By Jojie Alcantara for SunStar Davao
Witerary, March 26, 2021
Project Epanaw is an ambitious project initiated by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Chairperson Allen Arat Capuyan to help the Philippines’ 101 beautiful tribes gain more recognition, respect and support. The first launch was held simultaneously in both SM Lanang SMX Convention Center and SM Aura in Taguig City last March 14, 2021. It was followed by a successful simultaneous launching last March 21, 2021 of 25 photo exhibits and book launching nationwide for 13 regions covering 51 provinces.
Epanaw means journey.
This journey signifies the long road that culture has been treading on since time immemorial and the rest of the way that future generations of indigenous peoples still have to travel.
Project Epanaw consists of three coffee table books, each one with its own theme. The first coffee table book showcases the profiles of each ICC/IP. It contains information about their history, location, and overview of their social and daily lives.
The second coffee table book features festivals and rituals that the ICCs/IPs practice in relation to important events such as birth and death, agricultural cycle, and the sacred and profane.
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Lastly, the third coffee table book contains travel destinations in ancestral domains for tourism. The promotion of these sites not only generates livelihood but also highlights the importance of protecting and asserting the rights of indigenous groups to their ancestral domain.
The indigenous peoples are the stewards of our land and biodiversity. They connect us to nature and they are our sources of identity. Despite these, indigenous peoples lack formal recognition over their lands and natural resources. They often face challenges as they try to gain access to basic services and infrastructure and participate in formal economy and political processes.
Project Epanaw is the story of the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples (ICCs/IPs) through their own eyes. The goal of Project Epanaw is to pay tribute and memorialize the identities and rituals of the indigenous peoples as well as to highlight the importance of protecting their ancestral domains. Beginning in March 2020, teams from the NCIP Central Office, Regional Offices, Provinces, including the Tribal Affairs Assistants (TAAs) were organized to carry out this feat.
According to NCIP Chair Capuyan, “It was last January 2020 when we started entertaining the research per community and later becoming an Epanaw Project. We went through different brainstorming and discussions together with a lot of meetings, workshops, processes, concepts and issues debated bringing in and out of decided guidance. It looked unrealistic, not doable, can’t be achieved and more so will just divide us. And with daily small group meetings of agencies with our host within the photo exhibit areas bear more fruits and commitments from other agencies just prove that we are on the right direction.”
After months of preparation and hard work in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a three-volume coffee table book was crafted to commemorate the long journey that the indigenous peoples have undergone just in time for the celebration of the Indigenous Peoples Month and the 23rd anniversary of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
With these coffee table books, he hopes that the ICCs/IPs will be fully recognized and their four bundles of rights be earnestly upheld. These are the rights to ancestral domain; rights to self-governance and empowerment; rights to social justice and human rights, and; rights to cultural integrity.
The participation of the ICCs/IPs in all these undertakings from the very start of the project show their thirst and longing that their voices can be heard.
“Indeed, Project Epanaw is a milestone. Yet, we must remember that this is not our destination. The journey has been long and at times arduous but it does not end here. A lot more still needs to be done for the indigenous peoples of our land. With that, the NCIP hopes that through these coffee table books, we can bridge the gap between the ICCs/IPs and the rest of the Filipinos and promote them to the world as we recognize their identities, respect their rituals, and protect their ancestral domains,” states Capuyan.
Capuyan expressed his gratitude to all who shared in this arduous journey, a heartfelt thanks to all hardworking NCIP men and women to include partners, and all ICCs/IPs all over the country.
“This is just the beginning. We are on a journey together. We are in ‘Epanaw’,” he says.