Making and Telling Stories with Indigenous Peoples

A Dumagat storyteller being briefed on using a body camera to capture visuals for her stories. Photo credit: ADB.

Share on:           


Indigenous peoples can better articulate their role in making sense of a project’s environmental and social impacts through participatory storytelling.


About 95% of Metro Manila’s drinking water is sourced from the Angat system or Umiray-Angat-Ipo. Built in the early 1960s, the Angat dam, reservoir and tunnel system conveying water from the Angat reservoir to treatment plants are in many cases, reaching the end of their design lives.

The tunnels, in particular, needed to be rehabilitated to prevent serious disruptions to Metro Manila’s water supply, and to be compliant with structural and seismic requirements. 

The Asian Development Bank and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in June 2020 completed the 6.3-kilometer tunnel 4 and associated structures under the Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project to strengthen water security. Excavation used modern tunnel boring technology that made the process faster and safer.

The Dumagat, one of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines, consider the Angat watershed[1] as part of their approximately 60,000-hectare Kabayunan ancestral domain.[2]

During the project’s preparatory stage, a working area of about a hectare was identified in the Indigenous Peoples Plan to be within the Kabayunan ancestral domain. 

Although the project did not cause physical displacement of any people because tunnel 4 was constructed 200–500 meters underground, the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act states that affecting even a small portion (less than 1%) of the indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain required the Dumagat’s free, prior and informed consent for the project to continue. This is aligned with the principles of meaningful consultation and ascertaining the consent of affected indigenous peoples as set out in ADB’s Safeguard Policy Statement.

Consulting the Dumagat

The free, prior and informed consent process took more than two years of consultations among the MWSS, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the directly affected Dumagat communities at the tunnel inlet in Sitio Ipo—the project site. The process broadened the participation of the indigenous peoples to include other Dumagat in Norzagaray and Doña Remedios Trinidad municipalities which are outside of the Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project but were within the Kabayunan ancestral domain.

The Dumagat were among the affected people consulted for the review and updating of ADB's Safeguard Policy Statement in 2022. The consultations centered around generating lessons on how the Safeguard Policy Statement was implemented, particularly how the gains from the free, prior and informed consent process can be sustained even after the project ends.  

Consulting with indigenous peoples requires culturally appropriate and differentiated approaches that respect their context and recognize that there are long practiced processes that enable indigenous peoples to tell their stories their way. 

Sharing Lessons through Storytelling

With their strong oral tradition, indigenous peoples across Asia and the Pacific traditionally form storytelling circles whenever there is a remembering, retelling or reckoning to make. They tell stories while passing around food or hot drinks, betel nut or stronger spirits to foster camaraderie, ward off the elements, and lose public speaking inhibitions.

Dumagat naturally form circles to tell stories. Photo: ADB

Consultations with the Dumagat for the Safeguard Policy Statement review and update used development communication to ensure that story making and storytelling are collaborative and participatory, and told from the point of view of indigenous peoples using familiar and accessible channels.

ADB fused two development communication methodologies: traditional storytelling—with its oral and visual communication elements using combinations of narration, song, and performance—and video journaling, an innovative communication approach using digital technology.

With the combined methodologies, ADB tapped the indigenous peoples’ local knowledge and lived experiences to make sense of their history and the environmental and social impacts of the project built on their ancestral domain. Using these approaches, ADB also recognized that indigenous peoples can fully articulate their part in understanding and finding solutions to issues that challenge them.

The design of the video journals expanded traditional storytelling outside of the immediate indigenous peoples community. The use of video animated the indigenous peoples’ commentaries, provided a visual complement, and maximized a popular communication medium for their stories to reach a wider audience.

Participatory Story Making and Storytelling

The process, from conceptualizing the video journals to choosing storytellers and stories to validating the edited video journals were part of a series of dialogues among the Dumagat, ADB and government agencies (MWSS and NCIP).

ADB worked with the Dumagat to identify their key stories, ensuring that these were set within the parameters of the Safeguard Policy Review and Update process, particularly the free, prior and informed consent process. They nominated and selected their own storytellers best positioned and with the lived experience to tell the identified stories.

The Dumagat and ADB agreed on the content, video journaling process and plans for public dissemination, with the chosen storytellers each signing consent forms that detailed the agreements. ADB conducted another round of consultations with the Dumagat, MWSS and NCIP to validate the accuracy of the draft edited videos and generate insights on the video journaling process prior to finalization and public showing.

Although storytelling is natural for the Dumagat, ADB went through applied exercises to get the indigenous peoples familiarized with the use of body cameras, and how they can be best maximized to complement their oral accounts. The Dumagat used the body cameras to sing, capture images to emphasize their commentaries, point to significant areas, capture daily modes of living, and demonstrate indigenous practices.

The partnership produced a 10-month collaborative process which delivered numerous communication products, including four video journals comprising a full length piece, and three vignettes, and knowledge products.

These are insights from the participatory storymaking and storytelling process:

  1. Participative storytelling requires more time. With the process treated as a product, ADB staff and the Dumagat invested time to exchange ideas on concept, content, and how to go about capturing images and oral accounts. This facilitated trust-building, increased stake in the process and product, and provided learning moments for all the stakeholders.
  2. In retelling their experiences, storytellers processed their collective history and memory. While discussing the story parameters, the designated storytellers and community members grappled with painful moments in the Dumagat’s history and the impact of these events on their present situation and where they are headed. They also recalled the communities’ internal reckoning during the free, prior and informed consent process—from negotiating for singular, short-term benefits to longer-term provisions that would benefit not just individual families but for the common good of villages. The retelling showed the emancipatory element of participatory storytelling.
  3. The participatory process emphasized the power of their voice. The Dumagat recalled not just the hows and logistics of engaging in the free, prior and informed consent process but also their gains in negotiating and the impacts of the engagement on their journey to self-empowerment. From the original three-story parameters to reflect the free, prior and informed consent process, the Dumagat negotiated for four more stories and storytellers—expanding the number and length of the videos to cover key contexts.
  4. Settling issues of representation. Since there could only be seven Dumagat storytellers designated to expound on the identified stories, the indigenous peoples discussed among themselves who could best narrate specific experiences. They agreed that individual voices will tell the communities’ collective stories, and nominated storytellers who are chieftains and with lived experiences could both articulate and show their issues.
  5. ADB’s role as facilitator and co-producer. Early in the video journaling process, ADB defined its role as a facilitator to ensure the indigenous peoples’ full participation, and as co-producer to put together the stories in a digestible form that can be used for digital platforms and screening events. MWSS and NCIP provided the broader project context and nuances, and assisted in executing the production plan and video dissemination. As there was a lot of footage and commentaries, editing was necessary to ensure that the length was manageable, the story flow understandable for public audiences, and the project context incorporated to complete the picture.

Overall, the process highlights that authentic stories—well told by indigenous peoples who live them—contribute to their self-empowerment and show how communication can be maximized for stakeholder participation.

[1] Located in the Bulacan province in Luzon, Philippines.

[2] Figure is based on the Indigenous Peoples Plan. Recent updates by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples show that the actual figure is 81,566 hectares.

Pinky Serafica
Senior Communications Officer, Department of Communications and Knowledge Management, Asian Development Bank

Pinky Serafica has been a practitioner of development communication and behavior change in international development projects for the last 2 decades.  She specializes in managing strategic communication processes for selected projects across ADB member countries. A former multi-media journalist, she has produced knowledge products on various themes for different sectors.

Bruce Dunn
Director, Safeguards, Office of Safeguards, Asian Development Bank

Bruce Dunn coordinates environmental and social safeguard policy issues for ADB operations. He is an environmental scientist with more than 20 years of experience in environmental impact assessment, natural resource management, and biodiversity conservation. He has worked extensively across Asia and the Pacific, with various development agencies and projects.

Follow Bruce Dunn on

Alan Baird
Principal Urban Development Specialist, Sectors Group, Asian Development Bank

Alan Baird has over 30 years of experience in water supply, wastewater management, drainage, and flood alleviation. He has worked with water service providers in the private and public sectors in project delivery and technical advisory roles. He joined ADB in 2010 and currently supports ADB urban and water sector clients in Southeast Asia. He is a chartered engineer and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

Follow Asian Development Bank (ADB) on
Leave your question or comment in the section below:

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.