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A Mountain of Difference. The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao, Oona Parades

Ithaca: Cornell University (Southeast Asia Program Publications n° 61), 2013, XII-195 p., index, appendices, cartes
Antonio Guerreiro
Référence(s) :

Oona Parades, A Mountain of Difference. The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao, Ithaca: Cornell University (Southeast Asia Program Publications n° 61), 2013, XII-195 p., index, appendices, cartes.

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  • 1 In over 90 titles published in the Series, I have noted only three references : Patricio N. Abinale (...)

1Few publications of the Cornell Southeast Asia Program Series have been concerned with the Philippines,1 the focus of the series have been rather on Malay-Indonesian studies and mainland Southeast Asia. This thin volume by Oona Paredes is a welcome addition to the ethnohistorical literature of the Philippines’, especially Mindanao region. The archival research on which the book is based was carried in the frame of a doctoral programme and it was supported by a grant from the Werner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. During 1994-1995 Paredes did ethnographic field visits to Lumad communities and she has kept a follow-up correspondence with key informants over the years. Her previous anthropological work includes the issue of the “Higaunon Resistance and Ethnic Politics in Northern Mindanao” (1997), besides related topics.

  • 2 The booklet published by W. H. Scott, shortly before he passed away, has reflected on the scope of (...)

2Who are the Lumad? Oona Paredes maps out the ethnic configuration of early colonial Mindanaothe term lumad being a recent introduction in the ethnographic literature on the peoples of Mindanao. She points out that since a majority of the Lumad do share common ancestors, origin myths and common linguistic origins the use of this blanket term make sense. Basically, in the post-martial Law period “Lumad” has come to distinguish the Island’s indigenous uplanders from the equally indigenous Muslim groups and the various settlers groups who have moved to Mindanao (the Visayan plural form being Lumadnon “the Lumads”, p. 25). Paredes argue convincingly that it can be used as an equivalent of the loose ethnic category “Igorot”,2 which refers to the various peoples of the Cordillera of Northern Luzon, or ‘Moro’ applied loosely to the Muslim peoples of Philippines (p. 24). It points also to the fluidity of ethnicity in the Southeast Asian context, as evidenced by the existence of wider ethnic categories which do not correspond to discrete “ethnic groups,” a parallel ethnonym in Indonesia and Malaysia would be Melayu/Malayu. The distribution of the scattered Lumad populations—characterized by a small demographic scale in the interior valleys and uplands areas of Mindanao, is more complex than that was previously though. The book recontextualize the Lumad’s social institutions, based on the ethnographic literature dating from the American administration period, especially datuship and bagani status (p. 24-31). In passing, she clarifies the special quality embodying the datu, as that of a ‘man of prowess’ rather than the standard anthropological classification found in the literature (‘between big-man and chief’). Based on the historical sources and her analyses of contemporary perceptions of the Lumad, the main argument of the book is developed by Paredes in the following pages. The section discussing the title of book, “A Mountain of Difference” takes on the ascription of the Lumad to the uplands to show that the historical records of Mindanao do show another picture (p. 31-36). According to the prevalent idea, the Lumad are referred by Visayans as taga-bukid, a term that implies simple mind, nature-loving and primitive tribal connotations in opposition to the normal people who live in the coastal lowland towns (i.e. Visayans). She writes: “Mountains are where such wild and unpredictable creatures as spirits, armed rebels, and inscrutable tribal people live. Locating ‘mountain people’ in the mountains would be unproblematic but for the fact that Lumad oral traditions points very clearly and unambiguously to their coastal origins (p. 31).” Thus she chooses to translate the Castillano word montés as “hinterland,” when it referred to the people living in the area described as el monte by the Spanish sources, that is the Lumad. Then the descriptive term las tribus monteses would not refer to the wild tribes of the deep mountains, but rather the people “who have not cottoned on to, much less adopted, Western notions of ‘civilization’” (p. 33). The “fierce” nature attributed to the Lumad by the Spanish and American sources is also deconstructed by the author (p. 31-32). It evokes the general perception of Mindanao and Sulu peoples in the early colonial period. The mention of mangayao in the Spanish sources, lit. “making a raid”—more correctly pangayaw in the Lumad’s languages, a term with a connotation of “going head-hunting” mangayaw in the Westerm Austronesian area—which permeates the cultural landscape of Mindanao peoples is revealing of the accommodation made by Spaniards of the Lumad’s small scale warfare in reference to their own punitive expeditions (p. 43-45, p. 93-98). Actually, raiding was widespread and it was carried by both Lumad and Moros.

3One of the highlights of the book is the unraveling of the direct role of the Catholic missions in connection to the Lumad peoples cultural configurations of Northeastern Mindanao during the early Spanish colonial period. The period considered, covering the first half of the 17th century to the mid-19th century was crucial in shaping the Lumad’s cultural and social representations. The author is taking advantage of the rich archival material of the missions as of the indigenous oral cultural traditions of the Lumad, using her own ethnohistorical data and a wealth of published sources. She combines these diverse materials in a very comprehensive way. Following Jan Vansina (1971), Paredes is well aware of the limitations of the oral sources at such time depth, circa the 16th to the early 19th century, basically she argues for a new look at the historical record of Mindanao (p. 35-36). The subtitle of the book suggests a finer interpretation of theses sources and of the Lumad cultural history in Northeastern Mindanao. It points to the ways the Lumad define their identity in the regional context in relation to the ethnic categories constructed during the colonial period: “Moro,” “Visaya” (Bisaya in the early Spanish sources) or simply “Indios.” The preface, entitled “The Problem of History,” procedes by repositioning the different themes she develops in the book in connection to the missionaries’ influence, heritage or the nostalgia that attaches itself to the perception of history in the Philippines. At this point, it is worth mentioning that she reflects on her own journey, moving from the Philippines to the United States as an immigrant then visiting Spain in the frame of her research, stiring reflexivity in her approach of the sources. In this regard, she acknowledges the need for working from the primary sources and of checking critically the translations, especially now that digital English language translations are avalaible. The stress put on the value of a deeply-rooted linguistic approach (through archaic Castillan, Visayan, Lumad texts) is a strong point of the book, see also the appendixes (p. 183-186).

  • 3 In the line of Peter Scheurs major monograph : Caraga Antigua 1521-1910 : The Hispanization and Chr (...)

4The structure of the book unfolds in the vignettes of Lumad life developed in each chapter, moving from a general picture of Mindanao to the description of the interactions that took place in specific locations on the Island Northeastern regions. The outline of the six main chapters of the book provides touchstones revealing the contours of the “Lumad phenomenon,” according to the author. She remarks further that these interactions are rather of an episodic and fragmentary nature, however taken together they gradually move from conjectural history to an ethnohistorically grounded approach of these indigenous societies. The chapters can be summarized briefly. The first chapter, Las Dychas Islas “The Aforementioned Islands” (p. 17-36), situates Mindanao in the early colonial period of the Philippines. The situation of the Lumad during the first half of the 17th century is based on the descriptions given by Catholics missionaries and Spanish official sources. The following chapter “Blessed are the Peacemakers” (p. 37-64) focuses on one the main orders involved in Mindanao at the time, the Recoletos, i.e. the Augustinian Recollets (especially p. 40-48). For obvious geopolitical reasons, they choose to make their base in the Northeastern areas of the Island. Paredes contextualises the sources in connection to the Recoletos’ strategies and their relationships to the Lumad peoples of the region.3 While “Blood Brothers and the Enemies of God” (p. 65-81) tells the story of the Kagayanon people of the Cagayan River valley led by Datu Salangsang, who converted to Christianity after the arrival of two Recoletos (second decade of the 17th c.). It explained the relocation of their settlement downriver, near the present day site of Cagayan de Oro City. The next chapter “Treachery Most Foul” (p. 83-119) relates the story of dramatic events taking place in 1631, in what has been described as the “Caraga Revolt” in Eastern Mindanao. This came as a strong blow to the Recoletos who had forged close friendships to the Karaga’s local elites in the coastal area. The cross-dressing act of the india María Campan, a member of a leading family of Tago, accused by the Church of blasphemy after the murder of Fray Jacinto de Jesús María, should be mentioned. Its cultural significance according to the Spaniards’ gendered notions being particularly striking (p. 107-111). In term of individual behaviour, the Lumad community was divided, some Karaga would protect the fryars while others were on the rebels side. A this point, the author’s argument on the dual nature of conversion fits well with the facts. Indeed, in a very short period of time a sense of Christian identity had developed among the Karaga people. On the other hand, the Recoletos themselves came to consider shared Christian values and “brotherhood” with the Lumad, as a bond in opposition to their former allies the piratical Maguindanaon. The hand of Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat of Maguindanaon (1580-1671) and his datus came to the fore behind the revolt that took place in Caraga. The chapter titled “Your Slaves who Shall Serve You” (p. 121-150) makes use of three letters to the Spanish authorities written by Lumad communities in Northern Mindanao asking for Spanish patronage. Actually these episodes are taking place later in the 18th and early 19th centuries. One case suggests that a Lumad kin group refused integration into Christian life and moved to the mountains to follow their ancestral laws. The final chapter, “The Golden Cane” (p. 151-165), reflects on the partly colonial origins of the oral traditions and symbols used by Lumad communities as part of their current values and heritage. Conversely, Paredes stresses the role of the Spanish administration of the island in the development of leadership among the Lumad. In an afterword, “Respecting Place” (p. 167-175), she returns to the historical and geographic position of the Lumad in Mindanao, summarizing the long lasting impact of the colonial situation, how four centuries of contact have shaped Lumad societies in the Northeastern regions of Mindanao. In this regard, the section (Chapter 2, p. 49-57) devoted to the issue of “Converting Cultures” should be commended. It explains the close connection between the political importance of the religious orders for the colonial powers, partly because of the choice made by the Recoletos in their mission work of prozelytization in the indigenous languages. It shows also the close social ties that the missionaries established with the local Lumad communities. After this preliminary phase had been completed, the fryars could move to the next stage: i.e. adult catechism and preparation for baptism. Later in the 17th century, the missionaries would select the children of converts, especially those of the principales, for additional Catholic schooling in Cebu under the supervision of the Bishop, keeping in mind the need to train future local leaders and to establish a loyal cadre in the community.

  • 4 On Mindanao, see James Francis Warren, Iranun and Balangingi. Globalization, Maritime Raiding and t (...)

5The book brings a wealth of ethnographic and historical materials, especially rare Spanish sources. A sketch of the morphology of the Island landscapes and of its rugged terrain, may have been added with profit to the Chapter 1, however it is found in other recent publications focussing on Mindanao. To conclude, a word on the editing of the book, the layout makes reading easy, especially the appendixes (A-D) which are clearly presented and the useful index. On the other hand, bibliographical references are provided in footnotes in each chapter, which is convenient. The only shortcomings refer to the situation maps. The map of Mindanao (map 1) is not complete: it focuses on the central and Northeastern parts of the Island—where places names are provided, while Southern Cotabato and the Zamboanga peninsula, relevant to the larger historical picture, are not included. The general map of “Southeast Asia in the 1800s” ignores completely the Borneo toponyms, on the other hand Menado and Makassar are well localized in Sulawesi (Celebes). This is surprising because of the close relationships of North Borneo (Marudu, Labuk, etc.), Melano, Sambas, Brunei and the Eastern Coast Sultanates (Tidung Palas, Bulungan, Berau) to Sulu, Palawan and Mindanao during the Spanish colonial period (circa 1570-1880). It is particularly relevant to the peak period of aggressive Iranun and Samal Balangingi raiding and slaving that developed in the Sulu-Mindanao region in the first half of 18th century.4

6In short, the book fills a gap in our knowledge of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples from a cultural history perspective. It addresses the complexity of the interactions that took place between the colonial power, the missions, the neighbouring Moros and different Lumad communities at an early period on the Island. Considered in the wider Southeast Asian context as Paredes remarks, the Lumad’s conversion to Christianity would point to the general trend of converting to modernity. In that sense, the present Lumad “localization” in Mindanao can be integrated in a historically rooted global perspective. The history of the Lumad had indeed been recorded from the 17th century onwards, despite the fact they have been labelled a “people without history.”

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1 In over 90 titles published in the Series, I have noted only three references : Patricio N. Abinales (ed.), The Revolution Fathers : The Left in Philippine Politics after 1986 (SEAP Series n° 15) ; a coedition, Coeli Barry (ed.), The Many Ways of Being Muslim. Fiction by Muslim Philippinos. Cornell copublished with Anvil Publishing Inc, The Philippines, 2008 ; and a language primer, John U. Wolf, Marie Teresa C. Centeno, Der Hwa D. Rao, Pilipino through Self-Instruction, 1991, revised 2005.

2 The booklet published by W. H. Scott, shortly before he passed away, has reflected on the scope of the ethnonym “Igorot” in historical perspective : William Henry Scott, Of Igorot and Independance. Two essays, Baguio : Era publishing, 1993).

3 In the line of Peter Scheurs major monograph : Caraga Antigua 1521-1910 : The Hispanization and Christianization of Agusan, Surigao and East Davao, Cebu : University of San Carlos Publications, 1989.

4 On Mindanao, see James Francis Warren, Iranun and Balangingi. Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity, Singapore : Singapore University Press, 2002, especially p. 28-29 (Map 2), p. 47-48, 74-75 (Map 3), 84-85, compare the Visayas and Luzon, p. 102-110, 111 (map 4)-123.

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Antonio Guerreiro, « A Mountain of Difference. The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao, Oona Parades », Moussons [En ligne], 23 | 2014, mis en ligne le 23 juillet 2015, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL :

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Antonio Guerreiro


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