Rape Among “Savages”

More than a year ago, I watched a documentary about two Filipino young women, victims of sexual abuse, who wanted to know if there exist a society where women can live without any threat of sexual maltreatment or sexual violence. In the course of their search, they came upon the work of a distinguished anthropologist, Dr. June Prill-Brett, who, while researching in the 1960’s, found out that the Bontoc Igorot indigenous people of the Mountain Province (Philippines) have no known term for ‘rape’. Intrigued by this curious discovery, Dr. Brett, who herself hails from Bontoc, dug deeper and found out that indeed, in Bontoc, the worst crime against women – rape – had been an unknown phenomenon for centuries. The concept was foreign to the indigenous people, and they claimed that they had no incidences of rape!

The two young women followed-up this lead and went to Bontoc to investigate the truth of the matter. But alas, those who could validate the existence of such a rape-less society were only the elders (both male and female) who had witnessed a time in the past where girls and women were spared from any of fear of sexual abuse or violence. This means, what we have here (the elders interviewed in the documentary) are the last generation of Bontoc folks who, having lived in such a society, could attest to the existence of a rape-less society based on actual experience. After this last generation passes away, our information about a rape-less society will no longer be based on first-hand experience, as rape, in present day Bontoc, is not anymore an unknown occurrence.

Asked as to why they think there was no ‘rape’ before, the elders answered that it is simply unthinkable to force a woman to engage in a sexual act if she is not willing.

It must be borne in mind that in traditional Igorot society, women (and men for that matter) were well aware that they are the sole owners of their own body. A woman’s body is not owned or controlled by any “superior being,” say a god, a husband, a father or a brother (who could have the authority to give her away in marriage to a husband of his own choosing). Also, in traditional Igorot society, physical assault, whether directed to a man or a woman, a child or an elderly, is considered a threat to life. Any offense perceived as ‘threat to life’ was regarded a major crime. And major crimes almost often automatically call for a deadly vengeance.

We read in history books, we watch in historical or documentary movies, we see on T.V., we read in newspapers that not only killing but also raping, are what happen during wars. It is even widely believed that rape is a normal by-product of wars.

Not in Bontoc.

During the time of inter-village warfares, warriors did their best to avoid alerting women whom they found working in the fields. And if a warrior had to take an enemy woman’s head, the woman’s sexuality was never ever violated.


There is a very powerful supernatural explanation for that. It made any form of assault against a woman, whether sexual or not, a big no-no.

The following is an excerpt from my book:

Within the cultural context of the Igorot people, when a woman deliberately exposed her private parts in anger, protest, or defiance against a man, an Igorot man knows better to immediately look away and leave. It was believed that if a man looked at a furious naked woman who exposed her private parts with the intention to shame and curse him, he would be blinded and would meet bad luck. This taboo could explain why there were no cases of rape in the olden times in Igorot land.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Brett, the Bontoc elders claimed that in the experience of their people, each of the men cursed by women in the manner explained above, have had the bad luck of having their heads cut-off when they went to battle. This, they say, gave credence to the belief that assaulting women, particularly sexual assault, is an absolute taboo (lawa, paniyiw, inayan).

That was the way the Bontoc women defended against potentially offending members of the opposite sex. It must be noted, however, that such a practice was not limited to protecting oneself only. There are historical cases when native women in the region, thinking perhaps that respect for women’s status and sexuality is universally acknowledged, collectively resorted to baring their sexual parts to shame and drive away the mining companies and the destructive mega dam projects that threatened to destroy their land and lives.

Unfortunately, the proponents, workers, and military protectors of these mining companies and dam projects were outsiders and did not share the same indigenous values and worldview.


Naked But Not Asking For It!

Igorot youths

 “Ub-ubfu” – young Bontok men and women of the same age-group help one another in the fields. Women were naked on top but there was  no sense of malice or judgement as sexual objectification had not yet entered the society.  Circa 1930s (?)







What It Means To Be A Native


In this time and age, you hear indigenous people saying, “This time is a good time to be a Native”.

What does ‘Native’ mean, and what does the statement mean?

‘Native’ is a term used by Native Americans when they refer to themselves as indigenous peoples of the Americas. But since I’m not going to talk about Native Americans only, I interchangeably use the term ‘indigenous peoples’ as this term has a broader scope, geographically and politically speaking.

In my understanding, the statement “this time is a good time to be a Native” implies that compared to a time in the past, this time is a good time for indigenous peoples to show-up as they are. They are now freer to wear their Native identities, even as they find themselves living in a predominantly non-indigenous setting where upheld standards and values are maybe different, and may even be detrimental to their very existence. This time is a better time for Natives because compared to a time in the past, they no longer have to deal with much of the burden their ancestors have had to deal with during the times of colonization, occupation, and enforced acculturation and assimilation.

I could, of course, be wrong. For many indigenous peoples around the world, this time could still be as difficult as in the past. Indigenous peoples the world over have undergone different hardships and levels of resiliency, but one thing they still suffer from in this post-colonial era is their marginalization. Their grievances are real. And this is why they are categorized to belong to the Fourth World*.

Living closely and harmoniously with nature is one thing indigenous peoples are known for. To this day, they occupy natural and mineral resource rich territories which are the continuing source of conflict and clashes between them and governments that are backed by capitalist companies that are seeking to explore and exploit these remaining protected areas.

What would happen if the remaining natural environment is poisoned and destroyed by mining and logging? Where will the indigenous inhabitants build their self-sustaining communities. Where will they plant their food and where will they bury their dead? Removing a person from the natural environment he or she is best suited to thrive in is fatal; it is like depriving fish of water. As the most knowledgeable people of their ecosystem, and as longtime stewards of nature, when indigenous peoples continue to be incapacitated, reduced, or even wiped out off the Planet, the natural world, and the Native peoples’ centuries-old knowledge of the natural world, will likely perish with them.

Real great minds, advanced technology, and nature can co-exist as they complement one another, but shortsightedness and greed are something else.

The topic about indigenous people is close to my heart. For one thing, I am indigenous. For another thing, I feel a bigger purpose for being indigenous.

For being indigenous, I was able to make it to the top university in my country through its educational affirmative action program for indigenous students. Then as an indigenous student, I was hand-picked and fully sponsored to participate in various educational programs and extra-curricular activities. Other students (non-indigenous) either had to pay their costs or had to demonstrate exceptional academic excellence in order to get strong recommendations from university mentors. Scholarship providers and foreign universities favored me not because I was the smartest-ass among the other applicants vying for exactly the same grants. In fact, some of my peers graduated with honors while I did not. Yet I had been “a chosen one”, I presumed, it was because I’m indigenous while the others are not. At that time, my indegeneity was the only observable difference between me and them.

This is why I feel deeply for the cause of indigenous peoples.

While I am very grateful for all the privileges that came my way, and thankful to all the people I had the opportunity to interact with, I don’t feel indebted to the governments and business companies that unconditionally and generously paid me to study any course I was interested in, in the international private universities that I chose to study in. While they paid for my foreign travels, while they wined and dined me and showed me the world, I did not forget the reason why I was having those beautiful experiences.

The reason is because I am indigenous. Being indigenous gave me the edge to be a representative of something different.

My scholarship providers, or rather, their human representatives, had their own reasons for choosing me. I could only guess some of their possible reasons. Perhaps they thought of me and my ’cause’ (no matter how vague it was at that time) as exotically appealing? Or they felt I was someone to be pitied for coming from a marginalized society in whose lands their roaring machines were busily hauling gold, silver, copper and iron from? Or they genuinely sympathized with me, awed by my idealism, and moved by my seemingly strong sense of purpose? Or, it could also simply be that they were intrigued and amused by my youthful brazenness and audacity.

So for me, what does it mean to be a Native?

While I sympathize with the many Native People who are bitter about the horrendous events done in the past and frustrated by ongoing imprudent exploitation of remaining Native lands, while I’m fully aware of the past and present grievances of ‘my people’, I believe that amidst all these hardships, to forgive and to show compassion is an inherent Native trait – at least, as long as I can remember, forgiveness and compassion are primary indigenous values my elders always reminded me of.

Meanwhile, many spiritual practitioners and spiritual gurus teach that there is nothing wrong with the Planet as nature knows how to regenerate, restore, balance and heal herself. They are right. And that’s why we are here. We are an integral part of this Nature who is self-healing, restoring, and regenerating herself. Those of us who feel strongly called to do something for the environment are spawned by Nature herself to tell stories of caring, of healing, of balance, of compassion, of restoration and harmonious co-existence.

Now is really a good time for Native Peoples around the world to come out and share their stories, may it be a sad or a happy story, may it be to teach or to simply amuse and entertain – for the benefit of all humanity – Natives and Non-Natives alike.

This time is called the Age of Communication for a reason.


Happy EARTH DAY everyone!


* The First Worlds are the rich countries. The Second Worlds, arguably, are the socialist countries. The Third Worlds are the poor countries. And the Fourth Worlds, where the indigenous peoples belong to, are the poorest or most disadvantaged of all.