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KABIHUGS LIFE OFF THE MOUNTAIN

Agta is the generic name in Bicol for the natives with dark colored skin, short stature and kinky hair. In Camarines Norte where the culture has been preserved call themselves “Kabihug”. The Kabihug tribe is one of the surviving minorities in Bicol who were found in highlands of Camarines Norte to have no land and homes to call their own.

LIFE AS NOMAD

Kabihug which literally means “friend” is a cultural minority believed to be of the pre-historic origin. By nature, this group is itinerant; moves from one place to another that is why they don’t settle permanently.

For their subsistence and livelihood, the Kabihugs grow root crops, rice and vegetables in their farm. Rice is often hard to come by and is readily substituted with a root crop called “dugma”. Fishing and catching crabs are also other means of livelihood for the “Agtas”. Besides farming and fishing, many of the tribes have also engaged into more lucrative ventures, such as copra making, charcoal making, and also gold mining.

They take shelter in makeshift dwelling framed in wood, roped with leaves and floored by the hard ground. They sleep in improvised beds. During typhoons and heavy rains, they would huddle under big trees for refuge making their way of life miserable and almost devoid of dignity. Because of these isolation, the Kabihugs have also lost the network of intertwining familial and kinship ties among the Agta tribes that used to provide assistance, privileges and protection to its members.

To end this sad plight, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office 5 in partnership with the Camarines Norte Provincial Government and the Municipal Government of Labo started to implement the Core Shelter Assistance Project (CSAP) initially benefitting five Kabihug families. This is to provide indigenous families with a decent dwelling point they could call their own. It was in 2009 when the five core shelter units were initially constructed. In fact there were 18 Kabihug families who have signified their intention to avail of the program and be relocated to a permanent site.

Kabihugs have their own history of contact with the dominant society and the DSWD. They wanted to be placed somewhere on a spectrum from” isolation” to “acculturation”. “Baka pwede naman kaming mabigyan ng radyong de baterya dahil ito lamang ang paraan para malaman namin ang nangyayari sa labas ng aming mundo”, uttered Mang Caloy, the Chieftain. This request was responded to by the DSWD. About a hundred of battery operated transistorized radio and flashlights was purchased by the Department and was distributed to the members of the Kabihug tribe in the province of Camarines Norte.

In 2010 another 65 core shelter units were constructed under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Out of this number, 18 units were allotted to 18 Kabihug families. It was then that the tribal folks realized that there was more than can be derived from the implementation of the project. Mobilized by Ms. Lorelie Villanueva, the MSWDO of Labo, the would be beneficiaries of the CSAP readily organized themselves into an association called NASA or the Neighborhood Association for Shelter Assistance. They all involved themselves in the implementation of perhaps the most commendable project embarked by the community. Each member articulated their own inspirations and together they chartered a collective strategies to actualize their dream of having a home which they can call their own.

Funded by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) a total of 70 Care Shelter Units was completed and the 23 units were given to 23 kabihug families. “Malaking pagbabago ang nangyari sa buhay namin,” Doris Candule exclaimed.”Hindi na kami nagpapalipat-lipat ng lugar.” she added.

Joel, another member of the tribe said that there is no more sleepless night for them during strong typhoon. Owing to the attention being accorded them now by the government, the Kabihugs are getting more involved and participative in community activities, doing their share in community building. Some members of the tribe are now employed in the Guisican Multi-purpose Cooperative. They are engaged in planting fruit bearing trees and receive a pay of 250/day. Other intervention were focused on the different services; education and the development of their culture and tribe management. The Kabihugs also realized the importance of education. They were also provided with disaster preparedness training and oriented on early warning system for different calamities. These were found useful especially that kabihugs travel from one place to another.

If before they only have a transistorized radio as their means of getting information from their outside world, what is amazing now is that about 70% members of the tribe have their own cellphone.

Meanwhile, what is remarkable now is that these Kabihugs have finally realized that there is more than life off the mountains. They are now mainstreamed with the society. ###eejerusalem

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