Tribal Tour 2002- Subanen Tribe
Nestled in the interiors of Zamboanga del Sur is Lakewood. The area surrounding this volcanic lake is the ancestral homeland of the Subanen people. Arriving in the afternoon at the St. Mary’s Parish Center, we were met by our host, Nestor Orfilla and the members of Kaliwat Theater Collective, who were engaged in the implementation of Ancestral Domain Resource Management Plan with the Subanen community. That night, we rode to our homestays on motorbikes and ate our meal of boiled chicken, fried fish, rice, and purple mangosteens picked from our host’s yard. Night bugs clamored around the florescent light above us. Being careful not to offend our host, we nonchalantly picked out the unlucky bugs landing on our plates. The peacefulness and simplicity of living in Lakewood was contagious and I could not help but shed the stress and giddiness of urban living.
The following morning, we trekked to the sacred Subanen water fall where the water is known for it’s healing powers and where twigs and branches calcify into blessed rocks of magic. To get there, we took a boat across the lake, then hiked passing muddy fields, crossing clear flowing streams, climbing sometimes sliding down our butts on steep slippery hills full of vegetation. Drenched from our own sweat and muddy from the hike, we felt blessed to be in this sacred place and silently, lost in our own thoughts, we gathered sacred rock twigs.
In the afternoon, we rode on motorbikes to Subanen villages where we met with several Subanen leaders called ‘timuay’ and healers called ‘baylan’ to learn about the Subanen way of life. We were treated to Subanen dance and music performance and shared a large ‘palanggana’ full of exotic lansones, mangosteen and rambutan.
Rituals are performed for every facet of Subanen life and our visit called for a special ritual. After a steep climb, we arrived at a clearing on the side of a hill overlooking the lake. The women squatted in front of cooking pots of chicken and rice on an open fire. They offered us roasted corn to munch on while we waited.
Placed on each of the three small offering platforms, was a plate heaped with a mound of steamed rice, three betel nut chews poking out of the rice mounds, a whole chicken, boiled with its head in tack, skin pale and bumpy, and an egg. A blue bowl held coins collected from everyone, and placed in the middle platform, while a plastic jug of cassava wine and a bowl of dark chicken blood was placed on the ground.
Timuay Mario explained the meaning of the ritual. After a series of prayers, he called on the spirits by tapping the rim of the bowl. He chanted, then took sips of cassava wine. He walked around the offering platforms several times, then he tossed the coins into the air. I watched the coins scatter, landing all over the field.
The timuay picked up the eggs and handed it to us. We were grateful for his gesture of friendship and honored at the privilege of ritual. The ritual finished, we climbed up a hill to Timuay Mario’s place, where the ritual of friendship involving several clans was to take place. We were greeted by participatory and raucous dancing, and gong music. Our sacrificial pig, tied up on a post under the hut was squealing. A few feet away, black pots of boiling water on open fires were vigorously steaming ready for the sacrificial pig’s impending baptism.
Again, Timuay Mario led the ritual, beginning with a prayer and ending with all us gathered together in a circle. At the end, we all took a sip of cassava wine and the Timuay Sumangay began the ‘samba’, an improvised chant in versed form. We ended with traditionally cooked Subanen meal and each of the visiting families were given a package of fresh pork and chicken wrapped in banana leaves. I left Lakewood feeling blessed and thankful to have been a part of an ancient sacred tradition.