COVID-19 and Culture: Why some Lumads in Bukidnon reject vaccines

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 18 February) —  If Higaonon Datu Bagani Alfredo Lake could have his way, he would not have taken the vaccines against COVID-19. He said there was no need for it as he believes his faith in Magbabaya (Supreme Being) and the spirits will protect him from the disease.

However, as an employee at the water system of Baungon town, Lake was obliged to undergo vaccination. He said he took the first and second doses but not a single booster shot.

As a member of the Kitanglad Council of Elders and chief of the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers in Barangay San Vicente, Baungon, Lake’s travels are frequent. He said he could not get past the checkpoints without a vaccination card when travel restrictions were still stringent.

Datu Bagani Alfredo Lake (L) and Datu Humampang Elito Guinoay (R). Photo taken 30 January 2023 in Barangay Dalwangan, Malaybalay City. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Higaonon Datu Humampang Elito Guinoay of Sitio Lantud, Barangay Saguiaran, Talakag town cited the same reason for his initial refusal to get the vaccine. But like Lake, he was forced to submit to vaccination, excluding the booster shot, if only to avoid problems at checkpoints during trips to Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental or Malaybalay City, also in Bukidnon. 

Talakag is around 30 kilometers from Cagayan de Oro and around 120 kilometers from Malaybalay City via Cagayan de Oro. No public vehicles are using the shorter route via Libona town in Bukidnon.

But Guinoay said that most of his fellow Lumad in Lantud, a village of around 40 families, have been inoculated against the virus.

For his part, Datu Maagsub Alberto Lintikan, also a Higaonon from Barangay La Fortuna, Impasugong town, said he would be violating the batasan (culture) if he got vaccinated.

“Just believe in God and culture, call on the spirits for help. Getting vaccinated means you lack faith in Magbabaya,” he said.

Datu Maagsub Alberto Lintikan (L) during the ritual that opens the meeting of the Kitanglad Council of Elders on 30 January 2023 in Barangay Dalwangan, Malaybalay City. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Lintikan, a ritualist, said all of his four children were not vaccinated but never got infected with COVID-19. In contrast, he added, a niece and her husband, who were both inoculated, died from the virus.

Unlike Lake and Guinoay though, Lintikan chose to refrain from traveling during the pandemic.

He admitted that most of the residents in his sitio, Intavas, availed of the vaccines. But he claimed that some of them who felt they had the symptoms of the virus went to him for treatment.

He said the lockdowns during the pandemic only made the elderly older because they could no longer exercise. “The hunters are better because they are always roaming the forest.”

Higaonon Datu Manlarawan Eduardo Rautraut, a tribal leader of Barangay Tankulan in Manolo Fortich town, cited a different reason for initially refusing the vaccine.

“I’m fit and well despite my age (75). My blood type is O. I’ve read an article that says people with type O blood are resistant to diseases,” he said.

But late last year, Rautraut was forced to get immunized so he could attend the ASEAN Heritage Parks Conference in Indonesia as a representative of Bukidnon’s Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, an ASEAN Heritage Park.

Bai Matin-aw Imelda Tahuran (L) and other female elders of the Talaandig tribe indulge in an animated conversation in Barangay Kibangay, Lantapan, Bukidnon on Saturday (Nov. 20, 2021). MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Bai Tinangkil Herminia Saway, a Talaandig, expressed ambivalence on vaccination. She said she was mainly obliged to submit to it owing to her function as the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative to the barangay council of Songco, Lantapan town. Yet, she clarified that “if it happened that I wasn’t in the government, it would be up to my conscience.”

Saway said she respects those who refuse to be vaccinated on the basis of their belief in culture, but added that “Magbabaya also told us to accept the genuine things made by man. Vaccines are genuine…I know of people who were not vaccinated and died.”

She narrated that for the first three days after getting the vaccine, one of her children closely observed her physical condition. It was only after they became sure that the jab had no negative effect on her that her children decided to be inoculated, too.

In neighboring Barangay Kibangay though, Bai Matin-aw Imelda Tahuran, a Talaandig, remained adamant against the vaccine. She said her fears were reinforced after seeing the appearance of an overseas Filipino worker from Dubai who was found positive for the virus upon arriving home in their place.

“She was vomiting, her eyes were discolored. I was told she was already vaccinated when she got infected with COVID,” Tahuran said.

For Bai Matigpus Purita Lajera, of Barangay Kibenton, Impasugong, everything should be left to God.

“I trust in Magbabaya. Rituals have been offered for me since I was in my mother’s womb. Everything will be fine,” Lajera, now 70, said with a smile. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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