“It’s a wonderful place to get married.”
“Oopps. Did I just say that?”
The place wasn’t romantic in the first place. Rather, it looked like a sacred place: strange plants and trees cover the towering cliffs that surround the lagoon, displaying a bizarre landscape of protruding cone-like shape.
The wide expanse of turquoise water is about twice the size of an Olympic pool, making you gasp in awe and at the same time wonder if you’re still on earth. Time seems to freeze in the secluded lagoon, zooming in your focus on how it is set in blissful seclusion.
This exquisite, mysterious lagoon is one of the pristine freshwater lakes in Coron, Palawan open to tourists. Coron is located in Calamian Island and is the most visited for its world-class wreck diving sites, emerald shores, clear lakes and lagoons and underwater gardens.
The story of struggles and triumphs of its indigenous caretaker, the Calamian Tagbanua, has inspired other indigenous communities here and outside the country to secure autonomous rights for their ancestral domain.
The Calamian Tagbanua are distinct from the Tagbanua in mainland Palawan both in terms of language spoken and way of life.
They have adopted a sea-oriented way of life, making a living out of its ocean’s resources. Whereas the Tagbanua in the mainland are shifting cultivators inhabiting valleys and riverbanks.
The tribe’s beliefs in panyaan or sacred areas in the sea and the kunlalabyut or giant octopus that lives in the area make some lakes, beaches and marine areas restricted from outsiders.
Not all of the members of the tribe are allowed to visit the sacred area. Only the elders are allowed to to utter uliwatwat, a prayer for the spirits requesting entrance to the sacred area. Other members of the tribe are allowed to come with the elders if they have definite roles to perform in rituals.
There is a deeper sense that drives Calamian Tagbanua in avoiding sacred places and implementing taboos other than showing respect for an ancient belief that has been passed on from generation to generation. Their customary traditions have been tied to strict and sustainable regimens designed to protect the environment, the single most important aspect of their survival.
[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]