Going beyond 'bad' terms

Updated: Mar 27


Associate Professor of Anthropology, Seton Hall University

This was the statement read by Dr. Quizon as one of the discussants of the first of the two-part roundtable discussions entitled "What's in a Name? Views from Anthropologists on Lumad" organized by UGAT in partnership with the Philippine Social Science Council and hosted by the Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and History at the University of San Carlos held on March 25, 2021 via Zoom.

I thank UGAT for inviting me to this forum. It is a rare and welcome moment for me to be able to listen to my co-panelists Gus and Oona and look forward to the comments of Brother Karl. I share my thoughts by responding to the three guide questions that we were given. I would like to preface my remarks however by stating that among today’s panelists, I may be the one who has used the term lumad the least, discussing it in a single article where I unpack and delineate the ways it has been used, and inviting a conscious usage that acknowledges its reliance on a kind of erasure, which I will address below.

The first question we were given is “What is your view about the NCIP denouncement of ‘lumad’?” I thank Maria Mangahas, editor of the Journal Aghamtao who sought comment on an UGAT statement on the NCIP denouncement and shared the initial context of the Rappler report with me. Like many others, I traced the timeline to the Facebook post earlier in February, to the subsequent Rappler report later that month, and to the virtual press conference in early March where I listened to and annotated the recording of Datu Lito Omos’ narrative with great interest.

I propose to respond to this question using a historical as well as a structural view. The immediate issue of course would be the resolution’s tight association of the term with the CPP NPA NDF. Though I do not seek to minimize the urgency and complexity of that specific issue which is at the forefront of our consciousness right now, especially in the light of its existential impact on anthropology as a profession, perhaps shared with lawyers and judges in the climate of Philippine politics, I suggest that this is part of a larger structural inevitability, of which state institution has the most say in the lives of indigenous peoples. If we think of the NCIP as created by the Republic Act 8371 in 1997, we also need to think about another government agency, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts which was created by Republic Act 7356 in 1992. Then there is yet another government entity that deals with indigenous peoples, the National Museum, which is began as a colonial institution in the 1900s and evolved, as did the country and its constitutions. Just with these three, it is already a very complex issue even now. At the time of my fieldwork in the late 1990s the most important institution that the indigenous peoples were dealing with in Mindanao was the OSCC, the Office of Southern Cultural Communities. In the north it was the Office of Northern Cultural Communities. Then before that when I was a child it would have been PANAMIN. Prior to that in my parents’ generation, it would have been the Commission on National Integration, and so on. Where we are right now is a reality wherein the NCIP is essentially having a kind of unspoken structural dispute with other agencies of the government that also deal with the IPs. It is very important for us to keep this in mind. I’m not here to say that we should advocate one agency or the other but merely to point out that this situation is the result of our laws. Nevertheless, we have to remember that the law is a movable wall that reflects the society that it serves. Hence these types of discussions, I believe, are welcome. It will allow us to reflect on how our laws and our institutions serve or fail to serve our society that include the indigenous peoples.

The second question that we were given is “How did anthropology inform and shape the lumad discourse?” Anthropology shaped this discourse and will continue to shape this discourse because ethnography is a central tool. The central spirit of ethnography is that as anthropologists, we describe, we do not prescribe. The issue of denouncing the use of a term, that we condemn it or stop people from using it, becomes ridiculous because saying so cannot really succeed in funneling everyday speech, though we can describe the condemnation. As anthropologists, we describe the usage even of terms that we might not agree with. Hence in my fieldwork, lumad was not an important word. It did not come up because of the specific type of research I was doing, in contrast to the research of others in their locales and ethnographic time frames. The second way anthropology shaped the lumad discourse is through applied anthropology and it goes back to our current constitution. An anthropologist, Ponciano Bennagen, was part of the last Constitutional Convention which in turn shaped the IPRA law as well as all other related initiatives that we as a country claim to be important to us. The third way by which anthropology shaped the lumad discourse is how it connects to experiences beyond our country. I teach about indigenous peoples to students who are more familiar and interested in native North America. Any discussion of lumad as a term inevitably links to Native Americans or First Peoples, the legal terms for IPs in the US and Canada. Here in the US, though Native American is supposed to be the legal term, the American Indian Movement (AIM) deliberately used the once pejorative term for self-reference, as a form of resistance, perhaps similar to the way leaders of the Philippine revolution took the pejorative term indio and ascribed to themselves an epithet los indios bravos. These kinds of inversions and changing meanings that we describe also apply to the term lumad. More recently, this global linkage came up again. At the end of a wide-ranging Zoom talk by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, I privately sought comment on the emergent lumad issue, sketching it, though somewhat inarticulately, while seeking insight from the Indian experience. He pointed me to the term OBCs which stands for “other backward classes,” stipulated in the 1950 Indian Constitution and used to refer to a specific set of economically and socially disadvantaged peoples that their government then seeks to uplift. It is a jarring and unfortunate term that nevertheless delineates a category governed by law. There is this complexity within any society that seeks to address issues faced by indigenous peoples. There’s the role of anthropologists within it to reflect, describe, and attempt to say what might be going on. Let us not be part of the tendency to prescribe and say “only this and not this” because people will use terms that are meaningful to them.

The third question we were given In your fieldwork and community, how was ‘lumad’ deployed?” I respond to this with a bunch of small stories. The very first time I ever encountered the term lumad was when I was a college student listening to the music of Joey Ayala and the Bagong Lumad. Decades later, while finalizing the article “Dressing the lumad body” for the journal Humanities Diliman in 2012, I had a very interesting exchange with its editor Professor Jojo Buenconsejo, whose mother tongue is Cebuano, concerning where the accent should fall in the orthography of the word – lumad or lumad? After some discussion, we agreed to just omit the diacritical mark. Wolff’s Cebuano dictionary of 1972 says lumad but recent works such as the National Museum’s 2015 book Lumad Mindanao states that it is lumad. There seems to be an interesting pattern where Tagalog speakers tend to accentuate the first syllable while Cebuano speakers emphasize the last, suggesting a semantic and syntactic distinction. The second story took place in the field in the mid 90’s, somewhere in Caraga among the Mandaya. I was there with a friend, an expert in Northern Luzon textiles who hails from Ilocos. Mandaya weavers at some point asked us anong tribo niyo/what is your tribe? Being from Manila, they mapped me as “Tagala.” In explaining where my colleague was from, they nevertheless mapped her as a “Tagala” as well. We tried to interject but they held firm; as far as they’re concerned, the Ilocano-Tagalog distinction was not relevant. For them, the term can simply mean “inhabitants of Luzon”; this is valid and you note that. I think Gus also pointed out earlier the importance of usage, self-ascription and ascribing others. My last story pertains to my own research where the term lumad did not come up. In the few instances that I asked about the term, the response was pwede rin/that works, too. “Tagabawa,” “Bagobo,” or in other instances, “Manobo,” perhaps in recognition of language affinity pero pwede rin lumad. Because my research focuses on textile practices in various periods in the 1990s as well in 2009-10, I found that lumad as a term was not helpful because it was not specific enough. The term in a sense requires erasure; it does not articulate and is not interested in articulating distinct cultural and social identities. However, on another level, it is a necessary erasure of boundaries due to an emergence of a kind of “pan-Mindanao” consciousness as IPs continue to deal with people from outside their communities. The idea that lumad can only be understood as a CPP NPA NDF term conflicts with its wide-ranging use from sectors so wholly unconnected with the left, from economic elites who collect textiles to young people in cities who seek to tap into a desired vision of a Mindanao heritage. We have to be aware that it is essentially a political term, not in the sense of left or right ideologies, but a term that encompasses a supra-local identity or consciousness. We anthropologists also have to be aware that in the field, we might overlook other terms that we have been told or were trained to consider as “bad” terms. We know the problems with the term “native” but in the field, such as what Albert Alejo has written, we hear netibo. It’s the same with tribal or tribo, which are used constantly. My viewpoint then from the field would be to keep in mind our work as anthropologists and academics as essentially a kind of witnessing. Associating the term with a very narrow meaning or as an invention of a single entity is ahistorical and ignoring its other uses and meanings simply will not work.

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