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Mindanao indigenous people decry portrayal of IPs in ABS CBN show “Noah”

This caught my attention because it’s about a complaint filed against the representation (or misrepresentation) of indigenous peoples or Lumads in the ABS CBN Channel 2 show “Noah” starring Piolo Pascual and Zaijan Jaranilla.

Here in Mindanao, the IP community is a highly respected group and as a Mindanaoan, I feel it is my duty to help advocate for their rights and help suppress discrimination, in whatever form it may be.

Peace advocacy group Mindanao Peoples Caucus said that the primetime telenovela’s portrayal of Lumads as “monkey-like creatures” is a “blatant violation of the mandate of RA No. 8371 to respect, recognize and protect the right of the ICC’s/IP’s to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions.”

The letter-complaint, which was dated October 8, 2010 and signed by Bae Lisa Nanapnay Saway, Bae Magdalena Suha and Timuay Melanio Ulama, was sent to Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) Chairman Ma. Consoliza Laguardia. Well, we can surmise that incoming MTRCB Chairman Grace Poe-Llamanzares will now hopefully address the issue.

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus represents at least 30 IP tribes in Mindanao.

“Noah” airs Monday to Friday during primetime. In the series, Gabriel (played by Piolo Pascual) and his family meets an accident. His son is swept into another island (Noah) where he ends up being raised by the Ungtas, a tribe whose features are similar to monkeys’. The tribesmen have tails.

The IP leaders, in their letter, said that “the way the Ungtas are being portrayed in the show Noah, they are human beings. Take away the mysteriousness of the island Noah and the monkey-like physical appearance of the Ungtas, what the viewers see are the Indigenous Cultural communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICC’s/IP’s).”

The letter-complaint also noted that Noah’s strong cultural references to the IPs in its depiction of the Ungtas are “unmistakable” in that the IPs, like the Ungtas live in a place separate and isolated from the mainstream society; they have a markedly distinct and different culture from that of majority of the people; they believe in what majority of the people call as deities as superior beings.

The series also uses terms such as “tribo” and “Diwata” – terms most closely associated with IPs.

“A Diwata represents one of the sacred spirits of the IP and should be portrayed with utmost respect just like how Christians regard Jesus Christ and saints with sacredness and veneration.”

However, despite the similarities, the Baes say that there is a “very striking difference between the show Noah’s depiction of the Ungtas and the IPs.”

“IPs do not look like monkeys or behave like one and they have no tails,” the leaders wrote.

In ABS CBN’s official website for the TV series, Ungta is supposed to be a “tribe of monkey-like humanoids” and that one of its characters, played by Lou Veloso, is “Imam of the tribe.”

An Imam, in the Muslim culture, is a highly respected religious leader.

The IP leaders said the show’s depiction of the Ungtas and consequently of the IP’s is in violation of Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.

Sec. 29 provides that the state “shall respect, recognize and protect the right of the ICCs/IPs to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions” while Sec. 31 provides that the state “shall endeavor to have the dignity and diversity of the cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations of the ICCs/IPs appropriately reflected in all forms of education, public information and cultural-educational exchange.”

“Consequently, the State shall take effective measures, in consultation with ICCs/IPs concerned, to eliminate prejudice and discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among ICCs/IPs and all segments of society.”

The IP leaders, meanwhile, also acknowledged that the show is “fictional” and that “artistic liberties are employed.”

However, they emphasize that “correlative to such artistic freedom is the obligation to respect the cultural sensibilities of the indigenous peoples.”

“The damaging blunder may have been inadvertently done in good faith, without intent to insult the culture of the ICC’s/IP’s, and purely for the sake of entertainment, but substantial damage has already been done. Considering that television is a very powerful, effective and popular medium of communication, due care and prudence must be exercised to prevent the proliferation of prejudice on and misinformation about a cultural minority protected by law. The proper corrective action is, therefore, imperative to clearly disassociate the fictional Ungta tribe from the ICCs/IP’s.”

The letter-complaint was also furnished to National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Chairman Atty. Roque Agton and to ABS CBN Broadcasting President Charo Concio.

Like I previously mentioned, this issue caught my attention not only because it’s a complaint against a top-rating television show in one of the country’s most watched TV channels but also because it has something to do with the (mis)representation of the indigenous peoples community.

Can we not exercise creativity without putting other peoples’ tradition and culture in compromise?

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  • Gina

    Ms. Mindanaoan, does the show actually use the term “Imam”? (Sorry I don’t watch it because I usually get home just when the show’s credits appear on the screen.)

    On my part, I believe the story is only a fantasy/a fairy tale and its depiction of the creatures there as “native people” is just to show that the “community” that took the child (Jacob?) in had human characteristics such as love, kindness and jealousy, just “like” humans. I also believe that the writers of the screenplay/script were trying to make the show similar to the story of Tarzan, who grew up with apes in the jungle. The apes in that story were also depicted to be kind, loving and jealous, just “like” humans. But in reality, we know from watching nature channels that ape society is very different from the fairy tale.

    However, going back to my first question, if the script actually used the term “IMAM” then I guess the protesters have the right to be angry because then the show transforms from being only a fantasy to being a representation.

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