FOREST AND WATERSHED MANAGEMENT
For the indigenous people of Mankayan, we make no distinction between a forest and a watershed. All forests function as watersheds, as we know it. Our use of the forest also did not substantially alter the environment, or irrevocably damage it. Our people have maintained and managed the forests within the domain since time immemorial, through systems that have persisted through time.
Belief Systems Associated With Forests
Forests are inhabited by spirits called “pinad–ing and tumongaw” which are both good and benevolent unless provoked or displeased. These spirits guard the forest, and wanton destruction of their forest home, or disturbance of their peace, results to various negative happenings to those responsible or the community. Generally unseen, and therefore indescribable, these spirits may take on various forms when they do manifest themselves. There are certain persons in the villages who might be able to see and speak with these spirits, or to divine their messages and also to provide solutions to complications arising from their displacement. (See Belief Systems, p. 18)
Our people believed that springs have spirits guarding them, and we took care not to dirty or pollute the water. We associate water with life itself, and the balance necessary for life, and our relationship with nature, would be disturbed if the springs are destroyed or dirtied.
Generally, areas in the forests or otherwise which are considered homes of spirits are places where the people feel some sort of energy or power. The phenomenon is not unique to the Mankayan indigenous people, as all indigenous people do believe that certain areas, plants or even animals are spirits themselves or are the homes of spirits.
Uncalled for noise and pollutants being introduced within forests is prohibited because that would be displeasing the spirits and would result to death or calamity in the nearby villages.
While our people generally do not think of managing a thing that is ultimately bigger and more powerful than we are, such as the forest or nature itself, the indigenous people of Mankayan “manage” the forests in the domain by ensuring the continuity and usefulness of the forests and resources in the forests.
Communal Ownership of the Forests
Many of the forests in our ancestral domain have traditionally been communally owned and managed. That is, no single person or group, family or clan has exclusive right to their use. Even so, every person has certain responsibilities to the forest, for it belongs to the entire community, or conversely, the community depends on the forests, either as a watershed, or the source of various resources that are used by the people.
Recently, as the barangay government has taken a more accepted role in our indigenous communities, they have taken the lead in the management of the communal forests. Now, in these communal forests, residents are only allowed to harvest trees and other forest products after they get permits from the barangay government.
The harvest of trees in communal forests was allowed, although the lumber harvested may only be used for personal purposes like the construction of houses, and not for sale.
The Muyong and its Uses
The “muyong” is a tree farming system by either a clan or a family. Certain areas of the domain are considered to be under the care of a clan or family, and they plant and maintain certain tree species in the muyong. The clan or family may harvest trees in the muyong. They are also expected to maintain it by replanting and to guard against forest fires.
The family or clan that manages the muyong understands that the muyong is not for their benefit alone, but rather it is part of a larger environment and thus contributes to the total well-being of the community and ecology in general.
Muyongs have been declared by owners for taxation purposes. The declaration is mainly to protect their rights to the tree farms, and there is some comfort to the owners who have declared their land, believing that government recognizes their ownership when they pay their taxes.
With the intensification of vegetable farming, many of these traditional tree farms were converted to vegetable farms.
The muyong is a tree farm, and having trees, it is part of the watershed system of the domain that retains rainwater and provides a continued supply to the river system in the domain, as well as to ultimately provide for domestic water.
The family or clan that owns the muyong is allowed to gather fuel from the muyong in several ways. The harvesting process is beneficial to the owners as well as to the forest itself. However, many households using low propane gas (LPG) as fuel, so that harvesting from the muyongs, and the beneficial effect of such harvesting, is minimized.
For firewood, we only harvested the branches of the trees, specially the lower and bigger branches that are gathered, taking care not to take the entire canopy, which might result to the death of the tree. The practice improves tree growth, similar to pruning. By taking out the lower branches, the tree is also encouraged to grow upwards, and the knots formed by branches on the wood are minimized, thereby making the timber straighter. If the tree were later on to be used for timber, it would be of better quality. Longer boards with fewer knots may be cut.
Deceased and deformed trees are weaned out and used as fuel. Deformed trees are those that do not grow in the desired way, which is upwards. These are weaned out and used as fuel for they interfere with the growth of nearby trees. Deceased trees, or those trees infested by certain pests, are taken out, for they are the source of pathogens or pests that might affect the other trees.
Trees that are uprooted or fall down due to weather or land movement are allowed to be harvested. If the tree is good for timber, boards may be cut from it. Otherwise, it is used as fuel. The Kankanaey however believe that trees struck by lightning should be left to rot and contribute to the fertility of the soil.
Source of Timber and Other Building Materials
The muyong is also a source of timber, and the tree farms are actually maintained so that community members will not have to go to the pristine forests to get timber. Even the undergrowth in the muyongs has been useful in the construction of traditional houses. These include vines, grasses and shrubs, bamboos (several varieties), sticks (mostly hard stems of grasses) and rattan.
Rattan is not used solely for building, but also used in making many different baskets as well as used in tying things together.
Bamboo also has many uses, as basket weaving material, fencing, trellises and more.
The muyongs may also have some varieties of flora that are used by the Mankayan people as medicine, or palliatives to some ailments.
We can also find in the muyongs various trees whose fruits are edible. There is also undergrowth, or even trees, whose parts are used by the people as food. The maintenance of the muyong therefore also contributes to the nutritional needs of the people. Mushrooms may also be harvested when in season.
Cattle are also allowed to graze in the muyongs. Other livestock or poultry may also find things they can eat in the muyongs, especially if the muyong is close to residential areas.
Animal and Bird Sanctuary
The muyong also adds to the natural forests a place where animals might take refuge in, or as part of their habitat.
Our communities still have communal forests. We maintain these primarily as watersheds, but community members use it as a source of timber and fuel, with the permission of the people. These communal forests are found mostly on steep mountain slopes, and thereby the maintenance of the forest in these areas contributes to erosion control. Lately, with tax declarations being required by government, the community maintains the traditional use of these forests by discouraging declaration fo these areas for taxation purposes.
Areas that host springs or ubbog are specifically protected by the community to sustain community water sources, both for domestic use and farm irrigation.
Like other indigenous communities in Benguet and elsewhere, our people have been practicing swidden farming for a long time. There are negative impressions on swidden technology, termed the kaingin system. The system has been blamed for forest fires and unwarranted denudation of forest areas. However, if the technology is carefully practiced, it is really a sustainable practice that does not destroy the forest but rather enhances it.
The misplaced impression that swidden farming, or shifting swidden agriculture is destructive of the forest has been debunked, and the prevailing school of thought is that if the technology is properly practiced, it actually helps in sustaining the forest by rehabilitating certain areas.
The practice involves clearing certain areas of the forest, later on burning the trees and shrubs cut. Care is taken so that the fire started will not spread to other parts of the forest. Members of the community usually help each other in the clearing and burning stages, to ensure that the fire does not spread.
After clearing and burning, the area is planted with a variety of crops. As a necessary part of the technology, there must be diversity in the crops planted. The crops planted consist of the staple crops like rice, camote, gabi, cassava and millet. Legumes are also planted, as well as a variety of fruit trees, especially at the perimeter.
The swidden is maintained for about four years, until such time that the fertility of the farm has been depleted. The farm is then allowed to lie fallow for about five years, while the swidden farmer clears another area with the same process. After the newer swidden loses its fertility, the old one is once again cleared, except for the fruit-bearing trees which are simply rejuvenated.
Swidden farming provides the farmers with many nutritional needs, like vegetables, root crops, grain, legumes, fruits and herbal medicine. The fruit trees and stone terraces are permanent fixtures, which show that a clan or family owns a patch of land. Ownership thus comes after working the land.
Hunting Ground or Paganupan.
This traditionally included the many forests of the domain, when wildlife was more abundant and hunting methods and practices limited the harvest of game. With the denudation that occurred with logging operations, however, the loss of habitat also meant the decline of wildlife. At the moment, hunting is not a widespread practice in the domain, although there are some in our communities who occasionally do hunt game such as wild boar, deer, fowls, lizards, snakes, bats and others. The use of guns unfortunately has contributed to the decline of wildlife.
Other Protection and Management Mechanisms of Forests and Watersheds
Clearing of fire lanes. Our people now clear fire lanes around our communal forests and watersheds. Some non-government organizations are involved in this management activity, like the Saleng Organization in Cabiten. These fire lanes are cleared so that so that fires, whether spontaneous, accidental or caused by negligence, will be controlled.
Replanting of trees – This is now done by owners of tree lots.
Selective harvest of trees and pruning of branches – Although harvest of trees is allowed for timber and lumber, our people encourage selective harvest, so that massive denudation does not happen. For firewood, only branches are gathered. Now, our communities have prohibitions regarding the cutting of trees. There are also prohibitions regarding forest fires and harvest of forest products without permission from the owners.
In Cabiten, lumber in communal forests may be harvested, provided that permission is granted by the people through the barangay chairman. Sale of the lumber harvested is prohibited.
Penalties imposed by the communities in cases of unauthorized harvest of forest products or starting forest fires include warnings, payment, or replanting of trees as the tungtung system may determine. In some cases, adjudication in the courts is resorted to.
Kabite – this involves the control of erosion by constructing walls in steep slopes using stones or rocks (kabite). It is done mostly in gullies and other steep erosion-prone areas.
Erosion Control – Our people also plant trees in erosion-prone areas.
Drainage Maintenance – Canals are dug to divert runoff water from erosion prone areas.