On the Inseparability of Land, Justice and Spirituality…

As part of the Ubun na Kettal (Tagakolu Indigenous Youth Leaders) curriculum for this year, a series of conversations on land and traditional conflict resolution were held in partnership with the Missionaries of Jesus and the Malita Tagakolu Mission (MaTaMis) staff in the areas of Kangko and Kalatagan, Malita, Davao Occidental. The objective of these conversations is to provide a space for the youth to learn from the elders of their communities as they impart knowledge and wisdom on Indigenous ways of living, and for the young people to share their own experiences.

The conversation on land was an opportunity for the Ubun na Kettal to appreciate more deeply the value of their ancestral land, and understand its sacred connection to their identity as tribal people.

The elders shared that the protection of their ancestral lands is not a mere question of ownership. It is a question of identity. Their connection to the land goes beyond the physical, as they are spiritually linked to the lands where their ancestors lived and tilled for centuries. They see themselves as co-workers of Creator on this earth. As such, they consider it their shared responsibility to care for and to cultivate their lands.

Alona, a Tagakolu youth, shared an insightful reflection, “In the past, our people respected our land, it was given much importance. We, as youth, recognize that we have to cultivate it because we live here…our land is our source of life.” Affirming this, the other youth shared that to embrace and cultivate the land is deeply meaningful and culturally-rooted.

The youth and elders also talked about traditional ways of resolving conflict among the Tagakolu. This conversation allowed the Ubun na Kettal to listen to their elders as they shared and demonstrated unique and different mechanisms of addressing conflict within their tribe. The discussion helped them understand that as much as it is the goal of conflict resolution to render justice, it must also honor the dignity of both the offender and the offended, rebuild broken relationships, and restore harmony in the community.

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Traditionally, one of the ways in which conflict is resolved is through “kellep”. When reconciliation of the parties involved is not reached through the mediation of the tribal leaders, the community often resorts to a method of ‘truth-seeking’ through a trial by ordeal. The belief is that whoever is telling the truth will be protected by the spirits and ‘saved’ by Creator. Kellep is done by the river, where the offended party and the offender (or a representative of each party) are both submerged under shallow water simultaneously. While they are underwater, a tribal leader will offer a “panawag-tawag” or prayer to Tyumanem, Creator, to seek guidance in finding out who is telling the truth and thus be saved. It is said that the spirits will pull down the person who is at the wrong to a point where he will feel as if he is drowning, forcing him to surface first as he gasps for air. In order to repair the broken relationship, the person who is at the wrong must pay restitution in the form of livestock.

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John Mark, one of the youth from Kalatagan shared, “I am appreciative of the traditional way of conflict resolution because it doesn’t involve individual interests. The only thing that matters is the truth and the truth will reveal itself through the guidance of our Creator. Our Indigenous justice system is therefore sacred.” Others also reiterated the sacredness of their traditional justice system.


From these conversations, the youth and elders recognized that land, justice and spirituality are inseparable from one’s culture and identity. To truly appreciate the significance of nurturing and sustainably caring for these elements is to acknowledge that all of these are sacred gifts from Creator and hence their responsibility to protect and keep them.