A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Bantawan of Kadayawan Village

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 August) — One of the most interesting features of the 2017 Kadayawan Festival of Davao City is the Bantawan of the Kadayawan Village, a life-size showcase of the indigenous houses of 11 tribes located across the city including the Ata, Ubo-Manobo, Matigsalug, Klata, Bagobo-Tagabawa, Kagan, Iranun, Maranaw, Maguindanao, Sama and Tausog.

If the reader has only time to watch one feature of the 2017 Kadayawan, this Bantawan should be at the top of his/her list. It has been mounted at the Magsaysay Park – famous for the durian stalls outside the park – between the Magsaysay monument and the skating rink. Within this space is an exhibit of the Lumad and Moro peoples indigenous architecture, but complete with accessories, trinkets and other material culture. It is a must for the students of the city – especially architecture and anthropology students – to watch so they have an idea as to the richness of indigenous forms of dwellings.

Very clearly as one goes from house to house and observe carefully both the materials used and the abodes’ designs, that – unlike today’s so-called modern type of houses in the urbanized and Westernized architectural landscape – these are houses suited to the tropical climate of our islands and which maximize the use of indigenous materials available from the bountiful resources of our surroundings. Unfortunately as our surroundings have been pillaged through decades of logging and now mining, many of these resources – especially those found in primeval forests – are fast disappearing.

But as global trends in architecture for most Third World countries located in the tropics now favor designs where buildings are made to suit the realities of the weather, given the vicissitudes of climate change, there has been a revisiting of our ancestors’ ideas of how to make houses that are comfortable and yet of maximum use for the members of the family. These are designs that privilege the movement of the winds and the rays of the sun so that at any given time, the heat inside the house is regulated. Such houses therefore have no use for air-conditioning, and households are able to save on electricity.

For this reason alone, it is truly worthwhile for the Davao citizen to visit Bantawan and learn from the indigenous knowledge, skills and practices of our ancestors whose wisdom in building homes were pushed to the margins when we embraced a western-oriented architecture that is just not right for these parts of the planet. And when you do, take note of the following features of these abode:

One main feature of this abode takes into consideration a cultural element which remains an important aspect of our identity, namely that we are a people who value hospitality. Thus, practically all these homes have a verandah. In the pre-telephone days when people cannot announce when they will come a-visiting, there are the occasions when no one is at home when a visitor arrives. So that the guest can wait in comfort, the verandah serves as a waiting shed. It is also the location when members of household, their guests and friends sit together to share stories and build relationships. As houses are usually built on stilts, the space below the house serve various purposes. Where the second floor is tall enough (see the Tausog house), they can place tables and chairs and this space serves as another place for conversation or even meals. But often times, it is space to place firewood or for use of domesticated animals. In the case of the Iranun house, it serves as a place to hide when troubles erupt. In this exhibit, the Iranuns refer to this basement space or tunnel as Kuta or Bag’r or even Pacsol (one suspects Pacsol is from the word “foxhole”, a word that have arisen with the wars in Mindanao).

Because of the communal nature of household relationships, unlike Western architecture that privileges privacy, most of these abodes have a lot of shared space for members of the household. There maybe one or two private rooms, but otherwise most space is shared by everyone. One enters most of the Moro abode, and one sees the beautifully-woven mats spread on the floor (this is especially true for the Sama who are known for their skills in boat-building and mat-weaving). Household members and guests sit down on the mats, or even lie down on them even before sleeping time, guaranteeing a place for rest. (Interesting though that the Samas included in the listing of various groups under the Sama, the Sama D’laut – or pejoratively referred to as Badjaos – are not mentioned).

The Lumad dwellings tend to be simpler than those of the Moro households. The materials are mostly those that can be accessed for free from their environment. A few of them have cogon for roofing while others use either bamboo or nipa. Walls and floors are mainly bamboo either woven as  sawali or made of split pieces. The Klata house uses barks of tress for its walling. Rattan is also used extensively for both tying pieces together or for embellishments. Most of these houses are small with mainly one-storey high. Perhaps because most of the time the members are in the outdoors, they do not need big houses.

Interesting that no one of these abodes have a hearth inside the house where household members could gather especially during very cold nights where cooking also take place. Not one also is very tall enough and with staircase that can be raised up so that at night no one can just climb the stairs. When one enters the house, one notices limited furniture and accessories. Mostly they sit and sleep on the floor and aside from functional things (musical instruments, baskets, fishing equipment, tools for farming and gardening, etc.) the inside of the houses are not cluttered. In the Ata house’s front yard is the mangkakaw, the log converted into some kind of a drum to accompany music and songs as some dance to the beat. Given limited things, these houses need not be closed. There is no need to protect precious things inside; thus households need not put locks in their doors. But this also suggests that within the kinship system of communal life, everyone trusts everyone.

The Moro abodes tend to use more permanent housing materials as wood. These are also bigger in size, with the Maguindanao Sultan’s house as the most intricate (in fact there are two houses adjacent to each other). There are still shared spaces, but there is more privacy. In fact, the Iranun house has a tower labeled gibbon/bilik/lamin (or princess room). All of the Moro houses – Iranun, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kagan, Sama and Tausog – have all kinds of embellishments and accessories and thus are markedly differentiated from the Lumad abodes.

The Maranaw turogan stands out in this exhibit as the must-see for the beauty of the okir’s (or okill) geometric and flowing designs of mainly leaf and vine pattern which are the folk motifs of most turogans, especially those along the lakeshore of Lanao. This one in Magsaysay is but a shadow of the great beauty of those found around Lake Lanao with their huge carvings (which hopefully have not been destroyed during the Marawi siege). Still this one in Bantawan is worth keeping in the park and maintained, as it shows the wonderful design of the traditional turogan, with the carved posts, and the decorations that protrude from the building’s corners. (For a thorough study on this see Maria Yap-Rosales seminal book which won the National Book Award in 2014 – the UKKIL.)

Next to the Maranaw turogan, it is the Kagan house that is worth seeing even only for the intricate manner that bamboo is used. Here is a house lovingly built, as the builders went out of their way to create a house that has such great beauty – despite the limitations of time and space. If a visit to the famed island of Bali should include a visit to the Bamboo school, a visit to Bantawan becomes a thrilling experience by gazing at this house and appreciating the extent that which bamboo can be a thing of beauty if transformed into a dwelling. Here is where bamboo can be made to show different patterns, shapes and designs through the art of burning parts of the bamboo to create a sort of brown-and-black effect. From the roof down to the staircase, this house is a piece of art. The creative use of this lowly material makes it such a fabulous place to live in. Alas, given that bamboo cannot be preserved for a very long time, it is such a shame that this house cannot last a long time.

Lastly, one can only be amazed at the wide variety of beautiful trinkets, accessories inside and outside these houses. For the Maranaws, one admires the mamanyang (the Tausog’s sitti) that long cloth usually in golden yellow that is embellished with okir design made of sequins which must take months to put together which is placed above and traverses around the sala. They also have all sizes of the baor, those wooden boxes with pearl in-laids, all kinds of drums (mainly the dabakan/sango/bandi). For the Samas, the multi-colored mats in intricate designs provide beauty to the spaces on the walls as well as floors. The Maguindanao Sultan house has perhaps the most beautiful collection. At the center of the main sala is the olol, referred to as some kind of a mosquito net, but really a canopy made up of hundreds of little pieces of multi-colored cloth. (When I asked the guide as to how long it took to make this and the cost involved, he answered it took so many months and for the labor alone, they paid P11,000 to the seamstress). Outside, the ladies serve local delicacies including dodol, kumukuns, paňalan and tinag (those sweets made from sticky rice and coconut).

There is only one critique of this exhibit and it has to do with the ethnographic labeling of these communities. In one of these signs one reads this text: “They prefer high places, the slopes and sides of hills and mountains” – even referring to pre-Spanish times. This is a myth that is perpetuated that has reinforced the notion of indigenous peoples being “taga-bukid”; the nuance of which is that they are “primitive”. The fact of the matter is that before all kinds of conquest took place, the Lumads lived along coastal areas, rivers and lakes and were only pushed to go up the upland hinterlands because of the waves of colonization.

But this is just a small item. The fact of the matter is that every Davaoeňo and guest to Kadayawan should find time to go see Bantawan. There they will be welcomed warmly with signs like Madigar Kalunggo (in Bagobo-Tagabawa) or Songnakamo (Tausog) local greetings to say WELCOME! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books and writes two columns for  MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)