Mangyan Dutch is a culture bearer
Anya Insik Postma did not know how great her Dutch anthropologist-father has been until she started to work with the nongovernment Mangyan Heritage Center Inc. (MHC) in the City of Calapan in Oriental Mindoro province about 10 years ago.
Her father, Antoon Postma, 86, deciphered for the National Museum the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, which is believed to be the oldest Philippine document. He also published Mangyan studies, according to Emily Catapang, director of MHC, which is located next to the city plaza.
The Mangyan are the indigenous people of Mindoro Island, with eight subtribes.
Anya’s name is a combination of those of her parents: Anton and Yam-ay Insik, 54, a Mangyan Hanunuo. Anya, 35, the oldest, has three siblings—Sagamsang, 2; Yangan, 24; and Ambay, 21.
“I was most of the time separated from my family because of school then work. I want to spend more time with them,” says Anya, who often surprises people with her Mangyan-accentuated Tagalog given her Caucasian looks.
Antoon, fondly called “Bapa” (which signifies respect and endearment), has been residing for more than 50 years in the mountain of Barangay Panaytayan, 3 kilometers from the town center of Mansalay in Oriental Mindoro.
Anya completed her public elementary education at the town proper and high school at Mangyan Education Center. She obtained a degree of Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Roxas College in the next town of Roxas.
“Sundays are saddest because I go down the mountain, and stay in the house of my father’s close friend, except when I was in Grade 1 to 3,” Anya recalls.
“I wanted to stay longer in the mountain. Apart from them, one week was like one month. Father didn’t want me to go to Manila because I will lose my culture,” she says. She has learned all the Mangyan cultural practices from her mother.
“Tatay (father) did not want noise in the house. He’d spend long hours in the library, with breaks only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and go to sleep by 10 p.m., one hour after the electric generator is switched off,” she says.
But in the early hours of the morning—between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.—their mother was out to make fire for cooking, Anya says her father would spend time with her younger siblings by telling biblical stories about God and creation, while drawing and using the Mangyan language.
Antoon was a missionary priest of the Society of the Divine Word when he first came to Mindoro.
Anya’s parents did not expose them to new technology. “They showed us simple living, and did not give us an idea that a Dutch and a Mangyan are different,” Anya says.
“When I was in Grade 3, Tatay gave me an ‘ambahan’ (Hanunuo Mangyan poem), which until now he does not explain to me. He wants me to learn the way he did, by discovering things,” she says.
Anya wanted at first to become a nurse to be of bigger help to her tribe. “But it was not available in the college where I took up Education, which I realized is also important for my tribe’s welfare.”
Since she graduated from college in 2006, she has been with MHC, where she has helped document hundreds of ambahan.
“That’s where I learned how much Tatay has done for the Mangyan. I said a big wow and became his fan. People expect me to be like him but I am not. I am not a writer nor fluent in English, but I have my ways of preserving my culture,” Anya says.
She spent years with the Mangyan mobile exhibit, going to schools and museums nationwide, first as an assistant to Jesuit Volunteers of the Philippines, then as a lecturer herself and overall in charge.
“Wearing the Mangyan attire with pride and happiness, I taught guests how to write their names in the Mangyan syllabic script, how to spin cotton, how to weave the traditional Hanunuo-Mangyan indigo-blue cloth on a backstrap loom and sold handicraft,” she says.
“I have to tell them that I am a Mangyan. Many would not believe me. It hurts me, too,” says Anya who has now gotten used to students flocking to her for picture taking.
Last year, in February, she was invited to deliver a paper about ambahan at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Japan.
“My exposures and desire to clarify that a Mangyan is a human being and telling the Filipinos they should take pride in the Mangyan culture, enabled me to overcome my shyness and fear of going to places, even just by riding a tricycle,” Anya says.
One of the few
Anya is considered a culture bearer because she is one of the few Mangyan youths who are proficient about their culture. She is now the assistant in charge of the community-based cultural program of the Mangyan Awareness Program of MHC.
When she is not busy with mobile exhibits, Anya volunteers to be a mobile teacher on Surat Mangyan two weeks a month to pupils in Grades 4 to 6 in five public schools in Mansalay and Bulalacao towns.
“I like this also because it gives me more time to be home, especially for my father, who is still healthy but has memory gap. When I’m there, I feel so relaxed, not thinking about anything. I help mother do handicrafts,” she says.
Their house has become accessible from the main road through a 30- to 40-minute motorcycle ride for a P40 fare in going up and P30 in going down.
She also remembers the siblings of his father in the Netherlands whom she visited in 2006 and 2012. “The first visit was for one month, with my father, whom I asked for that graduation gift. I was curious because of what I see on films.”
The second visit was with Fr. Ewald Dinter, director of the church-based Mangyan Mission, who left Anya behind because she stayed for three months. She adjusted on food but feasted on French fries, having grown up on eating mostly sweet potatoes.
Asked if she’s planning to have her own family, with a straight look, she says, “Honestly, I’m happy. If that comes or not, it’s OK. My fulfillment is in helping my family and tribe, in helping my siblings finish school and have a stable job.”
“I’m 35, already considered an old maid for the Mangyan who usually marries at an early age. I have suitors, but they are non-Mangyan,” she adds, with a hint of a smile.
Her requests include a stop to using the expression “Mangyan ka” in putting down someone and to exploiting the Mangyan for ecotourism, during beauty pageants and research.
And for the Mangyan people, “to stand tall and be proud of who we are,” says Anya, her right fist raised and her eyes confident, with the usual friendly smile.
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