Vol. 5, No. 2, Second Quarter 2000

The resource management practices of lumads (indigenous peoples) demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their environments and ways of mitigating the ecological impacts of their swidden-based agriculture and other economic activities. They see to it that each activity is in harmony with the cycle of seasons judging from the position of the moon and stars and signs from trees, insects and wildlife. They know the best place and time to plant a particular crop based on natural indicators.

In keeping with their belief in spirit-presence in nature, rituals precede or conclude farming and other livelihood activities such as hunting and resource extraction.

Rituals and omens

Before tilling a piece of land, the lumads perform panalabugta ritual to ask permission from the spirit of the land named Talabugta. Offerings include chickens, betel nut, colored pieces of cloths and a few coins. Afterwards they perform pangingibasuk to ask good yields from Ibabasuk, the spirit of the crops. In the event of a bountiful harvest, the whole community gathers to give thanks to the spirits and Magbabaya (Supreme Being) through a pamahandi ritual.

According to Datu Salisay Rico Sulatan of Talakag, Bukidnon, traditional lumad farmers observe a set of rituals every month. These are:

January – Panalikot and panulak rites called kagtala, panalabugta or pandingding pangampu sa pagalad. The farmer starts his/her chores by interpreting the movement of birds and the position of the stars. He/She also asks the spirits for a peaceful life throughout the year.

February – Panalikot rite called kagkayang. kagbandera or pamangko. The farmer asks permission from the guardian of the forest before doing land preparation.

March – Pangalu-ambit hu salsalon and pamahandi or tingbigsul hu sakum. The farmer asks for assistance from the spirit of the fire and guardian animal.

April – Panalikut and panahud hu talabugta rite, which the farmer performs before planting, to ask the land for a generous harvest.

May – Takembe bayukboken rite, through which the farmer identifies and asks the guardian of worms and pests.

June and July – Layag-layag, dumalongdong and pangulambong rites. The farmer asks the guardian of animals like wild boar, monkeys and mice that these would not ravage the corn. He/she also asks that birds like tangayan would not eat the grains of rice.

August and September – Lagti or lagon or kaligaon rite. This is a thanksgiving ritual for the first taste of the harvest. August is for corn and September is for rice.

October, November and December – Panungdan, panagulambong and dumalongdong rites. During these months it is prohibited to disturb the forest because thebaylans (ritualists) are having their prayers there. At this time too the bees don’t produce honey, the birds lay their eggs, and other animals bear their young.

As in farming, hunting requires certain rituals. The hunter places tobacco, candies, betel nut, and pieces of cloth below a balete tree so that Mamemelig, the forest deity, would guide the dogs to the scent of the wild boar. Another ritual takes place after a successful hunt to thank the spirit’s generosity and the village partakes of meat from deer or wild boar.

Lumads also observe rituals before cutting down trees especially if these are believed to be inhabited by powerful spirits. An example is the balete tree the cutting of which is prohibited as a rule. If the tree grows in a farm lot and it becomes necessary to cut it down, the farmer gives offerings to the spirit-dweller and interprets his response. If the offerings remain untouched it means the spirit has agreed to transfer to another tree and the tree may be felled. But if the offerings are scattered, it means the spirit has turned down the request to cut down his dwelling place.

Aside from rituals, omens from birds and other creatures influence farming and other economic activities. For instance, in choosing a farm lot, the farmer takes a cue from the call of the alimokon (wild dove), a practice called bagtu. If the alimokon whistles in front of the farmer the area should be abandoned. But if the call comes from behind him, it means the site is good for farming. Thus lumads protect the alimokon as a sacred bird. It should neither be killed nor harmed. Those who violate this rule will be penalized in accordance with customary law.

Other birds are as important. The kalusasawi tells the hunter that wild boar or monkeys are nearby. The sound of the saliyangsiyang (a kingfisher species) and the kalaw means it will rain soon, a good time to plant. Small birds play an important role in the natural regeneration of trees.

Indigenous farming technology

Lumads time their farming activities based on the position of heavenly bodies and on signs from the natural world around them. They make sure too that their methods will mitigate adverse environmental impacts.

For example, farm lots are located far from headwaters in order to protect water sources. A good site is one that has moderate slopes so that felled trees will settle donwslope and leave more areas for planting.  It also requires less efforts in that the farmer bends over less than when he tills a level field.

It should be noted that the traditional farmer does not cut down water-bearing trees when clearing an area for cultivation. This leaves the water table undisturbed and prevents riverbanks from being eroded. During dry periods the farmer cuts down the trunks of these trees to water his crops. These trees will still survive because they regenerate fast through their new branches.

The site’s vegetation tells the farmer what crops are best suited. Lauan trees indicate fertile loam soil which is ideal for abaca, corn and coffee. If the dominant species are olayan (Philippine oak) and giyung (tiger grass)  it suggests poor reddish soil. Here only sweet potatoes and other crops that require less nutrients will thrive.

Other tree, shrubs and plants that have economic, ecological and medicinal uses are also preserved. Some of these are sources of nectar for honey, an important livelihood commodity. Others bear fruit on which wild pigs forage. Their abundance would keep these animals from ravaging agricultural crops.

Understanding the kaingin system

Sometime in 1989, a Higaonon organization came out with the article below that explains the kaingin system as an indigenous technology of answering their food needs and at the same time conserving the forest:

1. How precious is the tree?

The tree is the source of life because in it are flowers which are sipped by the bees that give honey to the people. The flowers become fruits which can be eaten by the people and the animals. The animals, in turn, are food for the people.

2. On the protection and preservation of the forests

Through kaingin (swidden farming), the trees are cut but the seedlings are left to grow again. When the area begins to be revegetated, a baby forest or lubas (the growth of trees after slash and burn) is created. Underneath the forest are seeds and seedlings that have grown again after seeing the sun. The passing of time will definitely not alter nature’s way. While there is a tree, there is a seed, and while there is a seed and the sun, there is the forest.

Doing kaingin stems from the authority accorded by Magbabaya. This is not just done for the heck of it. Magbabaya’s authority is gleaned from the following signs:

In the event of a bad omen or bagtu after asking the permission of the spirit, the plan to do kaingin is not pushed through. But if a good sign is given, permission to do kaingin is granted and the plan is actualized.

Practicing kaingin is anchored on the following:

The lumads make sure that doing so would not cause damage to adjoining parcels of land.

In the burning of trees, the lumads observe vigilance to safeguard the trees in the other areas from getting burned or destroyed.

Holy and sacred places such as worship area, burial ground, hiding places of sacred things and hunting ground are to be excluded from kaingin.

Doing kaingin in an area is not regular or permanent. This is to preserve the forests and maintain the fertility of the soil.

All things and creatures that grow on earth are, one way or the other, have relationship to the life and culture of the lumads. In effect, all yield or produce arenot for individual consumption alone but instead these are shared with the Tagbaya (gods or spirits) and all other creatures.

The balance of nature or ecology is embedded in the respect for the Tagbaya who take care of everything. In this light, exploiting and claiming ownership over the land are deterrents to restoring and/or maintaining the ecological balance.

Is kaingin still viable?

Kaingin may have worked well in the past even if done over a wide area due to the application of some controls as mentioned above. However, it can no longer be practices in the same degree at present due to an increase in lumad population plus the fact that only a few forests are left. It means more and more people converging and putting pressure on a shrinking resource base. The issue therefore is to work out an alternative system that will address the livelihood needs of the lumads.

It does not mean that the kaingin system must be done away with completely. Lumads may still practice it with some limitations on the size of area to be cultivated and on the number of households. Present realities can no longer allow all members of a tribal community to do it simultaneously in one given area.

Another factor to consider is the presence of immigrants in lumad communities. These outsiders adopted the kaingin system even if they do not know its concept, leading to forest destruction and its attendant effects. Thus it is necessary to check the entry of more settlers to the uplands especially protected areas. In the case of tenured migrants, they have to learn the original concept of kaingin to minimize the impact of their agricultural activities.

For strategic purposes, it is important to draw out traditional knowledge on forest resource management and reconcile this with the technical method. Based on this knowledge the lumads, through their elders, have to come up with a consensual plan on how to manage their territory.

The lumads of Mt. Kitanglad have started to embark on this endeavor. They have conducted cultural zoning workshops so as to identify areas where they perform traditional economic, religious and other activities. A three-dimensional map of the mountain range has been completed and it is through this map that they will validate inputs given during the workshops. These activities prove the rich knowlege system of the lumads in terms of natural resource management.