A Few Months of Happenings and Exhibit News

Philippines

A blog post is well past due and it always amazes me how fast time goes by. Since my trip to the Cordilleras last April/May I feel like things have been non-stop making time soar by even faster. The past few months have mostly been filled with planning and getting things in line for the upcoming year with some intermittent travel, assignment work and workshops. The most exciting event I have been planning for is my first solo exhibit this coming January in Manila. The exhibit is entitled “The Forgotten Ten” which refers to the some 10 to 20 percent of the Philippine population considered to be indigenous. The photographs on display will be a curated selection of my work from the last year and a half of the Katutubong Filipino Project giving an inside look into the diverse and culturally rich lives of our nation’s often forgotten people.

Here is a little background on how this came to be. When my wife and I started the Katutubong Filipino Project almost two years ago I was approached by Asia Society Philippines who wanted to help support and get involved with the project. We floated around a few different ideas but eventually decided that an exhibit would be a great way to help educate the public about the different indigenous groups in the country. We sat on the idea for over a year, as we were still collecting images and stories, and decided last May to push forward with the event. Originally, we set the date for August, but because of scheduling and other concerns we eventually moved the event to January 2014 at the Yuchengco Museum in Makati. Asia Society has been hard at work organizing the event and we are thankful to our other major sponsors as well. There are a number of other people and organizations who have been very supportive of this from the start and we are hopeful it is going to be a very successful exhibit. We are also excited as the exhibit will rotate to a number of different universities throughout 2014 to further get our message out. I really do encourage anyone who will be in Manila this January to stop by and see what we have put together.

Details: The Forgotten Ten – A Photographic Exhibition. January 10 – 23, 2014. The Water Dragon Gallery, Yuchengco Museum, Makati, Manila. For updates and more information please join our event page and do share this with anyone you believe might be able to make it. We are really hoping for a good turn-out.

Badjao fishermen getting ready

Two Badjao men preparing to dive for fish while Cido, one of the fisherman’s sons waits on their boat. The Badjao (Bajau, Sama, Samal) are an indigenous ethnic group of Maritime Southeast Asia. The Badjao are traditionally from the islands of the Sulu Archipelago as well as parts of the coastal areas of Mindanao and northern Borneo.

In late July, I spent a few days with a Badjao community outside of Davao looking to get some insight for a more in-depth trip in the future. The Badjao are originally from Sulu and northern Borneo, but are now spread throughout a larger range including Mindanao and the Visayas. It’s my hope to visit Sulu or Tawi-Tawi at some point to get a genuine look into Badjao culture in a more raw form. Of course, there are reasons this area is not often visited and being a foreigner it is still too dangerous for me to travel there. I am keeping my options open though and want to figure out a way to get access to a community there at some point. In the meantime, I am planning on visiting a few more Badjao communities including those who have relocated to the major cities within the Philippines. The Badjao’s are some of the most marginalized indigenous peoples within the country and they often travel to urban areas to beg or look for other alternatives. My visit to this community in Davao allowed me to gather some more information on these wonderful people and I had a fun time joining the men on their fishing trips.

Badjao fisherman with sea urchin

Nager, a Badjao fisherman, looking at a sea urchin he just collected from about 10 meters down. He will place it in his boat to be eaten later. Most of the fishing done within this community is for subsistence living.

Badjao men heading out to fish

A group of Badjao fishermen heading out for a day of fishing. Spearfishing is the most typical method of fishing for the Badjao because of their strong swimming skills learned at a very early age.

Alby diving down

This is Alby making a dive down from his boat. Ate Pantia, a respected woman from their community, waits and will help collect anything he catches. The Badjao men are known for being able to hold their breath for extended periods of time while free-diving.

Nager getting in water

Nager getting into the water after a short break transferring to another fishing area.

Alby Spearfishing

Alby submerged and hard at work underwater. Spearfishing in these waters takes a lot of concentration and is not an easy task. There are not many fish in this area and when a fish was caught I noticed it was usually fairly small.

 Badjao fisherman with catch

Success! Alby walking on the ocean bottom with a speared fish.

Catching breath

After surfacing from the ocean floor Alby catches his breath. It’s not uncommon for Badjao fishermen to stay underwater for two or three minutes and even longer while fishing. I have read that some Badjao can stay underwater for more than five minutes.

“For most of their history, the Badjao have been a nomadic, seafaring people, living off the sea by trading and subsistence fishing.” There are a number of different groups of Bajau with different languages, cultures and practices as well. “The exact origin of the word “Bajau” is unclear, though it is generally accepted that these groups of people can be termed Bajau, though they never call themselves Bajau. Instead, they call themselves with the names of their tribes, usually the place they live or place of origin.” – Wikipedia. When I get to spend more time with these communities I plan to share more insights and stories as I hear it from the people themselves.

An interesting cultural practice still used by the Badjao is the method in which they build their homes. Their homes were/are generally built on stilts over the ocean, a traditional method of building allowing them easy access to the sea. Even those highly nomadic Badjao groups often built semi-permanent homes close to the shoreline.

Badjao community in Mindanao

A lively Badjao community as dusk sets in on their coastal village. Most Badjao homes are built on stilts even if constructed over dry land, which is a traditional method of building for the more sedentary Badjao communities. I was told that there was even a community that migrated to the mountains of Mindanao and they still built their homes on stilts.

Cooking in Badjao home

Badjao women cooking in their home, Mindanao.

Sleeping Badjao woman

A Badjao woman resting in her home one evening. It wasn’t uncommon to see multiple families living in one small home – as was the case in this house. There were roughly 8-10 people sleeping inside this house every night.

Badjao men playing volleyball

Young Badjao men playing volleyball near their coastal village. Most of these men will be out at sea fishing during morning hours and this is a form of recreation they enjoy when at home.

A young Badjao girl in her home.

A young Badjao (Sama) girl in her home, Mindanao.

September arrived which started with some work for an advertising agency in Manila followed by a two week one-on-one workshop. The advertising shoot was a new experience for me, being part of a large production team and seeing the amount of work involved to pull it off. I cannot mention any specifics, but perhaps after the campaign is complete I can share some of the photos they used. I was then back in Cebu getting ready to start another journey with the arrival of a participant willing to spend two weeks with me hearing how I would do this or that. I really do enjoy the time I get to spend on these workshops because it is very rewarding to see individuals improve their craft and of course the camaraderie of having quality time with like-minded people. We started our adventure in Cebu visiting some of the local markets, handicraft factories and scenic spots.

Pasil Fish Market

A quiet morning at the Pasil Fish Market in Cebu City.

Ukulele Making

Men hand making ukuleles at a guitar factory in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu.

Start of guitar making process

This is where the guitars get their start in the wood grinding room. Different types of wood are cut and then sanded down to the appropriate thickness. Cebu is known for its quality handmade guitars and many are now being exported.

Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts at an elementary school in Lapu-Lapu City prepare to give flowers to their leaders on appreciation day.

One of the places we visited while in Cebu was a small boxing gym in Mandaue City. The gym is run by Brix Flores a well-known boxer in the area and an extremely welcoming and humble man. Brix won the Bronze medal at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul and since retiring he has been running the Flores Gym to train other fighters. I was introduced to Brix earlier in the year when I went with Karl Grobl and some of his participants during his Philippine Photo Tour. You can see more photos from the gym when Karl went there on first visit over at his blog. Boxing is an extremely popular sport here especially now with young kids being able to look up to role models such as Manny Pacquiao. Flores Gym is a great place to take photos because it’s much more raw than the newer more modern gyms that are starting to appear at shopping centers and malls around town.

Boxers training at Flores Boxing Gym

Boxers training at the Flores Boxing Gym in Mandaue City, Cebu.

Boxing Gym

Professional boxers working out before a sparring session starts at Flores Boxing Gym. A few of these men had upcoming fights they were preparing for. Brix told me his youngest student is 10 years old, but most athletes at his gym are making a living with boxing.

After leaving Cebu we headed north with hopes of getting straight to the provinces of Kalinga and Ifugao in Luzon. However, you never know how weather will fit in and on this trip a typhoon delayed our travel north. We ended up staying two days in Manila exploring the streets, markets, churches and eventually a cock fight. I am not that familiar with places to photograph in Manila, but we manged to find some interesting locations and made the best of our time there.

Cock Fight Manila

Men making bets at a cock fighting arena in Manila. I have been to a number of different cock fights throughout the country, but never have I had to pay a 1000 peso entrance fee ($23). This arena was by far the nicest one I have ever been in with bets being made into the millions for a single fight. Fully air-conditioned, comfortable padded seats and a full range of luxury cars in the parking lot. It wasn’t the typical provincial cock fight I am used to but then again a cock fight is still a cock fight.

Baclaran Church Manila

A woman making a sign of the cross while passing by an entrance to Baclaran Church, Manila.

We did eventually make it to Kalinga and just in time to witness a ritual that doesn’t happen too often. The ritual is what they call a pusipus and it is basically a celebration for the end of life. When an elderly person gets sick and is close to passing away this ritual is held to honor the person before they die. It’s a good reason to celebrate a well lived life. Not every person can afford a pusipus ritual however, because in tradition one must feed all their guests with a carabao meat. This particular pusipus used two carabaos which cost roughly 35,000 pesos each, something too costly for many. After the ritual, we spent some time in and around the town of Lubuagan visiting with people and getting to know more about Kalinga life.

Jeepney passing through Cordilleras

Children running after a passing jeep in the town of Lubuagan, Kalinga.

Kalinga woman feeding pig

A Kalinga woman in Lubuagan feeding her pig. Pigs are abundant in this region of the Cordilleras and are commonly used for different rituals. I met this same lady during my last visit earlier in the year while taking photos of traditional loom weaving. It was very nice to see her again.

Criminal Pig

A criminal pig. This is the label given to misbehaved pigs in the area and the triangle neck piece prevents them from getting into unwanted places.

Carabao meat for a pusipus ritual

Carabao (water buffalo) meat being prepared for a pusipus ritual – a celebration for the end of life. There were two carabao’s killed for this ritual feeding much of the community and bringing gratitude to the woman the ritual was honoring.

Our last stop in Kalinga was a visit to Buscalan, the place known for its old tattooed women and Fang-od the last traditional tattoo artist. I was there not too many months ago and it was very warming to know that many of the women remembered me, even my name. This was partly because I had bought them all pancakes the last time I was there and they remembered that and all the jokes we had made. Unfortunately, there were no pancakes this time but it was really nice to see familiar faces again.

Kalinga tattooed woman

A woman from Buscalan showing us her tattoos, Kalinga.

Fang-od feeding pigs

Fang-od, the master tattoo artist, doing some everyday tasks around her place.

Inside a Buscalan home

Everyday life inside a Buscalan home. A man working on a small basket, a woman preparing food and someone taking care of a child.

Portrait Kalinga

Portrait of a Butbut Kalinga tattooed woman.

In other news, I was honored to be shortlisted for the APA / Lucie Foundation Scholarship for 2013, although only one recipient was chosen. I applied to this scholarship for the work I have been doing with the Katutubong Filipino Project in hopes to secure some funding to keep the project going. I will likely look for other scholarship or grant opportunities after the exhibit has passed in January. In the meantime, the project will continue as personal funds become available to put future trips together. So stay tuned…

To finish this post and for those of you who follow my blog be sure not to miss a new project put together by my friend and brilliant photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich called Eyevoyage. I think it’s summed up best by the description put together on the website: “Eyevoyage is a visual journey. Exploration, photography, and storytelling define us. We’re dreamers who believe that world travel nourishes and inspires individual creativity and the human desire to understand ourselves. We’re a work in progress, but we’ve got big plans. Through a combination of eBooks, blog posts, and videos we’ll be bringing you the work of some the most talented photographers around the globe. We’ll show you the world as you’ve never seen it before and help you develop how you communicate your own vision of it through photography.” Likewise, their Facebook Page has lots of great photos from around the world with the photographers background story on how they were taken. This is the start to a great new resource that I am excited to be part of and watch grow.

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Tagged: Badjao, cebu, Cordilleras, Davao, digital photography, exhibit, indigenous people, Kalinga, Katutubo, mindanao, philippines, photography exhibit, photography workshop, professional photographer, Sama,
Posted on: Oct 30, 2013


  • You are amazing.

  • Really stunning work Jacob as per usual. I especially enjoyed the Bajau stuff, a little different to the stuff I’ve seen before of them.

  • Astonishing piece of work!

  • Mark Duggan & Ana AL Thanks, this post was really a big mix of stuff but something was long past due. Jacob James Yeah, most of the Bajau stuff I have seen is from Sabah. I’m hoping to show something a little different as I do some more work with them.

  • Beautifully done!

  • Fantastic images Jacob. Great work. And congrats on the exhibition.

  • Darrell Milbourne

    Congratulations Jacob – wonderful images and narrative.

  • i really love your work. the emotion in it was just so amazing 🙂

  • David

    Great shots Jacob. I will be in Cebu in January so hope to see that guitar factory.

  • My salute to you Jacobs..amazing pics in this blog, especially the badjaos….nice blog post as well….good luck to your exhibit on January 2014

    • Thanks man and for all your help while with the Badjaos there. I really hope to get back soon again.

  • datu manggubat

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