The Indigenous Peoples

Our guide to the IPs was Mary Beth, a full-blooded member of the Blaan tribe. She works in a government program that helps tribal people preserve their way of life, crafts, music and stories. One effort is the School of Living Traditions; another is the VIKAT schools.

On Thursday we visited 2 Blaan villages. At the first, we were greeted by a woman dressed in the traditional garb of colorful sarong, top embroidered with beads, ankle bracelet with bells hanging down, belt also festooned with hanging bells, and beaded hair ornament. She led us to a large open-air enclosure – thatched roof, raised bamboo floor. This shelter was constructed by the women themselves, so that they would have an appropriate place for weaving. Weaving is a communal activity, but yet is done in silence, so that the weaver communes with the materials and the product while she works. There were 5 or 6 large completed woven bamboo mats, in colorful and intricate patterns. Two women were sitting on the floor working on mats-in-progress. Several other village weavers witnessed the scene. All were dressed similarly, and all were open and friendly and pleased to share their work with us, and to welcome us with warm hospitality.

These mats, which are roughly double-bed size, take one woman 2 weeks to make, and sell for $40USD. They would be a major purchase for a western buyer, and could easily command 5-10 times that price at retail.

Then we got back in the cars, drove down rutted dirt roads, forded a small river, and arrived at the 2nd Blaan settlement. As soon as we got out of the cars, we could hear rhythmic drumming. The villagers were welcoming us in the traditional way! We had to ford a creek on foot to reach the village; as we did so the drumming sounded louder and more insistent. At the top of the hill, there was an open-air veranda. One woman was pounding on a bamboo contraption, one was striking the floor, and a third was dancing to the beat. This was in honor of us visitors. This village also has a large shelter for gatherings. About 20 Blaan women were assembled, in traditional dress, along with assorted children. They sat on benches lining the room, and we exchanged greetings. There were babies napping in cloth hammocks, with the oldest women rocking them vigorously. Then a woman entered with a 2-string instrument shaped like a lute. She started playing and singing, and she was quite accomplished. Women arose to dance, some singly, sometimes in groups up to 3. The step is a simple rhythmic beat, the hip movements are subtle, but sometimes become insistent with the demands of the dance, and the hand gestures tell a metaphorical story of birds and beasts and weather. Some of us could not resist trying it, and there are pictures to prove that the Vice Governer and I were among the brave.

Mary Beth says the Blaan songs have never been recorded, and are in danger of being lost forever. I promised to try to contact Smithsonian Folkways Records, and try to interest them in making recordings.

On Friday we set off on the mountain road to Lake Sebu, where the T'Boli tribe lives. We were invited to aperformance by the students at a SIKAT school. There are about 120 students at the country school, in grades 1-6. The five teachers are all ethnic T'Boli. They must be totally dedicated – they only bet paid about $400USD/month! WE were entertained by the 6th graders while the other children watched respectfully. 3 boys played accompaniment, which is dominated by rhythmic drumming. The lead musician, only 12 years old, as a master musician on the drums and also the native flute and bamboo jew's harp. The dances tell folktales – stories of tribal heroes, of demons tormenting mortals, and of the antics of monkeys.