Ba­gani nar­ra­tives and the com­plex­i­ties of cul­tural ap­pre­ci­a­tion

Sun.Star Davao - - OPINION - (Ne­fluc­ Nef Luc­zon

THERE was a time that I was in­vited along with non-gov­ern­ment work­ers to visit a vil­lage at the bound­aries of Clave­ria town and Gin­goog City in the prov­ince of Misamis Ori­en­tal. Most of its res­i­dents are from the Hi­gaonon tribe.

Thanks to an im­proved road net­work, it was quite an easy hike. While on lo­ca­tion, I was al­ready mes­mer­ized by the vil­lage’s sur­round­ings es­pe­cially some clas­sic Hi­gaonon houses built. I took pho­to­graphs of some, un­til one of the tribal lead­ers caught my at­ten­tion, who was also caught by my cam­era’s lenses.

Usu­ally in my en­coun­ters with indige­nous peo­ples (IPs), I am greeted with warm wel­come. But that time, the tribal el­der was some­how per­plexed. He looked at me rather blankly. Un­til the gath­er­ing was con­vened and some open­ing rit­u­als were made, he took the op­por­tu­nity to tell us about seek­ing per­mis­sion first to the elders be­fore tak­ing pho­to­graphs. Other than on pri­vacy, it was also about the be­lief that such de­vice can cap­ture hu­man souls. It was my bad. And I felt hor­ri­ble de­spite me ask­ing for for­give­ness and the el­der even­tu­ally gave a bless­ing for me to con­tinue tak­ing pho­to­graphs.

Of course, how stupid I was to for­get that there are IP com­mu­ni­ties who hold such be­lief sys­tems.

In most gath­er­ings with IPs, it is usu­ally com­menced with a tribal rit­ual as open­ing cer­e­monies, it has many names: Pa­muhat, Panubad, Panagtawagtawag, and Kan­duli, de­pend­ing on what eth­no­lin­guis­tic groups you hap­pen to be min­gling with. These rit­u­als sig­nify one thing: ask­ing per­mis­sion to the holy be­ings be­fore start­ing any meet­ings and what­ever ac­tiv­i­ties it may en­tail.

That is why as mod­ern so­ci­eties have at­tempted to ho­mog­e­nize the norms of the world, there were move­ments com­ing from the marginal­ized mi­nori­ties to pre­serve the cul­ture, tra­di­tions, and cus­toms in order for lat­ter gen­er­a­tions see the rich her­itage of the past.

So, when a gi­ant broad­cast­ing net­work al­lowed its writ­ers to make a fan­tasy tele­vi­sion series, then named it “Ba­gani” to look ex­otic, some IP groups were up­set about it, even­tu­ally caus­ing a de­bate among cul­tural work­ers and apol­o­gist fa­nat­ics who are not even do­ing enough stud­ies on IP lit­er­acy.

Ba­gani, are war­riors amongst the IPs, some groups call them as Ala­mara. These war­riors had to earn their keep and so­cial sta­tus by de­fend­ing their com­mu­ni­ties. Un­til re­cently, even prior to the re­cent TV show, the terms were used in war­fare pro­pa­ganda be­tween rebel-lean­ing and mil­i­tary-lean­ing IPs -- a re­al­ity that IPs are di­vided even within their cir­cles. This was com­mon even in the pre-colo­nial times (tribal wars and land dis­putes).

For some, call­ing a TV show “Ba­gani” with­out re­flect­ing on the val­ues an­chored on IP be­lief sys­tem was a blun­der, and they fear that the IP-il­lit­er­ate au­di­ence will be get­ting a wrong im­pres­sion on what a Ba­gani looks like.

Al­though in the TV net­work’s de­fense, they did some re­search, al­though this fell short be­cause they for­got to ask per­mis­sion from the le­git­i­mate IP stake­hold­ers, prob­a­bly a sim­ple open­ing rit­ual could have made as part of the con­sul­ta­tion process.

As the de­bate pro­gressed, it turned out that there are two op­pos­ing Schools of Thoughts: one is the School that wishes to pre­serve cul­tural iden­ti­ties, the other, was the School that be­lieves that cul­ture and tribal tra­di­tions are fluid. The be­liev­ers of this lat­ter School are the ones who see no prob­lem in us­ing the term “Ba­gani” and trans­form it into a dif­fer­ent take of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Af­ter all, cul­tures change, and adapt to cer­tain de­gree over time, they ar­gued; cit­ing ex­am­ples of IPs em­brac­ing the main­stream so­ci­eties for work, and the use of non-au­then­tic ma­te­ri­als like com­mer­cial bev­er­ages and cig­a­rettes in the con­duct of some rit­u­als.

This is where it gets com­pli­cated: the creative in me de­sired to use IP mythos and lores as ref­er­ences in reimag­in­ing their vis­ual style and mod­ernist pro­jec­tions. Sim­i­lar to how cre­atives reimag­ined the Amer­i­can na­tives in com­ing up with fic­tional char­ac­ters with mys­ti­cal pow­ers, and re­cently, how Hol­ly­wood cel­e­brated African cul­ture with the suc­cess of Black Pan­ther.

How­ever the big­ger chal­lenge was how can you project through reimag­i­na­tion, the Filipino IP tra­di­tions with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its ac­tual cul­tural and tra­di­tional iden­tity and val­ues? The shorter an­swer can be a re­al­iza­tion that while there are al­ready indige­nous cul­tures be­ing ref­er­enced in pop­u­lar cul­ture brought by me­dia, there are also IP groups who still value that their tra­di­tional and cul­tural be­lief sys­tems must be re­spected, and if pos­si­ble left un­touched for creative me­dia ex­ploits, un­less done re­spon­si­bly.

I am hop­ing that some­day the younger gen­er­a­tions of Filipinos will find time in ap­pre­ci­at­ing our IPs’ tra­di­tions and cul­tural iden­ti­ties and see for them­selves that in order to rep­re­sent bet­ter in the world is to sim­ply go back to our indige­nous an­ces­try.

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