Although change is part of social existence, and societies fluctuate in number and character, there is always a functional resistance to change due to homeostasy of adaptation. Thus, there has been through Philippine prehistory, and even up to more recent times, the maintenance of levels of subsistence technologies and the corresponding cultural traits.
Groups like the Tasaday, Tau M’loy, and Uka of southern Cotabato subsist through the same food-gathering level, but exploiting different features of the environment. Maintaining a balance with their ecosystem, the population reached no takeoff point to another level of technology other than incipient hunting. Thus, their societies are organized into separate nuclear units loosely structured into bands widely distributed in respective territories of exploitation in the rain forests of Mindanao.
Principal among the organizing principles is kinship, both sanguinal and affinal. Relationship with parents and parental relatives is equal in terms of how these relationships are named. The difference is only in the way one behaves with a particular relative. Often it is the frequency and intimacy of interaction that define the difference. The structure of leadership is hardly defined and may only be specific to occasions. The most incipient form is probably one where the difference in role is only one based on prestige or economic levels. In larger communities, an individual is recognized because of personal prowess, but in most other cases even this is tempered by a council composed of the elders.
Religion is amorphous and phenomenon-bound. References are often made to an overall “owner” of natural resources that the people exploit and to whom some returns are periodically made. Or there might be a super-entity who is beyond all mundane things. There are spirits and pseudo-supernatural forces in the world about them that affect their lives unless these are propitiated.
Broad spectrum dry cultivation supplements gathering and hunting among other groups that occupy the Philippine highlands like the Subanon, Mandaya, Mansaka, Manubo, T’boli, and others in Mindanao, the Pala’wan and Tagbanua of Palawan, the various Mangyan groups of Mindoro, and many others. Such cultivation has repercussions on the sociology of these groups.
The cropping of cultigens has further effects on sedentism and the increase in interpersonal relations since communities tended more and more to be nucleated under these conditions. In this stage environmental degeneration results in the imbalance between man and land ratio. A homeostatic condition no longer exists to balance natural regeneration and man’s exploitive intrusions into his ecosystem such that agricultural production has to supplement the minimum subsistence requirements of populations.
Cultivation trends gradually shifted to focus more on monocropping, and as opposed to broad spectrum cultivation, seasonality of cultivation activities also has implications on the social behavior of groups. Monocropping and seasonality make crops more vulnerable to pests and disease, thus posing the threat of seasonal shortage of food supplies. The cultivation, too, in ever increasing areas of land affords less protection than the checkerboard techniques of earlier periods. However, since the techniques of swidden cultivation is energy-efficient in terms of the ratio of production output to labor inputs per unit area, more than the production in intensive wet cultivation, there is a tendency for this cultivation technique to persist through time up to the present.
The persistence of their subsistence technology brings with it the maintenance of associated cultural milieus, thus the preservation of cultural traditions and their resistance to change. Not until there was another technological breakthrough did dramatic change in culture take place among the peoples of the Philippines. And this came with the introduction of intensive wet rice cultivation and the associated complex that goes with it. But since the technology is adaptable only to specific geographic situations, it flourished only in the lowlands, except in certain mountain regions where water could be channeled to terraces on the slopes as among the Bontoc, Ifugao, and Kalinga. Vast mountain regions are to remain under slash-and-burn cultivation in spite of the technological breakthrough.
The persistence of cultures is due to the capacity of groups to maintain a systematic organization where each of the functional segments of the society makes adjustments to changes so as to preserve the social structure. As a result, societies are organized as almost closed systems in a domestic type economy.
The structure of the societies is based on social functions that cofunction and covary, thus kinship, religion, social organization, subsistence technology, leadership, and so on are integrated in an interlocking network. An example of this is the I’wak of the southern Cordilleras. Among the I’wak, the basic social unit is the household defined by its capability to be economically self-sustaining and its ability to function ritually in the community. A number of households are organized into a kin-related group that operates also as a ritual congregation with the head, also a ritual practitioner. This ritual congregation cofunctions with at least one other ritual congregation in order to be able to conduct a community ritual. Animals sacrificed during rituals are utilized in the meat distribution within the community since this is shared equally among the members.
Thus, the principal ritual animal, the pig, is a basic requirement for a unit to be considered a social member of the community. The taro, which is the principal crop, is also the ritual cultigen and it systematically binds the various households together in terms of cultivation. Taro is propagated through cuttings. But since taro is harvested daily to fill the daily consumption only, not enough cuttings can be gathered to plant a field sufficiently. Other members of the community contribute cuttings so that a taro field may be planted, thus sharing in the capital outlay. The elders of the community who are active in ritual practice also operate as the group from which community decisions and leadership emanate.
Each of the social functions, however, serves as a linchpin that holds the rest of the society together. Social change is effected when a link in the structural chain is changed. Among the I’wak, changes took place when advanced soil degradation necessitated the shift of cultivation from taro to sweet potato. Cooperation between households no longer became necessary, for instance, to get slips for planting a field. Sweet potato did not have a function in rituals, thus with cohesion gone, the society began to disintegrate even in its religious structure.
The effects are seen in household migration and the movement from a purely domestic economy to an integration with the market economy and labor market. But even without changes that come from within, social change comes inevitably with the integration of the various ethnic groups with the market system that intermeshes the rest of the country and the continuing imbalance between population and the land they inhabit. Thus, social practices change with the changing times. However, vestiges of aspects of particular cultures persist, even when modified, and become bases for tradition to become what is recognized as the “adat” of the southern Philippines, or the “kadawyan” of the north: things of the past, yet creations of the contemporary factors that continually change them.