200 Higaonons reconnect for protection of sacred site

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/ 2 December) Nearly 200 tribal leaders of the Higaonon tribe from eight tulugans (tribal halls) in four provinces have gathered at Barangay Kalabugao in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon to reestablish ties, assert their cultural identity and to protect their sacred site.

The tribal leaders, who came from Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental, gathered in the village from November 25 to 28 primarily to revive the protection of their sacred ground called “Pigtabidan,” which is considered “the safe keeper of the tribe’s history and its customary laws.”

The gathering was convened by Higaonon tribal chieftains Datu Manbinayhon Marcelo Lumaya, the Insaan of Kalabugao, Datu Mantangkilan Cumatang, head claimant of the Agtulawon, Mintapod, Higaonon Cumadon ancestral domain, and Datu Manbunayan Lito Sinhayan.

The three tribal leaders had called for a ritual and consensus building activity among the Higaonons to be held in Kalabugao “in response to the ongoing quarrying activity inside their sacred ground.”

Dominador Decano, a non-government worker who helped organized the event in the remote village in Impasug-ong, confirmed that quarry activities there was one of those that triggered the gathering.

The four-day gathering ended with the drafting of an agreement among the Higaonon leaders asserting their rights and seeking recognition from the government and other institutions about their sacred ground, Decano told MindaNews via telephone.

Part of the agreement was a decision to require construction firm Ulticon Builders Inc. (UBI) to seek a free and prior informed consent (FPIC) before it can proceed with its quarrying activity in the area for a road project connecting Kalabugao to Agusan del Sur, he said.

Decano said it came out during the gathering that the firm reportedly operated a quarry in Pigtabidan, a Higaonon sacred ground in the headwaters of Upper Pulangi.

“If the firm resumes operation, they will be asked to seek an FPIC and to relocate their quarry outside the sacred ground,” he added, quoting tribal leaders who signed the agreement.

The gathering was also conducted to “awaken and to reconnect the history of the Pigtabidan.”

According to the tribal leaders’ statement, the sacred ground shaped the tribe’s history and customary laws in the Bungkatol ha Bulawan (golden rule of the tribe).

They also wanted that the present and future generations will recognize the history and customary laws of the Higaonons and must be protected through “people’s vigilance and utmost care.”

Decano said the tribal leaders decided to organize a follow up gathering next year to sustain the initiative.

In a press release before the event, organizers said they plan to come up with a “unified plan and agreement covering the eight tulugans,” and to pursue regular consultations, implementation of plans and agreements to foster collaboration amongst the cultural authorities of the Higaonons. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)