Beyond El Nido’s heavily trodden tourism beltway lies Dewil Valley, a rolling landscape of mostly unirrigated farms toiled predominantly by migrants from the Visayas who had settled there since the early 60s. It’s village name, New Ibajay, is even a direct reference to a place in Aklan where they came from.
This place could have well been a forlorn sleepy outback of little interest to most, save from the horde of treasure hunters who had swooped into the valley looking for the famed Yamashita gold. In the 70s when Japan launched a program to repatriate its war dead from the occupation years, unscrupulous individuals tried to make money duping the Japanese government by digging up old burial grounds in the caves around the valley collecting human skeletons and passing them off as Japanese soldier who had died there. They also illegally ransacked the burial places for old pottery.
Yes, old burial grounds they are, and they had long caught the interest of archaeologists specially since the discovery of the Tabon man in the caves of Lipuun Point in Quezon. Famed archaeologist Robert Fox had pointed to northern Palawan as an important archaeological site, prompting the National Museum to send expeditions to trace evidences of early humans that began populating the country around 50 thousand years ago.
In the last two decades, Dewil Valley has produced a body of evidence comprising mainly of dug up artifacts attesting to its habitation by early humans and how they had behaved as an ancient set. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of archaeologists from the University of the Philippines, we are beginning to understand a bit more of our ancient history and more recent ones including the age of shamans and even possible beheading rituals practiced by early Palawan societies.
The archaeological work continues to this day, albeit in a manner that is at best voluntary. The work of Drs. Victor Paz and Helen Lewis analyzing the artifacts they have recovered from the burial areas in a few sites around the valley, mainly Ille Cave, has contributed immensely to how we currently understand our past.
The significance of Paz and Lewis’ work continue to elude Palawan’s policy makers, to say the least, who we wish could do more in helping to conducting this inquiry in a more robust manner. This is attested to by the nominal support they have been receiving for their efforts. Every summer each year for the past two decades, they have been sending student archaeologists to continue the investigations mainly at their own expense.
To be fair, the local government of El Nido has supported the efforts by acquiring a property in the valley and putting up a small museum but its physical condition remains least ideal for curating the important artifacts that have emerged from the valley. A replication of the old Cuyunon way of life that the project initiated years before the pandemic is now in a decripit state, owing to lack of follow through and support.
The municipality is currently trying to mainstream Ille Cave into its tourism beltway, with a community-based ecotourism operation in its infancy an attracting a significantly growing number of visitors. It is evident however that a lot still needs to be done to make it an attraction worthy of the valley’s historical, even global, significance.
A demonstration of interest by Palawan’s local governments to the current archaeological efforts in Dewil Valley can ratchet up its potential not just as a new and unique tourist destination but more importantly its global contribution to understanding past humans. It can begin at ensuring continuous effort at excavations and support to the tedious work of analyzing the artifacts found, proceeding to showcasing the knowledge in a bigger and more pleasant mini museum than it currently has.