Time slows down and nature reigns supreme in Dalagsaan, according to visitors to this barangay nestled deep in the municipality of Libacao in Aklan.
Amid sweeping landscapes, meandering rivers and terraced paddies, a closely knit community steeped in tradition thrives in Dalagsaan. It is the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Akeanon-Bukidnon and regarded as the last frontier in Libacao.
Members of Aklan Trekkers, a nonprofit group advocating for responsible mountaineering, sustainable ecotourism, and environmental conservation, embarked on an outreach mission to the barangay last Aug. 19-21 to deliver immediate help to and equip its 200 poor families with skills and training in sustainable livelihood.
The local folk have found a lifeline in abaca as part of a centuries-old tradition known as pag-kigi, which involves the arduous process of cultivating, harvesting and processing abaca fibers. To earn a meager P55 per kilo for Class A abaca and P30 for bar-os or rejects, they endure, among others, trekking long hours along the river, exposed to the elements and unpredictable currents.
They also harvest banban, a bamboo-like shrub that flourishes in the forest, which they transform into sturdy sleeping mats (banig) that are in high demand in neighboring municipalities such as Calinog in Iloilo.
Also among the local folk’s handicrafts are swings produced from oway, and the kararaw, their take on the nigo basket woven meticulously from cawayan.
The Department of Health has classified Dalagsaan as a “geographically isolated and disadvantaged area,” which means that the local folk lack access to essential goods and services. The poorest families make do with what they have, often relying on aid from public and private organizations to get by. Some brave the journey to town a few times a month to stock up on supplies, using bamboo rafts to carry their haul upstream along the wild Aklan River.
Still, the people take immense pride in their way of life, standing as dedicated caretakers of their precious homeland.
Aklan Trekkers’ outreach mission was aimed at lifting the spirits and prospects of the people of Dalagsaan. To get there, its volunteers, partners and collaborators braved a commute of nearly two hours by dump truck and habal-habal (tricycle), walked for up to six hours under the scorching sun and forded rivers, all the while carrying heavy backpacks.
Officers from the 1st Aklan Police Mobile Force Company and soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion’s Bravo and Delta companies accompanied the group and provided security and manpower. In the course of the mission, the police taught some community members basic life-saving skills.
To kick off the event, mission leaders and the principal of the Dalagsaan Integrated School, Jocelyn Colas, delivered messages to the community.
The Aklan Trekkers conducted a workshop on vegetable gardening including the practice of vermicomposting, to empower families with skills to grow food and foster self-sufficiency. Seeds donated by sponsors and the Department of Agriculture, as well as planting manuals, were distributed to the families.
Ritchel Cahilig, Aklan Trekkers founder and president, and members of its committee on native handicrafts, proposed a social enterprise project for the indigenous artisans, as a means not only to nurture their livelihood but also to help ensure the continuity of their traditions.
The mission’s Joseph Tindog led an ecotourism workshop for current and aspiring guides of Dalagsaan as part of an initiative to explore the village’s potential for sustainable tourism.
A family planning workshop was also conducted. The facilitators were Panipiason IP, a licensed midwife, and Aklan Trekkers board member Alvin Zaquita. Alongside this, an art workshop was held for the children.
But the mission did not dwell solely on lectures and workshops. Psychosocial activities and games were organized for the families and their children, creating bonds and memories.
Theodore Bautista, a member of Aklan Trekkers who is also part of its committee on indigenous people’s affairs, talked about indigenous knowledge systems and practices. It was a moment for the community to reconnect with their heritage, fostering a deeper appreciation for the traditions that have sustained them through the ages.
Panipiason’s Akeanon-Bukidnon community also extended assistance to their fellow indigenous folk in Dalagsaan, in a show of unity and shared heritage.
The day culminated in a lively baylehan hosted by Barangay Dalagsaan. The volunteers found an opportunity to learn the traditional barok dance.
The people of Dalagsaan have manifested strong resilience during hard times, but the need for essential supplies and services still looms large. Projects for a social enterprise and the AT Advocacy Hub are now being planned to support the craftspeople of the barangay and similar geographically isolated and disadvantaged communities.