October 2007

Vol 7 - No. 4
























Forum | October 2007



Mamanwas And Their Fight Against Poverty  


Miles away from the urban din, their struggle against chronic poverty goes on silently. No complaints and no yearnings. The only ambition is to live a peaceful life.  Simplicity is the way of life for Mamanwas - a dark, curly haired semi-nomadic Negrito tribe in northern Mindanao island of Philippine. Like many indigenous peoples across the world, they are also striving to defeat the menacingly dynamic poverty. Recently, we visited the two barangays or villages in Agusan Del Norte province in Caraga region to study how they manage to live despite all odds and what livelihood options are available to them.


A study team from Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project reached Butuan city, which is the administrative centre of  Agusan Del Norte province. It was 1.20 hours flight from Manila to Butuan city. After a 70 km. drive from Butuan city, we visited a Purok or hamlet in Mahayahay barangay in Kitcharao municipality inhabitated densely by Mamanwa tribal community. Mahayahay barangay has close to 400 households with a population of nearly 2500 out of which about 300 belong to Mamanwa tribal community.


Coconut, banana, rice plantations and wild shrubs endow the hamlet with hypnotic greenery.  The silence is broken only by bird calls. Mamanwas do not have any specific work. They accept whatever the rich forests offers. Python meat roasted or boiled is a community feast.  Skilled in making handicraft items of daily use like banana holding basket, the Mamanwas have limited sources of livelihoods. They collect rattan canes for making household containers and other handicraft items. Their winnowing baskets are famous in urban households. The Northern Mindanao Community Initiatives Natural Resource Management Project (NMCINREMP) aided by International Fund for Agriculture Development is working for the socio-economic mainstreaming of Mamanwas and has taken up a number of sub-projects to improve their access to sustainable livelihoods. Municipal Project Manager Raul M. de. Agua informed that a housing project has been recently approved for them. The Mayor of Kitcharau Municipality Aristotle E. Montante expressed his concern for extending health and education services to the Mamanwas. Their children have been encouraged to attend special learning centres. Besides, the Indigenous Knowledge Centres have also been opened to record and document their age old learnings and wisdom.


Mamanwas are simply unmindful to the consequences of over-population. Captain of the Mahayahay barangay Mario C. Magsanay has six children. Some have at least 10 to 12 children. Who decides about the size of family - husband or wife ? we asked them and some women named their husbands, but Delina Dayong wife of Mario C. Magsanay shared her reluctance to increase the family size. They know about condom but are not using it for want of advocacy. Mamanwas are known for their indigenous knowledge on the basis of which they can predict happenings in the nature. For example, eels coming out of the river water clearly indicate the impending disaster for their settlements. Not a long back, some Mamanwas noticed eels and got the message of forthcoming danger in St. Bernard village conveyed to higher administrative authorities. The advance weather forecast technology showed no such sign. As anticipated by Mamanwas, heavy landslides occurred and at least 100 persons died. They keep constant fire to drive away flies, which they belief are the bad omen for some catastrophe. 

The Project Manager Mantnio B. Menor told us that a wide range of livelihoods options are being offered to them under the Department of Agrarian Reform, which is the implementing agency of the NMCIREMP. Construction of Farm to Market roads to improve their access to the nearby Filipino markets and potable water supply initiatives have been taken up, he added. The handicraft items were displayed at the Manila Annual National Trade Fair in June last. When asked how their handicraft items like cradle, beautiful baskets would compete with the China-made less expensive items that have flooded the metro markets, Mario C. Magsanay informed that "natural products have no parallel. Man loves nature and natural products. Mementos of Mother Nature  will always be liked, he said in local dialect.  His reply points out the level of confidence among Mamanwas in their ethnic products and entrepreneurship. His statement is also a guiding force for other indigenous peoples. It is only for the urban communities to show reverence for skills of tribal artisans. Years back, Mamanwas used to carry bows and arrows but have  discontinued the practice. The new generation of Mamanwas is now aware of their rights and entitlements. Modern farm practices have also been introduced and small agriculture projects like Pineapple Cultivation Project have been taken up.  The process of social inclusion of Mamunwas is at pace. Children are attending schools because a common Filipino saying goes - Uai ! Lamang daa ta nakabasa pauyat wawa, which means if we can not read this is shameful for it is merely a children's game.  

'The Philippine Government has enacted Indigenous Peoples Rights Act intending to protect their Right to Ancestral Domain and Lands; Right to Self-Governance and Empowerment; Social Justice and Human Rights; and the Right to Cultural Integrity. The Act lays stress on development of indigenous peoples like Mamanwas, who can contribute to the nation building and integration of society, informed Reynaldo C. Estrella who represents a local NGO - EDCADS and is promoting self -help groups among Mamanwas. Who will buy their ethnic products when China dominates the urban markets ? No answer came from innocent Mamanwas. In fact the question was wrongly addressed to Mamanwas. The answer lies with the neo-rich Filipinos as they must respect indigenous peoples and also their products.

Awanish Somkuwar specializes in rural reporting and has written extensively on cross-cutting development issues in the context of south asia and more particulatly India. Currently working with a DFID-aided Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project, India as State Coordinator- Communications. Working on tribal communication strategies.


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