Natives by Michael Tan (Part 2)

This is the second installment of Michael Tan’s article. The first part is here.

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Natives (Part 2): Fortunately, there’s hope for bridging the divide between lowlanders and natives, with a new series of children’s books called “Batang Katutubo” (Indigenous Children). The series comes from Aklat Adarna, that great producer of children’s books headed by Virgilio and Emelina Almario. (Virgilio Almario is also known by his pen name Rio Alma and was recently designated a National Artist.)

The books are in Filipino, with an English summary at the end. Let’s browse through the five stories that have been released so far:

“Ang Paaralan ni Fuwan” is about a little Bontoc boy torn between farming responsibilities and his desire to go to school. “Gustong Mag-aral ni Sula” has a similar plot, revolving around a little Tiboli girl, with a surprise twist to the story of how little Sula gets to learn her alphabet.

“May Kapatid na si Mungan” is about a Manobo family as they go about with their “infanticipating” (a quaint Filipino English word that captures the feelings around a pregnancy). “Bahay ng Maraming Masasayang Tinig” is the story of a Badjaw girl dealing with the discrimination people have against her people, based on the stereotype of the Badjaw as professional beggars.

Finally, “Ang Ibay ni Miana” is the story of the friendship between two girls, one Agta and the other a lowlander, ibay being the term used by the Agta to refer to the non-Agta.

The emphasis of two stories on the striving for education is not coincidental. The series is supported in part by Unicef, its way of promoting The Rights of the Child. (Inquirer had an article the other week about Unicef’s ambassador of goodwill, Gary Valenciano, visiting a remote town in the Cordillera to promote discussions about these rights.)

But there’s more to the series than advocacy for children. The books should remind us of the daunting tasks associated with creating nationhood amid cultural diversity. Remember, we have more than 100 different ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines, each with its own distinct culture.

The stories are a great way of introducing the multicultural diversity we have in the Philippines. There are references to indigenous musical instruments, traditions and folklore, with explanatory footnotes. We learn, for example, of the Manobo kudlung, a two-stringed guitar, and their dalinday, a love song. And we read about the Bontoc ugfu, a system of mutual help in farming similar to bayanihan.

While the books help children (and adults) to appreciate the diversity of cultures in our country, they also convey an important message: that whether one is Cebuano or Manobo, Ilokano or Tiboli, we all share the same excitement waiting for a new member of the family to arrive, the same zest for singing and dancing, and for children, the desire to go to school. The theme of poverty in two of the stories, and how they jeopardize the chances of children acquiring an education, also resonate: certainly, it is not just children of cultural minorities who often have to drop out of school.

One last comment. From the descriptions of the authors and the artists, I realized only one artist, Boy Dominguez, is from an indigenous group. Boy, who I’m proud to say is a personal friend, is Mandaya/Manobo/Tagalog. I am not saying these children’s books should be written only by people from indigenous groups, but it would be wonderful if, eventually, we do see more of these “native” books written by and illustrated by the Hanunoo, the Bugkalot, the Ibaloi. When that happens, then we’ll know that our cultural minorities have made it and have taken their rightful place in Philippine society.

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UPDATE: Okay, for those of you who have a talent in writing children’s stories you might want to check out the submission policies of Adarna Books, it seems like they welcome original and unpublished children’s stories. It would be cool if some of their books on indigenous peoples are also written by indigenous writers.

RELATED POST: Natives by Michael Tan, Part 1. SOURCE: Michael Tan’s Website. PHOTO CREDITS: libros.com.ph (for the book cover).

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