The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island
The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island

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Andrés Narros Lluch

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After having lived on Camiguin for seven years, the Spanish anthropologist Andrés Narros Lluch wanted to contribute to the dissemination of the island’s history with a publication recounting episodes that, as he points out, have been silenced up to now. Perro Berde offers the following extract from the soon-to-be published book.

Intro

On the beautiful island of Camiguin, in the southern part of the Philippine archipelago, next to the enigmatic island of Mindanao, every gesture, wink, smile, or silence on the part of its inhabitants reveals a rich legacy. A past. A story. Without our realizing it, strolling along the streets of its villages, chatting with the locals, venturing into the forest is like visiting a museum where the past is subtly engraved.

But beyond these subtle clues there are barely any ethno-historical records to explain how the island’s current blend came about. And once we search deeply, we can easily understand the reasons why. First, because the volcanic nature of the island has been a factor in eliminating the evidence of the past. Second, because many written manuscripts which contained documentation about its history went up in smoke. Third, because the few surviving manuscripts were encoded in a language which current Camiguinons and scholars neither read nor understand. As a result of all this there is a break in the Camiguinons’ relationship with their past. A painful break, one that bleeds in silence.

This book aims to heal that wound. At least in part. And it does so by building up a story based on an extensive process of ethno-historical research that includes within it fictional micro-tales among its protagonists. Short accounts which unfold a local history spiced with small doses of fiction. I believe that these, far from obscuring the former, will help it be displayed in all its splendor.

I feel it is important to point out that this is the first and only research based on the archives of the Augustinian Recollects in Camiguin. As a matter of fact, each chapter of the book reflects an important historical event which is unknown on the island. The first chapter, “Kimigin”, is about the first inhabitants of the island, the Manobo, the followers of Datu Migin, their way of life and culture. Today this tribe’s legacy is unknown to some and silenced by others. The second chapter, “Punta Pasil”, tells the story of the first Christian religious center on the island, its beginning and its end: a center built by the Augustinian Recollects which for centuries has slept forgotten in the sea. The existence of this religious center was rediscovered thanks to the archival research that preceded the writing of this book. The third chapter, “Datu Mehong”, deals with the legend of a local leader, a healer as well as a warrior, whose message, because he lived on the edge of the island and spoke a minority language, was silenced. The last chapter, “The Old Volcano”, deals with the story of what happened before and after the 1871 volcanic eruption, a story which is unknown but which nevertheless shows the complex relationship between the indigenous people’s local knowledge and the Christian knowledge of the friars.

The book holds within it a dream: that the inhabitants of the wonderful island of Camiguin will read it. Particularly those curious and critical students who question the official account, those who are not content with what is said, but search amid what has been silenced. History teachers as well, to help them contextualize their program with local voices, so that these might stimulate the students’ curiosity as well as a sense of pride in their own cultural identity. This story is not mine but yours!

And also—why not?—for any curious person interested in the complex and fascinating history of the Philippine archipelago. These are small stories about one island, which could just as easily have been about others.

Andrés Narros Lluch earned his PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). He has done field work as an aid worker and social researcher in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Central America, South America, East Africa, and Europe for twenty years. He belonged to the Southeast Asia Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (2011–2012), was guest researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and associate researcher in the Departament of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines Manila (2012–2014). In 2015 he founded a small foundation called Kilaha, dedicated to documenting and supporting local culture and identity, as well as preserving the fascinating biodiversity of the island of Camiguin. Among other academic titles he has published the book La comedia de la cooperación internacional: historias etnográficas del desarrollo en la isla de Camiguín (Catarata, 2016) and will soon bring out The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island. At present he lives in Spain, where he coordinates the Fundación Allegro.

Capítulo I
Kimigin

She had black eyes, deeply black. Yes, they were those dark, penetrating eyes of Southeast Asia. They were so dark and deep that they seemed to hold a sea of secrets within them. It was as if somehow they hid a mystery, a long story, a rich past. Her clean brown face with its white teeth made her expression, when she smiled, into a beautiful portrait of the Pacific.

She lived on Timpoong Mountain on the island of Kimigin, within the forest, in the dense jungle which covers the island. Her tribe were people of the lowlands, the river, the sea … But they lived under the threat of the southern pirates, who came from the island of Mindanao to capture prisoners to bear them away and make them work as slaves. Because of that, and the arrival of the Bisaya from the north of the island, her tribe had decided to move to the Mountain.

That morning Malaya rose early as usual, just as the sun was rising, with the birds calling to her in welcome. The forest was splendid that day. Hundreds of different greens covered it like a tapestry, and each one had a different meaning, a message of its own. Particularly for her, since she knew the code of the trees. Her father had patiently taught it to her.

The light of the sun and the green of the trees were moist that morning with water and dampness. Clean, fresh water. For Malaya, this was the best way to begin the day. A blue kingfisher flying over the top of the island that morning greeted her from the sky, and she returned the greeting with a smile.

Malaya was a descendant of Migin,*1 the first Manobo *2 leader, who had settled on the island many centuries back, according to the legends of her tribe. She and her family lived in a small house made of bamboo and nipa palm. *3 Like all the other houses of the people of that small settlement.

That particular morning the girl was due to accompany her father to gather rice. The crop had been waiting for several days, but the intense rain had made harvesting impossible. So that day the light of the sun brought good news. At least they would be able to eat and have grain for some weeks, maybe several months. When the harvest was good and they had enough rice for the clan, her father Migin, like his legendary ancestor and namesake, would go down from the Mountain to the coastal areas to trade it for fish, meat, or yams.

But it was not gathering rice that Malaya enjoyed most, it was going hunting with her father. She loved walking behind him through the island forest, going up the mountain and exploring it. She loved watching her father clear a way to make a path. She observed everything from behind. She enjoyed watching his body, the muscles of his legs, his back, his arms … They made her feel safe, protected. There was no room for fear when she walked beside him. When she looked back she saw the work completed, the path her father had cleared, the road that would take them back home.

Her father and the other members of the clan hunted wild pigs, monkeys, lizards, birds: all the protein the forest could offer. Migin was very good at building small traps called gahong. He would first dig a hole in the ground, then in the bottom place vertical bamboo sticks on whose tips he had carved very sharp points. Afterwards he would put a very fine abacá *4 net over the hole and cover it with leaves and plants. The trap worked well as long as the abacá net was well covered.

When they walked together through the forest, Malaya never stopped learning from her father. She learned the names of the trees, their fruits, their use, their age, and the healing they could provide for the members of her tribe. It was difficult for her to understand and memorize everything her father told her. Migin carried a legacy of thousands of years of knowledge about the forest. She would look into his eyes, awed, overwhelmed by so much wisdom. She thought then that she still had plenty of time left before she became an adult—in other words, to learn the secrets of the forest of Kimigin. And she was right: she still had a whole life ahead of her.

The return home from the hunt to their Gaup (territory in the Kinamigin language) was a synonym for rest and sometimes for celebration too. There the members of her family, of her clan, were waiting. Their survival depended largely on the success of the hunt. And usually Malaya’s father and his brothers brought enough food for everyone. That is why they celebrated. Before they started to cook the food the village adults, men and women equally, performed a small ritual of gratitude to the Diwatas, the hidden gods who dwelt in the forest.

But they were not always lucky. Sometimes their catch was not enough to feed the small village. When this situation repeated itself over a time, the clan simply had to move somewhere else to grow crops and hunt. The island was large and full of ideal places to hunt, collect and plant things to eat. Malaya, young though she was, remembered the site of their previous home close to the waterfalls of Binangawan. There, in the lake formed by the falls, she had played every day with her siblings and cousins. For her this place had been a synonym for happiness. It was also the center of worship for the elders, who traveled there to communicate with the forest gods.

When the clan moved to a new site, they made a point of choosing one where they could easily clear a space to grow rice, and which at the same time was well surrounded by trees so that there would be animals to hunt. Once the members of the clan had chosen the site, they started building the houses. Migin and his brothers were careful when choosing a tree whose wood would serve as support for the house. Trees with holes in them were no use, as this meant that the snake or the insects which had made the hole would come to live at the new home. Neither were trees with vines or creepers around them any use, as this meant that the inhabitants of the new home would live trapped in debt and other obligations toward the other members of the clan. And trees which were touching others were no good either, because this meant a potential conflict with the neighbors. The size of the house was also important: it must measure a precise number of hands, no fractions, as the smallest fraction in the length of the house would mean trouble, a future of hunger and sickness in which hunting and gathering would not be enough for the clan’s needs. *5

The most important thing was that the main beams of the house should be strong and healthy. The clan would build their houses raised above the ground to avoid flooding during the season of rains, of storms, of typhoons. They dug a hole for the beam and in this hole they put all kind of objects: river pebbles, moss, dry leaves from the bottom of the river, flowers, or the tips of nipa fronds. They put all these things from the forest in place before inserting the beam in the hole. This way they would gain unity and peace in the village. In addition, they always placed the beam between midnight and four in the morning, orienting the house toward the East to ensure a long life. After all, this was exactly what they were looking for.

Then, when the little settlement had been built, they used great trees like banyans or narras to indicate to other clans that there was now a settlement, that their new Gaup was there. Then Malaya’s father would blow on the Tambuli, a giant conch which produced sounds that could be heard kilometers away. Each Gaup had its own Tambuli, each clan had its own hymn. That of Malaya’s clan was deep and calm. And that was the message they sent to their neighbors. Other leaders, however, used hollowed-out bamboo trunks which they beat with a stick to produce rhythms. *6

On that beautiful early summer morning, Malaya and her father Migin were getting ready to harvest the rice. After a light lunch and a dip in the river that came down from Binandahan Mountain, they set out. Everyone in the village, except the older ones, walked together to the patch of land where months before they had sowed the rice seed. Then, to ensure that the seeds would produce a good crop, they had buried small amulets made of roots and leaves in the center of the field, covered with a coconut shell. And it had worked: this year’s crop was abundant.

In three days they were able to gather all the grain and set it out to dry. The rice was ready to cook and eat. When they first cooked the grain, they had to make an offering to the Diwatas (gods), as a way of thanking them for the harvest. Migin picked a fistful of cooked rice in his hand, kneaded it, wrapped it in a banana leaf and hung it from the strongest beam in his house. With this he sought to ensure food and rice for his family.

They gathered so much rice in the harvest that after a week Migin was already planning the next step: to take the small surplus to the lowlands of the island to trade with the people who lived on the coast.

The small Manobo clans were not alone on the island of Kimigin. Below, in the coastal areas, the Bisaya had arrived some time ago. They were people from the neighboring island to the north, Bohol. They had settled in the north and west of the island. In spite of suffering what was then the sporadic threat from the southern pirates from the island of Mindanao, the Bisaya had not moved to the mountains of the island. They preferred to take their chance; they were people of the sea. For them the ocean was no obstacle but a means of communication. They moved in boats, not carts with wheels pulled by beasts of burden. For them the ocean was a liquid plateau with thousands of paths indicated in the sky. The stars were their resource for navigation. Along these paths they could transport people, surplus goods, but also languages, ideas and gods. With the passing of time, it was this exchange along the water routes that built a community of cultures and peoples between the islands of the archipelago.

Along these routes the Bisaya traded all kinds of produce, such as jugs, plates, rice, gold, products that came from distant places, such as today’s China, Thailand, Malaysia, Malacca, Borneo, Java and so on. The Bisaya language was the lingua franca for trade on this side of the ocean.

In addition, the sea offered them food. The Bisaya were expert fishermen who knew the watery world well. The way they built their houses was simply a reflection of the way they had built their boats. So there was no way they were going to move away from that source of food and life.

Migin spoke the language of the Bisaya; his mother had taught him. She herself was a Bisaya, her ancestors had arrived on the island of Kimigin from Bohol. Migin spoke two languages: that of his tribe, Kinamigin, and that of his mother, Bisaya. And this was very lucky. If the Manobo wanted to acquire products they lacked, they needed to do it in the language of those who provided them, the Bisaya.

Migin wanted to go down to the coast, but he was going to need the help of at least two members of the clan to carry the surplus rice. The way was long and complicated, as they had to go down Timpoong Mountain, whose steep, narrow paths were slippery after the rainy season. They were also dangerous, as pythons and cobras lived on the mountain. Once on the coast they had to walk around fifteen kilometers to the northwest until they reached the Bisaya settlement where they wanted to sell the rice, a simple place set on a small cape, katadman, at the foot of the Hibok-Hibok volcano.

Migin knew who would go with him: his two brothers. They knew it too, as they always accompanied him on the same errand year after year. The three were young and strong. They were also the center of power in the Clan as the descendants of the legendary Migin. What they were not expecting was that Malaya, the little girl, would want to go with them.

They were eating rice with plantain around a small fire. It was a clear night with thousands of stars at play in the sky. A shy, lovely crescent moon was rising in the east, behind the mountain mother Timpoong. The air was so pure, so clear … Breathing that air was like cleansing oneself inwardly. At least that was how Malaya felt. She liked lying down, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Every time she did this she felt a kind of healing, of wellbeing, of happiness. This particular evening they could hear hundreds of insects, birds and amphibians. It was like a nocturnal symphony, the symphony of the island of Kimigin. They were eating in silence, chewing and swallowing the food slowly, feeling it being transformed into nutrients and strength in their bodies, when Malaya joined them and went over to her grandmother.

“Ama, I want to go to the Bisaya village. Do you think papa will let me go?”

“Malaya, you know it’s dangerous.”

“Yes, I know, but I’ve been learning the secrets of the forest. And I promise I’ll do everything papa says, I promise.”

Malaya knew how to get what she wanted, she knew which of her wide repertoire of resources to use. Her face was pretty, her mouth clean, her eyes curious … and her grandmother smiled.

“After all,” she thought, “it was not such a bad idea.” Malaya was eleven. She would soon marry and there still had been no show of interest from other Manobo clans. On the other hand, the grandmother was delighted with the idea of finding a young Bisaya for her granddaughter. She did not mention this to Malaya, though.

When her grandmother told Migin about Malaya’s wish, he did not think it a bad idea either. Looking for a suitor for his daughter was the best way to establish political ties between the Manobo and the Bisaya. Migin had always thought this a very good stratagem for ensuring peace on the island.

Early next morning Malaya, her father and her uncles set out. Migin and his brothers chewed areca nut, wrapped in a betel leaf. This fruit would make their journey lighter. After preparing it with some lime and chewing it for a while, they started on the long journey. The stretch along the side of Timpoong Mountain was the most pleasant part, but also the shortest. The sunlight did not fall directly on their skin while their bodies stayed sheltered inside the forest. The path, of earth and leaves, was damp, but they could walk without risking a fall. Besides, this part of the journey was perfect for exploring the biodiversity of life that the mountain offered. As they went on down, the forest changed its appearance and as it changed, Migin found more and more to describe. This green filled with different greens greatly stimulated the girl. Migin’s words helped Malaya understand it and get to know the way one species was connected to the others. To feel herself as a part of the forest. The forest was her green home, her school, her hospital. *7 And all the wisdom Malaya learned from her father was precisely so that she could live in it, feed from it, heal with it, pray to it. Protecting the forest meant protecting the tribe.

Once they reached the coastline, they went into the sea for a dip. It was the first time Malaya had seen the sea that close, and she was frightened by its size. It was bigger than Timpoong Mountain. From there she could see the island of Mindanao, where (so her father had told her) their ancestors had originally come from. The water was warmer than the water which came down the mountain, but even so it was a pleasure to bathe in the ocean. Malaya had not been long in the water when her perennial enthusiasm took over her fear. When she opened her eyes underwater, all of a sudden she saw the sea-bed. Colored fish, some huge, some small; corals, starfish. The journey had just begun, but in the eyes of the little girl it was already worth the effort.

It was late by now, so Migin and his brothers decided to spend the night there. To Malaya this was a gift. She was exhausted, but she chose to say nothing. The elders piled the abacá sacks full of rice under a Manuyog, a sturdy tree which grew on the shore and served as defense from the strong winds and rains the typhoons brought with them. With his club Migin made a daugan, a bamboo spear on whose end he tied a fine string of abacá; then he went back into the sea. Malaya stared at him in puzzlement. In a few minutes her father had killed a fish large enough for all of them to eat that evening. Meanwhile her uncles, on the shore, were able to catch a few crabs with other, smaller, sharpened bamboo sticks called pasgong.

The sun was already setting when they made the fire to roast the catch. Malaya was not used to eating this type of fish, so she did not particularly like it, but she did not say anything when she realized how pleased her father and uncles were with all this food from the sea. When they had finished eating and were talking around the fire, Migin saw a ship in the distance, sailing south. He leapt up, stamped on the fire and with a little water quickly put it out. It was possible that the ship belonged to traders from Sulu, Lanao, or Maguindanao, who on occasion traded human beings. *8 It was the first time Malaya had seen the famous pirates of the south. Migin shared his daughter’s fear, but the ship kept on course toward Mindanao. All the same, he did not light the fire again that night. He put his arm around his daughter and stroked her black hair. It was time to rest; they still had a long way to go next day, following a coastal route around the south-west of Hibok-Hibok volcano.

As soon as the sun had risen, they gathered their things together and set out. The forest that covered the coast was different from that of the mountain: gentler, more serene, but also hotter. The views from there, of Timpoong Mountain, Las Tres Marias and Hibok-Hibok, were impressive. Malaya was fascinated. She had heard talk of those mountains in the epic tales of her tribe, which were told to the accompaniment of the rhythm of the gong.*9 But the girl never imagined how beautiful they could be. From there she could get an idea of her island. Of the island of her ancestors, of Kimigin.

The rivers that came down the mountain flowed into the sea, forming perfect healing baths of cold water, where they stepped to refresh themselves and rest, Migin and his brothers were carrying the rice on their shoulders. The sunlight punished their backs, arms, and legs. Their bodies were only covered with a kind of loincloth made from abacá which only covered their genitals. Their long black hair attracted the hot rays from the sun even more. Every hour that went by, every kilometer, the punishment on their bodies increased. Now Malaya understood why only the strongest men of the village came down to the coast. Migin went first, then one of his brothers, next little Malaya and finally, closing the group, the second brother, the youngest.

They had traveled at least ten kilometers. The Bisaya village must be nearby. To cross a stream of clear, transparent water Migin was using the rocks in it like a bridge when suddenly a great yellow-and-black snake thrust its head aggressively from under one of the rocks. In less than a tenth of a second the snake had buried its sharp fangs in Migin’s ankle. It was a cobra, a Philippine cobra. A terribly poisonous snake.

For an instant, perhaps a few seconds, silence took hold in Migin’s eyes and those of his brothers. Malaya’s eyes filled with fear, so that they became even blacker. In that moment of terror a new dimension opened up, a dimension which seemed to come from another world, another time. It was the fear you feel when you glimpse the precipice which borders the immense black hole of death.

The snake vanished, and the youngest brother quickly picked Migin up and helped him lie down on the bank of the stream. Malaya and Migin had their eyes fixed on each other, paralyzed. Like lightning the other brother ran off in search of what was needed, a series of herbs, leaves, and roots in the forest. It was the only way to save their brother.

When he returned a few minutes later with the necessary leaves and roots he mixed them with a kind of oil he carried in his lanahan, a container made from a coconut shell. When everything was ready, the brother prayed to the Gods and began the tawal, the Manobo healing ritual, and applied the herbs to Migin’s ankle. Immediately afterwards he cleaned the wound and started first to suck his brother’s poisoned blood, then spit it out. He did this for a few minutes, then he covered the wound again with the herbs, placed his hands on his brother’s head, and began to blow on his body, from head to foot.

Migin was still conscious, on that dizzying edge between life and death. He was not afraid, but he felt sorrow, a deep sorrow which became visible when he looked into the eyes of his daughter Malaya. Then in a whisper he asked his brother to go in search of help from some Bisaya settlement, which could not be too far away. Without wasting a moment, the two brothers set off.

The evening was falling. Migin and Malaya stayed there for a time that seemed eternal, waiting for the return of the brothers. Before the sun had set, they heard voices from the sea. A small Bisaya boat was on its way to their rescue. Quickly, amid tears of hope and emotion, they put Migin aboard and started the journey back to the Bisaya village on Cape Katadman.

1. According to the Kimigin tribe, Migin was the first Manobo leader of the island.
2. The Manobo are the most numerous ethnic group in the island of Mindanao.
3. Nipa is a kind of small palm tree, very abundant in Southeast Asia.
4. The abacá is a small banana tree, the fiber of whose leaves has great commercial value.
5. Gacus, Elmer N. Compilation of the History, Legends, and Origin of the Kamigin Tribe. Camiguin.
6. This instrument was called Pamaling and was also used to summon the members of the tribe to go fishing. Gacus, Elmer N. Compilation of the History, Legends, and Origin of the Kamigin Tribe.
7. Popular saying in the Kinamigin language: “Ha kalasangan ha amo ospital, escuelahan ug amo bay na ag timaan.”
8. During this period, the slave trade was a usual practice in all of South-East Asia. The sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao used these slaves for domestic work.
9. The epic poems are called kandu, the gongs are called inagong.

This publication is commissioned by the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines in conjunction with the Spanish Cooperation through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AECID nor of the Embassy.

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