Lakandiwa: The Way of the Warrior
by John Paul 'Lakan' Olivares*
When we contemplate the concept of a warrior, we often conceive a person who is trained in the martial arts, engaged in the thick of battle, or celebrated for conquering his foes. When we think of the ancient warrior (or even the present), the professional soldier comes to mind. These warriors come in various images, from the Roman gladiators or legionnaires, the Japanese samurai, or the medieval knight.
We often romanticize these people because of their exploits and most especially because of their warrior codes, such as Bushido for the samurai and Chivalry for the knight.
However, in my research on ancient/traditional(1) Philippine cultures I discovered that the concept of the warrior is completely different from what we would expect. There are many historical accounts and mythical epics about warriors and their exploits in battle, ranging from our national heroes (such as Andres Bonifacio), to early chieftains (such as Lapulapu), to even epic legends (such as Lam-Ang).
However, if we delve deeper into their stories, we will find that they were not professional soldiers. Warriors/heroes lead completely different lives when there was no war. In the pre-Hispanic times, the warriors were also landowners who were greatly respected not just for their martial prowess, but also for their leadership in administering the care of the land. In other words, they were also farmers and patrons of the various rituals that governed the daily lives of the people under their tutelage. Yet in times of war, these men would raise their arms and defend their homeland to the death.
I have observed these traits associated with a Bagobo man, whom I have met. Within this man's clan, he is one of the chieftains in the council of elders, but he is also their chief magani, or warrior. Yet, on an ordinary day, he was a farmer, with several families under his care. On special occasions, he was a poet and a musician.
This is a warrior who is a far cry from the professional soldier we often think about. I can also say this for a whole range of people of traditional cultures, whom I have met in the course of my research and journeys around our archipelago.
There were the Tausug MNLF (Muslim National Liberation Front) soldiers, whom I met up in the mountains of Patikul, in Sulu. Having recently returned from skirmishes with the Philippine Marines, they immediately transformed into Pang-alay dancers performing in a wedding ritual.
There was the Mumbaki (shaman) of the Ifugao, whom I met in the hinterlands of Banaue, who was a farmer by trade, yet a seasoned warrior in clan wars of the past. In fact, in the ancient headhunting practices among the Cordillera cultures (Ifugao, Kalinga, Bontoc, etc), they would only start their forays after the planting or harvesting season was over.
There were the Aeta of the Subic area, who practice their martial arts in a dance that is also a ritual of fertility.
In other civilizations (and it seems to be continuing in the present), the professional soldier was created not in defense of the homeland, rather for conquest. They had no other duty but to be warriors, and were sustained by taxes from the common people. However, to augment their salaries and give justification to their existence they needed to go to war and collect loot by pillaging others. It is just common sense not to pay taxes for an army, if there was always peace, thus a war is needed.
In fact, the popular warrior codes such as Bushido, were guiding principles among the samurai and their daimyo, anyone lower than these were treated as lesser people and not treated with respect as dictated by the code of honor. Among the European knights, the Code of Chivalry was drafted to curb the barbaric acts of the knights against other people. The code of the Cavalier (the mounted knight) has been overly romanticized, yet hardly enforced in the Dark Ages.
No matter how idealized were their codes of conduct, their lives revolved around the killing of others and not the defense of the people.
Looking back again at our ancient warriors in the Philippines, their lives revolved around creating, as in the tilling of the land and managing the lives of the families under his tutelage, rather than destroying through war. Because of these traits, we can view our heroes as builders rather than destroyers. In fact, the name hero or bayani, is derived from the ancient name for warrior; the magani for the Bagobo or the bagani for the Manobo. Thus the warrior/hero was more than just a fighter, he was a defender of the way of life, in battle or in the daily participation and administration of duties; such as farming and ritual. And, in my opinion, if they ever rose up in arms, it was not just to defend their lands and people, but to defend their way of living, their culture.
To summarize this concept, I have come across an ancient Tagalog word, ‘Lakan’, which means warrior, the freeman/landowner caste, or even chieftain. This seems to cover the range of responsibilities of the warrior/hero, from madirigma(warrior) to magsasaka(farmer) to mamanmanhala (leader).
Yet there is also another word, Lakandiwa, which is commonly described as a judge. Yet, if you breakdown the word into its components, you get Lakan (warrior) and Diwa (spirit). Thus, Lakandiwa may also mean the spirit of the warrior or the way of the warrior. And from this word, we can derive our own code of the warrior: a hero who, in times of war or times of peace, leads us in our maintaining the very essence of our lives, our culture.
Author's Notes: (1)In this paper, the Traditional Cultures are those ethno-linguistic groups whose cultural identity and practices are still very much the same from before Spanish, American, and Modern colonization. (2) 2009 June. (3) I wrote this as a Father's Day gift to the men out there, to be the warriors of their families.
Biography: Artist, Designer, Advocate, and Teacher; John Paul 'Lakan' Olivares' work is is inspired by his travels around the archipelago and living with different urban, rural and tribal communities. In these travels, he has searched for the Filipino spirit, which he tries to share in all his activities. In his paintings, he reflects a soulful connection with the various traditional indigenous cultures and the sensibilities of the people. Passionately rooted on Philippine lore, the free-spirited artist orients his audience to his journeys by way of graphic representations of nationalistic concepts which are simply expressed, yet sincerely articulated by his meditative art process. Beyond native motifs etched in his art, Olivares conveys themes that celebrate universal connectedness by his environment, which inspires him to share his own visions of beauty through his varied works.
He may be contacted through via email - lakan70 (at) hotmail (dot) com
The original article has been edited for style and grammar.