October: Highlighting Indigenous Peoples

Manide by Rhonson Ng

October puts the spotlight on the country’s indigenous peoples with the month designated as The National Indigenous Peoples Month. It was declared through Presidential Proclamation No. 1906, s. 2009, mandating the recognition and protection of the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/ Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs). 

Tasked to watch over the cultural groups is the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). The government agency “formulates and implements policies, plans and programs for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and well-being of IPs with due regard to their ancestral domains and lands, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and cultural integrity.” 

The Philippines, a culturally diverse country, has 110 ethno-linguistic groups as identified by the NCIP. Their number is estimated to be between 10% - 20% of the country’s population. Mindanao has the highest concentration of IPs with 61% and the Cordillera Administrative Region with 33%. 

How many of the groups are you familiar with? 

Epanaw Project Phase 1 

Thanks to the efforts of NCIP, its partner- Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) of the Department of Tourism (DOT), and its team, Project “Epanaw” (journey), coffee table books in three volumes, was conceived, published, and launched in 2021. It is the “story of the ICCs/IPs through their own eyes.” 

The books present a “glimpse” of the Philippine cultural tribes: Volume 1 is “Pagkilala” (Recognize), showcasing the profiles of each ICC/IP. It contains information about their history, location, and overview of their social and daily lives; Volume 2 is “Paggalang” (Respect), featuring festivals and rituals the ICCs/IPs practice in relation to important events such as birth and death, agricultural cycle, and the sacred and profane; and Volume 3 is Pagtaguyod (Promote), containing travel destinations in ancestral domains for eco-tourism. 

Phase 1 of Project Epanaw - 3 coffee table books were launched in 2021

The NCIP chairperson said that through Project Epanaw, NCIP seeks to pay tribute and memorialize the identities and rituals of the indigenous peoples as well as to highlight the importance of protecting their ancestral domains. 

For the photographers, it was an arduous task to traverse islands, trek mountains, cross rivers to far-reaching areas of the archipelago to capture and immortalize the subjects in photographs, especially during the pandemic. 

“Epanaw was conceived during the pandemic. To complete it, all the regions commissioned photographers in their areas to take the required photos. However, most of the photos, such as the covers, page breakers and spreads were taken by three photographers- Joji Alcantara, Bouchard Prado and myself,” shared photographer Rhonson Ng, who is also the main photo editor. 

Epanaw Project Phase 2 

During the 2021 launching, it was announced that a second phase of project Epanaw was kicked-off. The new project aims to scale up research and documentation of indigenous knowledge systems and practices. 

According to Rhonson Ng, starting this 2022, NCIP is looking to release 13 more books for the second phase of Epanaw. It will tackle a more detailed account of the IPs and will allocate one volume per tribe. He said to expect 300 pages of photographs per volume. 

Ayta Magansi by Rhonson Ng

Mandaya & Matigsalog by Joji Alcantara

Matigsalog ancestral domain by Bouchard Prado

While all the first series of Epanaw volumes was a compilation of photos by several photographers, the new series of books will be publishing the works of only three photographers—Rhonson Ng, Joji Alcantara and Bouchard Prado. 

Photographers Bouchard Prado & Joji lacantara with lead photogrpaher & main photo editor Rhonson Ng

Rhonson Ng is the lead photographer and went around eight regions in Luzon and Mindanao for three straight months. Alcantara and Prado worked as a tandem and cover all the regions in Mindanao plus one in the Visayas. 

Dumagat by Rhonson Ng

Isnag by Rhonson Ng

Manide by Rhonson Ng 

“A slated nationwide photo exhibit on October 22 and it will be launched simultaneously in all the regions across the country. The exhibition will show 80 photographs per venue,’ bared Ng. 

"In Manila, the event venue is at SM North Edsa SkyDome. Along with the exhibit, a fashion will also be mounted featuring tribal attires. The main groups’ tribes will be represented in the show." 

"In the Davao region there will be 2 exhibits, in Davao City and Tagum City."

*All photos will be part of the second phase of Project Epanaw. 

Also published in the SunStar Davao newspaper.

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