While I was in Mindanao I wanted to get a glimpse of life in the countryside. The Pentecostal pastor above, who had helped to organize our peace symposium, kindly offered to show me around. Bukidnon province is spectacular. Rich soil and lots of rain make it absolutely lush, and thanks to its remoteness, steep mountainsides, and the indigenous presence, even a bit of rain forest is intact. Lots of the vegetables and fruits we eat in Siquijor are imported from Bukidnon. So are lots of the Del Monte pineapples eaten all over the world.
A few hours by bus got us to Malaybalay, where we took a little break in the park.
We went on to the village of Bangcud by jeepney and a homemade trike.
I could live in Bangcud.
The Datu (tribal chieftain) of the Higaonon tribe was away but we spoke for a couple of hours with his wife and others at their community center, noted on the banner below to be the “Office of the Integrated White Tape Bolo Batallion”. Their paramilitary goes by that name because its primary weapon is a bolo (machete) with white tape wrapped around the handle.
The Datu’s wife is strong, smart, and charming. She explained that the tribe is large and scattered around much of the island. In fact, as she sees it, the entire island belongs to them. I told her I had spoken with many groups, some of them Muslim, who claimed parts of the island as their ancestral domain, and asked her what could be done about that. She explained that long ago their chieftain and the Muslim chieftain met together and resolved the issue. Each placed a pile of rocks on the ground. The Higaonon pile began to grow and the Muslim pile did not, so both agreed that the island belonged to the Higaonon alone.
Her part of the tribe is centered in the mountains a few hours walk from Bangcud. Men there hunt and women grow crops and forage. Many have now come to the village in search of a better life, but it is still difficult.
She said that what the tribe needs most is a school.
We talked a lot about the magical powers of herbs, a huge magnetic and radioactive tree that transmits power by sending out particles that you can see and feel, and the special potency of snake oil.
I’ m invited back for a gathering of her tribe and six others on Christmas day. One of their celebratory drinks is wine infused with the body of a Philippine cobra. They promise me a taste.
We had dinner that night with one of the Pentecostal families. The man of the house was in the army hand had recently been shot. Sitting by his open casket in their living room, trying to explain borderline personality disorder to the pastor while we were surrounded by men wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying Armalites, was one of my stranger life experiences. We spent the night with another family in his flock.
I slept oddly well.