Celebrating love and diversity among indigenous youth

Celebrating love and diversity among indigenous youth

Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM)

This pandemic has inevitably changed the way we celebrate. Physical gatherings are risky, potential super spreader events where people might catch the virus. The next best thing is to take the celebration online: Zoom parties are the norm these days. And while a virtual celebration is certainly different, we do what we can to stay connected.

Last December, two indigenous youth groups–one from the southern Philippines (Bukidnon, Davao, and Culion) and another from the small village of Chingchuan in Hsinchu County, Taiwan– met online for a Christmas celebration organised by the Jesuits working in indigenous ministry. Despite the geographical distance, language barriers and technical difficulties, the youthful energy and spirit of sharing pervaded over the gathering. As Conference President Fr Tony Moreno SJ noted in his message to the group, it was “the only network within the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific to have a Christmas celebration”. This was a true example of how the joy and enthusiasm of the youth, no matter what obstacles they face in life, cannot be extinguished. As Abegelle, a Food Technology student from Bukidnon State University put it, they are “divided by distance, united by the love and hope of our tribes”.

Fr Ambrosio Flores SJ, coordinator for the Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM), and Fr Barry Martinson SJ, a pioneer in this ministry and parish priest in Chingchuan, steered the participants to put together a programme centred on sharing–their identities as indigenous youth, as students, and as talented young people with bright futures ahead. From the livestream in Malaybalay, students from the seven tribes of Bukidnon were resplendent in their multicoloured traditional clothing. Representatives from the Tagbanua tribe in the island of Culion and the Ateneo Lumad Students Association from Davao also participated.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, the lively group of Ayatal youth–all in high spirits from celebrating their Christmas party in the village church earlier that same evening–were bundled up in winter clothing, some wearing Santa hats and holiday accessories. They all had the chance to introduce themselves to each other. Fr Martinson emphasised using song and dance in the programme, which is universally appealing and easy to translate, as English was not spoken by everyone. The presentations were as diverse as the performers: from indigenous Ayatal songs, to traditional Filipino kundiman (love song) accompanied by acoustic guitar, from original rock ballads with full band to classic Christmas carols–and of course, dancing–the spirit of sharing their talents and expressions of joy for the season were palpable.

JCIM has done over two decades of apostolic work with communities all over Asia Pacific– aside from the Philippines and Taiwan, also Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia–and continue to accompany the youth, with a focus on integral formation. As indigenous youth often have to struggle with things other young people take for granted and face obstacles like poverty, discrimination, and maintaining their indigenous identity, it is important to accompany and encourage them and provide opportunities for growth.

In Bukidnon, the Kapawa hu Paglaum College Scholarship and Formation Programme supports indigenous students as they strive for “selfgovernance and empowerment, and political, social, economic, and religious inclusion through accompaniment”.

In Chingchuan, while the youth all have the opportunity and resources to complete their education, they are also exposed to the arts through the artistic centres in the village, including the indigenously-designed primary school, a forest arts and crafts village, and the Catholic Church with its mosaics, murals, and stained glass. Thus equipped, they now have to find a way to “advance in society while sustaining and developing their own distinctive culture, to keep their faith in the face of a materialistic society, to preserve their characteristic warmth and hospitality with increasing tourism and opportunities to make money, to find meaning in life when so much has been given to them.” Today, Fr Martinson says, the Ayatal youth “are proud to be what they are. They have come a long way, and it has not been without struggle.”

The gifts from the JCIM online gathering were not in the form of material things. But the participants took home insights with far greater value. “The Christmas encounter made me believe that there is still a thriving fervour of love within the indigenous youth towards one’s tribe, one’s community,” shared Ereca, an agriculture student from the Manobo tribe. Needheart, a sociology major from Bukidnon State University, said: “Sharing with the indigenous youth across Asia Pacific is one of the most memorable moments for me. It reminded me of God’s love for us that is undeniably unending and big.”

If you would like to help the students through the Kapawa hu Paglaum College Scholarship and Formation Programme, please visit this link for more information.

Religious Teachings on Ecological and Human Sustainability

Religious Teachings on Ecological and Human Sustainability
(Indigenous Religion)

Norma M. Gonos
2018 Asian Youth Academy/Asian Theology Forum
Mary Ridge Retreat House. August 4, 2018


Ing kabisibus aw kadayudu ng al-law!
A Blissful and peaceful day!

I come from one of the most colonized indigenous communities in the Philippines, where foreign religion, is a major imprint left by the colonizers. They arrived at the time the faith and spirituality of our ancestors, was strongly and deeply rooted in our connection to land, nature and environment. But their influences, the presence of the dominant and oppressive cultures subverted indigenous knowledge and caused intense cultural disintegration and desolation of indigenous communities.

Their large economic “wants” had wantonly disturbed the forests and its ecology, that some of us cannot anymore tell the cosmic relationship of our economic needs, from our traditional lifeways. All these had also resulted to remarkable loss of our religious leaders, the Balyans, whose task is to transmit and nurture this traditional environmental knowledge, and the rituals accompanying the said knowledge. This is not to mention the continuing loss and diminishing ecological diversity, that has deeply affected our interconnectedness with the environment and Magbabaya, the God of the universe, and the giver of life. But to this day, despite the fact, that some had embraced the religion of the colonizers, the indigenous peoples have remained rooted to our beliefs systems.

Affirming our indigenous faith and Ecology

We continue to strongly affirm, that not all our traditional or indigenous knowledge, have gone with the continuing disregard of our forests and ecology, or that, our environmentalism and ecological homelands are extinguished or vanished. That even with our wounded environment, our communities remained connected with our beliefs, our indigenous faith. These are as varied as the number of ethno-linguistic groups, yet, we have one accord that bound us all together and that is–we all are stewards of God’s creations, whatever name we call our God, in our case, the Magababaya. These beliefs are entwined with our relationship with environment and ecology.

So that, we care for it so much as part of our life. For how could we not? It sustains life of the entire race to thrive, and live on to this day, albeit the failure of the forerunners of development aggressions, to recognize, or that they continue to humiliate, the sustainable interactions of indigenous people and the forests, the land, the ecology and the environment. Yes, we may survive outside the environment, but part of our life will be meaningless and empty. Our cultural integrity will no longer be intact and whole, it will be disconcerted, will be disconnected, and life will fall apart. So our beliefs systems and interconnectedness with the environment and its ecology, is not simply for conservationist’s point of view, but rather, it is our traditional and indigenous lifeways, because these are essential to our cultural integrity, and it makes us whole and intact as community.

Teachings of our Faith and spirituality As a respectful race, we ask permission even of unseen creatures. We recognize two good spirits—Mansilatan and Badla (father and son), and two bad spirits Pundaognon and Malimbong (man and wife); and the bad and evil one below the earth is tal’lagbusaw. So we are taught not to destroy their dwelling in the forests, in the rivers, in the sacred and ritual grounds, and below the earth just beyond the depth of a graveyard. So that bad spirits will not disturb us. For them to shun away from us, we should respect these dwellings and economic activities must not disturb them. We always ask permission from the spirits based on “needs” or when we use the grounds we believe they live. Anything that is beyond the depth of the graveyard belongs to tal’lagbusaw, who will castigate the transgressors.

We are taught that humans do not transgress the grounds below the depth of the graveyard, and respect where spirits on earth dwell, so we do not suffer castigation. That even gold is watched by the spirits in the core of the earth.
We ask gamawgamaw, the spirit who watches the river when we do fishing, so we get only what we need, to allow the water bounties to flourish. We ask puwanak, for good hunt but hunters must share with the community and other families in a form of andog, that is a way of conserving the bounties of the forest. We ask dagaw, the spirit that dwells and watches the farm, and offer tamo to the kuwaaw, the bird spirit, not to send famine and food scarcity. We call on the goddess of art, the tagamaling, to give the weaver the intelligence to reflect the designs in their luwang–a dagmay design serving as insignia of the clan.

The role that my faith play in the sustainability of life

We believe we do not own the land because it outlives us. We care for the forests, nature and environment because we nurture being stewards of these God’s beautiful creations. And as such, we only get what we need to survive. Anything taken out of need leads lead us to gaba (bad karma). Caring for the earth and the environment helps us maintain our cosmic relations, which is vital for cultural and economic activities.

Our ancestors taught us that good and bad spirits relate and respect human beings, based on how we relate with the land, the trees, the rivers and the forests. And respect means proper use and conservation—that way we would able to sustain them for the present and future generations. Our race will thus vanish if we do not care for them or properly use what the earth could offer. It is thus, our responsibility to take care of them, to conserve them, as the only way to sustain each other, so that the race shall continue to thrive and flourish.

Nurturing the teachings of my faith

We have highest regard for the teachings of our kaompowan (ancestors). We nurture the teachings of the balyan and kal’lal’laysan (religious or spiritual leaders). We heed the signs of spirits and deities, and we look up to one Supreme Being, our Magbabaya. Whatever our kaompowan told us remains in our hearts and are followed, even if some of us have embraced Christian faith. Our Balyans may have slowly diminished in number, but we remain with our inevitably special connection with the environment.

We continue to heed and be mindful of the teachings that we must replace what we get from the earth. Replacement is best expressed by allowing the earth to rest and regenerate, by having cycles of crops and farm areas. Our interconnectedness with all forms of life in the forest, the land, the rivers, the entire environment, the cosmic energy, the ecology– all these emanate from our faith and spirituality. This sustains our role and responsibility to preserve, develop, conserve and protect the land, nature, and environment.

We believe what befalls the earth, befalls the race. The earth and everything in it also defines man’s relationship with Magbabaya, the giver of life, the Almighty (Yagbaya), the One who rainbows the sky (yagbal’langaw sang pagawanan), the One that look upon us from heaven (yanguob sang tiwayan). We believe that Magababaya watches over the pagawanan (heaven), the mandal’luman the earth, and those below it, the sal-ladan. No one escapes from Magbabaya.

Dagdagu na pasalamat!