About The Batak:
One of the segments we feature in PAPA BOSS is the Batak indigenous people. We feel that a whole documentary could be made about them and we barely scratched the surface of this fascinating society.
When we researched the Batak we found out that not much is actually published about them, at least not in English. Our friends at the tourism office in Manila generously gathered some material for us and here are some highlights:
- Batak means “mountain people” in the Cuyunon indigenous language.
- They are the among the most endangered groups of indigenous people in the country.
- The live in small communities, mostly in the mountain ranges of Puerto Princesa.
The exact origin of the Batak hasn’t been determined but what is known is that they are traditionally a nomadic society staying long enough in a place to find food and then move on to the next. They were described in early accounts as timid people who avoids contact with foreigners.
They have been severely stricken by disease and malnutrition due to poverty. Sadly this happened due to continuous influx of settlers from other areas in the Philippines like Luzon ad Visayas, who occupy an increasing area of Palawan’s vast tracts of land, as well as logging operations powered by politicians and businesses.
A study determines that “the Batak are literally a disappearing people, and much that was unique in their traditional culture has been irretrievable lost”. (Eder 1977:12)
The Batak has no fixed designated leader and members are expected to work together as a group. Each group or settlement has a chief called Kapitan, a term borrowed by the Spaniards (who colonized the Philippines between 1521-1898).
Polygamy or polyandry is allowed but rarely happens because of the financial burden it involves. No female member is allowed to participate in the decision making process involving the council of elders.
The Batak believe that woman did not come from man but man became woman.
They are an animist group, believing in good and bad spirits who dwell in trees, rocks and mountains. They believe in gods who are to be feared and gods they have to be thankful.
The good deities such as Diwata, guide them in their hunt, provide bountiful harvest and keep them in good health. They believe that during sickness the soul leaves the body and only the Shaman, by performing necessary rituals, can recall the soul and bring back the person to health.
Their traditional costume is made of bark cloth prepared from a species of mulberry tree. Batak women don’t cover their upper torso and they start shaving the frontal hairline at the age of five as a mark of beauty. Some Batak men sport a tattoo they obtained in a painful ritual of manhood.
They specialize in basket craft making.
On a personal note – Our first encounter with the Batak was in 2007, and it left deep impression on the entire film crew.
The tribe members looked so fragile, small and sick.
We were concerned about their ability to survive despite the medical missions and the sacks of rice that Mayor Hagedorn was providing them.
Other tribes in Palawan made the transition into society and accepted Christianity but the Batak refused to do so until recently. They wanted to remain living in the mountains where they have no schools or clinics. But the forest is getting smaller for them every year due to exploitation, and wild animals are becoming more rare. We were impressed when one man told us that his latest meal was a monkey he hunted.
When we filmed the Batak again in 2012, we saw big changes. Their new cultural center has become a tourist destination and this is obviously providing them with income.
But is this the end of their unique culture? Can tribes like the Batak remain a closed group of people who doesn’t follow conventional society rules and religions, still survive in this day and age?
That my friends, is a topic for a whole new documentary!
But as one viewer told us he is not very optimistic. He said: “we have seen it happening with tribes in Thailand, Paraguay, Australia and the United States. They become tourist attraction and they lose their identity. From here on, they become a society not preserved but lost”.
Any thoughts? Please share with a comment.
Sigal Bujman – Producer/Director – PAPA BOSS