1999: The Dumagat of Montalban and General Nakar

In 1999, I was sent to my second major field research project under the UP (University of the Philippines) IPEGP (Initiative for Studies of the Ethnolinguistic Groups of the Philippines), to the southern ranges of the Sierra Madres, in the areas of the Quezon and Rizal provinces. In was the team leader, in charge of 15 anthropology/linguistic students who were to study the culture of the Dumagat people in the General Nakar and Montalban regions.

The Dumagat were once a nomadic people, who lived by the coasts. Government policy has forced these people to live in settlements, which are far removed from any town. Coming from the town of Infanta, the General Nakar settlement is only accessible by a 2 hours trip by boat over very rough seas, then another 1 hour trek through the forest with a 15 meter wide river crossing.

Aside from living in the Dumagat settlements, we were to attend a Dumagat wake. In this photograph, we a crossing over a 10 meter cliff to get to the wake. Later on, we climbed further into the mountain to look at able an illegal logging camp that was managed by the local military, and employed Dumagat and Tagalog settlers. Yes later, storm driven flash floods ravaged the town of Infanta, due to the massive deforestation of the area.

The Montalban settlement can be reached by a three hour trip on a public utility jeep that is designed to climb over rocks. In fact, these jeepneys use snow chains on their tires to grip the large slippers rocks on the path up the mountain. I arrived ti find the student team quite shaken, because the local military unit had recently detained them, thinking that they may be communist sympathizers to the nearby NPA (New People’s Army).

Traversing a cliff to get to a Dumagat funeral
Traversing a cliff to get to a Dumagat funeral

In Montalban, I met Talib Sampang, a former MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) commander, who had grown weary of the rebellion. He and a handful of men, left the conflict of Mindanao, and entered the business of treasure hunting. They are hoping to find a vast amount of treasure and use it to buy off the corrupt officials in the MNLF, and thus hopefully end the war. I was able to look at their dig site, which was a tunnel that was booby trapped with many water traps.

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