REVIEW: This is all about us as a people, who we once were and what we have become

Book: Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging For The Indigenous Wellspring
Author: Karl M. Gaspar, CSsR
Published by t
he Claretian Communications, Inc. and the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples
Online book launch on March 10 at 3 p.m.
Register here:

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 March) — If you are looking for an exhaustive inter-disciplinary scholarly work about the Philippines that promises not to be too boring and tedious in length, look no more.  Handumanan almost reads like a story even if it clearly is a product of the rigors of research, the tenacious industry of the author and his mindfulness in balancing “the light and the shadows” of the legacy left to us by colonial Christianity and Western invasions. For this is not only about indigenous peoples; this is all about us as a people, who we once were and what we have become.

This book is about remembrance and yet even if one thinks s/he has gained enough on what there is to know about Philippine history and culture and just needs brushing up, think again. One might know for the first time upon reading this book that before the spoken word, singing was a practice of our ancestors (they were all indigenous, as there was no such thing as majority peoples – minority peoples, we must remember that). And that there were more than just a handful of sporadic local revolts against Spanish colonialism, in fact at least 200. And that Magbabaya, a Lumad name for the Supreme Deity, was also the Tausugs’ before they embraced Islam.

Would a further study on the fact that there are similar Tausug and Agusanun terms shed light on this, perhaps? And that the tasteless diet of Europeans started it all. Well, even if we would have realized that before (one recipe article mentioned it anyway), one cannot but think of “What Ifs” like if Spain had its own endemic spices, would we have been a prouder and richer people in most aspects? This does sound like a stretch, but Davao scholar Mac Tiu’s remark that the almost 400 years of Spanish and American colonization “beheaded us” as a people feels like much too steep a price to pay just because of a very distant foreign people’s need to perk up their bland diet and hunger for riches, and while at it, thought they might as well spread their brand of Christianity.

I am saying this because as Handumanan expounds for us, not all scholars agree that the Spanish conquerors’ main aim was also to gain adherents to the Catholic religion besides gold. Thus some would insist it was for “God, Gold and Glory,” but others would replace that with “Gold, Gold, and Glory,” as the author tells us.

And even if one agrees with the cited statements of Coleman, Gutierrez, Villaroel, Phelan, Robles, and Coleman, Dela Costa that the colonial Christianity project had its virtues like raising our people’s standards of living (by whose standards, we must always ask) ~ and even the “unintended” positive legacy of having “a common legacy,” as posited by Rodil, the price of colonial Christianity has been and continues to be steep not only in terms of its complicity with exploitative economic policies that continues to persist hundreds of years later, but for its effects on our indigenous soul. In the latter for example, the shaming of our own indigenous treasures of practices and beliefs. A Bagobo woman only a few years ago told me she was taught by a fellow Bagobo who became a pastor to regard the myth of their underworld deity as evil as she is the equivalent of Satan. Such a simplistic yet wounding imprint into the indigenous psyche must indeed be fully redressed!

As the author concludes: “A chauvinist-type of Christianity arose from this process of demonization which impacted on the people’s well-being and sense of harmony with nature and would eventually negate the value of indigenous knowledge, skills, practices and spirituality.” Indeed, for the IPs, “the environment is the hospital, market, school and place for recreation” as it is also their “cathedral” as one young Lumad leader once explained to a group of nuns. This wound festered in the fact that until now, Lumads are pitted against each other not only in the realm of religion but also politics and economics e.g. the pro-mining where “provisions and weapons are assured for supporters” and the anti-mining advocates, as Handumanan states. How can such wounding originate from and before the Glory of God?

In this book of remembrances, we are reminded that our ancestors were all indigenous. They were not just mountain dwellers as they are now stereotyped, but lowlanders and seafarers. There is much to be proud of in the ways of our ancestors and IPs, like win-win governance, the privileging of women in religious (babaylan) as well as political leadership roles (babaihon, boi, ba-e). In win-win governance, I am also reminded of the work of Stuart Schlegel, which included how he witnessed the “elegant” manner by which a Teduray community’s council of leaders decided upon the fate of a couple who violated customary rules in marriage to avert trouble.

We are reminded that there will always be heroes even as there will always be traitors amongst us; that we may be a very hospitable people but we can also unleash the fierceness in our indigenous warrior spirit, as the stories of Diego and Gabriela Silang (who, I would learn in further studies, were in fact well-bred in middle class ways and not just the fierce rebels they are usually portrayed), to the resistance of Moros and Lumads against the invaders ~ show us.

We are reminded that Christian men, whether clothed in robes or in uniform, are not necessarily virtuous in the practice of Christian tenets and can actually be in collusion with the hegemony of subjugation, whilst invoking the will of God.

Handumanan also reinforces the lesson that in any study of religion or spirituality, the Filipino must be“the reference point” and “standard”; this is also referred to by scholars like Enriquez, Obusan, and Reforeal as “indigenous knowledge (systems)/wisdom of the Filipino.” Such may be achieved only through the use of hiyang  /kinaiyang pamamaraan (indigenous / Filipino-appropriate approach), or “culturally relevant, as well as scientific” approaches or methodologies.

Marxists haven’t been spared when the author privileges Lovett’s contention that “Marx saw nothing wrong with industrialization and its limitless drive to maximization; rather, it and it alone was to free us from a life of misery. But the truth is that as human beings we are intrinsically related to all other human beings and to the rest of the universe,” a vital teaching of Indigenous Belief Systems.

There are a few lines and terms in the book that may be better re-phrased or expounded like the following: “Gender of course was very much a reality as practically all the colonizers were male.” In the use of syncretism, I agree with some scholars who choose to use hybrid rather than syncretistic as the former does not sound pejorative for any one culture or belief system involved in that process nor patronizing for the one portrayed as inferior. The use of Teduray instead of Tiruray has also been insisted on by Tedurays themselves as well as scholars like Schlegel who eventually corrected his own use of Tiruray.

Otherwise, Filipinos owe a debt of appreciation and depth of gratitude to Karl Gaspar, who adroitly weaves for us the groundbreaking works of the likes of Scott, Ileto, Cruz, Rodil, and Corpuz, just to name a few, thus making it so much easier for us to remember ~ or perhaps to know and appreciate for the first time ~ the sterling characteristics of our ancestors and indigenous peoples. To want to learn from, not only about, the indigenous.

Einstein said that education must not only be about learning the facts but learning how to think. And the Dalai Lama said we must also educate the heart, not only the mind. Handumanan fits that bill of the cultivation of both the cognitive and affective aspects of one’s being. Because lest we forget, this book is mainly a compassionate and passionate petition ~ a most comprehensive plea one can know thus far ~ for the institutional Catholic church to “ask for forgiveness to our ancestors and their descendants for having committed [the] grievous “sin” of helping “destroy the fabric of a belief system that for centuries held the people’s lives in a symbolic manner that made possible living a most humane, just and compassionate way of life” in both written form and concrete manifestations. And with that atonement, a gratefulness to our IPs for having survived despite, and for retaining the fabric of their Indigenous Belief Systems, no matter how tattered it has become from the colonial sword’s piercings. When that happens, it would be a significant step in the direction of reclaiming the indigenous in our collective unconscious. It is interesting to note that this process of reparation would have been underway were it not for this pandemic. How meaningful is that in its timing? It’s been said all over our planet that in order to prevent future pandemics, we must learn from the indigenous peoples, nay, be indigenous in mind, heart, worldview, and soul once again. May Karl Gaspar’s labor of love of a book be not in vain.

Finally, on a personal note, I am at once mystified, profoundly humbled and made proud by this piece of great work by friend and mentor Karl Gaspar. Bravo!

(Agnes Miclat-Cacayan is the author of ‘The Shaman’s Woman’s Dream: How Can We Worship God Without The Forest?’)