Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author's Prudence

by Antonio C. Antonio
February 3, 2014

The book “Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends” really discussed a lot of interesting scientific findings and observations.  The authors, contributors and editors line up is also impressive.  It’s quite a lengthy read but please allow me to focus on a particular section:  Chapter 24, Mountain Systems, Social and Economic Conditions.  I’ve taken the liberty of re-printing the entire section…

Coordinating Lead Authors: Christian Korner, Masahiko Ohsawa
Lead Authors: Eva Spehn, Erling Berge, Harald Bugmann, Brian Groombridge, Lawrence Hamilton, Thomas Hofer, Jack Ives, Narpat Jodha, Bruno Messerli, Jane Pratt, Martin Price, Mel Reasoner, Alan Rodgers, Jillian Thonell, Masatoshi Yoshino
Contributing Authors: Jill Baron, Roger Barry, Jules Blais, Ray Bradley, Robert Hofstede, Valerie Kapos, Peter Leavitt, Russell Monson, Laszlo Nagy, David Schindler, Rolf Vinebrooke, Teiji Watanabe
Review Editors: Blair Fitzharris, Kedar Shrestha

24.1.4 Social and Economic Conditions

Twenty percent of the world’s population—about 1.2 billion people—live in mountains. Most of them inhabit lower montane elevations, and almost half are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the 8% living above 2,500 meters, almost all—about 90 million—live in poverty and are considered highly vulnerable to food insecurity. However, they have significant impact on larger populations living at lower elevations through their influence on catchments.

Low temperatures become prohibitive for people above 2,000 meters in temperate latitudes and above 3,500 meters in tropical latitudes (although there are exceptions up to 4,200 m), and human activities rarely occur above 4,500 meters. Special efforts and techniques are required to sustain agricultural production at altitudes close to the upper tree line level.

There are many historical examples of flourishing mountain economies based on mountain ecosystem services (including Berbers, Afghan and Caucasian tribes, Tibetans, Mongolians, Highland Papuas, Incas, and Aztecs), and many of these cultures still survive and in some cases even thrive. Lowland economies have generally dominated, however, because of intensive sedentary agriculture, manufacturing based on larger scales, easier transportation and trade, urbanization and associated better education, and the broader reach of common language and culture.

In most parts of the world, mountain areas are perceived as economically backward and culturally inferior. But there are some exceptions. In industrial countries, mountain areas have been rapidly transformed economically with improved access and the proliferation of recreational activities. In Africa, for instance, highland areas that grow tea and other high-value crops are more prosperous than lowlands. More often, however, mountain resources are extracted without benefit to local communities in order to support lowland economies, thereby contributing to the further marginalization of mountain people. Where extractive industries have been developed, mountain communities have often become dependent on wages for their livelihoods, and asset values and rents are usually allocated elsewhere.
With notable exceptions, particularly in areas where tourism and amenities migration (the movement of people because of a perceived high incidence of attractive or cultural resources) have created pockets of wealth, mountain communities suffer disproportionately from poverty and often lack even basic social services such as education and health care facilities. This, in part, has caused a counter movement in several mountain areas (the Andes and Himalayas) that is strongly linked to control over mountain resources (such as the movement of water in Bolivia). Mountain communities are also insufficiently recognized as rich reservoirs of traditional knowledge and cultural and spiritual resources.”

The conduct of a study or research for the purpose of completing a book entails serious and diligent detailed work.  From the different information, generalizations are extracted.  Chapter 24, Mountain System – Social and Economic Conditions, of the book is also full of these generalizations.  The statement that “mountain areas are perceived as economically backward and culturally inferior” does not seem to be accurate.  Of course, for safe measure, the authors also stated: “But there are some exceptions.”  In the Philippine setting, I would readily agree that mountain areas are “economically backward” but would seriously disagree that upland communities are “culturally inferior.”

There are numerous tribal groups in the Philippines.  Usually living in remote and isolated areas, they have managed to retain most of their cultural traits.  Some of these distinct tribal groups are:

1.     The Igorots who are primarily located in the highlands of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
2.     The Ilongots who are a head-hunting tribal group living in the Caraballo Mountains.
3.     The Lumads of the Island of Mindanao composed of several tribes like the Manobo, the Tasaday, the Mamanwa, the Mandaya, the Bilaan and the Kalagan who inhabit the uplands of the Caraga and Davao regions.
4.     The Mangyans of Mindoro Island.
5.     The Palawan tribes which are a diverse group of tribes inhabiting the elongated strip of Palawan.
6.     The Negrito, Aeta and Batak tribal groups which are spread all over the Philippine archipelago.
7.     The Kagayanen tribe which also live in Palawan.
8.     The Molbog tribe which can be found in Balabak Island and other islands in the Palawan group of islands.
9.     The Tausug tribe in western Mindanao.
10.  The Tagbanwa tribe who are also scattered in different islands in the Philippines.
11.  The Taaw’t Bato (people of the rock) is another distinct tribal unit in Palawan.
12.  The Tumandok tribe which inhabit the Island of Panay.

Due to the steady increase in the population of tribal groups, they, especially the younger ones, have a tendency to migrate to the urban areas in search for livelihood and employment opportunities.  In this migration, they mix and integrate with different cultures in a process called acculturation.  Acculturation explains the process of cultural and psychological change that results a meeting between cultures.  The effects of acculturation can be seen at multiple levels in both interacting cultures. 

Acculturation often results in changes in culture, customs and social institutions.  Noticeable effects of acculturation often include changes in food, clothing, and language.  At the individual level, differences in the way individuals acculturate have been shown to be associated not just with changes in daily behavior, but with numerous measures of psychological and physical well-being.  Cultural assimilation is the end result of acculturation.  This occurs when there is a fusion of cultures so much so that we can hardly tell which cultural traits came from which culture.

The process of cultural adaptation, acculturation and assimilation have somewhat diluted the culture, custom and tradition with the members of migrant tribal groups.  However, the original upland and coastal tribal communities where they come from still maintain the strong foundations of traditional cultural traits of the different ethnic groups in the Philippines.  The fact remains that the pure cultural traits, untouched by influence of modern society, are still evident and strong in these remote and isolated tribal communities.  It’s quite evident that the authors failed to conduct a deeper research and study in the Philippine setting where tribal groups are numerous and exhibit strong (however diverse) traditional customs, traits and cultures.  Again, the authors should be mistaken in stating that these upland communities are “culturally inferior.” 

Just my little thoughts…

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