Claretians vow to preserve Basilan’s Bajau culture

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Young Bajaus perform a dance during the Search for Mr. and Ms. Bajau, one of the highlights of the 15th Ongka-Ongka Festival in Basilan. (Photo: Claret Samal Foundation)

DAVAO City, Dec. 12, 2015 —The Claretian Missionaries have promised to help in the preservation and promotion of the rich culture of the Bajaus in Basilan which they believe is being threatened by modernization.

Claret Samal Foundation, Inc. (CSFI) Project Coordinator Bro. Natulla, CMF said part of the mission of the Claretians is to preserve the indigenous culture of the Bajaus through education and promotion of their culture.

For years, the congregation has been handling Bajau preparatory schools and have been asponsoring the education of hundreds of pupils and students from elementary to college.

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Natulla said CSFI has already produced nine college graduates since they started their program 20 years ago.

“We want the Bajaus to have a better life through education and at the same time, we want them to preserve their culture and identity,” Natulla said, adding that they have partnered with different agencies in the preserving the Bajau culture.

Basilan celebrated last month the Ongka-Ongka Festival, meaning “play”, during which Bajaus traditionally give time for play or enjoyment after fishing for their food.

Held on Nov. 13 to 15 at the Maluso Townsite in Basilan, the festival is equivalent to the Hariraya for Muslims and fiestas for Catholics.

CSFI partnered with the Bangsa Sama Bajau Organization (BSBO), an organization composed of Bajau leaders, for the event.

Bajau students and different Bajau communities from Maluso and Lantawan in Basilan attended the three-day Ongka-Ongka festival, which started with a parade with band members from the Claret School of Maluso and Maluso Central High School performing to the delight of the people present.

Bajaus recite their prayer or Duwaa in the morning on the final day of the Ongka-Ongka festival before they joining the mangrove-planting. (Photo: Claret Samal Foundation)

Now on its 15th year, the Ongka-Ongka festival also includes the Bajau Olympics, which started with a flag-raising ceremony participated in by different Bajau communities. The flags symbolized the different cultural games.

Another highlight of the opening festivities is the traditional contest for Tenes-tenes (Bajau rap style singing and dancing) and the Pangalay or traditional dance.

The traditional attire contest also served as an attraction for the opening day.

Visitors and guests also learned more about the Bajau culture through the cultural exhibit at the CSFI Formation Center. Art works of the Bajaus as well as the history of CSFI and the development interventions in Maluso, Basilan were also on display.

Political involvement

On the second day, the Bajaus attended the Bajau Development Forum wherein they discussed the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and other issues concerning the Bajaus.

The forum also gathered members of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other government agencies in Basilan who talked about the history and development of the Samal Bajau communities in Basilan and how their organizations can help them.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BCT) Commissioner Peter Isma graced the forum and talked about how the Bajaus and other indigenous peoples can actively participate in the political life of the country.

Caring for Mother Earth

Brother Nicer Natulla said the Ongka-Ongka festival is not only a display of the colorful and indigenous culture and tradition of the Bajaus but also an avenue for them to preserve Mother Nature.

After the “Duwaa”’ or tribal thanksgiving ceremony of the Bajau communities at 6:00 a.m. the third day, the participants joined the mangrove-planting activity at the Lahat-Lahat Island in front of the Teheman Bajau community.

There were more than a thousand mangrove seedlings planted by the members of the Philippine Army 14th Company, policemen, and elementary teachers. Mangrove trees are known for protecting the shoreline and for serving as a breeding area for the fish.

The three-day activity was concluded with the search for Mr. and Ms. Bajau to showcase the beauty and talents of the young Bajaus.

“We have ended the event successfully although we still have a lot of things to improve. We are excited to hold the next year’s Ongka-Ongka festival here in Basilan,” Natulla ended. (John Frances C. Fuentes / CBCP News)

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