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Feature - Issue #13

Re-Indigenising the Land

Words and photography by Celine Murillo

Harnessing the guiding light of their traditions and beliefs, the Indigenous Manobo youth of Bukidnon, in the Philippines, are leading the way in preserving their land and culture.

“Of the mountains” - that’s what Bukidnon means, and here in Santo Domingo, this couldn’t be any more true. In this landlocked village, the mountains are everywhere. The peaks soar and dive into a rugged and undulating rim. In most parts, the mountains are green and grand, lush and vibrant with ancient, misty forests. In others, the land is a patchwork - the browns and yellows of agricultural fields. Santo Domingo is found in Quezon - a municipality on the southern fringes of the province of Bukidnon in northern Mindanao. Getting here from the province’s capital of Malaybalay requires crossing streams and plying through narrow unpaved roads.

Robert Mansalo-on Cahapon, 28, was born and raised in this village. A member of the Manobo community, one of the seven Indigenous groups that reside in Bukidnon, he knows the summits and the valleys as if they were beloved siblings. The land is not just his home, it is his kin. He is of the mountains.

After finishing school, Robert left Santo Domingo and worked for environmental organisations in different regions. “I kept going to other places, implementing these development programmes,” says Robert in Tagalog. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I do it in our community?’”

So, a few years later he returned, bearing the kindling of a dream that would later ignite and become the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests.

Robert Mansalo-on Cahapon and youth volunteer Ranel Manggatawan in the mountainous landscape of Santo Domingo.

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