Dumagat Agta: Beautiful Places, Beautiful People

Part 3 of a Series

Like many other indigenous people, the Dumagat-Agta have trust issue against any stranger. I knew and felt it on my first encounter with them.

Some wore fierce looks but were refusing eye contact. Others were inquisitive but maintained good distance. Some mumbled at my presence without saying clear words.

It was obvious, they don’t want me in.

But I stand on my cause – to give them reasons to let me in. At times, I struggled to maintain composure. But “when in Rome, you do as the Romans do,” and follow the lead of those who know the ropes.

Now, with the permission of the elders, the children walked me through the beachlines to help find the best spot to pitch my tent. The tribe have spoken – I can stay whenever and wherever I want.

I left my Makati office and traveled to General Nakar without knowing anyone from the northernmost town of Quezon province. I came home as the adopted Kuya of the children of the few remaining Dumagat people.

“They are now your siblings. You are now part of my family,” said Tatay Nestor.

They helped me pitch my tent. I opened it so they can play inside while I explore the vast San Marcelino beach lines. Mid-afternoon, Tatay Nestor, who lost his leg to an accident few years ago, came with two fresh buko.

Around 5pm, the children came and invited me for dinner. I didn’t bring any food, thinking I could buy elsewhere. I was wrong. I didn’t hesitate but accept the invitation.

We shared what’s on the table – fried fish and tinola. It was not the same meals I usually took from the high-end restaurants in Makati. But it was the best dinner I ever had. It was served and offered with love from the Dumagat people.

With no electricity, only a gas lamp provided light in the night. It was the two liters of lambanog that sustained me until the middle of the night. With me already tipsy, Tatay Nestor – my one-legged Dumagat father – accompanied me to my tent.

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It was the heat of the rising sun that awake me in the morning. It was obvious, the lambanog has taken its toll. As I step out from my tent, the children were already there waiting. Again, I was invited for breakfast.

The menu was not much, just fresh forages from the forest and a can of sardines for a family of 12 including myself. We ate like the Dumagat do – on fresh banana leaves and coffee from toasted corn grains.

Oh, how simple their lives were. But the laughter was always there. In a gadget-less society, where cellphone signal can hardly be found, the children immense themselves on nature. They made it a habit to collect plastic trashes they could find on the shores. The San Marcelino coastline is perhaps the cleanest in the Philippines.

When it’s time to depart, they won’t accept any money from me. I instead gave my emergency kits because they badly needed medicines especially the children.

I also left my bath soaps, toothpaste, shampoos and laundry soaps to the joy of the entire family. As if they would want to summon the heavens to thank me that I shared my hygiene kits.

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Tatay Nestor and the entire family came to send me off back to Manila. Standing by the side of the road, they gave their wishes of a safe trip. Amid my refusal, they insisted that I accept the pasalubong – three buko and freshly harvested wild bananas from the forest above Tulaob Cave.

I hugged Tatay Nestor and Nanay to say my goodbye with both of them saying, “Balik ka anak at dalawin mo kami ulit dito.”

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I seek for adventure, I found a family. I thirst for thrill, they fill me with love. On the silence of my solitude, their laughter is my music. More than a beautiful place, I found beautiful people.

Read Part 1 — Tulaob Cave: Home of the Dumagat Gods
Read Part 2 — Tulaob Cave: Bossom of Dumagat Sacred Mountain

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