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Interconnection of Man with Nature: How the Manobo Tribe Thrives with the Agusan Marsh

Photo credits: Gab Mejia

In a viral Facebook post of Gab Mejia-- photographer, filmmaker, and National Geographic Explorer, he discussed a particular indigenous community here in the country that can break a story on water and floods that is relevant to the current Typhoon (Ulysses) that has ravaged the country.

With that being said, he referred to the Manobo Tribe of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area Management Office in Mindanao that lives and thrives in the middle of a lake and a flood basin with an ingenious design that adapts to the rise and fall of water. This tribe is also labeled as “The Floating Community of Agusan Marsh”. The floating community is only four kilometers from the village center, and its only way of transport is by riding a Banca (small wooden boat) in the lake. The marsh is known to be abundant and has a biodiversity that’s one of a kind.

Our country is also found in flood basins and intertidal/coastal wetlands which makes almost all of the towns and cities flood-prone. The Manobo Tribe is not an exception, they too share the same dilemma but with a heavier load to carry because of climate change. With fishing as the main source of income for most of the Manobo’s, it has been greatly affected because of the changes in the climate causing droughts which makes fishing and other means of living inaccessible. However, despite the formidable situation, they have thrived and adapted from the dynamic flooded environment they are in, their floating houses surprisingly holds still up until today even with the recent Typhoon that wreaks havoc in our country.

According to Gab Mejia’s post as to how the tribe has kept their houses still:

“They tie the appended wooden rafts underneath their houses to the ‘bangkal’ trees that naturally grow in the lake that keeps their houses from being washed away by the strong currents and for keeping their whole houses intact and dry. They get their electricity from solar panels installed on their rooftops since major powerlines are hard to reach in the middle of a lake. The surrounding local communities near the Agusan River such as Talacogon, who prefer more contemporary structural designs, built their houses and schools on standing stilts high enough so that no amount of predictable flood will cause any significant damage to their community equipped with wooden canoes locally known as “barotos” and other boats. Plus whats amazing to note about the Agusan Marshlands, that despite it being the largest inland wetland in the Philippines and a biodiversity hotspot, is how it carries all the water coming down from the mountain ranges of Caraga and some parts in the Compostella region so that no devastating floods will occur when it drains downstream to coastal communities like Butuan City.”

Gab also highlighted the importance of the need to focus on wetlands conservation and management and how we took advantage of our environment. According to him

“We allow the construction of houses and buildings on wetlands. We destroy the natural barriers of Luzon such as the Sierra Madre and Candaba Wetlands of Pampanga without simultaneously managing to create engineering mitigation solutions such as water catchment systems and tanks enough to carry all the outflow from our dams. So this is what we get. And NOW, all that water has to go somewhere! And it will continue to flow down flooding all the other provinces where the natural-water catchment systems like Candaba Swamp have already been degraded and destroyed, leaving more and more cities submerged in its path. It would be time to prioritize the passage of the Wetlands Act to strengthen the protection of these highly vulnerable and fragile life support systems. Wetlands are not wastelands since they provide valuable ecosystem services one of which is its regulating function for flood control. The ingenuity of indigenous knowledge and practices of our IPs are indeed shaped by the influence of its environment, that's what the floating communities in Agusan Marshlands have taught us in this crisis”.

The interconnectedness of nature and people is most of the time neglected which results to even more rigid consequences. Gab Mejia also concluded his Facebook post with a timely reminder:

“ We divide rivers, wetlands, and mountains with varying degrees of governance. Some exploit them, some protect them— but ultimately it is one Cagayan River, one Sierra Madre, and one Agusan Marshlands that all play an important role in the life, death, and development of the Filipino People may it be indigenous or metropolitan. We are a nation shaped by mountains and oceans with cities built on wetlands, and if we don’t learn how to use this TO our advantage and not just FOR our advantage— we will ultimately be subdued in water and flames taking away billions worth of damage, and many more lives that can never remain the same again.”

Surreal foggy morning at the Agusan Marsh/ Photo by Edgar Allan M. Sembrano

With the recent Typhoons that our country has experienced, we can clearly say that we have been so complacent and have ignored more of the environment’s conservation. And we sometimes forget that man, nature, and everything that coexists is interconnected. One could either benefit or destroy. Let us not be the latter. We can start changing and conserving in our little ways and make this world a livable and sustainable place to live in future generations to come.

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