November 22, 2020
From PM Press

By Randy Nobleza
Alpine Anarchist
October 2020

This is a review of Bas Umali’s Pangayaw and Decolonizing Resistance: Anarchism in the Philippines
(Oakland: PM Press, 2020). Randy Nobleza holds a PhD in archipelagic
and island studies and is currently engaged in countermapping translocal
cultures. He was an online volunteer of Manila Indymedia, a transmedia
researcher for Radyo Itim, and he helped co-organize the Info Shop and
Autonomous Spaces Conference in San Jose del Monte, Bulakan. Since 2015,
he has been the networker-curator of the Marindukanon Studies Center
and Info Shop Marinduque.

It has been more than decade since the publication of Bas Umali’s
“Archipelagic Confederation.” With “Pangayaw: Decolonizing Resistance in
a Network of Communities in the Archipelago,” the title essay of this
collection of Umali’s texts, the author offers quite a different
approach. Times have changed, the context is not the same, the trickster
already subverted subversion. What could be the practical response to
such a grim prospect? How can one resist with a constant threat of
double peril? On the one hand, there is an ongoing drug war, and on the
other, there is still impunity within the system. Both situations are
precarious, to the people and the community. This is the platform on
which “Pangayaw” takes shape. In a way, the period from 2016 to 2022 is a
dress rehearsal for federalism. The state is undertaking a deadly live
experiment of suppressing the opposition. We need tools to fight back
and defend ourselves and our communities. The old practice of pangayaw,
commonly translated into English as “raiding,” is a call to arms.
Pangayaw is a dying practice that needs revitalisation, and the
activist/researcher narrates the possible outcomes of survival before
it’s too late.

Bas Umali recasts his thesis from “Archipelagic Confederation” and takes
it a step further. Not relying as much as on Murray Bookchin’s network
of councils as a model, he elaborates on pangayaw as a means of
self-determination. He opts to start with a counter-narrative of social
evolution. Umali asserts that rather than hierarchy or competition, our
ancestors survived through mutual cooperation. As one can observe, the
path of our ancestors runs the opposite to our own. As Umali points out,
contemporary society is “characterised by social injustices, poverty,
political marginalisation of communities and ecological crises.”
Pangayaw is no fakelore, it is rooted deeply in our psyche as a living
memory of our ancestors who resisted colonialism, authority and control.
Pangayaw is an antidote to the stifling effect of the post-truth era
and fake news. There is a need to reclaim and appropriate resistance not
through social media and mere commentary. This is not a fight from or
within islands but one relying on a differentiated network of

Umali lays down the main societal ills of the twenty-first century such
as slavery, hunger, poverty, discrimination, war, oppression and
ecological destruction. What he hopes to obtain by adopting pangayaw is
an alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical and centralised
politics of today. Umali is continuing where he left off in
“Archipelagic Confederation,” outlining a means to achieve a better and
more autonomous world through direct democracy. Pangayaw is not an end
to itself but a means to build resistance by activating ancestral and
collective memory. Pangayaw has been branded evil, violent and
inappropriate, but it links the diverse island communities in the
archipelago. Given their limited resources, it is necessary to
redistribute power and establish horizontal relationships. This enables
the network of communities to resist colonisation in its many shapes and

Having this in mind, Umali, the Onsite Infoshop researcher and activist,
enumerates some keywords to prepare the readers of what lies ahead:
“archipelago,” “anti-authoritarian,” “autonomous,” “decolonization,”
“anti-Colonization,” “direct democracy,” “diversity” and
“self-determination.” All of these keywords are western, orientalist,
and alien to indigenous peoples. One must have a grounding to be able to
appropriate them. As implied by Umali, these concepts are still
evolving, contested and fluid. They can close but also open doors.

There is the lure of essentialism and “going native.” It is therefore
imperative to take a few steps back before proceeding. Umali is not
proposing a binary opposition and dichotomous perspective as if there
was no grey area. On the contrary, his framing opens the discourse to a
rhizomatic dialogue. Any of the island communities can interact,
participate and practice pangayaw.

Umali points out that there still is hunger and poverty in the
archipelago. It is a recurrent pattern due to multilateral and bilateral
trade negotiations. Neoliberalism, representative democracy and
capitalism are still pervasive despite the current cycle of crisis. In
1997, there was the Asian Financial Crisis; in 2008, there was the
global financial meltdown and subprime crisis in the United States; in
2020, we are facing the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences; and
there is the perennial climate crisis. In Capitalism: A Love Story,
the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore regularly returns to pure
democracy without consumerism, competition and alienation, while
highlighting the inherent crisis of an economic system based on debt.
Umali does something similar, but, unlike Moore, he is not a painful
bore. Umali is deeply entrenched in the psyche of the ungoverned people
living in the island communities of the archipelago. It is up to us to
embrace our ancestors’ life ways.

When dealing with the ambivalence between decolonisation and
anti-colonial resistance, Umali shows that history is much more than
grand narratives. Rather, it is an intersection of different fields:
anthropology, archeology, sociology and folklore. Umali puts forward a
critique of terms like “Philippines” and “Filipino.” He does not
subscribe to nationalism or patriarchy. Both concepts serve the state.
Umali argues that the fragmentation of indigenous communities is not a
weakness but an expression of autonomy, emancipation and freedom.
Benedict Anderson already saw the thread of archipelagic thinking based
on his work in Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. James Warren also
sought an alternative conception of democracy and polity when exploring
the fringes of Southeast Asian history. His landmark studies provide a
crucial link to resistance against the state.

Umali considers pangayaw a processual means of decolonisation and
anti-colonial struggle. The pioneering efforts of Isabelo de los Reyes
are key to understanding pangayaw. The way he understood nationalism as
well as the translocalism of autonomous, yet interconnected island
communities enabled scholars such as Laura Junker, James Scott and
Tatiana Seijas to locate the highs and lows of pangayaw.

In “Pangayaw: Decolonizing Resistance in a Network of Communities in the
Archipelago,” Umali unpacks the colossal data compiled by the late
anarchist anthropologist David Graeber. Graeber’s discussion of debt is
very useful to understand the social organization of the early island
community inhabitants. Thanks to the works of ethnomusicologist Jose
Maceda and curator Marian Pastor-Roces on indigenous musical instruments
and local weaving systems, we know about modes of exchange and sharing
across the archipelago. It is far from the standard metanarrative of
Adam Smith. Our ancestors interacted through various forms of
craftsmanship, and they shared knowledge about the universe through
music and weaving.

For better or worse, pangayaw is still a valid and potent means of
decolonization and anti-colonial resistance by ungovernable island

Pangayaw and Decolonizing Resistance: Anarchism in the Philippines