Yesterday, I was asked to be one of four panelists for the Integral European Conference that was set to happen in Hungary but had to shift into virtual meeting space due to COVID-19. I would not have been able to afford to fly to this important gathering but the pandemic and the internet had created the conditions where I could still take part.
Prior to the event, Elizabeth Debold emailed a question to me and the other speakers from Africa, Tasmania, and India:
“What does your culture offer to a post-COVID-19 world? What needs to be integrated and brought together from your context to create the change that is needed for Earth, humanity and all life to thrive?”
In the morning, I considered what the Philippines might offer the leading Integral Theory thinkers of Europe.
I struggled to formulate some initial thoughts as the first speaker, Dr. Aunkh Chabalala delivered a deeply provocative talk about the genuine threats facing Africa this year.
As I listened to Aunkh and the two other speakers, I was conscious of their different ways of speaking and listening, whilst struck with how we were all in fact saying the same message. To have four speakers from the Global South be witnessed by mostly European audiences held relevant insights for those present.
My mind wandered through Philippine’s COVID-19 contexts. In the past months in Palawan, our response to the global pandemic has been to address the problem through concrete measures. Our energies have been spent mostly to provide food and the means to grow it.
I wondered how our own indigenous people might speak to a global audience at this time if they were granted space to express their authentic voice here. Would their insights be audible to these Western thinkers, if our ancestors spoke from the depths of their inherent connectedness to Mother Earth?
The language of the tribes does not unfold in sequential time as they do in words and thought. Three years ago, my close friend Davao artist Kublai Milan took me to the T’boli tribe in Mindanao to share his creative ethnography with the bronze casters of South Cotabato. On various journeys to Lake Sebu, I was particularly awed by the weavers of the T’nalak, a sacred cloth carefully brought to life by women guided by the grandmothers who preserved this well-documented centuries-old rite.
According to community organizer Nanay Mayang, the T’nalak comprises the tribe’s literature. The T’boli have no history of writing. Stories are heard in dream realms and the culture is translated onto the intricate patterns and colors of the T’nalak, even as they chant, sing and dance in ways that hold dear, memories of ancient cultures that still bear direct relatedness with the sacred land.
I have long been interested in the vast distances between philosophy and pure experience, between concrete reality and the abstract realms of mind and spirit. Whether in the ancestral domains or through the planetary internet, a global thread entwines the east and west, the north and south in a sort of T’nalak, spoken or felt in a one narrative tapestry.
In 2016, I invited leaders of integrative movements from around the world to speak of the problems and opportunities of the day. On a 5-day retreat in a hilly village in Bacungan in Palawan, Philippine and global representatives from DepEd, Gawad Kalinga, military, government, ecovillage, enterprise, waste, organic farming, medicine, art, film and so on, met on simple terms:
If we pretended we knew little about everything we think we already do, how do we open the space for what we don’t?
During what we called the Emergence Convergence, sixty people from across Asia, Oceania, Europe, America, and the Philippines weaved through words and deep feelings, the complex relationships between the real and the symbolic.
In what seemed an endless time, we spoke about food in relation to the soil in relation to eco-housing in relation to waste in relation to villages in relation to schools in relation to healing and so on.
Of the attendees were then-Mayor Jun Pacalioga and his daughter Joan, who is the current mayor of Dumingag in Zamboanga province.
If there is a Philippine community that embodies how one place weaves the long ancestral thread into an integrated cloth, Dumingag organically serves as a genuine Convergence of our many dreams Emergent.
It is difficult to traverse. On my many visits, I had to fly into Ozamis airport and drive through several provinces to learn more about Dumingag’s important global achievements.
In 2012, then-Mayor Jun Pacalioga was awarded the prestigious One World Award in Germany (to be followed by many others). One of the jury officials, the outstanding Indian activist Vandana Shiva said the awarding body unanimously voted Dumingag for its strong vision that serves as a beacon for all LGUs today.
What brought attention to Dumingag is that it pioneered how a municipality can adopt organic agriculture not as a technology but as a comprehensive developmental framework for governments.
Mayor Pacalioga and his team adopted the GPA or the Genuine People’s Agenda, a multi-dimensional strategy in which progressive development in education, medicine, peace, tourism, health, environment, organic agriculture, IP rights, children’s welfare (the long list goes on) are carefully integrated into a municipality where 90% of its 50,000 inhabitants used to live below poverty level.
Today, I have strong memories of Dumingag and other such places that have capacities to integrate the old and the new. It is in this backdrop, we’re able to reflect on Elizabeth Debold’s question to us.
“What needs to be integrated and brought together from our cultural context to create the change that is needed for Earth, humanity and all life to thrive?”
In the dream spaces of Dumingag, the T’boli people, and all other societies that root their work in soil and heart, all the natural aspects of life are weaved and brought together, creating the change needed for Earth, humanity and all life to thrive.