KAGAN PEOPLE; Hanggang sa muli. Insha’allah.


Upon my first visit to Waan, in Mama Luisa’s house for a pre-immersion visit, I asked Mama Luisa how I could say “It is peaceful here.” in Kalagan. “Matingun Adi,” she said. 

“Matingun adi.”

The first people of Waan are the Kagan People. Kagan is derived from the word Kalagan, originally from the word Caag, which means “whisper.” Our host, Melvin, told me that during time of unrest the Kagans would sneak infomation to their neighbours so as to protect themselves and neighbouring groups against harm. This peace-loving tribe has Lumad background and has now been practicing Islam for hundreds of years, identifying themselves as a Moro group. 

At 4am, the bilal chants the adhan and welcomes people into morning prayer.

The sun rises at 5am and the roosters and chickens begin to celebrate another day we are alive, with their joyous and sometimes dissonant orchestra.

The Tamsi welcomes daylight as they sing up in the cherry tree.

The bakery sells 2-peso fresh pandesal and coffee, along with an array of baked goods. 

The carinderia offers different ulam (viand) and rice. 

The high school students arrive at the tindahan by motorbike to order pastil (rice and kagikit in a banana leaf), iced water, and buko juice.

The sun begins to scorch at about noon till 4pm and the dust blows as trucks and tricycles go by the highway. 

As the sun sets, the ambak (frog) begin to come out and scurry through the grass.

Tindahans bustle with youth and adults buying snacks as they head back to the evening basketball game. 

As we lay our heads to rest, we hear crickets sing

while the moon shines through the clouds and into our windows.


This immersion with the Kagan Tribe would not have been made possible without our initial contact, Bryan. It was Bryan who got us in contact with our primary host, Melvin. Melvin is one of the grandchildren of the Kagan Deputy General (Chief). We stayed at Melvin’s uncle’s house, along with two of Melvin’s cousins. Almost all of our days were spent with Rhema, one of Melvin’s cousins. She played card-games with us, taught us to ride her motorbike, jogged with us in the morning, showed me the hanging bridge and took me down to the Davao River. 

We also spent time with Mama Luisa, Melvin’s mom, and Kuya Marlon, Melvin’s cousin. This inclusive duo took us to Saka, land also owned by Melvin’s Grandfather. They would take us there to spend time with the Kaolo people who are originally from Malita, but have been living in Waan for quite some time now. The Kaolo moved to Waan to earn a higher wage. The Kagan welcomed them in and continue to provide them with land for their livelihood. In exchange, the Kaolo take good care of the trees and land they live on.

I am grateful to the Kaolo people that Mama Luisa Introduced us to. They shared their daily tasks with us such as: sewing “pawd” (nipa roof) and making balls out of coconut leaf.

I am so grateful to the hospitable people of Waan and especially to our host family, whose various members taught me different things about Kagan culture, customs, language, and land.

Sukur Masyado sa inyong lahat.


The tagalog word for coconut is “niyog” or “buko.” In Kagan, it is “iyog.”

I learned that young coconuts (yellow/green) are the ones used for buko juice and that the older coconuts (brown) are used for “gata” or coconut milk, coconut oil and my favourite, “Tino,” a delicious mixture of spices and dried coconut shavings to add to your rice! 

I’d like to think there is value in physically experiencing daily tasks. I feel it gives me a better sense of the stories, of the history and of present-day livelihoods. The Kaolo people who are living in Waan, climb about 40 coconut trees a day and this provides them with 400 pesos (10 pesos per coconut tree). They chip off parts of the tree to have places for their feet to rest upon climbing. Going down was challenging and so was dealing with the nervousness of falling.  I tried climbing a coconut tree and could only go so low, as I was afraid I would get stuck if I got too high. They told me that they work hard to try and husk 1,000 old coconuts a day. 1,000 husked coconuts provides them with 300 pesos. A Kagan member and a close friend of the Kaolo People, Kuya Marlon, tells me there isn’t a day the Kaolo in Waan can opt to rest as they need to make end’s meat and put food on the table for their families. 

The Kaolo children are full of expression and roam the grounds with confidence and play. The boys and girls pick up sticks, dahon ng niyog (coconut tree leaves), chopped up small blocks of wood, and other natural items and create fun toys with them! Their creativity seems very much stimulated by their surroundings. 

Mama Luisa, an incredibly beautiful and wise Kagan Matriarch, tells me that above all education for the children is of utmost importance. She stresses to me that as long as we have hands, feet, eyes, and ears, we are able to persevere— that our eyes and ears see and hear, our minds and hearts process what needs to be done, and that our hands and feet carry out these tasks . I am told by the Kaolo people and by Mama Luisa that the Kaolo livelihood is challenging due to high dependence on physical strength, health, low pay for hard and high-risk labour, while having to provide meals for their children and send their children to school. I hear that it can be challenging and because I don’t experience that everyday, I can’t say I fully know what that is like. I do know, however, that I admire their functional physical strength, determination, and unity as a community. There is a lot to learn from their resourcefulness in using natural materials like bamboo, coconut trees and Lansones trees. They don’t use gasoline to cook nor do they use electricity. Their carbon footprint as a community stays very low and they maintain a symbiotic relationship with their environment.


I had never really used a machete. I was outside my comfort zone but also roaring to learn and discover how to effectively chop open a niyog. My lack of experience was met with laughter from a number of people around me. There were cyclical moments wherein my perception of external doubt fed my internal doubt. As I was genuinely trying while outside my comfort zone, my perception of outside laughter was a challenge for me. At the same time, I am aware that underneath this surface-level experience, there may be multiple layers involved. My trial and error in learning this task is a tiny blip and a small feat in comparison to the how often the Kaolo perform these tasks and what this task truly offers their livelihood. 

I kept on trying and when I was ready, I asked for some more concrete tips on how to effectively strike the niyog, open up a small hole, and pour out the delicious buko juice. After pouring the juice into a pitcher, I then proceeded to chop the niyog in half so we could scrape out the meat and make a buko salad. Upon coconut 3 that day, I felt I was really starting to get the hang of it. I am no expert with the coconuts but am grateful to be getting acquainted with a fruit that is so present in the Philippines, feeds plenty, and provides livelihood to many Pinoys.

As a Filipina Visitor, I did my best to remain grounded and discern what I thought I was capable of, despite external and internal doubt. It was a humbling and empowering experience that held multiple forms of laughter, some challenging and some comforting. The second time I was in this situation, where I was learning to husk a coconut, I was able to more humbly accept where I was at and when there was laughter, I joined in, laughed along with those around me, and continued to try.

Laughter keeps the Filipino spirit alive, rested, as well as on its toes. I might even go so far as to say it serves as important a role as faith in the survival of our country and its people. Whether there is a gathering around food, a conversation between neighbours in a barangay, or even a harsh teaching moment between family members and the youngest child, there is always laughter. 


Us pinoys are gregarious. Our eyes express as we recount stories. Our bodies speak along with our mouths and our body language changes depending on what dialect we are using! It has been fascinating to witness this! And to witness how, within the same landmass, different languages exist but with similar humour! Each language reserved for its respective zone or group, divided by invisible blurry lines. In Waan, the Kalagan dialect is their primary language, and is peppered in with Bisaya. 15 minutes away from Waan, in Buhangin, where Kalagan is not spoken, Bisaya is the main language. In Saka, where the Kaolo people live, Bisaya is used and tagalog is not the most effective form of communication. Otherwise, tagalog has been a good way to communicate wherever I go in Davao.

Different dialects, different dances, different songs, different faiths. Here in Mindanao, I am able to see how all these can exist in one area. Granted, this part of the Philippines has experienced much turmoil and bloodshed due to differences in religion, disputes over land, and/or family feuds. However, just as that portion of history is IMPORTANT in understanding where Mindanao is today, it is also important to take note of the found unity that came from much unrest. Despite differences, we Filipino people are “linked by history and Geography”  (Fr. Elisco R. Mercado). Throughout it all, women, youth, laughter, and the common want for peace have contributed to the peace-building here in Mindanao.

Throughout my time in Davao and Waan, the celebration of Lumad (indigenous), Moro (Islamized tribes), and Christian Settlers has been evident. My hope for all of us is that those who give importance to indigenous ways of being, mother earth, community, and culture can outnumber those blinded only by economic, political and military gain. One seed at a time. One drop at a time. 

“The road to peace is not only a formidable challenge but a path ridden with pitfalls and perils… only the strong-hearted can persist and forge ahead. New heroes are born in times of war and crisis.” - Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr.


Ina Luisa is the “Ina ng Bayan”— in english, Mother of the Community. Our host family had taken us out for dinner and on the way home we passed Mercury Drug store where Mama Luisa picked up multiple things for people in her community. As she was purchasing the items, her nieces and nephew added a couple more things that they needed. She looked at me and said “Ikaw?.” She was asking me “And what would you like?.” I smiled and shook my head to signify that I didn’t need anything from the store. She then saw Mint Tictacs on the counter and picked up two, one for me and one for my partner, Forest. We then proceeded to drop off the items at their respective recipients. 

Mama Luisa is a strong Matriarch. Every time I see her and spend time with her, her grounded presence allows me to be present and to take in all the wisdom she has to share. I am not sure that my words are enough to express how grateful I am to meet Mama Luisa— a strong matriarch, a mother tree who gathers water and surely shares her resources with her neighbouring trees so they too may grow in love and perseverance. 

Tin Gamboa