the b’laans of lamlifew
a living museum

Posted by in culture

I kgetu gu de bong banwe
Muna de kdee Mne gu de Dwata kafye laweh.
De ksakay gu de aweng mayeng, mdel i do kfe
Do kmangil ago de kelil, ende teen gu banwe
Elmingil ago di kwanan, ye lego teen labon bukay
kento gu kurong, ye fandam go
Dwata, ko lende ge di lawil gu
La gamsakay agu eweng mayeng
gembet ani, naku lende malbang to tmebeng
la gafat ago de banwe ni
Tay kafye de lawil go na di dadto tmabeng di gami
Doen man dad nga flinge mu dideg duku salo mo di benwe
gere yo det nimo yo.

I went to Manila I rode a flying boat
I looked down but I didn’t see any land
I looked up but I didn’t see anything
I asked myself, ‘where am I going?’
Thank God I was able to ride in a flying boat
So, better listen to me children,
So you will know what to do
if ever you get the chance to go to Manila

It was my second time to meet Herminia Lacna and her B’laan tribe of the Lamlifew village in Sarangani Province, Southern Mindanao. I asked her to tell me her experience when she flew in an airplane to Manila. She sang her song.

I was writing a travel story for an in- flight magazine when I first met Herminia more than a year ago. She was then “singing” to me her desire to see Manila. It is a custom of the B’laans to sing what they want to say, normally during council meetings or even when telling stories to their children or to anybody.

The B’laans of Southern Mindanao are classified into three distinct groups. Those who live in the highlands, particularly in the watershed areas of Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces, call themselves To Laged or mountain people. Another group, To Mahen or coastal people, live along the shores of Davao del Sur and Sarangani. The third group, To Baba or the lowlanders, are located in the plains of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and in some parts of Sarangani.

I have encountered all three of them in a span of more than five years of traveling back and forth to the SOCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City) and Davao areas. Each group has varying developmental degrees; depending on their education and proximity to urban society.

Herminia, together with her daughter Helen Lumbos and two other B’laans, were able to go to Manila because the Lamlifew Village Museum was launched in December of 2007 in the National Museum of the Philippines.

First Living Village Museum

Gov. Miguel Dominguez sponsored the B’laans’ trip to Manila to showcase the first village museum in the Philippines. It’s a museum wherein the village itself, highlighted by its upland rice farming, its tribe and their old artifacts are the items on display. It’s a living museum.

“We chose Lamlifew because of their distinct culture. They were able to preserve their way of life despite the challenges that many communities are faced with due to development; many people have been sort of caught in between joining the mainstream or maintaining their cultural heritage. Lamlifew is one of the examples of a community that stuck with their culture and their tradition, but also embraced development while maintaining their own cultural heritage and identity,” said the young governor.

The B’laans of Lamlifew dreamed of a living museum through the Indigenous Peoples Development Program (IPDP) of the government of Sarangani. They wished to have a museum that will focus on rice, food, and associated traditions of the B’laan ethno- linguistic group.

They asked the Provincial Government for funds to build a Gumne B’laan (B’laan house) in vernacular architecture, but larger than the normal size. The Gumne Blaan will serve as an area for photography-based exhibits and as a meeting place and beadmaking workshop. Visitors to the museum will be received on a relaxed, sit-down environment to experience a modulated encounter with the B’laan.

The Experience

The first time I visited my family, we had to give advanced notice. Except for the ethnic music (emanating from wooden instruments) that greeted us during the first time, my second visit was totally different.

It was a great improvement from a year ago. The B’laans were definitely more prepared. After the songs and dances, lunch was served. Upland rice and other food that were part of the living museum were cooked in bamboo.

Many of the upland varieties of rice are only planted in the extreme interior villages of Sarangani, most of which are practically inaccessible. So the Lamlifew residents planted a few of the rare varieties of upland rice Other varieties were subsequently acquired and planted in Lamlifew.

Lamlifew women

The museum project was actually pushed through by the women of Lamlifew. Led by Helen Lumbos, as president, they formed an association that is duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The IPDP then introduced the Lamlifew women’s association to Tao Inc., a museum-planning agency.

Maribeth Farnazo, head of the IPDP, said the B’laans lamented that antique collectors were taking their artifacts away. So they looked at the concept of a museum as a guardian or safekeeper of their artifacts. “They want their future generations to see their artifacts, that’s how the concept of a living museum was created.”

The association received a P 300,000 grant from the American Women’s Club to buy the artifacts and other B’laan wares like fishing, hunting and farming gear.

“We told them we would buy their wares, but the items would not be taken out of the community. Suddenly their very old possessions surfaced, some were more than a hundred years old. We bought them at minimal costs because it was like a token from the organization for safekeeping. They will be housed in Gumne B’laan,” said Farnazo.

“The museum showcases the B’laans’ stories, musical instruments, and the surrounding area will be planted with upland rice and other food crops. It’s like a garden; it’s a living museum of upland rice. Part of the community lives there, so they themselves are part of the exhibit. They are components of the museum,” Farnazo beamed.

Grand vision

Lamlifew is just the start of the IPDP’s grand vision for the indigenous people of Sarangani. As of now, It is the only village perfect for the project. The other areas are not accessible. Lamlifew is strategic because it’s in the lowlands and reachable because of a road network. They have preserved their culture in spite of their nearness to mainstream communities.

The women of Lamlifew have “planted” the seeds of a new kind of museum. Looking at it closely, the village museum is really a showcase of the outdoors — plots of upland rice and other root crops — and the Gumne B’laan as an indoor museum. It is going to be a model for other living museums in the future, not only in Sarangani, but maybe for the whole country.

So what is Lamlifew’s model? Was it patterned after any existing living museum elsewhere?

Gov. Dominguez confidently says: “It’s the only model. Sarangani is the model. We’re writing the book.”