Water and Cultural Diversity
INDIGENOUS WORLDVIEWS AND SPIRITUALITY
Third World Water Forum, 16-17 March 2003, Kyoto, Japan
Traditional Water Management Systems of the
Kankanaeys of Besao (Northern Philippines)
Eleanor BANG-OA, Philippines
The issue of water among the iBesaos (people from Besao) is an issue of survival for a
people who consider themselves as stewards of the water, land, and forests.
Traditional management of water resources is closely associated with the religious
belief of spirits or nakinba-ey inhabiting elements of nature and the inayan that
governs the peoples‟ day-to-day behaviour. The spirits or supernatural beings
inhabiting water sources are believed to be the primary forces in the production, thus,
supply of water. It is therefore imperative for the people not to displease the spirit.
Consequently, there are culturally prescribed practices observed in relation to water.
These are part of the inayan observance among the iBesaos. Inayan, literally is
approximately equivalent to the English, “beware!” which in Besao is replete with a
moral responsibility to consider the results of one‟s actions and other people.
Water as a natural resource that cannot be owned by any private individual even if it
is found in privately held property. The landowner can only be accorded the right to
prior use. Rights to water according to customary law belongs to those who first
tapped the source for their use but does not include a right to stop the flow or divert
water from its natural flow depriving those who claim „natural rights‟ by virtue of
their being located along the natural course of the water. In the agricultural setting, the
dumapat system persists. Dumapat refers to the group of ricefield owners sharing a
common water source for irrigation use. How water is supplied to each member‟s
field/s without prejudice to other‟s fields, irrigation maintenance and how water is
sustained are the concern of each dumapat.
Another important aspect of the water management in Besao is sustaining the
forestlands. Approximately 69% of Besao‟s land area is classified as forestland that is
further subclassified into two types; the batangan or the pinewood forest, and the
kallasan or mossy forests. The practice of manually regenerating forest cover in
support of sustaining water and other basic needs is not new among the iBesaos.
Several batangans in the area have been established and maintained through the
Amidst the onslaught of development, the iBesao‟s traditional resource management
systems have persevered. Although these systems may be taken in isolation as
technology, they are better appreciated if viewed in the totality of the social context.
The principle that “land is life” is entwined with the notion of man as stewards of the
land and provides the healthy foundation by which traditional systems are closely
knitted towards efficient management of water and other resources in Besao. The
continued preservation of these resources necessitates the recognition of their rights as
indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands and to build on their capacities towards the
sustainable development of their resources.
Eleanor Band-Oa (Philippines) works with the Tebtebba Foundation in the