Indigenous students of Culasisi Elementary School performing their cultural dance
in celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Month
The Philippines - an archipelagic country comprising 7,641 islands.
In this expansive canvas of scattered geography, it is no surprise that Filipinos have nurtured a tapestry of diversity: we live in different landscapes, speak different languages, practice different traditions, believe in different religions, and have different physical features. No longer confined to 'kayumanggi,' we have embraced 'chinitos/chinitas' and 'mestizos/mestizas,' weaving them into the intricate fabric of Filipino identity.
Yet, amidst this kaleidoscope, a question arises: How much do we truly know of each other?
We asked this question to Filipinos from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao and the results turned out to be quite baffling. Tagalog respondents, for instance, perceive those from Visayas and Mindanao as 'probinsyanos/probinsyanas' primarily engaged in farming. They also believe that a lot of individuals from these regions are opportunity seekers who romanticize life in Manila. Conversely, a respondent from Cebu described Tagalogs as pretentious people with a superiority complex. A Davao respondent agreed to this, saying that “Tagalogs usually have weird stereotypes about us. They expect us to have harsh accents when speaking Filipino or English.” Meanwhile, another respondent from Cebu admitted that they often immediately assume that a person from Mindanao is Muslim and can understand Bisaya.
Strikingly, this lack of knowledge about each other does not only exist between people living in different islands. A respondent from Cavite thinks people from the Metro are liberated, while a respondent from Quezon City finds it difficult to picture a person from CALABARZON.
The respondents mentioned above hail from big cities in the Philippines, yet it's desolating to observe the extent to which we remain strangers to one another, and at times, even find ourselves pitted against each other. This disconnection is even more poignant for the indigenous tribes residing in the mountains — those who are Filipinos too.
Introducing the Mangyan tribes
A traditional Mangyan abode
Habitating the mountainous part of the island of Mindoro, southern part of Luzon, are Mangyan tribes, composed of seven groups namely the Hanunuo, the Tao-Buhid, the Batangan, the Ratagnon, the Iraya, the Tadyawan, and the Alangan. Their history traces back to as far as pre-colonial Philippines where they used to be coastal dwellers. As more settlers entered the islands, they eventually moved further inland and into the mountains to avoid foreign influence and colonizers.
Today, the Mangyan tribes maintain a steadfast reliance on agriculture, cultivating sweet potatoes and other root crops for sustenance. Some who reside near the lowlands, engage in the trade of cash crops with the Tagalogs.
We asked the earlier respondents what they know about Mangyan tribes. Most of the responses bare the very limited knowledge of the common Filipino about our very own indigenous peoples. Bordering on misconceptions, one of them answered: “Iniisip ko sa kanila, mga pulubi kasi yun ‘yung term na ginagamit ng mga tao dun sa mga kumakanta sa mga jeep.”
An Alangan Mangyan tribe leader preparing for a Mangyan ritual
Meanwhile, another respondent mixed up Mangyan tribes with another indigenous group; although apologizing for the confusion, we can reckon how this says a lot about the situation.
The gap that gives space to oppression
The unfamiliarity among Filipinos may be excusable for a nation of people who are physically distant from each other. However, if we are not careful enough, this can also develop into animosity. Beginning as ‘innocent’ stereotypes, these can ultimately lead to oppression - may it be intentional or not.
The Alangan Mangyan tribe is one of the indigenous groups that Sorok Uni Foundation caters to. Every month, Sorok Uni strives to do visitations in their community to know about their plight and to determine the right way to help them. The result of the assessment led to the decision of the Foundation to adopt schools in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro whose students mostly come from the Alangan Mangyan tribe. Through what has come to be known as Sorok Adopt-A-School Program, Sorok Uni has since An IP student reading the educational then provided educational materials to their materials donated by PCI Tech Center
Asked about the effect of the program to their community, he expressed his gratitude for the Organization, sharing that without the Sorok Adopt-A-School Program, they would remain “mangmang (ignorant)” and a laughing stock for the Tagalogs.
The elder went deeper into the struggles of his tribe by recounting the exploitation they endured due to their lack of education and literacy. Tagalog traders, taking advantage of their vulnerability, would cunningly deceive them during transactions, to the extent of even persuading them to sell a bunch of bananas for a mere 5 pesos. These unjust practices unfolded concurrently with the distressing experiences of younger Alangan Mangyans, who were subjected to derogatory slurs like 'monkeys,' and even physical violence as some extremely discriminatory Tagalogs would literally throw stones at them whenever they ventured into the lowlands.
Closing the gap
The Digital Literacy Program banner inside the classroom of Culasisi Elementary School
A project alongside the Sorok Adopt-A-School Program is the Digital Literacy Project, which aims to mitigate the digital gap in education for Mangyan Students in the Philippines. Under this project, Sorok Uni, with the help of its sponsors KOICA and Human Asia, provides digital devices and digital literacy education to Mangyan students.
Stored in these digital devices are more educational materials - mostly from DepEd - which Alangan Mangyan students can use to enrich their knowledge. These devices can also access the internet so they can get connected, at least virtually, to the rest of the country.
However, what rather caught the fancy of most Alangan Mangyan students are the dictionary and the calculator applications. They likened them to their community’s well-respected spiritual doctor whom they describe to be all-knowing - a source of knowledge.
With glee, the elder Mangyan told Sorok Uni, “Ang mga bata sa amin ngayon matatalino na. Ngayon, kaya na naming makipagsabayan sa mga Students of Culasisi Elementary School utilizing Tagalog.” This success story is not just for the the gadgets from the Digital Literacy Program Alangan Mangyan tribe but for a nation that refuses to be prisoners of its geography