Tribes from Mindanao, the Higaonon, People of the Living Mountains.
Text and images by Ronald de Jong
The indigenous tribes of the Higaonon share a common root language, history
and culture, they can be found in the northern and central regions of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
They are a nomadic tribe, traveling from one mountain to another,
looking for fertile soil for a fruitful harvest. The name Higaonon is derived from the words higa meaning living, the word goan, which means mountains and the word
onon meaning people. All together these words form the description of the tribe
as "people of the living mountains." This tribe also named “people
of the wilderness", is one of the least known ethnic groups that
inhabit the hinterlands of North-Central Mindanao. They are scattered over five provinces, Bukidnon. Agusan Del Sur, Agusan
Del Norte, Lanao Del Norte and Misamis Oriental. Ever since "the Times of Creation” the Higaonon have lived and continues
to live in their ancestral forest homes, undisturbed, managing the forest in a natural way.
Their way of life is focused on managing the
forests they live in and to create a co-existence with its other inhabitants in a harmonious way. The Higaonon tribe consists
of eight clans that are centred around the eight main rivers of their "Ancestral Domain". The tribe is divided into peaceful
and warrior clans, nowadays all groups exist in peace with each other. They are true peace loving people and also known as
weavers of peace. The strive for peace is expressed in their traditional fabric,
the Hinabol. The term Hinabol is a Binukid term for hand-woven textile from the south of the Philippines and comes from the
verb habol, which means to weave. This kind of fabric is used to refer to the woven
hemp that is made by the women of the Higaonon and characterized by the typical colourful stripes in varying thickness, unique
patterns and many creative colours. The weavers will choose the traditional colours according to how and what they are feeling
that particular day. The Kinatup and the Ginuntiyan
are uncommon patterns as they are only woven by the wives of the Datu, generally
an elder of the community which is trained in spirituality and education. These patterns are considered sacred and the ones
that are used for offerings. The best hinabol fabrics are woven into kamuyot, some
sort of backpack or slingbag that is used to carry their bolos and practised as offering to their God or as a peace offering
during conflicts with other local tribes.
The culture of Higaonon tribe can best be described as a culture of Peace,
for solving their internal conflicts or settle feuds among other ethnic groups, the tribes practises an ancient ritual: the
tampudas hu Balagun, or the treaty of the green vine branch, a symbolic and traditional
cutting of the vine. Most of the members of this tribal group are Christianized, but the recounting by the older generation
of stories concerning their traditional and indigenous religion is common practise. When they are baptized the Higaonon are
allowed to keep two names, a Christian and a Higaonon name.
The Higaonon tribal people follow the habitual laws of Bunkatol Ha Bulawan Daw Nang Ka Tasa ha Lana, which means treasured unity
of Love and Peace. In fact it is a code of conduct that is the sacred bond that unites the entire Higaonon community.
For decades the Higaonon people have struggled tirelessly for their independence as a tribe, their rights to cultural integrity
and the right to self-determination. The Higaonon, have managed to maintain the skills and knowledge that will protect its
forested mountains. They need to secure their Ancestral Domain and forest home against destruction by loggers who started
cutting their way into the forested homeland more than sixty years ago.