STRENGTHENING ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY THROUGH INDIGENOUS BELIEF SYSTEMS

The community members of Ampusungan, Bakun, Benguet intently discussing issues and concerns regarding the Amburayan River.
The community members of Ampusungan, Bakun, Benguet intently discussing issues and concerns regarding the Amburayan River.

The Amburayan River traverses 6 municipalities in the highland province of Benguet. For the month of February community consultations covering barangays in Kapangan, Atok, Tublay and Bakun were conducted. These activities yielded indigenous concepts relevant to the river and to environmental protection.

In Bakun, Benguet the “inayan” belief is often mentioned. It is the acute awareness of the consequences of negative actions, or the fear of doing something bad. Indigenous beliefs often revolve around relationships with the land and with the resources around them. “Inayan” one would say to a person indiscriminately cutting trees, “inayan” because life forms and life-giving systems like forests and rivers should be revered.

In Bakun, the tumongaw and the antipakaw are spirits believed to reside in large trees who can cause misfortune when trees are cut without observing the proper rites. The pinten, spirits living in springs and water bodies are believed to care about cleanliness. Each indigenous highland culture have different names and different rites and rituals associated with these spirits. If examined closely almost all of them are indigenous ways to regulate the use of forest resources. A way to ensure that communities can use resources without causing environmental harm. However, most of these practices are fading into memory.

Indigenous beliefs are placed in the back seat by the changing times where development and modernization is favoured. The younger generations are quick to scoff at these old belief systems as more and more of them migrate to cities and pursue jobs unrelated to the land their ancestors so carefully tended. The “inayan” belief is losing its gravity.

But even if the belief in forest spirit guardians are ignored, if the folklore and myths are cut away, a humbling and deeply important truth remains: the forests and rivers provide food, water, shelter, medicine, protection and so much more, people have no right to take without tending and to destroy without care.

Communities along the highland Amburayan river basin and watershed are indigenous. There are belief systems that can be reinvigorated and integrated into actions and plans for the sustainable management of natural resources.
Protecting and Defending the Amburayan River Basin and Watershed through Good Governance and Active Peoples’ Participation is a project funded by the USAID through the Gerry Roxas Foundation (GRF) and is implemented by the Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation Inc. (JVOFI).// Flynn S. Ayugat