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!