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The Mangyans of Mindoro Philippines - History, Culture and Traditions [Philippine Indigenous People]

Mangyan of Mindoro Philippines


Mangyan is the collective name of eight ethnolinguistic groups— Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tau-Buid, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunoo, and Ratagnon —who inhabit the highland region of Mindoro.


Mindoro is the Philippine archipelago’s seventh-largest island, measuring about 10,000 square kilometers. It lies at the northern end of the vast basin of the Sulu Sea, south of Batangas and mainland southern Luzon, and west of the Bicol region. Most parts of the island are mountainous. There are small stretches of flatlands, and the rest are coastal areas. These plains are home to the damuong, the Filipino lowlanders such as the Tagalog, Visayan, and Ilocano migrants. Another group, the Ratagnon, which can be found in a nearby territory of the Hanunoo (also Hanunuo) and are usually grouped with the Mangyan, are considered by anthropologists and linguists as settlers from the island of Cuyo.


The etymology of the term “Mangyan” is unclear. It may have been formed by the prefix mang (“one from a certain place”) and the root word yan (“that place”). Therefore, “Mangyan” may mean “the people from that place.” Lowlanders use the word to refer to any indigenous group residing in Mindoro, including the Ratagnon. Nevertheless, for the indigenous peoples themselves, the word means “people.” They also use it to distinguish themselves from the “foreign” lowland settlers.


For most outsiders, the term “Mangyan” has a derogatory connotation because they associate it with being “primitive,” “aggressive,” or “enslaved.” Worcester (1930, 591-592) wrote that the Mangyan were dirty and unsanitary, and “only slightly more developed than the Negritos.” Conklin (1947) did not like the term “Mangyan,” claiming that it was “confusing, had no scientific value and was a source of conflict.” At present, however, the different indigenous groups of Mindoro claim it as their collective name. The name of their island-wide alliance is HAGIBBAT Mangyan Mindoro, the first word being the acronym for the seven groups: Hanunoo, Alangan, Gubatnon, Iraya, Buhid, Bangon, Tadyawan. Formerly named Samahang Pantribo ng mga Mangyan (SPMM) (Association of Mangyan Groups), it is still called SPMM by some Mangyan.


The Mangyan number 13,899 or 3.67% of the population of Occidental Mindoro (National Statistics 2002) and 19,001 or 2.79% of Oriental Mindoro (National Statistics 2002).


The north Mangyan languages are Alangan, Iraya, and Tadyawan; the South Mangyan languages are Buhid, Hanunoo, Tau-buid Eastern, and Tau-buid Western (Lewis et al. 2014). The Hanunoo have their own language, which belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group. This is called the bagaw Mangyan (Mangyan language) or minangyan. Linguistic studies point out that the Minangyan is one of the divisions of the Meso-Philippine linguistic subgroup. The language of the Buhid, a neighboring Mangyan group, is also considered part of the Hanunoo division.


The Iraya occupy the northwestern part of Mindoro, where one of the country’s highest peaks, Mount Halcon, is located. The word “Iraya” is derived from the prefix i denoting people, and raya, a variation of laya, meaning “upstream, upriver, or upland.” Thus, the meaning of the word is “people from upstream or uplanders.” Historically, however, the Iraya occupied the coastal region in some distant past, until they were pushed further inland by settlers from other places. The word also means “man,” “person,” and “adult.”


The Alangan occupy northwest central Mindoro. While some have chosen to settle at the base of Mount Halcon, others still inhabit the forests of this mountain, which, at a height of 2,586 meters, is the tallest on the island and one of the tallest in the country (Schult 2001). Some Alangan, like those who reside in Basal and Bugayen, reside higher up in the mountains and are therefore more isolated than others. “Alangan” refers to a river flowing down the slopes of Mount Halcon. The name originates from alang or “fallen tree used as a bridge.” An ancestor is believed to have once used an alang to cross a raging river in order to return home. The river has been locally known as Alangan since.


The Tadyawan occupy the northeast and eastern Mindoro municipalities of Naujan, Victoria, Socorro, Pola, Gloria, Pinamalayan, and Bansud.


The Tau-buid—also known as Taubuhid, Tawbuid, Bukid, Bu’id, Buhil, Buhid, and Batangan —are the most numerous of the Mangyan groups; they occupy the central highlands of the island, particularly Mount Baco, 2,488 eters high, and Mount Wood, 2,000 meters high—as well as the areas near major rivers Bongabong, Aglubang-Magsawang Tubig, Pola, Patrick, Lumintao, and Bugsanga. Their main economic activity is slash-and-burn also known as swidden farming. This may explain the derivation of the name “Batangan,” which derives from batang (trunk of a felled tree) and an (place); thus, it refers to a place where felled tree trunks may be found, probably a swidden field.


The Buhid occupy the south central part of Mindoro. Their territory just about equally straddles the eastern and western provinces comprising the island. Local subgroups include the Bayanan and the Saragan. The Bangon are generally identified with the Buhid but they are actually a separate group. In Oriental Mindoro, they live along the Binagaw River and in the mountains of the three municipalities of Bongabong, Bansud, and Gloria. In Occidental Mindoro, they are in Calintaan, San Jose, and Rizal.


The Ratagnon occupy the southernmost tip of the island province, quite close to the coast facing the Sulu Sea. They lie nearest the aquatic route going to Busuanga Island in northernmost Palawan and the Cuyo islands, two places where the language spoken is Cuyunon, which is also the language of the Ratagnon.


Of these groups, the Hanunoo have been the most extensively studied. “Hanunoo,” according to the group’s language called Minangyan, means “genuine, real, or true.” However, the members of this group call themselves Mangyan, and use the terms “Hanunoo Mangyan” or “Mangyan Hanunoo” only when they need to distinguish themselves from the other Mindoro groups.


The Hanunoo Mangyan live in a mountainous area about 800 square kilometers in the southeastern part of the island, mainly in Oriental Mindoro. Their territory falls under the municipal jurisdiction of Mansalay, Bulalacao, and a certain part of San Jose, which is the capital of Occidental Mindoro. Christian lowlanders surround them on the east. To the north lie the Buhid, and to the southwest the Ratagnon. Their Buhid neighbors, who live in the higher hinterland of the island, refer to them as the Mangyan patag (Mangyan of the flatlands).


Despite their proximity to the lowland settlements of the Christians, the Hanunoo Mangyan have succeeded in insulating themselves from lowland influences, and this has helped them preserve their basic culture. As far as the Hanunoo are concerned, human beings can be classified into two categories: Mangyan and non-Mangyan. Thus, the Mangyan are the Hanunoo, Buhid, Ratagnon, and all those who wear the traditional loincloth. It is for this reason that the Hanunoo Mangyan can speak of the Cordillera Ifugao as being Mangyan, too, because their traditional wear is the loincloth (Miyamoto 1975, 14). The term “damuong” is used to refer to all non-Mangyan peoples as well as all outsiders. As used by Hanunoo mothers to hush their crying babies, the term is understood as a bogeyman or threat-object among the Hanunoo. The word kristiyano may be used as a synonym for “damuong” and suggests the negative image the Mangyan have of their Christian neighbors. This was observed by Miyamoto, who asked several old Mangyan if they remembered anthropologist Conklin who conducted fieldwork between 1947 and 1957. They remembered him fondly. One Hanunoo said that Conklin “was not a Christian” because “he was a very kind person”.



History of the Mangyan Tribes in Mindoro


The earliest accounts that mention Mindoro and its people are found in 13th-century Chinese dynastic records. A number of Chinese state documents, particularly those written in the Sung and Ming dynasties, suggest that before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores, commercial trade was flourishing between the inhabitants of Mindoro and Chinese merchants. Objects unearthed on the island such as ceramics, porcelain, large earthenware, beads, and glass objects are evidence of precolonial trade, which contributed to the shaping of an indigenous material culture among the early inhabitants of Mindoro.


Mangyan of Mindoro
Mangyan of Mindoro (National Geographic, 1913, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

The island was a viable and busy trading port, one of many islands regularly visited by Chinese merchants. Chao Ju-Kua’s Chu-fan-chi, written in 1225, mentions the island of Ma-i, believed to be the ancient name of present-day Mindoro. Other names associated with the island include Mait, Minolo, Min-to-lang, Mang-Yan San, and Ka-Ma-Yan. “Mait” is believed to be an old Chinese term meaning “gold.” There are also Chinese references to the term “Mangyan” or that which sounds like the present-day word.


In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers overran the native settlements of Mindoro and reduced the island to a vassalage. Spanish accounts describe the inhabitants of the coasts as a well-dressed people who “wore showy headdresses of many colors turned back over their heads,” and who, more significantly, casually wore gold on their bodies. The conquistadores attacked villages, destroyed settlements, and pillaged the inhabitants of their possessions. The Spaniards exacted heavy tributes, imposed onerous monopolies, and demanded forced service from the subjugated people.


The natives were not completely defenseless or given to passive surrender. There existed native forts, which were surrounded by moats. The local warriors also used metal weapons, a fact which surprised the Spanish forces. Excellent knowledge of metallurgy and martial skills characterized the defenders of Mindoro. But predictably, the technological superiority and firepower of European weaponry carried the day for the marauders. Eventually, the Mangyan retreated to the upland interiors, away from the lowland invaders. Anthropologists observe that unlike the belligerent ethnic groups in Cordillera and Mindanao, the Mangyan generally decline to resort to violence, an attitude that may be the product of their egalitarian social organization. The Mangyan word limu, meaning “fear of strangers, spirits, and violence or confrontation,” reflects the Mangyan norm of nonaggressiveness. Both the Tau-buid and Alangan still assign sentries to warn settlements of incoming strangers; or they cut out trails in the forest with the sole purpose of misleading strangers.


Mangyan couple
Mangyan couple (National Geographic, 1930, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

One factor that could explain the outright hostility of the Spaniards toward the inhabitants of Mindoro was the presence of an old foe: Islam. Preacher-traders from southern Philippines had earlier succeeded in spreading the Islamic faith among a number of Mindoro natives. Spanish chroniclers relating events in Mindoro referred to the people there as the “Moros of Mindoro.” The colonialists imposed the Christian faith and their political will with much harshness and enforced the ways of loyal subjection to the faraway European monarch.


Muslim incursions into Spanish-held territories intensified in the 17th century. For the European colonizers, the encounter with Islam in the Philippines was but a continuation of the centuries-old conflict in Europe and in the “Holy Land.” For the Muslims in the Philippine archipelago, however, the wars with the Spaniards were simply a reaction to European incursion in the islands, where Islamic influence had built up and spread over a long evolutionary period of conversion and commerce. Branded as piratical attacks in some accounts, the Muslim expeditions were mainly responses to Spain’s occupation and control of Muslim territories.


During the Spanish colonial period, tremendous pressure was brought to bear upon the lives of the Mindoro natives, who found themselves the object of contention between two armies fighting for domination. As a result of the Moro-Christian wars, the Mangyan of Mindoro were taken captives, sold as slaves, and sometimes killed without mercy. In 1602, Moro raiders attacked Mindoro and Luzon and took 700 prisoners. Another attack in 1636 resulted in 191 prisoners from Mindoro alone. The island went through a period of depopulation and the deterioration of trade. A malaria epidemic made conditions even worse. For most of the 333 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, the Christian-Muslim wars continued intermittently on the island, with the Mangyan suffering extreme pain and privation.


In the 19th century, the opening of major ports in the other islands to international trade prompted haciendas in these islands to shift to high-earning export crops. Mindoro, however, remained underdeveloped and relatively remote despite the presence of the large San Jose Hacienda, which was operated by the Recollects southwest of Mindoro. In the 1870s, although timber ranked first among its exports—primarily to the Cavite shipyards for the building of galleons—this was in relatively insignificant amounts, as were its exports of abaca, coconut, coffee, cacao, and palay to Batangas.


Its isolation made Mindoro a haven for tulisanes and ladrones (bandits) coming from other parts of the country. Toward the end of Spanish colonization, bandits had control of major Mindoro lands and even raided some towns: Naujan in 1892, Santa Cruz in 1895, and Sablayan in 1896. In Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), 1887, there is a reference to Mindoro as a place of refuge. The novel’s fugitive hero Elias is urged by his sweetheart Salome to escape with her to her homeland of Mindoro.


When the Spanish regime ended, the colonization of the Mangyan continued, and their marginalization with the rest of the other Philippine groups grew apace with the imposition of American colonial rule in the archipelago. American arms came with American anthropology. As with Spanish derogations such as “savage” and “infidels,” the concepts of “pagan,” “minority,” and “non-Christian” entered current usage, referring to tribal communities in the Philippines such as the Mangyan.


It was mainly because of the Mangyan presence that Mindoro was designated as a “special province” by the American colonial authority in 1902. This meant that an American was to remain as Mindoro governor, and Filipinos in the island would not be able to elect a representative to the Philippine Assembly in 1907.


Mangyan with pipe
Mangyan with pipe (Milo A. Paz)

The establishment of free trade between the United States and the Philippines in 1909 encouraged the local production of copra, sugar, and abaca for export to the mainland. In Mindoro, the shy, withdrawn, and hardworking nature of the Mangyan came to the attention of American entrepreneurs who saw their potential as a labor force, particularly for the cash crop economy encouraged by the free trade agreement. American businessmen bought the 22,000-hectare San Jose Hacienda from the Spanish Recoletos in 1910 and transformed it into the country’s most modern sugar plantation, with about 4,000 permanent workers and countless seasonal workers. Nonetheless, it was still copra that was exported in greater numbers.


On 3 July 1905, Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester approved the purchase and lease of a large piece of land to an American company called the Mindoro Lumber and Logging Company. Its 20-year license granted exclusive rights to the timber of a 30-by-16 kilometers area that stretched along the coastline and into the interiors. Thus did Worcester set off a process of economic exploitation that perpetuated the pattern of colonial extraction started by the Spanish government. Worcester’s activities, however, did not go unnoticed. Nationalist writers of the El Renacimiento denounced him in a celebrated editorial, “Aves de Rapina” (Birds of Prey), which gave rise to a libel suit in 1908. The editorial pilloried the American colonial administration, Worcester in particular, for exploiting the tribal peoples of the country in the guise of benevolence.


The racist tribal policies adopted by the Americans abetted and perpetuated the discrimination against non-Christian indigenous groups in the Philippines. The Mangyan were forced to live in reservations called campo de reconcentracion, much like those created for the native American Indians, and relocated to areas far from lowland settlements inhabited mostly by the Tagalog. The 800-hectare reservation in Tigbao, located east of Lake Naujan, affected the Iraya, Alangan, and Tadyawan Mangyan (Helbling and Schult 2004, 100). The American government favored such an isolation since “a people divided cannot effectively press for freedom”.


The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as St. Louis World’s Fair, was America’s opportunity to showcase its colonial possessions and highlight its achievements as a fledgling empire. To this end, 1,100 Filipinos were sent to this fair for display. Among the first batch of 235 Filipinos who left Manila on 11 February 1904 and arrived at St. Louis the next month were five Mangyan. They were reported to be one of “the primitive and exceedingly interesting tribes ... of Malayan and Negrito stock comingled”.


To appease the lowlander elites who had filed complaints of being sidelined and to put into effect Gen Francis Burton Harrison’s Filipinization policy, Filipino Juan Morente Jr. was appointed Mindoro governor in 1914. In 1921, Mindoro became a regular province after the local elite successfully downplayed the social role of the Mangyan, primarily by highlighting the 1918 census, which indicated a twofold increase of the Christian population in Mindoro. This effectively meant a decrease in percentage of the Mangyan population, from 40.9% in 1903 to 28.2%.


During the Japanese occupation, most of the Mangyan who were already residing in the plains retreated to the Alangan Valley. Notable was a group of around 30 Mangyan who, emboldened by other Filipino guerillas, ambushed the Japanese soldiers in the Alangan Valley areas of Eylanglang, Saransuk, Raeg, Bantuen, and Ereb. Forced by the Japanese to provide food, they brought the Japanese poisonous wild yam called nami. However, at war’s end, when the Mangyan returned to their land in the plains, they found that Tagalog and Ilocano immigrants had taken it over.


The cumulative effect of centuries of exploitation is being felt to this day. Wily lowlanders time and again have tricked the Mangyan into dubious debts, barters, and labor contracts, and often succeed in displacing the natives from their ancestral domain with the use of spurious land titles. It is no wonder that the Mangyan have become only too wary of the damuong—the non-Mangyan, the transgressor. Displaced and dislocated, the various Mangyan groups sought peace and freedom from harassment in the deeper and higher parts of the mountainous interior of Mindoro, but their life has continued to be precarious. Natural disasters, inclement weather, limited food supplies, and difficulties in taming the wild and rugged land, have exacerbated their subsistence level of life. Illiteracy has prevented them from coping with the challenge posed by mainstream society in terms of legal issues concerning land as well as development schemes that threaten their culture and ecosystem, and therefore their survival as a people.


The process of cultural disintegration and ethnic extinction appears to be irreversible, if proper intervention is not effected soon. Counterinsurgency campaigns, economic exploitation of Mindoro’s natural resources, land grabbing and speculation, and the more gradual but potentially erosive influx of modernization and assimilation into lowland cultures are constant threats to the survival of the Mangyan and their centuries-old folkways.


Characteristically, the Mangyan avoid trouble at all costs, sometimes losing territory they have long occupied. In the process, they continue to face instability in their living conditions and economic dislocation. Sadly, this process of dislocation and dispossession continues to the present. After Christian settlers came the loggers, and then the mining corporations. Today the Mangyan find themselves with increasingly less space in which to conduct their age-old subsistence activities. In 1983, at the height of martial law and Marcos cronyism, 200 Mangyan families were forced out of their own land by armed men hired by a match-manufacturing company with the license to cut trees on a 6,500-hectare land in Puerto Galera and San Teodoro. All in all, about 5,000 Mangyan were affected by its logging operations. In October 1987, strong protests by the Mangyan, together with other concerned groups, achieved the cancellation of the license of another logging company. The company’s operation would have affected not only 30,000 Mangyan and their land but also a large portion of the island’s remaining flora and fauna, including those in the Tamaraw Wild Life Reservation and the Harrison Park.


Since the turn of the present century, the Mangyan population has been caught in the crossfire between warring factions in the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. As a result of nine battalions of soldiers being deployed in the island, the Mangyan, along with thousands others, fled to nearby provinces off the island or were transferred to military hamlets within Mindoro.



Mangyan People Way of Life


The Mangyan’s subsistence economy used to center on shifting cultivation, complemented by hunting and gathering. During the dry season, the men hunted monkeys, deer, tamaraw, and especially, wild pigs; during the rainy season, they used traps. They gathered honey and beeswax while the women gathered root crops. These were done in very controlled numbers and in groups because of their fear of the labang (animal or evil spirits), which guard the forests. Hunting and gathering, however, has drastically declined because of the overexploitation of forest resources, particularly by logging concessions for the export of timber. The Mangyan have to travel long distances to reach the forests, which have either receded, shrunk, or disappeared; and animals have become scarce if not extinct.


Mangyan Hanunuo traditional weaver
Hanunuo traditional weaver, 2017 (Mangyan Heritage Center)


Mangyan grape farmer
Mangyan grape farmer, 2011 (Plan International)

Mangyan woman Alangan abayen maker
Alangan abayen maker, 2016 (Mangyan Heritage Center)

The Hanunoo’s thorough knowledge of their flora makes for a Mangyan farming system that is ecologically sound. They are able to distinguish between 1,200 varieties of plants for which they have some 1,600 indigenous names. More than 90% of these plants are used as food and medicine, and for ritualistic and technological use. They have about 400 varieties of plants, which they grow in their tamnan.Structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss has used the Hanunoo’s relationship to their natural world and the numerous specific terms that they use to describe their flora and fauna as empirical proof that “richness of abstract words is not a monopoly of civilized languages”.


The Mangyan’s practice of swidden farming also known as shifting slash-and-burn depended on the availability of cultivable space, the vagaries of climate and environment, and external pressures such as forced displacement and resettlement. However, government restrictions on the once-widespread practice of swidden farming have led the Mangyan to employ intensive cultivation of their farms located on mountainsides and other cleared land. Increasingly, a number of Mangyan are shifting from purely subsistence production to partial cultivation of cash crops, particularly maize. The technological shift to plow and carabao has also introduced the Mangyan to the market economy, new concepts of landholding, and a different set of socioeconomic relations with lowland neighbors, particularly the Tagalog and Visayan settlers. They also have diverse forms of economic exchanges with neighboring or distant Mangyan groups, using Filipino as their lingua franca.


The traditional practitioners of swidden farming are typified by the Batangan also known as Tau-buid group, whose very name—“where felled tree trunks may be found”—is literally derived from the nature of their main economic activity. In their kaingin, the Batangan produce upland rice, camote, cassava, taro, and other crops. Other economic activities are hunting, fishing, and trapping. Weaving seems to be unknown since the Batangan still use bark for their clothing. One important economic practice of the Batangan has to do with material inheritance. The property of the Batangan consists of pigs, plates, plants such as cassava and banana, agricultural and popular medical knowledge, and amurit (the power to punish). Material properties are equally imparted to the children, while traditional knowledge is inherited by all the male children. The title of priest, which is fuunan, as well as the heirloom plates, is passed down from father to son.


Among the Tau-buid or Batangan, there are two types of households: the individual household, which is occupied by one nuclear family, and the compound household, which is occupied by several families. All residents in the compound household are related to one another through blood or marriage. As an economic unit, the household distributes land to its members for swidden cultivation. Cutting down trees is done by the adult male, with the help of those who live in the group.


However, this economic unit is unstable because the Tau-buid practice bilocal residence. After the first year of marriage, the couple stays with the wife’s family until her parents die. Today, this practice is no longer popular, and the Batangan are slowly becoming a more stable corporate group.


The Alangan, particularly those in Naujan and Baco municipalities, still depend on swidden agriculture, which has several stages. Sites are selected from December to January. A place where somebody has died is avoided, for it is believed that those who attempt to cultivate it will suffer the same fate. A bamboo shaft is inserted into the chosen site. If the shaft is filled with soil when it is pulled out, the land is good for planting. Cutting and trimming of vegetation are done from January to March. The women do the mag-aagay, the clearing of plants, bushes, and small trees. The men do the agpamukan, the chopping down of trees, and the agsalay, the trimming of branches off felled trees to hasten the drying process. When the felled trees have dried, agparaot or burning is done from March to May. Planting and cultivation is done between May and October. The soil is broken up with implements called bakal or balawang, made from trunks of such hardwood as bunglas (Tristania decorticata or malabayabas), badbad (Aralia or galamai-amo), and banutun (yakal). The usual crops are rice, sweet potato, cassava, corn, banana, tangulan (purple yam or ubi), and taro such as butig and galyang. Harvesting is done by the women between October and November. The aggusad (ridding the field of the remaining rice stalks) is done between November and December. The same area is not used for five to ten years to allow the soil to regenerate and recover its fertility.


The Iraya depend on slash-and-burn agriculture and thus practice the saknungan, in which neighbors help each other to work in the fields. The yield is partitioned after harvest. However, they are also traditionally seminomadic, mainly because they have been constantly displaced from their land by lowlanders.


Where forests have been replaced by pastureland for cattle breeding, the Mangyan, such as the Buhid of Fay Valley, have hired themselves out as wage-earning cattle hands under exploitative conditions. On the other hand, some enterprising Mangyan have resorted to private landholding and buying off patches of iyab (swidden fields) from debt-ridden fellow Mangyan.



Mangyan Political and Sociological System


There are no rigid political structures or institutions for the Mangyan groups. Most, however, recognize at least one leader who has both magical and religious powers. Leadership most often resides in the kuyay or gurangan (community elders), who are knowledgeable in the talaghusay, tahinan, or tanungan (customary laws), or the balyanan or fanlahi (shaman and ritual performer), who leads the celebration of an agricultural rite.


Mangyan chieftain
Mangyan chieftain, 1990 (CCP Collections)

The Buhid Mangyan live under the guidance of a fangayatan or gurangan tahitan, who is the eldest in the community. He is also referred to as hatiwalaan or hatulan. Guided by customary law, he intervenes between warring parties and at times mediates between the Buhid Mangyan and their Christian neighbors. The fangayatan is an elderly male adult chosen on the basis of the following credentials: his lineage, consisting of his father, grandfather, and forebears being also fangayatan; his knowledge of Tagalog and Ilocano, which are both the languages of their lowland neighbors; and his knowledge of the traditional Buhid script written on bamboo. He is also a shaman who performs the ritual of planting the first rice seeds. He is likewise the keeper of the ritual stones, which are indispensable paraphernalia for his office.


The Alangan Mangyan’s equivalent of the hatiwalaan is the kuyay. He is an adult male whose duties are to keep peace and order in the community and to lead the celebration of planting and harvesting as the community’s ritual performer.


Among the Batangan Mangyan, the tanunan is looked up to as a leader who possesses magical and religious functions. He has custody of the ritual plate used for curing afflicted persons, which is done by beating on a plate. The Batangan households are collectively established to form neighborhoods which can be regarded as hamlets. In some of these hamlets, some households are partitioned into two physical structures—one for the parents, and the other for the married son or daughter. There is no titular head for each village, but there is a caretaker called danaama, who parcels out available land for clearing to each household, depending on the number of families in each one. The danaama’s role has become increasingly important politically, in view of the fact that Christian settlers have been encroaching on Batangan land, imposing their laws and their land titles, even as they help themselves to the land’s natural resources.


Qualifications for the danaama include age, good personality (e.g., kind, thoughtful, brave), and intelligence. Usually, the oldest male in the settlement becomes the danaama if he possesses these qualities. Other qualifications are the ability to speak Tagalog and financial sufficiency. The latter is especially important, as the danaama is expected to pay off the debts of his insolvent village members.


Leadership among the Iraya Mangyan was provided traditionally by the community elders or kuyay. Some villages have adopted the pattern of governance of organized towns where there is a village mayor and a teniente (an assistant). In some instances, a hukom (judge) may be designated to hear the complaints of the villagers. In recent years, the barangay system, which replaced the barrio as a political unit in the Philippines, has been adopted. The barangay captain may act on the following wrongdoings: theft, insult, arson, adultery, murder, elopement, and rape. In time past, a severe form of punishment was pangaw, in which the wrongdoer’s feet are clamped with a wooden device while he is flogged several times.


There is no formal system of leadership in the Hanunoo society. Nevertheless, it is often the gurangan who becomes the leader and indigenous healer or talaghusay. He or she is often approached for advice. However, the elder is not granted any special privilege, except for food and beads that may be given as a result of the process of healing or case resolution. Presently, because of the integration of the Mangyan with the political structure of the Philippines, a barangay captain and councilors are chosen.


Hanunoo Mangyan society is characterized as “bilateral and leaderless” and “egalitarian,” since there are no formally recognized titled leaders, even of a jural sort. There are also no chiefs or servants. However, the eldest kin of any group, smith, or weaver is afforded respect as a person of authority or influence. In particular, the panudlakan (skilled medium), who specializes in specific tasks, is looked up to as an “institutionalized or formal magico-religious leader” (Miyamoto 1978).


Mangyan community meeting
Mangyan community meeting, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Peace and order is maintained because the Mangyan are a generally peaceful people. The concepts of incarceration and criminality are not found in their custom law. Every wrongdoing can be settled peacefully among members of the community, especially as mediated by the elders. Reconciliation between the conflicting parties is the aim of discussions arising from a dispute. The imposition of small fines is practiced and well understood. In cases of divorce, a friend or kin may offer to slaughter a pig or prepare a good meal to bring the two parties back into good terms and to continue living together as man and wife. In serious cases of theft or adultery, the offenders or suspects may be subjected to trial by ordeal. They are made to immerse their hands in boiling water to pick up an object; scalding is evidence of guilt. Society puts credence in this process; the guilty person is fined, sometimes asked to give a feast, which is the way to put an end to ill feelings. This judicial method is called kasaba, and is quite effective in settling disputes within the family, among kin, and between nonrelatives. Among the Hanunoo, the individual members of a community practice the custom of not eating their newly harvested rice before the whole community has started to do so. Thus, the community eats together, and this practice—more like a celebration of a communal feast—has a strong effect in sustaining common ideals, values, and interests, and in suppressing individualistic self-interest.


Among the Ratagnon, a community leader called tanungan is vested with authority to decide family cases, in close consultation with other elders.


With the encroachment of the outside world into their lifeway, the Mangyan have had to assert their rights, especially to their land, using the modes of political expression that the government listens to. In 1984, two years before Marcos’s rule ended, a coal mining company was granted a concession for 15,000 hectares of land in Bulalacao. This would have displaced about 3,000 to 5,000 Hanunoo Mangyan who were residing on one third of the land. Shortly after Corazon Aquino’s victory in the 1986 presidential election, 3,500 Mangyan staged a protest rally at the mine site. A few months later, in August 1986, they formed their first intertribal Mangyan organization, which they called Samahan Pantribu ng mga MangReligious Beliefs and Practicesyan sa Mindoro. In December 1986, just before the year’s end, 5,000 Mangyan marched in protest from Bansud to Pinamalayan, a distance of 32 kilometers. In the 1990s, the Mangyan founded Kapulungang Para sa Lupaing Ninuno (KPLN or Assembly for Ancestral Land) and during President Fidel Ramos’s visit, presented him with a petition for the implementation of the Mangyan Ancestral Domain Act of 1996, which would finally recognize their right of ownership to their land and their right to disallow government or private corporations’ use of it. Presently, a non-government organization, the Mangyan Heritage Center, established in 1999 by Quint Fansler, Antoon Postma, and Father Ewald Dinter SVD, along with the Mangyan Mission Inc., promotes awareness of all indigenous groups in Mindoro and are particularly concerned with issues regarding land.



Social Organization and Customs of the Mangyan People


Mangyan societies follow various customs and practices related to courtship, marriage, child rearing, and death. There is the fundamental belief that the harmony and well-being of all the members of a community would be ensured if these customs and practices are dutifully followed. Mangyan society is generally based on the nuclear family or single household. In some groups like the Tau-buid or Batangan, households may be a compound or composed of two or more married couples or families. Among the Hanunoo, while it is ideal for a newly married couple to live in their own house, newlyweds may live temporarily with their in-laws, thus making for an extended family.


Mangyan mother and child smiling at door
Mangyan mother and child (SIL International)


Students learning surat Mangyan
Students learning surat Mangyan, Panaytayan, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro (Renato S. Rastrollo, National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

Generally, courtship requires that a young man win the approval of both the maiden and her family. He may be required to serenade her with songs and poetry, after which he is expected to render his services on the swidden farm owned by the maiden’s family or throw a grand feast for his prospective in-laws and bride. A young man must also be prepared to pay for the bride-price or to offer presents to the bride’s family. These presents may be in the form of food, domesticated animals, or jewelry. A young, unmarried male must leave the settlement for some time in search of a bride. He must travel far to look for an unmarried young woman for his bride because the women who live in his settlement are usually his kinfolk.


Child marriages are practiced in some Mangyan groups as well as marriages arranged by the families of a young man and a young woman. The institution of the go-between is found in some of the groups. This person, who helps work out acceptable arrangements between the families of the bride and the groom, is usually an elderly male kin of the groom.


Among the Iraya Mangyan, the marriage ceremony is officiated by an old member of the village. The elder person joins the hands of the couple in prayer, begging Apo Iraya to bless the couple with children, health, and long life. Apo Iraya was probably the first pioneer to lead the first settlers or ancestors of the Iraya to their present upland domain. In other Iraya villages, the newlyweds are asked to lie down on a mat to ensure for themselves a fruitful marriage. After the ceremony, they are not allowed to sleep together for the first eight days.


Among the Hanunoo, the first step to marriage is layis, the courtship, which takes place in the woman’s house. The boy usually takes his friends along, bringing with them musical instruments and white blankets called tumon. At night, when they reach the home of the girl, they cover themselves with the blanket and approach the house quietly. Then they suddenly start playing their musical instruments. The boy tries to win the girl’s affection by singing an ambahan (lyric poem) in a pahagot (disguised voice). All the while his head is covered with the blanket, making it impossible for the girl to guess his identity. If the girl does not refuse the serenade, she allows the boy to enter her home. The courting process is repeated many times. When the boy and girl decide to get married, the girl introduces him to her parents. The boy stays in their home to render bride service on their swidden farm, for a period called aguman. Then the boy introduces his bride-to-be to his parents, a practice called tabunan (accompanying). Then follows the harampanan, literally “conversation.” An elderly kin acts as go-between for both families in setting the date for the harampanan. On the agreed date, the boy’s father prepares rice and pig for the feast, and goes with wife and son to the house of the girl’s parents. Boy and girl sit and wait for the arrangements to be finished. If the parents of both sides agree to the marriage, the rice and pig are cooked and everyone celebrates. If the parents disagree, the couple may elope.


Marriage between close relatives is prohibited and is punished with fines. The newlywed couple stays with the bride’s family, following the matrilocal system. Divorce is recognized and when this occurs, the welfare of the children is considered. Monogamy is the general rule, but polygyny and polyandry are allowed, with the consent of the first spouse. Some Mangyan, male and female alike, have married up to five times.


There is close cooperation between husband and wife, but women appear to be overworked and emaciated due to early marriage. Infant mortality is high, and a number of mothers die in giving birth to stillborn babies.


Among the Batangan, filial respect and a kind of seniority system are observed, which are both practiced in most culture groups in the country. The father exercises overall authority and responsibilities. The parents, who are called fufuina (mother) and fufuama (father), as well as the old folks, are given due respect by the younger members of the family. It is believed that violation of this filial duty would lead the offender to a life of unhappiness.


Respect for the elders is manifested in various ways, such as in the use of the “functional intermediary.” When children wish to get a favor from either parent, they appeal through the other parent. This is the rule even in public conduct. Thus, when the Mangyan want to relate to someone important, they do so through a relative or representative. This seniority, which entails respect, deference, tactfulness, and esteem, serves to stabilize and harmonize Batangan society.


In the Ratagnon community, similar practices of courtship, marriage, and child rearing are observed. Marriage is not difficult to attain but passes through the stages of courtship and bride service. Some bride-price is paid, and a costly feast may at times be held to highlight the union of two people. Ratagnon parents never whip their children, who nevertheless may be severely scolded. Food is scrupulously shared among the children.


Among the Bangon, the pregnant woman follows certain taboos. If she eats food that has been buried in a landslide, she may go into premature labor. Either one of the couple sitting at the door will make childbirth difficult. The couple must face one another when they go to sleep. When the baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are hung from the tree if it is a boy so that he will be an expert at climbing trees; if a girl, the umbilical cord and placenta are buried so that she will know how to plant and grow kamote (sweet potato). Until they are named, the male infant is called Hag-ama and the female, Hag-ina. When the mother takes her first bath on the fifth day, she takes a torch with her to keep evil spirits away. When the baby turns one year old, his or her feet are dipped in the sea, and a prayer is said for his or her well-being.


The Mangyan observe elaborate rituals related to death and burial The Hanunoo Mangyan believe that the karadwa (soul) of the dead will not rest in peace unless the proper rituals are performed and are strictly followed according to tradition. The simplest details, such as the position of the corpse as it lies on a mat, the rules governing a wake, the order of the participants who march in the funeral procession, or the ritual objects that are hung on the fence of the grave are some of the conditions that must be followed to ensure the eternal repose of the person’s soul. If any detail of the rituals are altered by mistake or intentionally violated, a great misfortune will occur. Another belief is that evil spirits will join the mourners and eat their flesh if the rituals are not strictly followed or violated.


The Bangon follow death and burial rules and taboos as well. Visitors are forbidden in the grieving family’s home for the first five days. Anyone who does go in cannot leave the house in the next five days. If they must, they can do so only after a halad (ritual offering) of a chicken. Five days after the burial of the dead, food is offered to its soul. The people who carry the dead to its grave cannot leave their house nor communicate with others in the next five days unless they make a halad. Ten days after the burial, everyone concerned joins in the hanuludan celebration, to which all the relatives contribute chicken, pig, and rice for the feast. In the evening they hold the daniw,during which they pray for protection against evil spirits and for the soul of the dead to rest in peace. On the first death anniversary, a hanuludan is held again.


The younger generation Mangyan have adapted more each year to the damuong or lowland culture. Some families may have a cellphone for each child of school age and mp3 players for their older children. The Mangyan that they speak has a mixture of Tagalog as a result of their schooling and their exposure to mass media. Certainly they do not wear the bahag (loincloth) or the ramit (skirt) anymore, except when they wear it as a costume.



Religious Beliefs and Practices


The Hanunoo Mangyan believe in the Mahal na Makaako, who gave life to all human beings merely by gazing at them. They believe that the universe, called sinukuban (“that which is covered”) or kalibutan (“the whole surrounding”) has a globular shape like a coconut. All beings, visible or invisible, live in this space. The stratum of the earth is called the usa ka daga. The daga (land) is surrounded by a border area which is dagat (sea). Beyond the dagat is the katapusan (the edge of the universe), covered with thick woods and rocks. Nothing lies beyond it.


Alangan Mangyan during agpamago, a thanksgiving ritual for fruitful harvest
Alangan Mangyan during agpamago, a thanksgiving ritual for fruitful harvest (Mangyan Heritage Center)

The Bangon call their supreme being Ahulutok, who also created life with his gaze. He created Lunggong Lutok to look after the first man and woman, Yabagi and Tagurabas. Because they had no children together, Yabagi then married Tagufafon, with whom he had five children: Kabaladaw, Faglangilan, Fagtangyan, Mandifayon, and Nagbangon. And this is how the human race began.


The Iraya believe that they all descended from the great hunter Aletawu and his wife Diyaga, both of whom were created by Apo Iraya (Baes 1987, 230). For the Alangan, kubat (world) was also a forest consisting of jungles, rivers, valleys, and mountains (Schult 2001, 153). For the Hanunoo Mangyan, the world is made up of people (both relatives and friends), kalag (souls) of their dead relatives, the good spirits, and the labang. The Hanunoo confer great respect on their departed relatives. The latter’s souls are often called upon for help in times of illness or for a bountiful harvest. Occasionally, offerings are prepared for them. In the panludan, the bones of a relative, exhumed a year after burial and after harvest season, are placed in the house and offered food. After one week, the whole community is invited to a ritual celebration that includes feasting, ambahan, playing of musical instruments, and dancing that lasts for two to three days. The hosts are expected to slaughter as many number of cattle and pigs needed in order to feed all the guests. The bones are weighed and, if found to be lighter, would mean that the spirit is satisfied; the bones can then be transferred to the family burial cave, in the company of other relatives’ remains.


The spirits can be found in identified places or things. The apu dandum live in the water; the apu daga, in the soil. When passing through a place, the Mangyan ask for the spirits’ leave or give offerings to avoid the spirits’ anger. Other spirits include the daniw, which resides in the stone cared for by the indigenous healer. The healer calls on this spirit to cure whoever is afflicted. Binayi is a sacred female spirit, caretaker of the kalag paray (rice spirits). She is married to the spirit Balungabong, who is aided by 12 fierce dogs. Erring souls are chased by these dogs and are eventually drowned in a cauldron of boiling water.


Great importance is given to the ritual performance of the first rice seed planting in most Mangyan groups because of the significance of rice in their livelihood, diet, and spiritual beliefs. The kalag paray must be appeased to ensure a bountiful harvest. It is for this reason that specific rituals are conducted in every phase of rice cultivation. The panudlak consists of the rite of first rice planting, the rite of rice planting itself, and the rites of harvesting. Harvest rituals, in turn, consist of the magbugkos (binding rice stalks), and the pamag-uhan, which follows the harvest.


The labang, which live at the edge of the world, can take on animal and human forms before killing and eating their victims. They are believed to roam the areas they used to frequent during their mortal existence until they move on to dwell in Binayi’s garden, where all spirits rest.


Other human beings figure in the Mangyan’s worldview. In general, lowlanders are seen as outside the circle of relatives and friends; therefore, they can be labang damuong or evil spirits in the form of the lowlander. The Mangyan also greatly fear people who practice amurit and panhin (black magic), victims of which become gravely ill or even die.


Tau-buid or Batangan cosmogony is less clear. They believe in four deities, who are all naked. Two come from the sun and are male; two come from the upper part of the river and are female. They are believed to be childless (Kikuchi 1984, 7). The paragayan or diolang plates play an important role in their religious practices. These plates are owned by only a few families and are considered heirlooms. They are essential in summoning the deities to all religious and curing rituals.


Among the Alangan, sick individuals are cured by the act of slaughtering a pig in a ritual called agpansula beyek. The balaonan (shaman) performs the balaon (ritual for curing the sick) by asking the kamuruan (good spirits) for help in driving away the tampalasen (evil spirits).


I-Witness: ‘Unearthed,' a documentary by Kara David | Full episode (with English subtitles)

Aired (April 1, 2017): In Mansalay, Mindoro Oriental, the Hanunuo Mangyans are trying to keep alive a ritual which they perform for the deceased—a term they refer to as "pangutkutan." Part of the ritual is the digging of the dead's remains, clothing it in their traditional garments and offered a feast as if it's still living. The Hanunuo Mangyans also perform their traditional dance "taruk" while carrying the remains of their ancestor, before being transferred to a cave which they believe as sacred.



Mangyan Dwellings, House Construction and Community


The Mangyan are swidden agriculturists or shifting cultivators, who live together in small or large settlements. The families that form these settlements are usually kinfolk related by blood or marriage ties.


Mangyan houses
Mangyan houses, 1990 (CCP Collections)


The Iraya Mangyan live in settlements called guraan which have 10 houses each. A place where there are established houses is called tingyawan, and neighbors are called manganaon. These settlements are not permanent and are abandoned during the summer, months after the harvest when they hunt inside the forest or reside near the riverbanks where they wait for the next rainy season. The temporary shelters are made of leaves and tree branches, like the sinarekked (lean-to) of the Agta. When death occurs in the settlement, it is abandoned for another site.


Hanunoo settlements are located quite a distance from each other, which nonetheless does not discourage the Hanunoo from visiting each other’s settlements. These settlements may be divided into four types, depending on the number of families, houses, and storage huts. These are: the smallest settlement, with one house with two storage huts; a simple settlement, with two houses, two storage huts, and one extended family; a complex settlement, with three houses, at least three storage huts, inhabited by one extended family and at least one other nuclear family; and a compound settlement, usually with more than 10 houses, separated into two distinct clusters inhabited by several families and at least one extended family. Most settlements are built on steep mountain slopes with the swidden fields nearby. A settlement is referred to by the accepted name of the nearest prominent geographical feature, often a spring or stream.


Hanunoo houses are sturdy, walled, four-cornered structures raised some meters above the ground on wooden and bamboo posts, floored with bamboo, hip-roofed with cogon, with two doors and windows. The design of the Mangyan house and community up to the present indicates their disposition toward foreigners or invaders. The doorway and sakbawan (ladder) of the Mangyan balay lakoy (big house) allow entry to only one person at a time.


The house has no partitions but has a cooking area called dapugan in one corner. Often it also has a spacious veranda, where people sit and exchange stories while making handicraft. The house is securely propped against strong typhoon winds. Mangyan children may have their own huts to sleep in when they are a bit older. Called balay daraga (young maiden’s house) or balay lalaki (young man’s house), these are built near the parents’ house. Storage huts, which are granaries, are smaller than the house, have no verandas, and stand on one, two, or four posts. Treehouses, where present, are used only as rice granaries.


A house can be built wherever the earth is flat and the place is not considered taboo. An adult male usually chooses the spot for constructing a house, usually near the swidden field. First, he clears the area by cutting down the trees and the grass. Then he places the lagban, a square frame of logs, for the flooring, upon the site. In the center of the lagban, he puts five or seven corn grains or rice seeds. The numbers five and seven are important in Hanunoo agricultural rites. If a mistake is made with the number of grains, something unfortunate will visit him or his family. Then he utters a prayer. Next morning, he goes to the site to see if the grains are complete. A lost grain must be replaced, and the invocation, repeated. This is done until he finds the number of grains still intact upon inspection. He then proceeds to construct the house, together with other males. If the house belongs to an unmarried person, it is shameful to build a fireplace inside. In some Hanunoo settlements, it is forbidden to construct more than one fireplace inside a house because the two hearths are compared to the eyes of the labang.


Among the Tau-buid or Batangan Mangyan, the house has two levels. The lower level, which may be on stilts some centimeters above the ground, has an entrance with a notched log as means of access. This is also the cooking area. The upper level serves as a reception area and as sleeping quarters. The beams of the house serve as storage for tubers and unripe banana. There are no other partitions in the house. The roof and walls may be of a tree bark or thatch, and the flooring of split bamboo. The whole structure appears to be low slung and in a squatting position. A log is kept burning day and night to keep the family warm and to be always ready for cooking or roasting food.


The paykamalayan (house) of the Alangan is a spacious dwelling for a few families who live together. The families are related to one another by marriage or blood. The Alangan balay lakoy has different levels, each occupied by a single family. The trees balagayan, lauan-puti, and tangili provide the materials for the roof, walls, and floor of this elevated house which measures about 9-by-5 square meters. Trunks of lauan-puti, tangili, anagan, anuling, bangkal, bulala, butur, do-a, kamagong, kolop, malakape, and magurilao are used for posts and roof beams.


The house has minimal organizational needs. The kuyay is in charge of preserving the rice seeds for the next planting season. Each family contributes to this stock of seeds. Aside from the economic function, the kuyay intervenes or mediates in the settlement of disputes among the communal members of the big house. Whenever any family member gets married, the pagkamalayan is extended with a structure built at another level.


The Ratagnon village is not formally developed, and settlements of four to five houses each are located some distance away from the others. The Ratagnon house is made of wood and bamboo, roofed with nipa leaves, and raised from the ground on posts or stilts. Inside the house are arranged the essentials of daily living: a fireplace, pots, a bench or two, beddings, and mats. There may be musical instruments hanging from the ceiling or sticking out of walls. There may be a handloom in one corner, with a supply of rolls of cotton, spindle, and thread. The rafters serve as storage space for rice grains carefully packed in bags, to be used for the next planting season. Light comes from burning wrapped resin, a bundle coiled with leaves, although in many places close to town or village stores, this has been replaced with kerosene lamps.


In recent times, government workers and religious missionaries have tried to compel the Mangyan to live closer to one another in one defined center for easier administration and Christianization.



Mangyan Handicrafts and Arts


The Hanunoo Mangyan have preserved a great part of their beliefs and culture despite the onslaught of the lowland culture brought by the lowland traders, religious missionaries, private organizations, and government workers. Perhaps this is the direct result of their retreat to the mountains caused by the migrants’ appropriation of their ancestral lands.


handicrafts Various woven crafts of the Hanunuo Mangyan
Various woven crafts of the Hanunuo Mangyan, Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, 2004 (CCP Collections)


Rutay Mangyan, their way of dressing, distinguishes the Hanunoo from other indigenous groups as well as from the lowlanders (Padilla 1991). The male uses a ba-ag (G-string) for the lower part, and the sleeved balukas, which reaches the navel, for the upper part. The females use the ramit, and they have two kinds of covering for the upper part of the body—the sleeved lambong and the sleeveless subon. These articles of clothing are made from cotton, which they plant and color with an indigo dye from the plant named tagom. They are woven by the women with a backstrap loom and are normally embroidered with red and white crosslike designs called pakudos. The pakudos motif may also be explained by the sacred number four and the mandala symbol often seen in Southeast Asian art.


Hanunoo men and women wear the hagkus, twilled rattan belt with a pocket. Around their waist, women wear the hulon, a belt made from the nito. They wear their hair long and sometimes use a headband made of beads or buri and nito. Hanunoo Mangyan of all ages and gender are fond of wearing necklaces and bracelets made from beads. These beads are used not only for decoration but also for magical, religious, and judiciary purposes. They are used as adornments by lovers, in curing a sick person (white beads only), in rituals presided over by the pandaniwan, and for paying fines, the quantity depending on the severity of a wrongdoing.


Among the Iraya, males wearbahag fashioned from tree bark, the kaitong (belt), and the talawak (headband). The females wear the tapis or skirtlike covering made from bark, the lingob (belt), and the sagpan or pamanpan to cover the breast. They wear kudyasan (necklaces) made from tigbi seeds and panalingnaw (earrings).


Mangyan woman weaver weaving cloth
Mangyan weaver, Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, 2004 (CCP Collections)

Some Ratagnon males still wear the traditional loincloth, and the women wear a wraparound cotton cloth from the waistline to the knees. They weave a breast covering from nito or vine. The males wear a jacket with simple embroidery during gala festivities and carry flint, tinder, and other paraphernalia for making fire. They also carry betel chew and its ingredients in bamboo containers. Strings of beads or copper wire may adorn their necks. Both men and women wear coils of red-dyed rattan at the waistline.


Among the Hanunoo, men forge and repair blades for knives, axes, bolo or long knife, spears, and other bladed instruments.Women traditionally spin, dye, and weave cotton cloth for clothing and blankets. Tailoring and the embroidery of garments is usually women’s work, while men carve the handles and scabbards. Woven basketry is mainly women’s work, but sewn goods, twisted cordage, and other goods are crafted by both sexes.


Basket making is well developed among the northern Iraya and southern Hanunoo groups. The Iraya have the hexagonal household basket, which is always made in small sizes, from 18 to 20 centimeters in diameter. The materials are soft, using narrow strips of the buri palm leaf which are then overlaid with nito strips. Another Iraya basket is the open grain basket made from bamboo strips, which are first blackened and dried. Variations in the weaving process produce the many designs of the basket.


The Hanunoo baskets are small, fine, and leatherlike in texture. Various designs such as the pakudos or cross pattern are created with split nito or red-dyed buri laid over strips of buri. The base of the basket is square but the mouth is round. Other types of Hanunoo basketry include purses and betel nut carriers, which come in round, polygonal, and other shapes. The covers fit snugly on the containers. Palm leaf art consists of mats made of buri and piyusopusu, heart-shaped rice pouches.


bamboo tube with surat Mangyan Postma Bamboo Artifacts
Luka, a bamboo tube with surat Mangyan Postma Bamboo Artifacts Collection (Photo courtesy of Mangyan Heritage Center)


Containers of the betel chew or its ingredients are made of materials abundant in the area. Bunga (nuts from the areca palm) are usually kept in open containers such as the kamam’an (basket) or bay’ung (a basket with carrying strap). The ingredients of the betel chew that are carried in such baskets are the litlit (leaf of betel pepper vine), bunga, apug (slaked or saturated lime) made of powdered arapugun (mollusk shells), and tabaku (tobacco leaf) that is mainly grown for betel use. There are a number of apug containers. The luka is made of two bamboo tubes, the shorter serving as lid. The kiling variety of bamboo is preferred. The binalakwas or payungan is like the luka, but its lid is made of buri. The tinangkupan kiling is also a bamboo tube container, both ends of which are plugged tightly by a piece of wood. These bamboo containers are usually adorned with ambahan inscriptions. The tinangkupan sungay is fashioned from carabao horn, the kalumaka from young coconut shell, the tabayag from gourd, and the kagat alimangu from the claw of a large alimangu or crab.


The making of kwako (clay pipe) by the Bangon and Tau-Buid has a ritual character to it: It must be done in all seriousness, and laughing is not allowed. When the clay bowl has been shaped, it may be ornamented with etchings before it is dried under the sun and then baked above a fire to harden it. The handle or shank is a thin, hollow bamboo stem.



Mangyan Writing and Literature


Terms for the literary forms of the various Mangyan subgroups are the patigmahon (riddle); ambahan, also amban and urukay; suyot; and tultulanon (folk narrative). Among the Bangon, the riddle is a couplet, such as the following:


Amalay noglaw

malunusan, nu guli

mapsog. (buyog)


(Amalay leaves hungry

but he is full when he

comes home. [basket])


Amalay dwag bongway

sanga iling. (kuwako)


(A branch of a bamboo

can carry Amalay. [pipe])


Inabay ga linagmunan

dayo alay. (kawayan)


(When Inabay is stil

young, she wears a dress.

[bamboo])



A distinct feature of the Hanunoo and Buhid cultures is their system of writing. Throughout the Philippine archipelago, only four groups continue to use a precolonial system of writing. Experts in paleography indicate that the writing systems of the Hanunoo and Buhid in Mindoro, and the Palawan and Tagbanwa in Palawan may be a cultural influence from India (Francisco 1963; 1964; 1971; 1973). Majority or 60% of the Mangyan can read and write in their indigenous system. Writing is done on bamboo stems.


The syllabary has 17 basic characters. Postma (1971) added an accent mark to the orthography to denote terminal consonants. With or without these accents, this system of writing exists to our day and is taught in Catholic schools as part of the curriculum or at home. At an early age, children are taught to write with a siyaw (small knife) for a pen and a piece of bamboo for paper. They eagerly copy the characters incised on the bamboo containers of their parents and relatives. They practice carving the angular symbols on their own piece of bamboo so that they can memorize the script.


Although modern writing material has been available to the Mangyan, traditional material is still highly favored—bamboo strips and tree barks—for this type of script. The scribbling of poetry and graffiti is found everywhere in Hanunoo land—tree trunks, fronds, bamboo sticks, and even on baskets, woven into decorative patterns. Approximately 70% of the Hanunoo Mangyan are literate, owing to this widespread passion for writing.


Hanunuo Mangyan of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro writing poetry called ambahan on bamboo
Hanunuo Mangyan of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro writing poetry called ambahan on bamboo, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Among the southern Mangyan groups, the more important poetic forms are the urukay of the Buhid and the ambahan of the Hanunoo. The urukay is the Buhid’s poetic form, which is similar to but not the same as the Hanunoo ambahan. It is chanted to the accompaniment of a homemade guitar. Here is an urukay which conveys a personal message of grief:


Kahoy-kahoy kot malago

Kabuyung-buyong sing ulo

Kaduyan-duyan sing damgu

Dalikaw sa pagromedyu

Singhanmu kag sa balay barku

Anay umabot ka nimo.


(Like a tree choked with branches and leaves

My mind is full of turmoil

Though loaded with pain and grief

My dreams continually seek for an end

Let it be known that I am on my way

Perchance you’ll catch up with me.)


Written in the Hanunoo script, the ambahan is a poetic form with seven-syllable lines that rhyme at the final syllable. The chanting of the ambahan is done without a definite musical pitch or accompaniment. It is chanted or recited to express in an allegorical way and in poetic language certain situations or characteristics to which the speaker is referring. Some words that are used exclusively in the ambahan are bansay for amang (father), suyong for inang (mother), kaghan for danum (water), labag  for balay (house), and bu-anay for niyog (coconut). Words originating from other languages such as Spanish, Tagalog, and Visayan, are used sparingly.


There are as many ambahan as there are phases and aspects in human life: childhood, adolescence, courtship, housing, sickness, domestic problems, food and work, traveling, hospitality and friendship, marriage, old age, dying, and death. The ambahan is often carved on handy items such as lime, betel nut and tobacco containers, bolo sheaths, violin, guitar, and even the bamboo beams of a house. Thus, while most ambahan are handed down from generation to generation, new ambahan are also created by each generation.


The main subject matter of the ambahan is nature such as birds, flowers, trees, or insects, as well as the sun, moon, stars, rain, and wind. However, these images are not treated literally but metaphorically. The characteristics of a flower are described not only for their own sake but also to symbolize certain aspects of life or of human nature.


Young and old Hanunoo Mangyan are familiar with the ambahan, which differ in degrees of difficulty and depth of language, in length, and in purpose. It is not only poetry for its own sake but also for practical purposes like for parents to teach their children about life, courtship, saying goodbye, even asking for food. Children would have their own ambahan, which is similar to nursery rhymes but which is structurally and in terms of purpose no different from the ambahan of the adults. The Hanunoo Mangyan, in effect, grow through various stages of the ambahan consistent with their life cycle. 


In 1993, Ginaw Bilog, a Hanunoo Mangyan from Mansalay, Mindoro Oriental, was proclaimed as a National Treasure by the Philippine government and received the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan for his efforts to preserve the ambahan. 


Here are some samples of the ambahan, and the occasions or purposes for which they are recited. This ambahan is about children feigning a wound or sickness to escape a chore:


Kang manok tangway-tangway

Pag suguon manguway

Magpasakiton labay

Magpalintog sa sulay

Kang manok si kurkuro

Pag suguon mangayo

Magpasakiton ulo

Magpadugsak sa bato.


(Argues Tangway, the large bird

When told to gather uway:

Look, my shoulder I have hurt

Bumped it on a house-post high.

The Kurkuro bird would add,

Told to gather wood alone:

My head’s aching really bad

I bumped it on a sharp stone.)


In this courtship ambahan, budding and flowering plants and trees are used as metaphors for the young Mangyan’s readiness to enter a new phase in life:


Kawayan sa marigit

Kang kabag-o hinmapit

Hurok di way dariit

Inmunan ak hinmapit

Ararang ga sinigpit

Bulul-an yi patipit


Buri sa saroy lumon

Kaybi no diit kumon

Kang pag-away-awayon

Pagka bay linmalaon

Agirang kang dayuon

Salubadbad kang bul-on

Kang tuhugon tabigon

Isuribay yi dayon


(Bamboo, there at Marigit

When I passed by long ago

Sprouts were just appearing then…

Passing by the other day

With thorns thickly overgrown,

Ready to become a house.


At the field’s edge stands a palm

Formerly it was still small

I’d paid no attention then

But now that it is fully grown

Not the old leaves I will take

But the beautiful young ones

For a basket woven well

That I will carry along.)



Mangyan Tales, Fables and Legend


Iraya legends are collectively known as pamuybuyen. Most are about the life and adventures of the early Iraya, particularly the first man and woman, Aletawu and Diyaga.


A Buhid tale, as narrated by an iglahi (shaman), tells the story of the labang. An old woman named Wada-wada once lived with her grandchild Yoyon. Yoyon comes home one day complaining that he has been bitten by a wiwi  (creeping creature). By evening, Yoyon dies. While grieving over Yoyon’s grave, Wada-wada is visited by hordes of young and old labang. Frightened, she climbs up a hayu-ayahak tree. Deep into the night, Wada-wada hears the labang eating her grandchild’s remains. The next day, the labang sees her up the tree and asks her how she made it there. She tricks them by making them climb a rope, which she then cuts, killing most of the unsuspecting labang. A family of labang composed of a man, his wife, and their two children remains. They invite Wada-wada to play hide-and-seek on the condition that they will eat her if she loses. When Wada-wada cannot find the family, she tries to flush them out of their hiding places with fire. She kills the two young labang. Wada-wada wins the game and lets the labang parents live. Later, Wada-wada crosses paths with a group of eight brothers in the mountains and warns them about the labang. Soon, six of the brothers fall ill and die. The two survivors are Dumalogdog and Kulinda. While digging a grave for his dead brothers, Dumalogdog sees the oncoming horde of labang and hacks them until they all die. But the labang’s bloodstains on his skin kill him. The remaining Kulinda wanders the forest. He causes a labang to appear whenever he leaves a personal item behind and wherever he rests. Upon reaching Hayakyan, he makes a bamboo spear but is wounded. An edu-labang, which is a labang resembling a dog, kills him by licking his wound. A group of labang gather and eat his body.


Dunghawan killing the kapri kapre
Dunghawan killing the kapri (Illustration by Lou Pineda-Arada)


Hanunoo tales and fables are called suyot, one type of which is the trickster tale. A favorite hero is Dunghawan, who figures in several such tales. In one tale Dunghawan meets a kapri (black ogre), who is the king’s servant. They fight, and Dunghawan wins. He skins the kapri and puts on the skin as a disguise so that he can take the kapri’s place. One day, the king’s daughter sees him bathing without his disguise, and she falls in love with him. When he returns to the river for his bath, the girl secretly takes the skin, forcing Dunghawan to face the king as he really is. But the king is pleased instead by this revelation and offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Dunghawan. When the king dies, Dunghawan becomes king.


“Si Palyus ag si Amu” (Palyus and Monkey) is about a more scheming and ruthless trickster, Palyus, who victimizes the race of monkeys. He is swinging on his hammock one day when a monkey wants to swing, too. Palyus consents but only if the monkey will stick rattan thorns up its butt and nose. The monkey agrees, but the thorns kill him. Another monkey comes along and sees the grinning Palyus’s blackened teeth. The monkey asks how it can have nice, blackened teeth like his. Palyus replies that all the monkeys can, if they come to his house after eight days. On the eighth day, the clan of monkeys arrives, and Palyus takes them to a bamboo pole standing in the middle of his farm. He instructs them all to climb up the pole, where he will smoke them so their teeth will turn black. All the monkeys, except one, climb up the pole, and Palyus burns them to death. The one exception is a pregnant monkey, who witnesses her whole clan exterminated. She swears never to trust a human being again, and her descendants have since hidden in the forest.


“Si Pauu ag si Kamayan” (Turtle and Old Monkey) is the Hanunoo’s version of a popular Filipino tale. Turtle gives Monkey the part of the banana tree that dies when each of them plants his half of the tree. When Turtle’s tree bears fruit, he cannot climb his tree to pick the fruit, so he must ask Monkey to do it. Monkey climbs up and refuses to come down, taking all the fruit for himself. Turtle sings a sad ambahan, which moves Monkey to climb down, wishing for an ambahan for himself. Turtle instructs Monkey to stick rattan thorns into his butt first, and this kills Monkey. Turtle cooks him and feeds him to Monkey’s son, Malugbau. When Malugbau realizes the truth, he pursues Turtle, who jumps into a pond, knowing that monkeys avoid water. Malugbau rallies together various animals who drink the pond dry. But the chirping of the sawi birds causes the animals to release their bladder, and the pond is filled up again. Finally, the carabao cracks its hooves when it steps on the turtle’s shell.



Mangyan Music and Instruments


The musical instruments found among the Mangyan are the gitara, a homemade guitar; the gitgit, a three-string indigenous violin with human hair for strings (a smaller version of the Bugkalot/Ilongot fiddle called litlit); the lantuy or lantuy, a transverse nose flute made from the stem of a bagakay, a very slim and thin-walled bamboo (Hanunoo Music 1956, 3); the kudyapi, a kind of lute; and the kudlung, a parallel-string bamboo tube zither. Most of these instruments are used by a male suitor to woo a Mangyan female. A young man and his male friends strum the guitar and play the gitgit to announce their arrival at the house of the woman. The Hanunoo use the guitar to play harmonic chords as interludes between verses sung in one or two tones. The lantuy is played by the women together with the gitgit. When blown with the mouth instead of the nose, it is called a palawta. The bangsi or pawili, which is similar to the lantuy, is played by men for recreation.


Mangyan kalutang or wooden percussion sticks
Mangyan kalutang or wooden percussion sticks Pagtugkawan ag-iskol (CCP/Lucrecia R. Kasilag Collection)


The Hanunoo use several kinds of flutes. The lantuy has five stops, unlike the Buhid palawta, which has six and is tuned diatonically. The pituh is a flute that is diatonically tuned, has finger holes but no thumbhole. The bangsi is an external-duct flute, which has a chip glued on to the tube of the flute. Another type of aerophone, aside from the flutes, is the budyung, a bamboo trumpet, which is also found among the Mandaya in Mindanao.


Mangyan women playing the native flute, palawta
Mangyan women playing the native flute, palawta, in Bait Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, 2004 (CCP Collections)


The Hanunoo use two idiophones: the buray-dipay, a bean-pod rattle used in ensemble with other kinds of instruments, and the kalutang, which are percussion sticks played in pairs to produce harmonies of seconds, thirds, or fourths (Maceda 1966, 646). The kinaban is a mouth harp made from the tough, outer layer of thick-walled bamboos like the kiling. The kinaban is played either solo, without song or other instruments, or with other kinaban players.


The Hanunoo have an agung ensemble, which consists of two light gongs played by two men squatting on the floor: One man beats with a light, padded stick on the rim of one of the gongs. Both performers play in simple duple rhythms.


Music for the Hanunoo is part of celebrating ordinary and festive occasions. The term kalipay (festivity) also means joyous singing and music making. They refer to musical instruments in generalas pangalipay. The singing and dancing during their panludan, which is their most festive occasion, are accompanied by as many as ten different pangalipay.


Accompanying themselves on these instruments as they recite their love poems, the Hanunoo Mangyan pay court to the women. During wedding rituals, songs are sung, musical instruments are played, food is eaten, and wine is drunk. The songs of the Mangyan are lullabies, recollections of war exploits in the distant past, lamentations, love lyrics, and stories based on personal experiences. A group of participants will play their instruments during the ponsiyon (funeral feast) as well as during the kutkut (rite of exhumation).


Mangyan Song in Iraya Dialect - Keeping it Alive - Paluan Occidental Mindoro Mt. Calavite [Tribe]

Iraya Mangyan student-scholars trying to keep the Iraya Language / dialect alive thru a song. The Iraya language is a language spoken by Mangyans in the province of Mindoro in the Philippines.


The igway (song) is the vocal music of the Iraya. It began when Aletawu and Diyaga first prayed to their creator, Apo Iraya, by means of what is now known as the two genres of traditional Iraya music: Aletawu prayed by means of the marayaw; and Diyaga by means of the igway, which she also used to put their children to sleep. Henceforth, the marayaw has been used only for religious purposes: in the ngayung paglumutungan (healing the sick), the ambuy (shamans) pray to good spirits; in the imbeleng (casting of spells), they challenge bad ones.


In 2002 and 2003, intense militarization in Mindoro drove thousands of the Hanunoo, Iraya, Alanga, and Batangan Mangyan to neighboring island provinces. In a refugee center in southern Tagalog, the Iraya ambuy, Anghel Anias also known as Mamay Anghel, engaged in a series of nightlong rituals, which included the chanting of the marayaw. In this marayaw, he entreats the good spirits to protect and defend all displaced Mangyan by waging battle with the invading spirits. The opening line, in English translation, goes thus: “Pagsamburanay beads that I hold, shield me, protect our banwa (community) from the other beings who destroy us.” In long and loud incantations, Mamay Anghel then calls upon an army of spirits to embark on their mythical warship, and the deities with the brightness and power of lightning to go and protect their settlement.


The igway is the generic song, which can be sung by anyone on any occasion, for instance as a pampatulog sa inakay (lullaby), sangbay (love song), and igwayan (hunting, travel, or work song). However, the igway and the marayaw have some features in common. Both have words that are not used in common conversation. Both have seven-syllable lines with a rhyming scheme, usually “-an” or “-ang” for the igway. Both have a formulaic opening line: the igway’s opening line is “ya-ye-yo-na-i-yu-nan,” meaningless lyrics which are repeated at intervals and used as fillers to allow time for singers to think of the next line, while the marayaw opens with “ngayung paglumutungan” (on this day).


What is unique about the marayaw and igway is that both are characterized by a “swaying” melody, and Iraya singers sway their body back and forth as they sing. The practice can be traced back to the bantayaw, which are wooden swings used by the Iraya of old. Men sang the sangbay as women swung on the bantayaw, and mothers sang the pampatulog sa inakay while rocking the o yayan (cradle). The bantayaw has been dispensed with during performance, but shamans may hold on to a rope tied to the corner of the house and sway while singing the marayaw. The swaying melody is associated with the mountains, which the Iraya daily traverse. Tumukad (ascent) and dumulong (descent) are the notes mimicking the Iraya’s climb up and down the mountain slopes. Aside from the vocal music of igway, the Iraya also takes pride in repa (instrumental music). Repa, literally “to go down,” is believed to have originated from the sound created when spirits bathe under waterfalls.


The Tau-buid’s generic term for song is danyu, which includes the famabay (lullaby), amban (entertainment song), and lai (chant) for ask spirits for protection or for help in healing.


The Alangan’s banggi (song) consists of the agbaron (lullaby), agurokbulo (love song), and pangisudon (song about hope and experiences). Like the versification of ambahan, igway, and danyu, the banggi has seven syllables per line. Below is an example of the pangisudon:


Kanangay tugda mamin

Diyalan balungaing

Dapo maputi laying

Sa Dios manalangin


Kanangay tugda luya

Piyangwat bara-bara

Pagtugkawan agsimba

Kanangay tugda kusor

Piyangwat buksur-buksor

Pagtugkawan ag-iskol


Kanangay tugda kilawen

Diyalan wakay pangibeng

Dapo maputi galem

In yangaw batikuling

Piyagbantuk-bantok hangin

Nangalabo in laying

Piyagbaget-baget lawin


(My betel pepper plant

Lasted the storm

And no leaf fell

For to God I prayed


My ginger plant

Made into small chairs

For you to sit on in church


My kusor plant

Made into little hills

For you to sit on in class.


My banana plant

Lasted the summer time

And not a fruit withered.


The batikuling tree

Hit by a strong wind

The leaves that scattered

Were snatched by a hawk.)


Harold Conklin released the Hanunoo Music from the Philippines, 1956, composed of 22 tracks that feature various Hanunoo musical instruments and forms such as kalipay and chants. The album also includes Conklin’s notes on Hanunoo music as well as samples of music notations and photos of Hanunoo instruments and musicians. Singer Grace Nono featured two Hanunoo ambahan, “Ambahan ni Lucia” and “Ambahan ni Willie,” in her 2008 album Hulagpos: Women’s Poetry and Voices. In 2001, ethnomusicologist Jonas Baes released Nostalgia in a Denuded Rainforest, a collection of recordings of Iraya igway, marayaw, and repa as well as the pamuybuyen and lullabies of the Tadyawan and Alangan.


Dancing is confined to slow, almost static movements with sporadic leaps here and there. The Mangyan do not have a single activity that may be considered a dance, except those movements that they perform during a wedding or a funeral. The funeral dance kalutang derives its name from the two sticks struck by players who gently circle round a corpse that is being slowly carried to its resting place. Kalutang sticks are played with a syncopated rhythm. Only the Hanunoo Mangyan are known to have this kind of dance.



Mangyan Culture in Media Arts


There are nine radio stations within Mindoro. FM stations in Oriental Mindoro are DWCO Hot FM 91.9 located in Calapan, DWOX Hot FM 98.9 in Roxas, DWMJ 102.9 Radyo Natin in Naujan, DWMH 103.7 Radyo Natin in Bongabong, and DWMK 105.3 Radyo Natin in Pinamalayan. Occidental Mindoro is host to FM stations DWRM 101.7 Radyo Natin in San Jose and DWME 103.3 Radyo Natin in Sablayan, and AM stations DZVT 1395 Radyo Totoo and DZYM 1539, both in San Jose.


In mainstream film, Ang Lo’Waist Gang at si Og sa Mindoro  (The Low-Waist Gang and Og in Mindoro), 1958, directed by Pablo Santiago, is about an ageing man who requests his grandson, played by Fernando Poe Jr., to search for a buried treasure in Mindoro. The grandson and his friends, with the local guide Sebastian, set out for the mountains of Mindoro to find the treasure. Sebastian warns them of the dangers of wild animals and taong-bundok (mountain men) who eat people. However, the group is welcomed by the people, their chief, and his son Og (Jess Ramos). The mountain people are not named in the film but are portrayed as peace lovers. They are also portrayed as primitive compared to the lowlanders. With the exception of the chief, Og and the rest of the mountain people speak pidgin Tagalog. In one scene, they start to perform their traditional ritual of dancing around the bonfire when their guests interrupt them by dancing rock and roll, popular in the 1950s. The mountain people, spears in hand, join them in the dance. Bodybuilder Jess Ramos, who was Mr Philippines in 1950, is meant here to represent the physique of the mountain people. After finding the treasure, the city people take Og back to the city with them. Og is happily dressed in lowlander clothes and is very excited.


kids carrying plank of woods in the forest illegal logging
Scene from Tara Illenberger’s Brutus, Ang Paglalakbay, 2008 (Photo courtesy of Tara Illenberger)


Independent film Brutus: Ang Paglalakbay (Brutus, The Journey), 2008, is about two Mangyan children who, after being employed by illegal loggers, realize the sources of armed conflict in the highlands of Mindoro. The film, directed by Tara Illenberger, was awarded the Special Jury Prize for a full-length feature in Cinemalaya 2008 and was selected to join the 35th Brussels International Independent Film Festival in November 2008.


GMA Network aired two episodes of TV documentary i-Witness: Ang Alamat ng Puting Mangyan (The Legend of the White Mangyan) on 28 January 2008 and Mailap na Mangyan (The Elusive Mangyan) on 18 October 2010. In Ang Alamat, Howie Severino investigates the story behind a reported number of fair-skinned Mangyan. However, Severino is led to four young Mangyan who, although “white,” he later discovers to be the children of a Dutch missionary married to a Mangyan. The so-called white Mangyan has indeed been much talked about by travelers but such a claim is considered a myth. Fair-skinned Mangyan are locally referred to as “Olandes” because they are believed to be descendants of shipwrecked Dutch sailors. However, fair-skinned Filipinos may also be the product of mixed marriages between the Filipinos and the Chinese, and not always between Filipinos and Europeans. In Mailap, Kara David discovers how the culture and tradition of the Bangon Mangyan have changed over the years, and how they have been subjected to discrimination and displacement by outsiders.





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This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition.

Title: Mangyan

Author/s: Edgardo B. Maranan, with Nerissa Balce, Ramon Obusan, Gary E. P. Cheng, and E. Arsenio Manuel (1994) / Updated by Gonzalo A. Campoamor II (2018)

URL: https://epa.culturalcenter.gov.ph/1/2/2362/

Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: February 14, 2022

Copyright ©2020 by Cultural Center of the Philippines



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