From hunting heads to building peace

From hunting heads to building peace

Conciliation Resources has been working with tribes and other Indigenous Peoples (IPs) communities in the Philippines to improve early warning and early responses to violent conflict. 

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Charlotte Melly

In the Cordillera region of the Philippines’ largest island – a mountainous territory with large numbers of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) – the Kalingan and Ifugao tribes are known as ‘head hunters’. Renowned for their military prowess, these warrior tribes have historically been famed for carrying special axes designed for transporting and displaying the heads of those they defeat and kill.

These tribes and other IP communities are becoming the unlikely home to a growing number of peacebuilders, who have had great success in reducing tensions in their communities as well as defending the rights of IPs. A number of these groups have also begun to expand their work to improving early warning and early responses to violent conflict, with the help of UK based peacebuilding organisation Conciliation Resources.

One organisation that has been working with Conciliation Resources on this is Aksyon para sa katarungan at kapayapaan (AKKAPKA). It provides training on active non-violence, aiming to help both within and between communities. One member, Joyce explains; “It is a real challenge balancing the respect for (and desire to preserve) indigenous culture, with the need to eschew violence, because the warrior identity is part of that culture. We also seek to bring out the non-violent traditional elements of the indigenous culture, such as the Bodong, which is an indigenous conflict management system.”


Youth board public bus, Philippines (Credit: Charlotte Melly)

Organisations like Joyce’s are also working in the context of wider conflict. IPs in the Philippines have been instrumentalised in different ways in the two armed struggles which have beset the country for the past four decades – the struggle for self-determination of the Bangsamoro in the island of Mindanao (fought in recent years principally by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with whom a Comprehensive Agreement was signed in March 2014) and the communist insurgency (fought mainly by the New People’s Army, the military wing of the National Democratic Front (NDF), who are militarily weaker but present in the three main island groups of the Philippines – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao).

In Cordillera, it is easy to be drawn in to the violent conflict, particularly for young members of tribes known for their warrior strength. AKKAPKA are working to minimise this, and to introduce the idea of active non-violence. Joyce explains that they work to protect young people and build the resilience of the community; “Don’t let yourselves be used’ we tell the youth, as often the armed groups take advantage of their vulnerability and exploit it to get them to fight.”

AKKAPKA has also taken the steps of identifying vulnerable individuals so that their needs can be addressed. It achieved this by adapting the “class analysis” which the Communist Party of the Philippines uses, to enable communities in Ifugao to evaluate their own needs. The Psychosocial Investigation and Community Analysis (PSICA) is an assessment carried out by and for the community. Individuals have testified that this process has reduced recruitment into armed groups and improved accountability. The people themselves say that it has helped prevent violence – both in the community structure and with the army and the NPA. One indicator of this is the fact that there have been 236 reported movements of NPA in the province – which is vastly above all other provinces (where the figure is in the tens) – and yet the number of violent incidents has still been fewer than other areas. More recently the approach has been coined the ‘Ifugao paradigm’.


Youth gather in market, Manila, Philippines (Credit: Charlotte Melly)

The AKKAPKA is part of the network of Sulong CARHRIHL. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) is one of the few substantive agreements which the Government of the Philippines and the NDF have reached in their many attempts to negotiate an end to the armed conflict.

In Tagalog ‘Sulong’ means ‘to advance or progress’. Sulong CARHRIHL monitor the implementation of the agreement and the human rights situation in the country. Sulong CARHRIHL and Conciliations Resources have worked closely in the Philippines to implement the Capacities for Peace project that provided Joyce from AKKAPKA with the training to improve early warning and early responses to conflict.

Charlotte Melly is the capacities for Peace Programme Officer, Conciliation Resources.


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