ELEVENTH HOUR: Traditional knowledge is a common thread that runs through climate action and resilience building

Empowering local communities starts with appreciating and valuing their indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices (IKSP) to get them involved and to collaborate.

Through the campaign “Kinaiya it Kailayahan: The Role of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices of Nabaoynons in Malay, Aklan in Developing Local Climate Change Resiliency,” a team of environmental advocates and marine biology researchers called Team Bintuwak seeks to enhance the understanding and appreciation of the public on the importance of IKSP in riverine conservation.

Team Bintuwak believes that integrating IKSP into a knowledge pool for ecosystem management and restoration activities is a promising approach to freshwater riverine conservation, climate change adaptation, and the development of better coping mechanisms for climate-induced stresses.

Local communities are already exposed and burdened by the costs of climate change impacts. Data shows that there exists a long record of climate change adaptation actions practiced by locals and that the dangers of climate change are already threatening traditional knowledge.

With proper knowledge of adaptive mechanisms, vulnerable communities like Nabaoynons in Aklan can thrive. Subsisting along the Nabaoy River, Nabaoynons are the immediate stewards of the Nabaoy Watershed, which is the main source of potable water supply for the community of Malay and the island of Boracay. The pristine watershed is located inside the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park.

Nabaoynons doing ‘panikop’ using ‘aeat’ and ‘baean-an’ along a damaged riverbank caused by heavy rains, floods, and landslides.

With the support of the Oscar M. Lopez Center’s Balangay Media Project and Umalohokan Grants, Team Bintuwak documented the Nabaoynons’ customary fishing techniques and practices, long-term fishing trends and variabilities, anecdotes and lore, and baseline data on climate change awareness and understanding.

By documenting and subsequently promoting the indigenous ways Nabaoynons are sustainably managing freshwater, we hope to preserve these practices and pass this on to the generations to come. For example, the Nabaoynons’ “sungya,” an adaptive fishing tool used during floods, is a traditional technology that can be adopted by other riverine communities.

Moreover, Team Bintuwak advocated for resilience building through riverine conservation with the community as partners. Aside from the local community, the team pursued partnerships with the academe, non-government organizations, and government institutions for multi-stakeholder initiatives to pave the way for the protection, promotion, and further development of IKSP. Aside from supporting grassroots decision-making, policymaking, and socially and ecologically sound solutions, we’ve fostered multi-stakeholder initiatives that empower locals to adapt to the changing climate situations and move forward with resilience.

Team Bintuwak with the collaborators, judges, and local participants during the Kinaiya it Kailayahan Cultural Contests, which were part of the data gathering activity in Nabaoy, Malay, Aklan.

Among others, the activities held by the team as part of their campaign include: (1) climate forum entitled “Istorya it Paniyempo sa Ilaya” or Climate Stories in Upland Communities, which included immersive tours and river treks to document the local stories of Nabaoynons; (2) cultural show entitled “Bugae Kinaiya: A Cultural Show of Nabaoynons,” which highlighted local talents, harvests, and other exhibits; (3) “Daganas” or Sound of Rushing Water, a series of mini-documentary and ecotour videos focused on the Nabaoynons’ IKSP; and (4) “Suba it Pag-eaom sa Nagabag-o nga Paniyempo” or River of Hope in the Changing Climate, a series of conversations on climate change and conservation for youth empowerment.

The campaign and activities resulted in the founding of Kinaiya it Kailayahan Climate Advocates of Nabaoy (KKCAN), a group dedicated to developing advocacy-driven learning events that build the local youth’s understanding and appreciation of climate science and impacts, particularly in terms of how Nabaoy Watershed will be affected by climate and environmental challenges.

The KKCAN encourages the youth to develop actionable solutions and replicable community projects. One of the projects that have already been implemented is the Hike for Climate and Conservation with teachers last Nov. 30, 2021. More recently, the group is working on the Rebuild-A-House Project that will benefit a community elder whose shelter is regularly affected by heavy rain, typhoon, and flooding.

Post-event photo of Team Bintuwak with local artisans, multi-stakeholders and newly founded Kinaiya it Kailayahan Climate Advocates of Nabaoy (KKCAN) during the conduct of Bugae Kinaiya: A Cultural Show of Nabaoynons (for developing local climate change resilience).

The campaign continues to generate support and interest. The data compiled by Team Bintuwak are scheduled to be presented to the Nabaoy Barangay Council and Sangguniang Bayan Malay sessions this February, and in a barangay general assembly for public consultation next month.

The team’s scientific journal article entitled "Climate Change, Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP), and Riverine Fisheries: The Case of Malay, Aklan” will be published in the Journal of Natural Conservation. The Kinaiya it Kailayahan coffeetable book is also expected to receive its International Standard Book Number (ISBN) soon.


Team Bintuwak is one of the recipients of the Umalohokan Fellowship to the Climate Media Labs and Umalohokan Grants under the Oscar M. Lopez Center’s Balangay Media Project, a program designed to support local media practitioners and climate change advocates by building their capacities for science-based reporting and utilizing traditional, new, and out-of-home media to promote climate change adaptation and resilience-building of communities.

The Climate Reality Project Philippines is a media partner of the 2021 Balangay Media Project.

About the authors:

Ronald R. Maliao is an Associate Professor in Marine Biology at Aklan State University in New Washington, Philippines. He is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. He is interested in exploring and testing ecological concepts, especially those research questions that interface with conservation and have tangible impacts on human wellbeing.

Ritchel C. Cahilig is a teacher of Mathematics and Tourism Promotion Services NCII at Malay National High School in Malay, Aklan. She is the co-founder of Aklan Trekkers. She is interested in ridge-to-reef conservation, sustainable community tourism, cultural sensitivity, and social entrepreneurship. An experienced hiker, she organizes advocacy events and leads upland outreach missions to last-mile schools and geographically isolated and disadvantaged communities.

Beverly T. Jaspe is a faculty member in Marine Biology at Aklan State University in New Washington, Philippines. She has academic training in marine sciences from the University of the Philippines Visayas (MSc Biology). She is interested in zooplankton ecology as well as traditional ecological knowledge of local and indigenous communities in the Philippines. She is a diver, hiker, mountaineer, and environmental enthusiast.

Richard R. Cahilig is a social entrepreneur, freelance photographer, and co-founder of Aklan Trekkers. He is interested in community immersions, hike explorations, digital mapping, backpacking, and traversing borders. He is a hiker, blogger, outdoor event organizer, humanitarian volunteer, and environmental advocate.