Cotabato gov, NGO head named Manobo bais

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/31 August) – In a ceremony that some leaders of indigenous peoples may frown upon, Cotabato Governor Lala Talinio-Mendoza and the head of a Manila-based non-government organization were conferred the title Bai (Manobo tribal princess).

Mendoza, a non-Manobo, was given the title Bai Sandihanan (The Dependable), during the Karuvunan Festival Monday in Antipas town where Manobos from across the province gathered.

She became the second lady governor of the province to receive the title. The first was the late Cotabato governor, Dr. Rosario P. Diaz.

Bai is considered one of the highest titles given to a female member of a tribe.

“Ginawaran siya ng tribu bilang Bai Sandihanan dahil sa aming paniwala, may malaking puso siya para sa amin.   Naniniwala rin kami na susuportahan niya ang aming laban na maangkin ang lupang ninuno, (We conferred to her the title Bai Sandihanan, because we believe she has a big heart for us. We also believe she would support our fight for our ancestral domain,” said Datu Lito Palma, head of the North Cotabato Tribal Council of Elders.

Palma’s group conferred the title Bai Suwadlanan (The Shield) to another non-Manobo, Prof. Leonor Briones, executive director of Social Watch.

Resplendent in their traditional Manobo attire, Mendoza and Briones received the certificates of confirmation from Cotabato 2nd District Rep. Nancy Catamco, also a Manobo princess.

Both showed excitement upon receiving balungkag and sinakit, Manobo necklaces made of beads of different colors and sizes.

Asked how they felt about their ‘Bai-ship’, both said that it was an honor to have a big space in the hearts of the Manobos in the province.

“I am honored and full of hope for the IPs, especially so, that I am in a position, together with Congresswoman Catamco, to help them,” said Mendoza.

Catamco co-chairs the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs.

The confirmation of their titles was held during the Kavurunan Festival, one of the highlights of the Hinugyaw celebrations of the 96th foundation anniversary of North Cotabato.

Palma, who heads the organizers of the festival, said this year’s celebration was based on the festivities held in the past by their ancestors.

“In the past, the lumads living at different mountains in the provinces of North Cotabato, Bukidnon, and Davao del Sur, used to gather in one place to compete for fun. We had different competitions, such as dancing, singing, and playing of musical instruments. This was a friendly competition. We’re bringing back the good old times through this festival,” he said.

The Manobos comprise one of the biggest indigenous groups in Mindanao. They are found not only in North Cotabato but also in the provinces of Agusan, Bukidnon, Sarangani and parts of Davao.

Conferring tribal titles to non-lumads have met criticisms from some Lumad groups and advocates of indigenous peoples’ rights as a desecration of their culture. They pointed out that some have used it for political ends.

When she was still a senator, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was named a tribal princess by the Manobo tribe in Agusan del Sur. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)