Gariguez, Edwin

the mangyan tribe

by Edwin A. Gariguez

Posted on October 27, 2013 at 9:50 PM


Defining the Framework

Market economy that came with the current of industrial revolution had a tremendous impact in prevailing economic arrangement of that period. It affected even the cultural structures, the accepted social paradigm, and the political landscape and institutions. The revolutionary character of market liberalism  best described in Karl Polanyi’s (1944) book, The Great Transformation,  highlighted how modern market economy had determined the various changes in structures, social relationship and even in consciousness of societies beginning from the period of industrialization.

Polanyi (1944, p. 68) defines market economy as: “an economic system controlled, regulated, and directed by market alone . . . An economy of this kind derives from the expectation that human beings behave in such a way as to achieve maximum money gains . . . It assumes the presence of money, which functions as purchasing power in the hands of its owners. Production will then be controlled by prices, for the profits of those who direct production will depend upon them . . .”

Polanyi asserts that economy is not an autonomous and independent system but it is necessarily related (or even subordinated) to politics, religion and social relations. This interlocking interrelationship of economy with other social structures is Polanyi’s concept of “embededdness” (Block 2000).

Admittedly, market economy is determined by socio-cultural structures, but the interrelationship can also be a mutual engagement, with market economy influencing the social relations and cultural patterns, not in a deterministic fashion prescribed by Karl Marx, but as a matter of cultural import and redefinition of the collective consciousness.

The economic system that we have today is primarily controlled by market liberalism, and it is getting even more pronounced in this period of advancing process of globalization. This kind of laissez-faire market economy is predicted to be destructive for it “requires that human beings and the natural environment be turned into pure commodities and this assures the destruction of both society and natural environment” (Block 2000, p. 8). The present situation of underdevelopment and dismal poverty reflect the curse and inevitable outcome of the pervasive pattern of market-dominated economy. 

This paper will try to situate the discussion in the context of Mangyan indigenous communities – how are they affected by the intrusion of the market system? How is market economy slowly transforming their traditional society, which was then predominantly characterized by subsistence economy, socially-oriented transactions, non-commodified values, and ecological integrity?

The Mangyan indigenous communities in Mindoro are no longer spared from the prevailing market system, which is governed by monetized transactions with profit-seeking motive for its primary end, with the agricultural production being oriented not only for subsistence but more and more to cash crop economy.

Considering the embededdedness of the economy to the other socio-cultural structures, the focus of this present inquiry is to describe and evaluate the impact of change in economic systems in relation to the over-all socio-cultural milieu of the Mangyan indigenous communities.

As the market-oriented economy is infringing on the life and cultural systems of the indigenous peoples, forcefully or in a subtle way, the Mangyans are undeniably undergoing a paradigm shift in their world views, orientation, mind-sets, or in social and ecological relationship. Social theories ascribed change as part of the social process and it can be categorized in many ways, like assimilation, acculturation, accommodation and other types (Palispis 2003, pp. 208-215).

However, socio-cultural changes among the Mangyans, occasioned by the emergence of market economy, escapes the above-given typology for the change process is neither total nor already consummated, it is not yet clearly defined or fully articulated. For simplicity, the changes referred to may be better termed as a process of cultural redefinition, which underlines the on-going process of socio-cultural change and undefined integration process, often characterized by arbitrariness, as unwelcome intrusion, as a necessary compromise, as conscious acceptance or sometimes not.

With the emergence of market economy, it is necessary to examine how the Mangyan indigenous communities redefine their life-perspective as reflected in their social relationships and cultural expressions. How is the traditional consciousness being modified to accommodate the framework of the market economy? What are the consequences and implications in terms of concrete social behavior and relationship in the community?


Summary Description of Mangyan Society

As it is used today, Mangyan is a collective term to designate the ethnic tribes occupying the interior of Mindoro. But scholarly researches point out to the distinction and differentiation of this tribal entity, grouping them into seven major groups based on linguistic classification, territorial location or racial types or origin. Geographically, tribes belonging to the middle, northern part of the island are: the Iraya, Alangan and Tadyawan. Those tribes occupying the southern part are: the Hanunuo, Batangan, Ratagnon, and Buhid. Among the tribes, the Hanunuo-Mangyan and the Buhid have, for their cultural heritage, their own original system of writing dating back to the pre-colonial era (Gariguez 1992).

Historically, the Mangyans were the original settlers and inhabitants of Mindoro.  They were believed to have come from the Indonesian archipelago in Southeast Asia. They settled on the fertile coastal plain. Their flourishing settlements had engaged in trade with Chinese and Arab traders. In the course of time, the Mangyans were believed to have been evicted from their original coastal dwelling and were forced to retreat into the interior.  The migrant “indios,” coming from the island of Luzon occupied the northern and eastern coast of Mindoro. Bornean settlers too were believed to have made their way into the island. It was to these people who retreated into and stayed in the forest that the collective term “Mangyan” was first used (Gariguez 1992).

Generally, the Mangyans have subsistence agricultural economy with kaingin as their basic resource for food production. For primary crops, they have rice and corn, but they also plant other crops such as bananas, fruit trees, root crops, among others. During the pre-colonial period, their products, particularly honey and beeswax, were bartered for lowlanders’ bolos, salt and other goods. But this lowland contact is limited to occasional trading (Schult 1991, p. 75; Lamberte 1983, pp. 61-62).

In a much later part of history, colonial trade defined the direction of agricultural economy. It was for this reason that the cultivation of export crops affected even the remote island of Mindoro. The commercialization of agriculture resulted to the demand for more and more land to cultivate to meet the increased market demand for agricultural export production, then the search for idle lands had led to increasing migration of settlers from Visayas and Luzon to less populated island of Mindoro (Helbling and Schult 1997).

The unmitigated migration occasioned by the need to expand the base for production and cultivation reached its culmination when the free trade between the Philippines and the United States was established resulting to “a large and stable market for export crop.” It was in 1910 that export economy in Mindoro flourished with the founding of the most modern and largest sugar hacienda in the Philippines established in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. The surge of migration to Mindoro increased at an astonishing rate. And it was only during this time that the lowland population to Mindoro exceeded that of the Mangyans, eventually reducing the latter into the status of being a minority. This pattern of massive influx of migration to Mindoro exacerbated, resulting to further deprivation of the Mangyans and their being pushed further into the mountainous interior (Helbling and Schult 1997, pp. 393-394; pp. 396-397).

It was during this time that outright and large-scale land-grabbing became prevalent, depriving the Mangyans of their land, sometimes, even their lives! (Lamberte 1983). Moreover, the export-led industrialization which took place from the 1950s among the underdeveloped countries signaled the encroachment of the transnational business corporations into the territories and ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples in their venture for logging, mining and other extractive industries (Gaspar 1977). And the Mangyans were not spared from these pressures of resource competition, for which they were always at a disadvantaged position.

Although, the Mangyans were able to maintain relative degree of isolation, they have been forced by the circumstances to confront the incursion of lowland influences and to wrestle with the socio-political and economic changes that the so-called “civilization” had subjected them to.

The isolation of the Mangyan communities and their reclusiveness as highlighted by Conklin’s (1955, p. 10) description of the Mangyans as “forest-dwelling non-Christian groups who live in small scattered settlements . . . have little contact with each other or with the coastal Christians, and are loosely organized politically” does not hold true anymore.

In a more recent research, the seemingly complete seclusion of the Mangyan indigenous population from the rest of lowland society is refuted. Lopez-Gonzaga’s (2002, pp. 10-11) research, reveals that since then, “the Mangyans have increasingly adopted the life of permanent settlements, each of which is connected to the town or regional centers of Mindoro. The Mangyans also maintain diverse forms of exchanges not only among the different interior groups, but also with the traders.”


Infringing Features of Social Change and Market Economy

From the foregoing, it has been shown that the economic demand for lands and resources led to the lowland encroachment on the land and life of the indigenous peoples. The ensuing social and economic changes were not always voluntarily accepted through the process of assimilation, but more often, they were imposed through force and motivated by the greed of the powerful players of the elite in mainstream society, and even by the transnational capitalists powers.  This observation is articulated by Lamberte (1983, p. 140) in her integrative studies of researches on the Mangyans: “It is clear from these observations that changes do occur. However, it must be considered that changes were apparently consequences of outside pressures rather than voluntary assimilation.”

The policy of American colonial government on the indigenous peoples was illustrative of this pressure. Then U.S. President Mckinley made clear their policy approach towards the indigenous population: “to prevent barbarous practices and introduced civilized customs.” This entailed Mangyans’ integration into the lowland structures and the indigenous communities necessarily had to give up their cultural identity (Schult 1997, p. 479).

While it is true that adaptation to the emerging lowland influences is, in some situations, necessary, but the price that the Mangyans have to pay must not cost the annihilation of their cherished cultural values and priorities.  The result is damaging because the unequal terms of relationship threaten to swallow the Mangyans’ cultural tradition and their identity as a people.  As one missionary admits, the Mangyans’ “association with the lowlanders initiated a ‘partial integration,’ but as a whole, the Mangyans have much more to lose than to gain” (Javier 1987, p. 51).

In the course of history, Mangyans had no real alternative but to succumb to the integrative forces of the lowland culture. The Mangyans had been forced by circumstances to grapple with the infringing outside forces, not only in cultural sphere but in terms of economic arrangements as well.

Foremost among the negative results of the Mangyans encounter with the lowland market economy is the imposed redefinition of the concept of land ownership. Traditionally, the Mangyan indigenous peoples believe in an integrated cosmology, wherein the Creator, linked to other deities and spirits, is considered the source of land and life. It is for this reason that land is considered sacred and cannot be sold, owned or leased. The land is communally owned, and an individual cannot claim absolute ownership. They, as community, are stewards of the gift of creation. As such, land and nature’s richness is meant for community’s use and sustenance (Gariguez 2001).

With the coming of the colonizers, this customary concept of ownership was subverted and replaced with the Regalian doctrine claim asserting that all conquered lands belong to the Spanish sovereign. The American colonial government pursued this policy, reinforcing the State’s control over the public domain (Gaspar 1977). The dominant legal system on ownership was imposed for the resource exploitation of the lands of the indigenous peoples. The aftermath of this market economic orientation was a pattern of resource exploitation which Polanyi (1944, p. 179) appropriately termed as commercialization of the soil, a conversion of the land from traditional subsistence towards mobilization of the feudal revenue for surplus production.

The change in concept of land-ownership did not only facilitate the exploitative ventures of the lowland capitalist elites. Consequently, among the Mangyan indigenous communities, the traditional pattern of agricultural subsistence was modified in relation to the emerging framework of market-oriented economy. In a recent ethnographic research among the Mangyans, Lopez-Gonzaga (2002, p. 153 and p. 189) noted how the Buhids have been drawn into heavier work loads in the farm not only to produce subsistence crops but for more intensive exploitation of resources around them to generate cash: “As land was individually parceled out, and household got to work in well-delineated boundaries of cultivation, there seem to have been a greater impetus at producing more perennial tree crops that bring in good cash.”

The transformation caused by adapting indigenous economic pattern to the lowland market economy is further described in a research conducted by De La Salle Integrated Research Center (1984, p. 7):

The consequences of the invading lowland population have radically transformed the environment.  It is the Mangyans who must adapt their traditional land use system that relies now and into a distant future on a finite land area, restores the environment and meets their basic needs through a combination of subsistence farming and cash agricultural production.    


Contemporary researchers in other areas of indigenous peoples in the country have noted the seeming conflict of orientation between the traditional subsistence-oriented economy and the commercial market-dominated economy. Duhaylungsod (1996, p. 94) underlines the problems associated with the conflict in economic paradigm between the lowlanders and the indigenous peoples: “There are qualitative differences and conflicts between the system of resource management of non-capitalist indigenous peoples and the market-dominated monetized system.”

Market-dominated economy necessarily brings in the monetary form of exchange and inevitably influences the mode of social interaction in the community.  Moreover, monetized economy somehow redefines the cultural patterns and priorities of the communities engaging in market transactions.

Again, Polanyi (1944, p. 41), in his critique of the market liberalism, cautions that the change from subsistence economy to cash substitution has a corresponding implications in terms of economic arrangements and motives: “The transformation implies a change in the motive of action on the part of the members of society: for the motive of subsistence that of gain must be substituted. All transactions are turned into money transactions . . . All incomes must derive from the sale of something or other . . .”


Redefinition of Mangyans’ Socio-Cultural Paradigm

As earlier noted, there exists a form of economic transactions among the Mangyan indigenous peoples and the outside society. There was even a time in pre-colonial past that they were engaged in barter trade with the neighboring Asian countries. Economic activity had always been part of community life, a way of sustaining their needs, and as medium for exchange. As Polanyi (1944, p. 43) aptly affirms: “No society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed an economy of some sort…”

What creates a conflict with the emerging economic system is that in market-dominated economy, particularly characterized by monetized transactions and capital accumulation, the traditional values and perspective are somehow contradicted by the market principles and orientation. With the framework of market-dominated economy, the Mangyan indigenous peoples have come to redefine their socio-cultural paradigm vis-à-vis the infringing features of the market forces.

The process of redefinition concomitant with the principle of monetized economy is explained by Dejillas (2001):

We can also advance that with the introduction of money a new set of values and attitudes emerged which found their way into the social, economic, political, and even religious lives and systems of the people . . . Money forces not only economic exchanges, but also human behavior and relationships to quantitative measures . . . With the introduction of money, exchange and relationships among the people drastically shifted towards something formal, impersonal, individualistic, economistic, exploitative as well as secular and almost atheistic.


The subsequent discussion will try to articulate this process of on-going socio-cultural redefinition in the collective consciousness of the Mangyan indigenous peoples vis-à-vis the encroaching forces of market-dominated economy:


Adoption of Profit-Motivated Form of Transactions


In a more traditional Mangyan society, what is generally practiced is the subsistence agricultural economy, wherein households produce only for what they need for their day-to-day food consumption. Describing the characteristic typology of the indigenous peoples, which include the Mangyan group, Jocano (1998, p. 81), points out that as such, “the concept of surplus is an emergent economic aspiration but not a pervasively dominant ideology . . . These are often used to enhance social prestige, increase influence, and support leadership role.”

However, the dominant economic orientation of the past is slowly being modified or redefined in the light of the market economy, which the Mangyan indigenous communities have to continually grapple with. A very valid observation is noted by Lamberte (1983, p. 99) in her consolidated research on the Mangyans:

As a consequence of various socio-economic pressures and changes taking place among some of the Mangyan communities, cash economy and profit-oriented economy is slowly being introduced and some being adopted by the Mangyans particularly those in the core reservation and lowland areas. Those living farther up the mountainous interiors, still stick to the barter system.


This particular economic pattern is exactly a case of how a traditional society with subsistence orientation is being integrated into the mainstream society, adapting to the structure of a capitalist economy, which is wider and more complex than their customary simple economic transaction.

Referring specifically to the Buhid indigenous communities, Lopez-Gonzaga (2002, pp. 12; 152-153) observes: “Buhid linkage with the market economy of the town centers provided opportunities for investment of surplus in non-traditional ways…” Further, the agricultural production of slash and burn continued but “has been oriented beyond the fulfillment of basic domestic requirements to the meeting of market demands. Thus, household produce not only subsistence crops, but also cash goods which generate cash for their purchase of basic needs not meet by their basic production.”

This pattern of market integration to the lowland economy is becoming a trend even among other Mangyan tribes and communities, in response to the need to adapt to the so-called “modern” way of life (Gariguez, 2001).

The introduction of cash economy is, in a way, part of the necessary change process in the Mangyans conscious decision to be integrated into the mainstream Filipino society. To some development practitioners, creation of surplus may even spell a good indicator for the desired development. However, the danger is that arbitrary adoption of the market system could jeopardize the very integrity of their socio-cultural values, which defines the very soul of their society.

In Lopez-Gonzaga’s (2002, pp. 190, 176-77 and 179) research, market economy, in many instances, has come to dictate the form and manner of social relationship, determined by monetized arrangement and not by the time-honored pattern of social relationship. Examples include cases such as a Buhid “entrepreneur” buying out land from fellow Mangyans who are unable to pay their debts, more influential and well-endowed Buhids embarking on a money-lending activity charging high interest rates, profiteering entrepreneurship, employment of hired labor of fellow Mangyans to work in big landholdings of the better-off members of the community, and the like.

The primacy of social relationship which in the past had determined the economic processes has now been redefined. Non-monetary values of helping one another, communal ownership, solidarity, strong kinship ties, are now slowly being set aside, to give way to the market pressures emphasizing greater profit, impersonal transactions, return of investment and individual prosperity!

For the traditional society, “acquisition of wealth is not a value in itself, on the other hand, generosity, living together, and being harmonious with the neighbors are . . . Traditional societies which stressed stability were structured to help members to attain proper and fulfilling relationships with their fellowmen and environment” (Salleh 1981, pp. 61-62). But in the emerging socio-cultural system defined by market priorities, such idealized consciousness is slowly fading into the background.


Emerging Social Differentiation


As described by Polanyi (1944, p. 46), in traditional societies, “man’s economy as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets.” In this framework, he points out that economy is being run on non-economic motives, like social ties, following primarily the behavioral principles of reciprocity and redistribution.

The reciprocal character is what comes very close to the features of Mangyan traditional society. In such a community, trade is operative but no profit is involved. Members of society are all producers of their respective goods and services, which they share with other members. But when monetized economy is introduced, “. . . social considerations, in particular, the concepts of reciprocity and the primitive redistribution system propounded by Polanyi, no longer became the primary consideration of the market economy” (Dejillas 2001). Instead, what predominates in the market system is no longer the social character of production and exchange but the individualistic craving for accumulation, irrespective of the wider consideration for the over-all welfare and support of the community.

This pattern of engagement leads to neglect of the social character of the economic pursuit in order to promote personal interest, given the market framework for production process and resource exploitation for profit. Profit when realized becomes a surplus, which can in turn be invested for further generation of monetary gain or for expanding land ownership. This economic system is inherently competitive in its operation, with the more enterprising or powerful groups gaining access to more resources or cornering the profit from market transactions.

As a consequence of this market-dominated economic system, the social structure is also being redefined with the concurrent changes in status and establishment of new powerful economic players. The once dominantly egalitarian society has to admit the emergence of social differentiation.

Admittedly, among the Buhids, the adoption and accommodation of the lowland capitalist market economy leads to the incipient form of social differentiation, with a few members of the community possessing entrepreneurial skills emerging as the local elite gaining control over production process of the economy. This group of entrepreneuring elite makes use of their profit in acquiring more landholdings, thereby making the differentiation even more pronounced (Lopez-Gonzaga 2002, pp. 190 and177).

The redefinition of socio-cultural values has enshrined the consumerist and highly-individualistic paradigm of the market economy into the pattern of interaction among the Mangyan indigenous peoples. The gap in economic inequality which is almost non-existent in the traditional Mangyan society is slowly being introduced into the social structure of the community. The shift in economic orientation brings with it the corresponding and inevitable change in social relations.

Acknowledging the political dimension of monetary economy, Dejillas (2001) affirms that “money influences the balance of power not only between nations, but also between and among classes in society.”

But in the experience of the Mangyan-Buhid communities, the economic transformation and ensuing cultural redefinition underlines the capacity of monetized economy not only to influence the balance of power but to create imbalances and disparities both in economic and socio-political status of erstwhile communitarian, and predominantly undifferentiated society.


Ecological Alienation


The Mangyans believe in the existence of one Supreme Being who created them and the world and is continually sustaining them in their existence.  For this Supreme Being, each tribe ascribes him a name (Apo Iraya, Ambuwao, Amangtam, Afu Daga, Mahal-Makakaako). The presence of the divine is experienced in terms of his omnipotence, pervading their everyday life, and manifesting Himself in physically observable phenomena such as deliverance from calamity or sicknesses, blessing of the harvest, other forms. The Mangyans are also considered animist, in the sense that sacrality is experienced in the all-pervading presence of the omnipotent power personified in streams, tress, hills, rocks and in almost every corner of the natural universe (Gariguez 1992).

Mangyans share the conviction of the Indian Chief Seattle (1981, p. 63), declaring his belief in the sacredness of the earth in unequivocal terms: “Every part of the earth is sacred to my people . . . We are part of the earth and it is part of us . . . For this land is sacred to us . . . the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the son of the earth . . . This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.”

This unadulterated consciousness regarding the earth as intrinsically part of human community is slowly being shattered with the advent of industrialism and colonialism, which are but offshoots of the liberalism of the market economy.

Beginning from the period of industrialization, “natural resources” came to be regarded as “those parts of nature which were required as inputs for industrial production and colonial trade . . . resources are now merely material or conditions existing in nature which may be capable of economic exploitation” (Shiva 1999, pp. 25-26). In this sense, the relationship and affinity of human and nature changes from respect to enmity: “Man is no longer a friend to his natural environment. He is the arrogant conqueror who destroys . . . mostly as a result of greed rather than a struggle for survival” (Salleh 1981, p. 60).

The Mangyans have not completely turned their backs to their traditional belief in the ecological integrity of a living and sacred relationship with the natural universe. But a gradual disorientation is slowly taking place in the process of redefining relationship with nature in the context of the market economy’s concept of resource utilization and the pursuit of maximum profit.

Among the Buhids, for example, the accommodation of lowland market demand in their agricultural production results to acquisition of surplus income from the sale of alternate crop. More significant consequence is the “development of private landholding and the concept of permanent land ownership and finally, the view that land is a commodity to be bought and sold by cash irrespective of ethnic status of the parties involved” (Lopez-Gonzaga 2002, p. 137, underlining mine). This kind of valuing in a process of commodification is slowly being translated into the mind-set and priorities of the Mangyan indigenous people.


For Polanyi (1944, p. 178), this pre-occupation with market value or the commercialization of the land is utterly condemnable: “What we call land is an element of nature inextricably interwoven with man’s institutions. To isolate it and form a market out of it was perhaps the weirdest of all undertakings of our ancestors.”

The protestation is very much called for, but sadly, the perspective of market mentality has undeniably influenced, to a considerable degree, the Mangyans’ redefinition of the once sacred relationship they had with mother earth.




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