Popularizing Indigenous Early Warning Systems: a system of documenting and popularizing indigenous knowledge on early warning for disaster risk reduction by Success Initiatives, Inc.
Iligan City, Lanao del Norte
Cesar Yamuta, Emedina Juevesano, Anita Sescon, Aissah Para-asi, & Veronica Alivio
Indigenous knowledge (IK) is preserved when it is passed down from generation to generation. The innovation team hopes to keep the IK on DRRM alive by teaching their bespoke songs and other traditional art to children at a very young age.
The innovation team needs help in monetizing their work through licensing their artwork and reproducing them in various media. They also need help in distributing their work to a wider audience, possibly through partnerships with government and non-government organizations.
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The team wants to partner with government agencies and local government units to conduct trainings that will help equip the residents of Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga in times of disasters. The innovation team also hopes to work with local disaster risk reduction and management offices to incorporate the use of D’bags in their DRRM plans.
Our ancestors didn’t have any of the technology we have now, but they were able to keep themselves safe during disasters without modern weather forecasts. They only observe nature. They look for signs in the movement of insects or when the birds start becoming restless. They know that something is coming.
Indigenous knowledge has been there for generations. We should be keen to understand the signs that are coming from nature itself.
The innovation team noticed how indigenous groups were more efficient in keeping their people safe in times of disaster, compared to people living in cities. This observation inspired them to seek out elderly tribe members and senior citizens and ask them about traditional knowledge related to disaster mitigation. The team synthesized the data they gathered and incorporated them in songs, pieces of poetry and children’s games that they developed and now, hoping to popularize.
The onslaught of Typhoon Sendong in 2011 left many provinces in Northern Mindanao in a devastated state for many months. Twenty thousand families in the region have been displaced and in Iligan alone, at least 400 people lost their lives. However, in some indigenous communities, there was little to no casualties.
The same observation was made in 2004. A massive quake in the Indian Ocean generated multiple 30-meter high tsunamis that flattened cities across 14 countries. Some 227,000 people died from tsunamis that reached Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and even India.
Only seven casualties were recorded in Simeulue. The island is just 40 kilometers away from the epicenter of the quake. Most people say it’s an age-old lullaby that saved the island’s residents from the giant waves. The lullaby has also kept Simeulue residents safe from a massive tsunami in 1907. It sings that “if a strong earthquake is followed by the lowering of sea water, please hurry to a higher place.”
This gave the innovation team an idea to first, codify indigenous knowledge (IK) systems related to DRRM and later, popularize them so more members of the community can learn how to keep themselves safe in the face of disasters.
Success Initiatives Executive Director Emedina Delos Santos-Juevesano believes that IK-based early warning systems could be better than the modern, scientific ones that the government rely on when it comes to predicting weather patterns and preventing casualties.
“DOST and PAGASA installed a lot of weather systems like rain gauges, water level sensors and such, but these were installed downstream, near the ocean. The warnings were coming in late. Rain gauges won’t work without electricity so when the situation worsens, these technological equipment become useless,” says Delos Santos-Juevesano. “Equipment-dependent warning systems are not reliable in times of heavy rains. It can’t prevent casualties,” she adds.
Those who rely on traditional knowledge, on the other hand, have time and time again proven that IK-based DRRM measures are effective in minimizing casualties.
Guided by Tuklas Innovations, the team started identifying elders from indigenous tribes and senior citizens who could help provide disaster-related IK pieces. They distributed forms for the seniors fill out, but they got little feedback. The innovation team set up community meetings instead where they can interview respondents face to face.
Artists who took part in the initiative were involved even at this early stage. The data-gathering process made it easier for them to turn ancient wisdom into songs, poems, dances and even games for children to play.
Twenty-eight year old Aissah Para-asi has been singing melodies passed down from her grandparents since she was young. Being involved in Success Initiatives made her realize that these songs could teach people about disaster preparedness.
“Our ancestors didn’t have any of the technology we have now, but they were able to keep themselves safe during disasters without modern weather forecasts,” says Aissah. “They only observe nature. They look for signs in the movement of insects or when the birds start becoming restless. They know that something is coming,” she adds.
The song about the balinsasayaw or swiftlet is Delos Santos-Juevesano’s favorite among their group’s compositions. It’s a lullaby sings about the migratory bird’s behavior before a calamity. If swiftlets abandons the cave where they live, it signifies that the area is no longer habitable.
“During our brainstorming sessions, we realized that the insects and animals are not there to warn us. They’re only trying to preserve themselves. It’s all about survival, so we have to be observant of their movements because they are more attuned to the Earth,” according to Delos Santos-Juevesano. “These knowledge have been there for generations. They have been proven to work and it is a product of man’s interaction with nature. We should be keen to understand the signs that are coming from nature itself,” she adds.
The songs, dances, poems and games that the innovation team put together are for children. The goal is to teach kids how to prepare for disasters through interaction with various media.
One example is the “tsunami game.” The game starts with players lined up in a row. When the it says “tsu” the players will step forward. When the it says “na,” they take a step back. When the it say “mi,” players will race to the safe circle. Anyone the it tags outside the circle becomes the new it. Delos Santos-Juevesano believes this simple game can teach children to seek shelter before a tsunami strikes.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Delos Santos-Juevesano recalls how widely accepted their songs were when they took them to small communities for testing in December 2018. They found warm acceptance for the action song about red ants, Hulmigas Pula. “A lot of them wanted us to release the song to the public already, but we had reservations then because we were waiting for the Tuklas Regional Fair before we could launch it,” Delos Santos-Juevesano recalls.
The innovation has also changed the team behind it on a personal level. Aissah, for example, used to sing pop songs on gigs with her band before. Now she sings mostly ethnic songs because she believes that it has more impact on the community and can help with their disaster preparedness.
“The songs register to kids immediately since the melodies are catchy. It’s not hard to teach indigenous knowledge to kids using these forms of art,” says Aissah.
Going forward, Success Initiatives wants to widen the reach of their songs, dances and other artworks to so they could help more people. The first step is to get their compositions licensed so they can earn royalties from the distribution of the songs once they become more popular.
To date, Success Initiatives’ compositions have already been studio-recorded. They’ve also produced music videos for the songs that have been optimized for different screens like laptops, televisions and mobile devices. They even produced a karaoke version of the songs so the people listening for the first time can sing along.
Anita Sescon, vice president of Success Initiatives, says she also wants to bring their songs to print media. “I’m also thinking about publishing a book about the things we’ve created, especially the rhymes, and the games also. Just a simple, very thin book or a small manual for kids starting from preschool,” says Sescon.
Monetization prospects aside, Success Initiatives is also just as happy with sharing their creations with communities as part of their company’s advocacy. Their goal after all is to popularize indigenous knowledge on DRRM, and as long as more people sing and dance to their songs, they’ve already achieved that goal.