Meet the Bataks of Palawan
The Batak are indigenous peoples who are said to be the Filipino ancestors - the first to set foot in the Philippines. The name, “Batak” is said to be a Cuyunon term for “mountain people”. The Batak used to be semi-nomadic, collecting foods from the forest and rivers. Today, the Batak live precariously in Palawan - the country’s last ecological frontier. According to population estimates, there are less than 400 Batak members left, and those that remain believe “Da’ na ang Batak” – “ Soon there will be no more Batak.”
Batak Settlement in Palawan
The Last Guardians of the Rainforest
Traditionally hunters-gatherers, the Batak now suffer malnutrition because of dwindling forest resources. What used to be their sole food and livelihood source is now open to concessionaires and mining companies looking to exploit virgin forests in pursuit of profit. The lack of clean water and access to medical aid further aggravates the situation, and some Batak members literally die from diseases that are easily treatable in the city.
The last guardians of the vanishing rainforests of Palawan, the Batak are ill-equipped to operate in today’s market economy. Without access to education, they have a hard time finding jobs and earning a steady income.
Extreme poverty and illiteracy within the Batak community has placed them at the mercy of outside influence. Today, the Batak compete for resources with lowlanders and concessionaires - who take what they can from the forest in such massive, commercial scale that is unsustainable. Deprived of their traditional occupation, the Batak now come to work for the said concessionaires, through which they earn a meager 100PHP (US$ 2.16) per week, in harvesting rattan poles. A Batak worker makes 5 php for each pole that he spends half a day collecting, cleaning and transporting. Earnings from this work are not enough to sustain Batak families, which is why many of them are malnourished and are vulnerable to disease.
Baselisa Latube, former chieftain of the Batak settlement of Satio has a heart-wrenching story. She and her husband were jailed intermittently for several years, with the longest stretch being 6 years and 5 months. Their crime - living on land that the local concessionaire wished to usurp.
Deprived of their traditional occupation the Bataks are now dependent on sporadic manual wage labour through which they earn a meagre 100 PHP (US$ 2.16) per week.
With forest-resources on a steady decline, the Batak are losing more and more of their natural food source, health, and cultural identity.
Thankfully, there are many ways to help!
This campaign aims to to work within the tribe’s cultural foundation to create an alternative and sustainable livelihood for the Bataks.
Batak Craft will develop the tribe’s skill and process efficiency in traditional basket-weaving, document the tribe and its culture alongside, and helping them sell their products to an international market.
We also aim to provide a product refinement training programme for the tribe, so that they can eventually take ownership of every aspect of the product to market value chain.
Providing a sustainable livelihood to the Bataks helps them:
- Bring food to their tables. One basket purchase can feed an entire family of 3-4 for several days.
- Get proper medical treatment in times of sickness. With a steady income, the Batak can afford to travel to city hospitals and pay for treatment and medicine.
- Protect the forests by saying no to concessionaires and mining companies who encroach upon ancestral land in pursuit of profit. With a sustainable livelihood in place, the Batak wouldn't have to resort to working for mining companies (panning for gold) out of desperation.
- Strengthen cultural integrity and thrive in modern society. Palawan locals generally tend to discriminate against the Batak. This creates a sense of inferiority among the tribe, which partly contributes to their "vanishing status". As a result, Batak members leave the tribe in search of greener pastures. But we believe greener pastures can be found within — and that's why we want you to join us in making this happen.
Batak Craft has used our design background to innovate products that represent the craft traditions of the Batak and stand out at statement pieces in our backers' homes and wardrobes. Please find below images of the various rewards we have on offer specifically for this campaign.
About Batak Craft
Batak Craft is a Philippines-based community-run effort working to rehabilitate the Batak Tribe’s physical and cultural health by addressing the root causes of their depopulation through enterprise facilitation: specifically, by creating a sustainable bamboo-weaving business for the Batak.
Meet Lara Frayre, Founder, Batak Craft
For Lara Frayre, a multi-disciplinary designer, Batak Craft is the culmination of a decade of continuing education in the artistic, socio-cultural, and entrepreneurial disciplines.
Lara was working for an NGO to construct a yoga center at Roxas, Palawan. The project had hired workers in the vicinity for the construction. Over time, she noticed that some workers were tougher, more honest, and more hardworking than the others. They showed up early at work; they left the last. They were humble, and seemed to be content with the simplest things in life. She got to know them better by visiting their homes, asking many questions, and ultimately discovering that they were members of a tribe called, Batak.
She went back home to Manila when the project concluded, but felt a connection with the Batak.
"Poring through academic papers, I started having a sinking feeling in my chest when I discovered that there are only about 400 Batak left, which is half of their population back in the 1900s."
She decided to carry out deeper research to learn if they wanted help, and identify the best way to help them.
Lara formed a small team with two other locals. With just a motorcycle, their bags and food supplies, the team sought out the 6 most populated Batak settlements on a three-week adventure, which included trekking for hours across multiple river crossings, going to and from each community.
“Things weren't always easy - during our first visit to the Batak pilot group at Sitio Manggapin, a woman ex-chieftain named Baselisa glared at us with a suspicious, 'Who are you and why are you here?' There is a long-running history of outside communities taking advantage of tribal groups and so some of them are wary of people who offer help. But, that's how the idea of Batak Craft took shape.”
Coopita is a Singapore-based platform focused on enhancing the capabilities of makers working on craft preservation across Asia. Since the start of operations in June 2016, Coopita’s community has grown to include over 110 makers from across 8 different countries in Asia.
Meet Naomi Jacob, Co-Founder, Coopita Pte Ltd
Naomi joined Coopita as a co-founder in 2016, driven by a passion for the rich craft traditions of Asia. With a background in economics and public policy, Naomi has always been interested in the role of social enterprises in development policy.
Naomi is responsible for Coopita's on the ground efforts to reach out to unique maker communities working on craft preservation across Asia, which is how she came across Batak Craft. She was very impressed in terms of the clarity of Lara's end goals as well as her passion and commitment to working with the Bataks to find a solution that could help them move into the modern economy without losing their rich cultural heritage.
Coopita had been considering the use of crowdfunding as tool to finance product innovations for makers across our community. When Naomi realised that this is something that Lara had considered but needed more resources to get off the ground, she knew that Project Bamboo would be perfect as Coopita's first crowdfunding collaboration with a partner maker.
We at Batak Craft and Coopita are so excited to present Project Bamboo to the Start Some Good community. Head over to our FAQ document or please get in touch with us if you have any questions or feedback on our project. We really appreciate your support.