Annalie and Monique – Proud to be Blaan

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – In a place wretched in poverty, surviving the daily grind is already a struggle for a member of the Blaan tribe, one of the handful of indigenous tribes in Sarangani.

Along with the Tboli and the Tagakaolo, the Blaans have lived in this this province for as long as time can remember.

The Blaans used to lord it over the plains and valleys of Koronadal and Allah Valleys until the settlement program of the Commonwealth government of President Manuel L. Quezon pushed them further into the uplands.

(Sarangani then was part of the undivided Cotabato Empire until it became part of South Cotabato. In 1992, Sarangani was carved out of South Cotabato as a new province)

The Blaans were eventually geographically separated from their close tribal neighbors, the Tboli. They are mostly concentrated in Sarangani and Davao Occidental and Davao del Sur.

According to scholarly researches, the word Blaan, which was coined from bla and an, means counterpart or pair and suffix of an expresses ownership or possession. Its other counterpart was to bali (now Tboli), meaning people of the other side.

Thus, the historical closeness of the Blaans and the Tbolis.

There are very sparse seminal accounts of the Blaan as a tribe although its traditional weaving (mabal tabih) is among the intricate and colorful in Mindanao – some say even better than the more popular tinalaks of the Tbolis.

They are historically nomadic which explains the lack of literature and history of their tribe.

Annalie (left) and Monique, both barely out of their 20s, are to of Blaans who are proud of their indigenous people's roots.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Annalie (left) and Monique, both barely out of their 20s, are two Blaans who are proud of their indigenous people’s roots.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Story of two

It is their lost history and vanishing culture and tradition as a tribe that brought Annalie Edday and Monique Kawari together.

They are in their early 30s, both are still single but not for long.

They are among the younger generation of their tribe that were able to go and finish college, albeit in different circumstances.

Annalie worked her way into an academic scholarship using her intelligence. She took up Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education.

Monique availed of scholarship given to lumads and finished her Business Administration as an accountancy major.

Both graduated college at the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University.

They were already making headways into their respective careers when they were introduced to each other by a common friend, Arjho Cariño-Turner, who is now living with her American husband in Georgia, USA.

Arjho is also a Blaan and was Annalie’s co-worker at the provincial government.

By then Monique already had a flourishing beauty parlor while Annalie was working as program director of the Quality Education for Sarangani Today (QUEST) program of former Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez.

“My first work in the government is serving as Project Development Officer in the Indigenous Peoples Development Program of Sarangani in 2006,” she recalled.

Annalie was then 21.

Annalie is committed to a life of a development worker.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Annalie is committed to a life of a development worker.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

The following year, she was tasked to head the Galing Pook-awardee QUEST program at the age of 22.

Today, she prides herself for having been part of QUEST which helped built and opened of more than 600 new classrooms in the province over 9-year consecutive term of Dominguez.

Annie’s stint with the local government of the province also opened her up to numerous opportunities.

In 2011, she was among the Filipinos fellows to the Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative.

“I was (also) chosen to be part of the Philippine Youth Leadership Program in 2009 and the Asia Pacific Leadership Program in 2013,” she added.

The Asia Pacific Leadership Program a fellowship grant by the East-West Center brought her to Washington, DC for where she stayed for over a year.

Annalie said she could have explored an opportunity to work for a United Nations program for indigenous people but she chose to return to her village.

“I always want to see successes in a micro level. QUEST had taught me to focus and to work directly with my communities because results will be transformative and will provide long-term gains. Above all, I always had that energy boost and deep sense of fulfillment once I am deeply involved not only in planning but of making things happen,” she explained of her decision.

Annalie added, “I find my deeper value of being with my community than of anywhere else.”

Eloquent and intelligent despite her diminutive 5’0” height, Annalie is nearing the libun funday stature, a status granted to Blaan women who are sought for their sage and intelligence.

Many viewed here aggressive development work in the community as an asset.

Annalie, who is the youngest among the Edday siblings, has been goaded to run for town councilor.

But Annalie said joining politics is farthest from her mind.

“I am contented with helping the tribe restore their pride. To build the Blaan People’s Academy,” she said.

“It,” she explains, “aims to educate and empower the younger Blaans while strengthening their cultural identity.”

It is a passion shared by Monique Kawari, 31.

Life’s challenges

Monique knows how it is to be discriminated as a lumad (tribe).

Kasi nuong nag-aral ako ng college grabe ang discrimination sa amin mga tribu,” she recalls.(The discrimination was worse when a I was studying in college)

Monique knows how it is to be discriminated as a lumad (tribe).FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Monique knows how it is to be discriminated as a lumad (tribe).FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

She vowed to finish her school to prove that they are entitled to the opportunity of finding a better place in society.

But she didn’t finish her college until 2010, when she was already 26.

Monique and her other siblings in the brood of 12 had to quit school after her mother died that zapped his father’s buy and sell business.

Determined after a year of foregoing college, Monique applied as a working student at the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University.

“Science lab. Computer lab,” she said of her time as working student.

Another challenge befell her. She developed a cyst in her lungs and had to be operated on. She again quit college for a year and a half.

When she finally graduated in 2010, she landed a job in Manila as member of the accounting staff of a TUBU Foods Corporation.

Her sister Saturnina however told her that an opening for a job in Australia is being offered if Monique is interested.

It took a while before she accepted the offer. Unknown to her, the job would take her farther to Solomon Islands, in the world class Tavinapupu Island Resort where Princess Kate and Prince William used to go on vacation.

Hindi ko nga alam na may bansa pala na ganun. Basta tinanggap ko ang work na hindi ho alam kung ano ba ang magiging buhay ko dun,” she now reminisces.(I didn’t know a country like that existed. I accepted the job not knowing what awaits me there)

She did not regret it.

Simula noon naging maganda naman ang takbo ng buhay dahil sa pagtiyaga,” Monique added of her stint.(Since then, my life turned for the better because of my patience)

She stayed with her job for 2 years and invested her savings to put up a beauty shop.

Yan na ang (It is now) Orchid Infinity Salon and Fashion,” Monique said.

The bond that put them together

It is in the salon where she met Annalie, who had her hair fixed for the latter’s trip to the US.

Before the two parted, they agreed they agreed to put up a wedding gown boutique that fuses and adds a touch of their tribe’s elaborate and intricate weaves.

Annalie returned in 2013. Last year, they put their dreams of a partnership into a reality.

The shop is now called International Touch.

Former Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez (middle carrying a child) gracing the opening of International Touch.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO
Former Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez (middle carrying a child) gracing the opening of International Touch.FOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Life-changing

Not only was Monique’s life changed with her decision.

She is soon marrying one of the owners of the resort, her boss, who became her boyfriend.
She and John are getting married in October. It will be a dream beach resort wedding, according to Monique who just arrived from a pre-nuptial photo session in Coron, Palawan.

Annalie is not getting herself left out. She made a promise to herself to marry when she reaches 30. Her boyfriend, a mechanical engineer from Batangas probably is excited.

While Annalie is deep into her development work and giving back her time to her tribe, Monique is a patron of arts and works of her fellow Blaan.

Last year, Monique bought a pair of dress – worth P15,000. Not much for a woman who will soon wed the highest paid lawyer in Solomon Islands and who is the major controlling partner of a top law firm in the island.

Annalie turns emotional when fellow members of the tribe are no longer ashamed wearing their hearts on their chests.

The dresses that symbolize their ingenuity and creativity have become emblems of their honor and pride.

Proud to be Blaan, they say.

3 thoughts on “Annalie and Monique – Proud to be Blaan”

  1. Even before, i’ve seen this two only in facebook… i was inspired with these two beautiful adies, because of their achievements. Naging bahagi rin kayo sa inspirasyon sa nkakarami.. You are the role model of our tribe, we need to support and help our fellow tribe. I took a course Bachelor of Secondary Education for aiming of the tribe diversity, by teaching them para di na madaya ng ibang tao, to awaken those people na ikinahihiya ang identity.. I love teaching especially in those remoted areas. Lagi kong sinasabi sa mga bata na hindi dapat ikahihiya kung anong meron kah, dapat maging proud tayo.. I am the lucky one coz I was belong in this tribe, I am a pure blooded Blaan from Koronadal City. “Kultura ko, katribu ko, proud ako!” Proud to be Blaan!=)

  2. So proud of you both not only you are beautiful inside and out but very smart girls with the passion to help young Blaan to rise above the norms,I can’t wait to go back and some chit chat again with you :)much love Ate Becca …Hello from Texas :)

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