The culture of the Philippine Mangyan tribe on the island of Mindoro is under continued threat by modernization.
But for more than half a century a Dutch anthropologist worked to preserve their culture, and ancient scripts.
After years of living in a mountainous village with the Mangyan people, the elderly anthropologist passed away from heart and kidney failure last month.
Madonna Virola looks into his legacy from Mindoro Island.
What you’re hearing is tribal Hanunuo Mangyan poetry, traditionally written in ancient script, which is recognized as national treasure in the UNESCO Memory of the World Registers.
Dutch anthropologist Antoon Postma documented more than 20,000 of these poems during his five decades of living among the Mangyan people.
The audio recordings of these are preserved at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and at the Mangyan Heritage Center library in Calapan City.
Eighty-seven-year-old Postma, fondly called Bapa or uncle, reached Mindoro after a month-long trip on a ship from Holland. First as a missionary.
Since I was a child, I’ve heard many stories about Postma, how he helped preserve the Mangyan culture, and even adopted traditional dress.
I’m excited about visiting Panaytayan, the village where he lived, for the first time.
After about three hours, I reach Mansalay town where people from all walks of life tell me about Postma’s sacrifices to keep the Mangyan culture intact for generations.
I meet Sagangsang, the son of Postma. He’s married to the town’s Vice Mayor, Lynette, who advocates for Mangyan rights.
Sagangsang accompanies me on a motorcycle to their village. On the way, we stop at his father’s burial site.
“When I was a young boy, he would carry me as we walk kilometers to the center of town. He braved this forested place. He was strict but taught us to be good and to believe in God. We didn’t expect him to be gone this soon.”
A few meters away, Sagangsang’s sister Anya meets us after excusing herself from an event where government officials have just announced their village is the “first to be declared drug-free in Mimaropa Region”.
Thirty-two-year-old Anya tells me how her father spent his life here, including days and nights at the local library.
“He saw how valuable and beautiful the Mangyan culture is. He was an example of how to embrace and take pride in one’s culture,” Anya says.
Among others, Postma deciphered the oldest document in the country, called the Laguna Copperplate, which existed before the 10th century.
I also meet Mangyan Yam-ay Insik, Postma’s wife and mother of their four children.
She offers me a fresh coconut, which she cracks open with her bolo, like a Filipino machete.
Next to her is the village captain, Unyo Insik, who is among their adopted children.
He is grieving Postma’s death, but is heartened by his legacy.
“His work is our reference,” says Insik.
“We’re establishing a Mangyan Day of Culture now. He also defended the tribe against abusive soldiers during Martial Law. He taught us to be assertive.”
Postma published books on Mangyan history and culture, and language.
He also compiled a complete copy of proclamations on reservations, which the Mangyan use in claiming their ancestral lands.
During his funeral, several people paid tribute to Postma’s work. Thanking him for setting up schools for the Mangyans, which have produced several professionals.
Anya, holding her 2-months old son Antonious, tells me she’s still in mourning, missing her father.
But she vows to continue his legacy through her work at the Mangyan Heritage Center in Calapan City, which her father helped establish.
Anya lectures and presents exhibits on their culture around the country.
As I leave Panaytayan, I’m teary-eyed, with the feeling that I’ve done very little compared to what Postma, a foreigner, has done for the tribe only found in our island.
On the way home I hold tightly the Mangyan beaded necklace penholder, a present from Postma’s wife.