Marites “Matet” Gonzalo is a School Branch Coordinator of two schools owned by the Tagakolu community. The schools operate with the assistance of Malita Tagakolu Mission (MATAMIS) and Holy Cross of Malita Inc. She also serves as the go-to person of MATAMIS.
In our interview, Matet talked about her journey with Sesotunawa and shared how it inspired her to pave a similar path for her own community.
I met Kuya Joel in 2017 through Karl “Ninoy” Lozano. It was like talking to an old friend. As a fellow lumad, his work, stories, joys, and struggles felt like they were mine, too.
Eventually I met his family and the female members of his community. It was through our conversations that I got to understand that his craft, Temwel, is the foundation of his community because it brings his family, friends, and community together. Slowly, I began to understand the essence of sesotunawa.
I realized that I have already been to Lake Sebu in 2014, when I did research work on brass casting for the AdDU-Tboli Sbu. It was when I met Ye (Kuya Joel’s mother) and witnessed how her entire family was involved in the process of Temwel. It was a delight to see them work. I came to realize that their craft does not only reflect their beauty but also their experiences, history, and their dreams for the future. I felt that somehow our stories are connected.
Once I got to understand the real meaning of sesotunawa, I started looking into my own culture and community and I was not surprised to find a semblance in our work, reason, and way of life. Sesotunawa inspired me to revisit the things that are valuable in my culture, especially in our pagtu-ang sa pametang (handicraft). They inspired me to better appreciate our designs and, most importantly, to honor the makers.
Sesotunawa also made me appreciate our people’s deep connection to our land. The intricate, colorful, and meaningful crafts of the indigenous peoples are reflections of our lifeworld. The mountains, rivers, trees, stars, the heavens, the living things on land, and the spirits are the inspiration behind our elaborate crafts.
My conversations with Kuya Joel and Ninoy motivated me to tap into my community’s knowledge and resources to start a social enterprise in my own community.
In the summer of 2019, we started weaving the MATAMIS coffee and tea filters. Traditionally, the filters are used to strain coconut milk and coffee, so we decided to make these because the materials are easily available and many of the women in our community could make them.
More than profit, our goal is to encourage the young Tagakolu generation to rekindle their love for traditional arts and to show them that it is possible to create products that are sustainable and do not harm the environment.
We hope to support and eventually fully finance the operation of our two IP schools through our social enterprise. Beyond literacy and academic competencies, our schools’ mission is to facilitate the children’s cultural formation and mold their indigenous identities as Tagakulo. Our schools are built on the dream of being able to provide our children with the kind of education that is grounded on our own culture, identity, and ancestral land.
Purchasing these MATAMIS filters will encourage our students to foster a culture of creativity, cooperation, and unity that are important to the lumad. By supporting lumad products, you are also helping us sustain our craftsmanship and our living heritage.
In my heart I hope that through our social enterprise, we can help nurture a thriving indigenous community and a vibrant culture for the future generation.
Indigenous values and customs are crucial to the survival of our identity and traditions. As indigenous peoples, our values are our guide, foundation, and anchor in everything that we do. For example, if the essence of sesotunawa -- of unity, cooperation, and empathy -- is lost because of profit-driven competition and motivations, we will lose our identity and sense of community. As lumad, we are reminded and challenged to stay true to our values to ensure that our identity and traditions live on.
As a culture mover, my intentions and actions are always in support of the efforts of our indigenous communities. It is time we listened to their stories.