DIPOLOG CITY, Zamboanga del Norte–The “20th Pagsalabuk (Subanen for get together) Festival” is being celebrated here by the largely Catholic community that still harbor animosity to the vanishing Suban-on tribe, a historical hatred that could be traced back to the 18th century.
Suban-on or Subano means people of the river. Subanen, according to the academe, refers to the language.
The festival initiated by the city government was initially celebrated on the third Sunday of May when Dipolognons celebrate the Feast of San Vicente Ferrer. It later extended to a week and now a month-long celebration.
The 20th Pagsalabuk Festival started last May 4 and ends on July 1. Activities lined up include street dancing featuring Suban-on culture; visual art exhibit of “Ta Glibon Ini,” a group of women artists; sports; singing and dance contests; etc.
But amid the revelries, an entrenched dislike against Suban-ons could not be easily erased. After the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, Adonis Rabor posted on his Facebook timeline: “Kaning bang mga tawo nga magpost2 ug ilang kuko nga naa ink lupig pa mga suban on, murag karon pa nakabotar” (Those people who posted photos of their finger nails with [indelible] ink are worst than Suban-ons, as if it’s the first time they have voted).”
A lot reacted, some harshly, saying Rabor’s comment has demeaned and insulted the Suban-on tribe.
Rabor defended himself from bashers, mostly Suban-ons, saying he did not offend anybody because Suban-on is just a byword commonly used to those who act ignorantly. This even drew more flack.
“Manginit jud akong dunggan makadungog aning pulonga. Tawgon dayon Suban-on and usa ka tawo nga nasayop (I am angry whenever I hear this. Those who committed mistakes are outright called Suban-on)…My mother is a Suban-on and my grandparents are pure Suban-on. Though they are uneducated, don’t know how to write, don’t know how to read, but they are not ignorant,” commented Marilou Nacion.
A historian from nearby Dapitan City said that the “dehumanizing meaning or connotation” of Suban-on could be traced back to the Spanish era in the 18th century. Spanish missionaries that time described Suban-ons as “kutsino (filthy)” and “ignorante (ignorant).”
Settlers in Zamboanga Peninsula want to be associated with the Spaniards, who were regarded as superior people, and they too detested and mocked the Suban-ons. That gave birth to the phrases, “kahugaw ba nimo, mura man kag Suban-on (you are dirty, you are like a Suban-on)” or “wala ka kabalo? Suban-ona ba nimo (you don’t know? you are a Suban-on).”
But if we have to compare, the historian added, Suban-ons have more civility than the settlers and even the Spaniards. Suban-ons have no history of war, they understand nature and human relations and they practice what other dominant religions preach: “don’t hurt others.”
Even our national hero Jose Rizal said in one of his letters to his German friend Ferdinand Blumentritt that Suban-ons were simple and kind, who do not want to be in trouble with anybody.
When the settlers came to the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Suban-ons just moved away from the rivers. When the Spaniards came, they were driven even deeper into the mountains.
Today our “hypocritical” society still harbor animosity against the Suban-ons. Many think that they are no good, dirty and ignorant people. But despite these, Dipolognons still celebrate Pagsalabuk, imitate their culture and copy the way they dress just to give their society an identity, and eventually attract tourists.
“If we really want to know about the Suban-on and their culture,” a comment on the Facebook said, “it would be nice if we start by learning their history, understanding them and love them by heart. For it is only through understanding, acceptance and love that we can call the Suban-ons our fellowmen in the journey called life.” (PNA)