It’s a special festival for the Tagbanua, the largest tribal group in the country.
Hundreds of villagers wearing traditional costumes gather together to celebrate.
“This is the third biggest festival of the year for us, called ‘Kabaraan’. This is meant as a thanksgiving or ritual for the changing of the year.”
For the Tagbanuas, it’s a chance to show case their culture.
This elderly Tagbanua woman has been performing the tribe’s traditional dances for many years.
“I am so happy especially when there are other people watching our performances. Because they see our culture. We are not ashamed of our culture.”
She learned the traditional dances from her elders.
But many young members are not interested anymore, says village leader Ruben Cojamco.
“There are still a lot of Tagbanua indigenous families here in the municipality of Aborlan. But what is saddening is that many are no longer proud to be called Tagbanua. They feel ashamed. But we cannot blame them.”
The festival is also being used to attract younger people.
“With this occasion, celebrating the changing of the year, we want to remind our younger generation that we have a heritage that we should be proud of. We have our own distinct culture.”
The Philippines already has the Indigenous People’s Rights Act that aims to protect cultural integrity, the right to land and the right to decide your own development.
But in October, a group of lawmakers in the Congress proposed a law to create a special department for indigenous people.
The belief is that this will further strengthen the rights of indigenous groups and provide an institution to protect their traditions.
But local authorities in Palawan have already started their own organisation....
“We have the Palawan Heritage Center, an integrated arts workshop that promotes and tries to preserve the culture of all our
indigenous groups, not just the Tagbanua but also the Batak and the Tau’t Batu as well...”
The government also provides assistance to tribal groups in asserting their rights.
“One is of course to help their association. They have an association here. There is a separate program that focuses on the indigenous groups aside from the culture and arts office which focuses on the culture.”
Not all young indigenous people are ashamed of their culture.
Aimee Lee is a member of a group of young cultural dancers who perform traditional dances for audiences in the Philippines and overseas.
“I think we help a lot in promoting their culture. Because they live far from here, you really need a lot of time to visit and see their traditions. We as performers translate their dances for other people who don’t often see this rich culture. In this way, they will learn more about indigenous people’s traditional dances.”
Aimee Lee says they visit tribes and observe them for several weeks to learn about their dances.
“We are always careful to present the dances as authentically as possible. But most of the time we modify the dances so as not to exploit their traditional culture because many of the tribes here want to keep these dances to themselves. For us, out of respect, we ask their permission and promise that we will modify the dances we perform.”
But despite these efforts, tribal groups are still facing challenges.
Recently, during a gathering of 35 indigenous groups, tribal leaders complained that their concerns were not part of President Aquino’s agenda.
They said they have always had to struggle for self-determination and to defend their land.
Last December, a group of indigenous people marched for 17 days to Manila, a distance of several hundred kilometres, to protest against the development of a port that encroaches on their ancestral land. They met with President Aquino to voice their concerns.
Tagbanua tribal leader Ruben Cojamco says his tribe struggles against discrimination as well.
So they are asking the media to support their cause.
“I wish there were more articles in the press about indigenous groups so that those young people from our tribes who are getting an education will have more interest in learning what our ancestors passed on to us.”