Women’s Front: Psycho-social mechanisms in responding to critical event (1/2)



This is written by Cynthia Dacanay-Jaramillo, the Executive Director of Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC). — Ed

There is still a dearth of study and materials which provide better understanding and appreciation of psychological concepts among the indigenous peoples particularly in the Cordillera. Mental health practitioners from different mainstream institutions who bring into the communities concepts of crisis intervention after crisis situations often ignore or disregard local/indigenous knowledge and practices in crisis intervention which are already in place in the communities.

One of the more commonly utilized psycho-social intervention mechanism after a crisis situation in the mainstream is Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD). It was developed in the 80’s in the US intended as a primary measure for assisting people process their direct involvement with traumatic events. It had been adopted by mainstream institutions, such as government or private agencies which are expected to respond during times of disasters in the country. Stress debriefing was originally designed for supposedly “first responders” such as the police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel but later on was used to process groups affected by calamities or disasters. It is being utilized to help overcome emotional after-effects of critical incidents.

Initiating CISD in communities has evident limitations. Guidelines are sometimes mechanically introduced to groups being managed, the implementers not having much knowledge on the background of the communities. The process may also be alien to the community that it may not generate the desired outcome. This is especially true when the people are not used to verbalizing how they actually feel.

Traditional processes on the other hand are more spontaneous and are in actuality part of the community’s practice.

This is best illustrated in a study done in Tanglag, Kalinga where women shared how they still live out their traditional ways of responding to precarious situations.

The sense of collectivism of the people in Tanglag, Kalinga:

The people of Tanglag continue to observe indigenous customs and traditions though these are also fast disintegrating like other IP communities in the Cordillera following their assimilation with mainstream economy, politics and culture. Influences of the now dominant culture that is propagated in the schools, media, and the church and their interaction with other communities which are already very much incorporated into the dominant Philippine society are realities that the community has to contend with. The community has also become integrated into mainstream politics. Cash economy has already eroded the traditional subsistence production that has long been practiced by the community.

Despite these enduring concerns, the Tanglag people’s sense of collectivism is up to now still quite evident. It can best be exemplified in the statement of Manang Precilla Saban, a woman elder of Tanglag:

“The family is not limited to nuclear family but to the members of the village as a whole. Everyone would give protection (isakit ti kada maysa) and security to each one in the community. The problem of one is everybody’s concern; the visitor of one is everyone’s visitor. We equally give protection to visitors who come to stay with us and treat them as our own.”

Collective action is extended when the community is faced by crises situations or critical incidents as well.

Historically, the people of Tanglag have braved together various struggles to defend and protect their ancestral lands and the lives of the “umili”. They were in the forefront of the struggle against the construction of the Chico River Dam Development project being implemented during the late 70’s by then the Marcos government. The project could have submerged their ancestral domain and dislocated several families from their ancestral lands. Even under extreme pressure by state agents and big multinational corporations as logging and mining companies wanting to exploit the resources of their communities, they boldly risk their lives to protect their domain and uphold the common interest of their people. They have steadfastly dealt with the militarization of their village and have managed their situation well in the midst of disasters.

Process of confronting critical events:

Recent critical incidents reveal that people’s collective actions in the community are still widely practiced especially in times of calamities or disasters. Manang Evelyn, a woman leader in Tanglag recalled one of the strongest typhoons that hit their community, typhoon Pepeng in 2009 which also wrought havoc to several Cordillera villages. The supertyphoon’s continuous and heavy downpour had put in danger the community because of the rising waters in the Chico River which had caused it to overflow. Everytime there are heavy rains or storms, the villagers fear the rising waters may flood their community. At the height of the cataclysm, a villager noticed the river to have stopped flowing since its roaring sound cannot be heard from a distance anymore. This is usually the case when big boulders that may have fallen or rolled down from upstream block the smooth flow of the water. Sensing danger, the villager prompted the community into attention.

The course of action taken by the community in response to this potential crisis situation corresponds to what has time and again been demonstrated by the community on how they confront critical events.

Facing up to critical events:

A detailed documentation of the incident revealed the following actions spontaneously carried out by the village folks of Tanglag, Kalinga:

1. The first response is what is called Mangajew or call for attention. It is usually initiated through a A bhug-ang/Pakoy, a shout (awooooo) which is a warning or a cue/prompt that calls the entire community to respond to a critical event; if the community hears this call (awooo) , everyone in the community is (women, men, children, elders) alerted.

2. Agpakni – Children (uubing) are subsequently gathered before anyone else (whether they are their children or not) or children are prompted to go find the nearest elder who may not necessarily be their parents. Children are then put to safety and await instructions from the elders.

3. Panag-uumong – after putting the children to safety, community folks (umili) gather (panag-uummong) into a designated area.

4. Mangtutuyeg and Mang-uukuchen – After everyone is safe and accounted for, the leader of the village (traditionally the Pangat) calls for community planning (Mangtutuyeg). The leader guides the community come up with a detailed plan of action (Mang-uukuchen). Each one is assigned a defined task (mabhenbhentu/Mafinfintu) not for oneself (tumingang) but for the collective interest of the community/people (umili). Division of tasks are defined accordingly:

a. Immediate actions to be taken or tasks to be done to address particular problems – e.g. How and who would take the boulders out of the river? ; who would be responsible for rescue operations?

b. Care for the children – particular activities appropriate during the event are introduced such as story-telling.

c. Food production, collection and food preparations for the entire community

5. Monitoring of the situation by Elders until the critical incident ends.#

Continued next week nordis.net


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