By IAN BENEDICT MIA
Within the mountains of Malita, Davao Occidental lives a tribal community called the Tagakolu—a peace-loving community that has an interesting mix of cultural and religious beliefs. The Tagakolu are part of the millions of indigenous peoples’ (IP) in the Philippines. In Mindanao, there are over 15 tribes that exist—the Tagakolu is one of them. The IPs in Mindanao are collectively called “Lumads” which means “a native of or simply, indigenous”.
THE TAGAKOLU PEOPLE
The name Tagakolu means “those who dwell at the head of the river,” wherein “Taga” means “dwelling” and “kolu” means “headwater or upstream.” There are various accounts on the Tagakolu by different scholars. Their ancestral domains are found in Malita, Sta. Maria, Malalag, and some parts of Sarangani Province. Historically, the Tagakolu people lived in these areas, but many of them have begun moving to urban areas such as Digos, Davao City, General Santos, and Manila to seek for job opportunities. As of the 2011 census, there are around 110,000 Tagakolu residing in the Philippines.
When you talk with a Tagakolu, they will explain their culture and heritage to you differently as compared to the observations of scholars. For them, “kolu” refers to ecology, natural systems, water, and life, among others. This is the meaning ascribed by the Tagakolu people as they have a close relationship with their environment. The word kolu is also considered a gift from Tyumanem—the supreme being which the Tagakolu refers to as God. In fact—having become a dominantly Christian community—the Tagakolu people have integrated their cultural and religious beliefs that they now refer to God as Tyumanem.
The Tagakolu live in a subsistence form of economy. They make do with what they have and consume what they need on a daily basis. The Tagakolu rely mostly on upland rice and corn, as well as coconut, abaca, and coffee beans. In the community, a few sari-sari stores have already popped out.
They usually buy their items from the public market down from the mountains—this means they have to travel down from the mountain either by walking or riding the motorcycle. Some of the Tagakolu are businessmen and have already built concrete houses.
The Tagakolu people have a number of traditional foods. Among some of these include ambak, kulu, baw, lulut, lampusaw, and native chicken. The Tagakolu also have traditional food preparation practices such as babayu and pamukad. Babayu is a process of preparing the rice to be cooked, whereas pamukad is a process where food is cooked inside a bamboo while it is being heated in flames.
Dances, songs, and stories serve as the expression of the Tagakolu people’s emotions, experiences, history, and life. In the weaves that they create, nature and wildlife are always embedded as the environment is an essential part of their culture.
The tagunggu is considered by the community as a “dying art” already. Fortunately, one of the youths in the community has taken it upon himself to learn the instrument and pass it on to his contemporaries. The elders acknowledged this individual and mentioned that they need him to further preserve their culture and heritage.
On the other hand, the kitada is a guitar-like instrument that is usually played at night. The Tagakolu people are also creating efforts to preserve the use of this instrument.
CHALLENGES TO THE IP COMMUNITY
Due to farming, the environment that the Tagakolu live in has started to degrade. Meanwhile, many Bisaya settlers are beginning to “encroach” in the ancestral domains of the Tagakolu. There is also a gradual degradation of beliefs and tradition, but there have been initiatives to sustain this, such as the involvement of the youth with cultural education.
The Tagakolu does not have much involvement with the IP educational curriculum of the Department of Education, which is why they create their own learning resources with the Missionaries of Jesus—a team of missionaries that focus mainly on the cultural education of IP communities, one being the Tagakolu.
One of the most pressing concerns with the Tagakolu people’s present context is their issue with land. Fortunately, amid the land encroachment issues, the Tagakolu’s land already has an ancestral domain certificate which serves as a mark that no one can claim their land. Today, the Tagakolu people are struggling with what they refer to us “developmental aggression” from big companies. The most recent one was the construction of a power plant. Although the Tagakolu have accepted the existence of the power plant, the power plant, however, pollutes the air and water. The fishes get affected by the wastes of the power plant, and these fishes are being consumed by the Tagakolu people.
Let the Tagakolu be a constant reminder that while we already have the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act to protect the IP communities’ many rights, they will still need the support of many sectors to sustain their ancestral lands and be free from discrimination, to name a few. After all, they live in the same land as us and deserve the same level and kind of treatment.