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The Blaan People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs, Beliefs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | B'laan Tribe Ethnic Group]

The Blaan People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs, Beliefs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | B'laan Tribe Ethnic Group]


The word “Blaan” could have derived from bila, meaning “house,” and the suffix an, meaning “people,” so that the term may be taken to mean “people living in houses.” It may also be a variant on the name of the lake around which the Blaan used to reside—Lake Buluan. Other names that have been used to refer to this group are Bilaan, Bira-an, Bara-an, Bilan, Vilanes, or Bilanes. Names like Tagalagad (those inhabiting the mountainside), Tagakogon (those in cogon-filled areas), and Buluan (those around Lake Buluan) have also been used to denote the kind of site where some Blaan groups are located.


The Blaan, alternatively spelled as "B'laan" inhabit the southern part of South Cotabato and the southeastern part of Davao del Sur as well as the areas around Buluan Lake in North Cotabato. Some Blaan live on Sarangani Island off the coast of Davao del Sur, although they are referred to as Sarangani Manobo. Other Blaan groups on this island have been referred to as Balud or Tumanao. Today, they may also be found in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and Cape San Agustin in Davao Oriental. The Blaan may be classified into three groups: those from the highlands are called To Lagad (high places); those from the plains, To Gutna or To Datal (plains); and those from coastal areas, To Baba (lower areas or coasts).


In 1910, the estimated Blaan population was about 10,000, of whom some 1,500 lived on Sarangani Island. In 1988, the Blaan numbered some 250,000. In 1998, the Sarangani Blaan were estimated at 75,000 to 100,000. As of 2014, there are at least 55,000 Blaan in Davao, about 118,000 in Koronadal, and at least 122,000 in Sarangani.



History of the Blaan Tribe


There are several theories about the history of the Blaan (B'laan). One theory suggests that the Blaan are descended from the first wave of Indonesian migrants who arrived in the Philippines in 5,000 BC. Another is the Mamalo-Tabunaway theory. According to the claim, two brothers Mamalo and Tabunaway lived at the mouth of the Rio Grande de Mindanao but were separated when Islamic missionaries came. Mamalo, who refused to embrace Islam, fled to the highlands and became the ancestor of the various lumad (indigenous) groups. The Blaan at the foot of Mount Matutum have oral narratives that trace their origins to an ancestor named F’lasab and his sister Fo Bli. Other accounts name F’lasab as the sister and Bli, the brother. It is believed that the Blaan are descended from the brother because the sister married an Arab missionary and birthed the Maguindanaon line.


Group of Blaan, Nayong Pilipino
Group of Blaan, Nayong Pilipino, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Because of their mountainous environment, there was practically no local group organization among the Blaan; houses were separated by long stretches. Whenever there was a neighborhood, the number of houses was small. Due to their lack of social organization, the Blaan were often subjected to slave raids by the Maguindanaon and dominated by the Sangil. Allegedly, during the Spanish colonial period, the Tausug and Maguindanaon exchanged Tiruray and Blaan slaves to quell Spanish advances.


Although Jesuit missionaries have described the Blaan as “kindly,” some Blaan groups were more defiant. The Blaan of Balut appeared capable of protecting themselves with weapons likely purchased through foreign trade. This may explain why there were no Blaan slaves from Balut Island. In the distant past, some of the Blaan were actively engaged in warfare. Along with the Manobo, Mandaya, Bagobo, and Tagacaolo, they had at one time or another reduced their neighbors in southwestern Mindanao to the status of tribute-paying “colonies.”


During the American Commonwealth Period, Christian missionaries began to travel in the coastal regions and slowly spread up to the hinterlands. Coinciding with these efforts were the first waves of Christian settlers from Luzon and the Visayas, starting in 1913 under the American land settlement program. They occupied the coastal plains and foothills on the western coast of the Davao Gulf, which was traditionally part of Blaan country. Gradually, the Blaan were pushed deeper into the interior of the mountains. Thus began the systematic displacement and acculturation of lumad groups. In subsequent years, more settlers would force the Blaan and other indigenous ethnic groups out of their ancestral domains. In the 1970s, martial law gave President Ferdinand Marcos the power to grant tribal territories as concessions to investors in forestry, mining, and stockbreeding.


The encounters with the settlers have led to many conflicts and misunderstandings between the lumad and the outsiders. Some Blaan have felt the discrimination of settlers who deem them ignorant and call them “squatters” in their own lands. This has forced some Blaan communities to seek help from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an armed Islamist group, to take back their ancestral domains. These alliances have, in turn, led to armed encounters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which views the MILF and all those associated with them as hostile groups. These conflicts have led to the Blaan’s reduced confidence in the government, despite the formation of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.


Through the years of many-layered conflicts, the Blaan have been left behind in economic and cultural development. They lack access to basic government services like water and electricity, and this means the lack of facilities for education as well. On the other hand, the reliance on Christian schools has led to cultural erosion, even with token policies like Blaan Day in some culturally sensitive schools, when students are allowed to wear their traditional clothing for one day a week.



Way of Life of the Blaan


Swidden farming is the main agricultural method used by the Blaan. In their rather small clearings, they grow rice, corn, millet, sweet potato, sugarcane, banana, papaya, pineapple, vegetables, tobacco, and abaca. What is left after domestic consumption is brought to the market to be sold. The last two commodities are produced as barter items, for which they get their food articles, utensils, and tools. Domestic animals include a few chickens, dogs, cats, and occasionally a pig or horse. The Blaan catch fish in the river and hunt and trap wild pigs, deer, and other animals. They also gather rattan and almaciga from the forest to augment their income.


Blaan rice dance
Blaan rice dance, Nayong Pilipino, 1990 (CCP Collections)

In recent times, the introduction of foreign articles and goods has had an effect on traditional ways and values, a phenomenon not uncommon among other groups who come into contact with lowland cultures. Some Blaan were known to have consented to a barter of seven ganta of palay or unmilled rice for a can of sardines, or two sacks of corn for one meter of cloth. Unscrupulous traders and merchants have taken advantage of the Blaan, who are not familiar with exchange values in the market.


The Blaan agricultural cycle is based on the appearances of Salil (Small Dipper), known to the Blaan as “the corn star,” and Blatik Fali (Big Dipper), “the rice star,” in the skies. The Blaan believe that the stars are owned by the gods and that they will be blessed with good harvest if they offer up prayers and chants. This is why the Blaan observe certain rituals for each major stage in the planting of rice.


The maba del nigo consists of the slash-and-burn rituals. Before the rains come, a new clearing is chosen for the planting season. Even before the first bush is cut, the mabah is first performed to consult the gods or deities of the fields. Altars, sacrificial animals, and food offerings are prepared to secure the blessings of the benevolent spirits lurking in the woods and trees. Forgiveness for having transgressed their abode is asked of the malevolent spirits who can cause sickness and crop failure.


The selection of the site for clearing is usually dependent on the signal of the almugan or alimogan (a bird of omen). This may be done in various ways across the different Blaan communities. In one version, the farmer, taking four bamboo sticks, each about 60 centimeters long, chooses a part of the forest where he silently waits for four calls from the almugan. These calls signify the four pillars of the fol (granary). As soon as he hears the calls, he quickly drives the four sticks side by side into the ground, their ends diagonally pointing towards the source of the call. If the sticks stand almost vertically, he is sure of a tall and bountiful harvest. If the sticks point too low and almost close to the ground, he should move to another place and await a more propitious omen. In a different version of the ritual, the farmer waits for the call of the almugan while he is already beginning to clear the field. If the almugan calls when he begins to clear the field, he cannot proceed. If it is heard only after he has cleared more than half the field, this is considered a sign of consent.


Other signs from the deities may be taken into account. If the farmer strikes a big tree in the site with an axe or bolo, consent is determined if the bolo stays in place; if it falls, he must choose a different area. Bad omens include the appearance of a snake at the first strike of a bolo, the cries of a tarsier when a site is chosen, and the falling of a large tree without strong winds during the opening of a kaingin. An earthquake coinciding with the site selection signifies instability, death, and illness.


The plot that a family has been granted is called tana, and the one dedicated for cultivation is called elnigo. Once the elnigo is identified, the Blaan farmer expresses his gratitude to the deities by preparing two sets of chew: one for the gods, which he puts on a tree stump, and the other for himself.


The man then announces to his neighbors and friends that he has been given the blessing in his selection of a clearing. In the traditional practice of sahul (mutual aid), he calls upon them to help him undertake the abmigo or inego, the clearing of the site of shrubs, trees, grass, and underbrush. A fence made of bagacay or bamboo is built around the clearing fields, and the communal work begins. As work progresses, the women come to the kaingin site to bring food and water to the men. When the trees are felled and the grass and bush piled up to dry, the farmer starts a ceremonial fire by rubbing two bamboo pieces together. The ritual burning of the branches is called amtan abmigo.


Once the field is cleared and ready for planting, the mahak na amla fale (planting festivity) is held. The previous night or at dawn before the planting, two farmers construct the botni, also called bot abne or but-abni, a small bamboo platform with a grass roof and a slender post, in the middle of the field. Food offerings consisting of cooked glutinous rice, fresh meat, fish (when available), betel chew, and fruits are arranged on a red cloth on the altar platform. Candles are lighted. These offerings are laid out at night, so that predators like rats, birds, wild animals, and even human beings cannot locate the future harvest. The first person who passes by the clearing at daybreak is considered lucky, for he or she is given the rice and other goodies to eat. The one who comes in good faith is rewarded.


In another version, the farmer builds the platform or a large receptacle from tree trunks. All harvest varieties are placed on it, functioning as the base for the seeds. The Blaan believe that the seeds must not be exposed to sunlight before planting. The planting customarily begins around the botni and spreads out from here until the edges of the field. The farmer then makes the bangal (divisions), depending on the number of crop varieties to be planted.


At the feast that is held before the planting, participants bring with them offerings of food, ornaments, instruments, and sacrificial animals, gathering these around the botni. Ornaments and instruments cannot be sold after they have been offered as adsu. The animals are slaughtered and cooked after an invocation to Bawi, the god of harvest, for a bountiful yield. The feast may end with a soo, in which all the men and women playfully rub sticky rice into each other’s hair; no one may act as spectator and everyone must join in.


In some communities, a separate platform called bnato libot is built to carry food for the planters. Here, bawi refers to a system by which the food is divided: those of the same bawi as the owner of the field may partake of food from the bnato libot, and the others are given food at a distance. One’s bawi is identified by the totem animal that one represents.


The act of planting the seeds is called mahak. Musicians may carry a whole tangungo (gong set) set to the new field, so that they can play the gongs as accompaniment to the amlah, a dance performed while planting. Men use ahak (planting sticks) to drill holes into the ground while the women, with alban (grain baskets) tucked to their sides, follow the men, bending down and dropping palay seeds in each hole with exact accuracy. The women may sometimes challenge the speed of the men by dropping the seeds on the ground at a rate faster than the men can drill the holes. There are definite patterns or lines followed in planting which are set through kamtang.


Two or three women carrying bigger baskets filled with grain replenish the empty alban of the women planting the seeds. Each one works to the rhythm of the tangungo music, prancing, skipping, and stomping in time with it. Sometimes the women chant while planting the seeds. The burden of work is greatly lightened by this interplay of manual work and art. After the planting, in a belief called atnayarin, a small portion of the seeds called ufudni may be left behind in the bot abne to prevent bad luck.


After three or four months, the rice grains ripen in time for the kamto (harvest). The women take primary responsibility for this work. They come carrying big baskets on their backs which are slung from their foreheads with straps. The rice stalks are gathered with a small scythe and are swiftly collected in the baskets. Harvest time is when all women from neighboring fields and villages come to help in the work, and this makes for a grand reunion among them. The mdel (a flat board with a bottom resonator) is pounded simultaneously by three or four men and women, producing a syncopated sound that can be heard in distant villages. It is an invitation for people from other villages to come and join the harvest. As compensation, guest harvesters are paid with palay or other items.


Afterwards, a thanksgiving ritual called pandoman is conducted in the granary. Two bags of palay are set on a mat, around which a circle is drawn and a prayer-ritual conducted. The farmer thanks the D’wata, also known as Adwata, for the harvest and for sparing the elnigo of pests.


The Blaan harvest festival is called mo tuka fale, also tuka fale or mu faley. Blaan communities may celebrate them differently, but they are always ceremonious affairs. Among the Blaan in Glungga, a land they share with many Tboli, the husband and wife who own the field reap the rice stalks on the first harvest day. With these, the wife proceeds to cook unsalted duman (pinipig to lowlanders) on alket leaves. Nine small packs are hung by the door and the cooking stove; the rest are distributed to guests. These serve as offerings to D’wata and the other spirits, accompanied by prayers for their protection and blessing. The first and largest pack of duman is for Bawi; the second, for Fon Ungi, the owner of rodents; the third, for Fon Sit, the owner of maya birds; the fourth, for Fon Nulon, the owner of the rains; the fifth, for Fon Du, the owner of the sun; the sixth, for Fon Nus, the owner of the wind; the seventh, for Fon Bato, the owner of rocks; the eighth, for Fon Almogan, the bird of omen; and the ninth, for Bong Ba, the owner of large mouths, to protect the fields from persons with large mouths. The nine bundles may be left hanging on the door until the next harvest season or punched with holes by a family member at dawn the next day. After this, there is feasting and merrymaking before the rest of the work for harvest begins.


Among the Blaan of Bolul, the couple that owns the field, together with their friends and relatives, brings adsu of ornaments, betel nut containers, and gongs, in a large baun (rice container) to the field. The couple conducts a prayer ritual of thanksgiving to Datu-ulo-eel before filling the baun with the harvest. They singe the ends of the rice stalks and tuck these into the cogon roof of the house to signify gratitude to the spirits. The mother cooks duman, which the father distributes to the family as he recites verses of goodwill. The rest is given to guests. Half the rice in the large baun may be consumed during the eight-day harvest festivities, but the second half is kept until the next harvest season, to symbolize the meeting of the old and new harvest. What is reaped from the farms may be brought home only after the last day of harvest. All who participate are given their share of the harvest.


In T’murok, the owner of the farm reaps the stalks on the first day of harvest, places a handful in an agong (gong), and beats it for Bawi to hear his thanksgiving. The farmer’s family, relatives, and other invitees then share the food prepared for the festivities. The harvesters place what they reap in a lihub (large basket). When the food in the lihub is consumed, the anu fa fol is held, in which rice is retrieved from the granary. There is much merrymaking during these festivities. Harvesters outside the owner’s family need to endorse their harvest to the owner, who fills up their containers if these are not full or asks them to leave the excess should their harvest exceed their container’s capacity. The owner then threshes the palay and returns them ready for cooking. In the tradition of la aftu aftikonan, as practiced by Blaan in other areas, some seedlings are left in the granary for the next harvest season, to symbolize the meeting of the old and new harvest.


Blaan men also admulek (hunt) for subsistence. October, the ninth month of the Blaan agricultural cycle, is deemed the best time to hunt. Hunting is usually a whole-day affair and is led by the village warriors. It is an opportunity for men to display their bravery and skills in weaponry.


Traditionally, they used bolol (bow) and fana (arrow) to hunt slarong (deer) and lablab (wild pigs), but these tools have now been replaced with guns. Lo-es (coiled split cane) traps are laid to capture anok tokayo (birds) and anuk (wild chickens). Amlok (hunters) may also set tineg for deer and wild pigs through the use of a bait. Blowguns called sfut are used to hunt birds. The catch from hunting expeditions is shared in the community. Each family’s portion is called umum, although the hunting group receives an additional share called maltuan.


Fishing in rivers and creeks for fak (frogs), fish, and kili (eel) is called smalaf. Fishing along the shorelines during low tide is smalo. Both methods employ nets to catch the prey.


Through the years, many of the flatlands that are ideal for agriculture have been taken over by foreign corporations and settlers. The historical displacement of the Blaan and other lumad groups in Mindanao because of the waves of settlement has led to the reduction of Blaan ancestral domains and agricultural territories. Soil erosion has also led to decreased productivity. As a result, the Blaan have been forced to sign agreements with multinational companies like Dole Philippines to work as contract growers of pineapples in order to be able to use the land. However, the contract-growing scheme has severely limited their productivity because it has constrained them from planting their own subsistence crops and other crops with greater yield.



Blaan Communities and Traditional Political System


Blaan communities are dispersed into small clusters of houses over great distances. This has inhibited the evolution of a central authority system. Historically, the long stretch between two river valley settlements never allowed easy communication. Instead of a central authority, what developed was a strong, settlement-based local leader.


Traditional Blaan societies were headed by a bong fulong, the traditional headman of a bong banwu (large village or main village). Fulong literally means “to know.” Bong fulong are knowledgeable in rituals and practices and as such are good, decisive leaders. They are stewards of the land and are expected to share their lands and wealth with their constituents. Because Blaan leadership is patrilineal, all fulong (village leaders) of the smaller banwu within the bong banwu are born of a bong fulong. The bong fulong chooses his fulong and successor among his sons. However, in these modern times, bong fulong are dying away with each new generation.


Blaan participants in the Dayaw Festival
Blaan participants in the Dayaw Festival, Rizal Park, 2000 (CCP Collections)


A fulong’s banwu is defined by certain gusableng (boundaries), usually marked by natural formations like trees, waterways, hills, and hunting grounds. They preside in diyandi (peace pacts), kasfala (dispute settlements), sunggod (bride-price negotiations), samsung or samsoong (marriages), and agricultural rites. One of the major rituals officiated by the fulong is sadyandi, a blood pact used to settle conflicts. The spirits are invoked as the parties in conflict draw blood from small incisions on their chests. They collect the blood into a glass and partake of it to seal the agreement. The fulong also facilitates sfakat, a milder form of diyandi meant to restore broken relationships. Unlike that of a bong fulong, a fulong’s authority is not hereditary. He can lose it if he is irresponsible or weak.


The bong to (council of elders) is composed of men who have wisdom and a vast knowledge of tribal history. They assist or advise the bong fulong or bangkulong in community decisions. They are vessels of oral history, upon which are anchored important sociopolitical knowledge such as the conduct of burial rites, demarcations of hunting grounds, and historical boundaries of the banwa.


Another powerful figure in traditional Blaan society is the courageous man known as lebe (renowned warrior) or labu am-bagel (one who has killed more than one person). The lebe is analogous to the magani, bagani, or bahani in other lumad groups. In the past, a warrior desiring the highly prized status of lebe would lead raids to take captives for slavery or human sacrifice. This is how a man came to be known as amget ta mati (one who has killed many). The lebe led the men of their banwa in hunting excursions or wars. They also represented their banwa in peace settlements with people of other banwa, especially in cases involving wife-grabbing, land-grabbing, murder, theft, and insult.


The religious authority in Blaan society is the alamoos or almos (healer or shaman), who is usually an older woman. While women cannot become fulong, the alamoos are authoritative figures in the community as religious and spiritual leaders. Their visions and dreams are believed to originate from their supreme god and creator, Mele or Melu.


The abtal to are the commoners such as farmers, tenants, hunters, and craftsmen who are part of the banwa of a particular fulong. Although they are not required to attend the astulon (village meetings), their presence may be requested at times.


Social control among the Blaan is based mainly on fear of retaliation; hence, people are constrained to observe customs and not to stray from correct conduct. In the Blaan system of judgment and punishment, a thief or unfaithful spouse may be killed, unless he or she is able to return the stolen article, or in the latter case, to come up with appropriate fines for the damages.



Blaan Tribe Social Organization, Customs, and Tradition


Blaan social gathering, Dayaw Festival
Blaan social gathering, Dayaw Festival, Rizal Park, 2000 (CCP Collections)

The common Blaan household consists of a single nuclear family, but the man who can afford to raise the bride-price can have as many wives as he wishes. Therefore, more affluent persons usually have larger households. In a polygynous marriage, the first wife has authority over subsequent wives; and she sleeps to the right of the husband while the others are positioned to his left.


Blaan wedding ceremony
Blaan wedding ceremony, Nayong Pilipino, 1990 (CCP Collections)


Ordinarily, a man below 20 years of age tells his parents about his choice for a bride. A preliminary move is made to find out whether the man is acceptable to the prospective bride and her family. When this is ascertained, the bride-price is negotiated, and the marriage celebration is held. The highlight of the ceremony is when the man and the woman feed each other. The newlyweds stay with the woman’s parents. After the birth of a child, they may decide to have their own house where they can raise their family.


Mutual assistance or sahul is characteristic of Blaan culture, as manifested during the building of a house, the clearing of a swidden, and the formation of avenging parties to exact retribution on aggressors or offenders.


The entire Blaan life cycle—birth, growing up, love and marriage, raising a family, struggling for survival in their swidden world, and death—is depicted, recreated, and commemorated in a wealth of rituals that form part of their daily existence.


One of the most important rituals is the koswo libon, which encompasses the entire period involved in the ritual processes of samsung or marriage, from the time of betrothal, sometimes when the parties involved are still babies, to the time that the wedding takes place. Traditional Blaan marriages may be arranged between close blood relations to preserve their culture and strengthen their group. However, it is taboo to marry immediate relatives of the older or younger generation, and siblings.


The first stage of the koswo libon process is aslobok aban or slolok aban, the exchange of cradles and blankets by the parents, signifying their children’s betrothal. Contracting marriage may also be done by giving a gift to the parents of the girl and signifying intent in an act called mugal lente. A man may opt to get an atnabu (go-between) to present him as a suitor and negotiate the dowry with the girl’s parents. In cases of atnabu almente, the girl has to marry the man who has already given her parents her bride-price when she was young.


The second step in childhood betrothals is ye dayon, which occurs when the babies have already grown into children. It involves the boy’s singing a love song to the girl to whom he is engaged.


The third is astalo, a ritual performed by the parents of the betrothed when the girl is around 9 or 10 years old and the boy 12 or 13. Blaan parents traditionally prefer an early marriage. The dowry or bride-price is discussed by the contracting parties. At the girl’s house, where the parents discuss wedding arrangements, the young groom sits beside his parents with his head bowed in submission. He observes and listens in silence. He is not allowed to take part in the transactions. He is duty bound to obey whatever is decided upon by the elders.


Through the saktad, a singsong manner of speaking, the two fathers agree on what one is prepared to give and what the other is willing to receive. The dowry typically consists of items of value, such as kumagi (necklaces) or other pieces of jewelry, gongs, money, or work animals like horses and water buffaloes. Other useful items, such as betel boxes, paes (bolo), kabasi (knives), and bead and gold necklaces may also be thrown into the bargain. The girl’s parents demand more if they know the boy’s parents are well off and can afford to give more. If the demands are too high and cannot be met, a walkout may ensue. The fulong may intervene to prevent this. He asks the girl’s parents to lower their demands. He pacifies the boy’s parents and requests them to be patient. The two parties’ haggling may take a long time before they can come to an agreement. When they do, the fulong summons the boy’s relatives and instructs them to bring the gifts.


The gift-giving is called kafni. The bride’s father and mother inspect the dowry, putting on an air of indifference and displaying a dislike for the items. This performance is a requisite act, for if they show joy or satisfaction right away, they may be branded as extremely materialistic and only too glad to sell off their daughter.


After inspecting and scrutinizing each item, the couple returns to their seats apparently satisfied. They then announce in boastful tones that they too have gifts for the boy’s parents. Woven tabih materials called binlang and lasok, made from fine abaca fibers and tie-dyed into exquisite designs, are handed to the parents of the boy. The reciprocation signifies that the bride’s parents have not totally “sold” their girl, because there is an actual exchange of gifts, however lopsided. To make the union stronger, the two fathers exchange their bolos while chanting goodwill to each other.


As the negotiations continue, the bride-to-be hides in a makeshift enclosure somewhere inside the house, which typically does not have any private rooms. Several women friends and relatives sit with her, keeping her company. She is not allowed to show herself to the crowd. When the day of the wedding is finally set and announced by the fulong, the people start to be noisy, commenting and laughing, conversing, passing food and betel chew to everyone inside the house.


The fourth stage of koswo libon is the samsung, which takes place usually in the afternoon at the house of the girl. A large mat is laid out in the middle of the ceremonial room, with two square pillows covered with expensive tabih, for the bride and groom. Preparations of betel chew, a cooked and shelled egg, a plate of rice, and a plate of viand are also laid out. Symbols like the boar mandible (for strength) and axe (for firmness) may also be present. The girl’s family awaits the arrival of the groom and his entourage, consisting of his parents, relatives, friends, and other villagers, if he is from another village. Before he enters the house, the bride’s parents place an albung on his shoulder and wash his feet to ward off malevolent spirits that he may have attracted on his way. The couple is led by the bride’s parents to enter and sit on the mat. Music is played on the tangungo and the faglong (two-stringed boat-shaped lute) to add a festive touch to the cordial air.


The samsung is a complex ritual, and its practice may vary among different Blaan groups. In some cases, the bride sits in one corner or in a separate room with her female friends while the groom sits in another with his male friends. When a malong is spread out on the mat, it is a signal for the groom to walk toward the center of the room.


The bride’s entrance is much more dramatic. Tradition dictates that a bride-to-be must show her vigorous refusal to a wedding. It symbolizes the great value that she places upon her dignity and virginity; her giving in too easily may lead to a reduction of her dowry, apart from the shame it may bring to her family. She must make a great show of refusing to be seen. Thus, she creates a commotion so that everybody sees her kicking, pushing, fighting, and screaming at her attendants and relatives, who forcibly lead her out of her corner. Her mother joins in, looks balefully at her, and angrily pulls her daughter from her seclusion. After many moments of refusal, persuasion, and physical struggle, the young bride is carried bodily and dumped in her place on the mat. At times the bride attempts a walkout, only to be restrained by her relatives. Crying, she throws a tantrum aimed at the groom and everyone else. There are cases when the bride does manage to take flight and the groom has to wait until she is retrieved for the ceremony. Her violent reactions eventually subside as the ceremony proceeds.


Weddings are usually officiated by the fulong. The bride and groom are dressed in full, traditional garb: she in an albung anshif (embroidered vest) with full adornments, and he in a saul anshif and draped in malong (expensive tabih). The ceremony begins with the fulong giving the couple advice on marriage in an oratorical manner; he then feeds the bride and groom with betel chew and rice. And, in a ritual called sangtingkok and ulo or sabatangwak, the couple’s hair is tied together to symbolize their union. The order of these proceedings may vary.


In sangtingkok and ulo, the fulong stands behind the couple, puts their heads together, holds their long hair, and ties them into a knot. Uttering incantations, he parts them and passes between them in a ritual called samlung, as he prays for their union to be blessed and their health to be well. The couple is exhorted to be faithful to one another, to live happily as husband and wife, and to accept the responsibilities of raising a new family. In some communities, after the homily is done, the fulong motions the groom to stand and lightly put his right foot on the left shoulder of his bride for a few seconds before sitting beside her again. The bride likewise stands and puts her left foot on the right shoulder of her groom. But instead of resting her foot, she gives him a kick and dejectedly drops back to her seat. This act of defiance makes everyone laugh and joke about her youth.


While the couple partakes of the food in the ceremony, the tangungo rises to a crescendo, signaling everyone to begin the maral (dance). Sometimes, someone begins a chant praising or admonishing the bride and groom. The newlyweds are helped up so they can join in the festivities.


The feasting in some Blaan communities begins with salngan, the tradition of passing a plate of cooked rice around the table as each person takes a portion and waits for the rest to take their share. Once all guests have secured their portion, the rice is eaten simultaneously before the rest of the meal.


The morning after the wedding, the married couple is given a ritual cleansing in the river. The groom’s parents symbolically purify the newlyweds by pouring water over their heads. An alternative is for someone to pour water down their back to protect them from illness.


Other post-wedding rituals may include the aflaodi dadto siyaan, a day-long seminar on married life for the newlyweds; the bliwal or mo’ninom, an exchange of gifts between the boy’s family and the girl’s family after a period of time that the girl has stayed with her parents rather than her groom because of insufficient or inappropriate dowry; and the safkaan, a festival held after bliwal to signify that the two families have made amends and can again send off the married couple to their life together without any ill feelings (Kinoc 2002, 8). Within the year or a few years after the wedding, the couple may hold a thanksgiving celebration called doon saging balmolan with their families and friends. When the groom goes to live with and serve his in-laws, this is the custom of agno. The opposite is almimasbuk, in which the couple lives with the groom’s parents. This is considered a curse because it seems to render all the efforts of the groom’s parents meaningless.


The libon (woman or wife) is expected to submit wholly to her dimmom (husband). She is expected to give birth to his children, especially if he is a fulong. Inability to procreate is grounds for divorce.


There are two important rituals related to death and burial, narong and asfuk tu falame el. Narong is a death ritual which includes the preparation of the corpse, activities accompanying the wake, and the final disposal of the body.


There are various ways in which the Blaan bury their dead. Imalow is for persons of high stature in the community: the body may be left to decompose in his own house, which will be sealed and kept off limits for at least a year after the death. The relatives of the dead must ensure the no one comes to desecrate the body; anyone who trespasses will be caught and killed as an offering to the dead. This burial site must not be used for generations to come. A dead chief or datu may be buried in a log coffin carved from a hollowed-out tree trunk. The body is kept until the family decides on a burial site.


In the burial ritual called sofeng, the body is hoisted up a branch of the tallest tree available, there to hang and decompose with time. Some would prefer the corpse to be laid in a nest on a treetop, away from pests and carrion-eating animals. The tree burial brings the dead closer to heaven, making it easier for the gods to welcome their spirits. A less popular way of disposing of the corpse is to bury it in natural cracks of big tree trunks, where it is inserted standing up. Rocks and stones are used to seal the hole, and a bamboo fence surrounds the trunk as a warning that the place is hallowed.


The corpse of a commoner with little authority is simply rolled in a mat or locked in a bamboo trunk, its head and feet covered with cloth. The body of one who has died of illness is wrapped in thick blankets and mats with strips of bamboo, abaca, and rattan, and then tied to a single pole. In some communities, the body is placed on a mat in the middle of the house. During the three-day mourning period, it is taboo to work, speak loudly, or shout because these can provoke the soul of the dead to seek revenge. After three days, the body is buried in the vicinity of the house, and the chief or datu prepares the post-burial rites. A house where someone has died must be vacated and destroyed.


The Blaan have a ritual of “ambushing” and “stealing” a corpse as it is carried by relatives and fellow villagers to its final resting place. During the “ambush,” relatives attempt to grab, pull away, and hide the body from the other grieving relatives. This proves their love for the departed because it shows how much they want the person to stay longer with them. In the process, the corpse may be torn apart, but this is done in the name of filial piety. In some areas, the dead is never carried but rather tied to a pole and then pushed, dragged, and rolled over hills and through thickets and thorns to the burial site. All the while, the men shout and make noise to drive away evil spirits that can weigh down the corpse. This process is called mabang. At the burial site, a pot filled with food is placed at the head of the grave, in the belief that the dead must eat before they travel to the afterlife.


Asfuk tu falame el or tufa lam eil (ablution) is the postburial ritual performed on the riverbank a week after interment. All the relatives of the dead gather for this event. They go down to a designated place on the riverbank, sometimes wearing their finest clothes and accessories. The alamoos anoints everyone present with flowers of young betel nut and palong-manok (rooster’s crown) dipped into the waters of the river. The alamoos moves from one person to the next, striking them on the feet, knees, legs, arms, torso, shoulders, and head, all the while supplicating the gods and asking that they return the strength of body and mind lost during the ordeal of losing and burying a loved one. She prays that no one in the family dies again.


In some communities, after crossing the river, a relative strikes the dead man’s widow with branches. The widow removes her clothes and gives these to her dead husband’s relatives. The elderly often take charge of the ceremonies, while the youngest son is tasked to dig the grave. The widow delivers a short speech bidding her husband not to turn back or worry before the body is placed in the ground. After the ceremony, the attendees partake of a thanksgiving meal. The crossing of the river signifies the end of mourning and a return to life in spite of sorrow. After the ritual, the relatives and friends of the dead head for the home of the bereaved family, where food and music await them.



Religious Beliefs and Practices of Ethnic Filipino Blaan


The Blaan who live in the forested areas of Davao and Cotabato have been called kapil or pagan by the people of Cotabato. In truth, however, their religious beliefs are characteristic of their indigenous, pre-Spanish religion. The Blaan are monotheistic in the sense that they believe that there is but one supreme being ruling the cosmos. Blaan cosmology consists of the skyworld, which is the place of the deities, and the underworld, which is the abode of demons and malevolent spirits.


Blaan religious ritual
Blaan religious ritual, 2000 (CCP Collections)

According to myth, the earth is created from the scurf of the creator’s hands as he rubbed them together constantly to keep them clean and white. This creator is known as the D’wata (God), also referred to as Mele or Melu. In some accounts, Mele is the god of the skyworld and D’wata is his wife who is his equal in strength. Still, others have referred to D’wata as Mele’s brother, who is less powerful than he is. In some versions of the Blaan myth, Mele and D’wata, along with two other beings, Fiuweigh and Saweigh, made the earth and men at the beginning of the world. Other inhabitants of the skyworld are Mfun-Ulen, the deity who owns the rain, and Almabat, a Blaan hero who is believed to have ridden to the sky “in a boat made of pearls.”


Another class of benevolent spirits is the mnguhul. They are capable of making friends with the people, forewarning them of impending dangers or foretelling them of possible luck in their activities.


Malevolent spirits include the blugul, which are believed to be the souls of evil men that have been devoured by a demon sleeping in the underworld; the siling, blanga, and magut-ayem, which feed on human flesh and are thus greatly feared; Loos Klagan, a mischievous spirit that embarrasses those who cross him, especially women; Malulugud, a spirit that scares people by assuming the appearance of frightful creatures; and the busaw, which feed on souls and cause illnesses. The Blaan also believe in the existence of the soul, which, upon leaving the body, can cause illness and death.


Mount Matutum, known to the Blaan as Amtotong or “white mountain,” is sacred to them, as they believe that the D’wata lives in its upper portion, while Molo, the evil spirit who takes bad souls, lives in its lower portion. The Blaan heaven or kaluwalhatian is under the earth, where there is no space for planting rice or processing abaca. It is also a place where the chasing of deer is not allowed. Others believe that a kalkam tree that stands between the D’wata and Molo is the stairway to D’wata’s realm.


The landscape is intricately linked to the religious beliefs and practices of the Blaan. Nature spirits are believed to inhabit the rocks, caves, trees, and mountains. The spirits of the elderly are in the medicinal herbs that protect Mount Matutum and cure the Blaan of illnesses. There are busaw (blood spirits) that live in the lamot (caves) of the sacred mountain. The Blaan pay great reverence to the mountain because they believe many mambulos (spirits) live there. Fon Kayo is the spirit nurturing the forest; Fon Nael is the steward of the waters; Fon Bolul lives in the mountain; Fon Luas is the spirit of the rattan; and Fon Labon is the spirit in the clouds. The bird of omen, the almugan, is a sign of the D’wata’s presence on earth.


For the Blaan, each of the eight hills of Mount Matutum has a specific purpose. Bulol Gumarar is where one can dance; Bulol Gusatlow is where burials take place; Bulol Aknalom is where one can take shelter in the thicket of trees; Bulol Guslang is where meetings are held; Bulol Ihan is where one can sharpen one’s bolo; Bulol Maskurong is where one can view the plains in full; Bulol Afnosaklabon is where the clouds reside. The last hill is Final Bulol, an invisible hill.


The alamoos or female shaman communicates with the spirits, heads sacrificial rituals for the gods, facilitates healing rituals, and foretells the fortune or misfortune of the community. Her visions and dreams are believed to originate from Melu. Apart from the alamoos, religious specialists among the Blaan are the magsud (the healer), the tafad mata (the foreteller), the to nun kalteen (the one who sees visions), and the to nun ka (the dreamer). Because of their abilities, people look to them for prophecies and religious or spiritual advice.


Today, though, because of intermarriages and cultural exchanges with the settlers, many of the Blaan communities have become Christians or Muslims.



Blaan's Way of Living: Houses and Community Settlements 


The rugged terrain of Blaan country requires that houses be built far apart, even when they form a compound or settlement. Houses are erected on shoulders of mountains, on stilts a few meters above the ground, and usually provided with a single notched log for a ladder. This is lodged against the landing or the lowest platform of the house.


Blaan settlement house
Blaan settlement house (SIL International)


The Blaan house is invariably found very near the swidden fields and is built with stilts which can be as high as seven meters, with the flooring laid along two to five planes or levels, a few centimeters between each other. Small hardwood poles, to which side beams and crossbeams are lashed, are used as the main structural support for the house. The roof, made of flattened bamboo, is anchored on a ridgepole and supported by a framework of small timbers. The floor is constructed with crossed timber and broad strips of bark. In a corner of this house one finds the cooking place, with its complement of baskets and utensils, gourds filled with grains, salt, or ground pepper. On the walls of the interior are hung spears and shields and other weapons. For girls engaged in weaving, side rooms are provided for their looms.


Blaan house
Blaan house (Landor 1904)

An outer platform is sometimes placed halfway up the high stilts. This is where things are kept to dry under the sun. This is also where one finds the dancalan, a wooden plate with a handle, used in chopping meat. Under the house, there are usually cages or pens for horses, pigs, and dogs. Around the house, sharply pointed bamboo poles are dug into the ground. In the past these were effective defenses against interlopers, but are today useful in catching stray wild pigs.



Blaan Arts, Crafts and Traditional Costume


Blaan men and women shave their eyebrows, file or cut their incisors, and blacken these together with their tongues. The men tattoo their arms, legs, chest, and back. Their tattoos are called tugeng.



For their garments, the Blaan use their traditional abaca cloth, tabi or tabih. Another type of hemp often used by the Blaan for clothing is the tinadyon, usually woven with black stripes and dyed red. The traditional garb is typically worn during special social gatherings.


Detail of a Blaan weave known as tabih
Detail of a Blaan weave known as tabih, Nayong Pilipino, 2000 (CCP Collections)


The five kinds of tabih are tabih fulo, the dominant color of which is red; tabih logob, which has larger designs than fulo; tabih ftarag, which is used exclusively by women for their lower garments; tabih ugnandong, which is a longer version of ftarag; and tabih hmlato, which is even longer than the ugnandong and is the first-class tabih worn only by people of status in the community.


Blaan couple wearing traditional dress and accessories
Blaan couple wearing traditional dress and accessories, Nayong Pilipino, 1990 (CCP Collections)


The women’s hemp jacket, called albon, typically has a red bodice and black sleeves. Ansif (embroidery) decorates the sleeves, shoulders, wrists, side seams, and waist area. Women’s blouses may be heavily ornamented with embroidery, beads, and buttons. The women may also wear necklaces, anklets, and strings of tiny bells hanging around their waist. An aromatic root or fragrant flower may decorate their waist piece.


Men’s jackets, called saol, are sometimes more ornately decorated than the women’s, albeit with minimal beads or sequins. The sleeves and upper part of the saol are one continuous piece connected to the tubular bodice. Embroidery is concentrated on the vertical and horizontal seams. The base cloth may be red or black, depending on the status of the wearer. Openings in the armpits facilitate airflow and mobility. The saol is worn with salwal (tight-fitting, knee-length trousers), which has embroidery at the bottom called bantati. A long red sash is wound around their waist several times.


Mabal or weaving is a valued art form among the Blaan. Women who are good at weaving are called libun fanday (weaving prodigies). It is believed that the libun fanday weave images from their dreams as well as their imagination. The mabal process is very meticulously done: the abaca trunk is carefully chosen for stripping; the kmalod (abaca) is brushed and tested; the abaca cloth is softened with the use of a complex chemical compound derived from natural elements called abo. The cloths are bundled and dipped in native dyes derived from kunalum (to make black), lagu (to make red), and konel (to make yellow) (Kinoc 2002, 20). The weaving proper begins with an invocation to the spirits of the lutay (abaca), with a prayer for blessings and guidance in the creation of the tabih.


Blaan designs typically fuse geometric patterns with anthropomorphic and zoological designs using ansif, ikat (tie-dye), or tritik (a dye-resist process). For tritik, waxed threads are used to create intricate designs in the cloth. The cloth is then bundled up and submerged in dye. After this, the threads are removed so that white patterns emerge where the embroidery used to be.


The geometric, diamond-shaped designs of the Blaan are called kumang. They are interrelated and cannot be split through cutting; cutting tabih is considered maftu (a curse). Other tabih designs are batak knumang (tentacles of a sea creature), batak ubkong (lizard), batak bwaya (crocodile), batak sawu (python), and batak snail (numbered designs). These designs are based on the Blaan’s affinity with their environment. The python is praised for its medicinal benefits, the crocodile for its ferocity, and the lizard for its capacity for camouflage.


Figures and patterns may be intermixed in the weaving of the tabih. The nihok involves three breadths of design and color: The central portion of the cloth is decorated with colored bands and woven with ikat patterns, while the sides are woven with the typical red-and-black stripes.


Like the Manobo and the Tboli, the Blaan use soft thin strips of bamboo for weaving two-tone (black and natural) baskets in varying sizes: personal carrying baskets hung from the shoulder or larger ones which serve as containers for their crops. Another type of basket for which both Blaan and Bagobo are known is the wild chicken trap used by men. The actual trap or snare consists of a series of small loops made of long, thin, flexible, and braided rattan strips. They are set on the ground by means of three stakes that have carved finial on top. A woven, looped, rattan chain secures the prey to the stake once it takes to the bait. This wild chicken trap usually goes with another kind of basket: a small backpack that a hunter carries when he goes to the forest. A small bamboo internode is sometimes fitted into it for carrying bait, such as seeds, ground corn, or grain. Elaborately carved wooden supports, feathers, horsehair, and small bells sometimes decorate this backpack.


Palm leaves are used to create temporary altars for food and betel nut offerings. One type of altar is maligay, which consists of a bamboo pole about a meter long, draped with palm leaves and elaborate bamboo shavings formed like flowers. Another type is called sapak, which consists of an embellished bamboo pole also a meter long, with its top split to cradle, like a funnel, a piece of blue antique chinaware.


The Blaan are known for their metalcraft. They make bells, trinkets, and weapons in their libon (double-bellows forge) through the lost-wax, waste-mold process, which follows the following steps: Patterns are created with beeswax wrapped in soft clay. The earthen mold is punched with holes on both ends for the molten metal to enter and exit. It is buried in the ground for stability, and then cracked open to reveal the molded piece inside. The Blaan’s blacksmithing include weaponry, such as the fais or faes (long sword), the spears agot ayum and agas budjak, and arrowheads nba tukob for hunting birds and bansek sukolb for combat.



Cultural and Oral Literature of the Blaan People


The images serving as clues in the ftuk (riddle) are derived from the Blaan’s environment and reflect their worldview, pointing to their preoccupations, fascinations, and cultural propensities. The following are some examples:


Kalabaw di Mtutung mlatuh sol ilungan. (sol ahok)

(Carabao on Matutum; it has a hundred nostrils.

[the holes in the ground for planting])


Mluy bateng balnigi snabà tlu lagi. (mati)

(A tree trunk rolled down the mountain; three men attacked it. [a corpse])


Ku mà di tanà lo lwe blian kanto kel di awekan taamong fat blian na fat sigalan na fat matan na fat klingen na fat sol ilungan na lwe baan na lwe ulun na lwe lawehan. (to smibi ngà).


(A man is standing. From the ground he has two feet. At his waist, his feet become four. And now he has two heads. [a man carrying a child])



The epics, legends, and myths of the Blaan are told in the form of tales called flolok tulaen, and narrative songs, called lingag flolok. Their epics sing of the quests and triumphs of their spirit heroes on earth and in the spirit realms. Some legends say these heroes reside in the sacred grounds of Mount Matutum and continue to watch over the world.


The Blaan have a collection of tales making up the epic which they call Kaltulos. These have not yet been recorded and are known only by narrators from a fast-disappearing generation. The Kaltulos is an epic about the exploits and deeds of great warriors in the tribe’s ancient past. One of the tales in this long narrative is the “Flalok Kafay” (Story of Kafay), which recounts the adventures of the god-hero Kafay. The tale is chanted by a few gifted old men and women of the village who have mastered names, events, and places of great importance in the tribe’s history. They thus earn the respect and admiration of the Blaan who listen intently and with awe to their rendition of Blaan oral history and heroic genealogies. Aside from the mythological Kafay, other heroes sung about are Bagis, Maranyal Tumalong, Langanay, Lilyangay, Ulya Siliman, Bageo, and Datu Ulo Lil.


Among the narrative songs of the Blaan are the flalok to sawa (story of men and names of places), a series of different stories told in the evenings to entertain visitors or, when sung during harvest time, to help the harvesters forget the heat and fatigue and make them work faster and more vigorously; the flalok, a song about Datu Dilam Alfo Libon, who lives in a grove of limbahon (a type of coconut), describing his house and comparing it to the moon floating in the sky, and recounting how the Datu and his warriors were attacked and how they fought back; the flalok dawada, a narrative which may last the entire night, composed of four short songs, all of them legends; the tamfang, which refers to the name of a legendary brave warrior and tells about his going off to war and his exploits; and the maglibon, a legend in song, which tells of a very beautiful woman who lived in a house on a hill overlooking the sea and of the many marvels that one may find in her enchanting house.


“Aflalok Tulon” is about the epic hero, Sangulang. The first man created by the D’wata, he is endowed with powers, is exceptionally good-looking, and has knee-length hair tied into a knot on his head. Around his head, he wears an utob or tubao (big handkerchief made of tabih); around his arms, aglang (wooden bracelets); over his body, tugeng or tattoos, with the design of a samfifay or cross. Additionally, he wears abkuko (earrings) and a sla (necklace); but his most attractive adornment is his atmagi (gold necklace). In some versions, he wears singkil on his legs. He rides a large horse named Kaunting, and carries a faes adorned with goat’s hair and klayong (bells); agasor spear; and a bow and arrow. He has the power to produce any kind of food with a wave of his hand, and he can bring the dead back to life by covering them with his utob. Living in Lamlunay atop a mountain near the river and the sea, he is invincible and cannot be wounded or killed.


Blaan epic hero Sangulang Illustration
Blaan epic hero Sangulang (Illustration by Jonathan Rañola)

In a different version, Samgulang is treated as a god and is considered the most powerful of all men. He is the eldest of 10 children by Tua Lagi Kalmakol and Tua Libon Limbolul. Lamlunay is a golden palace filled with gold furnishings. He has very brave and ferocious dog named Ayum. Samgulang leads his tribe with wisdom, ably settling differences and conflicts, thus earning their respect and love. Stories of his love for the beautiful Saluminom, for whose hand he had to defeat her brother Tosabong, are also told.


According to one creation myth, there were only four beings and a bird in the beginning of time. They lived on Salnaon, an island no larger than a hat. The four beings were Melu, Fiuweigh, Diwata, and Saweigh. They sent the bird, Buswit or Baswit, across the world in search of new things. Buswit returned with a handful of soil, a piece of rattan, and a fruit. From the soil, Melu fashioned the earth. From the seeds of the fruit, which he planted into the earth, he made trees, which filled the earth with more trees, rattan, and fruits. Finally the four beings began to create people. Wax was used in the first instance but was discovered to melt when brought to the fire. Soil was then used, and all was well except for a mistake made by one of the beings, who had fashioned the noses upside down. Melu secretly corrected the noses but, in his haste, the root of the nose was left with a mark, which can be seen today. The first man was named Adnato and the first woman, Adwani, from whom the human race sprang.


In another version of the origin myth, the world was made from the scurf of Melu’s hands as he rubbed them again and again to keep them clean and white. From the heap of dead skin, he fashioned the earth and two men. He was at the last part of his task, the men’s noses, when Tau Dalom Tana arrived and insisted on trying his hand at it. He and Melu had a heated argument; resentfully, Tau Dalom Tana put the noses upside down on the men. The two parted ways, Melu to the skyworld and Tau Dalom Tana to the underworld. When heavy rains fell, the two men almost drowned because of their upturned noses. Melu then descended from the heavens and fixed them. He fashioned more men out of the first two men’s dead skin and excess hair. All these people lived in one village. One day, a man and a woman went away and returned days later with a child. Melu punished them with a long drought. The people were forced to leave the village in pairs. Melu ascended to the heavens and never again returned to visit his people.


Among the Blaan in Danlag, South Cotabato, it was Fiu We and Sa We who argued over the men’s features. Sa We, who wanted to create disorder and chaos, wanted the people to have skin as hard as stone to serve as their armor, inverted noses, and male genitals on the inside of the left knee. Fiu We wanted natural skin and proper noses to prevent the men drowning when it rained. Fiu We then molded humans the way that they are now from a piece of soft clay.


The Blaan-Danlag believe that their creator was Almabet, a D’wata who created the various ethnic groups and gave them their names. He created eight people: the Blaan, the Tboli, the Obo, the Alnawen, the Teduray, the Matigsalug, and the Mandaya. He left lands for them and ascended to the ninth heaven, and thus there was land and sky. He instructed the groups to plant fruit trees and crops in their assigned lands. The Blaan were given Kolon Bia-o (Columbio), Buluan, other parts of South Cotabato, and Datal Pitak in Matanao (Davao del Sur).


In another version, the first creations were, in succession, the heavens, the waters, Bulol Afo (Mount Apo), Amtutung (Mount Matutum), Male Bato (Mount Parker), Atmurok, and Bulol Lumot. Almabet gave every ethnic group their own land. He bade the Blaan to note the rivers of E-el Bukay and E-el Fule Bato and to watch out for Amtutung. On top of Amtutung would be both a busaw or blood spirit and Datu Ulo E-el, the spirit-guardian of the rivers.



Blaan Songs and Traditional Musical Instruments



Blaan songs, which may or may not be sung with accompanying instruments, include the fled, a love song; the kanwahil, the epic of Tud Bolul; the kago almago, a song about the journey of man’s soul after death; the saf-ufak, the lullaby; the blet, a call to action; and the stalo, a joust centering on the negotiations for a bride’s dowry.


Songs with improvised texts but with traditional melodies are the komokon, which tells why the singer has come down from the mountains; and the dalmondon, in which a boy sings about the recording of the song itself. Lullabies such as the almalanga may have no words for lyrics but only one-syllable sounds, akin to “la la la.”


The Blaan use musical instruments extensively with their rituals and dances. The instruments run the full range of idiophones (percussions), zithers (bamboo tubes with strings), chordophones (wooden lutes), and aerophones (flutes and reeds).


Blaan men playing the tangungo
Blaan men playing the tangungo, Nayong Pilipino, 1990 (CCP Collections)


The odol percussion instrument is a wooden sonorant plank made of molave. This is also known to the Manobo and Tagacaolo groups of southern Davao. It produces drumlike rhythms when it is used to accompany the dance that is part of the odol performance. In the old days, the odol was an indispensable part of celebrations welcoming victorious warriors on their return. It would usually be played by female musicians. A player, holding two pieces of wood in her hands, squats in front of the wooden plank, pounding out an ostinato of beats with a steady tempo. Two dancers, wearing strings of belts around their colorful costumes, wrists, and ankles, dance around the odol plank in a proud, erect, and dignified manner. From time to time, they tap the ends of the plank with their wooden wands. Another percussion instrument is the tananggong. This Blaan drum is made of balnabo wood and goatskin or deerskin. It is played by securing the drum between the player’s legs and using two sticks to beat on the skin.


The tangungo is a set of eight metal gongs hung on a harness, in contrast to the Maranao kulintangan, which usually has eight gongs of graduated sizes, laid out on a horizontal platform. The set consists of seven small gongs, which produce a running melody, with the eighth and biggest gong playing in syncopation to the rest to produce a particular rhythm. Another kind of gong played separately is called falimak, which is of medium size and made of cast iron. 


Blaan women playing the mouth harp
Blaan women playing the mouth harp, 2014 (wikimediacommons/Blaan_women_music)

The kubing or mouth harp is known by the same name among the Blaan, Bagobo, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Mansaka, and Subanon. As with all other bamboo idiophones of this type, it uses a thin bamboo filament attached to the body, which is vibrated by plucking with the finger.


Several stringed instruments are played by the Blaan. The kitara is a four-stringed plucked lute, carved out of a single piece of wood. It is not played in a chordal manner or with several fingers of the left hand pressing down simultaneously on various parts of the fingerboard, and with the right hand sounding multiple strings at one time; instead, the player performs in a rapid melodic style, plucking out a distinct melody from the strings. The kitara is either played solo, in which case a programmatic title for a specific occasion is given to the piece played, or as an accompaniment for songs of courtship.


Blaan Woman playing the faglong
Woman playing the faglong, 2014 (Ann Francisco)


The diwagay is a one-stringed bowed lute, also called a “spike fiddle,” which is known as kagut among the Manobo and kotet among the Subanon. The faglong, also known as kuglong, hagalong, or kutyapi, is a two-stringed boat-shaped lute. Its two strings are of metal, with one played as a drone and the other strummed to produce a melody using the pentatonic scale. The d’wagay is a Blaan violin constructed out of coconut shell and bagacay. The sluday or sloray is a polychordal, bamboo-tube zither having an anhemitonic pentatonic tuning, on which melodic patterns are repeated over long periods. This is the same instrument known as tangkol to the Bukidnon, takol to the Mansaka, saluray to the Ata, and tangko to the Mangguangan.


The most common wind instruments are the finagtong, a short bamboo flute with five finger holes, and the kembing, another Blaan bamboo flute.



Blaan Dances and Ritual Ceremonies



Blaan dances are often named after or derived from the instrument used as accompaniment to a particular dance. Dances to the faglong are called aral faglong; dances to the tananggong are called aral tananggong; and dances to the falimak are called salmagi. There are dances imitating the movements of familiar animals, like aral angok (monkey dance), aral klilit (woodpecker dance), and aral blila (chicken dance).


Apart from the odol ceremony, the Blaan have dance dramas and dance rituals depicting their customs and traditions. An important and probably the longest dance drama is the series of dances depicting the different stages of rice planting: the mabah, or plea for the gods to help a farmer choose the field to clear; the abmigo, or clearing of the field; the amlah, or planting of the rice; and the kamto, or harvest of the rice.


The admulak is a dance depicting bird hunting with bow and arrow. The thick rainforests of Blaan country is haven to many kinds of birds and game. In this dance drama, three hunters hide under an amlat (bird shelter) built under trees of thick foliage, where birds flock to feed and rest. To provide tempo, a faglong player describes in song the movements of the dancers. All performers use a uniform dance step to keep in tune with the faglong as they mime the movement of hunters. They look up at the big trees, discussing the source of the calls. They set thin arrows on their bows, slowly creeping towards a more propitious place, in order to conceal themselves while intently listening to bird sounds. Seeing birds alight, the group becomes spirited. A Blaan standing at a distance imitates birdcalls as he cups his hands around his mouth. Alerted and assured of a prey, the dancers crawl to a vantage position, arrows steadied on their bows now oriented towards the source of birdcalls. A hunter shoots an arrow and downs a bird. There is excitement as they scuffle for the catch. The bird is actually a bundle of dried leaves thrown in by a spectator at a given signal.


Traditionally, whoever shoots down the first bird must cook and eat it without sharing the catch with his companions. This is said to ensure a bountiful hunt. In the dance drama, the two unsuccessful hunters enviously look on as their comrade eats his catch. Suddenly, the latter gets an upset stomach, flails about, contorts, doubles over, writhes in pain, and throws up. His confused and frightened companions try to comfort him, then rush back to the village to fetch the alamoos.


The amti is a dance drama on fishing; thus, it depicts a river fisherman going through his daily routine of setting traps. His dance weaves around the choice of spots where he can set his bubo traps, where to spread dried banana leaves for his shelter, how to lure fish into his traps, and where to sprinkle the poison sap extracted from the roots of the tubli plant.


The fisher’s trap movements are mimicked step-by-step in the dance sequence: the setting of traps, luring of the fish towards them, the poisoning, and the inspection of the catch. He builds a fire to warm himself. Then he goes to the water and catches an elusive fish between his legs. He skewers the fish and cooks it over the fire. Finally, he collects his catch in a side basket and happily dances away with the bubo over his shoulders and his fish in the basket.


The muhag sugon is a dance drama on gathering honey. The Blaan woodlands abound with beehives. Honey is a delicacy among the people and is gathered by many Blaan men. The dance drama muhag sugon unfolds with a man moving about in a walk-dance sequence. He looks around constantly, searching for a beehive. He is strumming a faglong, the music fast and melodic, soft but audible. His movements are small, monotonous, predictable, and are as soft as the music he plays. He spots a beehive, represented by a piece of tabi, an abaca cloth tied in a bundle. He strums the faglong faster, indicating glee. His dance steps accordingly become more expansive. He leaps here and skips there as he comes closer and closer to the beehive. Putting down his faglong, he pulls out two pieces of bamboo sticks and starts a fire by rubbing them vigorously against each other. He lights up a torch made from dried fiber and leaves and smokes out the bees from their hive. He picks up his faglong, hurriedly tears off pieces of the hive, and proceeds to sip the honey. He does this several times. Then the bees come back and attack him, making him drop the hive. He runs, slapping his body all over to drive the bees away. More bee stings make him run faster. Mustering enough courage, he goes back to retrieve the beehive and runs home, still slapping off the bees and picking the dead ones off his skin.


Another dance is the asbulong, which depicts a healing ritual. The asbulong is officiated by the alamoos, also known as malong, usually female, who dances around the sick person, shouts incantations, and brandishes a handful of leaves and flowers. With these, she occasionally strikes the sick person’s forehead, arms, torso, legs, and feet. At times she holds his arms and pulls him up in an effort to revive him. Putting down the plants, she squats on one side of the sick and extends her left arm over his chest. At this point, the alamoos is prepared to determine whether her patient will live or die. With a dangkal (span of her right palm), she measures her extended left arm from shoulder to middle fingertip. Usually, she gets three to three-and-a-half dangkal, depending on her palm span. If her last dangkal goes beyond her left hand’s middle finger, her patient will live. The extra finger length signifies a new lease on life. But if her last dangkal lands squarely at the tip of her middle finger, it means the sick is going to die, unless sacrifices, offerings, and prayers are immediately made to the divinities and life-giving deities. The music of the faglong, which has been playing all the time, is slowly drowned by the music of the tangungo, which is now played to a frenzy.


While the shaman is measuring life, four or five young women nervously dance behind her, their fingers stiffly stretched, their hands moving from side to side while they skip and bounce from left to right. The moral support they lend strengthens the healing powers of the alamoos. Menfolk bring two altars with offerings in front of the sick. The first is called maligay, a single bamboo pole about a meter tall, festooned with elaborate bamboo skewers, which feature layered shavings made by delicately whittling, without removing the outer skin of the stick. The shavings are formed like flowers at the top. Guava, makopa, and other fruits of the season, as well as fillets of meat and fish, are placed on the sharp ends of the skewers. The second is called sapak, which uses a bamboo pole with its top split into eight parts, pried open into the shape of a funnel, and on which an antique blue-and-white china is firmly set. Offerings of cooked rice and betel chew are also set down nearby.


Faglong and tangungo music continues to be played during the healing ritual, creating an atmosphere of merriment. Feeling she has done all she can to heal the sick and fatigued by the whole process, the alamoos motions to some men to help her lift the sick. The tangungo strikes a lilting melody, making everybody move in quick, animated fashion. Food and betel chew from the maligay and sapak altars are given to the sick. Though weak and unable to stand unaided, he is forced to walk and take slow dance steps. Seeing no improvement in his condition, the alamoos gives him more food. Other participants help themselves to the altar food. Whether feeling well or not, the patient slowly swaggers and staggers into the dance. With great effort he tries to follow the tempo, falling and stumbling along the way. But his participation is supposed to signify that the power of prayer and incantation has alerted the diwata and has helped cure the sick.


Another healing ritual is called maral di tana or loos klagan. The life of the sick may be measured with the almango method, which is done with the healer’s hands, and the famkawing method, which is done by placing a lump of soil wrapped in a leaf beneath the stairs of the sick person’s house. The movement of the leaf in response to the healer’s queries determines the life span of the sick.


The relatives of the sick then collect materials for the building of a small hut near the sick person’s house, because the Blaan wish to avoid death inside their homes. In the afternoon, ablangon (sticky rice) is cooked, a chicken is tied to one of the posts of the hut, and the healer begins to dance the maral di tana. Shaking convulsively as if in a trance, she dances around the house with the chicken in hand, invoking the loos klagan for healing. After this, the chicken is slaughtered, cooked, and fed to the sick person. The blood of the chicken is also rubbed onto his or her forehead. The remaining food is then collected and thrown away. After this process, the sick is believed to have been cured.



Documentaries, Films and Videos Featuring the Blaan


Several mediumwave and longwave stations operate in South Cotabato, mostly based in General Santos City and Koronadal. Various large stations air in these areas through subsidiaries and licensees, including Radio Mindanao Network’s XCK-FM iFM, the Cebu Broadcasting Company’s 94.3 DXTS-FM 94.3 DZRH News FM, and Manila Broadcasting Company’s DXWK-FM 101.5 Love Radio, and Radio GMA’s DXCJ-FM 102.3 Barangay FM Super Radio. Among local stations, the JMP Mass Media Production (Soccsksargen Broadcasting Network) owns DXEP-FM 91.1 Pacman Radio, named for the moniker of the renowned boxer-turned-politician hailing from General Santos City, Manny Pacquiao.


Television stations in these areas are typically relay stations for big media corporations that hybridize their regular programming with local shows and news programs. These include GMA Network, National Broadcasting Network (NBN), Radio Philippines Network (RPN9), and Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), to name the most prominent. The Cotabato Cable Television Network Corporation continues to offer its channels to local communities through cable TV, though subscribers are on a downtrend.


Much of audiovisual materials produced for and about the Blaan consist of ethnographic recordings of their ritual dances or supplementary media materials for Christian churches’ evangelical projects. Infamously, they were featured in Dennis Azzarella’s pseudo-ethnographic documentary Last Tribes of Mindanao, 1972, along with a mix of Tboli and Manobo, groups, as the peace-loving Tasaday. Produced for the National Geographic Society through Ferdinand Marcos’s assistant on national minorities, Manuel Elizalde Jr., the film was part of the Marcosian project to pacify unrest among indigenous peoples who were then being forced to flee their ancestral domains because of development aggression and military incursions. It fabricated an image of the “gentle Tasaday” as meek, uncorrupted, and disinclined to violence, to counter the violent realities of land-grabbing and internal colonization.


The hoax was eventually uncovered by Oswald Iten, a Swiss journalist who took the opportunity to see “the lost tribe” for himself only to find a cluster of indigenous people wearing casual clothes admitting they had merely been ordered to perform as cavemen. A series of congressional investigations would commence in the following years and eventually prove that, while the Tasaday do exist as an indigenous group, they are separate from the Blaan, the Tboli, and the Manobo, and are not the “gentle” Stone Age people Last Tribes of Mindanao had projected them to be. This story is also covered in the 1993 episode of the American documentary series Nova in Season 20, Episode 9: “The Lost Tribe.”


In 2016, with the conferment of the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasure Award on Yabing Masalon Dulo, an ikat weaver and master of the Blaan mabal tabih, the Blaan, their culture, and ways of life have garnered greater and broader public attention. The Blaan PH channel on YouTube published a series of short, informational videos about the Blaan in 2016, and in the same year the Amguo Blaan Wellness Village was established in Fu Yabing’s hometown in Sitio Amguo, Polomolok, South Cotabato as a site of cultural exchange and exhibition. As a tourist destination, it has been featured in various travel video blogs and magazines since. Likewise, YouTube has also made possible the publication of karaoke versions of Blaan songs and Blaan playlists by various content creators.





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

Title: Blaan

Author/s: Edgardo B. Maranan, Felicidad A. Prudente, and Ramon A. Obusan (1994) / Updated by Louise Jashil R. Sonido (2018 and 2021)

URL: https://epa.culturalcenter.gov.ph/1/2/2335/

Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: July 21, 2022


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