How to go to Sitio Surayan and meet the Ata People

If you are a travel enthusiast or a hiker, I would recommend you to try something different. It is not just you are going to do what you used to do but you are going to learn something new. It is very different. I know you are learning, too, about places and all that. But learning the “geography” of a place is not complete without understanding the lives of the people living in that place. Geography is a social science and this field means that you are involving the people who comprise the society.

I am a travel enthusiast but never been to other places outside the metro, or outside Luzon or outside Region 4-A. Travelling is fun just when you have a deep pocket. So, if there are opportunities to travel somewhere, I grab it without thinking my schedules. And this is what happened a month ago.

My organization sent me as a representative to the Osmosis-Immersion program of iEmergence, a non-profit organization that will build a partnership with us. The osmosis program is to build a School of Living Tradition for and by the Ata people. This happened in Davao City. So, I have to travel to Davao City for the activities. I did not spend any amount for my trip. This is what I call opportunity.

We had the osmosis at Sitio Surayan, Paquibato District, Davao City. For us to get there in the site, we had to hike for three solid hours, including the rest. Although I have not prepared for the hike, my heart is still strong and it experienced an exercise which never experience before.  While hiking, I kept on asking my friends on how Ata people able to get where are they now. It is because you can’t imagine a group of people walking and hiking to very far place.

So, I want you to experience what I experienced. To get to Sitio Surayan starting here from Manila, you have to travel a number of rides. Of course, you have to fly to Davao from Manila. From the international airport, you have to ride a taxi to get to the bus station or you may just walk from the airport and wait for buses along the highway. Make sure you ride on the right bus with signage to Santo Tomas. This ride will be a 2 hours of ride from the Davao City proper and will cost you 90 pesos for airconditioned bus or 80 pesos for ordinary. From the Santo Tomas bus station, ask for people where you could ride for Habal-Habal or Skylab. You will be directed to walk behind the station. When you see a single motor vehicle with two wing-like seats, you are in the right way to say to the driver the place called, Panaga. From Panaga, the adventure starts because there are no more vehicles going to the mountain. Please expect a three-hour hike. The hours of hike may vary depending on your pacing. However, you cannot go immediately because you have to have a guide going to Sitio Surayan. You will experience what a mountain’s definition is.

But these all things are worth if you reach the community of the Ata people or the Lumad of Davao province. They are indigenous people living with all things independently. These Ata people are living in the traditional form, with Datus and all the cultures you could imagine from pre-colonial period. They have the Sasalo belief where people who committed sins to other people must pay anything, any kind somewhat like a redemption; Sinabungan is the tradition of locking the women in the house with limited work; Buya or the arranged marriage; Pangayaw or a “blessed” form of war between families with unsettled problems; Magduway or the polygamy tradition among men and others.

As part of the osmosis program, we experienced living with the host family. Learn their tradition – from farming to hunting to the kinship system. I also had a chance to eat farm frogs, iguana and other exotic foods. This is different.


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