Tribal Filipinos Resist Change (fwd)

Cliff Sloane (cesloane@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
Sat, 29 Oct 1994 00:08:01 -0500

southern Philippines, 70,000 Tibolis are struggling to maintain
their colorful tribal identity against the encroachment of lowland
For centuries, the Tibolis, animists who worship trees and
mountains and practice infant marriage, have lived on the shores of
Lake Sebu in South Cotabato province, 650 miles southeast of
Now, lowlanders are moving into the area to enjoy its cool
climate, waterfalls and lakes.
Newcomers arrive with land titles, a concept foreign to the
Tibolis, whose language has no words for ``hunger'' or ``buying''
but includes one for ``unending happiness.''
Instead of resisting the lowlanders, the gentle Tibolis simply
pack up and move deeper into the mountains.
Most of them live in isolated shacks made of bamboo and nipa
straw. They grow corn, potatoes and cassava on tiny plots and fish
and gather wild bananas and other plants to supplement their diet.
The Tibolis' two little towns, Lake Sebu and Tiboli, have a few
foodshops, market stalls and dry goods stores.
Tiboli leaders, especially the very few with university
educations, accept that change is inevitable.
``We have to maintain our culture,'' said Samuel Loco, mayor of
Lake Sebu town. ``We have to keep the good and discard the bad.''
One example of the latter is infant marriage, often before a
child's first birthday.
Loco, 33, said his father paid a dowry of eight horses, two
water buffalos and antique jewelry for a bride when he was only 1
year old.
``My father thought he had secured my future,'' Loco said. ``He
said he could die in peace because he knew I had a wife. I didn't
even know I had a wife until my first year in high school. We were
like playmates.''
After his parents died, Loco and his wife agreed to forget the
marriage and go their own ways.
Since Philippine law allows the nation's approximately 40 tribes
to follow their own traditions, Tiboli men can marry several women
as long as they can afford the dowry.
Ronnie de la Pena, a member of the Tiboli town council, said
some men have up to 13 wives and dozens of children.
Tibolis can also opt to settle disputes by tribal law if both
parties agree. This often requires ``trial by ordeal.'' Suspected
thieves, for example, must place their hands in boiling water. If
they can stand the pain, they are declared innocent.
Wakes for the dead can last for a full year. Bodies are placed
in crocodile-shaped, wooden coffins and hung from a tree during the
One aspect of their culture the Tibolis want to protect is their
intricate, colorful beadwork, weaving and handmade brass jewelry
famous throughout the country.
Little is known of Tiboli history. Spanish colonizers made
little effort to penetrate Tiboli areas during the 350 years they
ruled the Philippines.
After the Americans seized the Philippines in 1898, Christian
missionaries ventured in and converted many Tibolis to Protestant
In the 1970s, the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities
began the first systematic study of the Tibolis and other minority
groups. But the office was abolished in 1983 and many of the
records were lost, stolen or destroyed in a series of fires.
Lack of an identity as a distinct people is one of the problems
tribal leaders face in defending their culture and land. Isolated
for so long, the Tibolis never felt threatened.
To inculcate a sense of cultural preservation, the local
government requires employees to wear native costumes every Monday.
Loco and others believe that if the Tibolis are to survive, they
must also learn modern ways, such as medicine, sanitation and
modern agriculture.
``I want appropriate development for my people,'' Loco said. ``I
want everybody to live and survive in peaceful co-existence. I want
Tibolis to be really self-reliant.''