Book Review: The Magic Bahag

5:08:00 AM

Front Cover of The Magic Bahag
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This was my first book review of a children's story book from Lampara Books. I bought this book because I personally heard the author of the book, Cheeno Marlo Sayuno, talk about this book during the "Umuulang ng Libro: Philippine Children's Book Summit 2015 in Elements at Centris, Quezon City. This story also won second prize for short story for children in Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2013

I can still remember Mr. Cheeno discussed that indigenous writing explains indigenous context. He said that it is a key to understanding the culture and tradition of a certain indigenous people group. It provides historical cultural facts. It makes readers feel a sense of belonging. It helps in easier understanding and coexistence and lastly it exposes reader to multicultural context. He also noted the advantages of writing own culture, meaning the writer of the story is really part of the indigenous group. This way, the writer can tell the story from own experiences and habitus. On the other hand, writing as an outsider from the culture of a certain group becomes the voice of a muted group but tends to misunderstanding the culture. 

Nature in Kalinga Province
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I liked the front cover of the book especially the font used for the title "The Magic Bahag". I think it was very creative. Kudos to the illustrator Benedict Reyna. I was interested to know about the magic and super powers of the "magic bahag" but after reading the story I was surprised about the true magic of the bahag. Bahag is a loincloth used by indigenous tribes in Northern Luzon specifically in the Cordillerans of Northern Luzon.

Street dancers wearing bahag
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The setting of the story started in the town of Pasil. Honestly, I know nothing about Pasil. I searched for it in Google and I found out that it was a fifth class municipality in the province of Kalinga. It is seated about 34 km west of the province capital which is the City of Tabuk. Based on the photos that I saw, I must say that Kalinga province was blessed with rich natural wonders. After reading the book, I promised myself to visit Kalinga province in the future.

The main character Abeong and his family was heading to Tabuk. His father found a better job in Tabuk and so the whole family had to move to the city. Abeong was against leaving Pasil but he had no choice but to follow his father. 

I started asking myself about the sources of living of the people in Pasil. It was classified as rural and fifth class municipality which means the whole municipality obtained an average annual income of five million pesos or more but less than ten million pesos. I searched more about Pasil and I saw articles that there were mining investors consulting with National Council for Indigenous People to mne gold in Pasil. Makilala Mining Company is now eager at pursuing mining explorations in Pasil. Exploration activities were ongoing in Balatoc while free prior informed consent is still being sought from other tribes. This mining company was pushing to explore 3,000 hectares of the tribe’s ancestral domain. 

Another problem faced by the inhabitant of Pasil and nearby municipalities was the possible geothermal exploration by Chevron. This will cover more or less nine ancestral domains (more or less 26, 000 hectare land area). Chevron is planning to set up a geothermal power facility in Mt. Binulauan which is located in the boundary of Pasil, Tinglayan and Lubuagan. One of the tactics of big companies to get free informed prior consent was bribery to divide tribes. In realtion to the story "The Magic Bahag", I think providing jobs for the inhabitant of Pasil in the city Tabuk is one way to claim the land for their exploration activities. According to the timetable of Chevron, they will set up the geothermal power facility by 2015. 

I highly believe that the author, Mr. Cheeno, was successful in arousing the interests of the readers for indigenous tribes. This book helped me to know about the culture of the people in Pasil and their struggles for claiming their homeland. I learned about their battle against big companies preying on their ancestral domains to make billions of money. I hope the government will do something to protect the ancestral lands of our brethren in Kalinga, Province.

On a lighter note, I learned several things and life lessons from this book. 

1. Fight for the things that you love. I learned the new word "Topophilia". This is a strong sense of place. It is a special love for a place. Sometime we often associate our cultural identity to a certain place. Abeong loved Pasil so much. He does not want to leave because he has a lot of memories in Pasil and his friends and playmates were there. He was mad at his father and other elders in their community who agreed to move out of Pasil after negotiating with "men wearing orange". I guess these men were agents from companies trying to capture ancestral domains for their businesses. I hope everyone will have the courage to fight for the things that we love. Let us not be afraid to fight for the things that are rightfully ours. I affirm all the Kalingas who sacrificed their lives to defentd their ancestral lands. 

2. Do not be ashamed of your own culture. Abeong does not want to wear "bahag" because his classmates might laugh at him. He wanted to wear shorts to fit in with his classmates. This is why Abeong's father gave him te "magic bahag" which will give him the extraordinary powers to be excellent in school.

3. Be strong and courageous. Believe in yourself. Have confidence. There was no magic with "magic bahag". Abeong was able to excel in his academics and be friends with his classmates because he believed in himself. The "magic bahag" gave him the confidence that he can do all things.

I was reminded about the verse Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." I was just reminded to always trust God who is the fountain of wisdom and strength. And that by God's grace, I will overcome all of the challenges that I will encounter in my life.

I hope you can read this book too. I hope more books about indigenous culture will be published in the Philippines. 

Additional reading regarding mining and geothermal explorations in Kalinga Province:

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  1. Hello! I've read the review just now, although I've come across it in the past. Thank you for appreciating the story. -Cheeno

    1. hey, Hi cheeno can I get some review of the story just for our study Please... Can you please give me some Thank You.

  2. hillo sir what is the Symbolism of the THEMAGIC BAHAG?


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