Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Mangyan Christmas Connection

You cover your noses when we pass by while running away from us as if we are inflicted with communicable disease. You drive us away with words and gestures we hardly know but we do understand what you feel. You considered us nuances when we are in a crowd or public places. We know we are different in ways though we breathe the same air and share the same island. Rivers, mountains, forests and cultures made us apart but do not forget that we too share the same dream of living in harmony with nature and of unity. You laugh at us and you lined the generic term “Mangyan” with negative words in your dictionary but still we keep on daring dangerous terrains and risk our lives and limbs only for this season you call Christmas. At times we are objects of your insensible jokes and ethnic slurs. Even though, we cross angry rivers and life-threatening cliffs and sleep in the cold and dark forest just for this occasion. By the way, would you dare do that in return to reach us and celebrate with us in our rituals? I’m afraid not.

I feel sorry for the inconvenience, you who considered yourselves civilized, every time we beg for your leftovers and loose coins while you are eating in food courts or anywhere this Christmas. We do not have those kinds of stuffs in the mountains. They are good smelling foods of various tastes, colors and shapes that we also love to try once in a while. Like how you are delighted in seeing the exotic orchids and tasting the distinctive taste of our yellow ginger as one of the ingredients of your menu or in the comfort of lying on a hammock that we made.

We regret to annoy you while you enjoy. We beg you for food, clothing and money not only because we need them badly back in the upland but we also want to continue the tradition your great grandparents have started centuries ago. Christmas originated from your beliefs not ours, remember? Isn’t this tradition this time of the year was initiated by wealthy powerful lowlanders who grabbed our land and displaced us from our former haven? The natural resources that our ancestors nourished for generations are now within your reach thus under your care. Hope you care for it like what they have done for you are in such advantageous position having practically all the power, responsibility and the legal authority to protect them from intruders and exploiters and to promote them through environmental programs and projects. It is emphasized in our culture that the tribes are profoundly interconnected to our Creator, to others and to all creation.

At least, we always celebrate Christmas with you despite of everything and we both know that it allows us to feel that you are people of faith who care for the least of your brethren. Christmas connects us even if we always spoil your strolling around the plaza including your holiday revelries and parties wherever it is done with your loved ones and friends. But that’s the only way to connect and interact with you for, as I have said, we are world apart. You are not fully aware of our rich customs and traditions for you did not sincerely immerse with us. Who would be interested with irritants or inferior people, anyway? Oftentimes you people in government treated us as objects instead of subjects of progress and development. You only absorbed negative things about us using your own standards of looking at things. Looking through many spectacles that you designed and wear, we are inferior if not abnormal people based on every aspect of life.

We both don’t expect discussions on news of the day, the country’s present political feud, the global socio-political reality or the latest rumor in the entertainment world including the recent developments in modern technology and gadgets. For sure, you will not allow us to dive and swim on a pool with you and your beautiful kids or allow us to enter the privacy of your homes, to join you in your banquets inside air-conditioned halls. Thanks but no thanks, we are not interested in any of those either. We have our own swimming pool in rivers and we also throw parties of our own when we give thanks to the creator and we have homes where we share our blessings for all. Our homes are communal and even strangers are most welcome. Chances are, you would not be interested if I let you know how to catch wild pig or get honey from a beehive, to know what particular herb heal certain sickness or any of our economic activities, our own music, poetry and art, and the rest. There are indeed a lot of barriers between us specially language. But we have to acknowledge that there exists a “language” which we both speak and compassionately understood today: the hand gestures of asking and giving.

We may be nasty and dirty, foul-smelling and yucky minorities or natives (in fact, we do not want to be called as such) but please do not judge us. To borrow from your pop goddess Lady Gaga, we are “born this way”. Also, we were told that that long-haired man in g-string and was born surrounded by animals inside your churches is in no way judging on man’s appearance but the sincerity of one’s heart. How people share each other’s experience and how they define and refine their relationships, soul and spirit.

It shows that in five hundred years of our recorded history we have been abused. Your governments, past and present, does not truly help us restrain our rights and foster economic developments for us. But Spartan as we are, we have survived. We still celebrate and connect with you at Christmastime even you considered us as its mega-spoilers. Isn’t irritation at times wonderful than solitude? Truth to tell, annoyance is preferred by most people of my kind than being alone and lonely.

We are not acquainted with legal and political customs of your society and we let you took our land which is our life. We did not resist for we love peace. That was long ago but still we are discriminated. I cannot help too but wonder why you hate each other and why you can afford to hurt and kill your fellow citizens for senseless reasons. Why you forsake your own brother over petty temporal things such as finances and related processes. This way, we are more human than you are and forgive me for saying it. No wonder why you treat us differently. You cannot be at peace even with your own kind! How about us? We always avoid conflicts and we survived for centuries. Our main concept of justice is healing of broken relations rather than punishment. Consist of eight ethnic groups we never waged war against each other. Violence never be, never been and never will be a Mangyan norm. Have you forgotten that Peace is one of the major themes of your, or could I say our, Christmas?

When will you realize that Christmas is not celebrated to display your supposedly modern culture of excessive individualism and the obsessive pursuit of personal gains? The small amount of money, the used clothes and the crumbs from your table and everything you give us are keys that would free us from your chains of isolation and neglect. Even for a moment we feel freedom and relief, belongingness and acceptance. And we owe you a sack load of gratitude for that which words alone cannot express. To tell you the truth, it is more redeeming to embrace us with compassion than to discard us and therefore reject the connection that we begged and aimed for. We hope that one Christmas you come to realize that the things, both big and small, you hold in your hand placed on mine, whether as gift or alms, is a symbol of our interconnectedness. If you would only analyze you will know that you are not always the giver and we the receiver. We handed unnoticed important contributions from our culture to your great men such as missionaries, scientists, journalists, academicians, sociologists, scholars and community workers and the institutions or organizations where they belong. Since we are the ones who have direct contact with our endangered, beautiful flora and fauna including our wild animals and watersheds, we take good care of them the best way we can according to our culture, tradition and beliefs including legislatures that wherein our rights as indigenous peoples are written. Those are the things we humbly offer in exchange of what you are giving us this Christmas. Most importantly, we gave identity to this island we both cherish. Let this sense of interconnectedness brought about by Christmas lead us to similar acts of love displayed by that half-naked man wearing g-string, like me, inside your grandiose churches.

The man whose birth also annoyed the rulers of His time and made us all interconnected today…

(Photo : Education Ethnic Mangyan Center)

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