Practice of ‘balyan’ among Mindanao’s lumads vanishing

BARANGAY ANDAP, NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews / 17 Jan) – The practice of “balyan” or spiritual leader among lumads or indigenous people in Mindanao is barely sought these days, according to a professor at the Davao City-based University of the Philippines in Mindanao.


Myfel Joseph Paluga, of UPM’s Department of Social Sciences, witnessed morning last Monday a ritual of the Mandaya tribe led by a female balyan, Masandak Silat, held at the center of this village, which was now filled with boulders after it was washed away by landslides and flashfloods brought by typhoon Pablo.


Attended by tribal leaders and members of Mandaya and Mansaka tribes, among others, from the Municipal Tribal Council and Tagum City Tribal Council, the ritual aimed to end the “curse” brought by Pablo and reconcile with nature and “Magbabaya,” or the creator.


Paluga said in an interview the old indigenous religion, wherein balyan is embedded, has naturally declined, given the expanding Christianization in varied forms.


He noted that UP’s anthropology field school conducted a study about the mixed practices of indigenous and Christian views among Manobo balyans of Agusan two years ago.


Based on the study, he said the significance of balyans among tribes depends on the location of the indigenous tribes.


Special occasions only


“There are few areas in the interiors wherein the role of balyans is functioning well. In other areas, their role is only minimal, like the forms of ritual remain but the role was changed into almost a performance for special occasions only,” Paluga told MindaNews.


He cited the balyans of the Matigtalomo Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, which, according to him is “wrongly called Ata Manobo,” as among those who are still functioning well.


Nestor Masinaring, a Mandaya, who was one of the tribal leaders who conceptualized the ritual, said in an interview that his tribe has some 21 balyans left as most of the elderly ones in Mindanao’s east coast are already dead.


Noting that he is actively encouraging the lumads to preserve their values, traditions and customary laws, he said the exact number of remaining balyans is yet to be determined.


He said they had started to pass the spiritual practices and other tribal traditions to the young generation through summer workshops, but were stopped due to various reasons.


Datu Carlito Maligamon Alejo of Mangguwangan tribe from Tagum City, who also witnessed the ritual in Andap, said most tribe members have barely practiced their traditions, including seeking balyans’ practice.


“In the past, our balyans used to warn us from going to dangerous places,” he said in Cebuano.


He cited that the Mangguwangan tribe, whose population is highly concentrated in Montevista, Compostela Valley, among other areas in the Davao Region, has only 10 remaining balyans.


“That’s why we have been encouraging our members to continue practicing our customs,” he said, adding that they have to promote the indigenous peoples’ rights stipulated in Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.


He said the tribal leaders are training more balyans among their younger generations.


He added that balyans can only pass on their skills to their children, and the latter have the prerogative whether or not to accept the responsibility.


Integrated in learning system


Masinaring said at present, the traditions, spiritual practices, values and customary laws of the tribe are being integrated in the learning system of schools established by the Silangang Dapit sa Habagatang Sidlakang Mindanao, Inc. (Sildap) and other schools with similar concerns.


Allan Delideli, executive director of the Sildap, a non-government organization based in Tagum City, said tribal spiritual practices are a part of the Sildap grade school curriculum.


The Sildap put up three schools for the tribes, particularly in Sitio Danawan, Barangay Manurigao, New Bataan, and Sitio Calinogan, Barangay Casoon, Monkayo in Compostela Valley, and Sitio Bangkawan, Barangay Binancian in Asuncion in Davao del Norte.


He cited that the lessons are about the importance of tribal ways of worship; processes of becoming a balyan; the tools of a balyan; kinds of ritual such as planting, harvesting, healing, wedding, baptism, hunting and food gathering, among others.


He said the strategy of teaching is to require pupils to participate or attend community activities like the ritual and celebration.


Holding a ritual is also practiced before starting a school activity, such as opening of an establishment or school, graduation and festival, he added.




Masinaring said the country’s current educational system has disenfranchised the lumads, noting that the decline of tribal traditional and spiritual practices is one of the problems among tribes.


“If the institution is sincere in upholding the traditions and self-determination of lumads, these should be integrated in the educational system,” he said in Cebuano.


He said they would not allow their young generations to be alienated from their values, traditions and customary laws.


Masinaring cited that entitling someone as “datu” or tribal chieftain has been abused by the state as such title is supposed to be community-oriented.


A tribal chieftain has to have enough wisdom to settle disputes among tribe members and have other values of a community leader, he stressed.


He said traditionally, choosing a tribal chieftain has to undergo a process, including a ritual, and is not just designated to any person as what happened in most cases.


Masinaring added that upholding tribal traditions and self-determination has to emanate from the lumads themselves, but some of them have become instruments of the state of cultural and political corruption. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)