WITH TWO FEET planted firmly on the ground, women have proved themselves boundless as many thrived amid the misplaced derogation from an unbalanced and unfair society. They have walked from the pavements of a stratifying community down to the soils of Earth’s unfortunate reality. As we observed Earth Month last April, let’s get to know a woman who embodies such character and ideals strong enough to withstand the defects of modernity – the sole chieftain of the Manobo Tribe, Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay. 

Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, also known as “Ina Bai ” of the Manobo tribe in the province of Mindanao, absorbed the art of tribe leadership at a very young age. She was born during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II.  She is the first and only female chieftain in the history of her people in Manobo, defying the customs of arranged marriage as she ruled alongside other Datus in neighboring communities.  

Ina Bai, regarded as a woman of importance in her community, was also renowned as the extraordinary warrior. In 1994, she fought for her ancestral grounds against logging and mining firms with her bow and arrows. She made it her life’s work to safeguard her people, their lands, and their culture as Lumads.  

As the mother of the Lumads, an advocate for the indigenous people’s rights, and the defender of her ancestral lands, Ina Bai is the environmentalist we know today. She had ingrained in the community, especially in the minds of the indigenous women in her village, how to fight against businesses that are stealing their ancestral lands.  

Due to her initiatives helping and supporting the indigenous people, particularly the Lumad women, her activities are most well-known today. Ina Bai fights for rights, dignity, and empowerment, forcing her to make way in her community for other women warriors skilled at defending indigenous people’s rights. Her efforts were not for naught as an activist, as she gained recognition from prominent media conglomerates and the international community.  

The creation of sanctuaries for Lumad defenders who evaluate the information they receive to obtain the protection they require is keeping the lives of the indigenous people safe. All these were the result of Ina Bai’s dedication, perseverance, and leadership abilities. 

Notwithstanding, Ina Bai and her people are currently residing in an evacuation camp located in Davao City due to the aggressions of the military, which forced them to move in the name of counterinsurgency operations. The regime is perplexed about how such elderly women can oversee the Bakwit schools—the educational institutions in the evacuation shelters where Lumad children are educated.  

In this climate of repressive states and contracting democratic areas, where indigenous women experience violence, threats, and attacks, Manobo’s chieftain remained vocal in leading the people to protest and demand a safe return toward their ancestral lands. 

Steadfast in her pursuit, Ina Bai also led a group of indigenous leaders to spill blood within the grounds of the University of the Philippines (UP) to raise awareness concerning the unfortunate circumstances experienced by the tribal community. She also continues to inspire other campaigns as well such as the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao protest camp, Caravan, and Sandugo among others. 

Ina Bai had also succeeded in organizing other indigenous women leaders, slowly forging the Sabokahan to mo Lumad Kamalitanan (Confederation of Lumad Women). She was also pivotal to the growth of the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center, which primarily originated from her community. Now, it runs around 50 elementary and high school campuses for indigenous children. 

Given these impressive accomplishments harnessed by someone with circumstances that have been very difficult and unfavorable to begin with, it’s no wonder why Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay is the 2017 UP Gawad Tandang Sora awardee. 

(with Shelly Bocabel and Gian Marcel Chiu) 

Photo courtesy of Bulatlat.com


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