|1997 Series 5
The Concept of Mari-it (Dangerous
Zones) in Panaynon Worldview
and Its Impact on Sustainable Human Development
|Dr Alicia P.
Director of Centre of West Visayan Studies
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Philippines in the Visayas
|In the current
concern over sustainable human development and a higher environmental
awareness, folklore has not been given the attention it deserves as a rich
source of options and cues for carrying out changes in people’s lifeways
and habits, particularly among fishing communities. The reasons for this
oversight are many, but perhaps the most obvious is the tendency of modern
environmental planners and crusaders to distrust indigenous – and
therefore “backward” – ecological belief systems.
proposes that among traditional societies, sustainable development can be
realized by exploring the world view of the people for some folk concepts,
beliefs and practices that can enhance environmental protection. In
presenting the data gathered from six barangays in Panay Island – Barangay
Igdalaguit in Dao, Antique; Buntod in Pan-ay, Capiz; Suclaran, Buenavista
in Guimaras, Iloilo; Gabi in the Gigantes island, Carles, Iloilo;
Manok-manok in Boracay island, Malay, Akland and Caratagan, in Calinog,
Iloilo – this paper will highlight the prevalent culture-based concept of
mari-it (literally, “dangerous”) that defines the communities relationship
with their environment. This sense of danger has bred a deep respect for
the unknown and developed a set of beliefs and practices conductive to
environmental preservation and protection.
|To be sure, the
government’s own fisheries and forest management program has been too
narrowly focused, its prescriptions relieving symptoms rather than dealing
with causes. Folklore can help bridge the gap. By knowing how the folk
perceives their ecosystem through their world view, we can identify folk
concepts and practices that can serves as options supportive to the
meaningful implementation of our laws in fishing and forest resources.
||“God created land
for the people. Land, the earth, owns the people. These are sacred
places. Land is a place to live in, to use and to work for its fruits and
then to be buried in and thus, finally, be owned by it. If threatened,
defend it…” These are the words of Datu Dia-on and Datu Man-ukil, two
Bukidnon datus from Mindanao island in Southern Philippines which affirm
the sanctity of the earth we live in and the need to protect it. This
also articulates the general view of indigenous groups throughout the
world “… that land is sacred, that land and its resources is life in
itself.” (Bennagen, 1996:I )
||Over the last
several years, men and women have behaved as though life systems were
inexhaustible. People felt that there were always new frontiers to
explore and exploit either because of ignorance, plain survival, or human
greed. However, it has become obvious that we should adopt a new outlook
toward nature to ward off the fast deterioration of our natural
resources. For us to realize the urgency of the environmental situation,
we must begin to understand that we live on a planet with finite and
exhaustible resources. Otherwise, if we continue to pollute our land, our
air, our waters and waste our timber, mineral and other natural resources,
we are heading full speed toward disaster for all of earth’s life forms –
ourselves included. Should current environmental trends continue, by the
turn of the century, we will be facing a catastrophe as irreversible as
any nuclear holocaust. (Soerjani, 1995: XVI)
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of the crisis,
and ecology groups in many countries have surfaced calling for profound
changes in the way human beings relate to the natural world. There must
be a way for us to start paying more attention on how we can enhance our
natural resources rather than thinking merely about commercial gains and
technological advances. We need to recover what we have lost in our haste
to change the world; we need to have a sense of limit, an awareness of the
importance of the earth’s resources. (Guanzon, 1995: 131)
||While it is true
that the government is now involved in meeting the challenges of
sustainable human development, its common approach to fisheries and forest
management has been too narrowly focused, dealing mainly with policy
intervention principally aimed at relieving symptoms rather than probing
deeply into the underlying causes of fisheries resource overexploitation
and degradation, often of socioeconomic, political and cultural origins.
resources in their environment for socioeconomic advancement and to keep
up with new technological trends; however, real progress can only be
attained when they know how to care and use Mother Earth’s resources not
only for their present needs but also for the needs of the generations to
come. And here, we zero in on the use of indigenous knowledge for
sustainable human development, the most recently articulated and widely
acclaimed social objective defined as the ability to meet present needs
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs as well.
Examining a people’s worldview, which is the way people
look at the universe and all around them (Kraft, 1989, 183-184), can have
a bearing on the way people utilize the God-given natural resources around
them. One way to encourage the citizenry to contribute to sustainable
human development is to start where they are. This way, whether their
participation in the development is conscious or unconscious, there is a
free-flow of effort that derives strength from an ideology that is
||Folklore, which is
implied in the people’s worldview, can contribute to sustainable
development by re-valuing certain folk beliefs and concepts that can help
preserve the balance of ecology. Unfortunately, there is a gap in Asian
literature concerning the usefulness of indigenous knowledge because of
the tendency of environmental planners to distrust what they thought was a
“backward” ecological belief system. There is a need for researches to
study indigenous knowledge that has long been neglected, but has been
found useful to ecosystems protection. Many of our laws on fishing are
difficult to enforce. We can try other options by looking at how the folk
perceive their ecosystem and how these can be utilized to help protect our
marine land and forest recourses. It is in this context that this
research is given due importance.
Statement of the Problem
This paper focuses on the worldview of six selected
barangays (villages) in Panay Island, Central Philippines. Specifically,
traditional religious beliefs, concepts and ritual practices related to
the concept of mari-it which encourage environmental protection and
sustainable human development will be put to focus. The basic question
is: How do the Panay folk perceive their ecosystem? The following
specific questions were raised to examine the worldview of the people:
fisherfolk and the mountain dwellers of Panay view the sea and their
forests as part of their ecosystem?
traditional beliefs and practices exist to show their regard for the sea
and the forest?
folks in the six barangays vary in their outlook towards the sea and the
forest vis-à-vis religious beliefs, concepts and practices? What factors
contribute to changes and/or variations in these beliefs and practices?
the direct and indirect bearing of the concept of mari-it in the
protection and utilization of the ecosystem?
Based on the questions raised, the following are the
objectives of the study:
the Panay folk view of the seas and the forests as part of their
and describe traditional beliefs and practices which show their regard for
the seas and the forests;
and compare the beliefs, practices and worldview vis-à-vis the concept of
mari-it on the six barangays studied and to identify factors
contributing to persistence, variations or changes in the beliefs and
practices related to mari-it;
direct and indirect bearing of the concept of mari-it to the
protection and utilization of ecosystems.
Culture is a complex thing, which consists of two levels:
surface and deep levels (Kraft, 1989: 181-185). The surface
level is largely visible and consists of patterns by which people behave.
These shared behavior patterns are, however, closely linked to a deep
level of largely unconscious and invisible assumptions, we call
worldview. Worldview which is embedded in culture is “a set of patterns
and structures taught to people which defines the way people think and
behave,” (Kraft, 1984: 181) the manifestations of which are
seen in the people’s economic activities, religious practices,
socio-political organization, technology, and every other aspect of human
life. The power of culture as expressed in the people’s worldview can be
seen in the way ideas and concepts mold norms and behavior. Publicly
expressed, rituals, which can be viewed as repetitive symbolic actions
done to get a desired effect, can serve as a medium powerful to influence
people’s mode of action. While a people’s worldview can change over a
long span of time and can be lost, weakened or transformed due to external
factors, yet, like a script, it is diligently followed by those who accept
traditional society regards its environment as sacred and moves toward
urbanization, where man dominates or controls the environment, these
concepts, beliefs and practices, which are protective of the environment,
could weaken and may eventually even be lost.
Before undertaking the study, the researcher had several assumptions
regarding the worldview of Panaynon fisherfolk as well as explanations for
persistence, variations or changes in their worldview. These are the
||The maritime worldview of
fisherfolk in Panay would most likely be similar due to a presumed
cultural commonality of Panaynon and fisherfolk animistic beliefs and
||Differences in ecological
niche need not affect the worldview of the fisherfolk since the concept of
mari-it, which regards certain places as sacred and dangerous, is
built-in in the culture (worldview) of all Panaynon people.
||Variations and changes in
beliefs and practices related to the sea/water or forest could be due to
various influences; introduction of a new religion, nearness to means of
transportations; entry of change agents or the like.
Locale of the Study
The barangays chosen for the study were selected based on
their stages of transition from traditional animistic beliefs and
practices to the more urbanized or modern worldview. Their ecological
niche vis-à-vis the resources of food was also considered to find out its
effects on the worldview.
The six barangays included in the study are located in
Panay Island, Western Visayas, Central Philippines: Igdalaguit in Dao (now
– T. Fornier), Antique in the southern tip of Panay Island for a deep sea
or kantilado shelf location; Buntod in Pan-ay, (Capiz) for an
estuary location; Suclaran in Buenavista, (Guimaras Island); Gabi in
Gigantes Sur Island (Iloilo); and Manok-manok in Boracay Island (Aklan).
They represent barangays located near coral reefs in varying stages of
transition. Caratagan in Calinog (Iloilo) represents an upland barangay
and was added as the sixth community studied.
Igdalaguit was selected to represent a traditional community because,
despite its access to the agents of change, it is leaning more towards
traditionalism. Buntod represents a community in its early stage of
transition due to its stagnant socio-cultural conditions over the past
many years. Suclaran was classified as in its late stage of transition
and the presence of a change agent, consciously directing its change makes
it a good example. Gabi represents a melting pot barangay because its
strategic location makes it a meeting place of people from different
Visayan Islands. Manok-manok is far advanced in all aspects of life,
compared to all the other barangays due to the entry of tourism in the
Caratagan, a barangay in the interior mountains of Central Panay, was
added as a sixth community to represent an upland tribal community. After
identifying the five coastal communities in its varying stages of
transition, it was deemed wise to include the upland community to give a
holistic picture of Panay in relation to the folk’s worldview.
In 1992, the researcher became part of the Visayan Maritime
Anthropological Studies (VMAS I) group composed of Filipino and Japanese
anthropologists which conducted separate studies on the coastal and marine
barangays in Western and Central Visayan Islands in the Philippines. The
researcher chose to investigate the Panaynon Maritime Worldview and
concentrated on two coastal barangays. The first two barangays studied
were: Igdalaguit (Dao, Antique) a barangay located near a kantilado
shelf location and Suclaran (Buenavista, Guimaras Island) located near a
coral reef. They were identified as traditional and late transitional in
terms of their animistic and traditional beliefs by making a background
check and ocular survey of the place. Many of these communities were
also known to the researcher long before the study.
the first two years, the researcher moved to a new location to study three
more barangays in Panay: Buntod (Capiz), Gabi (Gigantes Island, Iloilo)
and Manok-manok (Boracay Island, Aklan). These completed a total of five
barangays studied in three years (1992-1995).
following year (1996), the researcher visited an interior upland community
in Central Panay, Caratagan, one of the many tribal barangays visited and
explored for epic work. The researcher, therefore, had the chance to
check the data found in the coastal barangays with that of Caratagan, the
upland barangay. With the religious worldview of this barangay considered
for study, the total picture of Panay island worldview can be taken. This
last community, the sixth represents a more traditional worldview than
that of Igdalaguit, for they appear to have preserved more of their
The Tumandok or Bukidnons as the people of
Caratagan are called, were also coastal people during pre-Hispanic times
as inferred in their oral literature which speaks of a maritime culture.
It is worthwhile pursuing what happens to the Panaynon concept of mari-it
and its associated beliefs and practices when a group of people moved to
the interior, far from the forces of urbanization or modernization.
Data Gathering Techniques
To select the barangays to be considered for the research,
a map was initially used to mark out prospective places to study. A
target barangay was selected and inhabitants there were interviewed for
confirmation of the criteria set for inclusion in the study. Later, the
barangay was visited. Options were made to consider other barangays in
case the criteria which suit the stages of transition needed, would not be
Questions 1 and 2 on the description of their fishing activities, beliefs
and practices as well as worldview were answered by staying in the village
for several days or weeks intermittently, during the semestral break and
summer vacation. Key informants, focused group interviews and participant
observations, whenever possible, were utilized.
Questions 3 and 4 deal with the comparison of beliefs,
practices and worldview of the six barangays and the bearing of the
concept of mari-it to sustainable development were answered by
focused and unstructured group interviews, key informant methods and
observation of the barangay life.
Ethnography of Six Barangays in Panay Island, Central Philippines
Panay is the second largest island of the Visayas group of
Islands in Central Philippines. Politically, it is divided into five
provinces: Antique on the western side runs north to south of the roughly
triangular-shaped island. On the northern side are the provinces of Aklan
and Capiz, and on the south is the province of Iloilo (Please refer to
the map in the Appendix). The primary means of livelihood of the
great majority of the people is farming but fishing is an important source
of livelihood for towns and barangays located in the coastal areas. In
some household, farming and fishing are practiced together. There are,
however, small islands where fishing is the primary means of livelihood.
In the interior upland areas of rugged Central Panay, kaingin
(slash-and-burn farming) is practiced together with hunting and
In this section, the researcher will present an ethnography
of six Panaynon barangays – five of which are coastal communities and one
an upland community. The description that follows seeks to answer the
earlier questions raised. After presenting the setting of the communities,
its demography and folk history, the topics to be dealt with in the order
of discussion are the following: a) fishing activities; b) beliefs and
ritual practices; c) fisherfolk/upland folk’s view of the sea/forest; d)
concept of mari-it among the six barangays; e) factors contributing
to changes or variations in mari-it beliefs and practices; f)
mari-it concept bearing on ecosystems protection.
A traditional community, near the deep kantilado (shelf) waters of
Punta Hagdan, Barangay Igdalaguit invites ritualism. It is located at the
southwestern part of the municipality of Dao (T. Fornier) in Antique
province and lies along the western coast facing the Cuyo Sea, which is
considered a rich fishing ground. The settlement pattern is bilinear: one
group lining the highway near the seacoast and the other group living on
the other side of the street. (Please refer to the sketch in the
Appendix) In 1989, Igdalaguit had a population of 999. Almost every
house by the coast is owned by a fisherman who depends on the sea for his
livelihood. Although fishing is generally the secondary source of living
(farming is primary), it is the main source of income for fishermen who
live by the sea. Other people whose houses are located near small farms,
not by the coast, live on farming supplemented by fishing and other
Buntod. In its early transition stage, Barangay Buntod, one of the
island barangays of the town of Pan-ay in Capiz, is located near a
friendly and bountiful estuary. It is bounded on the northeast by the
Sibuyan sea, on the southeast by Barangay Pawa and to the north southwest
by a river which separates it from Barangay Agojo.
Buntod is about eight kms from the poblacion of Pan-ay via
barangay Tanza Norte, or about 7.5 kms via Barangay Arellano, and could be
reached by a motorboat or banca ride from these two barangays during high
tide. The barangay used to be a mangrove area in the early 1940’s but
today, a large portion of its 258.898523 hectares has been developed into
fishponds. Unlike Igdalaguit, Buntod is a small barangay situated between
two estuaries which go around the barangay. (Please refer to the sketch
in the Appendix). These rivers go around Pawa-Buntod, two contiguous
barangays which appear like an island on the map. One branch of the river
leads to the highway towards the town.
A barangay in its late transitional stage, Suclaran dwells near a
five-kilometer shallow fishing zone on the southeastern portion of the
municipality of Buenavista, in Guimaras province. (Please refer to the
sketch in the Appendix) It is 18 kms from the town proper and 24 kms
from Sto. Rosario wharf where motorboats ferrying passengers to and from
Iloilo and Buenavista are docked. The barangay can also be reached by a
45-minute ferry boat ride from Pulupandan Port in the province of Negros
Occidental. Some portions of Suclaran are flatlands, especially those
near the sea. Farther away from the sea, Suclaran is quite hilly and
A meeting place of maritime people from different Visayan Islands,
Barangay Gabi lies northeast of Gigantes Sur and has become a haven of
sojourners. (Please refer to the sketch in the Appendix). It faces
the southern part of Gigantes Norte, which is about ten kms from its
shoreline. Both islands are separated by the sea. Las Islas de Gigantes,
where Gabi is located, is shaped like a reclining giant. It is
politically part of the municipality of Carles, province of Iloilo. The
existing port facilities and bustling trade of the coastal town of
Estancia, a municipality which lies near the southeastern portion of
Carles, enables the people to travel and engage in business. A motorized
boat, which takes two hours to reach Gabi, enables people to commute from
Gabi to Estancia or vice versa.
Once a pristine village inhabited by simple fishermen, Manok-manok,
located at the southern portion of Boracay Island, has now become a haven
of tourists. (Please refer to the sketch in the Appendix). It is
one of the three barangays found on Boracay island (Aklan), a two kms long
and one km wide stretch of white sand island found offshore at the
northwestern tip of Panay. From the wharf of Caticlan on the mainland (Aklan),
it is a 15-minute boat ride to Manok-manok. The whole barangay is hilly
and rocky and only root crops like camote (sweet potato) and cassava are
planted by the old residents.
An upland barangay of Calinog (Iloilo) in the rugged terrain of Central
Panay, it is about 18 km. Jeepney ride from the poblacion. From there, one
gets down from the jeepney and start trekking to the interior mountains. (Please
refer to the sketch in the Appendix). The trek takes 5-6 hrs for an
outsiders depending upon the weather which can make the terrain very
slippery. But for a native, the trek can just be about an hour. The
barangay is on the flattened portion of the hills. Ten to fifteen
minutes from the village one can see both barren and forested hills and
for yonder one can view the thick forested Mt. Baloy reserve which is
believed to be very mari-it or dangerous due to the presence of
and Sustainable Human Development
In this section, a brief summary of how the following six
Panaynon barangays utilize the resources in their environment towards
sustainable human development will be discussed: Igdalaguit (Dao,
Antique), Buntod (Pan-ay, Capiz), Suclaran (Buenavista, Guimaras, Iloilo),
Gabi (Gigantes Island, Carles, Iloilo), Manok-manok (Boracay Island,
Malay, Aklan), and Caratagan (Calinog, Iloilo). This discussion will
integrate the salient points needed to show how sustainable development is
attained in traditional communities in Panay. Specifically, folklore
illustrated in the concept of mari-it will be zeroed in showing its
bearing to sustainable human development.
Resources (Flora and Fauna)
the village of Igdalaguit, fishermen fish in their limited shallow zones
(1-3 km), during certain months only when fishes breed in the narrow
coves. The fishing gears used are nets, traps, spears, and hook and line
which are not efficient in catching marine life; the boats they use are
the small non-motorized sibid-sibidan manned only by one person;
and fishing is done only near the shores. The deep zones, the kantilado
(shelf), are avoided by small fishermen and even by motorized boats
because it is reputedly a very dangerous area as it is near the famous
spirit-habitated, Punta Hagdan cliff. To highlight the danger of the deep
sea, the communal samba ceremony is performed annually
before the year starts to warn fishermen of the dangers of sea spirits,
thus, minimizing its overuse. The deeper dangerous stretch have
traditionally served as some sort of sanctuary for marine life and as of
this year, (1997) fishermen of Igdalaguit together with the local
agriculture officer have included the stretch as part of the sanctuary
reserve to be declared by a Municipal Ordinance. As of late (2 years),
they have planted mangrove in the shallow rocks although they have
difficulty in maintaining it due to high mortality rate that occurred in
the place attributed to typhoon and barnacles.
Fishermen in Buntod limits utilization of marine life to the estuaries
which they regard as “friendly” places and a “blessing”. Since the water
resource is regarded as a friend, there is no abuse of its use. The
distant sea is hardly used for fishing, except only during safe months of
the year because it faces an open sea. Besides, food from the estuary is
quite enough for the villagers. The land is not used as it is barren.
Some trees, locally known as akasya identified as mari-it
and some species of bakhaw (mangrove) found in the fishpond and the
canals of rivers, which stretch outward to the poblacion, are not cut thus
protecting the environment.
Buntod, Suclaran fisherfolk use traditional gears and view their shallow
five-kilometer sea as a “friend” and should not be abused. Fishing using
nets, traps and the small boat, sibid-sibidan is only done in the
morning when it is low tide. Since these types of fishing gears are not
efficient, the sea resources are not exploited. The yonder deep zones are
seldom visited. In the Siete Pecados Island (Seven Islands), a big
strange white rat is believed to live under water and fearful sounds could
be heard by the more daring fishermen. A ritual to protect them is needed
before visiting the areas. Food offering is also needed for fishing
ritual, hence if one is not ready with the ritual paraphernalia, he should
not fish. Fishing, therefore, in deep dangerous places, is very seldom
done. Hence, exploitation in these areas, which serves as fish sanctuary,
Gabi’s, the 5 km shallow zone is frequented by small fishermen who use
fishing gears like nets, traps, spears, and the hook and line which are
not efficient to catch fish. The small sibid-sibidan is used by
fishermen in shallow waters where it is safe. The bountiful shallow zone
rich in marine life is also considered safe. But like Suclaran, the
yonder deep zones of 40-75 fathoms are considered very dangerous. Only big
fishing vessels owned by two people in Gabi fish in these deeps zones and
a daga (blood letting) ritual is needed before sea vessels can
fish, a warning that the place is sacred or dangerous and should be used
sparingly. Similarly, Olympu, a 40 fathoms diving place in Gigantes
waters, is a strong reminder to Gabi divers never to go near the place
except in very extreme cases and at one’s risk. These waters which are
less frequented serve as sanctuary for marine life and the dangers told
about them remind the villagers that the sea is sacred or dangerous for
people who use it wantonly.
the village of Manok-manok, only a remaining few people fish. Fishing is
seasonal and only by a few part-time fishermen. With the flourishing
tourism industry in the island, at least 85% of traditional fishermen
abandoned fishing for tourism related industries. Those who fish
seasonally do it on the other side of the island, away from the stretch of
white sand. Only one diver can be seen on the shallow white shores during
fieldwork. Seasonal fishing and traditional gears like spears are not
efficient to catch fish. The burgeoning number of visitors in the island
are fed by fish bought at the mainland since fish is not enough for the
increasing population. This is beneficial for sustainable fishing because
marine life will not be depleted.
these remaining few fishermen, the sea is friendly and a God given
blessing. It is the land, especially in the far northern and southern tips
of the island, which they consider as mari-it, and where trees and
bushes are not touched and frequented by people. Some trees believed to
be the dwelling places of land engkantos (environmental spirits),
such as those locally known as bubog and lunok and are not
tumandok nga Bukidnon or (mountain dwellers) of Caratagan have a
clear concept of mari-it and non-mari-it zones. The nearby
hills, about 15- minute walk from the village proper, have forests and
hills which are entirely bald, save for some grasses. But there are
forested hills and mountains which are preserved by the folk because of
the strong belief that the environmental spirits like the mangingilaw
(a huge man-eating monkey-like animal) and other ancestral spirits, who
have lived with the engkanto as binihag (captives)
inhabit these places. These places should not be disturbed lest something
terrible should happen to them. Past and recent stories of people,
believed to have been harmed or killed by the mangingilaw
(man-eating monkey creature) serve as control to the use of primary
Carataganons do not dare go and explore the forested mountain of Mt. Baloy,
a mouontain reserve which is rich in rare species of flora (e.g. orchids)
and fauna (e.g. wild birds, deer, pigs) for fear of disturbing the peace
and tranquility of spirit beings and their pet animals that dwell in the
place. Mountaineers who dared to go there were cautioned of taboos to be
observed (e.g. keeping quiet and not getting anything, such as flora and
fauna). As a way of symbolizing respect for sacred sites, a little earth
from the ground and a tiny piece from the bark of a tree should be eaten.
If they wanted to pick wild orchids, they should only get few and only
when they are on their way back home. Thus, the concept of mari-it
limits man’s activities away from dangerous zones many of which serves as
sanctuaries of endangered wildlife species.
Folklore as a
Regulator of Environmental Resources
Folklore as expressed in stories, legends, narratives,
beliefs and taboos are oral traditions handed down from one generation to
another. It attains its mark of traditionalism after it has passed the
three generational test, which means it has been handed down through three
generations. Folklore, as expressed in the belief of mari-it zones,
discourages entry into deep forests and fishing grounds, thus preserving
and protecting these areas from increasing population pressure in the
coastal zones and the forest. It defines the people’s norms and taboos on
the use of resources, when to use, what to use and how to use them.
Implicitly, it argues for obedience to village traditions like the
observance of silence in deep forests and seas which are sanctuaries of
pelagic fishes and wild life. Once the natural habitat of flora and fauna
are frequently visited, their growth and reproduction will be disturbed.
Folk beliefs as part of folklore and worldview defines
norms and answers questions pertaining to traditional ethics in resource
utilization. The following are examples of stories regarding incidents
which took place in mari-it places and constantly remind the folks
of taboos on restricted or limited zones believed to be sacred and
known hunter together with his two friends, went on a hunting trip for
wild animals. Coming from the other side of Madia-as range, they
crossed the mountains of Mt. Baloy for three days to catch a big wild
boar. Exasperated, they finally caught the boar. In excitement, Baknit
shouted to his friends, “I will have its liver to compensate for my
tiredness.” However, his companionss sternly reminded him that they
should just let go of the boar because it belongs to Diwa, the
deity. Unmindful and boastful of his prowess as a hunter, Baknit was about
to strike the boar when a crashing sound was heard. Quick as a lightning,
he was petrified and turned into a big stone. Today, in that mountain of
Central Panay (now politically part of Valderrama, Antique), stands a rock
which looks like a man about to strike a boar. It serves to remind daring
hunters of the misdeed of Baknit. (Translated from “Baknit”,
an illustrated reading material of the NGO, Green Forum, 1996,
based in the Province of Iloilo).
Another well known story regarding the fate of a person who disobeyed
taboo on mari-it places is told of Ando, a diver from Gabi, in
Gigantes Sur, Carles, Iloilo:
resident of Gigantes Island was in the process of constructing his house
with galvanized roofing. Since the materials are far more costly than the
usual temporary materials used like cogon and nipa, he had
to earn more money. Therefore, he decided to dive for tipay
(seashell) in a place called Olympu, a very deep fishing ground of 40
fathoms, located about 50 miles from Gigantes Island. This was in 1988. He
had recalled three years earlier, that one of his men died mysteriously in
the same spot, an hour after diving. Still, Ando was not fazed. He went
diving in Olympu, accompanied by three of his men. They had oxygen tanks
and attached to their belts was a rope which could be shaken to signal
that the diver wants to be pulled up.
first visit to the diving area, Ando had a very rich harvest of tipay.
The area underwater looked like a beautiful garden with tipay-looking
flower pots on a row. It was too beautiful to be true and tempting for a
second visit. As such, Ando went back in the afternoon to continue his
rich harvest. He needed more money to construct his house. The following
day, he went back on the same spot. His third visit proved fatal. The rich
harvest was a sign that he should not have gone back. When he shook the
rope and his companions pulled him up, he fainted on the boat. He was able
to reach the shore, but he died just upon docking. Before his death, he
was able to tell his companions that a hairy man underwater hit him with a
hard vine. (Based on the story of T. Francisco’s uncle. Interviewed in
Gabi, January 1993)
Indeed, according to the folks who had heard the story, it
was the siyukoy (sea monster) who hit Ando because he got more than
what was needed. Going to Olympus waters for the second time and seeing
numerous beautiful tipay, though an enticement, was already a
stern warning not to go back. Stories told about Olympu waters have made
the place a safe sanctuary for marine life and have disciplined the folks
not to be avaricious. Most divers, then prefer to avoid the place despite
its bounty. This concept of a sacred or spiritual environment, which
serves as some kind of an unwritten obligation between mortals and the
supernaturals, is stronger than written law and had transcended time and
Another illustrative case study of land use, where the
belief in mari-it serves to prohibit the exploitation of land
through building construction, happened to an urbanizing area in Miagao,
where the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) now stands.
Prior to the construction of the UPV buildings, a bugay rite was
performed by a baylan to request the environmental spirit beings to
leave the place. The town mayor requested for it as she would not want to
be answerable if an accident would happen in the future. Here is the
story regarding the spirit-inhabited place.
town of Miagao in Iloilo including the place where the UP Visayas building
stands is believed to be mari-it. A big port and a commercial
establishment of a big city believed to be owned by engkanto is found
there. Many years ago, prior to the construction of buildings, the place
had many trees such as mangoes, duhat, and wild fruits locally called
pasi. But nobody dared harvest the fruits since the people considered
the place as mari-it. The river, Idot, which passes in front
of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), used to be a navigable river
and many batel (big fishing boats) had entered that river in the
1920’s. But this body of water is also mari-it. If a place is
inhabited by environmental spirits, it should be avoided. Cutting or
taking trees and branches is strictly prohibited, except for branches and
fruits which have fallen to the ground. When the hilly UP Visayas site was
leveled, strange incidents took place. There were cases when the
carpenters’ food kept in the night would disappear the following morning.
A worker woke up one morning to discover that he had his shoe on. During
the construction of the dormitory, a big duhat tree was about to be
uprooted but the bulldozer chain broke down. It could not uproot the
duhat tree. The same thing happened when they attempted to cut the big
sampaloc (tamarind) tree near the location of the present overpass. So
many strange things happened which frightened and intimidated people.
This delayed the work until the engineer finally decided to divert the
overpass a little bit and leave the tamarind tree protected. (Based in an
interview with Prof. Teresita Nunal, resident of Miagao, January 1995.)
One can view the relationship which is formed not only
between humans and the spiritual beings, but also between man and her/his
physical environment, as one that is bonded with respect. Since the
makaako (Almighty God), owns the earth and everything in it and has
apportioned some areas to be secured by environmental spirits, human
beings have no right to do anything as they please. They are just stewards
and should never overuse, cut down trees or exhaust marine life.
The folks of Panay whether living near the coast or in the
mountains, have a concept of the environment or ecology called palibot
(literally, “around”) which they sustain wisely. This incorporates the
physical environment which includes man made things like infrastructure,
the social environment which includes human beings and lastly, the
spiritual environment which includes the unseen spirit world. If man
intrudes on the spirits’ dwelling and disregards the spirit presence, the
latter would get hurt and demand payment or propitiation.
Summary, Analysis and
Data drawn from the six Panaynon villages showed that
traditional means of livelihood like fishing, farming and hunting use
implements and gears which are sustainable to the environment and do not
deplete the sea and the forest resources. There are also beliefs regarding
spirit beings in the sea, like the siokoy (half-man, half fish sea
monster), and the mangingilaw (half man, half monkey man eating
monster) forest which are very harmful.
The Panay folks have also a notion that the earth and the
universe where they live has a layered structure with spirit beings living
in each layer e.g. the lupan-on (spirit beings on land), the
idalmunon (spirit beings living underneath the surface of the earth),
and the tubignon (spirit dwellers living in water). These beliefs
only serve to remind Panaynon folks that the earth is sacred,
spirit-inhabited and hence, dangerous. To use, therefore, the resources
of the earth with discourtesy or greed would incur the ire of the
spirits. Thus, there is a necessity for fishing and farming rites to be
performed regularly to gain the favor. Implicitly, rites like the daga
(blood letting) and the samba (communal fishing rite)
only serve to remind the Panaynon folks of the dangers of spirit habitated
Ethnographic data on the six barangays showed some
variations as well as commonalities in the worldview of fisherfolks and
mountain dwellers of Panay. This could be attributed to their
environmental location as well as other exogenous factors sipping into
their traditional worldview.
For the fisherfolks of Igdalaguit (Antique), who lived
near a kantilado (deep sea), the whole sea is considered very
dangerous, even more dangerous than the land which they believe is also
inhabited by spirit beings. In contrast, fisherfolks from Buntod (Capiz)
who lived near the two estuaries considered the waters around them as
friendly, safe and a blessing. It is the barren land and the spirit
beings inhabiting it that they consider as mari-it. The same is
true with the fisherfolks of Suclaran (Guimaras) and Gabi (Gigantes Sur,
Carles) where the sea is also considered friendly, safe and a precious
gift from God, in contrast to the land which hardly gives them any means
Deep, dangerous and spirit-inhabited waters have been
identified as far and beyond their usual day to day fishing areas. Since
these places are less visited, the ordinary fisherfolks are not too
concerned with the perils it posed. Because fishing is seldom done in
these areas, pelagic fishes found in the deep sea are protected and there
is no overfishing. In the same vein, Manok-manok (Boracay, Malay)
fisherfolks who no longer considered fishing as a primary source of food
after tourism related jobs proved more profitable, also viewed the sea as
safe, friendly and a source of food. However, with the shift to tourism
related jobs of about 85% of the fishermen, fishing was abandoned as they
were no longer considered the primary source of livelihood, which is good
for the sustainability of marine life.
Fisherfolks from the barangays of Igdalaguit, Suclaran and
Gabi, then, have a clear concept of what they consider as mari-it
(dangerous) and potentially dangerous places. Generally mari-it are
places in the sea which are very deep and considered to be dangerous
because of the presence of sea monsters and malevolent spirits coming from
far flung islands. Deaths are reported in deep waters, and are seldom
visited by ordinary fisherman.
Various traditional beliefs are invoked by the fisherfolks
to ensure their safety from the dangers posed by the sea. To Igdalaguit
fisherfolks who consult religion, rituals are the answer. Aside from
simple rites of fumigation, samba, a community rite is performed
early by religious practitioners called ma-aram (also, babaylan)
to befriend malevolent sea spirits who come to their shores, bringing
pests and diseases, and causing accidents and poor fish catch.
Among other fishing villages like Suclaran and Gigantes,
some rituals like padaga/padugo are still performed to ensure a
bountiful fish catch and to ensure the fishermen’s safety. There are,
however, no religious practitioners in Suclaran to perform sea rites.
These are done by fisherfolks who come from other places in the Visayan
sea. There are some variations in their performance of padaga and
padugo rites. Generally, if a vessel is big, padaga is
employed and the pig is slaughtered. A religious practitioner may or may
not be hired, depending upon the owner’s financial capacity. One babaylan
from Gabi says that a lot of fishermen no longer believed in ancient
ritual practices. For small boats, however, even young fishermen are aware
of the need of fumigation (tuob rite) and a number still perform
padugo. Like the communal ritual, samba, padaga and
padugo rites are reminders to fisherfolks and their
families of the sacredness of the sea and the dangers that await
over-fishing, which would then limit fishing activities.
Buntod fisherfolk see no need for the performance of
rituals even for new boats or gears. This could be possibly explained by
the fact that they do not fish far into the sea and they do not consider
the estuaries as mari-it. They simply fumigate the boats and gears
themselves. Only the owners and caretakers of the sangha (fishpond)
perform rituals and employ a babaylan (shaman) from outside the
community, where it is available, since they cannot run the risk of a poor
catch, or of frequently destroyed dikes. However, the postponement itself
of the sangha operation until a ritualist is available may give
mature fishes time to reproduce or swim out to the far sea for safety.
Former fishermen from Manok-manok also fumigate their
fishing boats and gears, but urbanization made them abandon their
traditional religious practices. Only a small number of folks fish
seasonally. They do not view the sea as dangerous. Instead, it is
considered friendly and a source of blessing. It is believed that the land
used to be very mari-it but with the coming of foreigners, the
spirit beings have moved to the northern and southern tip of the island
where they cannot be disturbed. There is not a single babaylan left
(possibly because they are no longer sought), though there is a
sirhuano, a ritualist for simple rites. One informant reports the
existence of an old babaylan in their place some generations ago but, just
like the ritualist from Buntod, nobody followed the calling after his
The fisherfolk concept of mari-it places is informed
by the babaylan ideology perpetuated by the ma-aram or babaylan.
Where there are more elderly shamans present in the area, the tradition is
strong. This explains why folk beliefs in Igdalaguit are quite clear of
the notion of mari-it and are persistent in performing rituals
compared to the other villages studied. Tradition has informed them that
the deep sea is dangerous. Thus, fishing rituals are must for boats and
gears. Folklore and folk stories of sea accidents constantly remind
fishermen of the sea and of the nearby Punta Hagdan as mari-it
(dangerous). In Suclaran, the presence of a change agent – an Aglipayan
priest had contributed to the weakening of the tradition while in Gabi,
the convergence of different people and ideas and the improvement of
fishing technology also weakened the tradition. In both barangays,
fishing in deep sea is regulated because of the fear of sea spirits and
the required ritual before going to fish. Also, the use of traditional
fishing gears like traps, nets and, spears which are not efficient allows
for the replenishment of fish and other forms of marine life.
The presence of the strong babaylan tradition
is explained by the fact that the babaylan are traditionally
associated with farming communities. Igdalaguit is basically a farming
community, although fishing is an important occupation. Thus, the
babaylan is sought in fishing but even more so in farming. But the
admonition of old babaylans on ritual requirements and the
explanation they give for sea accidents and poor catch can be viewed as
regulatory measures to prevent over-fishing done by the visiting
The sea is viewed as friendly by the fisherfolks from
Suclaran and Gigantes because it is a source of food. Their usual fishing
grounds, are the shallow waters which are not considered to be the abode
of sea spirits. The same is true with estuaries located closed to the
land. They are not known to be deep, and are rich sources of marine life.
Hence, they are considered as a blessing to the fisherfolks of Buntod.
In Buntod as well as in Gigantes, it is the land which is
considered as mari-it because of the presence of land spirits,
aside from the fact that fishermen get nothing from it. In Buntod, there
is no single farmland for cultivating rice while in Gigantes, there is
still a small area planted only annually. The land is barren during the
rest of the year. In that sense, the land is not friendly, rather, it is
dangerous, for after all, it gives very little or no yield at all
rendering life very dangerous.
Is there a direct or indirect bearing on the concept of
mari-it to ecosystems protection? Illustrative case studies showed
with certainty the direct bearing of the concept of dangerous zones to
sustainable human development in that the belief restricts limits on the
use of resources found in mari-it places making them a safe
sanctuary for marine and wildlife. It defines ethics for resource
utilization – when to use, what to use and how to use them. The strength
of tradition over laws and ordinances is seen in the way traditional
people protect their forest and seas which support not only
their traditional or indigenous culture but their very own survival.
Unfortunately, however, the fast encroachment of technology
from first world countries and the entry of consumerism have slowly
eroded indigenous beliefs, concepts and values of people in traditional
societies. It is my contention that the destruction of the belief in
sacred places are caused by technological advancement, which is greatly
responsible for destroying our natural resources.
I suggest, therefore, that we make use of extant folk
beliefs to generate ecological consciousness by including them in songs or
ballads (known as composo among the Panaynons), slogans, radio
dramas, films, comics, children’s stories, paintings, plays, and even
dances. If most of our mountains became bald because of indiscriminate
logging, if some of our reforestation efforts have been mere exercises in
futility because people keep on cutting them, replanting them with trees
(e.g. bubog, acadia, talisay) believed to be spirit-inhabited, will
make people think a dozen times before they cut them.
Finally, in a world (traditional societies) lacking in
technology but possessing indigenous wisdom, it is still the idea of a
Maka-ako (Almighty God) revealing himself to man in different
societies and culture through time, in diverse ways, that has taught man
to love and care for Mother Earth – so we may live safe and secure despite
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