Thursday, November 04, 2004


Back to the old world in Maitum


Bong Sarmiento

MAITUM, Sarangani -- Coming here is like going back to the old world.

While Maitum literally means black, it is well endowed with stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches, waterfalls and splendid caves where vital artifacts believed to be dating to at least 3,000 years old have been discovered.

In a nutshell, a travel to this “primordial historical gateway” of Southeast Asia is like experiencing the “Wealth of the Old World” and a truly great escape from the fast-paced metropolitan bedlam.

A bucolic community teeming with rolling terrains planted to corn, palay, banana and coconut on one side and shorelines on the other, cool, unpolluted sea breeze greets people coming in this town some 107 kilometers from General Santos City, the nearest urban center.

But the one thing that local officials are proud to say, citing discoveries by archaeologists, is that their town apparently once stood as the center of civilization some 3,000 years ago.

“If you want to have a glimpse of the old world, the Pinol Cave and Linao Cave are a must see. There, it feels like you’re transported back to another era,” Mayor George Yabes says.

Dr. Eusebio Dizon and Prof. Rey Santiago of the National Museum, conducted preliminary studies at the cave in Sitio Linao, Barangay Kiambing for two days in October 2002 and were dismayed to see the damage wrought on the cave by treasure diggers. No complete pot was found, only shards.

But some of the shards from the cave turned out to be from various periods, including those that are likely 3000 years old, Dizon said.

The samples taken from the cave, however, were not enough to establish the precise date of the artifacts.

Dizon, Curator I of the Archaeology Division and Head of the Underwater Archaeology Section of the National Museum and Director of the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) of the University of the Philippines, headed the archaeological team 13 years ago of the now famous anthropomorphic secondary burial jars in Pinol Cave, also in Maitum town. The team included Santiago, Museum Researcher II at the National Museum who also teaches at the ASP.

Dizon described Pinol cave as “the most significant cave in Mindanao.”

The "Maitum Jars," as they are referred to now, are "unparalleled in Southeast Asia" in that it is an exceptional archaeological assemblage. The 2000-year old anthropomorphic jars of Maitum, bearing radiocarbon dates of "1930 plus or minus 50 BP (calibrated date of 5 BC to AD 225) and 1830 plus or minus 60 BP (calibrated date of AD 70 to 370)," are unique in that "they are like portraits of distinct individuals, of specific dead persons whose remains they guard," Dizon and Santiago said in their book, "Faces from Maitum."

“Some faces are thin with pointed chins and shriveled puckered mouths associated with the toothless or the aged. Other heads wear a smile displaying a full set of teeth. A patch of black paint on the head indicates where hair should be. Others with perforations suggest a more realistic portrayal. Had hemp fiber filled those holes to represent tuffs of hair? Who were these people? When, and how did they live?” the authors asked.

”Our Southeast Asian neighbors have nothing of this type of archaeological find. We should be extremely proud as Filipinos in discovering the amazing anthropomorphic potteries, which could suggest the backbone of our own culture. Never before have we seen such a magnificent archaeological assemblage,” Dizon said.

Elizabeth Palma-Gil, Maitum information officer, said the artifacts are in the National Museum exhibit, dubbed “Faces of Maitum: An Exhibition of Anthropomorphic Pottery.”

Although the artifacts are on display in Metro Manila, she added that the caves where these relics were discovered remain a worthwhile trip. “There is a magical whip one can sense when inside the caves,” she said.

Besides the Pinol and Linao Caves, the town is home to another cave dubbed by locals as “Ulo ng Python” (Head of the Python).

“Aside from the caves, the municipality offers a wide array of attractions to visitors,” she noted.

In the forested part of the village where Pinol Cave is located, thousands of bats with a wingspan of at least five feet, each weighing approximately 1,200 grams, are a sight to behold.

Popularly called the giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acedoron jubatus), it is said to be the largest bat in the world that can be found only in the country.

Gil said they are planning to develop the bat sanctuary where a view deck would be constructed to give the public better viewing angle.

Measures have been taken by local officials and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to protect the bat sanctuary from poachers. This includes employing a regular forest guard.

The tiny Philippine Tarsier popularly identified to be endemic only to Bohol province could likewise be found proliferating in this town.

The tarsiers share the forests with other wildlife like deer, wild pig and birds of various species. The birds include the writhed-billed hornbill (kalaw), yellow-breasted fruit dove (punay), Philippine hanging parakeet (kulasi) and black-napped oriole (kulyawan.)

Meat of wild pigs (baboy damo), and sometimes karneng usa (deer’s meat), regularly find its way to the town market at less than P100 per kilo, ideal for a campout charcoal-grill bash along the unspoiled white sand beach fronts in Barangay Maguling.

Thrill-seekers could likewise explore half-a-dozen identified waterfalls scattered across the 32,435-hectare town.
Residents say one of these waterfalls-the Buting Fikong in barangay Batian-may actually be taller than the majestic Maria Christina Falls.

Gil said those who want comfortable accommodation could try a beach resort or an old ancestral house in Barangay Mabay.

For pasalubong (gifts), visitors could bring home “bangsi,” a half-dried flying fish locals catcch along the Sarangani Bay, available in packs worth P10 or P100.

According to a local myth, Maitum derived its name from the black stones of a river where a T’boli warrior and his beloved village princess vanished while escaping from her enraged father. Thereafter, the stones turned black.
But while traces of black stones could still be seen, they provide striking contrast to the crystal clear river systems that feed water to agricultural lands.

Last year, the town’s Pangi River bagged the Central Mindanao top award for the “Cleanest Inland Bodies of Water” and placed second runner up in the national Gawad Pangulo sa Kapaligiran - River Category.

For pictures and related stories, please visit "Archeological Find" in

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