Inscribing the stories

As the eldest in her family, and the head of her clan, it was Meriam Bayo’s responsibility to help provide for the education of her younger siblings.  Now it’s Meriam’s turn to graduate.  She recently earned a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from the Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro through a grant from SIL.  “Having a degree means a lot to me, because all these years it had only been a dream, but the dream has now become a reality.”

In her final college thesis, Meriam describes the customs and traditions of her people, and through it she desires to generate appreciation for the unique culture of the Bukidnon people from the Philippine island of Mindanao.   She is hopeful that it “could spark interest for others like me, who in the past have hidden their identity simply because they fear being bullied or looked down upon.”

Meriam came from a mountainous area of the Philippines where her grandfather, the datu, chief of the clan, staked a claim before WWII. He raised his children and grandchildren to speak the more widely-used local language so that they would not be ostracized for speaking the traditional Binukid language.  As a Christian he also discouraged them from practicing the ancestral rituals.  But he did teach them the stories of the Bukidnon people.

Unlike many others who are self-conscious about the negative stigma attached to being from an Indigenous People group, Meriam radiates a quiet, gracious pride in her heritage.  Her cultural dignity has been motivated in part by her many years working together with linguists at SIL as a typesetting trainer and consultant.  She began her work with SIL in 1976 as a typist, trained as a typesetter in the 1980’s, and has since typeset a wide variety of literacy materials, dictionaries, Bibles, and other literature in many Filipino languages.  Meriam’s voice warms as she describes her work. “I love what I do.  By publishing materials in the Indigenous People’s languages, it has elevated the people who speak them, knowing that their language is as important as the others.”

Meriam’s next professional goal is to compile, together with her colleagues, a syllabus for the training of future SIL typesetters in Asia.  But she’s also gathering ideas for another collection of stories about the Bukidnons, knowing that others might be motivated by her work.  “Encourage them to write also; to write about their own culture, because they’re speaking from their own perspective.  It’s their own.”   Meriam hopes that more Indigenous People will choose to celebrate their heritage through the stories of their people.