A Letter to the Ata People

Dear Ata People,

            It has been a while since we saw and met each other.  When our group reached your community, almost all of you tried to have a good look to us. You stared to us saying that we are a complete stranger. Strangers that should not be right there in your community as for others’ belief towards people other than you. But the rate of your hospitality was perfectly 100%. You accepted us in your community. You gave us food, water and shelter to live on. You shared to us what must be for you, whole-heartedly even if you did not know us personally.

 Our Goal

            We came in to your community not because we were hungry, thirsty or tired from the three hours of hike before we reached you. We came in your community because of one ultimate goal that will greatly benefit you and other people as well. We came in your community because all of us cared for your culture and tradition. Maybe you are thinking right now why we had an interest to your culture. As a fellow Filipino, it must be for all of us to preserve our rich culture. Amidst the powerful influences from the westerners, we believed that if we do this, there will be the evidence that there have existed a civilization before they came to our land. We must all change the belief of other people that those westerners made us to be civilized, that they discovered us. It is a very wrong idea. You must know it. So, we are trying our best to establish the School of Living Tradition or the Panuluanan to help preserve your culture. What we need is  not just our effort but your effort, too because you have the knowledge about your own. We are looking forward for a good partnership between us.

My Goal

            When the president of my organization, UP Lipunang Pangkasaysayan, told us that we will be having a partnership with iEmergence, Inc, the organization that mobilized the idea of the Panuluanan, I immediately raised my hand saying that I am willing to be their representative. I did not take the summer term because I know I will not be around at the classes because of the scheduled trip to your community. You know, because of not taking summer classes I will not be able to graduate on time. There is still time for my education because I enjoyed being where I am now. But the time for you to preserve your culture shall not wait. The younger generation in your community will be getting older soon. My dream is to see to them that they bring what the elders will be taught. I have the feeling that the younger people in the community will be willing to do it. I wish I could meet one of them sometime. And if this happens, I will be glad to listen to his/her stories. I am a student of one of the best universities in the Philippines but my knowledge about the indigenous people, about you, is not broad. Then, I saw myself doing the osmosis in your community and it will be the start of never ending questions about you. I am willing to volunteer myself as a tribute to the community to help you throughout the long process of development – in all aspects of your lives.

My ultimate experiences

            The three hours of hiking never failed my heart to stop beating so fast. So fast that I could imagine it was stopping every time our group took a rest. But I never expected that the three gallons of perspiration literally jumped out to my body were worth to be thrown of as we reached the summit of your community, the Ata community in Sitio Surayan, somewhere over in the mountains of Davao Province. The warm welcome connoting from the smiles and eyes of your children majorly contributed to what has been the heavenly feeling replacing the tiring experiences. The hardship of hiking was left behind in the darkest cliff along the way.

            On the first day of my living in my host family, who was where Tantan was living, we had a very good adventure walking in the farm. I never really expected that your farms are located far from you. I was also surprised that you usually plant your crops in a steep area of the mountain that would contribute to your hardship. But I will not prevent you from doing that. It is your unique farming technique. From your long years of farming in the mountains, you have surely adapted to the environment. You are living because of the environment, because of nature. The nature keeps on giving you something because she knows you cared for her. This is what we want to know. This is what we want to document.

            Aside from farming, I found out that you are, practicing hunting. Unfortunately, I didn’t witness your hunting techniques. What I only know was that your dogs were your companions in doing that. From hunting, your group arrived in your community bringing a number of what you call, Ibid, which is Bayawak or Iguana in our language. That night, I was really surprised to have those animals as our food. I didn’t see how it was cook that was why I ate it. It was very good actually and chicken or pork will be its challenger. One thing I was touched about was your culture of giving and sharing. You shared your own food, you shared your water and you shared everything. I just hope that you will keep that tradition and I believe you will. I think, it was my very first time to witness it, as in mass giving and sharing.

Sent off

            The time has come for us to leave your community. But before I write this send off portion, I want not to forget the welcome ceremony for us. It was, again, my first to be welcomed with dances and songs especially performed by your people. It really showed your culture and also showed your living. I praised you for that and I am looking forward to still see it to you for the next coming years.

            The send off was so dramatic. The cries of Ata women only mean that you will really miss us and I will say that I will miss you, too. I will even reminisce the days we were together. I will remember all even the chicken you gave to us even we already ate it.

 

This is my first time for me to thank you outside your community. Thank you for everything. Thank you for the experiences. All of the Filipinos must recognize you being a Lumad. You are part of the rich history of our country. You are part of the community and you should be at the picture of the unified Filipinos. 

 

Your countrymen, 

Veejay V. Calutan

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