A Respectful Spirit of Inquiry
“Students need to be engaged in discussions about local culture as part of their whole person education,” Irving Domingo Rio believes, and a grant from the United Board to Central Philippine University enabled this political scientist and mountain climber to turn his fieldwork in the Central Panay region of the Philippines into a teaching module on the conflict resolution practices of indigenous people.
“Many of my city-bred students have practically no knowledge about the existence of cultural communities in Central Panay,” he said in a recent interview. When Dr. Rio brings the history of retaliatory violence and the practice of husay, or nonviolent traditional conflict resolution, into the classroom, the information often is new to students. In addition, he finds, “political science and public administration students usually view conflict resolution in a highly legal context.” Learning about these indigenous practices gives students an opportunity to apply critical thinking to issues of law and governance. “I always remind my students to think like indigenous people and imagine that they are living in a place where the presence of government apparatus is practically absent,” he says. In this environment, what role does “blood money” – compensation for loss of property, life, or honor – play and is this “way of the mountain” effective? How do such traditional practices align with the objectives of the national judicial system?
These questions, in turn, open up discussions about the rights of indigenous people and the laws designed to preserve cultural communities. “In order to truly evaluate the functionality of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, students must have adequate knowledge of the indigenous ways of life.” Interest in the course material is strong, and Dr. Rio is pleased that two student research groups plan further study on the Panay-Bukidnon people. He advises them to bring a respectful spirit of inquiry to their research. “You have to convince indigenous people that you are truly interested in learning their ways and honestly appreciate what you have learned from them.”
Dr. Rio and his two colleagues from the Department of Social Sciences spent 11 days trekking rugged terrain and crossing flooded rivers to gather material for their teaching module. Their strenuous efforts are now bearing fruit. “The United Board-funded project has created a strong sense of awareness among CPU faculty and students on the plight of indigenous people in the Central Panay,” Dr. Rio reports, and the CPU Center for Indigenous Studies was established last year. Dr. Rio encourages specialists in other disciplines to seek meaningful opportunities for learning in local communities because the culture of indigenous people offers “a reservoir of information.”
This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horizons.