The tribe’s cultural practices are in danger of dying out. Customary rules are no longer strictly followed, particularly those related to sacred places and fishing taboos.
Changes in religious beliefs make some members believe that the spirits dwelling in sacred places could bring no harm, although the respect for the teaching of the elders is still there. Modernization is also a factor in changes in fishing motivations and behaviors of young fishers.
The presence of other resource users like migrant fishers in the island has somehow influenced some of tribe’s fishers to forgo observing taboos.The demand for live grouper also results in younger generation using hook and line in fishing, instead of the traditional fishing gears such as tridents.
These conflicts in fishing practices can pose a threat to the preservation of their cultural heritage.
Moreover, traditional markings are nowhere to be seen. Even those markings that commemorate the tribe’s legendary ancestors, “the three heroes who lived in caves and could fly, and protected the islanders from Moro marauders.” It’s only during major events like births, marriages and deaths that the tribe observed traditional practices.
Power struggles and mismanagement of money collected from tourism fees – which according to our tour guide are used for financing education, health and livelihood programs for the members of the Calamian Tagbanua – also hound the tribe council’s leadership, causing conflict not only among its people but also between tribe leaders.
As an NGO member assisting the Tagbanua in gaining control of their ancestral land observed, “The harmony and unity that existed before turned into strife as soon as money from tourism started to come in.”
Despite the challenges and changes that the tribe has to keep up with, their capability to keep their ancestral domain clean and orderly remains impressive. There is poverty, but there’s hardly a sign of filth in inhabited areas. Their houses are spaciously set in their land and there’s no sign of alcoholism – characteristics that are common to other fishing villages in the country.
This, according to Victor Paul Borg of Geographical magazine, is perhaps the greatest achievement of self-rule.
[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]