Cultural Warrior By Maiko Sentina
Photo by Maria Sentina
I have always found cultural heritage to be a peculiar thing. I am Australian, born and raised by Filipino parents on a small island colonised by Spain, with a Japanese first name and Spanish/Italian surname.
Growing up on the island of Cebu, the Spanish and American colonial influences were overpowering. My sisters and I studied at schools where speaking any language other than English was banned. We grew up reading Western literature - Childcraft stories and Old Mother Goose Rhymes, which in my case was soon replaced by law textbooks, cases and contracts.
Now I work with a team that cares so much about culture. Cultural Warriors who, everyday, work with the objective of empowering Indigenous people and putting Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property rights on the map through the law - advice, contracts, protocols, education workshops, policy and advocacy. I am so proud of the work I do, and it’s inspired me to learn more about my own cultural heritage. My own identity.
“Kadtong dili kahibalo molingi sa iyang giagi-an, dili makaabot sa iyang padulngan.” - Philippine national proverb, Cebuano indigenous language (He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.)
After many, many hours and long nights of researching, I found out (I guess not so surprisingly) that the documentation of traditional Filipino creation stories is not unlike that of Indigenous cultures in Australia and around the world. As a predominantly oral culture, I’ve struggled to find stories written in Cebuano, my language, with narratives and publications mostly authored in the 1900s by Western anthropologists in their observations and accounts of the Cebu island natives.
Now, over 30 Philippine indigenous languages are either extinct or endangered. Many of these stories are lost and forgotten.
Safeguarding cultural knowledge is absolutely paramount. The onus is on all of us to do the right thing . For those working with Indigenous people and communities and accessing culture, it’s about respect - understanding the ethical ways of collaborating through contracts, protocols, and developing an open-minded awareness of the issues faced by Indigenous communities.
For those sharing their knowledge, this means arming yourself with the tools and education to protect the products of your mind, your families, your history. Copyright, trade marks, confidential information, patent and trade secrets laws can help you with this.
As for my own cultural quest? Oh it continues. So watch this space.
© Maiko Sentina 2018