Monthly Archives: May 2014


I was never comfortable with riding one of these bikes. If the police had a checkpoint on the way to Toril, then word would spread around the drivers and they knew exactly where the checkpoint was and wouldn’t go past it. No genuine attempt to stamp out this dangerous illegal mode of transport and for the people of Catigan, no alternatives.

They would take you to the bottom of the hill only leaving you to catch a legal registered side-car which was safe into Toril. It was extremely unlikely you would see any of the safe legal and registered side-cars in Catigan.

If no police checkpoint then these death traps would take you all the way into Toril. You do it because there is nothing else. The longer you have been in the Philippines, the more reckless you become.

Whenever I had the opportunity to not ride a bike, I would take it. Coming back, you have the option of riding a safe legal side-car but at a massive cost of 180 pesos.

An illegal side-car would wait till he had around 3 or 4 passengers and it is 40 pesos a person up the Catigan road and 30 going down as it takes less fuel. If you’re alone, they would ask more. However, they were still far cheaper than the legal ones so naturally in a community where people have little money, they will always ride with the cheapest option.

One Friday in June, I waited patiently for an illegal side-car in Toril to get back home. Unusually, it was only me in the side-car and they would usually ask for more money. As he lived in Catigan and was going home anyway, he took me for 40 pesos. All was fine and as we got a short distance up the Catigan road, he got a puncture on the side-car’s tyre.

Of course, a spare tyre was rather not thought about or more likely, there was simply nowhere to put it on one of these crates on wheels. His only option was to carry on home without the extra weight of me leaving me stranded. He gave me back my 40 pesos and set off, and I waited patiently hoping another side-car would come along.

The only sidecar that passed was full so I started walking up the Catigan road towards a populated area where I hoped I would be able to find some mode of transport to get me home. After not too far a walk, I came across two guys sat on motorbikes. I approached them and asked if they were offering a service. At first one of them said no. After a discussion between the two of them, he changed his mind and asked how much I’m paying.

I said from Toril its 40 pesos so 40 then. After an attempted haggle for more money from the Americano who was not an Americano, he reluctantly agreed and off we went towards my puruk.

All I remember was chatting nonsense with the driver and the next thing I knew, I woke up lying on the road with many people around me. I had no idea what had happened, where I was and was asking myself why I am lying here in the middle of the Catigan road surrounded by people. I come to realise I was badly injured and still had no idea what had happened. My bag was gone although later returned to me as it was taken into safe keeping by a tanod. Most people in this community are basically honest. I was put into an illegal sidecar which served as my ambulance and I was rushed to a private hospital in Toril.

Private was not a choice; it was the nearest hospital in Toril and I wasn’t questioning it whilst blood was pumping out my head, and I felt that my ribs and shoulder were smashed. I wasn’t feeling as badly you would expect at the time; a little shocked but the pain hadn’t set in yet.

It was one of many examples of when I found out how hard life can be being poor. No way could I afford the excessive price of being made well again but naturally at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I just let them get on with giving me pain killing injections, stitching my head wounds and preliminary cleaning of my other wounds.

After the stitches, I became conscious that this was going to cost a fortune and I had little money and no way of getting any. I was confused as to what happens next when you have no money so I asked to see the bill for the treatment I had received so far. I don’t remember the amount but it was more than I had and was even charged for the surgical gloves at way above their value.

The mother of my twins had been informed and came quickly to the hospital. I saw the colour drain out of her face when she first saw me. Strangely enough, I was laughing and joking still not really realising the extent of my injuries although by now it was hurting.

The following events highlighted some other realities which I have to say are sad ones. I’m not going to go into a wholesale attack on the Philippines’ health system as I believe if I was in a life threatening situation, I’m told I would have been delivered by ambulance to the only public hospital in Davao which was far away. I can’t get clarification on this but it’s possible that it is true.

I wasn’t in a life threatening situation, thank God, but I was very hurt and needed help. What I found to be saddest of all, coming from a country with a brilliant national health service, was once I told the staff I had no money, everyone walked away and left me.

I was awaiting X-rays to be done on my chest, shoulder and head but once I uttered those immortal words, “I have no money,” I was left with most of my injuries still untreated, and it got more bizarre after that. Money is more valuable than human life. I already knew that I had been in the Philippines long enough to be aware of the obvious, but it was hard when you’re directly affected.

I cannot say what would have happened if my injuries were more serious. I’m inclined to believe what I’m told that I would have received treatment to save my life or at least taken to the public hospital far away. However, it was a strange feeling when everyone who had previously tended to me so diligently suddenly treated me like a leper.

Once word was out that the rich foreigner was actually poor, an administrator came down to assess whether or not they should carry on treating me although I had potentially broken ribs, a mild dislocation of my shoulder and had one hell of a bang on the head. It seemed he had decided to give me no further treatment. I’m not bitching as I was obviously not in any serious danger. He had a job to do and I accept that, just felt odd.

I suppose coming from a more privileged place with a national health system that treats you no matter if you’re rich or poor without a bill at the end of it all, by comparison this was strange and alien to an English boy.

For my further entertainment, the police arrived and asked me if I wanted to file charges against the driver. I found out at a much later stage that the driver had no licence and the accident was caused by the simple fact that his front wheel came off. I knew none of this and could not see the point in having someone who rightly or wrongly gave me a ride thrown into jail. I had the choice to not ride on his bike and wait for a slightly safer illegal side-car.

That was the irony for me. There was no other choice, a dangerous motorbike or an illegal side-car which was almost as dangerous. I opted to ride the bike so in my thinking at that time, I was equally to blame. However, I wasn’t in receipt of any of this information at the time regarding him not having a licence or the dangerous state his bike was in. I wasn’t in a position to make an informed decision.

Looking back, I don’t regret it even armed with that knowledge. To punish him surely you have to punish local government for letting this dangerous transport situation flourish and offer no realistic alternatives. The approach to upholding the law seems to be to find a scapegoat, punish him but do nothing to stop such occurrences happening again. I say this because I was only one of many people injured and killed on the Catigan road over time.

After I declined the invitation to file charges, the driver turned up. I did actually think it may have been out of concern for me but by the time he left, I was no longer sure. I told him the police wanted me to file charges but I declined then he started to tell the twin’s mom what had happened. This was the first bit of any information I received as to how I ended up in hospital. Apparently, I went over his head when the wheel came off and landed in the road. I’m glad to say the driver, as it turned out, was not seriously injured; just surface wounds.

His wife proceeded to keep on informing us how much of a problem this accident was causing them as now he can’t work and his bike has damages to the tune of how many pesos, I can’t recall, but was interesting to note she already had a figure on it.

I may be wrong and some of the conversation was not in English but Visayan. It seemed she may be suggesting, I should pay towards it although she never asked directly. It is possible I may be doing her a disservice and assuming too much but it felt that way. There again, idle chat can get quite insensitive sometimes in the Philippines. It’s possible she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying.

The reply from the boys mom was “yes, you have a very big problem there, and we have a bigger one here,” looking at me as she said it. They left.

Having realised I couldn’t pay for the treatment, I decided to leave. We didn’t have enough between us and a cell phone was left with them as security for the balance which we paid a few days later. This was to be the start of a very difficult final month for me here in Catigan.

In short, the moral to this story? Make sure you have accident insurance at the very least before you come to the Philippines. Reckless? Well, maybe; living in Catigan, you have no choice sometimes.

Possibly improved my looks

Possibly improved my looks

Taken the morning after

Taken the morning after

My shoulder, arm, knee and head took the brunt

My shoulder, arm, knee and head took the brunt


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Moving On Up

No point pretending I can offer great insights into this new location for me in Catigan near Toril, Davao City. I had watched for 2 months only. Events took some turns which dictated how the next 2 months was to become.

I arranged an electricity supply, I had a beautiful toilet to sit on and I was surrounded by what sometimes seemed like paradise. Life was looking up.



I went through a short-term crisis with cash but although it was going to be an issue in the future at this time some relief came quickly just enough to get us through each day, but still I was very short on funds. Hunger wasn’t an issue but I was down to just having enough for everyday needs. Fortunately living this simple existence meant it was enough.

I was still the rich foreigner in locals’ eyes and I was in no mood to discuss my finances with anyone. I simply had to ignore the constant references to my money.

Consequently the next month was fairly uneventful.

The Catigan Electricity Grid

Having electricity was only a benefit in so much as we didn’t need gas for lights and we could charge our phone. Although I’m sure the kids would have loved it, I hate Filipino TV with a passion so we never had one of those polluting my kids’ minds. The cost of having an electricity supply was equal to buying gas. Having it installed was somewhat costly though.

So I’m guessing you’re thinking that means I went to the local electricity company and asked for connection. Well nothing that simple here as only a few lucky ones near the Catigan road had that privilege. If you want electricity supply here then a strange system exists which means buying a long wire and connecting to another house over 400 meters away. All the supply comes via running wire from house to house which originates at a church where an electricity supply is available.

Subsequently, a crude system of wires runs around the puruk connecting one house to the next and they charge you by the unit. When I say unit, I don’t mean kilowatt-hours. If you charge a cell phone, that is a unit. If you have 2 lights, that’s 2 units. We had 3 units which meant only a cell phone and 2 lights. The bill is then divided amongst all the users by the amount of units you have.


Some had supply, some didn’t. It was a fairly crude system but there was no other way as it is impossible for the local electricity company to run wires over such a vast area and no means for them to get their equipment on site to build a network. Subsequently, this is how it is done here and most likely the same in many rural parts of Mindanao and the greater Philippines.

So compared to the first 2 months, life was looking up. We had a toilet, electricity and a place of our own. We lived day-to-day and I got to appreciate the simplicity of life here. That existence revolved around everyday needs only. I chopped wood for cooking, carried water and little else. I was hardly the man of the house as the twin’s mom had been doing this everyday for around a year or more as well as hand washing clothes at the spring and was one tough cookie.


Still building fitness, I would allow her to do too much. Whenever I sensed it was a wood chopping moment coming up, I would quickly volunteer to cook, it seemed like a much easier option. As time went on, I really did build fitness without really trying too hard. I wasn’t blowing so much on uphill walks and I was managing the water with ease. My whole body was feeling the benefits of this new active lifestyle. The more weight I lost, the more energised I felt. Yes, I got bored sometimes but this is how it was so I just had to make the most of it. The compensations were that I was staying in beautiful idyllic surroundings and had little else to worry about other than where our next meal was coming from. The relief I received took away the desperation as at least food wasn’t an issue at this point.

Free To Be Kids

The other compensations were watching my boys growing up in nature’s playground. They would play outside all day running around freely without any threat from traffic, weird strangers or negative city influences. Everyone knew and loved the twins. They rolled in mud and would wander off sometimes. Although the free and easy attitude of their mother concerned me for a while, I soon came to realise that they were free from most threats that we experience in city living. They never knew what a tablet was or an X Box and just played innocently as God had intended them to. They had nothing material at all, but they had a great time every day.


Still they were not risk free by any means. You don’t get cobras in the city and you don’t come across charcoal pits for them to fall into. Still it seemed cruel to spoil their enjoyments. They were as free as birds and life was starting to feel good. It is simply a case of weighing the risks against their happy child existence and balancing it.

So I continued my adaptation and was doing quite well. Every day I would go on walks with the twins and I was being accepted by people and generally toughening up. I withdrew a little as the constant invitation to share shots of Tanduay or drink tuba got to be a bit of a strain. I stayed home mostly and tried to avoid the excessive drinking I had got into when I first came.

We ate mostly vegetables and rice and in fact I was feeling fitter and healthier than I had done for years. More weight was falling off and all I was doing was what most do here, live and survive and be active. The terrain was my gym and the daily chores were my training programme. I had learnt a lot more about how to live in this environment but I still was not too clued up on all aspects of what I was living amongst. I was progressing towards the learning stage.

Cut Off

Catigan was a little cut off although only around 8 kilometres away from the main highway and a little further into Toril which was the nearest population centre. Public transport was a nightmare.

Apparently there used to be a jeepney service which ran up the Catigan road some time before. It was sad to discover that that service had been thrown out of business by a totally unsafe mode of transport, the motorbike.

People started providing a service illegally of running locals down the Catigan Rd to Toril. You had the choice of illegal side-cars or motorbikes which they would put 3 or even 4 people onto. This is commonly done around the Philippines and here that mode of transport was your main option. The drivers provide no helmets and your only other way to get out of Catigan was an almost as dangerous illegal side-car with no roll bars just an open crate with a seat. These side-cars had been made illegal to use as public transport for reasons of safety and it was easy to see why. It never stopped them.

Megalomania and the Law

Enforcement, despite the bragging and attention seeking of the local mayor was a joke. Enforcement only applies when it creates a lot of revenue for city hall. I won’t go into that but the local mayor is a symbol of everything that is disgusting in the Philippines, yet they love him, enough said.

People were given a warning if they were deemed to be criminals in Davao. Criminals apparently mean people who commit crimes no worse than drinking coffee. I will let you work out for yourself what that is. If they don’t heed the warnings they are likely to be shot by the DDA (Davao Death Squad). I will let you decide who the real criminals are.

The motorbikes were usually low powered, too small for the job and when you consider that they were often putting 3 or 4 passengers on the back and children in front of the driver; it was frankly insanity. Every journey was an accident waiting to happen.

I would not allow my sons to ride the motorbikes and as the side-cars were few and far between, it made getting out of Catigan difficult. There were times we had no choice and even had to endure the worry of having my sons ride on them as if you didn’t, some days there was nothing else.

There were accidents waiting to happen every day. That accident was waiting for me.

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Back To Basics

Mount Apo in the afternoon

Mount Apo in the afternoon

I can’t honestly say I’d gone back to basics as I had never previously lived with just the basics. I soon got used to no electric. Waking at the break of dawn means come sunset, you’re tired. In the early part of my stay, I had a problem with my body clock. I was used to going to sleep around 1AM and waking around 8AM. Here I was tired by 8PM. The unfortunate part was I would wake around 1AM and just lie there listening to the frogs and crickets and watching the flickering gas lamp. As time went on, I found myself able to sleep through the night better.

The local geography had everything to do with making me tired. At no point did I set out an exercise plan for myself. I never needed to; just simple everyday life here was like a full workout to an old fatty like me. It may only be a 20 minute walk to the store but it’s 20 minutes uphill. Same goes for carrying water, coming back is uphill and you simply have to do it. It became noted that I had lost a little weight.

I was still puffing and panting but a little less. I was smoking heavily before I got there, I halved my consumption. I simply didn’t feel like a cigarette as often as I used to. I had been living a very inactive existence, even got lazy when in Metro Manila; here I became a little more energized. It’s so beautiful you want to go out. Only when I felt extremely tired did I want to stay at home. I could feel my fitness improving by the week. Long walks fetching water alone probably put my activity level up 80% compared to how I had been living. Boy, had I got lazy.

No Place like Home

Where I was staying was not comfortable for me. If I woke in the night, I was stuck there unable to do anything as if I did, I would wake people up. Just as it was starting to wear me down, I had a break.

On one of these walks, I went past an empty native style house as most of the housing was in traditional Bagobo style here. I casually mentioned it to the twin’s mom and before I knew it she was talking to the sister of the owner. A few days later, word came we could move in at 300 pesos a month, no advance. It had no electric but it had somewhere I could take a crap, yes there was an outside toilet, hallelujah! It felt like heaven.

You have no idea how beautiful an outside toilet is after playing nature boy

You have no idea how beautiful an outside toilet is after playing nature boy

We had virtually no possessions but we had a house in a quieter part of the purok for next to nothing. We were near to a spring, just 5 minutes and 10 minutes coming back carrying water. It was no palace but it felt like it, especially having an outside toilet.

We moved in via carabao.

We moved in via carabao

From this point, it became easier to adapt as I wasn’t a guest in someone else’s home anymore; we had a house.

A place of our own

A place of our own

If I didn’t help to chop wood, we couldn’t cook. It’s surprising how much of a day can go past by simply doing the basics, chopping wood which you soon get into. You don’t just need to chop it; you have to find it first. Well, that was no hardship as wood would fall from heaven, or if not heaven, the trees.

Fat boy gets busy

Fat boy gets busy

Carrying the water wasn’t so therapeutic but being nearer to the stream meant many trips to keep up an adequate supply. I started to push myself. Fatty was getting sporty. It came natural just for being here, you had no choice, activate or die of starvation. The landscape and distance along with everyday chores became my exercise routine. More weight was coming off. I was still a fat bugger but not as fat. That situation was to improve as the months went by.

Balance and community

As is all too often the case in the Philippines, people have little in these parts. One of the attractions to a place like this is free wood, free water and in many cases, no electric to have to pay for. Many had little to no income and electric was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

There are so many blogs telling people about the best places to dive in Palawan. I know nothing about that. So many are already telling you so what I want to do is to give a little insight into the world of the ordinary Filipino. Unfortunately, ordinary in the Philippines case means often desperately poor. I didn’t see people begging for food in Catigan; far from, most seemed to survive, but survive for most was as good as it gets. It depends from person to person, family to family, but money was tight for most it seemed.

Often the land they were living on has been handed down a few generations. Most of these people have been here all their lives, they only know this way of life. That life consists of bananas, coconuts, corn, beans, tomatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes and a few more I’ve missed. It’s also a world of pigs, goats, carabaos, chickens and horses, which are used by some just for getting around the locality.

No place for a car

No place for a car

You hardly see anyone on the purok I was staying at owning a car but small motorbikes are common.

It’s a slow way of life; starting early, finishing early and frankly, there is little to do apart from drink and many do just that. Drunkenness is fairly widespread in the Philippines, not surprisingly in a country void of hope for millions. Catigan has a lot of it. I would see guys drinking at 8 and 9 in the morning and was drunk even by that time, but many live sensible lives with moderation. It was striking though how many people drink hard here. To be honest, I drank hard there, too.

To conclude till my next thrilling installment, I know you’re wondering why I am telling you of the mundane. Well, no other reason than this is the real life for a huge majority here. I’m presenting a perspective which is largely about me in a new world. I can’t tell it from any other angle as I am talking about myself in a new world.

I really came to appreciate Catigan and many of its people, but for the first 2 months at least, I was a little dumbstruck. The next two months, I progressed and I started to see opportunities even though they were stupid ones mostly. Catigan is potentially a tourist haven. As always though, there are many obstacles but there is potential here.

But visitors are not a hardy bunch. They expect what isn’t here. For some reason though, I still have hope for Catigan.


Filed under Culture, Impressions, Philippines, Travel

Self-Discovery and All That Crap

My first few weeks in my new setting was to reveal much about myself as well as opening up my understanding about the Philippines. I have lived in provinces before but it was always in a town setting. I had not experienced this side of the Philippines. My abilities to adapt were being tested. I needed to get over my first big hurdle, yes I’m back to the unpleasant subject of having a crap as nature intended. It weighed on my mind heavily but time came after walking around for close on a week with my bum cheeks tightly clenched, that nature had to take its course.

The world was my toilet, but where?

The world was my toilet, but where?

Why do I keep returning to this issue, I hear you ask? Well, for the simple reason that it brings it home to us by relating this simple fundamental need to how much we have become spoilt in our convenient world, yet for possibly millions of Filipinos, this is everyday life.

It is a crude basic I know but it brings home to many of us how difficult life is for others. I will also add that most people there do have toilet facilities and it was only my first month that I had to endure not having that luxury.

I shall spare you the details so let’s just say I managed. As quiet and peaceful as it was, I still couldn’t get my head around the lack of privacy. I set off with a large metal digging tool, a bucket of water and soap and it took me an age to select my spot. I kept having visions of someone walking past. I actually had trouble adjusting to squatting; (I don’t mean the illegal occupation of private land). It was difficult keeping my balance. Not only that, I was told all about the Philippine Cobra which resides in these parts. Naturally, I was a little paranoid about that especially when some of the best spots to perform my business were in cobra territory.

You’re used to what you’re used to and I hated it and wanted to give up food to relieve myself from the stress of being a reluctant nature boy. However, I crossed that bridge as I had no choice other than to get used to it. It got easier but I was never really comfortable with it.

Hiding behind my fatness

I spent far too long not contributing in helping with the everyday chores. I left the people I was staying with to get on with all that and was all too aware what poor physical shape I was in.

Every day, water needed to be carried back from the spring for drinking and washing. I knew it was going to be hard so I shirked the tasks. Same goes for chopping wood for the cooking. I simply came from a world where I’d never really needed to do it. However, shame caught up with me and after a few weeks, I started contributing towards helping with these everyday important chores which are essential when living in a place like Catigan.

That was the start of a voyage of self discovery. I was fat, unfit and basically dumb as to some very basic things. I was aware I could be likely to stand out like a big colonial sore thumb. I grabbed the water container so after I had washed at the spring, I could bring back valuable water for drinking. It was one hell of a long walk uphill, and I puffed and panted whilst praying nobody would come past to hear me wheezing. I never really got used to being the human fertilizer spreader, but the rest was to come a little easier, eventually anyway.

The social hub, the videoke with pool table and drinking centre

The social hub, the videoke with pool table and drinking centre

I spent my evenings watching the stars and wincing at the videoke machine that was destroying the peace. It seemed so sad that they saw fit to have to sing in such a quiet and peaceful place. I would look up and even Mount Apo was wincing. It will take a visitor about 36 hours to realize that the many Filipinos are obsessed with videoke. It was certainly no different here. That was the hot spot of this part of Catigan, a sari-sari store/videoke bar with a pool table. On occasion, the pigs being tied up and taken to market sounded better, but that’s Filipinos and videoke. For such a shy people as they often are, they lose all inhibition when given a microphone; Catigan people are no different.

Still the videoke wasn’t ruining the peace all the time, and it was heaven sat out in the dark watching fireflies under beautiful starry nights and most of all the peace. Five o’clock in the morning, Catigan would start to come to life. At first light, you would see people go to the muddy ponds where the carabaos were left to bathe or untied from a stake where they had been happily chomping on the vegetation that was everywhere.

Observing is learning and all I could do was watch

Observing is learning and all I could do was watch

I had little idea about how the place functioned, exactly how they made a living and whether they were working for themselves or others. My first visit I just watched taking in this completely different way of life, I wasn’t ready to ask questions.

Quieter daytime moments were taking gentle walks amongst some of the most incredible breathtaking scenery and above all, slowing myself down. You don’t realize how much city life makes you rush and how living at a faster speed makes you impatient and anxious. Here, you instinctively slow down as there simply is no rush, which was a good feeling.

Catigan Sunrise

Catigan Sunrise

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Learning A New Life

So the next few weeks and months was to become a huge new learning curve. All I knew of Catigan was it was a little isolated, hilly and was told beautiful. It certainly was all those things but I didn’t really have much idea of what I was coming to. Every passing moment was a lesson especially in those early times. My first stay lasted 4 months. 

A way of life I had never known

A way of life I had never known

The first couple of weeks were purely for psychological adjustment and trying to adapt to my new situation. I was okay with the ridiculously early nights. I was definitely okay with the peace and had no problem about having to walk far down bumpy and sometimes muddy slippery paths to get anywhere but I wasn’t okay with the lack of toilet facilities. Looking back now knowing how things unfolded, I can smile. At the time though, it was a big issue with me. 

Fitting In

In the early days of my stay in Catigan, I went around meeting locals which was an enlightening experience. On my arrival, I sensed the usual mindset thinking of most Filipinos just about anywhere and I was asked all the usual questions pertaining to my perceived wealth. However, that was then. Over time, I got past that but the usual stereotyped thinking about foreigners and money became a too often mentioned topic. I was quizzed and I could sense them thinking, why is a man with money here trying to live like us.

It was known I was here to be with my sons and their mother, which made having to explain my purpose a little easier but the curiosity factor is always there. Filipinos want to know more than they need to know, something you get used to, I suppose.

However, foreigners have plenty of money, that’s always what people believe. So they want to know where my money comes from. If you don’t answer, then assumptions start. I have been in the Philippines long enough to know how to ride that one. I just have fun with their notions which always find their way back to you.

“Maybe he’s not saying much because he is a criminal.” It was mentioned once that I work online and a story spread that it was something illegal. I’m still trying to work that one out but I suppose a white guy staying so far off the tourist map and without a condo or hotel to go back to to take a crap was beyond their comprehension.  It took a long time and that story will unfold but I did manage to make people aware I was not one of those foreigners although that was much later on.

Filipinos are no different from anyone else as regards curiosity and a need to know, but I would say that generally in the Philippines, they want to know more than most. I suspect this may be a topic matter to write on in the future but for now, let’s get back on track.


I soon began to get to know one or two of the people. On the whole I can honestly say that I was welcomed into the community and I was offered shots everywhere especially outside sari-sari stores where men were often drinking. They never failed to offer me a shot of mostly Tanduay (local cheap strong rum). For a chaser or mixer, some would use tuba which is what is also known as coconut wine. In those early days, I got very drunk on many occasions. I came to learn much about tuba but at this point, I was a total novice in rural living and had no idea what tuba was.

When I was given tuba as a chaser, I found it tasted sweet and didn’t even realize that it was alcoholic. I literally thought it was a sweet tasting soft drink. I would heartily drink it down after every shot of Tanduay and couldn’t understand why I was getting drunk so easily.

Coconut wine or tuba has a kick all of its own. Mix that with Tanduay, and bang! On more than one occasion, I had to be helped home as I was falling all over the place. The sweetness really had me fooled; I really did have a lot to learn.

Homemade Tuba

Homemade Tuba

Tribal Land

Catigan is Bagobo country. Now, I never learnt too much about Bagobo people from the Bagobo people themselves. In fact, I wasn’t even aware I was in the midst of people of the Bagobo tribe. I only found out when I asked my companion what some guys outside the sari-sari stores were talking about. She answered she doesn’t know as they are speaking in their native dialect. I asked the obvious question, “So what dialect are they speaking in?” Bagobo would be the reply. I had no idea.

I did learn over time that many were proud of their traditions and I did detect much talk of respect. If I was invited to drink and refused, It would be said “out of respect, have a drink with me” which made it very hard to say no.

I had to wait till I was back in the capital to research as the broken information I was given about Bagobo people only served to confuse me. I learnt that Bagobos are in quite a few corners of Davao and they are a fragmented tribe and cannot understand each other’s dialect. It took my own research to find out that the Bagobos of Catigan are the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe. The history of the Bagobo people is better explained by others. Learning a little about the history makes you realize just how rich and diverse Davao is. 

I could not say to you I was witnessing what some romantics may think of as tribal life in the sense of how a westerner would picture it. Everything on the surface just appears to be as much the same as rural life all over Davao or at least from where I was looking at it.

Catigan is a mix of Bagobo Tagabawa people, Davaoeños (Dabawenyos, or name for people of Davao) and often mixed Tagabawa and Visayans. The culture of the Bagobo Tagabawa lives on through its beliefs, traditions and dialect, but it’s not obvious to an outsider like me.

Congregating outside the sari-sari store as little else to do

Congregating outside the sari-sari store as little else to do

They are a very hardy people as are many Filipinos from any part of the country. All of Davao is made up of a mixture of various tribal cultures and Visayan from the inhabitants who migrated here. The history is there to be explored and as many judge everything about the culture of the Philippines on what they observe from Metro Manila; it really is a good idea to learn a little about the overall history and culture of the locality and wider Philippines to understand a little more about where you are and understand its way of life. The more you know, the more you realize that nothing is quite what it seems. Much of the story is missing to the outsider therefore their perceptions are often based on misunderstanding and a little ignorance. History in the Philippines did not start only when the Spanish arrived.

Davao alone has an immensely rich history. To tell that story is not just a book but a whole series of books and if one city can have such history, imagine the rest of the country, too. We tend to think of the Philippines only in its modern day context as an ex-American colony and the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos. Davao and the rest of the Philippines have many more stories to tell.

I will leave you to discover that for yourselves. For the purposes of this article, I shall simply relate it to my own limited experiences in Catigan. If you are ever in Davao, do visit the Museo Dabawenyo, it teaches you how little you do know.

Museo Dabawenyo an interesting informative tour to open your eyes

Museo Dabawenyo, an interesting informative tour to open your eyes

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