Eighteen Banwaon chiefs, garbed in their predominantly red traditional clothes, lined in twos along the aisle, behind them the white mitre of Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos providing stark contrast to their headdress.
For majority of the crowd of at least 300, most of them Banwaon and Manobo students of the Religious of the Good Shepherd’s graded literacy program, it was their first time to witness a ceremony blending the tribe’s age-old rituals with the Roman Catholic’s Holy Mass.
As the Datus, Bishop and three priests, walked down the aisle to their respective places at the altar onstage, the choir sang the entrance hymn in Cebuano, after which the Bishop made the sign of the cross and gave his blessings to two dozens of nuns and hundreds of Banwaons.
An elderly baylan (ritualist), also a Datu, his hands gripping the wings and feet of a live white chicken, came down from the stage, walked in front of the seats of nuns and Banwaons, wafting the chicken towards the people as Catholic priests do with their censer.
The baylan then walked down the aisle all the way to the last row, performing the same rite to signify the cleansing and protection of the people from the unseen, before returning to the altar, with the Bishop and three priests at the center, the Datus surrounding them.
The blend of ceremonies was in honor of the 25th anniversary of the RGS’ literacy school for the Lumads. 
Datu Manhambinan Mansilyohan, a community leader along the banks of the Maasam river, said the ceremony reminded him of a Banwaon epic on brothers Palagsulat and Palamboan.
The Datu said the epic, told and retold verbally from generation to generation, described Palagsulat as the man who studied, learned how to read and write while Palamboan decided to enhance his knowledge on the ways of the forests.
Mansilyohan said the brothers, though leading separate lives, kept their bond and helped each other through the trials and travails that came their way, as the Lumads and the Catholic nuns and priests are doing now.
In his homily, Bishop Pueblos said his visit to the Banwaon community has re-energized him.
He said the solidarity between the Lumads and the religious in San Luis reflects the three points emphasized by Pope John Paul II in establishing a “church of the poor,” the enhancement of “family values” and “inter-religious dialogue.”
Pueblos said the religious are responding to the pressing concerns facing the indigenous peoples in the wake of corporate plans to establish tree plantations in their ancestral domains.
Pueblos noted that as corporate plans are being firmed up, military operations seemed to have intensified in the Banwaon territories. He said these military operations have resulted to a string of complaints of rights violations and the displacements of indigenous peoples.
The military, he said, has repeatedly denied that their operations  are linked to corporate projects in Lumad areas.
Concern has been raised among Lumad communities over the divisiveness caused by tribal leaders who are serving as “dealers” of the tribe’s lands, to corporate interests.
“The challenge for us is how to deal with development aggression facing the Lumads,”
After the mass and the exchange of pleasantries, the religious and tribal leaders posed before video, digital and instamatic cameras, hoping the symbolic importance of the occasion will be remembered across time and generations, as Palagsulat and Palamboan continue to be remembered in our time.
This time, it will be a story told and retold not only orally, but with the help of photographs and video clips.

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