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The Manobo Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Manobo Tribe of the Philippines

“Manobo” or “Manuvu” or “Minuvu” means “person” or “people.” It may also have been originally “Mansuba” from man (person or people) and suba (river), hence meaning “river people.” A third derivation is from “Banobo,” the name of a creek that presently flows to Pulangi River about two kilometers below Cotabato City. A fourth is from man, meaning “first, aboriginal,” and tuvu, meaning “grow, growth.” “Manobo” is the Hispanized form.

The Manobo belong to the original stock of proto-Philippine or proto-Austronesian people who came from south China thousands of years ago, earlier than the Ifugao and other terrace-building peoples of northern Luzon. The term “Proto-Manobo” designates this stock of aboriginal non-Negritoid people of Mindanao. The first Manobo settlers lived in northern Mindanao—in Camiguin, Cagayan, and some areas of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

Most Manobo inhabit the river valleys, hillsides, plateaus, and interiors of Agusan, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao, Misamis Oriental, and Surigao del Sur. The subgroup Manuvu inhabits a contiguous area along southern Bukidnon, northeastern Cotabato, and northwestern Davao. The Ilianon, Livunganen Arumanen, and Kirintekan are in northern Cotabato. The Tigwa or Tigwahanon are concentrated in Lindagay and scattered all over the town of San Fernando, Bukidnon, close to the border of Davao del Norte. Tigwa may have derived from guwa (scattered) or the Tigwa River, whose banks they inhabit. The Umayamnon are scattered around the town of Cabanglasan, Bukidnon, and the interiors of Agusan del Sur. The western Bukidnon Manobo inhabit the southwestern quarter of Bukidnon province. 

The Talaandig are located in Bukidnon; the Matigsalug in the middle Davao River area; the Attaw or Jangan in the midland area, which is now within the jurisdiction of Davao City; the Tagabawa and Blaan in the south and southeast; and the Ilianon along the Pulangi River basin. This river basin was the site of barter dealings with the Muslim traders who traveled upriver into the hinterlands.

The different Manobo languages belong to the Philippine subfamily of the superfamily of languages called Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian in the old literature). Some linguists theorize that the Mindanao languages belong to a subgroup of Philippine languages, which they call proto-Manobo. This protolanguage, however, has not yet been reconstructed or dated. Manobo languages representative of the subgroups are Agusanon, Ata Manobo, Banwaon, Binukid of Mindanao, Cagayano of Cagayancillo Island, Cotabato Manobo, Dibabawon Manobo, Eastern Davao Manobo, Ilianon Manobo, Kidapawan, Kinamigin of Camiguin Island, Livunganen, Magahat, Obo Manobo, Sarangani Manobo, Southern Cotabato  and Davao Manobo, Tagabawa, Tigwa Manobo, Ubo of the Mount Apo region in Davao, western Bukidnon Manobo, and western Cotabato Manobo. A different language family is Bilic, from which have sprung the languages of the Blaan, Tboli, Teduray, and Jangan.

Between 1987 and 2010, the total Manobo population, as recorded, is 1,344,077, broken down as follows: 60,000 Agusan Manobo; 26,700 Ata Manobo; 100,000 Binukid; 34,500 Butuanon; 30,000 Cotabato Manobo or Dulangan Manobo; 147,000 Davawenyo; 10,000 Dibabawon; 55,000 Jangan; 30,000 Higaonon; 14,600 Ilianen Manobo; 30,000 Kagayanen; 26,700 Kinamiging Manobo; 50,000 Matigsalug Manobo; 60,000 Bagobo/Obo Manobo; 7,560 Rajah Kabunsuwan; 58,000 Sarangani Manobo; 400,000 Surigaonon; 43,000 Tagabawa; 15,000 Western Bukidnon Manobo; 95,300 Tboli; and 50,000 Tiruray. Additionally, there are 717 registered migrant Manobo in Capiz province, Panay island, West Visayas. Many have also intermarried with migrant settlers from the Visayas and Luzon.

History of the Manobo People

Oral tradition and records about the introduction of Islam into Mindanao give us a clue to the history of the pre-Spanish Manobo. Their ancestors inhabited the lower valley of the Pulangi River in central Mindanao. In the 14th century, Sharif Kabungsuan, a Muslim missionary, arrived from Johore to convert the people. According to oral tradition, the Manobo’s leaders were two brothers: Tabunaway and Mamalu. They lived by a creek, Banobo, which flowed into the Mindanao River near the present site of Cotabato City. Tabunaway rejected Islam but advised his younger brother to submit to conversion. Tabunaway and his followers fled up the Pulangi River to the interior and, at a certain stop, they decided to part ways. Tabunaway and his group who went to Livungan became the Livunganen. Others became the Kirinteken, Mulitaan, Kulamanen, and Tenenenen. The Kulamanen split into the Pulangian and Metidsalug or Matigsalug. Branches of the Tenenenen were the Keretanen, Lundugbatneg, and Rangiranen. A group stayed along the river in Lanuan and built an ilian (fort) and so became the Ilianon. Those who went to the divava (downriver) became the Dibabawon, some of whom branched into the Kidapawanen. But because all these groups retained their indigenous beliefs and practices, they retained the name of their original site, Banobo, which eventually became Manobo. On the other hand, Mamalu’s descendants became the Maguindanaon. Hence, the Maguindanaon are the Islamized Manobo.

Manobo chief’s son
Manobo chief’s son (National Geographic, 1913, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

Manobo woman
Manobo woman (National Geographic, 1913, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

Legendary accounts name two Dibabawon leaders who facilitated the exodus of the Dibabawon. Gangsa and Mandabon had a fight that split them apart—Gangsa to Iho and Mandabon to Buan. Mandabon is said to be the son of Tagleong, the first family in Buan, and is of a race of giants. The Tagleong line is carried by his descendants who continue to live in Buan, with several branches moving as far as Davao Oriental. Historically, the Dibabawon were recognized as one of the most feared subgroups of the Manobo, known to engage in constant war with the Mandaya, the Mangguwangan, and among themselves.

Magellan landed in Butuan in 1521 and planted a cross at the mouth of the Agusan River to commemorate the first mass celebrated there. By 1591, Butuan had become an encomienda and tributes were collected. However, Spanish garrison towns and forts had to be erected because of Moro and Manobo resistance to colonization.

In 1645, Sultan Kudarat of Maguindanao entered into a tactical alliance with Spain because of the Dutch occupation of nearby Melaka. One of Kudarat’s conditions was that his brother-in-law, Manobo Datu Monkaior, was to be covered by this alliance.

Nevertheless, the rest of Manobo territory was constantly under threat of Spanish domination. In 1648, a rebellion that caused the death of many Spaniards was led by a Manobo chieftain named Dabao, a historical figure who became a hero in legends recounting his fantastic feats as a giant. Records of Christian conversion probably refer to the lowlanders since all attempts made by the Spaniards to make the mountain people conform to the pueblo or town system were futile.

The Dibabawon who lived in a settlement downriver had for their chief a bagani (warrior) named Dagohoy. During the Spanish colonization, Father Saturnino Urios brought together 30 Dibabawon families in Dagohoy’s settlement, which he renamed Moncayo (now spelled “Monkayo”), after a place in Spain. Dagohoy was appointed gobernadorcillo and baptized with the Christian name Luis. By the late 1800s, there were more than 62 Dibabawon families and 184 Christians in the 1890 census. Monkayo became the center of the Dibabawon group.

Christianized Manobo towns were established by 1877, but these would shortly after be abandoned and razed to the ground by the converted Manobo themselves, who would then flee to the mountains and revert to their old ways. By 1896, at the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in other parts of the archipelago, the missionaries and troops would have already withdrawn from the hinterlands because the Manobo constantly engaged them in warfare.

It was during the American colonial period that significant changes occurred in the Manobo way of life. Patrols of the Philippine Constabulary with American officers in command aimed to put a stop to the intertribal raids and feuding among the Manobo. At the same time, the civil government tried to persuade the people, through their datu (chieftain), to live in villages instead of dispersed settlements and to send their children to school. Consequently, permanent Manobo barrios began to be established in the lower areas.

In 1904, the American colonial administration passed the Tribal Wards Act, which organized the indigenous groups in the Davao region into “tribal wards,” each residing in a settlement. The aim was ostensibly to bring them under a civilized, legal system, but the system also initiated and facilitated tax collection from them. Besides the 10-peso annual cedula, the natives were taxed for fishing, the use of public markets, slaughterhouses, and ferry boats, and the ownership of dogs and firearms. Because they needed the cash to pay the taxes, the natives were then forced to earn wages. Thus, the wards also became the labor pool for the American plantation owners. For each ward, Davao Governor Edward C. Bolton appointed three headmen: an American headman and two natives, one of whom was the “tribal headman” and the other, his deputy. The American ward headman who was also a plantation owner could use his position to obtain forced labor from his ward members.

The last ward established, on 22 February 1906, was the Tagacaolo Tribal Ward, which also included Kulaman, Blaan, and Kalagan members. On 6 June 1906, the Kulaman Manobo deputy headman Mangulayon assassinated Governor Bolton for appointing American planter Max L. McCullough, who had abused his position as ward headman.

By 1910, native resistance against the American colonial administration had petered out. The public school system and Christianization gradually quelled native unrest and secured the rich lands of Mindanao as part of the Philippine nation-state.

World War II hastened acculturation because lowlanders evacuated to the mountains to escape the Japanese. After the war, the government homestead program encouraged families from the northern islands to settle in Mindanao. The vacated lands of the evacuees became vulnerable to resettlement, and the Manobo were pushed deeper into the hinterlands by the influx of settlers. Each homesteader was offered “a farm plot of 16 acres, food for the first year, house-building materials, a carabao, and farm implements” (Elkins 1966, 163). Although the Manobo themselves were offered the same privileges, their elders initially ignored the offer and, through their council of datu, forbade their people from cooperating. However, the younger ones, especially those who had been educated, joined the program in defiance of their elders. Furthermore, logging companies caused roads to be built in the mountains, and this facilitated interaction with the lowlanders, especially since the trucks of these companies usually offered them free rides.

Manobo woman with child, Dayaw Festival
Manobo woman with child, Dayaw Festival, 2000 (Stanley Ong, National Commision for Culture and the Arts)

A typical Manobo settlement that underwent rapid change was Barrio Salangsang of the municipality of Lebak, Cotabato. For generations, the Manobo way of life was intact here until the 1950s, when it was opened to Tiruray settlers. A Protestant church was built in 1959 and an elementary public school in 1951. By 1966, out of a total of 510 households, 143 were Tiruray, all living in the village center. Out of the barrio’s 11 sari-sari (variety) stores or corner shops, nine belonged to the Tiruray. Relations between the indigenous peoples and the outsiders became strained when the Philippine government put migrant settlers rather than native inhabitants in positions of authority over Mindanao lands. Government officials supplanted the warrior class, and national laws supplanted customary laws. Interactions between the indigenous groups and settlers led to the belittling of native cultures by the settlers and consequently to the beginnings of cultural erosion.

Many of the indigenous groups took up arms or joined peasant movements to regain their ancestral domains and their right to self-determination. In the 1970s, Datu Lorenzo Gawilan, a great Matigsalug hero, rebelled against the encroachment of ranchers into their ancestral domains. It is said that he marked the bodies of the Philippine Constabulary soldiers he killed with the fierce avowal: “Dili mi pahawaon sa among yuta” (Do not drive us from our lands) (Tiu 2005).

In 1993, Datu Guibang Apogan, a Talaingod chieftain, led 83 Manobo villages in a pangayaw (tribal war) against the mining firm Alantara and Sons, also known as Alson’s, which sought to exploit their ancestral domains on the Pantaron Range. They organized the Manobo federation Salugpungan Ta ’Tanu Igkanugon, which means “a gathering for land that cannot be taken from us” or simply “unity in defense of ancestral land,” to unify efforts in resisting exploitation. While the efforts successfully drove away Alson’s in the early 1990s, increment militarization in later years continued to intensify armed movements and impede development in the region. Time and again, the Talaingod have been forced into mass evacuations due to intensified militarization and aerial bombings in the areas that they occupy.

The Manobo have been caught in Mindanao’s tri-people’s war, which involves the lumad (indigenous peoples), Christian migrants and their descendants, and the Muslim groups. In the 1960s to the 1970s, during the displacement and minoritization of natives in Mindanao, many Muslim groups rejected the impositions of the Philippine national government and resorted to armed warfare, calling for the separation of Mindanao from the Philippine nation-state. Many lumad were assimilated into the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces (ICDHF), a counter-insurgency group intended to quell Moro and native resistance.

In 1968, the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN) was formed through Presidential Decree No. 1414, supposedly to defend the rights of cultural minorities in the Philippines. However, PANAMIN, headed by Manuel Elizalde Jr., enforced the resettlement of the lumad and facilitated the exploitation of resources in the region through increased militarization. The PANAMIN also implicated the Cotabato Manobo, along with a group of Tboli, in a global hoax that cast them as a remote, peace-loving “Stone Age Tribe” called the Tasaday, supposedly “discovered” by Elizalde in 1972. This discovery enabled PANAMIN, through Presidential Decree No. 995, to transform 19,247 hectares of Tboli and Manobo ancestral lands, along with their vast mineral deposits and broad tracts of timber, into the Tasaday Reserve, controlled and accessed only by PANAMIN. PANAMIN was replaced by the Office for Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities (OMACC) in 1984. After the 1986 EDSA Revolt, the Office of Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC) and the Office of Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC) were established in 1987 which, with some minor policy changes, essentially continued the work begun by PANAMIN.

Lack of access to basic education is another major hurdle confronted by Manobo communities. In 2003, in line with the efforts to preserve culture and defend land against the encroachment of multinational corporations, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) assisted in the establishment of the Salugpungan Ta ’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center. The schools increased in number over the years but confronted accreditation problems with the Department of Education.

The instability in Mindanao has resulted in tensions not only between the natives and settlers but also between the lumad and Muslim groups. In 2001, during the implementation of Republic Act 9054 constituting the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), many Manobo lands were included in the autonomous territory, where the implementation of provisions of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act 1997 was not strongly enforced. When the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was proposed in 2014, many Manobo groups resisted inclusion in the proposed autonomous Bansgamoro territory. In 2015, lumad leaders participated in a tulak bungkas itungan (ritual for enlightenment) in front of the House of Representatives to appeal for the deciding panels’ full consideration of the rights of indigenous peoples in the BBL.

Kilalanin Mo, Tribo Manobo

The Manobo’s Way of Life

The upland Manobo practice swidden or slash-and-burn farming, whereas those inhabiting the valleys practice wet-rice farming. Rice culture is so central to the Manobo way of life that there are more than 60 different names for rice varieties, and all agricultural rituals center around it. In the late 1950s, however, many Manobo groups shifted to corn culture because of the gradual disappearance of swidden sites. The incursion of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas and big logging companies have further limited the mobility of Manobo farmers in shifting cultivation sites and caused a competition for land. The Manobo have since shifted to the agricultural system of using only a single plot of land repetitively. Besides corn grit, other supplementary foods are sweet potato and cassava. In times of famine, emergency foods are unripe bananas and wild yam.

Manobo women pounding rice
Manobo women pounding rice (SIL International)

Manobo farmer in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur harvesting abaca
Manobo farmer in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur harvesting abaca, 2016 (VJ Villafranca)

Other major means of subsistence are fishing, hunting, bee hunting, and trapping. Because of these occupations, the Manobo live a seminomadic life. However, decrease in forest cover due to the rapid extraction of resources by large corporations has severely reduced hunting activities.

Some Manobo villages that have established permanent settlements have shifted to the cultivation of coconut for copra export. A typical village engaged in swidden farming begins the agricultural cycle in February, when rice and corn are planted. The corn is harvested in July but rice takes longer to grow and is harvested in November. During the summer, while the people are waiting to harvest these two crops, sweet potatoes and cassava are the staple food. Abaca is raised and sold to Chinese traders or their agents, who take them to the urban centers.

Stages of the traditional Manobo swidden agricultural cycle are marked by the appearance or disappearance of certain constellations in the sky or other seasonal indicators in nature. Land is treated with utmost reverence because it is believed to be the domain of Magbabaya and other deities. Thus, from the selection of the farming area to the planting and harvesting of crops, the Manobo agricultural cycle is marked by various religious rituals. Similarly, the Manobo’s agroforestry practices are deeply linked to their religious beliefs. Sites chosen for agroforestry are carefully examined so that the scale of harvest is properly determined to ensure sustainable practice and to honor the people’s stewardship of the land.

An occupation that figures as entertainment for the Manobo is bee hunting, the procedure for which is the basis of the comic bee-hunting dance. Bees appear during the season when the trees start to bloom. The hunter waits for them along creek banks and trails them to their hive. If he catches a bee, he ties a fluff of cotton to it and then releases it. When the bee reaches its hive, the other bees raise such a buzzing noise that the hunter is led to the location of the hive. He builds a fire to smoke out the bees and then climbs the tree to get the empty hive. However, the hunter faces hazards, such as the tree catching fire or the bees attacking him.

Historically, the Manobo groups have had economic exchanges with other indigenous groups. Groups near the Agusan River participated in riverine commerce with coastal dwellers and established trade relations with foreigners through the Butuan port. However, during the American Period, “wage work,” or working on a salary basis, was introduced to the Manobo and permeated more deeply after World War II, during the logging boom in Mindanao. By the 1960s, the cash economy was well established through retail exchanges with settlers. In the 1950s and 1960s, legalized logging activities leveled broad tracts of land and forest in Mindanao for timber, rattan vines, and valuable palm trees like bahi (wild palm) or labnawan, which sold well in global markets.

Manobo Political and Sociological System

Manobo settlements are either dispersed or relatively compact, depending on the terrain, the agricultural system practiced, and the degree of acculturation. Compact villages traditionally have three or four datu or timuay (chieftains), but dispersed settlements have none. Some Manobo groups did not have a formal system of chieftainship until the present century. In 1910, the Agusanon Manobo, for example, did not have a title for chief. He was simply a bagani, a title that he shared with other members of the bagani class. But Visayan traders called him “datu,” the Spaniards called him masikampo (derived from maestro de campo, meaning “camp master”), and the Moro called him kuyano or kulano. The subgroup Manuvu did not develop a datuship system until the middle of the 20th century.

Manobo elders (SIL International)
Manobo elders (SIL International)

On the other hand, the western Bukidnon Manobo held elaborate rites to install the chosen datu or bai (female datu). A great number of people would converge at a place called the center of the earth for the ceremonies that involved several aspiring datu who represented the four directions: the “upstream direction” (Cagayan de Oro), the “downstream direction” (Cotabato of the Maguindanao), “eastward” (Davao of Matigsalug), and “westward” (Lanao Lake of the Maranao). The people of these four directions recognized a ruler, called the lantung —literally a wooden beam that functions as a divider at the center of a house—whom all agreed on.

The position of chieftainship can be passed on to a datu’s offspring, as long as the person has the qualifications necessary for the position: wisdom, knowledge of traditional lore and mythology, eloquence, skill in euphemistic language, fairness in judging or arbitrating disputes, and possession of some wealth and property that the person must be willing to share with the whole community. However, young village members who show promise can also be chosen and trained to be chiefs, gradually earning the status of datu or bai, as they prove their ability to settle disputes, which involves three factors: speaking, negotiating a settlement, and providing the settlement themselves. In olden times, the datu must also have proven his bravery and leadership in battle as a bagani. The datu or bai is traditionally also the head of a kinship group.

The Dibabawon community is led by a maniguon (elder). A maniguon is identified when the community recognizes a male member’s capability to lead people, resolve conflicts, or suggest possible solutions to problems. As he is constantly consulted when conflicts emerge or when problems in the community arise, he becomes the maniguon of the community. The Dibabawon maniguon is formally recognized through an elaborate ceremony called tambalingo. To be inducted, the maniguon is made to sit on the lusong (mortar) to symbolize the strength and resolve he would need to serve his community, while a baylan (spiritual leader), who may also be a maniguon, administers the ritual by chanting and putting the podong (headgear) over the candidate’s head. The placing of the podong signals the recognition of a new leader.

When the son of a maniguon or any member of the community is seen to have the same potential, he is trained at an early age by his father to become a leader. Women can also become maniguon, but this is not often done because of their traditional domestic functions. Over the years, though, the role of the maniguon has changed rapidly. During the Marcos regime, the title of the maniguon was changed into “datu,” although some elders still use the title “maniguon” to refer to the Dibabawon leader. Now, the maniguon or datu is chosen by the community and the kamanigoonan (council of elders) based on his exemplary traits and nobility. One can no longer speak with authority for the tribe, even if one is recognized as a leader, unless one is a member of the kamanigoonan, a position that only becomes available when a member vacates his place. Only the eldest among the elders takes care of administrative matters and participates in settling disputes in the community; if the dispute involves a Dibabawon and Visayan, the elder must cooperate with the barangay captain.

At the installation of the datu and bai, they are reminded to be good judges. The old datu conferring the position upon them says, “You hold the comb and oil which are your weapons against those people who break the accepted rule of behavior.” The comb and oil represent the act of smoothing and disentangling, and are therefore symbols of peace and order. Betel chew is laid out as offering and prayers are addressed to the gods Likebkeb, Mensigew, Reguwen, Unluwa, Makeyvakey, and Miyugbiyug, who guide and confer wisdom upon the datu. Gifts of money and any article such as cloth, dagger, or water buffalo are given to each datu or bai. Then a series of acts symbolizing the breaking of one’s vow is performed: They break an egg, blow out a lamp, smash a cooking pot, tear down a fence, break a plate, and cut a length of rattan in two.

In ancient times, the datu was advised by a council of elders composed of datu and family heads. Today, this council of elders may still be highly influential in choosing the village datu and the members of the barrio council, composed of the barrio captain, the captain’s assistant, the councilor for education, and councilor for health and sanitation. This barrio council, which is formally elected by the villagers under the influence of the council of elders, is usually composed of young educated people who are familiar with lowland culture, especially with the language of trade. However, the barrio council still defers to the authority of the council of elders, whose jurisdiction covers matters involving batasan or adat (custom law), marriage arrangements, penalty for taboo breaking, and settlement of interfamily quarrels. The barrio council handles law enforcement, matters concerning civil law, community improvement, and questions over land ownership.

In September 1959, the Bukidnon datu revived the lantung in an attempt to keep the Manobo culture intact, especially for the younger generation. A high datu was chosen to act as a mediator between the various cultural groups. Today, however, in many areas, the government bureaucracy is dominated by migrant settlers, resulting in uneven power relations between them and appointed chiefs. The integration of the traditional leadership structure within the national government is actually a main cause of the ongoing Mindanao war.

Social Organization and Customs of the Manobo People

The traditional social structure consists of four classes: the bagani, the baylan, the commoner, and the slave. The bagani class, now gone, defended the community and went to battle. The baylan, which can still be found today, is a male or female priest and healer. The commoners were farmers; and the slaves, who had been seized in raids, belonged to the ruler and were usually given away as part of the bridewealth. Village members could also become enslaved if they could not pay the penalty for a crime they had committed, such as thievery, destruction of property, adultery, or verbal offense. Slaves, however, could win their freedom through diligence in the fulfillment of their duties, faithfulness to their master, or payment of their debt through servitude. Slaves who were treated like members of the family although still in servitude were called bilew, and it was considered an insult if they were referred to as slaves. One who did so was committing tempela, that is, ridiculing someone for their low status or physical handicap.

Manobo family
Manobo family (SIL International)

Manobo mother and infant
Manobo mother and infant (SIL International)

Intervillage relationship is based on upakat (reciprocity). Village members, usually belonging to a kinship group or groups allied by marriage, expect assistance from each other in matters of subsistence, labor, defense, and support in crises.

A pregnant woman observes several taboos to protect the infant’s life and health. She stays indoors when the sky is red at sunset, for the bloodthirsty busaw (malignant spirits) are around. She must never run, for even just stubbing her toe will cause a miscarriage. After bathing, she must not come out of the water until she has adjusted the position of the baby in her womb. The baylan recommends the kinds of food that a pregnant woman eats, as these will affect the delivery and physical appearance of the child. Eating the inner meat of animals will have adverse effects on the child’s health; eating eels and shrimps can delay delivery; and eating cassava will result in a small baby with a big stomach. Fruits and other nutritious food are the main recommendations for pregnant Matigsalug women.

At childbirth, the midwife ties a birth charm of herbs, stones, and other items given to her by her spirit guardian, around the mother’s waist. The umbilical cord is cut some distance away from the navel, so that the baby’s breath will not escape. The cord is wrapped in an old mat and buried under the ladder of the house. The blood in childbirth attracts the busaw, so the midwife washes all the clothing used during delivery. Because the midwife has been stained with the uncleanness of childbirth, she must be paid the following items: a small knife to clean her fingernails; a plate to catch a sacrificial chicken’s blood; a malong (tubular skirt) to enable her to change into fresh clothing; and some cash to prevent her from uttering a mureka (curse).

Until the child can turn on his or her stomach, the mother is in danger of hemorrhaging. So the husband, for the meantime, does all the household and field chores normally assigned to her, and he must provide her with the nourishment she needs. Postnatal taboos must be observed by the parents or else both mother and child will be afflicted with lagak (a skin disease). The mother cannot eat liver, carabao meat, eel, lima beans, and sticky rice or corn. If the parents have sexual relations shortly after delivery, the baby will be stricken with lagak.

Children are named and integrated into the community through gunting (circumcision), pangutob (tattooing), and chewing the mama (betel nut). A child is usually circumcised at two years old with a bignos or ilab (knife).

Kasalan ng mga Manobo, silipin!

Marriage is traditionally by parental arrangement, which begins when each of two families chooses a spokesperson, preferably a datu or bai, who is known for eloquence and knowledge of custom law. The penginsa (asking) begins with the girl’s representative offering betel chew, which the boy’s representative politely refuses until negotiations for the kagun (bridewealth) begin. All the groom’s relatives, especially the datu or bai related to the groom’s family, will contribute to the kagun. The wedding date is determined by the length of time the groom’s family will need to raise the kagun. In the meantime, the bride’s relatives are preparing the apa (wedding feast), consisting of rice, meat, fish, and rice wine.

On the wedding day, the groom, wearing a white head kerchief, and his party walk to the bride’s home. The bride is kept hidden behind a curtain in another room with someone guarding her. The groom’s party is blocked at the doorway by the ed-ipal, two or more of the bride’s relatives who may ask the groom’s party for a gift such as clothing or money. After the feast, the elders sit on a large mat for the edteltagan he rirey, to display the symbols for the bride’s value. Ten piles of 10 corn kernels each are laid out in rows. Each pile symbolizes remuneration for the pains taken by the bride’s family in rearing her. For example, one pile represents the purangan (to keep awake at night), the sleepless nights the parents spent over her; another pile represents the tugenan (viand), the nourishment they have given her. Then the groom’s family presents the items of the kagun, which may consist of a house, a piece of land, clothing, money, articles made of iron, bronze, brass, and animals. These items are distributed to members of the bride’s extended family, especially her aunts and uncles and those who contributed to the bridewealth given by her father when he married the bride’s mother.

The negotiations over, the groom’s family presents the tenges (head cloth), which symbolizes that the arrangements must be wrapped up tightly to ensure a happy life for the young couple. The seru ritual follows: The bride and groom sit before a dish of rice. Each of the spokespersons takes a fistful of rice, molds it into a ball, and gives it to the couple, who feeds each other. Then the guests join in the eating, with much revelry. The bride’s mother prepares betel chew and hands it to her daughter, who offers it to the groom. This gesture symbolizes her tasks and duties as a wife. The couple is then given advice by the elders while the guests leave for home. The groom’s parents stay for three more days, during which a purification ritual with offerings of chickens and rice is performed for the couple’s gimukod (soul), whose approval of the marriage is sought. The groom goes home with his parents to call his gimukod in case it stayed there while he was away. He does not stay away too long from his bride’s home because for every day that he is gone, he must gift his in-laws with an article of clothing.

Marriage is an alliance system in which reciprocity and mutual obligation between the groom and bride’s kinship groups are expected. It is therefore a means of maintaining peace and order, for the Manobo’s practice of retaliation does not extend to one’s kindred or allies. Incest taboo is strictly followed, up to a common great-great-great grandparent on both the mother and father’s side. Polygyny, although rarely practiced, was allowed. A datu might resort to it, usually for economic and political reasons. Several wives allowed for more fields that could be cultivated since the Manobo women did all the work in the fields. Polygyny also multiplied one’s alliances and expanded them to several communities. However, the man could take another wife only if the first wife and her parents consented. The first wife remained the head wife.

Initially, the young couple stays with the wife’s family. However, as their family grows, they build their own house, close to the parents of either one. When the husband builds a house, certain taboos must be observed. If he sneezes while looking for a site, he should stop and forego the search for another day. If the cry of the limokon (omen bird or dove) is heard while he is clearing the site, he must look for another site. When he digs holes for the posts, he must avoid unearthing earthworms, termites, or beetles, for these will cause many deaths in the house. The posts must have no disfigurements because these will cause deaths in the family. No vines should be wrapped around them because this means that the owner will die by hanging, and there should be no broken parts because this means that the wife will die. The roof’s gable should face east so that the occupants’ lives “will be like the shining of the sun” (Polenda 1989).

The ladder should be made of indelugung wood, which rhymes with rugung (thunder), so that the residents will have a reputation for virtue “that will echo abroad like thunder.” Under the ladder should be buried a leaf of the pegul tree to ward off harmful intentions; a leaf of indelugung tree to establish a reputation for peace and happiness; a piece of small bamboo called belekayu to frustrate harmful intentions on the family; and a chip from a sharpening stone to induce sharp thinking. Coconut oil is poured on the same spot to ensure good health and happiness.

When the construction is finished, a housewarming ritual is held to keep the busaw away. Chickens and a pig are slaughtered, and their blood is smeared on the ladder, posts, and the main parts of the house. Blood is mixed with items representing the members of the family so that the busaw will take these in place of the people. The posts are painted with lampblack so that the busaw will not see the people in the darkness.

Illness may be caused by the person’s gimukod wandering away from the body. Or, the gimukod of the sick person could have been captured by the gimukod of the dead person and carried away to the latter’s new home. A sick person is made to sit facing the east, with his or her head covered with black cloth through which a threaded needle and a fishhook with a long line are stuck. A dish for the patient and another for the gimukod are set before them. A bit of cooked chicken and rice from the dish are placed in a betel chew container. The sick person’s gimukod is captured and imprisoned in this container. Everyone present gives the patient a gift to encourage him or her to live longer. The container is placed on the patient’s head; it is then opened and the patient eats the bit of food that has been placed inside it.

When death occurs, lapuy (death messengers) are sent to inform relatives and friends. The body is washed, dressed in the best clothes of the deceased, laid on a mat at the exact center of the floor directly underneath the peak of the rooftop, and completely covered with a blanket. Placed near the body are items such as a bolo, which the dead must take with it on its journey to the afterlife. A clothesline is strung parallel to the body, and the clothes of the family or the dead person’s personal possessions are hung here. There is much wailing and shouting, and the agung (gong) is constantly beaten to announce the death to everyone within hearing distance. The number of beats indicates the dead person’s age, status, and social position. After the grave has been dug, someone stands guard by the pit to keep the busaw away. Burial rites begin in the house with the “cutting-the-strand” ritual: An elder blackens half of a strand of manila hemp. This blackened end is held by the family while the white end is tied to the corpse. The strand is cut to signify the cutting of ties of affection between the family and the dead.

A man is buried facing the east so that the sunrise will signal to him that it is time to work. A woman is buried facing the west so that the sunset will remind her that it is time to cook. As the dirt is thrown back into the pit, all turn their backs to avoid the temptation of accompanying the dead person. The grave marker is a low wooden frame. Tree cuttings are stuck around the grave.

After the burial, the mourners go to an unfrequented part of the river to wash themselves and the tools used to dig the grave. When they return to the house, they spit on a burning stick of wood or a fire by the doorway. Everyone takes a small bite from the small meal that has been placed on the mat where the corpse had lain in state. The last person coming in takes the glowing piece of wood and meal out of the house and throws it in the direction of the grave. Everyone, including the soul of the dead, is invited to eat. A mourning period of 8 to 12 days is set, depending on the stature of the dead person. A baby is mourned only for one day; a datu, seven days. There is singing and dancing, but no instrumental music is allowed.

In Salangsang, Cotabato, the mourning period may last from 1 to 10 years, during which time the coffin stays at one side of the room. The coffin is made of a hollowed-out tree trunk, split lengthwise and its edges sealed with a mixture of wood ashes, sweet potato leaves, and lime to contain the odor. The coffin is then half buried about 10 meters away from the house so that the sogoy or gimukod can wander in and out of the body.

The betuung feast is held within a year after the burial; some hold it on the third day. The gimukod is invited to attend, and it is persuaded to journey on to the afterworld without taking anyone with it. Early in the morning, a meal is placed at the threshold, and ashes are sprinkled at the foot of the ladder. Everyone in the house stays still so as not to frighten the soul away. If the ashes bear footprints, this means that the gimukod has come.

For a widow or widower of marriageable age, the betuung feast is an occasion for the parents and parents-in-law, together with the datu or bai, to discuss the prospect of a new spouse for the new widow or widower.

Across the Philippine islands, the bamboo tube is the traditional container for cooking dishes. The first written record of this was in 1525 by Magellan’s chronicler, Pigafetta, who observed it in Palawan. He remarked that rice cooked in bamboo lasts longer than that cooked in clay pots. Another common feature of Manobo cuisine is that before cooking, the main ingredients such as shrimp, fowl, or pork are minced very finely and mixed with plant food that grows abundantly in their natural surroundings. This cooking method ensures that protein sources, which are harder to come by, are distributed evenly among the family members. The Ata Manobo used to have 18 varieties of rice, which they cooked tinalumbo (in bamboo tubes). Dishes wrapped in leaves are called binugsung.

The Tagabawa Bagobo have tinadtad na limokun (minced fruit dove) and tinadtad na dadang (minced shrimp). Additional flavors are provided by the kamatis sa uwak (crow tomatoes), ahos-ahos (false garlic), and kaningag (cinnamon). The Jangan wrap their food in the leaf of the tawunguy (ground orchid) before cooking. They also have a condiment of salted crabs fermented with maggots. The Ubo Manuvu have tinapoy (fermented rice), linaplap na botad (grated corn), tinadtad na bakbak (minced frog), and, during hard times, kal-lot (a poisonous wild yam). For added flavor, they use tawukay (a type of ginger).

The Matigsalug use the foot-wide leaf of the alik-ik (hagikhik in Samarnon) for their sticky rice cakes, or the round leaf of the bongabong (parasol tree) as food wrapper before roasting a dish over the fire or cooking it in the bamboo tube. Famine foods are the heart of the mabul (fishtail palm tree), which is tasteless, and the heart of the rattan, which tastes bitter; hence, these are eaten only as a last resort. For the Matigsalug, an added ingredient to the minced dishes cooked in bamboo is the tiny heart of the dalikan (tagbak or tugis in Bisaya).

Religious Beliefs and Practices

Manobo cosmology consists of four worlds: the many-layered langit (skyworld), pasak or yongsud to mamasak (earthworld), yongsud ni maybowan (underworld), and kulaguan, the Paradise where the epic heroes dwell. The Ilianon believe that the skyworld has seven layers; the Manuvu, nine. Langit has three kinds of inhabitants: the umli, a class of deities who hold themselves apart from human affairs; the diwata, lesser gods who control natural phenomena and various living creatures and are patrons of human activity; and the busaw, malignant spirits who cause illness and misfortune. Other groups consider both the umli and the dayawag as messengers of the gods.

Manobo men performing a ritual
Manobo men performing a ritual (Pau Villanueva)

There are about 50 spirit-deities, of which the supreme deity, who dwells in the katulusan (first layer), is variously called Manama, Kerenen, Nenlimbag or Midlimbag, Megbeveya or Magbabaya, Memintaran, Misuara, Nengazen, and Alataala. The supreme deity of the second layer is Mandangan, goddess of bloodshed and war. Some diwata are Ibabasuk or Ivevasuk, god of farming; Manawbanaw or Manewvanew, god of rain and thunder; Lelawag, god of wild game; Ahmogkat or Ehmagket and Bulalakaw or Bulelakew, gods of rivers and streams; and Mengilala, god of murder. On the other hand, some groups consider them as various aspects of the supreme deity. Ivevasuk, for instance, is considered by some Manobo as the most important deity because he is essential to human survival.

Ipememehandi, goddess of wealth, is considered equal to the supreme deity. Her dwelling place in the skyworld overflows with wealth: The creek shimmers with silver coins, the plains are made of gold, the riverbanks are mirrors. There are pewter bells for gravel, porcelain jars for stones, and tikes (leg or knee bands of braided nito) and necklaces for moss on trees. All, rich or poor, must venerate Ipememehandi with offerings of silver money, betel chew, cloth, and sacrificial animals—the rich to become richer, and the poor to improve their lot in life.

Tegulambong, Ipememehandi’s husband, can cause illness when angered and must be appeased by a kaliga-on healing ceremony and feast. The kaliga-on is not performed for Ipememehandi.

Central, too, to the life of the Manobo is Manawbanaw, the god responsible for the Manobo system of taboos. Considered equal to the supreme deity, he is the god of rain, thunder, and lightning. He punishes taboo breakers, especially those who treat animals contemptuously, with a power called inayew or inanit. “Inayew” is also used as an alternate name for Manawbanaw. One punishment that he sends taboo breakers is a hailstorm that would melt into a lake in which the whole village of taboo breakers would drown to be transformed into crocodiles. Pelekumpas is the goddess of the Valley of Dancing, where plants of gold make tinkling music and the soil is made of silver and gold. Music, too, is produced by the soul dancing with feet on the ground. The smallest layer of the skyworld is the size of a gabi leaf and inhabited by the manaog, who make children cry by scaring them.

The salladan, also called mandalluman, banwa, pasak, lupa, is the earth: a flat, circular space, the center of which is the island of Mindanao. The “navel of the earth” is Mount Kalatungan. The sky is a solid dome resting on the earth like an overturned bowl. The earth is inhabited by the human race and environmental spirits, both benign and hostile, who dwell in caves, balete trees, creeks, springs, and earth mounds. The tagamaling, for example, who live in the balete tree, are benign spirits who teach the mamasak how to make dagmay (abaca cloth), chant the epic Owaging, and sing tudum (short songs). The tibaglinaw is a semi-diwata, semi-busaw creature inhabiting the budbud tree; the matigla-agnon is a bloodthirsty busaw that roams the sky when it is red.

The Dibabawon recognize five types of inhabitants on the pasak: the mamasak, human race; the tagbanua/mangudlaway, harmful busaw dwelling in balete trees; mandalingan, tree-dwelling witches; Apila, a human-eating giant; and numerous lunod, busaw of streams, rivers, and lakes who bless fisherfolk with a good catch if properly propitiated, or punish them with death by drowning if neglected. There are malevolent busaw that are spirits who quench their thirst for blood and hunger for flesh by causing sickness and death. On the other hand, the busaw can also appear to chosen persons in their dream to guide and aid them.

Every person has a gimukod or umagad, which is nearly equivalent to the English term “soul.” According to Polenda (1989), the gimukod is the “true person, with its own personality and mind apart from the body. It can see, hear, and feel things that the body cannot sense. It has little control over the person to whom it is linked, yet is ultimately responsible for that person’s acts.” Some groups believe that a person has as many as seven gimukod.

Illness is caused by an angry busaw or diwata because the sick person has broken a taboo or has not paid the spirit proper respect. A baylan heals the sick person with a curing ritual consisting of chanted prayers, a dance, and use of medicinal herbs and an amulet. Illness also occurs when the gimukod strays away from the body, and so the baylan must be called to go after it and return it to the body of the sick person.

In death, the body returns to the earth, the breath returns to Nengazen (supreme being), and the gimukod travels to the afterworld, which is either suroga, a happy place for good persons, or naraka, a place of punishment for evil persons. However, punishment is temporary, for everyone eventually goes to naraka. The afterworld is also variously called Ibo, which is ruled by Maibuyan; Maybollan, where Iboll weaves dagmay out of dead people’s hair; Maybowan, which is ruled by Ibo; and Iveyan, which is ruled by a deity of the same name. Those who die a natural death and those who die in battle take separate roads to the afterworld. Some say that this afterworld overlaps with the earthworld but is invisible.

One version of the gimukod’s journey to the afterworld is that of the western Bukidnon Manobo. The journey begins when the gimukod leaves the body and hovers over the peak of the rooftop, looking down on its body directly underneath. As it starts its journey, it weeps. The Manobo say that a drizzle that occurs while the sun is shining is bulangbulang or a gimukod’s tears. Menampad, a servant of the afterworld, cuts off the gimukod’s hair. The gimukod then balances itself on the kizupil, a very long, steep ridge. A sinful gimukod will plummet into a lake full of monstrous animals; a moderately sinful gimukod may fall but will be caught by the ancestral dog or cat with golden fur; and a good gimukod never falls because it is accustomed to taking the right and sure path.

The gimukod comes upon a giant balete tree and digs into it with a knife so that the sap will flow. A flock of kuligi hawks, making their characteristic noise, will fly to signal to the people on earth that someone has died. The gimukod then takes one of many paths, depending upon the nature of the person’s death. There is a path for murder victims, for each method of suicide, for women who have died in childbirth, for drowning victims, for snakebite victims, and so forth.

The gimukod must cross Lake Naraka, which is full of snakes, crocodiles, maggots, and other repulsive animals. A sinful gimukod will be attacked by these creatures, whereas a good gimukod will cross unscathed.

The good gimukod will finally reach the house of King Cumegenal and Queen Bulan and will be welcomed with the music of gongs, shell trumpets, drums, clappers, coconut shell fiddles, flutes, and boat lutes. A generous person will be rewarded with many possessions in the afterworld; a selfish one will have nothing.

A slightly different journey is that taken by the gimukod of the Ilianon. It passes through the following places: a dark country overgrown with bakayawan (bamboo groves); a lighted road; a muddy road wet with the tears of the deceased; lilingayon (grassland); a balete tree which the gimukod taps and whose leaves transform into kulili, birds that fly to the dwelling place of other gimukod to announce the new arrival; Sumidaw River in which the gimukod bathes; Panamparan, where the gimukod disrobes, has its hair cut and shaved, and is bathed with lana (oil), and where man and woman suckle from each other; and Maivuyan’s abode, where the gimukod is met by a guide who will take it to Ilanganon, a place of singing and dancing.

Edsabap is a dead person wishing to be reincarnated. Its gimukod becomes a blossom on a fruit tree. When it has grown into a fruit, the gimukod makes a married couple crave for it. The wife eats the fruit, which turns into blood in her womb and becomes a baby. The child will resemble the gimukod’s former person in appearance and manner. The new person will live a short life and will have the same manner of death as its former person.

Manobo babaylan or shaman
Manobo babaylan or shaman (Ime Morales, GMA News)

The Manobo perform several kinds of rituals, ranging from the simplest and most private, to the most elaborate feasts lasting several days of singing and dancing. Rituals are meant to propitiate either the diwata or the busaw, but there are none addressed to the supreme deity. Animal sacrifice is the central point of most rituals because blood is the most important offering to the spirits. However, a ritual is usually begun with an offering of betel chew because all expressions of relationship, whether social or religious, are initiated with the offering of betel chew. It is also considered the spirits’ favorite food.

The kaliga-on is a lavish feast lasting from three to nine days in which the epic Ulegingen or Owaging is ceremonially enacted. It is held for various reasons: to fulfill a person’s panaad (vow) in return for a request made to a diwata, to plead or to express gratitude for a bountiful harvest or catch, or to heal a sick person.

There are two kinds of diwata who are believed to participate in healing rituals: the umli or dayawag, who helps the baylan discover the offense committed against the diwata that has caused the illness; and the ebawyon or bantay, the baylan’s guardian spirit, who persuades the busaw causing the illness to leave the sick person.

The Manuvu classify the shaman into three types: the walian (common practitioner), tumanuron (one with guardian spirit), and pohohana (diviner, prophet, and performer of miracles). The western Bukidnon Manobo recognize two types of baylan: those who can see the busaw, talk with the diwata, and cure their patients by blowing on them; and those who discover the cure for the person’s illness through dreams sent to them by the diwata and then perform a religious ceremony to heal the patient.

Some baylan have ebpemuringan, the magical power to create or transform substances, for instance, water in a rice pot into rice, or betel chew into a plant.

When a diwata wishes to convey a message, it sends a spirit messenger to possess the baylan and speak through him or her. While in ebpintezan or state of possession, the baylan performs the healing ritual. However, a baylan may also be possessed by a timbusew, a bloodthirsty evil spirit. So, instead of treating the sick, the baylan kills the sick person so that the demon may devour the sick person.

There are three levels of leadership in the religious community: the baylan, terewtawan, and sangka. The baylan appoints a terewtawan, a male assistant who travels from village to village to spread the baylan’s teachings. About 10 sangka, male and female, assist the terewtawan in preaching and healing the sick.

Anyone of any gender can become a baylan. One may ask to become apprenticed to a baylan by offering the tendan he idtendan, a gift consisting of the following: mirror, comb, turban, pair of trousers, shirt, a bolo, seven pieces of cloth of varying patterns, a white kerchief and a black kerchief for betel chew offerings, and seven chickens. One may also become a baylan independently by undertaking several steps. The persons offer rice and chicken and pray to the deity to send a prophetic revelation through a vision or dream. For the next seven days, they make offerings. Neighbors may participate in these offerings. A dream will come to the aspiring baylan commanding them to search for a strange object, such as a stone or piece of wood. The next day, this project fulfilled, they perform the edregaan, anointing the object with blood to give it magical power. A spirit patron will appear to them in a dream to confirm that they have indeed received a sign of the deity’s approval. Again, they make offerings for seven days. By this time, more believers will come to participate in these rituals. People from other parts will begin to hear of the new baylan and come to visit. If they demonstrate miraculous powers, they will be accepted by the people as true baylan.

The baylan and their followers build a turugan, a very large house to be their residence and assembly place for rituals and sacrifices. Beside the turugan is a kamalig or a small house that no one can enter except the baylan and the terewtawan. This is where sacrifices, betel chew offerings, fasting, and prayers to the baylan’s deity are made when the shamans are beset with difficulties in the course of their work (e.g., when a patient cannot be cured). Although the baylan cannot demand payment for their services, the people they have helped are expected to offer some payment.

The baylan and their assistants preach against the sins especially inspired by Kazang, the deity of illicit sex and adultery, and Mangilala, god of murder.

Some people can make charms, like the bungat or kinaagman, made of secret ingredients revealed by the busaw. The bungat is made of herbs kept in a small bamboo tube or bottle. The owner wraps the bungat in red cloth and places it in a little shelter in the middle of the field to keep robbers away from one’s field.

The kinaagman or gamut is made of parts of certain plants and various creatures. It can cause a spectacular death, accompanied by wind, lightning, thunder, the sun’s intense heat, and swarms of hornets. The owner can pray to the chief of the busaw that the victim be placed beyond the baylan’s help. There are various types of kinaagman, for each of which there is an antidote. The pentevas can kill a whole family, one member after the other; peluwag causes dysentery; linggang makes the victim expel insects, tiny worms, cockroaches, and weeds from the body; lipetuk makes the abdomen swell until it bursts; and duti is mixed into the victim’s food and drink to cause death.

The diwata were demonized as false gods by Catholic and Christian doctrines. Christianized Manobo learned to disavow their native religion to avoid being shamed, even as they continued to patronize traditional medicine and seek healing rituals by the baylan. Rituals came to be practiced in the privacy of homes rather than in the festiveness of community gatherings. New forms or hybrid rituals have emerged due to interactions between the Manobo and migrant settlers. Nonnative instruments like the classical guitar are now used in rituals. Food offerings now include retail rum, salted meat, biscuits, candies, and orange soda. And many rituals are spoken in several languages, including Manobo and Visayan.

Manobo Dwellings, House Construction and Community

A seminomadic Manobo settlement consists of 4 to 12 houses located near a stream and scattered in a section of forest clearing. Each house may shelter an extended family, so that the number of families comprising one settlement far exceeds the number of houses in it. In 1966, for instance, Barrio Barandias Bukidnon only consisted of 12 houses but had a population of 50 families. On the other hand, a relatively settled village of 50 to 60 houses may have a population of 300 to 400.

Manobo house
Manobo house (CCP Collections)

Manobo house of wood and grass
Manobo house of wood and grass (SIL International)

In the past, when intertribal feuding and slave-raiding expeditions were common, a kuta (fortress) was built on a hill that was difficult to climb. The kuta consisted of a house surrounded by large logs standing vertically to prevent the enemy from climbing over. The house was further protected by upright piles, the spaces between which were filled with dirt and stones compressed together. A noisemaker was attached to the strong door to function as an alarm.

The Manobo house is a rectangular one-room dwelling, with minimal decorations and no furniture. The single room serves as kitchen, bedroom, and receiving room. It is elevated about 1.5 to 8 meters from the ground, on 4 to 16 light posts. Its high supports are intended for defense and protection against marauders. Corner posts extend upward from 1.5 to 2 meters above the floor to support the main beams on which rest four substantial rafters, which in turn support the ridgepole. Lighter rafters of wood or bamboo are then placed in parallel rows over this frame to support the roofing of either rattan or flattened bamboo shingles. The roof is a four-sided gable. There are two smoke vents, one on each end of the roof ridge, not only to provide an exit for smoke but also to admit light and air.

The walls are light poles of wood or of bamboo laid horizontally one on top of the other or are palm fronds tied loosely to upright pieces. The walls do not reach the roof, leaving a continuous window between the top of the walls and the roof. This unique arrangement is done not only for ventilation but mainly for defense purposes: No one can approach the house from any direction without being seen.

Forming a frame for the slatted bamboo or palm flooring are four horizontal pieces attached to the corner posts, which are supported by several small posts and propped up by still more posts on the joints. In houses conceived for defense purposes, an even bigger number of supports and crosspieces and stronger materials are used. The interior has an elevated platform on one or either side of the room. This serves as the sleeping area, and as chair or bench. There is a fireplace near the wall on the opposite side of the doorway. Instead of a door, there is a small opening in the middle of the room. A notched log serves as ladder.

Decorations in the house may consist of the following: trophies of the chase such as wild boar jawbones or deer antlers; the sacred jar, a mark of wealth and a venerable relic; and plates and bowls, which also have a utilitarian function.

The houses are built to last only from three to five years. This is because the swidden farming system compels the family to move in search of forest land to clear each time the crop production on their farmstead declines. They reuse whatever parts of their old house are still usable when they build a house on the new site. A family also moves to a new house when the head of the family dies. The old house is either burned or completely abandoned; no part of it is brought to the family’s new location, for this would cause another death.

In Salangsang, Lebak, Cotabato, the Manobo house has two or three levels. The afayunan (kitchen), the first section of the house that is built, is the lowest level, about 1.5 meters above the ground. It is the gomowen (doorway) to the house. The Manobo prefer a log 10 to 15 centimeters in diameter for a ladder, with notches for a toe hold, rather than the standard ladder with rungs. At mealtime, the log can be turned over, with the notches facedown, to keep the dogs out. The bark of lawan or kubkub (Philippine mahogany) 40 centimeters wide, afus (split bamboo) 4 centimeters wide, or sinalegseg (poles) 5 centimeters wide are tied together with balag-gen (rattan strips) to make up the sa-ag (flooring). The ab-bu (fireplace) consists of three rocks placed in a triangle surrounded by earth 91 centimeters deep and ashes 6 centimeters deep. The kitchen roof is lower than the main roof.

The main section of the house, measuring 3.72 square meters, is about 35 centimeters higher than the kitchen to keep the evil spirits out. The higher floor also serves as a bench for people warming themselves by the fire as they sit facing the kitchen. Four bugsod (corner posts), each 12 centimeters in diameter, support a main section. More posts are added if it is bigger than the standard size. Alan (poles) standing from the ground to support the flooring may number from 20 to 50, depending on the flooring material. Bark requires more poles for support than the split bamboo or 5-centimeter sinalegseg poles. Balagkal (crosspoles) 8 centimeters in diameter, are laid across the vertical alan poles to reinforce the flooring.

The kalatkat (walls) are only about 1.5 meters high, so that a continuous window is created by the space between the steeply rising angle of the gable roof and the top of the walls. Additional small windows are the tagongo, 30 to 60 square centimeters. The usual walling materials are 60-centimeter pieces of lunot (bark) sewn together with rattan strips. These are supported by a grill framework of poles or split bamboo set 30 centimeters apart. Better-looking walls are made of woven horizontal and vertical strips of bulu (small bamboo), which make for window openings that are more even-sided.

The atof (roof) is made of eli (cogon grass) put together into sheaves held together at both ends with split bamboo. These sheaves are laid one by one in an overlapping fashion, starting from the lower layer to the peak of the roof. The overlapping doubles the thickness of the cogon sheets and effectively keeps out the rain and the sun’s heat. A status symbol, also believed to ward off evil spirits, is a decorative piece of wood extending from the roof’s top beam. It is about 30 centimeters long, rising at an angle of 80º sharply changing to 45º. This was originally attached to the datu’s rooftop.

One of the bigger houses in Salangsang has a sunken section 30 centimeters below the floor level in the middle of the main part of the house. Measuring 3 square meters, it functions as an assembly place for the men so that they can sit around the fire, which is built in the middle of the sunken section.

Before cutting the bamboo poles that will be used as building materials, the Matigsalug builder rubs ginger onto the part of the bamboo that will be cut. This is done on a moonless night because it is believed that this prevents insects from attacking the cut bamboo.

Matigsalug houses have walls of either lakap (split bamboo) or woven bagakay (reed). Roofs are thatched with cogon grass. The datu’s residence, called balay kalibolongan, serves a special function in the Matigsalug community. It is a square, two-story structure that serves as the assembly hall, besides being the residence of the datu and his family. On the first floor are the lasod, the family residence, and the abuhan (fireplace). It is where the datu holds discussions with the igbuyag (elder) and councilmen. The first floor has a lantawan (window) all around it. A few steps lead to the second floor, which has the sinabong (married couple’s room) and the sinabong sa mangubay (unmarried daughters’ room). A recent addition to the traditional Matigsalug house is the ilutuan-koonon (kitchen-dining room).

The present form of the datu’s residence has already been influenced by lowland culture and technology, although its indigenous character can still be gleaned. In traditional Matigsalug architecture, the different parts of the house are either attached to each other by wooden pegs that are driven into holes or tied together by liway (rattan) strips. The various specific patterns and techniques used to tie the rattan strips not only secure the house but also create a decorative effect. Nails and other modern construction materials, however, have replaced the liway and the wooden peg.

A himulayan is an anteroom to the datu’s residence. Along its sides are built-in seats and, above, a loft area for resting and sleeping. Next to the balay kalibolongan is the lulapong (granary), built and designed to keep vermin and pests out. It is fully enclosed and raised four to five meters above the ground on a single post at the center. Beams or poles arranged like the spokes of a wheel, with the single post as the hub, hold the granary up. The walls are made of lakap.The roofs of both the himulayan and lulapong are thatched with cogon grass. The roof of the lulapong is a gable that falls down to the level of the floor, thus giving the whole structure a triangular look.

Today, Manobo communities are organized according to the barangay, purok, and sitio. Houses are most dense toward town centers, where there is electricity and commerce. Households are usually small, although many still prefer to live close to their kin. Houses are now built like bungalows, with walls and elevations separating rooms. The furniture, decorations, and construction materials are signifiers of economic status: concrete, hardwood, iron, and glass for the better-off, and thatch and bamboo for the less privileged.

Manobo Traditional Costume, Attire, Arts and Crafts 

Before the Spanish colonial period, the Manobo wore bark cloth to cover themselves. Today they wear Western clothes: the skirt and blouse or dress for the women, trousers and sports shirt for the men. The heavily embroidered traditional Manobo garments are now worn only for special occasions.

Manobo basket weavers
Manobo basket weavers (Dariel and Catherine Quiogue)

Traditional fabric for clothes was abaca or hemp, dyed through the ikat process. Nowadays, they use cotton cloth obtained through trade. Dyes were acquired from plants and trees: The tagum plant and the bark of the lamud tree produced black, the turmeric root, yellow, and the keleluza plant, red. Ginuwatan are inwoven representational designs such as flowers. If cotton trade cloth is bought, big floral designs are preferred. Typical colors are red, black, yellow, green, blue, and white.

Manobo ancestors had blankets of abaca fiber called linetungan if these had multicolored designs and bayas if plain white.

Traditional garments most extensively described by researchers are those of the Agusanon Manobo, the Bukidnon or Higaonon, and the western Bukidnon. According to Manuel (1973), this costume was introduced only in the early part of this century or a little earlier, for the Manuvu did not know weaving. It was during the 19th century that contact with other groups acquainted the Manuvu with abaca cloth.

The color of the body of the jacket and its matching skirt or trousers identifies the tribal group to which the wearer belongs. The Agusanon Manobo usually wear red, with contrasting colors for the sleeves and embroidery thread. The Umayamnon Manobo wear royal blue, and the Matigsalug, navy blue, with red and white as the favorite embroidery or patchwork colors.

Manobo woman wearing traditional garments
Manobo woman wearing traditional garments (Dariel and Catherine Quiogue)

The style of the garment varies with each Manobo subgroup. The Agusanon umpak or the Ilianon kumbala, the jacket for both men and women, is closed so it is pulled over the head. Among the Tigwahanon, the women wear the pakabu, a blouse with flared sleeves; the men wear the binukad, the typical Manobo jacket. It is embroidered on all the seams, that is, the cuffs, shoulders, sides, neckline, and hemline at the waist level. Typical decorative colors are red, yellow, white, and blue. Among the Agusanon Manobo, persons in authority wear brighter colors than slaves and commoners.

Pagtatani (abaca weaving) is the work of women, done with a backstrap loom. Agusanon Manobo embroidery is called suyam. Special embroidered designs are called samoy. Binain (decorative patterns) are geometric such as diamonds, rectangles, squares, and triangles; horizontal lines and zigzags; and representational figures such as a dancing man, stars, leaves, and crocodiles. Patchwork consists of red, white, and black cloth; embroidery colors are red, white, black, yellow, blue, and green. Based on the type of decoration used, western Bukidnon women’s blouses are called linebian (zigzag), kinulingtan (striped patchwork), or tinedtezan (geometrical patchwork patterns).

For most groups, the men’s jacket is short, moderately close-fitting, square-cut, and long-sleeved. Besides being embroidered, the seams of the jacket are covered with cotton tufts of red, yellow, and dark blue. A strip of cloth of a different color from the jacket is sewn between the sleeves and the body of the jacket. The top of the jacket’s back is covered with an embroidered band, four to six centimeters wide.

Most Manobo men have two kinds of sawa or sawal (trousers)—one for working and another for festive occasions. Both types reach to just below the knees. The working trousers are close-fitting and plain. The Tigwahanon call this type of trousers bandira. The festive trousers are square-cut, baggy, and embroidered in the typical colors and designs on the sides and cuffs. A fringe of cotton yarn is sewn between all the seams except at the waist. The trousers are kept in place with a drawstring, the ends of which are attached tassels in the typical colors.

The men carry their betel quid in a kamuyot, a square abaca knapsack, usually decorated only by a fringe of multicolored yarn that is attached around the seam. It is worn with the arms passing under two strings attached to both sides. If elaborately decorated, it is surrounded by tassels and covered with beads and embroidery.

The chief of the bagani had a special attire that was predominantly red. The red jacket and trousers were embroidered in the same colors and designs as the ordinary man’s attire. His red headkerchief was embroidered with white, blue, and yellow cotton yarn at the corners.

The woman’s blouse is as lavishly adorned as the man’s jacket. The color of the cuffs matches that of the body. Embroidery is profuse on the front of the blouse. Bands of embroidery in alternating colors cover the seams and the oval-shaped neckline. No embroidery is done on the hemline. On the back near the shoulders is a band of intricate embroidery five to six centimeters wide.

There are two kinds of skirts: the saya and the malong. The knee-length saya is wide. Its color is identical to that of the blouse. It is adorned with patchwork or embroidered with geometric patterns or realistic figures. The malong was originally of abaca but is now of cotton cloth. It is shaped like a long barrel and is folded over so that one half overlaps the other. It is gathered at the left side and tucked in at the waist. Among the Agusanon Manobo, it is almost always red, with inwoven horizontal designs such as black bands or alternating bands of red and black with white stripes in between. Some Manobo tribes never wear the malong but use it for many other purposes: as a blanket, crib, mosquito bar, carrying bag, and so forth. The Tigwahanon also have the ampit, a barrel skirt shorter than the malong, with an inwoven checkered design.

The skirt is held in place with a waistband consisting of braided nito or human hair, the ends of which are prevented from unraveling by a strip of cloth. Attached to each end are multicolored strands of yarn and strings of white seed beads. Hanging from the waistband, on the right side, are pendants that hold hawk bells, seashells, additional strings of beads, and medicinal and magical charms of strong-smelling seeds, roots, and grass. The Ilianon have rattan belts called pinding.

The traditional hairdo for both sexes is a bun and blunt bangs. The woman wears her bun on the crown of her head, whereas the man’s bun is lower, halfway between the top of his head and his nape. The woman’s bun is fastened in place by a bamboo comb with incised decorations or inlaid mother-of-pearl bits of circles, squares, and triangles. Tigwahanon women sometimes tie their bangs back and wear the lambong, strings of beads, in place of their bangs.

The tubao, the common turban, is knotted in front by the men and knotted at the back by the women. It comes in a combination of colors, the favorite being white, black, red, green, and yellow. Tigwahanon women have the komakulkul, a headdress of club mosses. During social or religious gatherings, the western Bukidnon women wear the pelupandung, which fans out from the head “like a giant radial comb” (Polenda 1989, 144). It is made of wooden rods tied together with multicolored yarn. It is adorned with beads and sequins. A less spectacular headpiece is one that hangs straight down from the bun. It is embroidered and is flanked by two large tassels of yarn each hanging in front of the ear.

The men’s headgear is the tengkulu, a piece of cloth that they bind around their head. Those worn for special occasions are adorned with beads, yarn, goat’s hair, and, in western Bukidnon, with feathers. Originally worn when the bagani went on a raiding expedition, each raider’s tengkulu was unique in pattern and design. In western Bukidnon, the men’s equivalent of the pelupandung is adorned with large plumes, such as those of the hawk, eagle, or the Garuda, and dyed in different colors. Wooden rods, about 30 centimeters long, make up the base and are wrapped with multicolored yarn.

The baklaw (armbands) and tikesor tikkos, 1.5 centimeters wide, are worn tightly around the forearms and just below the knees, respectively. Sometimes these are covered with beads. Besides being ornamental, these are believed to strengthen the men’s limb muscles. The pugnot, tight-fitting wristbands six millimeters wide, are made of braided, glossy black agsam vines and believed to work as a charm against scorpion bites.

Hanging from each ear of the woman is a wooden disk, three centimeters in diameter and laminated with silver, gold, or beaten brass wire. Red cotton yarn passes through a hole in the ear disk and the hole in the earlobe, with a tuft of the cotton yarn left over the ear hole. Another type of ear ornamentation is made of four strings of beads, 30 centimeters long, hanging from each ear. Cotton tassels are attached to the ends of the beads. The colors of both the beads and tassels are red, white, black, and yellow. The balaring are strings of beads attached to a pair of round metal earplugs so that the beads pass under the chin from one earplug to the other.

Balungkag are necklaces made of multicolored small seed beads, small shells, crocodile teeth, coins, or multicolored glass beads strung together to make geometric patterns. The sinakit is a necklace of beaded strings that fit snugly around the neck. The man’s sinakit is about three fingers wide with a zigzag pattern like a python’s back.

Attached to the front of the woman’s jacket is a silver disk 7 to 10 centimeters in diameter. It is incised with concentric circles or other such geometric designs and combined with a series of small triangular holes.

The women wear armlets so numerous that they can fill up the whole forearm. Highly prized armlets are those made of sagai-sagai (black coral) because these are believed to contract around the wearer’s arm to warn of impending danger. Another armlet is made of taklobo (seashell), which is used for its whorl whose cross section is triangular. About five black coral and white taklobo armlets are placed alternately and worn all at once, usually on the left arm.

Bracelets are bands of beaten brass wire, one centimeter wide, or braided bands of plant fiber covered with white beads. The baloso is a shell bracelet. During festive occasions, the women wear dutus (anklets), six millimeters in diameter, two to each leg. As many as 15 pewter bells are attached to each anklet. Together with the hawk bells hanging from the belt, these make tinkling sounds as they dance.

Toe rings are made from brass wire coiled around a wooden base. Besides being ornamental, toe rings prevent the wearers from slipping as they walk, for the toe rings act as “tread.”

A bride wears additional accessories of beaded necklaces, from which hang pendants of crocodile teeth and pieces of mother-of-pearl; bracelets of large white seashells, plant fiber and coral; a comb, beaded and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and from which hang cotton tassels; and leglets of braided plant fiber.

Teeth filing, no longer practiced now, was done on both boys and girls when they reached puberty. Fourteen front teeth were filed down to the gums, and the final effect was that the upper teeth appeared to jut out over the lower teeth. The teeth were then blackened with the juice of the mau-mau plant. A stimulant, consisting of a mixture of the mau-mau juice, tobacco quid, lime, and soot compressed into the size of a marble, is placed between the upper lip and upper gum and removed only when the mouth is used for other purposes. Hence, there is a little bulge on the upper part of the mouth. This mixture is replaced whenever it loses its flavor.

Manobo of both sexes have their earlobes pierced, although the women enlarge the holes up to 2.5 centimeters wide with tufts of pandanus grass. Two smaller holes may be added on the upper part of the ear lobes. The face is kept hairless; hence, both sexes shave their eyebrows, and the men prevent beards from growing by plucking.

Tattooing, a practice that is now fading, is done for ornamental purposes. The men wore tattoos on their chest, upper arms, forearms, and fingers. The women wore theirs on the same parts of the body, but the most elaborate tattoos were done on their calves. The Manuvu women wore less around their waistline and on their forearms. Tattoo designs are the same as those embroidered on their clothes, with the addition of the binuaja (crocodile figure), ginibang (iguana), binuyo (betel leaf) and other leaf designs, and stars. The western Bukidnon Manobo use any design that catches their fancy (e.g., a name, bird, or human figure).

The sayap is a bamboo hat made of badtek bamboo cut into thin strips and woven. It has two layers, between which are either erik-ik grass or anahaw leaves that make the hat waterproof. Woven split rattan strips form an inner layer, which snugly fits the head. To this is added a brim that extends from the underside of the hat.

Manobo basket
Manobo basket (Photo from CCP Collections)

The Manobo have numerous types of baskets made of either wickerwork or plaited rattan: fish baskets, rice baskets, storage baskets, betel nut baskets, and pack baskets. Other implements of basketwork are fish traps, chicken traps, and ceremonial trays.

The frame of a basket is a cylindrical piece of wood with a flat top and a bottom. Rattan strips are woven around this frame. The upper rim is reinforced with a circular band of bamboo. The whole basket is made water tight with tabon-tabon seeds filling up all spaces. The winnowing tray is woven out of split badtek bamboo alternating with strips of the hard outer layer of bamban canes. The bubo is a fish trap made of rattan strips. The cage is about one meter long, cigar shaped, with one end larger than the other. A cone-shaped trap, made of bamboo slats, is placed inside the large end to allow the fish to enter but not to escape. A similarly constructed fish trap is the cylindrical da-ing or sungkub used in the swamps for mudfish.

Mats are made from stalks of sedsed, a wild sedge. These are dried, dyed, flattened, and boiled in red, black, yellow, or green dye before weaving. Patterns are bitundu, bineligyas (diagonal), pineselangga, and megapid.

The limbutung is a sleeveless armor of abaca fibers dyed with several colors and woven in patterns that resemble the Manobo embroidery designs. The armor consists of three layers, between which is cotton stuffing. Further protection is provided by the lemina, a round, concave piece of brass of whatever size its user chooses. One end of the pelewanen, a long embroidered piece of red cloth, is wrapped around the waist to keep the limbutung in place. Then the lemina is fastened to the chest with small but strong chains. The shield is made of wood called lipega. The center is hollowed out for the handgrip. Tufts of horsehair are stuck through a row of holes on the outer edges. Each tuft is clamped in place by a pair of polished bentung bamboo.

Manobo Myth, Legends and Literary Arts

The Manuvu have atukon, riddles; panonggelengan, proverbs; pangumanon, folktales, fables, and humorous tales; ituan, myths and legends; and Owaging. Narrative poems and lyric poems are generally also ritual songs addressed to gods. The Ilianon Manobo have the following narrative prose forms: tudtul, a news item; guhud, a historical account; and teterema, folktale.

Riddles of the western Bukidnon Manobo show the use of metaphorical language in describing their natural environment, material culture, and human anatomy. Each riddle is preceded by a phrase “entuke nu kediey.” The following are examples of their riddles:

Emun edtibasan nune vasag

ne edlambas ne linear. (Sikan is luvi)

(If you cut into it, it’s a bow;

If you pierce it, it’s a pool. [Coconut])

Kesile man guntaan heyan ne ziya nu edluwiti

te zizale. (Sikan is tikulan te manuk)

(Camote, the inside of which you peel.

[Chicken gizzard])

Linew man guntaan heyan ne

nelingut te ligewana. (Sikan is mata)

(A pool surrounded by fishing poles. [The eyes])

Buntud man guntaan heyan ne emun

ed-ahaan nu ne egkiramkiram da,

ne emun egkewaan nu ne egkekawe nu.

(Sikan is izung)

(A mountain that can only be dimly seen,

yet you can reach it with your hand. [Nose])

Uripen nu man guntaan

heyan ne pinelangge nu su

ebpenugitan da ke egkaan,

ne sikan is tai zin ne egkeenen nu.

(Sikan is gelingen he vatu)

(Your slave that you carefully feed

by putting food in its mouth,

its tail is what you eat.

[Hand-operated stone corn mill])

Likewise, Dibabawon riddles explore and reimagine objects, things, and experiences that compose their world (Eugenio 2005):

Nokoy kan og-inom,

kona ogko-on. (Sokodu.)

(What is that which drinks,

but does not eat. [Bamboo water tubes])

Usa ca lugas humay

pono ang balay. (Suga)

(One rice grain

fills up the whole house. [Light])

The following are Ilianon Manobo proverbs:

Ke etew ne kena edlilingey te

impuun din ne kena

ebpekeuma diya te edtamanan din.

(He who does not look back to his origins

will not reach his destination.)

Ke mevandes ne ed-ipanenew ne

melaaram ke egkeruhi.

(If a man walks fast and steps on a thorn,

it will go in deep, but if he walks slowly,

it will go in only a little.)

Buwan and Suga mourning the death of their child
Buwan and Suga mourning the death of their child (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

Myths, by their very nature, explain how parts and aspects of their world came to be. In the Dibabawon myth “The Child of the Moon,” Buwan and Suga (Moon and Sun) are happy parents of an infant. One day, Buwan goes out to fetch water. She leaves Suga to take care of their child after reminding him not to look at the child in the hammock. Suga swings the hammock, carefully keeping his back turned to it, but the baby suddenly moves, startling Suga. He turns to look and the child melts under his searing glance. Buwan, weeping bitterly, berates Suga and resolves to leave him. She cuts the hammock support and turns them into trees, the hammock into mountains, and the water that she has fetched into rivers. She vows that she will show up only at night while he appears at daytime. Pieces of the burnt child she strews around, saying that the sounds heard whenever she would show up at night will be the voice of her child. Weeping, Suga can only concede.

A myth about feuding gods in the skyworld explains why the east is red. Ballak and Sallaguitungan were two of the deities who inhabited the skyworld. Ballak helped some of his friends of the earthworld to enter his world. A friend, Tapokak, having overeaten, needed to relieve himself. While doing so, he fell and his blood covered the plants around. Sallaguitungan stopped Ballak from helping Tapokak. Ballak angrily challenged Sallaguitungan but he could only spread himself half the size of Sallaguitungan, who could make himself as big as the universe. Sallaguitungan then bit off the thumb of Ballak’s wife and threw it eastward. The east turned red with the blood of Ballak’s wife. Ballak never challenged Sallaguitungan again.

The Manobo believe in the existence of the pusod to dagat, the navel of the sea, into which the water falls when it evaporates or during low tide. Maylan, also called Makaranos, once covered this pusod with his shield. The eagle Manaol, guardian of the pusod, begged him to remove the shield to prevent the earth from flooding. Maylan complied, and the eagle led him to where he wanted to go.

Manobo epic hero Agyu, on top of a fort he constructed with his people
Manobo epic hero Agyu, on top of a fort he constructed with his people (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

Manobo myths reflect the religious beliefs of the people. A western Bukidnon myth explains the sacredness of the betel chew. It is the means by which people attain immortality, in recompense for their difficult and painful life on earth. Nengazen (Supreme Being) made Mungan, Agyu’s sister-in-law and the first baylan, by sending her a maya bird which carried betel chew. The areca nut was very small and striped with gold, which signified that Mungan had completed her shamanship and had no need for ordinary food. The spirits and gods eat only betel chew, their favorite food.

Manobo epics that have been documented and translated are the Ulahingan (also known as Uwaging, Ulaging or Owaging), Tulalang, Agyu, and Tuwaang. Agyu is an epic hero who is known to most of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, such as the Bukidnon and most Manobo subgroups. His adventures that are recounted here are those belonging to the Ilianon epic cycle:

The sons of Pamulaw—Agyu, Banlak, and Kuyasu—live in the country of Ayuman. They have four sisters, two of whom are named in the epic as Yambungan and Ikwangan. Banlak’s wife, Mungan, is afflicted with leprosy. One day, Banlak and Kuyasu deliver nine lumps of beeswax to the Moro datu with whom Agyu trades. The Moro datu is angered by the measly amount given, so a fight ensues between him and Banlak. Anticipating a Moro attack on their country, Agyu leads his people in an exodus to the mountain of Ilian, where they build a fort and lay traps for the pursuing Moros. After a victorious battle against the Moros, Agyu and his people move to Pinamatun Mountain, where they build a settlement. Agyu goes hunting in the nearby mountain and catches a wild pig. Lono finds beehives in the palm trees. The honey and pork are distributed to the people. Agyu remembers his sister-in-law Mungan, who has been left behind in Aruman because of her affliction. Lono volunteers to take some honey and meat back to Mungan, whose husband has abandoned her. Mungan, however, has become whole again and she sends back rice and betel nut to distribute to Agyu’s people in Pinamatun. Banlak, hearing of Mungan’s recovery, wants to reunite with her, but Agyu disapproves, saying that Banlak has already given her up. Agyu and his people return to Aruman, but Mungan has already ascended to the skyworld. They continue to the country of Tigyandang, where its people put up a fight with Agyu’s people on the shore of Linayangon Bay. Agyu’s young son, Tanagyaw, although a mere boy, defeats the enemies on the fourth day. The enemies’ leader offers his daughter in marriage to Tanagyaw, who refuses. In the country of Baklayon, the datu’s daughter Paniguan offers Tanagyaw betel chew and herself in marriage. The people’s enemies attack, but Tanagyaw slays them. The datu’s son Bagsili challenges him and is defeated in hand-to-hand combat. The datu then leaves the country. Tanagyaw returns home with Paniguan and they are married. An invasion in Agyu’s country compels Tanagyaw to put on his 10-layered armor, shield, and spear, and to slay the enemies. Mountains of corpses pile up on the seashore. With the help of his golden cane called Tanigid, he wins a duel with the enemy datu’s son. Agyu then assigns Tanagyaw the country of Sunglawon, where he and his wife settle.

The Tulelangan is the Ilianon epic cycle, an episode of which, describing Tulalang’s battles with many invaders, both human and nonhuman, was translated into English and titled “Tulalang Slays the Dragon.” The song opens with Tulalang in his turugan, making leglets. He stops only to take betel chew from his betel box. The women laugh and make fun of him because it is women who customarily prepare the betel chew for the men. Tulalang then proceeds to dress himself, putting on five shirts and five trousers. He winds his tengkulu five times around his head and the little bells attached to it tinkle as he walks. Tulalang’s only sister had sewn this headdress in pitch darkness, lighted only “by the radiance of her beauty.” He puts on his linambus (warrior’s vest) and limbutung. He takes his balaraw and hinepuan (kinds of dagger), his shield, and spear which tinkles with kulungkulung bells. The sound disturbs the spirit guardian of animals, Mahumanay, who curses him. The limukon (omen bird) hoots, but Tulalang ignores it.

Tulalang and the banug (hawk) have a battle, and Tulalang emerges the victor. He revives the banug, which vows to serve him for life. Days later, the banug alerts Tulalang to the approach of enemies into the country. They initially defeat Tulalang. His younger brother Menelisim continues the fight, piles up the corpses, and drives away the rest of the enemies. Blood flows ankle deep. Tulalang rallies and notices Menelisim being defeated, so he hides Menelisim inside his necklace. Tulalang retreats, leaving his black shield to cover his retreat. A diwata appears to him in his dream and informs him that the enemies’ life breath is hidden away somewhere. The diwata then turns into a bird and flies far and wide in search of the enemies’ life breath, which it finds in a serpent dragon.

Tulalang stabs the dragon’s heart, which contains a small bottle holding the enemy’s life. He returns to the battlefield with the bottle and, heedless of the enemies’ pleas for mercy, he smashes the bottle, and the enemies die. Tulalang then sings the victor’s song and “it was like a cicada beginning to sing on the top of a hill; rolling his tune, trilling his voice” (Wrigglesworth 1977).

Child warrior threatening Lumuganod
Child warrior threatening Lumuganod (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

Bearing the magical elements of the epic is the Dibabawon story, “Lumuganod and the Child Warrior.” The setting is Linawan, the center of Babagyoon, where the flowers are golden, the sands are made of pearls, the river sings like a flute and rings like a gong when it eddies, and the yards are made of gold and silver. In its grandeur stands the anahaw planted by Akyo Kasudyaan, the anahaw of Ladladan, plant of Batabatan. Its leaves are aflame. The place is lined by golden and silver bamboo that are surrounded by spears constantly struck by lightning and whose leaves are made of knives. The house of Linawon in Babagyoon is raised and decorated with gongs that sound at the presence of enemies. It is surrounded with lightning, and a hawk sings as it fans the house to keep it from getting moist and damp. The storyline begins with the angry Lumuganod thunderously challenging his young nephew to a battle. The child bravely faces his uncle with a shield and spear decorated with pearls and the spear tipped with lightning. But he sinks into the kingdom of death, Maybuwan, where he challenges and defeats Lumuganod-to-Bagyo. The battle with Lumuganod resumes in Linawon, where the women and young girls weep in fear, and Yambongan Pigmayungan and Bubay Ligsalilowan pray to the deities for protection against the warrior child. Miyaki no Sumigway, Lumuganod’s sister, pleads with him to stop the fight and instead settle the matter through an exchange of sisters, the conventional way of sealing a peace pact. Lumuganod finally concedes; he embraces the child and begs his forgiveness. Everyone then returns to the house in celebration, and Miyaki no Sumigway prepares the betel nut chew.

An equally magical story is “The Legend of Matangnon.” The title character notices that someone has been stealing his rice. He waits in hiding for the culprit until he sees three women flying in from the sky to harvest his rice. He follows them to the river, where they swim and bathe before returning to heaven. When the same thing happens the next day, Matangnon takes the patadyong of one. Two of the women fly off, but the third one begs him to return her skirt. Matangnon does but pines for her until a kindhearted python carries him up to heaven on its neck. There, he must pass five paumpukan (tests or challenges) given by the woman’s father, who is the datu. Various animals come in hordes to Matangnon’s aid, and so he triumphs and is allowed to marry the princess. Matangnon’s mother attends the wedding in heaven, and they have lived there since.

“The Woman of Okapan” explains how Okapan came to have its name. The mangadow (tribal warrior) is a creature that kills anything and anyone it encounters. One day, a band of mangadow attack a solitary woman who is peeling camote (sweet potatoes) that she has harvested from her farm. They use spears and weapons against her, but she engages them in a fierce, lengthy battle until they flee. The place becomes known as Ompakan (later Okapan) because her potatoes are all peeled by the end of the long fight.

In “Dawog and His Brothers,” the title character is a baylan who is reluctant to accept his duty as a spiritual leader. The abyan (guardian spirit) who has possessed his body becomes angry, especially with Dawog’s jealous wife, whom he kills off. Through Dawog, the abyan enjoins his brothers, Dugnuan and Tiyog, to conduct a prayer-offering in order to attain life without end. But Dugnuan’s wife refuses to give up their pig for the ritual. The next day, Dawog, with his brothers and 37 other families, goes on a journey, with only a fistful of mung beans to eat. At every stop, they build a hut and plant the beans. After a month, Dugnuan and Tiyog demand of Dawog that they make an offering of the pig. Dawog refuses because the abyan now forbids him from eating pork. When they reach the Madgaw River, it overflows although it is the dry season. It is the doing of Dawog’s abyan, which now bids him to lead the group across the river. His brothers fearfully remain behind. Having journeyed on, Dawog and the 37 families with him ascend to heaven on a salimba (golden chain). A crocodile kills Dawog’s brother Tiyog, his wife, and his two children. Grousing that Dawog has abandoned them, his other brother Dugnuan tries to bury Tiyog and his family in log coffins, but the angry Dawog makes the stripped bark grow back (Tiu 2005, 299-301).

Some stories told by the Dibabawon serve as oral histories. “The Boy of the Miskinan” is believed by some to be an influence of the Tongod or Tungud cult movement, which centered on Miskinan or Makla in 1908 (Tiu 2005, 325). The narrative recounts that one day, the people see three mysterious things across the river: a bar of gold, a history book, and a human stone statue. However, they cannot retrieve these things because a crocodile guards the river. An elder suggests that the boy of Miskinan be given a chance to cross the river. The people laugh in disbelief. The old man instructs the boy to ride on the crocodile’s back toward the other bank. The boy does so, and he retrieves the three objects for the old man (Tiu 2005, 304-305).

Miskinan’s rule is followed by that of Apo Mandabon, a great bagani. With the rise of the rule of warriors comes the rise of conflicts, as many problems begin to be settled by force. A leader of the Dibabawon, Pinalaw-an, strives to keep to the teachings of Miskinan and launches a new religious movement called Matutuos. Pinalaw-an develops three types of prayer houses: simbaan no bandilawon, used during morning prayers; simbaan no tondayokon, used during afternoon and evening prayers; and simbaan no gabawnon, used during special occasions. Other religious leaders such as Gavino, Warag, Aramos, and Balong, would also emerge in later years (Tiu 2005, 305-307).

Numerous Ilianon teterema have been collected and classified by Wrigglesworth (1981) into tales about animals, culture heroes and heroines, kindness rewarded and evil punished, cleverness and stupidity, and fate.

Welu and Binsey running away from a frog
Welu and Binsey running away from a frog (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

Favorite numskull characters are the couple Welu and Binsey, whose errors of judgment cause one misadventure after another. One day, Welu decides to go fishing and walks as far as he can so he can catch more fish. By the time he stops, it is dark; yet there seems to be no fish at all. Finally, he sees a frog and decides to take it to substitute for the absent fish. He knocks it down with his bolo and then, looking at it more closely in the dark, mistakes the frog for his only child. He goes home and both Welu and Binsey prepare their child’s wake. As Binsey wails over her child’s death, the grieving Welu attempts to kill himself. He tries to cut his neck with his bolo but finds it too painful. He tries to choke himself by putting a finger down his throat, but he complains that it doesn’t even hurt. Finally, Biteey, a relative, attracted by all the noise that the couple is making, discovers that they have been mourning a frog’s death. He scolds them and instructs them to eat what Welu caught. The next day, Welu returns to the stream to go fishing again, and he sees a frog smiling and winking at him. Welu persuades the frog to come out in the open so he can whack it, but to his surprise the frog hits him back. A prolonged wrestling match between Welu and the frog ensues. Welu then extricates himself from the frog’s grip and runs home to Binsey, whom he persuades to run farther away with him, because the frog is in pursuit. They go to Biteey, who scolds them again. Welu then decides to return home because he is worried about the crops that he has abandoned. When the couple arrives home, their two children are there. The family eat their fill and rest. The daughter breaks wind, and Welu thinks that she has died because of her foul smell. They carry her to the burial place and lay her on the ground. When they arrive home, the son also breaks wind, and so the couple takes him to the burial place, too. Then Binsey breaks wind, and Welu does the same thing. Finally, Welu himself breaks wind, but he is in a quandary, for there is no one to carry him to the burial place. He decides to walk. The whole family is now sitting around the burial place. Three days later, Biteey decides to visit Welu, and upon learning of Welu’s foolishness, scolds him, saying: “Welu, get busy harvesting your corn! And stay at home; don’t keep acting as if you had no sense!”

Stories of a trickster named Kulukog, famous among the Ata Manobo, also have versions among the Dibabawon. In a story called “Kawali and the Ikogan,” the principal character is Kulukog’s uncle Kawali, whose bantoy (another word for guardian spirit) advises him to prepare for the coming of the murderous Ikogan. It advises Kawali to dismantle the wood used to build his house, remove the binding of the deerskin on the drum, and put them all on his front yard. With his bantoy continuing to guide him, Kawali both misleads and frightens the Ikogan with stories that Kawali, who he says lives further downstream of the Pulangui river, is a big, strong man. As proof, he shows them the deerskin binding, saying that it is Kawali’s bracelet. Then he convinces them of Kawali’s strength by pointing to the pile of wood, saying that Kawali has felled a tree just by standing there. Convinced, the Ikogan then agree to a plan hatched by Kawali to ambush the house. They build 150 bamboo rafts with sharpened edges to defend themselves against crocodiles, and they tie these rafts together with rattan. Kawali then takes a deer’s antlers and tells them that he will hook these to the branch of a tree when they approach the house. He persuades the leader to lead the pack while he stays behind them. Along the way, he sings a tud-om about how he hopes his life will be saved during the journey. When he begins to hear the water making churning and roiling sounds up ahead, he quickly tosses the antlers up to a tree and cuts off his raft from the entwined convoy. The Ikogan realize the ruse and try to take a swipe at him, but Kawali swings himself onto the bank in time. All the Ikogan are then pulled by the current of the Pulangui toward a high waterfall. They all fall, and they are pierced by the pointed edges of their own rafts. To Kawali, it is only what oppressors deserve. After his victory, peace reigns over the people of Nalibuok nu Inugpaan (Tiu 2005, 309-311).

The fable of the lion and the deer is found among both the Ilianon and the Manuvu. The lion and deer used to be such inseparable friends that they slept side by side. One day, the lion has a dream that he refuses to tell the deer about. The deer tells him that the dream will be fulfilled if he shares it with his friend. The lion then tells the deer that he dreamed that he was eating a deer’s delicious liver. The lion demands that his dream be fulfilled, as the deer promised. Now at odds, the two decide to ask the chief to settle their case. On the way, they meet the lizard, and then the turtle, who both decide to join them. When they arrive at the chief’s house, the lizard climbs to one of the rafters. The chief decides in favor of the lion, thinking that his family would also partake of some of the deer meat. Suddenly the lizard falls to the floor, saying that he fell asleep and had a dream. The chief asks the lizard to narrate his dream, and the lizard recounts that in his dream he married the chief’s daughter. The lizard then argues that the chief’s decision over his dream must be consistent with his earlier decision over the lion’s dream. The turtle then makes a sudden noise and reveals that he too has had a dream. Persuaded to reveal it, he says that he dreamed that he married the chief’s wife. The chief refuses to give his daughter and wife to the lizard and turtle. The animals defy him and help the deer to escape.

“Datu No Moy Pongot No Buwawan” (The Chief with a Golden Beard) tells of a chief who is irritated by a bird that continually pecks at his golden beard as he is walking in the garden. The chief’s three sons chase after the bird, which leads them to the sea. Here, they find a dark smoking hole. Only the third, Bagaram, succeeds in going down the hole until he arrives at a wide valley. He kills a two-headed dog, a band of large men, and a demon, thus setting free three lovely maidens one after the after. The third maiden, Gononglinda, is the bird who had transformed herself thus in her attempts to seek help. Bagaram returns to the surface with the three maidens, but his two brothers treacherously cause him to drown in the sea. They return to the kingdom and bicker over Gononglinda, but Bagaram arrives. He marries Gononglinda and the brothers marry the other two maidens.

Oral narratives also point to cultural and religious shifts. The Dibabawon oral narrative, “ Si Rosa Moydu-on Bantoy” (Rosa Has a Familiar Spirit) shows the impact of Christianity on the Dibabawon. It tells of a woman who submits to Jesus, attends Sunday worship services but loses her abyan (personal spirit) in the process. It describes how missionaries pray over others and cast out the spirits that possess them.

Musical Instruments, Songs and Ritual Dances

Manobo music differs from one group to another. The variance can be observed in the gong ensembles, which may consist of 8 to 10 agong (gongs) as in the ahong of Magpet, or five small handheld gongs as in the sagagong.

Manobo man playing the bamboo flute called pulandag
Manobo man playing the bamboo flute called pulandag (National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

The ahong has 10 small knobbed gongs hung vertically on a frame usually in a triangular formation, with the smallest gong near the apex. The gongs in the set are grouped into the kaantuhan, consisting of the higher-pitched gongs, which carry the melody; the gandingan, which are three or four lower-pitched gongs providing a melodic ostinato; and the bandil, the lowest-pitched gong, which sets the tempo. The kaantuhan player stands as he or she strikes gongs 1-6 in repeated melodic patterns, sometimes moving away from the gongs as he or she interjects some dance movements. The gandingan player strikes gongs 7-9, and occasionally the sixth gong, while the bandil player is limited to gong 10. Both gandingan and bandil players are seated either cross-legged or on their heels. The ahong is heard during festive occasions and includes in its repertoire “Panihuman” (Conversation), “Badbad” (Thanksgiving), “Tukubong” (Reconciliation), and “Malandoy” (Clan Reunion).

In the municipalities of President Roxas and Sitio Kabalantian in Magpet, North Cotabato, is the tagungguan, a gong set consisting of eight knobbed gongs suspended vertically on a frame. When two people perform on the tagungguan, one provides the basic tempo using gong 6 or 8, while the other plays the melody on the remaining gongs. Dancing at agricultural rituals and festive occasions is usually accompanied by an ensemble consisting of the tagungguan, a gibba or gimbae (drum), and the pagakpak (a pair of sticks). Some pieces played on the tagungguan are “Managway nag Sinagkaw” (Crying Lady), “Abadti” (Thanksgiving), “Panihuman” (Merrymaking), “Babang Ngat” (Dance Music), and “Tagungguan/Tagunggo” (Playing Tagungguan Music).

The Manobo gong ensemble from Kulaman Valley of Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, is called sagagong, and consists of five small gongs struck with padded sticks. Each of five performers carries one gong by its short string as he or she strikes a particular rhythmic pattern. When only four players perform, the second and third gongs are assigned to one person. The sagagong is played during festive gatherings, and among its pieces are “Deket-deket,” “Talibenan,” “Tulos, Funinko,” and “Mandiser,” the last three being dance pieces.

The saluray, also called sauray and tugo (bamboo tube zither), is 50 centimeters long and 12 centimeters in diameter. Among the Agusanon Manobo, it is also variously called the palung, daunan, and kaiyau-an. It has five to nine strings lifted from the hard skin of the tube itself. In Magpet, the sauray’s repertoire includes that of the gong ensemble; it also accompanies songs like “Lahinat ko Maandas” (Stand up, Maandas). In Kulaman Valley, many pieces of the tugo are programmatic, conjuring images that stimulate the sense of sight and sound. Examples of these are “Lambag Dagat” (Waves of the Sea), “Dagi Sigkil” (Tiny Bells of Anklets), “Kagit Batako” (A Man Wading in the Water Looking for His Brother), “Hamelin a Aao Namatay” (Advice from a Dying Man), and “Hambog Nonoy” (Nonoy, the Braggart).

Kuglong is a two-stringed lute in Magpet and the municipalities of President Roxas; in Kulaman Valley, it is called faglong. A crocodile- or boat-shaped lute is called kutyapi by the western Bukidnon Manobo. The Agusanon Manobo have the kudlung (small lute) and the binijaan (larger lute). The lute is usually played in agricultural and wedding rites or during courtship. The performer often sings, dances, and plays the instrument at the same time. In Magpet, the kuglong accompanies songs such as “Iyanad so Anak Ko” (Go to sleep, my baby), “Talukaw” (A Tree), “Nakad Sandita” (A Lady Regretting Her Fate), “Eslole” (Slowly), and “Alimogkat” (Goddess of the River). In Kulaman Valley, “Dakal Faglong” is a lute piece for dance. The two-stringed lute may be played solo or in an ensemble combining a saluray and a lantoy, a ring-type bamboo flute, 22 centimeters long and with a diameter of 8 millimeters, with four finger holes. The lantoy is also used as a solo instrument for the epic Uwahingan or to accompany songs like “Baya-baya,” which recounts one’s experiences.

Pundag, also flandag, pulandag, palundag, and pulala (bamboo flute), has a notch at its blowing end, two to four finger holes, and a thumbhole. The pulandag in the Midsayap area measures 64 centimeters long and has a diameter of 15 millimeters. The paundag of the Agusan Valley or the pulala of the western Bukidnon Manobo is one meter long, has four finger holes and a thumbhole. It is played while held in a vertical position. Examples of pieces in its repertoire in Midsayap are “Duyoy Tomas” (Song of a Hen), “Malakufak” (A Singing Bird), “Tingkalong” (Fox), “Daleway” (A Girl Mourning Her Father’s Death), “Duyoy Baye” (A Song of a Woman About To Be Married), and “Hongti Hai” (Remembrance). The flute is played to express one’s feelings or to simulate the sounds of nature.

The kombeng, also kubing or kuving (bamboo mouth harp), is made of a thin piece of bentung bamboo, with a small strip that is partially cut in the middle. One end is held in the mouth with one hand while a finger of the other hand taps it to make the strip vibrate. The Midsayap Manobo say the kubing “talks,” “tells stories,” “makes conversation,” or “gives messages” (Pfeiffer 1965, 8). The kuving and flute are used for courtship and entertainment.

Other instruments found in Kulaman Valley include the sluloy or suling (54-centimeter long flute), lutang (three to five suspended logs), taluan or salagaan (log drum), takumba or takumbo (two-stringed parallel zither beaten with a little stick), and deyuzey or duwagey (one-stringed coconut shell fiddle). A flute without finger holes is the lantuban, 60 centimeters x 11 millimeters. Tone is achieved by varying the force of one’s breath and the size of the flute’s end hole with the fingertip.

The slagi is a large gong used to call people to assembly. A regular beat announces an ordinary gathering, but a fast tempo of the slagi signifies an urgent call. Many Manobo songs are also accompanied by rhythmic sounds from the singer’s dagipla (armpit), produced by the abrupt movement of the upper arm toward the body. Fotfot, sung at wakes and social gatherings, is accompanied by such sounds.

A recording of Manobo music made by Priscilla Magdamo Abraham in 1957 and 1962 in the Midsayap area consists of 124 samples, out of which 33 are instrumental performances and 91 are vocal. Out of the 91 vocal pieces, only three are accompanied by instrumentation. None of the instrumental music included drumming. On the other hand, Garvan (1931), when he was in the Agusan Valley area in 1910, remarked that the gimbae was used all the time to accompany religious and secular dances. The people were said to be able to recognize and name 20 to 50 different drum tunes, such as the sinakaisakay, “like the movement of a raft or canoe,” and kumbakumba to usa, “like the sporting of a deer.” The agong, which used to be played together with the drum, has now replaced the drum altogether.

Manobo vocal music consists of ritual songs, which are narrative songs, lullabies, and songs of nature at the same time. An important song type is the epic song Owaging or Uwahingan, whose equivalent in the Kulaman Valley is Duyoy Taguden.

Among the Cotabato Manobo, susunan is the generic term for any kind of song including the Ulahing epic. The mandata are love songs; the delinday are occupation songs, war songs, lullabies, planting and harvest songs; and the minudar and mauley are funeral songs (Maquiso 1977). The nalit is a type of song that relates life experiences.

Fifty songs recorded in the Midsayap area by Abraham were divided into nine groups, based on occasion and purpose. Ritual songs are andal, a ceremonial request for the singer to begin; ay dingding, a wake song; bityara, a benediction used in the Langkat; hiya hiya humiya, sung at the Samayaan ceremony; mahudlay, a wake song concerning the limukon; manganinay, a bee-hunting song; masundanayen, a wake song of women; masulanti, a wake song-dialogue between mother, daughter, and young man that ends in a riddle; panangansangan, a medium’s song chanted while in a trance; panlalawag, a pre-hunting ritual song to Lalawag; tamanda, a wake song considered dangerous because it attracts witches; tiwa, a pre-hunting ritual song about lizards; and udag-udagu, a pre-hunting song to Mahumanay (Pfeiffer 1965, 10-13).

Narrative songs are the andal, the introduction to the epic cycle Tulalang; bimbiya ,adventures of a folk hero; idangdang, entertainment or didactic narrative; kirenteken, historical legends consisting partly of the songs of the Kirinteken Manobo living near Kamadzil; mandagan, historical tales; Tulalang, epic narrative; “Tuwa,” the story of Tuwa; and Ulahing, epic narrative.

Entertainment songs are the dalwanay, which expresses a mother’s concern for her soldier son; dampilay, advice on marriage and the selection of a husband; inkakak, a man’s attempt to escape two nagging wives; mantiay-ay, a song for social gatherings; migkoy, which could be a story about a snake-bitten companion or the pleasantries between two female neighbors; piririt, humorous song; and tatalok kaw, dance song.

Dalinday (love songs) could be the song of a man pleading with his ladylove to stay; a particular love song about a girl in love with a kutyapi player; or a song remarking that a man should prove his love by journeying to Midsayap and filling out an affidavit. Also categorized as love songs are the kasumba sa rawasan, a farewell song that reminds the beloved to be good; the lawgan, about a girl in love with a man who plays a kutyapi and owns a motor boat; and the mandata, a love song.

Children’s songs are bakbak, about a frog; binlay pa biya-aw, sung by older children for infants; kuku, a woman’s bedtime story about a cat; and nguknguk, a bedtime folktale about grandfather monkey and baby monkey.

“Ay Dingding,” a lullaby for the dead, is sung only during a wake and when a baylan is present, for it attracts the evil spirits who come looking for a corpse to eat. If there is no baylan to keep the evil spirits away and there is no dead person for the spirits to prey upon, they, attracted by the song, will not leave until they have caused someone’s death. The song as it was recorded by Abraham (Pfeiffer 1965) takes a minute and 42 seconds to sing. Unlike other ritual songs, which are strictly chanted, “Ay Dingding” has a more melodic and regular beat, giving it a songlike character. The term “Ay Dingding” is untranslatable, used to evoke pathos in a refrain. This ritual song is also a narrative. The hunting dogs mentioned in this song are named Pulangi and Mulita, which are also the names of two main rivers in the Midsayap area. Mount Makaranding, a few kilometers from Libungan, Cotabato, is believed to be the giant pig referred to in this song:

Ay Dingding

Nakahi rin sa kanakan ta bai pangapug

Ka pa sugawingki’t ginawa ta

Si Dingding ay Dingding

Na kahi rin an sa raha ta sakali abpangapug


Apa tabilaw-bilawn atay

Si Dingding ay Dingding

Na ara das narinag nu na way ka ba

madpandidsul dut asunu

Si Pulangi na andu-an si Mulita

Si Dingding Dingding

Na wa ka ra makantantal

Nab Paminag kan kanakan nag gabu-an si Mulita

Si Dingding Dingding

Na way nu ba lahuyaan na riyanu ba basaut dut

Puntur ara’t Agkir-Agkir

Si Dingding Dingding

Na way nu ba pilakaan na kay ka mapahangku

Dut saringsinga’t susu nu

Si Dingding Dingding

Namidwalang das kanakan na

Midbagkas din akpali din na mibaba

rin an kas babuy ka

Babuy na makaranding

Si Dingding Dingding

Na way ka ba maduli-an

Na nak-uma ra dut taliwara dut lama

Na indadsang nu an ka babuy

na takin migkahi kaan

Ta bay pangapug ka an su ini ra buan

Andaw nakabpakakita ta

Si Dingding Dingding

Naara das narinag din na way amba mabpangapug

Na wa ka pa makapus na kahian sa kanakan

Ta bay tuliri ki pa dut taliwara dut saag

Si Dingding Dingding

Na way ka ba madtutulid

Na midiraha an sa kanakan na wa ka

Ma matao-tao

Ta barusigsig na langasa

Na nabitaw-an ka napas din

Si Dingding.

(The man said, “Woman, prepare

the betel chew, for we shall wed ourselves.”

Dingding ay Dingding.

Answered the woman, “I will not

prepare the betel chew

Until I can eat fresh pork liver.”

Dingding ay Dingding.

Upon hearing her demand he called his dogs,

Pulangi and also Mulita.

Dingding Dingding.

Not yet having traveled a great distance,

The young man heard the barking

of his dog Mulita.

Dingding Dingding.

He gave chase and saw his prey

On top of Mount Agkir-Agkir.

Dingding Dingding.

There he speared it but he was also struck

And wounded in his breast.

Dingding Dingding.

This then he did:

He bound up his wound and carried the pig,

The pig that was gigantic.

Dingding Dingding.

Then he returned home;

And when he arrived

in the middle of the girl’s yard,

He dropped the pig, then said he,

“Woman, prepare the betel nut to chew

For today may be our last to see each other.”

Dingding Dingding.

Hearing his request, she began

to prepare the betel chew

But before it was ready she heard

the young man say,

“Woman, spread a mat

in the middle of the floor.”

Dingding Dingding.

And so she spread the mat;

And the woman and young man

Lay down,

But she could not staunch the flowing blood,

So the breath departed from him.


“Hiya Hiya Humiya” is sung during the Samayaan ritual, the Manobo New Year celebration, which is held at the start of the swidden clearing. The Manobo year begins on the first day of the planting season and ends on the last day of harvesting. The Samayaan is a ritual in which omens are read in connection with all the stages of the farming cycle: clearing, planting, growing, and harvesting. At about 7:00 am, when the good spirits are around, a baylan, carrying a white fighting cock, leads the men as they walk seven times around the food offering that has been set on the ground. The baylan chants the prayer lines, and the participants respond with the phrase, “hiya hiya humiya,” which they sing antiphonally with the baylan. This ritual is followed by a fight between the white cock and another cock that has been selected to ensure that it will lose. During the cockfight, omens are sought: For example, if a cock’s beak is bitten, this means there will be a good harvest. The defeated cock is cooked, and the gods of planting, pigs, forests, locusts, and rats are invited to partake of the feast. The farming tools are brought out and offered for safeguarding, so they will not cause the farmers any harm. The next morning, an egg and grains of puffed rice are strewn over the swidden site.

Hiya hiya humiya, hiya hiya,humiya

Nakasibungal kaw Sugay nakahedal kaw Diwata

Nagapendi agapendi agapanan na kenaa sa

lempaa su

kana nakalanganan sa ibpangumawmaw ku

Hiya hiya humiya, Hiya hiya humiya

Kasabeg kaw Diwata na tingala ka dinulang

Sa Diwata te insenal nga hangad ka sinamalang

Isuguy ta intumbangel

Na ulalangbay tangbe ka sa Tababasuk hangginan

ku taleytayan ku langit

Sugbukayas kaed buyangan naghigtas

kaed Samayaan

Hiya hiya, hiya hiya

Na yamba baya mana ku na si na sialan kehedalbe

Na lunlun kasiungal ba

Sa Ibabasuk hangginan sagbusalsagan ni anglaw

Su Kalayag huyamagen ta igsindang ni nabayaw

Sugtumpale kaed buyangen

Hiya hiya, hiya hiya

Na alambeg umawen ku su Diwata

Si Pudadu a midsanled si apu na midtayedted ku

Bulikanan sabang isublian na bunlagey

Hiya hiya humiya, hiya hiya humiya

Na wada keg pakauba na wadag pa uyagis

Na Diwataa na inyumun ku densialan inangen

Ay Suguy na imbayunsun ku nanad

Na inundayaw na sialag umaweng

ku sugmanakutendey

Suguy naganahanday Diwata.

(Hiya hiya humiya, hiya hiya humiya

Listen, Sugay, hear Diwata,

Do not jinx, do not hex me

Because seriously I ask over and over.

Hiya hiya humiya.

Heed, Diwata, observe this meat offering,

Diwata pillar, look at the food, Isuguy post;

Look at us, Tababasuk, powerful center,

Because the ceremonial cockfight begins the


Hiya hiya, hiya hiya.

What I implore is that all of you

Listen, all hear,

Ibabasuk, powerful god, where the sun rises

Because Kalayag, the merciful,

is the eastward sun,

Make the fighting cock our offering.

Hiya hiya, hiya hiya.

Specially call I because Diwata,

Grandmother of Pudadu drowned,

Grandmother submerged at the

Vicinity of the Bulikanan River fork;

Hiya hiya humiya, hiya hiya humiya.

No exception, none excepted.

Diwata representatives of all the world,

Suguy, representing the whole world,

Them call I for sure assistance,

Suguy, refuge, Diwata.)

Before going on a hunting trip, one must first ask permission from Lalawag, god of all forest game. Otherwise, the hunter will be killed either by his prey or by his own dogs. If he does succeed with his hunt even without asking for Lalawag’s blessing, anyone who eats his catch will instantly die. This song must be sung reverently and once begun, must be completed. It is sung only in the forest on the eve of the hunt. If the hunter sings it inside the house, Lalawag will cause the house to burn down.

Lalawag ta minuna undit daan na ataw

Na pamanrungaw harub kaw

Pamangumaw ambit kay

Pamahiruhiru kay dut Lalawag ta minuna

Su iyampad anglaw-i

Si Apu Mandalaminun mid-ubpa diya’t nalakuban

Iyandin-an ingkayaw’t badbaran sa kad

ambit dit Lalawag

Na pamanrungaw harub kaw

Guntaani na andaw

Langguyud kayi’t basbasan langguy

kayi’t maharuwag

Wara duma nadsarigan day kakana

Sikaw sa nalimu

Ta sikamin mga apu nu nasinulawa kay nikaw Yak

Wara duma nadsarigan day

Kakana sikaw sa nalimu

Ta sikamin mga apu nu nasinulawa kay nikaw Yak.

(Lalawag of the beginning and of our ancestors

Come and listen to our prayer

Calling and praying for you

We are calling for your help,

Lalawag of the beginning

Just this day we ask again

Apu Mandalaminun, thou who dwell in the cave

Who raise the magic wand

to call the spirit of Lalawag

Come and listen to our prayer

This day we call unto thee

We take untrained dogs with us

As well as the trained dogs

We trust no other but you because

You are the one who loves us

We who are your great great grandchildren


We trust no other but you

Because you are the one who loves us

We who are your great great grandchildren


“Manganinay” is a song addressed to Panayangan, the god of the bee hunt, to pray for a successful hunt. Only bee hunters are allowed to sing it. On the eve or early morning of the hunt, the hunter sings while lying on a hammock outside his house. Singing it inside the house will cause the house to burn down.

Manganin Manganinay na baug aninaninan

Sa dayagan ni tagmaing na subal ni mansil-ansil

Na mansugbulantay gabun na mansugtangba

Yanganud sagpaayun kumiglapak na unug


Si Manganin Manganinay

Na dimag katagataga

Salagawlaw ta basiaw na digkatalinampud

Sa hagkul ku balung kiwan su bata buling-buling

An subpamalang ki tagmaing

nad hang kap ki mayabusug

Si Manganin Manganinay

O diyot midsulad.

(I am hoping and praying to find honey

By following the bees flying to their hive,

The bees fly in swarms like the cloud,

Clustering like clouds passing between the trees,

So I watch between the gaps;

I am hoping and praying,

Difficult it is to guess

Where there are bees in hollow trees,

Since there is a racket because

of the children in lawaan trees,

Trying to look for beehives built on the branches,

I am hoping and praying,

Oh, that there are hives on the bent tree.)

On the eve of a hunting trip for monkeys, fish, or lizards, the men sing the ritual song tiwa:

Tiwa ke palaas Tiwa

Na ankey anggam buntura Tiwa

Sagkarapit te idsila Tiwa

Namahantul na bubungan Tiwa

Ay su idaludansay ku pad Tiwa

Sa amu su nalagyawan Tiwa

Ay tadpanaladsalad ak andaw Tiwa

Su kana adpakahauma ka a’may kun la

sikan Tiwa

Ankey pad inamen nu Tiwa

Ta amay nu kun la sikan Tiwa

Ta nakuwaa’t anbilut Tiwa

Nakuwaan ta tupil Tiwa

Tiwa lizard Tiwa

(What uncle mountain Tiwa

There in the east Tiwa

High hill Tiwa

Because I meditate still Tiwa

As to what happened Tiwa

Setting sun Tiwa

Because if father has not arrived Tiwa

Why do you still expect Tiwa

Your father if he Tiwa

Was caught in the trap Tiwa

Caught in the trap Tiwa.)

A ritual song addressed to Mahumanay, the god who owns the forest and the deer in it, is the udag-udagu:


Palalahuy si nati


Kana da pakaluba te parampas te barubu


Mikiya si natinggaw


Migkahi si unlaping pandai ka natiya


Mikiya sa natinggaw


Kana kad insa ina


Panalad at amay ko



Run running faun


Not visible above barubu


Nickered faun


Said stag, “Where go you, faun?”


Nickered faun


“Do not inquire, mother,

I go searching for father.”


Manobo youth performing the traditional dance called sunggod te kamanga (feeding the whetstone)
Manobo youth performing the traditional dance called sunggod te kamanga (feeding the whetstone) (Provincial Government of Cotabato)

The various dances among the Manobo entertain, educate, and propitiate the gods. Among the Agusanon are the sinundo or singangga, dance ritual to ward off the epidemic busaw; pangaliyag, courtship dance; pangasawa, marriage ritual; and kinugsik-kugsik, squirrel dance. Those witnessed and described by Garvan (1931) in 1910 are the bathing dance, honey-gathering dance, hair-plucking dance, sexual dance, and dagger or sword dance.

The Agusanon and Umayamnon saet, Cotabato saut, and Western Bukidnon kedsaut are war dances of one or two warriors, each holding either a war bolo or a spear with a bell attached to it, and a shield. In the kedsaut, the two dancers begin from opposite sides of the dance area, brandishing their shields and shaking their spears. First, they dance sideways, then they imitate a hawk in flight before they finally engage in mock combat, each hitting the other’s shield with his spear and crashing shield against shield, “navel to navel” (Polenda 1989:139). The bells attached to their spears provide rhythmic music.

Agusanon Manobo performing a ritual
Agusanon Manobo performing a ritual (Photo by Jimmy Domingo in De la Torre 2005)

An Arumanen Manobo version of the war dance is the mangmangayan, with two bagani each brandishing a sundang (bolo) and a kampilan (sword). Every once in a while, in the course of the dance, they adjust their tangkulo (headgear). The Pulangi Manobo’s version of the mangmangayan ends with a peace pact and a celebration dance, which the women join. The datu or bai, acting as arbiter, places a kerchief on the ground, and all the warriors place their weapons on it to signify peace and end of the hostilities.

Other Arumanen Manobo dances are the paningara (bee hunt), pegako (courtship dance), and pendaraka (woman’s response to the courtship). The kinudlat ng sayao demonstrates the performer’s ability to touch his shoulders with his toes. The penarangas-tangas and manmanaol are both hawk dances, which a bagani and a woman perform. In the manmanaol, the hawk catches its prey, represented by a kerchief on the floor.

The binanog (hawk dance) mimics a hawk swooping down on its prey. The Cotabato Manobo version has a female dancer using a kerchief, which she drops and then picks up while using her hands and arms to imitate the hawk. The steps are simple hop-steps and slide-steps. She wears earrings that reach down to the shoulders and anklets. The beat is a slow 1-2-3-4. Among the Pulangi Manobo, the binanog is a component of the courtship dance. Two other Manobo dances imitating bird movements are the kakayamatan and the bubudsil (hornbill). These dances may be accompanied by gongs or zithers.

A vigorous courtship dance is the pig-agawan, which involves two women vying for the attention of one man. A bai and a datu try to settle the dispute between the two women. A slow-walking dance exclusively for females of marriageable age is the takumbo, which signifies their availability for marriage. It is named after the musical instrument that accompanies their movements. Another woman’s dance, also called takumbo, is performed by one woman who simultaneously dances and plucks the takumbo. She rests the takumbo on her waist while she holds it in her left hand.

In Kidapawan, Cotabato, girls dance around the mortar to the beat of their pestles as they pound rice. During harvest celebrations, the Tigwahanon have an occupational dance called inamong, in which men and women execute monkeylike steps as they step on rice stalks to separate the chaff from the grain. The bakbak is a children’s comical frog dance; they hop and make noises by slapping their bodies while maintaining a squatting position throughout.

The agpanikop (fish hunt dance) of the Manobo of Matalam, North Cotabato, portrays a boy, torch and spear in hand, looking for edible frogs. A second boy joins him in the hunt after the initial mutual wariness is dispelled. The second boy is wounded and writhes in pain; the first boy fetches the womenfolk and the baylan. The dance turns into a healing dance ritual and the boy, fully recovered, joins the women and baylan in a thanksgiving dance.

Agusanon Manobo ritual killing of a pig
Agusanon Manobo ritual killing of a pig (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo in De la Torre 2005)

The pangayam is a reenactment of a hunter in pursuit of a wild boar. He carries his lance and bolo and is accompanied by his dog, represented by a bottle to which a strip of red cloth is tied.

In the Umayamnon inanak-anak or bata-bata, a girl mimes a woman’s chores. She pretends to take care of a baby whom she puts to sleep, tries to stop from crying, and feeds with milk. She goes to the fields to dig for camote then washes and makes herself beautiful before a stream.

The Tigwahanon bangkakaw is a festival dance celebrating a war victory or a bountiful catch of fish from the river. The centerpiece is the bangkakaw (log), which the women beat with the ando (pestles) and the men, with lampus (rods) while doing some stunts over and under it. They provide the accompaniment for the dancing fisherfolk, who carry their catch in their bubo or fish traps and liag (large basket with a head sling).

A thanksgiving ritual in Magpet, North Cotabato, is the binadbad, which begins with the men facing heavenward as they address the gods. Atop (coconut palms) are suspended at the center of the dance area. Then women join the dance, their attention on the atop, which they gather one by one. They then vary their formations while each hold atop. Another woman joins them, gathers all the atop from them, and returns these to the center.

Among the western Bukidnon Manobo, legudas is the dance of the healing ritual. Women holding hands form a circle around the baylan, who chants to the busaw, requesting it to return to the deity that has sent it to cause the illness. The men then stand between the women in the circle. The women wear the saya or wraparound skirt, sinu-laman (embroidered blouse), embroidered belt, and tikes with the seriyew (pewter bells). The rhythmic music is provided by the seriyew.

The haklaran, which has been observed among the Agusanon, Tigwahanon, and Umayamnon, is a healing ritual performed by a male and female baylan. A prelude to this is the ritual dressing of the male baylan in a woman’s skirt, usually a malong, for it is improper for a man to perform the haklaran in a man’s attire. This dance is performed around the sankaw, an altar bearing the sacrificial offering of a pig’s head.

The suyad-buya is the healing ritual dance in Magpet, North Cotabato. It dramatizes the process by which the baylan heals a sick boy as his mother and a group of young women watch. The women prepare the paraphernalia by bringing in a table on which they set four coconut shells containing burning incense. They also carry red ribbons meant to drive the evil spirits away. As they dance in the background, the baylan enters, dances around the patient, and waves a white chicken overhead. The shaman takes the chicken to the table, cuts its neck, and smears the patient’s forehead with its blood. The boy regains his health and dances joyfully with the women and his mother.

Manobo Culture featured in Media Arts

Several local radio stations operate in Manobo areas. In Agusan, DXDA 927 Radyo Agusan, DXSF 96.1 San Franz Radio, and DXJM AM Radyo Asenso operate under the Agusan Communications Foundation Inc. However, there have been media-related killings pointing to issues of censorship in the region. In 2011, radio commentator and president of the Bayanihan Council of Datus (BACODA) Datu Roy Quijada Gallego, known by his Manobo name Datu Bagtikan, was killed in a drive-by shooting. In his public affairs programs, he was a vigorous critic of ineffectual state institutions and government neglect of the lumad.

Various films present not only the Manobo culture and traditions but also the conflicts they are confronted with. Set in the Arakan Valley, Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Huling Balyan ng Buhi (Last Shaman of Buhi), 2006, presents the lives affected by the prolonged war in Mindanao through the interweaving narratives of the following characters: a woman rebel teaching young comrades about their war in the aftermath of an ambush; soldiers at rest in the village of a balyan; and two lost children trying to find their way home. Francis Xavier Pasion’s Bwaya (Crocodile), 2014, which won the Best New Breed Award for full-length feature film category in the 2014 Cinemalaya Independent Philippine Film Festival, deals with the disappearance of a child on her birthday after a crocodile attack in an Agusanon Manobo community. Arnel Mardoquio’s Ang mga Tigmo sa Akong Pagbalik (The Riddles of My Homecoming), 2013, is a film detailing the return of a man named Alfad to his homeland in Mindanao. The film articulates the historical experiences of violence, pain, and struggle in Mindanao through almost dreamlike sequences of land and seascapes, shot in Barangay Andap, New Bataan, after Compostela Valley was ravaged by Typhoon Pablo in 2012 (Gaspar 2013).

Kiri Dalena’s documentary Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman
Kiri Dalena’s documentary Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Kiri Dalena)

Nef Luczon’s Migkahi e si Amey te, Uli ki pad (Father Said, Let’s Return Home), 2014, which was featured in the 2014 Cine Totoo Philippine International Documentary Film Festival, follows the aftermath of the death of a Tigwahanon chieftain. In the wake of his passing, his adopted son returns home and strives to instigate cultural renewal in their family, which has been consumed and fragmented by the day-to-day necessities of modern living. Another documentary, Kiri Dalena’s Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman (From the Dark Depths), 2015, details the plight and struggles of the displaced Manobo communities in Bukidnon, patching together accounts of the impunity and human rights violations in the wake of militarization and government-instigated “development policies” which legalize rampant resource extraction in their ancestral lands.


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

Title: Manobo

Author/s: Rosario Cruz-Lucero, with notes from Humberto Tejero, Felicidad A. Prudente, Ramon A. Obusan, Antonio C. Hila, Edgardo B. Maranan, and E. Arsenio Manuel (1994) / Updated by Louise Jashil R. Sonido, with notes from Erlinda M. Burton (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: May 17, 2022

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