In Bukidnon, a gathering of the Tribes to save the rainforest

Mindanao, Bukidnon.

 The Bukidnon province is one of the most beautiful regions of Mindanao and possibly of all the Philippines. But few tourists find their way to this mountainous area where nature abounds, large farms are plentiful and many indigenous people still lead traditional lives.

Seven tribes reside in this province, each with their own unique traits and traditions. The Talaandig (an artistic and musical people whom we had the pleasure of staying with back in 2010), the Matigsalug, the Higaunon, the Manobo, the Bukidnons, the Umayamnon and the Tigwahanon tribes each have their respective leaders, dances, historical attire. Yet on the 28th December 2013, as witnessed during a momentous get-together of these peoples, the commonality between them was undeniable.

_DSC0748 _DSC0766_DSC0808 _DSC0817

The Gathering of the Seven Tribes of Bukidnon was successfully put together by tribal elders in conjunction with the Hineleban Foundation. The aim was to bring all concerned parties together, to work toward a common goal of protecting and preserving their land and in turn their culture and livelihoods. In other words, saving the rainforest.

This occasion was significant because it was the first time in recent memory that all seven tribes had come together in unity. There had long been a history of unfriendliness between the tribes for various reasons including land claims. The fact that this gathering happened is a testament to the gravity of the reason for having to do so.

The venue was the Perrine family farm in Manolo Fortich, about 1.5 hours drive fromCagayan de Oro. Here, the approximately 300 indigenous people were able to witness a perfect example of successful reforestation. In 1975 the property was an almost tree-less prairie. Now, the farm is 64 hectares of lush greenery, countless trees and native flora and fauna. With views of Mount Kitanglad in the distance, it was a stunning backdrop for the day’s celebrations and a constant reminder of why we were there.


Elements essential to any successful party, regardless of culture, – music, refreshments and good will were all there. Musician Waway Saway (interview, a well known member of the Talaandig and much loved amongst the IPs, performed with his band. Not only did they lay a fusion of indigenous and modern tunes and percussion as the soundtrack to the day, they also very good-naturedly backed up the Datu singing his rendition of What a Wonderful World. Amidst the speeches, platefuls of various spit-roasted meats were consumed and impromptu traditional dances were performed, highlighted by  inter-tribal hugging and displays of brotherly love.

Talaandig music in Bukidnon

So this gathering marks the beginning of a willingness amongst the tribes to cooperate side by side as, for them, it has become impossible to ignore the fact that in the last few decades, much of their home has been lost to human habitation and agriculture. For a people who live in the rainforest, saving it is not just some intangible slogan; it is a necessity. The alarming rate at which deforestation is occurring is evidenced in daily life and the long term effects have already become clear.

Recent history has shown that the loss of tropical forests significantly worsens the effects of natural disasters such as typhoons and floods (see also It affects the water cycle, drying out soil and causing erosion, impacts biodiversity and of course contributes to global warming by causing carbon dioxide to linger in the atmosphere.

Reforestation and cultivation of coffee

The Hineleban Foundation is working with the tribes to once again become custodians of their home. The goal is to reforest the mountains of Bukidnon and at the same time provide livelihoods for the indigenous people, a way being through the cultivation of Arabica coffee. One of the projects that aims to bring together both these aspects and create awareness is their ‘Sip and Reforest” campaign.

Hineleban fair trade coffee

Each time a 500g pack of coffee is sold, a new tree is planted by the Foundation in the buyers name and GPS tagged so that it’s growth and progress can be followed. The campaign raises awareness and is a way for others to support the efforts of the tribes people.

Tribes United in Bukidnon

This recent gathering was the first time in decades that the tribes had come together peacefully and was the culmination of a long process of talks and negotiations. It was a truly historic occasion uniting the indigenous peoples of Bukidnon with the idea of working together to preserve their land, life and culture, all of which undoubtedly deserve to be sustained.
This article was translated and edited by Bea Vaca. You can read the original version in German on