Surrounded by boulders, trees and waters rushing down Tinuy-an Falls, a baylan (tribal spiritual leader) led an early morning ritual on September 20. Called Diwatahan it is done on this date every year to honor the spirits of the forest of the falls, which is located in Bislig City.
Tribal folks and a few lowlanders gathered around an altar-like structure made of bamboo. The baylan began with a chant – a prayer – and ended with an offering of blood of a live white pig and a chicken to “touch base” with the kind spirits.
“We do not see them but they see us,” said a humble Manobo gentleman beside me. Short, dark and wearing eyeglasses and a dark polo shirt, Jose said he lives atop the waterfalls. Up in the thick jungle, I imagined. “Much, much farther and higher,” he smiled as he replied to my curiosity.
The ritual served in part as an act of solidarity with the Christian celebration of the feast day of Bislig, on September 22. The Manobos played host to government officials and guests who came to honor them as well. A second ritual intended for them was to follow at 9 am.
“We Manobos like to make friends because friends help and respect each other,” said Jose. He is proud and confident of their land, which has been recognized by law as ancestral domain. “We have looked after this since our forefathers’ time.”
While we talked, a young hornbill, or kalaw in local dialect, landed atop a tree where we stood. “It’s Kayamutan,” he told me. A pet of a datu (tribal chieftain), the bird glided towards the arm of a young man, stealing the attention of the small crowd. It is believed that the presence or sight of the kalaw brings good luck.
The Hornbill is one of the few bird varieties residing in the forest which has become a known destination of professional bird-watching enthusiasts in the country and abroad. “You will see them early morning and they hover in groups,” Jose said.
When I asked Jose if the spirits have shown themselves to him at least once, he said no, not even once, “but I heard them singing”. And last night, he told me, he heard a diwata (fairy) sing. (Ramon Jorge Sarabosing/MindaNews)