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DAISY Y. NOVAL-MORALES

       The Remontados, identified as a Negrito ethnolinguistic group, derive their name from the Spanish verb “remontar”, meaning, “to flee to the hills”, “to frighten away” or “go back to the mountains”. These indigenous peoples (IPs) are said to be the descendants of lowlanders who opted to live in the mountains to avoid subjugation by the Spaniards. Subsequently, they intermarried with the Negrito groups. Also referred to as Dumagat, they prefer to call themselves taga-bundok (from the mountains) or magkakaingin (those who practice kaingin). (Bennnagen, 1985)

       Physical Characteristics. The Remontado are of mixed blood, hence, they have a combination of Negrito and lowland Filipino features. (Beyer, 1917) Avena (1988) describes them: “deep brown skin, average height of 128 centimeters, curly to straight hair, high cheekbones, small slightly flared noses, Mongol-type eyes, and teeth that are sometimes filed and red from chewing betel nut. They also have a lean, small built but with strong firm muscles and well developed extremities including broad feet, because of physical daily work in the fields, climbing hills, or hiking in the forest”.

       They  inhabit the uplands of Rizal and Quezon Provinces along the Sierra Madre highlands. They live mainly on the eastern part of Rizal Province, specifically Sta. Ines of Antipolo Municipality (now part of Tanay); Tinukan, Mamuyao, San Andres, Cuyambay, Layban, Daraitan, and Sampaloc of Tanay; and Macabod, Anginan, Cabooan, Mabolo, Malasia and Puray of Montalban. The areas of Infanta-Real-General Nakar of Quezon Province are also their dwelling places. Although the Remontado are semi-nomadic, there is no reported case of heavy out-migration. They roam in a specific geographic range they consider home base.

       In 1936, the total population of the Remontado in eastern Rizal was 2,650. After 45 years, this was reduced to 2,750. The group’s population growth is almost stationary when compared with Rizal’s non-Remontado populace that has increased five-times in the same time period.

Land Ownership

       Communal Ownership.  The Remontado believe that the ancestral lands are theirs communally and no individual can claim land as private property. Testimonies of elder men and women point out that settlements and barrios near the town proper that are currently occupied by non-Remontado groups were once abode to their ancestors. This encroachment has driven the group to the upper, more remote areas of the uplands.

       Government Intervention.  In 1956, President Ramon Magsaysay declared as resettlement areas the mountains of  Montalban to Tanay. This action by the government was “an attempt to appease the land hunger of countless tenants, sharecroppers, many of whom had started to organize and arm themselves to wreck what they deemed an unjust and exploitative feudal order”. (Coronel, 1981) Subsequently, several cases of land grabbing, whether by technical default or manipulation among those who have access and understanding of land titles, were carried out. The Remontados’ practice of kaingin that involves fallow period is now inappropriate since areas left to fallow are prone to acquisition by the migrants.

Economy

       Kaingin System.  The Remontado used to be hunters and gatherers before they switched to shifting cultivation or kaingin. This economic activity has prompted them to gain mastery of seasonal weather and yearly cycle. They also possess their own economic calendar showing the main subsistence activities of the group. The whole family is involved in the process with the father performing the heavier task of preparing the field; e.g., clearing and burning of the ground. Both the mother and the children help in sowing, weeding and harvesting. If the field is too big for the immediate family to manage, assistance from the kin is sought. Compensation is usually in kind or in work exchange where the helper in turn seeks assistance for work in his own field. A typical kaingin field is one half (1/2) to one-and-a-half (1 ½) hectares yielding a harvest of around one to six (1-6) cavans per hectare. Rice is planted in May in time for the rainy season. In addition, the following are also cultivated: corn, gabi, cassava and sweet potato. They plant vegetables, papayas and bananas as intercrops. Pepper, beans and even tobacco are raised in scattered patches while fruit bearing trees are planted around the plot.

       Supplementary Activities. Supplementary subsistence activities include gathering of uway (rattan), buho (light bamboo), almaciga, vines, honey, and other forest resources which are traded with products of lowlanders. Charcoal-making is also a source of income.

Political Organization

       Leadership.  There are no full-time, formal leaders among the Remontado. Nevertheless, advice and decisions of older members of the community are heeded when necessary. Remontado are guided by their “old customs and traditions which are closely observed and seldom violated”. Maceda (1937) describes a “definite and established form of political organization” of the group “with officers of which are the president, the vice president, the councilors, the secretary, the chief of police, and the members of the police force”. They have an open vote election process that is facilitated by a superintendent. Each barrio elects its own set of officers who “pass ordinances pertaining to public works” of the area concerned”. This practice is similar to the “mainstream” political structure.

       Ethnicity and Conflict.  For many reasons, the group does not appreciate the idea of living with the migrants. Cultural differences and conflict of interest heighten this tension. The Remontado suffer the same fate of other indigenous Filipino groups who do not have equal rights and access to resources.

Social Organization

       Marriage.  The indigenous group practices monogamy and often, endogamy. Intermarriage with non-Remontado is not popular since the group members, said to be shy and passive by nature, are not comfortable living with the banyaga or settlers. Their term for marriage is pagbabalae, that is, performed by parental arrangement. Child bethrotal occurs when the children are still young. As soon as the children reach puberty, the girl’s parents ask for the bilang or bride price (in 1937, the boy’s family would pay the amount ranging from 10 to 100 pesos). In addition, clothes for the bride as well as food and working animals for her parents are provided. During the wedding ceremony, the bride dresses in the house of one of her nearest kin. The bridegroom than fetches her and they walk together to the woman’s residence. As they parade, the relatives of the bride kneel to them, asking for rice and wine. When the couple reach the house, an old man officiates at the wedding ceremony by counseling them. He would loudly advice the couple to act maturely and leave behind their childish ways. Moreover, he would express pity for the couple since they now have to leave their respective parents to live independently. He tells them to offer their parents food and buyo (betel) in the future. After the counseling, the parents of both parties declare them husband and wife. Currently, those who are poor do not practice these rites anymore. Parental consent to live together is sufficient. There are cases of separation due to adultery, although this very seldom happens. There are documented instances of individuals remarrying after separation. The offending party returns the bilang and all the expenses incurred during the wedding ceremony. Death is a possible consequence if this is not achieved.

       Post-marital Residence.  The groom’s family provides a house for the couple. Oftentimes, kin help build the one-room hut. They practice a neolocal pattern of residence, but the new house is still within the area of either of the two sets of parents or where the kaingin site is located. At times, the family builds a kaingin hut if the permanent house is very far from the site. Usually, during the height of farming activities, adults stay in the kaingin hut while the older children are left at the permanent house to look after the younger siblings. A typical Remontado house is a one-room elevated hut with a detachable ladder to keep out animals. The construction materials consist of tree trunks, caña boho (for sides or walls), rattan, and cogon grass (for roofing).

       Birth and Baptism.  Traditionally, children are born in the house of the parents. The husband assists the midwife, usually an old woman, while the wife gives birth in a squatting position. The husband’s presence is required during the labor; otherwise, as believed, the wife will have a difficult delivery. Customary baptism is called pagbubuhos. This event is officiated by an old, respected man. He pours water on the head of the baby who is then given a small amount of salt. The parents themselves choose the godparents or ninong/ninang for their child.

       Death and Burial.  The Remontado believe in life after death. The term bibit refers to the spirit of the dead, which returns after the physical body expires. Traditionally, there are no cemeteries for the departed. When a person passes away, he or she is buried in the same location where he/she died. Thus, the house that used to be occupied by the deceased is burned. A burial ceremony is undertaken by an elder man who recites explanations for the burning of the house so the dead will not haunt the living. He also offers food and betel as the deceased’s share. Mourners sing the dalet (song for the dead) for nine successive nights. A sample of the song’s words is as follows: “You will pass a meandering stream and you will reach the place where sterile jackfruits are also sweet. Cloudy sky, we are lowering the deceased and we will pray to God to pardon him for his sins”. The belief in the afterlife is evident in the song. The spirit crossing a stream or body of water is typical in indigenous cosmology. Consistently, the bereaved gather on the third day to eat, sing and bring offerings for the dead. There used to be a custom of checking whether the spirit of the dead really visited his/her home. This is done through the spreading of ashes on the window tray during the fourth night of the interment. The following day, if the ashes have been disturbed, it is said that the bibit returned the previous night. Social changes and acculturation have altered this burial practice. While previously, the body was wrapped in a mat, it is now laid in a wooden casket. Then the family and kin of the departed hold a wake for one to two (1-2) days, after which the body is brought to a distant hill where a cemetery is located.

Sickness and Cure

       The average marital fertility rate is 8.6 children per ever-married woman, but the census shows that survival rate is only three – 3 (only three –3- children survive). Causes of child mortality are the following: tigdas (measles), biglang sakit (probably epidemics like El Tor), mataas na lagnat (high fever), malarya (malaria), magkasamang lagnat pagtatae at pananakit ng sikmura at dibdib (combination of fever, diarrhea, stomach and chest pains), lagnat, suka at tae (fever, vomitting and diarrhea), sumusuka ng dugo (spitting out blood, probably tuberculosis), lumalaki ang tiyan (bloating of stomach), sipon at tigdas (colds and measles), parang dinadakma at tumitirik ang mata (convulsion), sakit at gutom (illness and starvation), nakulam (witchcraft), namatay habang tulog (died while asleep), isinilang ng patay (stillbirth), nakunan, nalaglag (miscarriage). When the children survive adolescence, mortality rate lowers. Frequency in cases of death rises again during old age with tuberculosis, malaria and simply old age as primary causes. Although the Remontado believe in spirits, illness for them is “physical in nature”. They have a wide array of medicinal plants for cure. Some of these are: amuyong for fever; katmon for cough; tugis, dayap, tambo, tibig, talustos for colds; lagundi, tala, mamongol, herbabuina for stomach troubles; amarillo for headache; and kulanturuhan for measles. Yet, there are also cases of bati and kulam (witchcraft). A medicinal man or hilot is sought to diagnose an illness and he uses medicinal herbs for remedy. Recently, environmental stress and drastic cultural changes effected not only in the scarcity of resources but also the introduction of new illnesses. These are difficult to address with the existing medical knowledge and expertise.

Indigenous Knowledge

       Flora and Fauna. The Remontado have a rich reservoir of knowledge on the environment and ecology. Their taxonomy of the flora and fauna is evident in their crops, technology on hunting wild games and even in the identification of medicinal plants. They are familiar with at least 10 varieties of gabi, six (6) of cassava, 16 of sweet potato, 11 of bananas, and 39 of rice, eight (8) of which are glutinous. Their mastery and expertise on the issue of ecological management is also evident in their kaingin system of multi-cropping and fallow period.

       Technology. In addition to agriculture, they have developed their distinct technology on hunting games. Traps such balaes (for wild hogs) and pakuis (for monkeys) are used. Bows and arrows with catapults and darts are some of their devices to hunt eels, mudfish, wild chicken, birds, shrimp, and other animals. A poisonous plant species called kamaysa that bears green, berry-like fruits are pounded and scattered in the fishing spot in the river to temporarily paralyze and thus easily catch the fish. Remontado have two methods of making fire, the firesaw method and the pinkian. The former involves the rubbing of the edge of split bamboo over another piece in a horizontal position with bamboo shavings in between until the latter combust due to friction. The pinkian process produces fire by striking steel against the flint that produces sparks to ignite the akipan or fine dried husk of palm trees.

Art and Craft

       Music and Dance.  The Remontado are fond of music. They sing during feasts, gatherings and ceremonies. The beautiful passages of their ilda (song) in rhyme are sung while walking, during work, or as they rest after the harvest while drinking a locally purchased wine called lambanog. Songs are sang to celebrate their young’s baptismal, or when they pay their last homage to their dead. Love songs or kundimans are accompanied by guitar. Fandango is a must in every feast.

       Aesthetics.  The group members are indulgent with regard to adornments and they readily spend savings for bodily decoration. Beautiful costumes (others still use G-strings) and ornamentation like bejuco rings decorated with orchids, seeds, fruits and rare forest flowers are displayed during special gatherings such as fiestas and weddings to capture the admiration of the opposite sex. Like other indigenous groups, they also practice dental filing – they grind the anterior surface of their front upper teeth to create a uniform appearance and a concave look. Tattooing, called cadlet, is also practiced. The process entails the use of a pointed metal and powdered charcoal that serves as the pigment. Even their rich knowledge on the flora and fauna is manifested on their sense of aesthetics. Flowers and bark strips are arranged into arm and head bands. Natural dyes are utilized to redden the lips and cheeks. Everyday utility objects like mats, mortar and pestle, boat, pouches for betel nuts, traps, and containers are created from indigenous materials. Weaving is a practiced art that produces baskets, hats and mats.

Future of the Remontado

       The Remontado identity is intertwined with the land and their plight for survival as a people depends on it. Environmental and system disruption put so much pressure on the adaptation of these IPs. Urbanization, mining activities, deforestation, land encroachment, construction of dams and air and seaports are just manifestations of a deeper issue. For them not to be exploited, they have verbalized the need to learn to read, write and calculate. This, they hope the government will be sensitive enough to respond to. Due to the interaction with the lowlanders and other external intrusions, the indigenous knowledge that used to be sufficient for their adaptation is now inadequate. The Remontado survival lies on the society’s acceptance of the group as fellow Filipinos with equal rights to access the nation’s institutions.

About the Author:
Daisy Y. Noval-Morales obtained her graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She works as a freelance researcher and designs/implements monitoring and evaluation studies.