THE ISLANDS of Panay and Guimaras in Western Visayas are storied places and the natives know this. A coffee table book of the anthropological type captures the traditions and cultures of indigenous peoples in the mountains and coastal areas that are almost forgotten by time and civilization.
In Kadagatan Tubtub Kabukidan (From the Seas to the Mountains): Traditional Knowledge Practices of Panay and Guimaras, readers discover the unique fish lore (stories about fish) and traditional fishing practices of various groups.
It also shows how the natives use “the rich endowment of nature as their inspiration” which find their way in pottery making and the weaving of mats and traditional cloth as well as metal craft.
Some of the major rice varieties in the plains and terraces of the islands as well as the various “survival food” found in Panay’s mountainous areas are also showcased.
The photos and narratives on traditional culinary arts are equally interesting as they show the use of random edible resources being made into foodstuff.
Beautiful visuals, interesting narratives
Such are the quality of the visuals by chief photographer and photo coordinator Ramon B. Ramirez that Roy Cimatu, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said during the launch at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) in Iloilo City on Aug. 9, 2018, “The colorful and beautiful visuals are a celebration of the bond between people and their environment.”
DENR and UPV implemented the research, writing, production and printing of the book. The project consultant was Alicia P. Magos, celebrated anthropologist who did major studies on the Panay Bukidnon people of Panay Island.
Cimatu, in his appreciation of the photographs, may also be referring to the last two chapters which are “Forest, Wildlife and Mountain” and “Beliefs, Rituals and Songs” which may have been the most difficult to visually document and research if one were to ask Ramirez, 54, a visual anthropologist with a string of projects for government and non-government organizations under his belt.
“Forest, Wildlife and Mountain” showcases the rich flora and fauna of Panay and Guimaras, the most notable of which are in the Central Panay Mountain Ranges, the Northern Panay Peninsula, the Sibalom Natural Park, and Makbak Forest among many other notable wildlife areas.
More importantly, the narratives explain how natives safeguard the rich biodiversity of these places in ways unique to their culture.
On the other hand, “Beliefs, Rituals and Songs” is a discussion of the rituals, myths, beliefs and oral literature of the people of Panay and Guimaras. Readers may want to know the concepts of communal rituals and how these relate to their collectivist worldviews and preservation of identity and environment.
A life and a limb for a book
Ramirez, who took about 95 percent of the photos in the book, recounted several adventures for these two last chapters alone that are worthy of its own National Geographic spread such as having to endure the pain of more than a hundred bee stings when he took photographs to augment an article on the livelihood of natives in Barangay Caratagan in Calinog, Iloilo where he scoured a forest to look for honeycombs.
“I went with four guides to find a beehive which was the size of half a sack of rice. While I was taking the photos about three meters away, the bees got disturbed and thousands of them chased us. The guides ran away and I screamed that I might die then I remembered a tip from a native who said that in the event that bees do sting me, I should not submerge in water but run to an area with much cogon grass because the bees are afraid of being “sliced” by the sharp cogon leaves,” said Ramirez, a trained mountaineer.
Among other adventures, Ramirez also recounts taking photos in Mount Baloy in Valderrama, Antique that is classified by mountaineers as a “major mountain expedition”.
With five guides last June 16 to 22, 2017, Ramirez started the photo expedition to Mount Baloy via the village of Sitio Agtoway, Barangay Aglonok in Calinog, Iloilo following the Jalaud river trail for seven days until heavy rains caught up with them that they had to vacate to the forest and stayed there trembling from the rains and cold.
“We did a lot of rock climbing without any ropes and swimming in waters 15 feet deep and 20 meters distance because there was no other way to Mount Baloy anymore. I could not count the linta (leeches) that stuck to me. On the way down Mt. Baloy we followed the headwaters of Cangarangan river in Valderrama and Bugasong, Antique that we trekked for seven days barefoot because it was so slippery,” said Ramirez.
His training in mountaineering and jungle survival saw them through as they had to do about 30 river crossings in Valderrama, some in very heavy rain and ran out of food that they had to eat urang (river shrimps), pangka (river frogs) and certain species of edible palms.
It still remains a mystery to Ramirez how he was able to keep his two cameras and other equipment intact and protected from the elements with all that they went through that he plans to write a book giving practical survival tips for anthropologists doing field work.
In her keynote speech at the book launch, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, Climate Change, and Foreign Relations and whose office funded the coffee table book for P10 million, urged state universities and colleges to establish Indigenous Peoples Resource Center that will focus on tangible and intangible heritage.
Apparently, Kadagatan Tubtub Kabukidan is not just any book for those who labored on it for its visuals and narratives finally gave a face to the storied islands that are Panay and Guimaras./PN