Project Update: TRIBU Promotes Conservation through Cultural Preservation in the Philippines

Xyla Mercedita Gualberto is an alumna of the 2015 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a U.S. government program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Her team, comprised of Ernesto Neri, Zuein Guantero, and Philip Flores, received an Alumni TIES Small Grant for their project YSEALI YOUnified All In: TRIBU (Tribal Recognition through Indigenous Band Upliftment). TRIBU is a three-day culture camp for indigenous youth in the Bukidnon Province, Philippines, aged 17–25, which aims to cultivate in young people an appreciation for their cultural identity by teaching them traditional arts and music and promoting knowledge-sharing within and among tribes through arts and music. This is part of a greater effort to strengthen inter-tribe collaboration for forest protection.

Find out more about Xyla and other Alumni TIES Small Grant projects from YSEALI Alumni TIES on Community Organizing and Project Management here.

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Back to their Roots: Training Indigenous Youth in Leadership

Ang first musician, ug ang first artist, wala’y nag-tudlo” (“No one taught the first musician and the first artist”), renowned Lumad musician Waway Saway said to 29 aspiring Lumad artists and musicians from various tribal communities from Maramag, Cabanglasan, and Portulin, Bukidnon, Philippines. It was the last day of the camp, and Saway wanted to send off the participants with a few inspiring words and his music.

For three days, they had stayed in the Talaandig Ancestral Territory in the cold hills of Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon, for Tribal Recognition through Indigenous Bands Upliftment (TRIBU), a three-day music, arts, and youth leadership camp.

Interweave: The campers and facilitators spin a web of camaraderie as the camp comes to an end.

TRIBU would be the fourth project by the Ridge-to-Reef Young Leaders, a volunteer group advocating for sustainable development and environmental preservation through youth leadership. Years in the making, TRIBU was made possible through the funding of a small grant from an Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES), which took place in Bangkok, Thailand on Community Organizing and Project Management in July 2016. Alumni TIES is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by World Learning through a cooperative agreement.

Held from November 24–27, TRIBU was conducted in line with the Mindanao Week of Peace, and as a kickoff activity for the YSEALI YOUnified, an ASEAN-wide celebration of leadership and regional collaboration.

The TRIBU camp aimed to preserve and promote the Lumad (indigenous peoples) culture by allowing the campers to hone their skills in traditional music and art, develop appreciation for their identity as tribal youth, bring out their leadership potential, and foster an intertribal cultural exchange.

The campers participated in house visits with local artists and musicians and got to make their own soil artwork and bamboo flutes. To inspire the campers to engage with their fellow young people, youth leaders also delivered talks on leadership and volunteerism.

Handmade: The campers try their hand at crafting their own bamboo flutes.

The TRIBU camp culminated with a cultural night, a concert featuring tribal performances from local Talaandig youth, as well as the delegations from Fr. Leoni Memorial School, Mindanao Tribal School Inc., and the Kulahi band from the Portulin Talaandig Tribal Association.

The Lumad Way

The Talaandig Ancestral Territory is located at the outskirts of Lantapan. Despite being a remote area, it is no stranger to visitors, as delegations from all over the world have come to the area to be immersed in the Talaandig culture, engage with its people, and help build the community.

As people come and go, Victorino “Datu Migketay” Saway, the tribal custodian, keeps a watchful eye over the area. He has long since been a champion for indigenous rights, and the Lumads’ claim to their ancestral domains. He also spoke with the campers at length about the true meaning of culture.

To Datu Migketay, the preservation of culture transcends music and art — most importantly, it involves the preservation of the Lumad identity and territories.

Indigenous communities in Mindanao have been facing a dilemma: how to keep up with the rapid rush of development while maintaining their tribal identity. The Lumad youth, who have been on the receiving end of modern educational and cultural practices, risk alienation from their own heritage.

“The young people of today are challenged by modernization or the so-called Western education. While the effect of having such education is to be able to get a good job after college, they tend to forget their tribal roots,” Thieza Verdijo, TRIBU co-founder and project consultant, stated. “Not being able to speak their native tongue or binukid… is an indicator of that lost culture; not being able to dance the binanog or binakbak, play the kubing, or have knowledge of their tribe and the struggles of their ancestors are signs of lost culture.”

“The youth are the next generation. The culture will be alive because of them. If it is not given importance, everything that the parents, elders, and leaders fought for will have been for nothing.”

Through TRIBU, the team hopes to spark a generation of youth leaders who will continue to fight for the environment, as well as the Lumads.

From the Heart

Ayaw kahadlok na maka tuon ug masayop. Ang importante kay kinasing-kasingang inyong gabuhaton” (“Do not be afraid to learn and to fail. The important thing is that what you’re doing is from the heart”). Saway’s words rang true not just for the TRIBU campers, but also for the R2R volunteers.

Pioneer: Amidst the tools of his trade, musician Waway Saway shares a few inspiring words to the campers.

The Ridge-to-Reef project started with a conversation between friends, which turned into a three-month youth leadership camp involving student leaders from Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro. In its first year, the team has organized four different projects, including TRIBU.

In its efforts to preserve nature, the R2R group primarily engages with the indigenous youth, as their livelihood and culture are highly dependent on natural resources. The Lumad way is deeply rooted in living from nature’s bounty and conserving it, and to Xyla Gualberto, Ridge-to-Reef co-founder and coordinator, tribal youth leaders are needed now more than ever.

“We believe that the indigenous people and the environment can never be separated,” Gualberto said. “They have always been intimately linked to each other. When we say we are for the environment, we are also working for the people who protect it, for those whose lives are embedded in it.”

For the R2R team, 2018 holds more opportunities to work with indigenous youth and mold leaders. TRIBU was just the first step.

“R2R is still taking baby steps. We have much to learn. The team is looking forward to partnering with more communities and organizations in order to co-create initiatives that are more sustainable. We will definitely conduct more camps,” Gualberto said.

“As co-founder, I envision that we push for policy change one day in order to institutionalize the development we’re working to attain.”

With the rapid pace of modernization and climate change, TRIBU is but a small step forward. However, the Ridge-to-Reef group hopes to learn from its first year together, and continue its drive for leaders with heart.

Written by Lyle Justin A. Egay and contributed by Xyla Mercedita Gualberto.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.