The article challenges the assumption that land tenure is contingent on acquiring a land title. It argues that for Indigenous peoples, a land may be delineated, occupied, utilized and collectively owned through the concept of territoriality. Using combined “anarchist anthropology” and political ecology, the article provides ethnographic evidence from among the Tau-Buhid, an Indigenous community from the Mangyan ethnolinguistic group, as a case in point to show that through their everyday relationship with fire and ignition practices, territoriality is reinforced among their communities as a basis of land tenure. Thus, despite the efforts of the Philippine state to phase out all kinds of fire practice on their land, a portion of which is a declared protected area, ignition continues as a way of orchestrating territorial autonomy against state sovereignty in the highlands. Ultimately, through such practices, Indigenous lands have metaphorically transformed into “territories of fire”, a frontier where the state is irrelevant to Indigenous life and where state-control apparatuses are inoperable.

The research is ethnographic. First, it contributes to anthropological reporting in terms of method and practice. Second, it contributes to the literature on land delineation and Indigenous fire practices. It interrogates the legal basis of land delineation vis-a-vis Indigenous customs and traditions within a given territory. Third, it offers insights into the lives of highland dwellers in Mindoro and provides an understanding of the limitation of state control in secluded territories. Finally, the research serves as a foundational work in Philippine Anthropology considering that it contains novel Philippine ethnographic data.

Read the full paper: