ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu. A preliminary study (5)

5th of seven parts


Population and Location

The Census of 1970 gives the total population of the Ata as 5,075. This, however, must  be considered as a conservative figure considering that the  Bureau of Census did not include Panabo among the locations of this group. The place in which they are indigenous are Kapalong, Panabo, Carmen, Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte and the districts of Paguibato, Tugbok, Bunawan, Davao City.

Level of Adjustment to Majority Culture

Ranges from intermediate to low. This can be gauged from the following observations, among others: uneven articulateness in the Bisayan language; uneven adoption of majority clothing; uneven adoption of majority methods of cultivation, etc. – all pointing to different levels of exposure to majority culture. These differences may be explained by proportionate distance and/or accessibility to urban centers, by disparity in exposure to the ways, values, attitudes and language of majority settlers, traders, logging concession workers and similar elements.

Principal source of livelihood is subsistence farming, mostly semi-shifting and semi-sedentary. The least acculturated are mostly in semi-shifting and those who have been exposed to majority ways have learned even sedentary agriculture; though on more limited scale, usually without work animals. Standard crops are corn, coffee, rice, banana and the usual variety of Philippine root crops as supplement. Add hunting and fishing – though both are fast becoming scarce as integral economic activities.

“Ownership” and the use of land

It must be emphasized, however, that their concept of land ownership is relative to the length of time the parcel of land is used. Abandonment of that parcel means loss of right over that area. In short, traditionally, land is never considered as falling within the range of private property as they understand the institution. Neither can it be accurately described as communal. Perhaps, ancestral is the more precise term. This, however, is left open for discussion.

Nomadic cultivation is approved within their culture and belief system. But they are only nomadic within their recognized territory.

They easily succumb to the temptation to sell their land to eager majority settlers with very little regard for its actual money value (in the majority sense of course) to the delight of the latter. Explanation for this seeming disregard for land must be sought in their culture which determines value system, economic or otherwise. It is not enough to blame it on their lack of exposure to the money economy, the majority norms of lands valuation  or similar matters.

Threats to Survival

Distinction must be made between internal and external threats without a clear dividing line. Internal threats are usually poverty and malnutrition, ignorance in the basic ways that would enable them to further ensure their survival within the frame of cash economy and government. These threats are to a substantial extent aggravated by external factors. The latter principally, usually and historically, are provided by loggers, majority settlers-landgrabbers, land speculators, unscrupulous middlemen, high prices of market commodities versus low prices of native products and high and more taxes, non-implementation of government policies and laws intended to protect minorities. This does not include the basic inadequacies of these laws and policies.

Select Aspect of Culture

Settlement of cases. The community or territorially recognized leader is central in the settlement of cases. Minor cases are decided by community leaders; major cases, which community leaders are unable to handle are taken care of by the territorially recognized leaders, either by himself or with a council of advisers as the case requires.

They have system of customary laws called mandu or baleed to guide them in the settlement of cases.

Compensation in cash or in kind is basic in the settlement of cases. The law is quite harsh, however, with theft; the offender can get his finger cut (one finger per offense). Once case is settled, the offender is “re-admitted” to the community as though he had committed no offense. Note that this leads one to believe that the Ata legal and judicial system is reconciliation rather than penalty oriented with respect to social offenders.  This further gives one an excellent insight into social order that puts a premium on  Smooth Interpersonal Relationship – SIR– above everything else. The explanation is left open for discussion.

Stimuli to Change in Native Ways

Their realization of this need to know the ways of the majority as a principal means to secure their survival has become a driving force from within.

All things or forces outside their own, stimulate them to keep up or progress may be considered standard daily stimuli, among them: external: external trade, religion, media (especially radio), education government programs, Mindanao Highlanders Association, etc.

Ata Reactions to Certain External Forces

They recognized the advantages of roads as necessary to easy access to markets, etc. but these are too  few. Sometimes, there are roads but no transportation. Or if there is, cost is too high.

Masagana Maisan suffers from constraints on both sides: from the Ata side, many are culturally and technically not ready for it. From the government side (BAE), the government technicians would usually come only once, if and when they do, when they introduce the idea.

In one Davao district, the barrio captain blocks the implementation of Samahang Nayon because this would compete with his business of buy-and-sell of agricultural products.

Where schools are available, the levels are limited to either primary or elementary levels. Result: even if anyone is capable of doing higher academic or technical work and ways could be found to send him through, he is forced to stop where the system stops. Higher education elsewhere outside is generally economically too forbidding.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)