Kemini: Celebrating a bountiful Harvest

Aivy Rose Villarba
Tboli elders doing the rhythmic bayo (manual rice milling) during the second day of the Kemini ritual.

Influenced by the modernized way of living, most people tend to forget the importance of handing down the tradition to the next generations. But the T’bolis of the hinterland town of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato beg to differ.

The T’boli community has practiced once again the Kemini Ritual or the season’s first rice harvest at the green lands of sitio Lamkwa in barangay Klubi last July 31 to August 1, 2015.

The Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (Lasiwwai) president Jenita Eko is thankful that they are able to replicate and document the ritual in order to show it to the T’boli youth.

The T’boli, also known as Tiboli and Tagabili, are indigenous peoples of Mindanao concentrated in South Cotabato.

The T’bolis distinguish themselves from other 17 ethnic groups in Mindanao through their rich practices, colorful clothing, necklace, bracelets and earrings. They are also known for their distinct music, complicated beadwork, intricate t’nalak and beautiful brass ornaments.

Cited in the study of Ateneo de Davao University MA Anthropology student Vinci Bueza, the T’bolis are usually divided into the coastal-dwelling peoples — the Tboli Mohin of Maitum, Kiamba and Maasim, and the mountain-dwelling Tboli S’bu of the municipalities of T’boli and Lake Sebu, in South Cotabato.

The Tboli S’bu are mostly located in the municipality of Lake Sebu.
of the 89,138 hectares total land area of Lake Sebu, 24,404 hectares are set for agriculture, while Klubi stretches to a total land area of 509 hectares. It is the only barangay in Lake Sebu considered “100 percent tribal area.”

Planting and Harvesting

The T’bolis observe separate rituals during the planting/harvesting cycle of rice. First, the planting ritual starts with the erection of the “but b’nek” or the spirit house. It is where the seeds are taken during the planting period.

Moreover, the study of Bueza explained, rice is planted during the full moon in early March.

The study also stressed, excellent harvest is assured when planting is done during the alignment of the moon and “blotik ehek” or the star for planting. It is the proper time to plant rice because the earth will be dry, hence no worms and maya birds will not eat the corn and rice.

Bueza also found out, many of the Tbolis still use traditional methods of planting corn and upland rice, relying mostly on astronomical bodies (sun, moon and stars, specially the blotik éhék) and geographic markers (mountains) to tell the season for planting and harvesting.

Meanwhile, the Kemini refers to the harvest ritual. This year’s harvest was done during the blue moon or the second full moon of the month.

After the harvest Tboli women line up as they are climb down the highlands.

Kemini Ritual

As noted by the records of Lasiwwai, a non-stock, non-profit community based educational learning institution, the Kemini ritual was last practiced 30 years ago.

The Kemini Ritual was divided into two days. First was the muta (harvest) over the green stretch of Datal Bong, Lake Sebu highlands, approximately a two-hour trek from the poblacion.

The rice field is situated at the peak of the mountains, so the people participating in the harvest will have to tread the muddy steep slopes and the grassy plains for around 45 minutes while chewing the “mama,” a mixture of tobacco leaves and betel nut or lime. The mama serves as the energy booster during the harvest.

At the top, wide array of yellow and green shades greets the eye. In the core of the vast rice fields lies the “but b’nek.” Spectators are not allowed to touch or to go near the but b’nek as it is considered as a sacred place.

It is also observed that the rice stalks around the spirit house stand taller compared to the other rice varieties outside the but b’nek circle. “Lumitaw na maganda ang tubo ng palay sa lugar na ginawan ng ritual, wala siyang sakit compared sa ibang areas,” Eko said.

Instead of using masked scarecrows, the T’bolis make use of split bamboo sticks, connected through strings knotted in a web like manner. When moved, the bamboo sticks create a loud sound, which draws out the birds and pests from the field.

After the harvest, Eko Sulan family, the host prepared the food for the guests and the people who have helped in the harvest. The host family will not be able to partake their meals unless all of the people in the place have already eaten.

In addition, everyone is also asked to eat the pounded pinipig-like black rice. The Tbolis believe that every person must taste it to ensure good health thus, avoiding being “b’nahung” (sick).

The upland rice harvested was purely organic, grown using traditional knowledge and cultivated without the use of pesticides. Among of the traditional varieties reaped were the halay nadal, hulot bisol, halay segel, and halay asosina.

Thanksgiving

After the bountiful harvest, the T’bolis conducted the thanksgiving rites, which started with sounding of the agung (brass gong) informing the people the celebration is about to begin.

Moreover, the second day of the ritual included the vibrant performances of the T’boli women and children, the rhythmic bayo (manual rice milling), the intense seket kuda (horse fight) and the live interaction between Tboli elders and the young.

After all activities, both the natives and guests join in a lavish feast in the banquet filled with food serving the freshly harvested rice, along with the famous grilled tilapia and the sumptuous roasted pig (lechon) of Lake Sebu.

Passing on to the youth

The Kemini Ritual remains distinct as it encourages involvement from the youth. It is also the time wherein the children are free to roam around and learn from their elders.

Hurryle James Padilla, one of the students of the T’boli Senior High School, said it was his first time to see the sacred ritual of “pagmumuta ng mga halay,” (harvest of rice).

“I have learned a lot and I realized that it is really necessary to give importance to our practices in order to preserve our beautiful culture,” he said in Filipino.

In addition, Rachel Jean Ofong, a senior high school student, also shared the same sentiment, as it was also her first time to see the actual ritual.

“Before I just observe my grandmother doing the harvest, but she does not actually follow the whole traditional process. It is in the Kemini ritual that I observed what is really the Tboli way of doing the harvest,” she said in mix English and Filipino.

Rice is life

Benjie M. Manuel, teacher from the T’boli Senior High School explained, for the Tbolis rice is sacred, rice is life.

He said that their ritual is rooted in the respect for nature because they recognize that nature is the source of all blessings.

Manuel said that they need to pass on to the next generation all the customs and traditions to keep the culture alive.

“We need to stress out the importance of being a proud Tboli. We have a rich culture, with rich practices. But most of all, we give importance in taking care of the environment,” he added.

“We always remind our students that we need to be stewards of nature. We do not own the land, but the land owns us,” he said.

Seed Bank (B’nek)

The revival of the Kemini Ritual was also made possible through the establishment of the seed bank in the community.

The Lasiwwai Designer’s Home along with the MCW Area Core Group Lake Sebu and Mothers for Peace, and the Mindanao Commission on Women launched the seed bank (b’nek) last September 18, 2013.

“We have asked for the free variety from the Department of Agriculture before, but what they gave us were pest carriers. That is why the mothers thought of planting the traditional variety,” the Lasiwwai president said in Filipino.

Eko added it was really difficult to look for the traditional rice seeds.

She even acquired hulot bisol, the black rice variety, all the way from the Talaandig in Davao in one of their exchange programs.

“We started with 30 sacks and that is what we used for the seed bank,” she said.

Eko said in they launched the seed bank in order to sustain the food supply not only for the children but also for the entire community.

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