SOUTH UPI, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 07 March) — Although the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) provides a legal definition for the term “ancestral land/ancestral domain,” for the Indigenous Peoples (IPs,) these are new and unfamiliar terms.
For the IP’s of Mindanao, ancestral land is Réfa Lowoh – an extension of body and life – “ancestral land” is an integral part of nature and the environment.
IPs are concerned that others are turning “ancestral land” into a “Commodity.” Thus, forests and trees, which for IPs are a source of food and shelter, become lumber and boards. Thus herbs which are health and medicine for the IPs become drugs for profit. Thus mountains, which are sacred places of worship and culture become mines and minerals.
A second important difference lies in the IP’s understanding that land is communally owned. This is why it is taboo to survey the land and demarcate plots, because this is something that the IPs would only do when a person has died. Yet with the new regime of titling land and the introduction of this individualist concept, the indigenous practice of communal ownership is being destroyed.
Communal ownership is based on the concept of “Timanan” from the root word “metiman” — which means to unite or unity. In South Upi, there is a village called Timanan because there was a time in the distant past when the Teduray ancestors came together and worked together to gather food and to farm.
Another indigenous concept is “Serifata” meaning equality — no one is above anyone else. That is why IPs made decisions based on consensus: they discussed until they were able to arrive at decisions they all supported. However, with the advent of foreign institutional structures and new forms of governance, this IP customary practice was disrupted. Traditional roles were also disparaged. As a consequence, those who held tribal titles — e.g., “fintailan”- referring to women tribal chiefs, “timuay” – to men holding tribal title, “kefeduwan” – the persons once in charge in settling disputes, and “gemamak basa” – those in charge of the spirituality of the tribe — were sometime accused of being pagan or engaged in illegal activities.
“Kefiyo fedew” is our expression of peace of mind, when you do not hurt someone’s feeling, which is the basis of justice for us. The recurring conflicts over land within our ancestral domain and the non-recognition of our land rights is the highest form of injustice committed against us, whether by state or by non-state actors. “Lumut Minanga” Pluralist/inclusive being open but in his mind and taught he or she is an IP an opposite of integrationist/assimilationist.
The Consequences of Violating Our Ancestral Lands /Ancestral Domain
“Layaf” (hunger) – lack of food due to destruction of nature and the misappropriation of resources and the products of human labor.
“Druun” (sickness – illness) – physical and emotional pain acquired from bad spirits and energies, whether from nature or the product of human activity
“Stiboh” (hostilities – war) – the existence of human conflict that may result in war among groups of peoples and communities. (Froilyn T. Mendoza is Executive Director of the Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organization Inc. or TLWOI)