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Dissenting Datus

By Louise Dumas

The first time I met Datu Mandayhon, I offered to buy him slippers. His fellow datus laughed good-naturedly at my proposal. His feet resonated their relationship with the earth. With a rubber between his feet and the earth, he might even lose his bearing and stumble, I was told.

Several years later, I met Datu Mandayhon again to interview him about the evacuation of their community after their members were attacked by fellow Talaandig emboldened by their ability to kill without reprehension as long as they were doing it in the pretext of going after ‘rebels.’ He was wearing slippers then. They had been encamped for some weeks already, the paved roads merciless to his bare soles.

I still remember his soft-spoken plea accompanied by his toothless smile. He was asking us, urban dwellers for help because he no longer knew what to do with their errant members who stopped following their customary law.

“This is the first time our community has seen violence,” he had said in their language. “Maybe you can help us.”

Violence came with the lowlanders’ interest in their resources. Their attackers were backing interests in mining and plantations along the Pantaron range and the nearby communities. So, he thought to come down to ask the lowlanders for an insight to their problem. But what help can we give when it is our system that is destroying theirs?

Datu Mampadayag was another fond memory. I interviewed him for my research piece with DeJusticia. I asked him about the common narrative of the great deluge among the Lumad. He replied, grinning, that he was not that old to have witnessed that. What he could tell me about, however, were the real floods, floods that were murkier and took longer to drain, that were happening in their lands now, years after they allowed the logging companies to destroy their mountains.

What he did tell me about were the lessons they learned when they allowed the plunder of their ancestral lands. Money came in, but it diminished slowly with their trees. What had been left were the muds.

Datu Mampadayag was so easy to chat with, he was all the time cracking jokes. He was like a little child, his eyes always hinting at a mischief. But eventually, the gravity of what he was sharing got through his giggles and smiles. Here was a datu who at that time, 2015, was already being pressured to leave their community because of the threats to his life, but who refused to do so, knowing no other life but the one in his forefathers’ lands.

He had relied on blood relations with the other Banwaons who had ‘taken the other side’ – the faction that sided with the proposal to introduce mining companies into their lands. Apparently, for some Lumads, blood is not thick enough against the promise of wealth and power.

I never saw Datu Mampadayag again after that interview. He did make true his promise to give me a summarized history of their struggles. He was thoughtful enough to take the time to ask someone from their community to take his dictations and send the notes to me.

Every time I see accusations levied against these indigenous leaders, I get personally offended. What right do these people – the state, its cult of supporters – have to malign such noble and humble people? The Lumads have simply been living their lives in communion with nature, their ancestors, and their traditions our material standards of living could never comprehend. If we could not understand why they insist on their terms of living, the most we could do is respect them.

Whenever I get the privilege to witness a gathering of Lumad leaders, I always looked for Datu Mandayhon. What has become of him? His community had gone down again once to protest the recurring military operations in their areas, but he was not among the families we assisted. He had preferred to take the refuge of the forest where he was more in touch with nature. He preferred to take the risk of getting killed than to slowly die in the confines of concrete and cement.

Source: Squeeze

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