The Batak Experience Revisited

In 2015, while on vacation, I traveled to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. During a tour of the Underground River my tour guide mentioned a group of dark complexioned Filipinos with kinky hair who lived on the island. I was intrigued by this description as at once it sounded much like a description of me, and because most of the Filipinos I saw around town were of a caramel complexion. Luckily, my tour guide’s father was well acquainted with one family of these people. I met him a couple of days after my tour and he led me deep into the mountains of the Palawan island. There I met a Batak family with whom I spent a night. Although this family subsisted on food found in the wild they were not unlike city dwellers. The Batak sang songs and shared stories. The commonality of singing and talking among family the world over forced me to see these people as they truly are — a group of people struggling to survive in a harsh world that has pushed them to the margins. Although I saw them through a clear lens I too felt helpless that I could not help more through paying for medicine and bringing more food. I did what I could though. On my arrival, my guide, Gabriel, told me to bring gifts. I brought the family sugar, dried fish, and coffee.

A full year after my experience with the Batak people of Palawan island I am still sometimes taken aback by the impression these people made on me. What I conceive to be the possible value of this experience can be summed up briefly. First of all, I will be gratified if the images I share and stories I impart pique the curiosity of another expat who has the means to travel to the Philippines, and does so in search of an experience similar to the one I had. But my main concern is shedding light on the history, language, and lives of these human beings who live in remote regions. I began mainly with the object of increasing my understanding of the African diaspora — the dispersion of African descendants around the globe — in the Philippines, in particular. To some extent, I believe that this expectation has been filled. But my interest in understanding the full impact of the African diaspora has taken a life of its own. To this day I continue to watch YouTube videos, and movies similar to the Hidden Colors series that help explain why the world is the way it is today. I also spend a lot of time listening to late scholars such as John Henrik Clarke, Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Benn, and others. Doing so has taught me to appreciate history and respect the way of life of people outside the Western world. As a result, I am bold enough to think that these people have challenged my conceptions about civility. For instance, living in a home does not make one civilized. Familial ties and feelings of belonging to a larger community is where civility lies. The Batak helped me realize this. Lastly, although they are physically miles away, I hope that these people will not seem so distant, culturally or spiritually. Perhaps someone who finds my blog site will venture to the Philippines in search of an experience like this one.

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