Deep-Rooted Hope and Green Entanglement


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Halsema National Highway, Cordillera Administrative Region—There stands apart, a breed of individuals in highland Cordillera who unobtrusively continue weaving a life of culturally strengthening environmental heritage in a changing world, while human activities, albeit, impact the land, Herald Express saw last week.

This stock of tribal members, unassuming in their labors for nature, scoff when branded as “environmentalist, or labelled “eco warriors.”  They refuse being lumped into that caliber.

The would rather be referred simply as “kadara ti kabanbantayan,” (kin of the mountains).

Yet, they possess what is called “kincentric ecology” running in their blood, the belief or cultural value that they themselves and nature are part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins.

It’s an awareness learned by them through childhood, put to practice as they grew older which they describe as “life in any environment is practicable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin.”

Such kin or relatives they refer to, include all natural elements present in an ecosystem. And any “kincentric relationship” preserves and enhances the ecosystem, these kincentric ecologists say.

It is an indigenous form of cultural model of nature appreciation   deeply rooted in their unique horticultural and agricultural techniques which include cultivation, sowing, planting, transplanting, pruning, harvesting, gathering, vegetative propagation, weeding and even discriminant burning.

When planting trees started to become a fad by both authorities and environmental activists, these unassuming members of the different tribes in upland Cordillera were already long practicing imbedding   different indigenous plants purposely to help in the “way of life.”

When environmental activists went on the streets demanding authorities concern for environment, these kincentric ecologists already long understood the complex relationship of an environment hammered under the relentless march towards modernization.

When many ecologists, conservationists and environmentalists spoke about endangered species and their potential loss, they sometimes lose sight to dwell on cultural values that work to enhance environment.

Such interplay emanating from “kincentric ecology,” has long been believed by these Cordillera highland kincentric ecologists as enhancing and preserving the ecosystem and that life suffers sustainability if humans fail to understand human-nature relationship.

George Luis Fakat, known as “Ama Changat” in Bontoc, Mountain Province, and an Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) likens “kincentric ecology” in his indigenous understanding that life forms occupying a land have a human-nature relationship as an awareness that life in any environment is practicable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin.

This environmental world view of “Ama Changat” surfaced also last April when he was called upon by the Bontoc people to perform a ritual called “changtey” or “manengtey,” a custom performed to protect the land and the people from harm.

It was performed during the height of the Covid-19. In part of the ritual, Changat took hold of twigs of a certain tree called “tikem,” and tied these at the entrance of the Mountain Province Municipal Hall.

In elders’ explanation that April, “tikem” signaled the community’s call for a “rest watch day” with the understanding that none was allowed to disturb their environment by going out, working the fields or laboring under the sun.

And any member of the Bontoc tribe, seeing the “tikem,” and still defies the “rest watch day” will result to the person being upbraided by community members for it’s believed such misbehavior will spiral into bad circumstances for the community tribe.

Last week, along Halsema National Highway, at Paoay, Sayangan, Atok Municipality, in Benguet, Herald Express chanced upon a mild-mannered gentleman – apparently a farmer –  who was planting bamboo along the sides of Halsema highway.

Herald Express built a conversation with the soft-spoken senior who introduced himself simply as “Kal Palasi.” Herald Express later found out from people there the senior was related to the former Atok mayor Belit Palasi who served Atok in 1910-1911.

Asked if his planting bamboos along the rocky edges of Halsema Highway involved monetary compensation, Mr. Palasi shook his head in the negative, neither he said was he a member of any environmental NGO.

Continuing his planting bamboos, which Mr. Palasi described as Japanese bamboo called “Mozo” by the Japanese and introduced particularly in Baguio, during the Pre-War days, he explained that during childhood, he learned from his grandparents and parents the value “man and environs are related to, and play a role in, the complexity of life.”

For example, Mr. Palasi said, as he handed a bamboo to this Daily Laborer to plant, “In life, one has to bend with the wind in face of any harsh reality in life.”

“So it is with this bamboo, “Mr. Palasi paused, then said,” It bends, and even with the strongest typhoon, never breaks, capable of adapting to any circumstance.”

“We must be like the bamboo, bend but not break, flexible but deeply-rooted, that the higher we grow, the deeper we bow, an entanglement of green yet versatile and humble in life.”

“For years, after having graduated at Mountain State Agricultural College (Mr. Palasi was referring to Benguet State University, formerly called MSAC), I never forgot to do the ritual of the chontog in many woodlots that are public and along Halsema,” Palasi said.

Chontog is the cultural method of the Benguet tribe folks in their kinship of protecting their forests and its other resources.  Chontog is the cultural rootedness and temporal grounding of conservation among the Benguet folks’ way back “since time immemorial,” Palasi said. It’s also referred to as “kakayuan,” simply meaning, the trees.

Asked why he preferred planting the bamboos instead of trees which were the traditional materials in forest traditional management, Palasi pointed out Halsema highway’s vulnerability during typhoons.

“For years, living along Halsema, I was witness to the numerous landslides of the road. And I promised to myself, whenever I have free time from gardening chores, I will plant whatever materials as protection for the road,” Palasi said.

In the course of his observation, Palasi came to the conclusion that bamboo holds better promise in minimizing erosion along Halsema.

“Many, take bamboo for granted, unknowing it’s a good material in stabilizing riverbanks, watersheds, recycling water nutrients, preventing slides and releases more oxygen than trees,” Palasi explained.

Potential of bamboo in erosion control and slope stabilization for Halsema can be an essential and cost-effective material for erosion control and slope stabilization works. It has wide-spreading root system. A bamboo clump can hold as many as six cubic meters of soil.

Palasi, who holds a degree in Forestry, took to following his desire of engaging in agriculture and being successful in it.

His kincentric ecology endeavor must have rubbed on others living along Halsema belt that many came to follow in his footstep.

Nowadays, any, observant enough can spot clumps of bamboos clinging to the sides of Halsema, evidently planted by caring souls who never asked for monetary compensation.

It warms the heart of Palasi whenever he eyes elementary kids holding cuttings of Japanese bamboo then sticking them in the soil at Halsema Highway, before going to their schools.

Palasi is of the firm opinion that kincentric thinking can be introduced to the classrooms in today’s modern teaching. It can be married to contemporary notions of environmentalism, ecology and sustainability.

Connected to human activities, kincentric approach helps to face societies face sudden shocks, Palasi explained, pointing to the case of the municipality of Sadanga, in Mountain Province, which deferred not taking help from the government during the height of the Covid-19.

Palasi believed the people of Sadanga were able to “weather the storm” because of their kincentric attitude of integrating their indigenous knowledge into adaptive planning that mitigated their need for assistance from government.

And Palasi said he salutes Sadanga mayor Gabino Ganggangan for his kincentric attitude in waiving government aid and instead requested the government to divert said aid to areas needing it most.

Palasi explained there also exists kincentric ecology systems among other tribes in Cordillera, like the “tayan” system of the Bontocs, “muyong” of the Ifugao, “batangan” of Mountain Province, and the “lapat” of Abra and Apayao.

But the point here, in the belief of Palasi is, without kincentric ecology running in the veins of highland people, a greater part of Cordillera nature would have disappeared long time ago, than from its present state.

Each tribal group in the Cordillera may have different stories in their kincentric ecology approach, but there still remains commonalities that guide them in understanding past and present relationship with nature. – Bony A. Bengwayan