EIGHT hundred Lumad arrived in Manila on Monday, October 26. They have traveled from different parts of Mindanao for Manilakbayan 2015, an annual “pilgrimage” so to speak, during which they bring their stories to Manila, demanding justice for their dead, and peace in their communities.
In the past they would go straight to camp at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, which puts them in closer proximity to pertinent government offices at which they stage rallies. This year, they first held camp at the University of the Philippines Diliman—thank heavens for Chancellor Michael Tan. The past week was about a UP community welcoming the Lumad by giving them the time and space to speak freely about their lives, about their struggles, about their fears and demands.
The challenge of conversation
But of course this is easy to dismiss as a political enterprise and nothing else. After all, the Lumad are fighting for their land, their right to their homes and communities, their right to peace, and their fight for justice.
These might seem like big political words for the Manileño, especially for a generation that tends to think they are beyond politics and issues, because they do what they can for others in many ways including charity and social entrepreneurship ala Tony Meloto.
But how often do we speak to those who need our help? How often, if at all, do we look them in the eye and have a conversation with them about their lives without the frame of charity or social enterprise?
The Lumad are here and it is an opportunity to actually and truly engage with communities that we studied in school, whose products we like to bring to Manila, whose music has been appropriated into “world music.” They are here and are ready to have a conversation with you about their culture and their ways.
Yes, that conversation is inevitably tied to the violence and displacement they are experiencing in their homes at present, but this is the conversation we need to have with them as well.
The challenge of culture
We walked into the Lumad Camp not knowing anyone there, and with no organizational affiliations. On Thursday, as I walked through the camp, I realized no one knew me – I wasn’t even wearing my Manila Times ID – and it was fine. People were friendly and willing to speak; the camp was also designed for easy navigation.
A tent that houses the Museo
Lumad is the first stop one should make: it’s like a crash course on Lumad culture, with artifacts that are not encased in glass cases, but which are actually made and used by the Lumad, carried by the Lumad from their communities to Manila, if only to make us understand them better.
Alongside baskets and accessories, animal traps and clothing, and various other instruments, the walls of the tent are filled with photographs of the Lumad in their element. Here they are shown dancing and performing rituals, they are shown living as normally as we do.
Yet the difference is clear: the narrative of Lumad lives is embroiled in the violence that they are subjected to as a people, as their lands become nothing but sites for big mining corporations and large plantations. These are lands that cradle their community and history, their creativity and their becoming. These are indigenous peoples (IP) lands that they have inherited from their ancestors, that they care for and treasure so as to hand it down to the next generation.
These are lands that allow them to weave the most beautiful clothes, and make the most wonderful accessories—the kind that is sold in fancy bazaars in Manila, where the elite buy what they might call ‘authentic’ Filipiniana and indigenous tela. These lands cradle their rhythm and music, the kind introduced to us by Joey Ayala and Bayang Barrios via Bagong Lumad in the 90s; the kind that we go back to whenever we would like to invoke our rootedness in dance and performance.
The challenge to Manila’s cultural workers
I do not question the difficulty of deciding whether or not to engage with the issue of the Lumad at this point in time: we feel we do not know enough, we fear that we might be getting into something that is so political, we risk our own political stand—or lack thereof.
But the challenge to us in Manila, especially the youth who speak of and invoke cultural dynamism and creative collaboration all the time, is to go beyond the politics and start seeing people.
Because there is much to be learned at the Lumad Camp about our common creativities and stories, and there are many ways to speak with the Lumad men and women and children. There is the language of creativity for example, as a way to tell stories, and maybe deal with the trauma that the Lumad have experienced in their own homes and communities.
There are artists who have volunteered to do workshops with the Lumad (Bebang Siy, J. Pacena, Avie Felix, Mansy Abesamisa—I heart you!), as well as an artist organization that has pledged 100 books for the children—complete with storyteller upon delivery (thank you Gigo Alampay, Abner Delina of CANVAS!). Dong Abay came and spoke to the Lumad, danced a little, sang for them, too.
These people remind us that there are many ways to help, and sometimes all it takes is to refuse to be apathetic. The challenge for us in Manila—Gen X-er and millennial, writer and artist and cultural worker, National Artists, too!—is to go beyond ourselves and find ways to creatively engage and artistically collaborate with the Lumad who are here.
Bring beads and do beadwork with the Lumad women; donate coco lumber and learn how to carve indigenous instruments with the Lumad men; draw and write and sing and dance with the Lumad children. Teach and learn at the Lumad Camp in Liwasang Bonifacio—you have nothing to lose and much to gain. And for once, we won’t be consuming the Lumad culture—their weaving and baskets, their music and rhythm—blindly. For once and finally: we will attach names and faces to these products, which can only make these even more valuable.
You’ve got nothing to lose but your chains.
* * *
The Lumad Camp continues at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila (thank you Mayor Erap Estrada!). For projects and collaborations, or just conversations, with the Lumad email me at email@example.com.