Not everyone who was born and lived in Davao has gone to the upland villages where these people dwell. Thus, even as theirs are such humble homes I feel privileged for I have been welcomed and remain welcome there.
Marilog District comprises almost half of the land area of Davao, the mountainous rural parts where indigenous tribes thrive. I am proud to say I’m familiar with these places, having been a constant visitor since 2008. Before that, I have just been going around the areas along the highway, and maybe several kilometers in, but only where there is a friend’s farm or waterfalls.
Before that, I wasn’t sure where the Matigsalugs lived and I didn’t know there were so many sitios out there. I just knew there were people there, somewhere, where the headwaters rush down to the rivers because at one time in the middle 1990s I went up there to talk to some of the tribespeople; only once, and only for very brief talks. I don’t remember having been introduced to a Matigsalug though. There was a very old Manobo lady who said she was already a young lady when the Japanese came. There was an Obo-Manobo woman who talked of their beliefs and practices in the olden days. There were others, but these two women were the ones who dwelled in my memory because of the stories they shared. That trip was not repeated… Until 2008.
Matigsalug means “of the river”, salug meaning river. They have called the banks of Davao River where it meets its tributaries, up there over yonder, their home.
In the olden days, they said, the different tribes in the borderlands of Davao, Bukidnon, Lanao, and Cotabato knew they have reached Matigsalug land when they behold Mondo. Mondo is a hill sticking out like a ragged cone among the meandering slopes of Marilog. The regular folk who know their way around call it Mondo Hill, but the Matigsalugs would quietly say, Mondo already means a hill.
Since having met them — and seeing how they continue to struggle for better access to basic services and to craft better lives for their children by taking care of the remnants of what was once their bountiful forests, to bring back a vestige of how they lived in harmony with every creature and creation around them as their ancestors lived, before loggers desecrated these mountains and left balding slopes that can no longer sustain a healthy community– my respect for them grows, everyday.
I’ve sat with them and have been awed by their stories. I drank coffee with them and listened to their problems. I’ve eaten boiled bananas with them and heard them think up of ways to improve their lot. But most of all I have shook hands with them and they never fail to give a welcoming smile.
These are but a few of them… my brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers… and yes, my children.