They have existed this way for thousands of years, seemingly stubborn and resistant to the ebb and flow of modern life just a few miles away from where they are.
Theirs is a society headed still by a “datu” or chieftain and his religious counterpart the “babaylan.” Their culture is protected by the “bagani” or the warrior who are also entrusted to protect the lives of the members of the tribe and the ancestral lands they have.
This class system has been around for the “Lumads” for thousands of years, dating back to before the Spaniard conquistadores named this Southern Asian archipelago Philippines. To most of them, this is the only class system they know.
The term “Lumad” is a Cebuano term meaning “native” or “indigenous”. It is short for Katawhang Lumad (literally “indigenous peoples”), the autonym officially adopted by the delegates of the Lumad Mindanao Peoples Federation (LMPF) founding assembly on 26 June 1986 at the Guadalupe Formation Center, Balindog, Kidapawan, Cotabato.
Representatives from 15 tribes during the LMPF agreed to adopt the name. The choice of a Cebuano word was deemed to be most appropriate considering that the “Lumad” tribes do not have any other common language except Cebuano.
According to the Lumad Development Center Inc., there are about 18 Lumad groups in 19 provinces across the country. They live in hinterlands, forests, lowlands and coastal areas. They are namely: Atta, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaonon, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Manguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, Tasaday, Tboli, Teduray, and Ubo.
They were so isolated in their communities that one Lumad group, the Tasadays, were just recently named and documented in 1971. Their so-called “discovery” by western scientists, however, is still subject to scholarly debate. This is after reports surfaced in 1980 that their “discovery” is a mere elaborate hoax.
The Lumads used to be distributed in 17 of Mindanao’s 24 provinces, but significant migration to Mindanao of Visayans, spurred by government-sponsored resettlement programs, turned the Lumads into minorities.
Lumads’ traditional concept of land ownership is considered to date back to the Stone Age.
Historian B. R. Rodil notes that Lumad communities which occupy a single area consider the land a communal private property. Community members have the right to claim ownership on any piece of unoccupied land within the communal territory.
Ancestral lands include cultivated land for farming, hunting grounds, rivers, forests, uncultivated land and the mineral resources below the land.
Perhaps one of the most popular icons that the Lumad contributed to overall Philippine culture is the “Sarimanok”, a magical bird which is part of the Maranao myth. The “Sarimanok” is a multicolored fowl whose name comes from the words “sari” and “manok.” “Sari” means cloth or garment and ”manok” means “bird” or “chicken” in Filipino. During the 1990s, the “Sarimanok” graced Philippine mainstream braodcast media when it was chosen as an icon of a giant television network.
When people from other areas of Mindanao and Visayas came to settle in their areas, the shy Lumads retreated deeper into the mountains and forests. Taking their culture and peculiar class system, they learned to survive despite conflicts going on around them brought about by social unrest. They have been subjected to abuse, violence and exploitation by various groups, including the New People’s Army (NPA).
Their quest to regain their ancestral domains remain their primary concern. This need to rebuild their communities while preserving their culture has been the central issue among Lumads all over Mindanao for many decades.
Their lives tied to their lands, the Lumad has become the symbol of Man’s need to belong and be home in a society that accepts him. Their quest is valid and relatable that it echoes in our own daily search for happiness and contentment.