Bolondong was an indigenous Tagbanua shaman, a Babalyan. He came from a long line of Babalyans on the remote west coast of Palawan, the Philippines.
Thousands of years ago, his ancestors were among the first islanders to settle in Southeast Asia. Since then they have treasured a deep connection with the marine and terrestrial world based on knowledge built up over generations.
Bolondong witnessed enormous change in his lifetime. As a young boy living from the forest and the sea he rarely saw anyone from outside his tribe but through the years a road was built and cemented and others began to settle in their ancestral homeland. Commercial fishing boats arrived and disrupted marine ecosystems. While some Tagbanua people began to assimilate new, modern ways Bolondong and his family held on to their traditional nature-centred worldview.
In the following photographs, Bolondong brings us on an octopus hunt. Before making his catch he stops at different parts of the seabed. “I have to tend to abandoned octopus homes, clean the debris to make them habitable again,” he explains. When he eventually catches an octopus he handles gently and kills it with a bite to the head.
We end up on a small island that Bolondong has cared for since he was a young man. "These are sacred Tagbanua places", he says. "This is where the spirits of our ancestors live."
Tragically, Bolondong passed away on July 17, 2019.