ON October 24 – 26, 2013 the Ateneo de Davao University’s Institute of Anthropology hosted the 35th UGAT Conference. This conference was organized by Ugnayang Pang-Aghamtao (UGAT) in cooperation with Ateneo de Davao University and Philippine Social Science Council.
The title of this year’s conference was Rethinking and Remaking Forms of Knowledge (The Critical Work of Anthropology). The conference was divided on two parts: plenary and parallel sessions. The plenary sessions had the distinguished lectures and visualizing knowledge. While the parallel sessions had the following themes: instrumentalizing knowledge, threatened knowledge systems, mining and water governance, faithful knowing and forms of life, museological tensions, cosmological turn, routes to knowing, subaltern knowledge in cities, affective knowledge, disaster and place names, and politics and poetics of knowing,
I was assigned as moderator on two parallel sessions. I will highlight only the first one, the Session B1 – Threatened Knowledge Systems. In that session, we had four presenters coming from different universities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. There were different topics and focus of their study.
The first presenter discussed reviving kinutiyan. Ms. Analyn Salvador – Amores, from UP Baguio, was the presenter. She said, “The kinutiyan is a renowned funerary blanket used by the affluent class in the Cordillera region north of Luzon and one of the national cultural treasures of the Philippines, unfortunately scarce research and documentation have been made on the blanket and its use.” She also added that, “earlier woven by the Isinay of Nueva Vizcaya, the blanket had translocal connections through trade and ritual use among the different ethnolinguistic groups in the Cordillera region (“Igorots”) in the past, and in the contemporary period. However, a handful of women elders who are knowledgeable about the practice had died out, and the intricate process and ikat technique have not been passed on to young generation of weavers. From this funeral blanket, she then connect it to the IPRA saying that the law, as a modality of understanding the peculiarities of the indigenous people has become an enabling instrument for the ethnic communities to a renewed appreciation of their culture, and a strategy to re-signify their identity.
The second presenter was from University of San Carlos. She was Prof. Zona Hildegarde Amper and her paper was entitled “A Disappearing Tradition: Gapas as Textile and Medicine in Santander, Cebu. Her study seeks to document local knowledge on “gapas” as crop, textile and medicine in this town in order to determine its place in Santander culture and recommend steps for the revitalization of an important heritage of this town.
The third presenter was Robert Panguiton from Ateneo de Zamboanga University. His paper focused on the Bajaus in Maluso and Lantawan municipalities of Basilan. Using a qualitative method, he tried to answer a basic question: how do the Bajau indigenous laws interplay with the formal laws of the Philippines? His paper showed that on recent times, “the panglima and the Bajau constituents in many areas of Maluso and Lantawan, Basilan, continue to maneuver within the local government politics. Many of the state laws were adapted by the Bajaus, while trying to maintain their other customary laws”. He further added that the “Badjaos made some adjustments of allowing them for enculturation of local state politics and engender greater political participation therein because they know what modern time brings where there is cultural pluralism and globalization”.
The last presenter in that session was Aidel Paul G. Belamide from the Municipal Government of Silang, Cavite. He used the theories on Cultural Materialism by Marvin Harris and Social Negotiation by Elizabeth Brumfiel, to explore the changing notions and values of land in his locality.
I consider myself very fortunate to participate and be part of the UGAT Conference. I have learned a lot. It is very much related to my line of work in Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University. This institute is part of the university that focuses on research and formation, inter-religious and intra faith dialogue.
One of the leading anthropologists of our time is Brother Karl Gaspar. He had written a number of books pertaining to Mindanao and the indigenous peoples. Bro. Karl is one of the pioneer members of UGAT. During the conference, he provoke my mind and spirit to write on several things. Starting from day one, Brother Karl inspired to me to write the anthropology of Islam in Mindanao. Now, what do I mean by saying this? Well, anthropology has a different lens in looking at what Islam is and the theory of liberation in the eyes of mudjaheeden. Specially in the lens of the late Chairman Hassim Salamat. Also, what is folk Islam and how do the panditas cope up in changes of our time? What is the mapping of the different schools of thought of Islam in Mindanao and what are its implication in the peace and security in Mindanao? Thus, there were so many research agenda, so many interesting topics for Al Qalam and Al IQRA.
One thing I can never forget during the conference was when I witnessed how anthropologists really interpret and define culture. Is it the practice or the idea or concepts behind the reason why people do certain acts of their norms and traditions? I was “star struck”, like a child’s first experience of watching 3D or an IMAX… different theories about culture, language, nuances, and syncretism filled our minds while listening to the presentations and open forum. At one point, I forgot that I was the moderator of the session and not a participant.
I cannot wait for the next UGAT conference. The next conference is set on 2014 in Baguio. Hopefully, by that time I can also present a paper about Islam in Mindanao for non Muslims to understand that Islam in Mindanao is diverse and very colourful.