If one is open enough to the daily surprises of life, one will surely find life full of challenges and risks. That is what I have been experiencing in my journey for two years in Midsalip with the Subaanen people. It is a journey that has led me to a deeper understanding of the behavior of these people and their culture. It was not easy at first to plunge into a different culture, yet I am fully convinced that, wherever I will be, God is always there first. As I tried to be open to the daily routine and ordinariness of life there, I began to see the value of dialogue, which I discovered was a sharing of one’s spirituality in order that it would be visible for the world to see.
The Subaanen people in general have a strong sense of respect and reverence for the sacredness of creation, especially for their holy mountain Pinukis. Unfortunately, this mountain is being threatened by the gold rush of the foreign mining companies who do not respect the sacredness of God’s creation in the same way that the Subaanen people do. There is a story that Pinukis once reached heaven and that God came down to the mountain to talk to the people. It is a sacred mountain and the meeting place of God (Diwata) and their Shaman (Belian). It is the highest mountain in the Zamboanga peninsula and can be seen from far- distant places. The people believe that the biggest source of their water comes from there, also the different kinds of medicinal herbs. But most of all, the top of Pinukis is the place where God and their Shaman used to meet and it is there that the latter rest after their life on earth. From their origins until today, the Subaanen people have an enormous respect for this mountain; it is central to their faith.
I was thrilled and full of enthusiasm the first time I heard this story and I felt a deep desire to reach the place. At first when I shared my desire to go there, I received a negative response from a few Subaanens. But then I challenged them that, if they really consider Mt. Pinukis to be sacred and holy, why would they be afraid and hesitate about going? Finally I met Kota (a good friend of the sisters for many years) and expressed to him my desire to go to Mt Pinukis, but there was not much enthusiasm from him either. However, as I persisted he finally agreed to bring me there and we fixed the day of our journey. Two other companions eventually decided to come with us.
The whole journey took three days. The first part was a six-hour walk to reach the place where we could get a closer view of the mountain. The journey towards the peak was a four-hour climb up a very steep slope. This was made difficult because of the darkness of the canopy of trees and the lush undergrowth. It was quite a tiring journey. At times I had to crawl and there were times when I even felt like giving up. But then I remembered that I was the one who had initiated the idea of coming here- so why give up? When we paused to draw breath, I touched and embraced some trees to sustain me, and I discovered that the tiredness became bearable and I found myself progressing quite well. When we finally reached the top, a feeling of such joy and pride was felt by the group that we started to express to one another how grateful we are to be there. Leeches were feasting on us but that never bothered me because of the wonder and amazement of having reached the place. We explored part of the summit which, we were told, has a total expanse of about fifteen hectares. The place was extremely cold, everything was covered by green moss and the trees were cool when we touched them. Wild orchids grew there and we saw huge colorful birds also.
When Kota asked each one of us how we felt, the unanimous answer was, “It is great to be here”. One of our companions said he was quite grateful to me for initiating the idea to climb Mt. Pinukis and he felt very happy because his grandfather, who was a Belian (Shaman), used to come here to get medicines. Kota told me also that at first he was not sure whether I was serious about coming here, but when he perceived how I persevered in reminding him, he was convinced that I was not joking at all. He expresses his joy at having accompanied us and was happy to have brought me, the first Visayan to have made the journey. I felt so happy when I heard that and I thought: this is dialogue where each one is on equal footing and freely expresses their respect for one another.
Despite the bites, the scratches on my arms and some falls along the way, I together with my companions, am so happy and I know that this beautiful experience will never be forgotten.
I always thank God for bringing me to Midsalip to journey with the Subaanen people and find myself saying, “It is great to be there”. I pray that this sacred mountain will be left untouched, so that the future generations of the Subaanen will continue to experience the presence of God in their midst.
Unfortunately, I did not bring a camera during this trip but I do kept a vivid picture of what I saw and experienced.
By: Anne Carbon,ssc