A documentary film about cultural journeys and indigenous peoples in the Philippines. On one level, this documentary is a coming-of-age story of a successful young MTV director in Manila, Auraeus Solito, who belatedly discovers that he has tribal Palawan blood. Fearing that her son would experience the same cultural discrimination that she did, Auraeus's mother concealed this aspect of his life as he grew up. After he learns about his ancestral clan in a remote village in Palawan, Auraeus begins to spend weeks at a time there studying its customs, especially the basal, a dance-ritual performed on an elevated bamboo stage to a frenetic drum and gong beat. Eventually, he becomes involved in the tribe's struggle against Jewelmer, a commercial pearl farm owned by the Cojuangcos, one of the country's richest business families. On a bright day in 1999, Auraeus leads his tribe in dozens of small boats on a civil disobedience action against the company. As the Cojuangcos' private militia moves in to stop Auraeus's group, a force of nature intervenes and ends up protecting the unarmed villagers. The film captures this dramatic moment. On another level, the documentary traces the cultural journey of Return to the Tribe's filmmaker Howie Severino, who grew up on the American east coast. He returns to the Philippines after college to become a Manila-based reporter and discovers for himself the nation's tribes, including Auraeus's Palawan, and how interconnected their struggles are with the Filipino nation as a whole. Among current Philippine issues tackled in the film are the impact of modern commercial forces on indigenous peoples, the environmental effects of nickel mining, the clearing of mangrove forests for fishponds, the legal challenge to the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act, the capacity of local communities for facing modern threats, and the use of film for advocacy. The documentary features rare footage of the Palawan dance-ritual basal and of the last person in the village of Puring in southern Palawan who can still write the Palawan script.
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