be passed on to them.|
The National Museum of the Philippines stands august in its neoclassical design at one part of the Rizal Park, but is largely ignored by many park-goers, who usually stroll about the variably manicured gardens, sit languorously on the grass, cuddle each other if they’re lovers, chat among the fountains, or just pass the time away. The museum is just a few steps away, and if they would venture into its wonderland, they would be rewarded, if with receptive and curious mind and hearts, with awe and inspiration from the great works of art, the fascinating artefacts of past eras, the treasures of tradition and heritage.
Filipinos are generally not big museum goers, it is often noted, a disheartening fact. Around Metro Manila, the populous area in the country, there are several museums but despite their accessibility, most Filipinos in Metro Manila would rather go to the malls. But about 1,500 kilometers south of the Philippine capital, in the troubled island Mindanao, the Blaan have built a modest museum in their remote village, one of their efforts to preserve their fast vanishing culture.
The flight to General Santos City takes almost two hours. This is the commercial hub of the South Central Mindanao region that includes the provinces of Sarangani, South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. Just west outside General Santos City is the town of Malungon on the western side of Sarangani, about an hour’s drive. Malungon is the only landlocked town of Sarangani’s seven which nestle around Sarangani Bay, and the only sites that may interest tourist here may be celebrity boxer and Sarangani politician Manny Pacquiao’s farm, which has sculptures by Davao-based artist Kublai Millan and Pacquiao’s memorabilia, and Kalunbarak, a viewpoint about 750 feet high that affords visitors a commanding view of Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain; Mount Matutum, the region’s highest; Sarangani Bay; and Davao Gulf of the neighboring province Davao del Sur, not much to rival the most popular tourist site of the province, the white-sand beach of Gumasa in Glan. The Lamlifew Village Museum of the Blaan recently has been drawing visitors and adds a deeper dimension to the attraction of Malungon and the whole province of Sarangani.
The museum is in Datal Tampal, a barangay of 2,667 people. Along the main highway in Datal Tampal, one goes about five kilometers farther on an unpaved road into the mountainous area, pass hills and fields of bananas and corn, a rough terrain of lush beauty. The Skylab, a motorcycle hired by passengers, is usually the mode of transportation here. The pebbly road seems to end by the rock-strewn Bluan River. We leave the vans and walk the rest of the way. In summer, the river is but a small stream, where children bathe in the gurgling, cool waters. A line of ducks waddle along the riverside, and we amble among the boulders of the riverbed.
A village elder, Herminia Sande Talabang Gansing Lacna, in her late 50’s, tells a legend of the Bluan River. There was no river here long, long time ago, she narrates. To slake his thirst, a dog named Kay-Kay dug the earth in a place called Datal Barak, where a mysterious jackfruit grew and died, until a spring appeared. Kay-Kay drank from it and dug even deeper until more water flowed out. Eventually, a river appeared. The river comes from that spring until today.
|The Lamlifew Elementary School is increasingly incorporating indigenous culture in its curriculum.|
|Helen Lacna Lumbos, president of the Lamlifew Tribal Women's Association, together with the women and children, welcomes visitors in traditional clothing.|
Along this river, the Lamlifew Elementary School is a sign of a community, the first thing that will greet visitors. A sign above a short footbridge made of bamboo poles welcomes them to this small cluster of concrete bungalows. The school is young and modest but it has achieved much. Started in 1982 as just a primary school through the effort of a community leader, Calingo Maluma, it became a full-fledged public elementary school in 1997. It integrated indigenous culture into the curriculum, such as teaching traditional Blaan beadwork and clothing in the Home Economics and Livelihood Education classes, in 2009. Early this year, 2013, the Lamlifew Elementary School became a pilot school for mother tongue-based multilingual education, using the Sarangani Blaan language initially to teach English. The school boasts of producing 14 professionals so far, the most numerous in the whole of Datal Tampal. Community leaders and concerned outsiders have been active in seeking assistance from organizations and agencies to better the school.
Most of the students live across the river in a generally quiet and leafy neignborhood of bamboo and wood houses with iron roofs, hemmed in by hills and fields of rice, corn and banana. Yams may be once very abundant here because some say the name of the sitio comes from the Blaan words lam, meaning “inside,” and lifew or fufew, a wild yam or taro. Lamlifew is about 1,600 hectares with about 250 households, and 98 percent of the residents are Blaan who are mostly farmers, one of the few dominantly Blaan communities in the province.
The Blaan is one of the many indigenous ethnic groups of Mindanao, whose name can mean “people living in houses,” because bila means “house.” But “the term Blaan has no definite meaning as far as we can remember; it is more of a self-ascription,” wrote a Blaan leader Datu Antonio Kinoc, who authored a pamphlet on the ethnic group.
The Blaan are known by other names—Bira-an, Baraan, Vilanes, Bilanes, Tagalagad, Tagakogon and Buluan. There are about 250,000 Blaans, living in General Santos City, Sarangani, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, and sharing the area with the Manobo, Bagobo, Mandaya, Kalagan/Tagacaolo, T’boli and Maguindanaoan. There are many similarities among the cultures of these ethnic groups.
“The Blaans are definitely not highland dwellers, contrary to claim of recent writers,” Kinoc said. “The Blaan’s presence in the mountains was the result of later migration.”
The Blaan have resisted becoming Muslim when Islam came to the island. Of recent, their interactions are mostly with Christian groups from Luzon and Visayas, particularly the Hiligaynon and Ilocano, who came starting 1913 when the region was opened by the national government for homesteading, and became the dominant people. The Blaan have become acculturated by the Christian groups, thus many can also speak Hiligaynon, Cebuano or Filipino, and many have been Christianized. With these interactions and as they enter modern society, many aspects of their culture have eroded.
|Blaan children of the community welcome visitors with traditional dances.|
But there are efforts to preserve traditional Blaan culture, especially in Lamlifew, where a group of women is at the forefront of it. The community has been recipients of grants from the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the national agency for arts and culture, to hold Schools of Living Traditions (SLT). The SLT program, established in 1995, aims to propagate traditional aspects of culture such as performances, crafts, oral traditions and language through workshops and lectures in which an identified “cultural masters” are tapped to teach the community members, usually young, of an ethnic group in a short period of time. In 2004, several adult women were trained in traditional hand weaving or mabal and are transferring the skill to younger Blaans. In 2008, an SLT on the Blaan hand-woven abaca cloth tabih was also held. The establishment of a museum remains to be the pinnacle of their efforts, although there is much work to be done.
The Lamlifew Village Museum is the first community-initiated museum in the Philippines through the efforts of the Lamlifew Tribal Women’s Association (LTWA), the first cultural organization managed by an indigenous community registered at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The cooperative-style LTWA taught traditional dyeing, weaving and beadworks among its members with the help of expert elders and set up a small-scale sales arm. It started in 1992 as WID. In 2002, it changed its name to Libon Blaan di Malngan and then to LTWA in 2004, which was registered at the SEC on October 5, 2005. There are about 35 active members now, says Helen Lacna Lumbos, the 42-year-old president of LTWA. She has been with the organization as bookkeeper and vice president. The active and lithe Lumbos is also the president of the local parents-teachers association and a mother of three.
The LTWA first thought of building a traditional house that will also serve as a communal workshop space for the community. The idea eventually turned into a museum. The organization received much help from the Sarangani provincial government’s Indigenous Peoples Development Program (IPDP), a pioneering agency concentrated on the concerns of the indigenous peoples created under then Sarangani governor Miguel Dominguez, a young Boston College graduate, upon realizing that about fifty percent of his constituents belong to indigenous groups. Support also came from Metro Manila-based organizations such as the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines and the Tao Incorporated.
The Lamlifew Village Museum was launched at the Museum of the Filipino People of the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila on December 3, 2007. Several Lamlifew women including Lumbos and her mother Herminia came to perform traditional dances. Scholar on indigenous traditions and curator Marian Pastor-Roces conducted a brief lecture-tour of the exhibit, which included rare woven garments on loan from foreign collections, other crafts and artifacts, and photographs of Blaans and their way of life with accompanying text, designed by the volunteer Mireille Ferrari Cooney, a half-Filipino graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. The photos are now in the village museum in Lamlifew, which opened on November 26, 2008.
Five years later, the museum is still functional, becoming the nucleus of cultural activities, its surroundings a setting for learning and working. It is located just behind the Lamlifew Elementary School. Visitors are advised to contact the LTWA or the IPDP before visiting so that the community can prepare and welcome them.
It is a festive and warm welcome. The women and children are all lined up in front of the museum as we emerge from the thickets. They are dressed in traditional clothing, top of black albong or blouse, or vest, with different embellishments—the beaded ones or albong sanlah; the albong ansif, cross-stitched with patterns of waves, birds and stairs; and albong takmon, with mother-of-pearl beads stitched like sequins—and colorful wraparound skirts or trousers. Some women wear falnumfong, peineta with long tassels, on their hair, and sabitan, belt of brass or beads, around their waists.
Lumbos speaks on behalf of the community and of the whole Blaan as well, making the museum a conduit for the world to learn about Blaan culture. Her mother Herminia chants a short prayer. Led by Lumbos, some of the children start to dance, hands on the waist and feet rhythmically stomping the ground. The visitors are invited to join in.
|The museum is patterned a Blaan traditional house of datu.|
|The museum has photographs, artifacts and other items that show Blaan life and culture|
|Helen Lumbos explains the items displayed in the museum.|
|Lacna plays the faglong, a wooden, boat-shaped, two-string lute.|
|A boy tries the kubing while Herminia encourages and guides him.|
Lumbos guides visitors into the small museum, which is patterned after the traditional house of the Blaan, made of flattened bamboo with a roof of palm fronds, held together by strips of rattan and aspirations. It is raised from the ground a few feet by sturdy stilts. Inside, there are raised portions by the three of the four interior walls. There is a little loft for sleeping and resting. The windows open like a drawbridge, letting light in. The whole house opens like a book, introducing guests to a culture inspirited by the earth and sky. The museum actually was prompted by a book.
“Noong 2002 at 2003, nagplano kami na magtayo ng gumne Blaan o tribal house kaso hindi natuloy dahil wala kaming budget para magpatayo. Pagdating ng 2004, naaprobahan ‘yung SLT dito sa Lamlifew. Ang requirement kailangan may school kung saan kami mag-aaral,” (In 2002 and 2003, we planned to put up a gumne Blaan or tribal house but it did not push through because of lack of budget. In 2004, the SLT in Lamlifew was approved. One requirement was a school where we can study.) Lumbos relates. “Noong time na ‘yun, nag-meeting ang LTWA members kung ano ang gagawin at naisip agad na magtayo ng gumne Blaan kahit maliit lang. At sa taong 2004, may isang kaibigan na tumulong at nagbigay ng pera para may gamitin pangsimula sa pagpatayo, kasi nakita nila ‘yung kakayahan ng mga women sa time na ‘yon. Napatayo agad ang mga kubo kung saan kami nag-aaral tuwing SLT time. Sa taon na ‘yun, pabalik-balik ‘yung friend naming si Amie and Jos Jaspers para bisitahin kami, kasama sina Pastora Tessie Sugabo at Fely Constantino. Dumating ang isang araw, nag-text ang IPDP staff na nagsabi may bisita kaming dadating. Ang ginawa namin inayos ‘yung gunme Blaan at dinisplay ‘yung mga old artefact at mga crafts na gawa ng mga women. Nag-play kami ng instruments; may nag-demo sa bawat skills. Dinisplay kasama ‘yung Sinaunang Habi (Sinaunang Habi: Philippine Ancestral Weave, 1991) book. ‘Yung bisita na hinihintay namin, siya pala ang nagsulat ng book na ‘yun! Doon nagsimula naisipan gawing museum ang gumne Blaan kasi na-touched ang author ng book na si Marian Pastor-Roces. Sa libro na ‘yun, makikita ang mga sinaunang gamit ng mga ninuno ng Blaan. Agad nag-meeting kami kasama si governor Migs Dominguez ng Sarangani, staff ng IPDP at si Ma’am Marian upang pag-usapan ang pagpapatayo ng community living museum.” (At that time, the LTWA members had a meeting to discuss what to do and we immediately thought of building the gumne Blaan, even a small one. During the year 2004, we had a friend who helped us and gave us money to start the house because they saw the capabilities of the women at that time. During that year, our friends Amie and Jos Jaspers regularly visited us together with Pastor Tessie Sugabo and Fely Constantino. Then one day, an IPDP staff texted and told us we will be having a visitor. What we did was we prepared the gunme Blaan and displayed old artefacts and crafts the women did. We played instruments and had demos. We also displayed the Sinaunang Habi [Sinaunang Habi: Philippine Ancestral Weave, 1991] book. The visitor we were waiting for was the one who wrote the book. That started the idea of turning the gumne Blaan into a museum because Marian Pastor-Roces, the author of the book, was touched. In that book, we can see the ancient implements used by the ancestors of the Blaan. Immediately, we had a meeting with governor Migs Dominguez of Sarangani, staff of the IPDP and Ma’am Marian to talk about setting up a community living museum.)
|A Blaan elder cooks the llolot anok, chicken with lemongrass and salt, placed inside bamboo tubes and roasted over live coals.|
|The cook cracks open the llolot anok.|
|An old man makes smat, a beautiful boat-shaped receptacle made from young palm leaves, for the food.|
|The llolot anok served in a smat.|
|The fuloh, rice wrapped in alkek.|
|Bukayo, boiled sweet potatoes and linupak. The one in a smat is the dipping sauce for the grilled tilapia, soy sauce and vinegar with chopped shallots.|
The little hut of the women’s dreams became a rectangular house fit for a datu, a village chieftain, they call Gumusek, which means “repository.” Additional help came from American Women’s Club, which bought some of the items and artifacts for the museum, as well as from the community itself, which contributed what they have. Hanging on the walls are photographs and falimak or gongs. Weapons such as spears are arrayed fan-like against a wall. A large wooden shield rests against a pillar. Samples of rice varieties are placed in little baskets. The Blaan are said to know 108 varieties of upland rice. Below the loft are glass encasements containing old brass ornaments. A wooden chest contains old clothing.
“With the financial assistance from Manila-based organizations and individuals, the Lamlifew Village Museum was able to fund photography of important facets of life in Lamlifew and other Blaan villages; the creation of clothing, that comes close to the quality that was woven and worn 50 or a hundred years ago; and the gathering and purchase of what antique Blaan weapons, clothing and home implements have managed to elude the acquisitiveness of Manila-based and foreign collectors,” the LTWA Web site (http://lamlifew.weebly.com/) informs.
It also says that the photographs serve as bridges between the villagers and the visitors, affording a glimpse of Blaan life not readily accessible to visitors, between different Blaan generations, affording younger generations a view of old traditions that will hopefully prompt discussions and data gathering.
“With this system, the tasks of data-gathering, interpretation, editing and conveying information, will primarily be in the hands of the residents of Lamlifew. It is expected that they, in turn, will also develop a strong sense of trusteeship over the narratives of other Blaan in the more interior areas of Sarangani, on one hand, and on the other hand, a dynamic relation with parties coming from outside their cultural world,” the LTWA explains.
A flyer from the IPDP about the museum ably explains the Lamlifew residents: “who have a two-part knowledge: firstly, the solid understanding of the beliefs, norms and material culture of their grandparents (who lived in the early 20th and late 19th centuries); and secondly, a firm and clear-eyed understanding of the changes endured or embraced by the generations who lived through the 20th century. They recall, for example, the measures of quality and the distinct weaving patterns of the ikat-dyed lutay (Musa textilis Nee) before the degeneration of this knowledge. But they also recognize what constitutes the degeneration. They are able to retrieve lore surrounding traditional food crops and medicinal herbs, but are also able to narrate how this knowledge was eroded. They are able to create a museum that works within the community as a setting for story-telling, so that the younger villagers can provide the laughter, interest and enthusiasm to tease out data from the minds of grandparents. And they are able to enjoy making new songs out of ancient musical conventions, using instruments such as gongs whose origins predate the arrival of Islam and Christianity into Mindanao. With these gongs—as well as wooden instruments that have never been documented in ethnomusicology—they weave together the past and the future.”
Lumbos is an example. Born in South Cotabato, an offspring of Blaan, T’boli and Kalagan intermarriages, she is married to a Hiligaynon and speaks Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Blaan and Filipino. She is able to move into and around the world outside her village but remains ardent in preserving Blaan traditions especially in Lamlifew where she grew up.
“Ang naging inspirasyon namin ‘yung aming mga ninuno na kung saan ang aming mga gamit gaya ng tabih ay nasa libro makikita at dapat naming ibalik at ilagay ‘yung mga naiwan sa gumne Blaan or museum para hindi mawala sa paningin ng mga young generation. At ito’y maalala ng mga kabataan na may mga importanteng bagay na ‘di dapat kalimutan at ang pinakadahilan ng paggawa ng museum. At bilang Blaan, may maipagmamalaki pa kami sa mga kabataan na ganito ang aming buhay,” (Our inspiration is our ancestors, whose legacy like the tabih can be seen in the book and which we should retrieve and place in the museum so that it will not disappear from the eyes of the younger generation. It will make the youth remember that there are important things that should not be forgotten. This is the main reason for the museum. And as Blaan, we will have something to be proud about and show to the younger generation that this is our way of life.) Lumbos says.
As Lumbos attends to visitors, her mother sits by the window and plays the faglong, the wooden, two-string lute shaped like a boat, and kubing, the jaw’s harp, providing a soundtrack for a memorable visit. The children are all around—teasing each other, sliding down a slope with a piece of dry coconut stem, posing for photographs. A boy clambers up and tries the kubing while Herminia, or fondly Laminya or Ya, encourages and instructs him. Herminia has been playing traditional instruments such as the faglong, del, falimak and kubing since she was twelve years old. She also embroiders, sews by hand and does beadwork, skills passed down by her grandparents. She is also a teller of folktales. These skills she passes on to her daughter Helen, who also does malem or chant and weaving. Her tabih design won first prize in a traditional art contest by the Kalinawa Art Foundation in August 1, 2007. Lumbos is passing on the precious skills and knowledge to her children.
Across Gumusek is a large hut designated as the weaving house called Gumabal, which is Blaan for the “handloom.” Like the T’boli, the Blaan weave abaca fibers, colored with plant dyes— roots of the kunalum tree for black, roots of the lagu tree for red and konel for yellow. The act of weaving is called mabal. Their designs comes from imagination or their dreams, thus often the master weavers, called libun fanday, are regarded as spiritual figures respected in their communities. The outside world often calls them “dream weavers” like the T’boli weavers.
In the Gumabal house, baskets and bags are also woven using pliant, thin strips of bamboo. Albongs are being embroidered and cross-stitched with designs. Across the river and by the fields, the LTWA has a little office which is also a showroom, where some of the women’s products are on display.
|A woman weaves strips of bamboo into a basket. A bag can also be made.|
|Women embroider or do cross-stitched designs on the albongs.|
|A women ties the pattern on the abaca threads before dying. This technique prevents the dye from getting into some parts of the fiber. This is similar to the technique of the T'boli for their t'nalak.|
|An elder Blaan woman weaves the tabih, the traditional Blaan textile of abaca, which is similar to the T'boli t'nalak. The weaving is called mabal.|
Outside the Gumabal, an old woman is roasting tubes of bamboo over live coals for our lunch. The bamboo tubes are cracked open, from which pieces of chicken tumble out, cooked with lemongrass and salt. This is llolot anok, one of the native dishes prepared by the community for visitors. Inside the small hut called Gu Kmaan, lunch is served—tinola, a chicken soup; dinuguan, or pig’s blood stew; grilled tilapia; linupak, made of pounded sweet potato; and fuloh, rice wrapped in alkek. An old man makes smat, a beautiful boat-shaped receptacle made from young palm leaves, for the food. At one corner, there is coffee, made from locally grown beans, its aroma wafting through the breeze with the smoke from the dying charcoals. Lumbos is just glad to assist those who wants to know Blaan culture; her soul is fed.
“Gusto naming i-preserve ang Blaan tradition dahil ito ang identity namin at kultura. Bilang isang Blaan kailangan kong ipagmalaki na dito sa Filipinas buhay pa ang grupong Blaan. Para hindi mawala o hindi malimutan ng aming mga kabataan,” (We want to preserve Blaan tradition because this is our identity and culture. As a Blaan, I need to be proud that here in the Philippines the Blaan is still alive. So that it will not fade away or it will not be forgotten by our youth.) Lumbos says. “Pangarap po naming para sa museum ay mapanatiling buhay at alagaan kung anuman ang mga andiyan o ipagpatuloy ang pag-collect ng mga sinaunang kagamitan ng mga ninuno namin. Sana hanggang sa mga kaapo-apuhan namin ay ‘di kailanman malilimutan kung saan kami nagmula, at itong museum ang buhay na example para sa lahat ng Blaan,” (Our dream for the museum is that it will be maintained and taken care of by whoever will be there, and that they will continue to collect ancient artifacts of our ancestors. We hope our great-great-grandchildren will never forget where we came from, and this museum is a living example for all Blaan.)
Herminia has stopped playing the faglong. The children have gone to their respective homes. The weavers momentarily leave their looms. A faint gurgling sound comes from the Bluan River, created by the mythical dog Kay-Kay. May the people of Lamlifew keep a thirst as persistent as Kay-Kay’s and love to unearth an ever-flowing wellspring of knowledge and inspiration to nourish their own culture.
|The women's products are displayed inside the LTWA office, just by a field of corn.|
To visit the Lamlifew Village Museum, contact Helen Lacna Lumbos, president of the Lamlifew Tribal Women's Association in Lamlifew, Datal Tampal, Malungon, Sarangani, through mobile phone number +63906-8823959 or the Indigenous Peoples Development Program of the Office of the Governor in Alabel, Sarangani, through telephone number +63-83-508-3035 or telefax number +63-83-508-2258.