This Indigenous Tribe in Mindanao Could Teach Us All a Lesson About Living With-Not Against-Nature

IMAGE Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area Management Office

Successive typhoons have led to destructive flooding in some parts of Luzon, particularly the areas located in watersheds and catch basins like Marikina and Cagayan Valley. In a matter of days, entire cities were turned into islands as roads were transformed into islands. It was a near-apocalyptic sight for many, and an inevitable consequence of decades of deforestation, mining, environmental abuse, and government negligence.

The aftermath of Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses have finally made the public realize that the time to respond to climate change and environmental degradation is not later—it’s now. Whether we learn from our mistakes is not yet clear, but we do know one thing: Science already knows the answer—it’s just a matter of whether we will listen now.

For generations, perhaps even centuries, humans have been living against nature, not with it. This has led to our eventual downfall as climate change continues to slowly wreak havoc on the country like a giant waking from its sleep. Now we must work with nature, revive it, in order to survive it. And there are wise people in the Philippines who are already doing that.


The Manobo Tribe of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area has learned to adapt to floods as the community resides in the middle of a flood basin. As a wetland ecosystem, the Agusan Marshland transforms into a lake when the rain comes. Their houses, called floating homes, are built on stilts and most families are equipped with boats and even solar panels, so electrocution during floods is avoided. The indigenous tribe has successfully avoided millions worth of damage so that when the floods arrive every year, the community remains safe and intact.

They are not just “dealing” with flooding with climate change. They have learned to coexist with it, anchored by one thing that many lack: respect for the land and the planet we live on. The Manobos who live deep in the marsh inherited a responsibility to look after the ecosystem that gives them their livelihood.

“We are a nation shaped by mountains and oceans with cities built on wetlands, and if we don’t learn how to use this to our advantage and not just for our advantage—we will ultimately be subdued in water and flames taking away billions worth of damage, and many more lives that can never remain the same again,” said conservationist and National Geographic photographer Gab Mejia, who wrote about the Agusan Marsh for NatGeo.

Below are photos that prove how the Manobo people of Mindanao have learned to live with nature. And how we should too.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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