For the elder residents of Bondok, rape as a concept is unthinkable.
Culture Movies

Rape did not exist in Bontoc for a very long time—here’s why

Ben Tulfo might say rape happens because women wear revealing clothes. But what about the indigenous women who can go bare-chested while still being treated by their community with dignity and respect? By JAM PASCUAL  
ANCX | Jun 29 2020

The film opens with writer Carla Ocampo and research assistant Andy Magas discussing their shared experience of being survivors of rape. There are personal stakes to the project they are undertaking. In the documentary Walang Rape Sa Bontok, they seek to understand and verify the findings of anthropologist Dr. June Prill-Brett, whose studies have shown that for a long time, in the culture of the Bontoc of the Philippine Cordilleras, there was no concept of rape. In such a society, rape did not exist.

Imagine El Dorado—except a city made entirely of gold is somehow easier to imagine than a society without sexual violence. In Walang Rape Sa Bontok, we are taken through a journey whose aim is, in Ocampo’s words, to re-trace “what kind of society would create a rape-less mind.” Released in 2014, the film is now free to view on Vimeo.

Bontoc society has a lot to teach us, especially when it comes to building a society without rape, and a "rape-less mind."

The film centers mainly around the residents of the town of Bontoc, located in the Cordillera region. In the communities therein, women are held in high social standing simply because they are women, and the practices and beliefs that safeguard the Bontoc people’s egalitarian way of doing things are rooted in what the village elders call “the old ways.” In Bontoc, only the women are allowed to plant rice on the terraces, because they believe that men’s hands cannot yield life. The Bontoc people don’t put a premium on the concept of privacy either—there are no locks on their homes, and communities hold each other accountable, which means abuse, rape, and even just getting a girl pregnant and backing out are things you can’t get away with. In times of war, women warded off warriors from the other village by lifting their skirt and showing their genitalia, “cursing” the warriors in that way. The village even has a night watch made entirely of women.

Through extremely thorough research, insightful interviews with village elders, and a critical eye for the social moors that condition our behaviors, Walang Rape sa Bontok puts so much of rape culture into perspective. In the process it effectively counterargues the notions of those who dismiss rape culture as a concept. Ben Tulfo might say that rape happens because women wear revealing clothing. But what about the indigenous women who can go bare-chested while still being treated by their community with dignity and respect? 

Countless others might say it is simply in the nature of the human male to rape. Why is it then that an entire indigenous community—whose village elders have always, historically, been male—can go multiple generations without a single rape case?

'Walang Rape Sa Bontok' was released 2014, before the Me Too movement could crystallize, but its lessons apply even today.

This film was released in 2014—well before the Harvey Weinstein allegations came to light, and the crystallization of the Me Too movement. It is heartbreaking that this film has aged far too well, enlightening even today, because the problem of rape culture that persisted back then still persist. Schools such as Ateneo De Manila University and more recently Miriam College High School have to now reckon not just with the predatory teachers under their employ, but the conditions that have allowed these teachers to get away with it for so long in the first place. 

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This is not to say that the agenda of Walang Rape Sa Bontok is to call for society to strip away all modern embellishments and subscribe to a fully rural and communal way of living. Granted, part of what makes this documentary such an important piece of cinema is its dedication to honoring the traditions of our indigenous communities. That’s not a subject most films tackle. Can you name any other film, off the top of your head, that pays this much attention to our katutubo brothers and sisters? 

Walang Rape Sa Bontok vindicates such societies as well. The cosmopolitan mindset tends to unjustly look at indigenous communities as barbaric. This is not to say that all indigenous societies are feminist, but if the Bontocs find it easier to grasp the evils of rape than Manileños, then really, who are the progressive ones here?

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The intelligence of the docu lies in how much attention it pays to the nuances that go into crafting a society—how factors like work division, spiritualism, architecture, and even the rules of war can form a society’s perceptions of gender. It should compel its viewers to look at their surroundings with an equally critical eye. What are the factors that make rape and sexual violence so rampant in society today? 

As Ocampo states, “Nasanay na ako na lagi na, pag may nakakausap akong, halimbawa, grupo kami ng kababaihan—pagka nagkalaliman ng usapan, dalawa o tatlo sa amin ang naging biktima ng either sexual abuse or rape at one point in our lives.” The problem is common. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t even have to exist.

 

‘Walang Rape Sa Bontok’ is free to view on Vimeo. Simply input the password “SaveLumadSchools” and you’re in.