`Befriending’ Canatuan’s spirits


Subanon rites at mine pit for a successful Sulphide Project

The baliyan, the Subanon high priestess, closed her eyes and raised her head towards the heavens. She moved her lips, whispering a prayer as she cast water over her shoulders. Susana Davi was summoning the spirits. And she wanted to make sure that she and the people attending the ritual were properly cleansed with her holy water. They have to be worthy of the spirits’ presence. After all, she was asking permission and blessing for the copper-zinc project of the mining company that for four years until April this year had mined gold and silver from the same pit in Mount Canatuan.

Above, Baliyan Susana Davi prepares the table containing offerings to the spirits of Mount Canatuan. Below, Davi (with raised arm), says a prayer to Apo Mogiba, the Divine Protector, at the edge of the mine pit. “We can all be assured that the Sulphide Project will be fruitful.”

Called ginang popilis buh-supali (Subanon for “befriending and asking permission from the spirits”), the ritual was led by members the Canatuan Council of Elders and attended by officials and employees of TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc. (Inc.), which is currently building a Sulphide plant and support facilities that the company expects to operate within the last quarter of this year. Canatuan is a Subanon ancestral domain in the mountainous eastern portion of Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte in western Mindanao.

“Respect for our tradition and beliefs earns, in return, respect not only from the indigenous people but from Apo Mogiba and Gama sog Glangit, the `Divine Protector’ and the `Creator of heaven and earth’,” Pancho Tumangkis, a Council member, told TVIRD personnel, many of whom were non-Subanons, who participated in the ritual. “Even though our customs differ from yours, we are pleased that you came to honor and to befriend our gods. Your respect for our culture has earned you our support. We can all be assured that the Sulphide Project will be fruitful.”

Davi gives a white chicken to a TVIRD employee, representing the guest seeking friendship and permission from the spirits. “Reverence for the culture of our hosts is a must for guests like us.”

During the ritual, Baliyan Davi, “blessed” the items on the ceremonial altar, upon which were placed sliced hard boiled eggs over cooked rice, cigarettes, betel nuts, and panggasi, an indigenous rice wine. These items, along with chickens of three different colors preferred by the gods – black, red, and white – were offerings to the spirits that were later on shared with those in attendance. As the gods want it, the red and black chickens were sacrificed and their blood was sprinkled around the mine pit. The white one was given to a representative of TVIRD, the guest seeking friendship and permission, who is expected to take care of the fowl.

“We also have ceremonies like this in our place, though they are done differently,” said Bonifacio Balili, Mines foreman and a native of Surigao City in eastern Mindanao, who was visibly moved during the ritual. “But being a non-Subanon doesn’t exempt us from taking part in our hosts’ ritual. Respect breeds respect. Before we conduct mining activities in their land, we must have the blessings from their gods to see to it that no untoward incidents will happen. Reverence for the culture of our hosts is a must for guests like us.”

Above, a bowl containing burnt incense and wood is passed around the guests seven times purportedly to ensure that TVIRD employees will be safe within the mine area, while Baliyan Davi (foreground) waits for the completion of the ritual. Below, mine engineer Deyn Sandiko takes a sip of panggasi rice wine as Subanon Council of Elders member Zenaida Dandana looks on.

TVIRD Mine Operations checker and controller Euberto Cisneros, who hails from Cebu City in Central Visayas, shares the same view of Balili. Though, a non-believer in pagan rituals, Cisneros gamely joined the Supali and even offered his hardhat for the offering of chicken blood. “We have nothing to lose if we participate in their tradition and much to lose if we don’t. Taking part of their ritual was an honor for us and we respect them.”

Mine surveyor Eugene Berioso, also a non-Subanon born in Ipil town in adjacent Zamboanga Sibugay province, said he believes in the Subanon culture and was glad that he attended the ritual. “I believe that godly spirits dwell in the mountains. And befriending and asking permission from them in connection with our mining operations give me a feeling of security, especially so when we start working on their land,” he professed.

Arnold Patoh, controller/checker and a member of the Subanon tribe, on the other hand, said he felt enormous gratification when he saw his colleagues at the mine who are non-Subanons during the ritual. “I was elated that my co-workers joined the Supali. Their participation demonstrated unity with and respect for our culture. Though we have different beliefs, we are united by our work in the Subanon homeland. And I am proud to have shared our Subanon tradition with others!”

Council of Elder member Pancho Tumangkis (in black cap) thanks TVIRD officials and employees led by Mill Maintenance manager Ely Valmores (in beige vest, center of photo) and Community Relations and Development Office manager Thess Limpin (to the right of Valmores) after the Supali ritual. “Respecting each other’s beliefs is the key to a harmonious relationship among us as well as with the spirits of the land.”

Mill Maintenance manager Ely Valmores, for his part, captured everybody’s sentiment in the brief remarks he gave during the ritual: “We didn’t come here just to mine. We came to bring development to the Subanon homeland. But there can never be development without respect for the customs and traditions that we found here. Respecting each other’s beliefs is the key to a harmonious relationship among us as well as with the spirits of the land.”

Subanon spiritual leaders were also called upon to conduct their rituals when TVIRD marked other significant milestones in its Canatuan operations. These include the dedication of the Gossan Project’s second ball mill on November 1, 2005, and the inauguration of the Gossan Dam on May 13, 2006. TVIRD’s Gossan Project, which lasted from July 2004 until April 2008, was a resounding success, both in terms of production and of development for the company’s indigenous hosts.

Now “assured” of the consent of Canatuan’s mountain spirits, both TVIRD and the Subanons eagerly look forward to yet another successful joint undertaking in the Sulphide Project, which promises to provide more avenues for growth and development, both for the company and its surrounding communities throughout the life of mine and beyond. (Rene Patangan)

Above, Subanon and non-Subanon TVIRD employees and members of the Canatuan community pose for the photographer after the ritual: “Though we have different beliefs, we are united by our work in the Subanon homeland.” Below, TVIRD mine employees, together with their old reliable pet dog “Pok”, and new pet chicken, “Kok”.