As part of my ethnography course under the Socio-Anthro department, the class went on an immersive fieldwork and we students lived with foster families. The Dumagat Remontado community lived in Tanay, Rizal, on the ridges of the Sierra Madre. I lived with Crising Ibañez, 60 years old, and her family. Her granddaughter, Rachelyn, was my companion for most of the activities. For the ethnography, I had to explore their medicinal practices. What I found over my two-day stay was more than I sought out for.
The Dumagat Remontado are an indigenous people, descendants of lowlanders who fled from Spanish colonizers and chose to live in the mountains. The word Remontado derives from the Spanish word for flee. They also attribute this word to being mixed-blooded as they intermarried with the Negritos living in the mountains.
Currently the community is facing a socio-cultural battle against the Philippine government and the capital’s waterworks provider. The Manila population is experiencing a water crisis and what is proposed by the government is construction of a China-funded dam. This dam will force the Dumagat Remontado community, an indigenous people, out of their ancestral lands. What the government projects on the news is that these people are being greedy with the water. However what I experienced and attempted to capture in my photos is far from a greedy community. They take only what is enough for them, never in excess.
“Us human beings can survive without mother nature, but mother nature can survive without us human beings.”
I discovered my family came from a line of healers, Mommy Crising’s father was an Albularyo, a witch doctor, and she too learned how to heal. Her son Renato also knew of various uses for plants from their surrounding forest. They have remedies for everyday headaches (Guyabano or Santol leaves), sore throat, stomach aches, to diabetes and heart ailments. Mommy Crising, however, was skilled with the bugha or bulong. This was a technique through which she spoke phrases in latin or tagalog to the sick body and, just like magic, the illness would disappear.
On the hike to Tinipak River, Dr. Canuday, our professor mentioned to us how the river was where the Dumagat Remontado went to think whenever they had problems looming over their lives. The river and the surrounding Daraitan mountain are their sources of food, water, means of washing dishes and laundry, medicine. The hospital is a two-hour drive from their homes.
“Us human beings can’t survive without mother nature, but mother nature can survive without us human beings,” said the president of the SUKATAN ( Samahang Uugit sa Karapatang AgtaRemontado sa Tanay Rizal na Lupaing Ninuno) in his speech before the class. The SUKATAN is an organization representing the indigenous peoples of Dumagats, fighting for the rights to their ancestral lands. After talking to the president and my foster family, I could see that they had no plans of leaving their beloved land. Even my foster-sister, Rachelyn, asked me to vie against the dam before the class left Tanay.
Every summer the Dumagats build a wooden bridge where vehicles and people can cross the river. When the rainy season arrives, the bridge is removed and a raft takes its function.
During our stay, it was coincidentally the perya or fair. Mommy Crising said the fiesta just ended and the perya was at its last few days as well. The children were all very adamant to go, I lacked sleep from that week but seeing their excitement energized me and so we went.
As a community they are incredibly proud of their heritage. However their voices fall on deaf ears as the government continues to rush the process of the dam project. After this immersion trip, I gained a deeper perspective of their reality. If it pushes through, they will lose the land of previous generations and with it the immaterial wealth of their value as Dumagats.
About the photographer: