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The Boholano People or the Bol-anon: History, Culture and Traditions [Bohol Island Province Philippines]

The Boholano People or the Bol-anon: History, Culture and Traditions [Bohol Island Province Philippines]

The term “Boholano” or “Bol-anon” derives from Bool, the earliest name of Tagbilaran City, the capital of Bohol Province. It refers to the people of that island, their language, and culture. Mountainous and measuring some 4,117 square kilometers, Bohol is situated below the typhoon belt. Bohol Island is surrounded by Southern Leyte in the east, Cebu island in the west, Camotes Sea in the north, and Bohol Sea in the south. The oval-shaped island is the 10th largest in the archipelago, with a predominantly rolling and hilly topography. The central part of Bohol is the location of more than 1,000 hills, otherwise known as Chocolate Hills—oval-shaped limestone hills looking like chocolate drops or inverted grass-covered kettles, considered to be geological wonders.

Bohol has an even coastline, except for the Anda peninsula in the south. It does not have a very pronounced rainy season, nor does it suffer from extensive dry spells. It was once covered with forest that protected the tarsier, one of the earliest members of the primate group. Important mountains are Alimani, Bunucon, Lusday, Calihu Mangad, Colayhun, Canliboy, and Campusa. The more significant rivers include the Inabanga River in the north and the Loboc River in the south.

The province has 1,109 barangays in 47 municipalities. Tagbilaran City, the only city in the province, is the provincial capital, located at the southwestern part of the island. Bohol is home to 1,255,128 people. Additionally, a recorded number of 632,305 residents in 18 provinces and cities of Mindanao identify themselves as Boholano or Bol-anon, with the greatest number of them in Davao province at 88,025, followed by 78,160 in Bukidnon, and 75,721 in Davao City. They are dispersed in eastern Visayas as well, ranging from 45,458 in southern Leyte to only 68 in Siquijor.

The Boholano or Bol-anon language is considered a variant of Cebuano, there being phonetic and morphological differences between the two. Cebuano terms with the /y/ phoneme become /j/ in Boholano. Cebuano kayu (fire) is kaju in Boholano, layo (far) is lajo, kabayo (horse) is kabajo. Another difference is in the pronunciation of certain syllables; many monosyllabic words in Boholano, such as bas (sand), bay (house), bung (medicine), dan (way), are polysyllabic in Cebuano: balas, balay, bulong, and dalan.

Bohol and the Boholano People in History

Precolonial vessel called corcoa or caracoa
Precolonial vessel called corcoa or caracoa (A New Collection of Voyages and Travels edited by John Stevens. J. Knapton, 1711.)

The earliest discovered stone tool in Bohol is reported to belong to the Paleolithic Age. Two other stone tools found are said to belong to the late Neolithic. Archaeological finds include copper or brass, lead, and iron implements; shell and glass beads; Tang to Ming porcelain; wooden coffins; and artificially deformed skulls. The chronology of these finds, however, has not been made. A large earthenware jar with a limestone lid, circa 14th to 15th centuries, was found in Pupog, Mabini and contained the remains of a human skeleton. Similar burial jars were found deliberately placed under mounds of limestone in Anda. In the same site were coffins of molave wood containing several skulls; these were apparently coffins for secondary burials. 

Kayong kayong, precolonial golden ear ornaments with 12 floriated spangles from Bohol
Kayong kayong, precolonial golden ear ornaments with 12 floriated spangles from Bohol, Ayala Museum Collection (Photo by Neal Oshima in Capistrano-Baker 2011)

In Anda and Mabini, 59 burial sites revealed that the Boholano ancestors were buried with their personal accessories and ornaments such as shells and stones, gold earrings, copper bracelets, and earthenware. A Boholano chief is said to have been buried in a barangay (ship), with weaponry, food, and an entourage of 70 slaves.

In circa 12th century, a kingdom named Dapitan existed along the seashore between Bohol and Panglao. It is said that this kingdom had a princess named Bugbung Humasanum, whose suitor raided the south of China to win her hand. In early 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator under the Spanish service, sighted the island of Bohol and landed near present-day Tagbilaran City. After he was killed in Mactan, an island off Cebu, his followers retreated to Bohol and there burned the Concepcion, one of their ships. In 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi stopped in Jagna, Bohol where he was met with native resistance. Later, on 16 March 1565, Legazpi initiated a peace pact through a blood compact with the native chiefs of Baclayon, Sikatuna, and Sigala. Here, he was told that about two years before his arrival, the Portuguese and Ternatans of Indonesia had landed in Baclayon, killed 500 Boholano natives, and carried off 600 for the slave trade in the Moluccas. A hundred years later, in 1662, hardwood house posts were still seen protruding on the shores of Panglao across from Baclayon, as mute testimony to that raid.

By 1582, natives numbering about 2,000 had been placed under an encomienda. But, as a result of the 1563 attack, many Boholano had migrated to other islands. For instance, on the eastern side of Negros Island, now Negros Oriental, half the population of its only settlement, situated along the Tanay River, was Boholano.

As the first Spanish colonizers of the islands, encomenderos were tasked to see to the natives’ conversion to Catholicism in exchange for the right to own the land and its produce. To this end, Pedro de Gamboa, the encomendero of Baclayon, and his mother, Doña Catalina de Bolaños, asked for priests to be sent to their area of responsibility. Two Jesuit priests, Juan de Torres and Gabriel Sanchez, arrived in November 1596, and found that a chapel had already been erected to welcome them. They came upon the venerable centenarian, Datu Sikatuna, who resisted their efforts at converting him until 1599. A Moro invasion of Baclayon in 1600 prompted the two priests to move to the safer inland village of Loboc, literally “muddy, turbid waters.” Here, they built their first church and pueblo, from where the Jesuits would set out on their missions to the rest of the island until the mid-17th century.

In 1621 a babaylan (shaman) named Tamblot led 2,000 Boholano from four villages in a revolt against Spanish oppression, to regain their freedom and to return to their ancestral religious beliefs and practices. He had established his leadership by making wine gush out of a bamboo pole and rice to pour out of another. Tamblot’s followers burned churches and threw away their rosaries and crosses. For six months they held out in inaccessible mountain areas but were never in short supply of food. Tamblot’s revolt spread to the whole island except Loboc and Baclayon, which remained under Spanish control. Alcalde mayor (governor) Juan de Alcarazo, who was based in Cebu, was finally persuaded by the Jesuit fathers to quell the Tamblot Rebellion, also known as Diwata Rebellion, and so he arrived from Cebu with 50 Spaniards and 1,000 Cebuano and Kapampangan conscripts. During the battle, a heavy downpour inspired the Diwata rebels to fight even more fiercely because they took it as a sign that the gods were on their side. However, the Spaniards’ native allies held their shields over the Spaniards’ arms and ammunition to keep these dry. The rebels were routed on 1 January 1622, and the survivors escaped to their mountain fort, with Alcarazo in pursuit. For six months the Diwata rebels held their ground with their spears and arrows. Ultimately they were defeated by the Spaniards’ firepower, and the survivors escaped deeper into the woods. Nothing of any certainty was known of Tamblot after this.

Another revolt erupted in 1744 and lasted for 85 years and eight months—the longest in Philippine history, outlasting even its founder. The person that triggered this historic event was a Jesuit parish priest of Inabanga named Gaspar Morales. He had ordered alguacil mayor (constable) Sagarino Dagohoy to pursue a rebel indio into the mountains and capture him. It was the rebel instead who killed Constable Dagohoy, whose brother, barangay chief Francisco Dagohoy, then brought Sagarino to the priest for a Catholic burial. The priest refused, and for three days the corpse was left to rot in front of the church. Embittered, Dagohoy led 3,000 Boholano men and women in an insurrection against the Jesuit parish priest and the Spaniards. On their way up to the mountains, they raided the Jesuit-owned Hacienda San Xavier for their own food stock. They built a fortress and established a self-sufficient community within the forested areas of Inabanga and Talibon. The number of rebels swelled to 20,000 over the years because of the widespread discontent of the colonized natives over forced labor, tribute payments, and Spanish arrogance. Descending from their mountain hideouts, they conducted sporadic raids on Spanish garrisons, and Dagohoy surrounded the rebel settlements with farms to support his followers. The Jesuit Gaspar Morales was killed in a forest of Inabanga in 1746 two years after he had caused the death of Dagohoy’s brother.

In 1768, King Charles III of Spain ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines. The Augustinian Recollects, who took over the Jesuit parishes and properties in Bohol, tried a different tack from that of the Jesuits by trying to placate Dagohoy and his followers with dialogues and little gifts, but with little success. When Dagohoy died in 1782, his son succeeded him with 7,000 followers. The Recollects’ peace negotiations continued, and in 1792, with the number of insurgents having swelled to 24,000, the priests succeeded in coaxing down what was heretofore the biggest number of surrenders: 1,200, which was nevertheless barely 5% of the whole rebel population. By this time, even rebels from other islands had joined the Dagohoy revolt. In 1827 to 1828, assaults on the Dagohoy enclaves intensified under Colonel Manuel Sanz. One rebel contingent made its last stand inside the cave of Inaghuban, where the smoke from a bonfire built by enemy troops suffocated them to death. In January 1829, surrenders numbering 201 were ordered beheaded by a Captain Celedonio. The revolt ended on 31 August 1829 with the surrender of 20,000 insurgents. Four new villages were established for the surrenders: Catigbian, Cabulao, Balilihan, and Vilar. Batuanan, which had already been established in 1768 for Dagohoy rebel returnees, swelled to a population of 6,266. On the other hand, 3,000 survivors escaped and migrated permanently to other islands. Over the past eight-and-a-half decades, no less than 20 Spanish governors-general had tried intermittently to end the Dagohoy Revolt.

The Boholano resisted American occupation with equal fierceness. In April 1899, the Spanish regime in Bohol had been officially replaced by the junta provincial (federal government), which recognized the legitimacy of President Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos government. Don Bernabe Reyes of Dauis was elected presidente (mayor), a post that he held only for 11 months, because American troops led by Major Henry C. Hale invaded the island on 17 March 1900. Hale then made the mistake of appointing Pedro Samson, a Boholano, as commandante (chief) of the local police. Under pretext of conducting an inspection tour of police outposts, Samson recruited a Boholano guerilla army. On 31 August, bearing only bolos and wearing anting-anting (amulets), they waged their first battle against the Americans on the hills of Carmen, though they were easily defeated by the Americans’ firepower. Nevertheless, the Americans were sufficiently alarmed to send for a fresh unit of soldiers led by Captain Andrew Rowan as more Boholano joined Samson’s guerillas. From then on until 1902, Samson’s men engaged the Americans in intermittent skirmishes.

On Easter Sunday, 8 March 1901, 406 guerillas in Jagna, led by Captain Gregorio Caseñas, died in battle against the Americans, who then burned down the town. This signaled the beginning of an even “grislier era.” For the rest of the year, the American military’s monthly routine was to foray inland, burn a hamlet or two, and leave behind them a wake of killings, tortures, and destruction. The guerillas, on the other hand, devised bamboo traps, which were camouflaged pits lined with bamboo spikes.

On 4 November 1901, Brigadier General Robert P. Hughes, commander of the Visayas, landed at Loay with 400 troops. Henceforth until 1902, American atrocities intensified, in what the American government called its “scorched earth policy.” The Americans carried out inventive forms of torture, particularly the “water cure,” and cut a swathe of conflagration through the island. The official gazette of the US Bureau of Insular Affairs, Washington reported that “20 pueblos were reduced to ashes” out of 35 on the island. Seventeen of these were Catigbian, Batuanan (now Alicia), Anda, Balilihan, Buenavista, Candijay, Duero, Garcia-Hernandez, Guindulman, Inabanga, Jagna, Lila, Loay, Loon, Pilar, Sevilla, and Sierra Bullones. Some were razed twice, such as Jagna in March 1901 and again in October of the same year, although its church and convent were spared. In Lindugon, now Batuan town, Americans barged into the wooden chapel during Mass, dragged 12 men and a woman outside, and executed them.

On 7 November 1901, only three days after General Hughes’s arrival, 50 women, with two Americans, entered his headquarters to plead for a ceasefire so they could go up the mountains to persuade their men to surrender. Hughes acceded and then simply resumed American operations the next day. Toward the end of November, Hughes was replaced by Major Edwin F. Glenn, whose savagery so surpassed that of Hughes and Rowan that he was court martialed in 1902, together with the two officers who had carried out the Balangiga massacre.

On 23 December 1901, after a month of negotiations, General Samson and 175 of his guerillas came down from the hills and surrendered. There were, however, guerilla stragglers still. A month after Samson’s surrender, provincial supervisor J.R. Hegg was hacked to death in Batuanan, and the Americans dared not recover his body until ten months later. Nevertheless, American victory was inexorable. Barely a week after Hegg’s assassination, the Americans chose the landowner Aniceto V. Clarin as Bohol’s civil governor. On 3 April 1902, the American civil government was officially established.

The American colonialist policy of “benevolent assimilation” fostered public education, health and sanitation, government organization, agriculture, and infrastructure. Boholano Cecilio Putong was a pensionado (scholar) sent to America, and later became President Elpidio Quirino’s Secretary of Education. Governor Anecito Clarin’s son, Jose A. Clarin, became the Senate President Pro Tempore during the American colonial period.

On 17 May 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army landed in Bohol. Various guerrilla units were formed, notably the Northern Bohol Guerrilla Forces in Loon under Lieutenant Vidal V. Crescencio, and in Guindulman under Major Esteban Bernido. The United Guerrilla Forces was formed on 19 November 1943 under the command of Major Ismael Ingeniero. After President Ramon Magsaysay was killed in a plane crash in 1957, Carlos P. Garcia from Talibon, Bohol became the fourth president of the Philippines. Garcia became known for his nationalistic Filipino First Policy and his austerity program.

The morning of 15 October 2013, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 and a depth of 20 kilometers struck Central Visayas, and 199 out of 214 fatalities were in Bohol. It was Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran that experienced the highest intensity of ground shaking, the earthquake’s epicenter being at the municipality of Sagbayan in Bohol. It damaged 1.64 billion pesos worth of roads, bridges, school buildings, and hospitals in the whole eastern Visayas.

Bohol's Economy and Traditional Occupations

Precolonial coastal villages of Bohol depended entirely on the sea, for the Boholano were excellent fishermen, oarsmen, interisland traders, and sea marauders. For transport, they had caracoas (large, fast boats that could carry up to a hundred oarsmen), and engaged in interisland trading of dried fish and salt, besides wine, wax, cotton, and coconuts. They also used the caracoa to engage in mangubas (to go out for plunder). Inland villagers, on the other hand, entered the forests with their dog and spear to hunt wild boar and deer, and to gather honey and beeswax. As farmers, they had a way of protecting their crops from foragers: around their fields they scattered tribulos (caltrops or star-thistles), which were spiked plants that pierced the bare feet of trespassers.

Kalamay makers of Jagna, Bohol
Kalamay makers of Jagna, Bohol (Jagna Municipal Planning and Development Office)

The riverside village of Loboc was the trading center where the coastal and the inland Boholano would converge to exchange their produce and catch. To get to Loboc, villagers living along the riverbanks journeyed on bamboo rafts loaded with such trade goods as rice, coconut, and abaca. Later, capitalizing on the Boholano’s natural skills, the Spaniards conscripted them for shipbuilding and sailmaking for their galleons. The material used for the sails was raw cotton canvas.

Bohol is served by four national and 23 municipal ports, and two national airports—at Tagbilaran and Ubay. Tagbilaran City is the leading commercial and trading center, where interisland ships regularly arrive. Electric, postal, telegraphic, and telephone services are provided by both government and private firms. Present-day livelihood activities are agriculture, fishing, cattle raising, mineral production, and cottage industries.

Agriculture on the island’s sparse arable land is the main economic activity in Bohol and comprises 56% of the labor force. Important crops include rice, corn, tobacco, ube (purple yam), sweet potato, abaca, and coconut. The last is significant since the island is one of the largest coconut producers in the country. Other agricultural products include legumes, abaca, maguey, vegetables, and fruit trees.

Fishing is done regardless of season. It is mainly found in the northern part of the province, but the industry is localized because reefs off the coast obstruct fishing activities. The industry’s full potential has yet to be tapped. The livestock industry is represented in Bohol by various ranches, the more notable of which are the animal farms in Talibon and Ubay.

Mining activities produce guano and manganese. Caverns in Sierra Bullones, Maribojoc, and Mabini are rich in edible bird’s nest and guano deposits, which are used as fertilizers. Manganese is found in Guindulman, Anda, Jagna, and Carmen. Nonmetallic materials useful in manufacturing also abound in Bohol. About half of Bohol and most of its islets are covered with limestone. Lime is used for soil conditioning, road construction, and cement making. Clay deposits are found in Danao, Jetafe, and Buenavista. Other nonmetallic deposits like marble and soda ash are also abundant. There are steel and iron foundries in the province, as well as fertilizer plants and a beer brewery of San Miguel Corporation.

Cottage industries include mat weaving and sack making, and Bohol is popular for its woven hats and baskets. Another cottage industry is the preparation of native delicacies like kalamay (sticky rice cake cooked in coconut milk).

Tourism is a major source of revenue for the province. Tourist attractions include the Chocolate Hills in the towns of Carmen, Bilar, Loon, and Clarin; the Badian swimming pool in Valencia, which uses spring water; and the Tontonan Falls, which generates power for Tagbilaran. A historical site is the 1796 watchtower topped with a cross in Punta Cruz, Maribojoc. It was a “perfect isosceles triangle” before it was partially damaged by the 2013 earthquake, which also caused the sea to recede several meters away.

Bohol is home to trained deep-sea divers and fisherfolk, but their poverty has made them vulnerable to human trafficking. Many are lured into leaving Bohol for contract fishing jobs in Tawi-Tawi. Once there, they are forced to engage in compressor fishing, “a dangerous, deep-sea fishing method,” in which they breathe in air through “a plastic hose attached to an air pump on the surface” (Soriano 2014).

The rich mineral deposits of the Chocolate Hills have made it vulnerable to quarrying operations, despite its being declared a protected area under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). To stop the further degradation of this famous tourist spot, the provincial government issued an administrative order in 2006 prohibiting quarry permits and prevailing upon the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to deny mining permits in the towns of Carmen, Batuan, and Sagbayan.

Political System and Traditional Government of the Boholano

The traditional government of the Boholano consisted of the ruling class, composed of the datu (chief) and his family; the timawa (freeborn), who rendered their services to the datu and his family; and the oripun (slave), who served both the datu and timawa classes. The scope of a datu’s rule depended upon his prowess and ability to wield authority over his subjects and even over other datus. Thus, his rule might range over a number of families composing one village to a number of villages composing a district. The quantity of gold and slaves that he owned was a measure of his prestige. A datu might own more than a hundred slaves as a status symbol.

Bohol Provincial Capitol
Bohol Provincial Capitol, 2014 (Manchueta Sol,

The timawa class served the datu with manual labor, farming and foraging for him, and building his house. They paid him a buwis (tribute), which consisted of a portion of their own harvests; and, if he went to war, they fought for and with him. To this end, they used such weapons as spears, arrows, kampilan (large cutlass), kris (dagger), sumpit (blowgun), bakakay (little bamboo reeds hardened by fire at the end), and karakas (shields). It was, in turn, the datu’s duty to maintain order among his subjects and aid them when necessary. The line of succession was normally male, from father to son, although the women of the datu class were accorded the same respect and service.

A council of elders settled disputes over property and wrongs committed by one party against another. Their decisions were based not on written laws but on custom and tradition handed down from their ancestors. Thus, a crime was acknowledged only when an aggrieved party demanded redress. Stealing was a major crime, which could earn for the culprit the penalty of slavery or death. However, among the gravest of crimes, even graver than physical injury or assault, was the hurling of insulting language at someone, especially at the datu or any member of his class.

A person became a slave in any of the following ways: the inability to pay a debt, no matter how minimal; the commission of a crime; captivity in war; and the circumstance of birth. Some deeds that were considered crimes were rowdiness at a graveyard or the mere suspicion of inappropriate behavior toward the datu or his wife.

With Spanish colonization, the people were forced to pay tributes, primarily in gold, to the encomenderos instead of their datus. By the mid-17th century, however, gold was in short supply, and tributes to the encomenderos were in the form of lampotes (cotton cloths). To facilitate easier administration and evangelization, the Spanish colonial government placed Bohol under Cebu, then already an alcaldia (organized province). In 1854, through a Spanish royal decree, Bohol became a separate province with Siquijor Island, then called Fuegos. In 1890, Fuegos became the subprovince of Negros Oriental.

The Boholano participated in the Philippine Revolution of 1896, which brought about an 11-month period of independence until the American invasion of the central Visayas from 1899 to l900. In 1901 the Americans appointed governors to the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, and Negros Oriental. Elections were held after the new, American invaders had subjugated the Boholano people by pillaging and razing 20 of the 35 towns of Bohol.

On 10 March 1917, Act Number 2711 created the province of Bohol, which consisted of the entire island and its adjacent islands. Tagbilaran, the provincial capital, was once part of the town of Baclayon. On 1 July 1742, it became a separate town because of its growing population. Local officials were elected and a tax census divided the residents into six cabezeras or barangays (family groupings). On 11 July 1742, Don Calixto Marcos was elected Tagbilaran’s first gobernadorcillo of the new town of Tagbilaran (Official Gazette 1917). In 1899, the American colonial government appointed Salustiano Borja as municipal president of Tagbilaran. The position still carried the title of gobernadorcillo or kapitan, until it was changed to presidente municipal in 1913 and then, after World War II, to “mayor.”

The province is composed of three legislative districts, meaning it sends three representatives to the lower house of Congress. The provincial government consists of a governor, a vice-governor, and 10 members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or the Provincial Board (three each for the first and second Districts and four for the third District). Bohol is served by a Municipal Circuit Trial Court in Dagohoy-Danao. Tagbilaran was made a city by Republic Act (RA) 4660 on 1 July 1966. The capital is now administered by a city mayor, a vice mayor, and city councilors. Prominent political families in Bohol include Borja, Garcia, Torralba, Zarraga, Tirol, Butalid, Rocha, Yap, Castillo, Lim, and Ong.

Bohol's Social Organization, Customs and Traditions

The life cycle of the Boholano is celebrated in various ceremonies that include both Christian and native elements. Traditionally, the Boholano performed the paglelehe after childbirth. This consisted of tying the umbilical cord of a boy to a nonoc (banyan) tree in order to confer strength on him. A girl’s cord was tied to the fragrant pandan plant to make her eligible someday for the local chieftain. Babies were named after events occurring simultaneously with their birth. A baby named Maglente would be named after thunder or lente; a baby born on the day that enemies were sighted might be named Gubaton after gubat (enemies). The birth of a datu’s child was welcomed with a weeklong feast, during which women sang songs of jubilation.

The Spaniards introduced formal classroom education to the Boholano, and the Americans strengthened it with the public school system. But during precolonial times, the education of the youth was entrusted to an elderly person known as the paratagbao (he cries out loud), whose instructions on morality and ethics were done at the children’s homes. All the “Pintados,” including the Boholano, shared a lingua franca called Visayan, which had a writing script, albeit used only for correspondence but not for record keeping. Palm leaves and bamboo were used for paper, and iron stylus for the pen. The characters were written in a column, and the direction from one column to the next was from right to left.

By 1599, the Jesuits were running a seminario (boarding school) in Loboc for the chieftains’ sons, whom the missionaries had brought from Panglao island after baptizing the natives there. By 1604, 16 boys of the native nobility were enrolled in this school. Among them were Miguel de Ayatumo, 1593-1609, of whom the Jesuits wrote an account in praise of his servility and extraordinary fidelity to them and their Catholic God. He was presumably a datu’s son, since it was the Spanish missionaries’ strategy to convert and school the native leaders’ sons first and foremost.

There were women called binukot (maiden in the room) because they confined themselves in their bukot (room). When they did go out, they were borne on the shoulders of slaves. As a result, they were of a delicate and fine physique. Additionally, it was a mark of good manners for women to keep their right hand over their mouth when they talked with a man. Present-day binukot, particularly female epic chanters, are still to be found among the country’s indigenous peoples who have continued to resist Western acculturation.

The Boholano have observed traditional health practices since precolonial times. In the 17th century, the people were observed to maintain their health with a daily drink of coconut water; thus, kidney disease was unknown to them. The mamauen (betel nut chew) ensured well-preserved teeth, a strong stomach, and good breath. The chew consisted of three ingredients: the buyo, which was an aromatic leaf from a climbing vine; the bunga, which resembled an olive; and quicklime. The bunga and lime were wrapped in the buyo, and this whole concoction, when chewed all at once, produced red-colored saliva.

To cure various ailments, the Boholano used herbs. By 1610, however, the Jesuits had established a hospital in Loboc. It was supported by the natives, including those in the neighboring villages. During the week, they placed their donations consisting of herbs and food in a basket placed outside the church doors. On Sundays, the villages were designated to care for the patients and donate food of more substance like meat and rice.

Besides tuba (coconut or nipa wine), they made pangasi (rice wine) by soaking rice in water and adding a certain kind of yeast, all of which they fermented in a large clay jar that could hold about 50 to 75 lb of wine. During feasts, more water was poured into the jar, and people drank the pangasi by gathering around the jar and sipping it through reed straws. The contents of one jar seemed limitless, because additional water was simply poured into the jar as the people consumed its alcoholic contents.

Wedding ceremony at Baclayon Church
Wedding ceremony at Baclayon Church, 1980 (Albert Balbutin Jr.,

Traditionally, Boholano men marry at age 20, women at 18. Courtship can take on various forms, such as letter writing or the parent-initiated proposal. There are generally two steps to the more customary proposal: the hatod and the sunda (to follow up). The first step begins when an elder, acting as a go-between for the boy’s family, visits the girl’s parents. He declares his intention and places five pesos in silver coins on the table, continually adding to the pile until the sum becomes acceptable to the girl’s relatives. After being served refreshments, the go-between leaves but is told to return after three days. The sunda stage proceeds when the girl’s parents accept the proposal. A meeting is set with the boy’s parents, where wedding arrangements are discussed and finalized. The boy goes into a period of service, in which he performs household chores for the girl’s family. After this period, the wedding is held in the church. Feasting follows until breakfast the next day. Ganas (carrying the bride to the groom’s house) is practiced as the bride is taken to the home of the groom. She stays there until living arrangements are made.

Among the precolonial Visayans, a popular instrument used by men and women to heighten the pleasure during copulation was the oval-shaped sagras, which was made of metal or ivory and attached to a part of the male genitals.

When a person died, the grieving family’s sounds of loud weeping and lamentation intermingled with those made by professional mourners, usually women. The relatives cleaned the deceased with water made fragrant with leaves, herbs, and preservatives, such as lime and buyo (betel leaf). The wake lasted three days, after which the body was placed in a coffin of hardwood and sealed so tightly as to keep the air out. A piece of gold was placed in the mouth of the dead, and jewelry and work implements were strewn inside the coffin. The grieving family wore white, and they shaved their head and eyebrows. They buried their dead either underneath their house or in the fields. A food offering was laid atop the grave. If the burial site was in the field, a fire was lit underneath the house, where persons stood guard against the spirit of the dead who might come to take family members with it. The burial was immediately followed by feasting and revelry. However, if the deceased was a person of stature, the whole village observed a period of silence, the length of which was determined by the rank of the deceased. A violent death would incite the mourners to kill not only those they held responsible but any stranger crossing their path on whom they could vent their fury.

Some remnants of indigenous funeral rites continue to be practiced today. Starting in the 16th century when the Spanish priests arrived, the Boholano either replaced these practices or retained those that were analogous to Christian ritual. The post-burial rites of feasting and revelry were replaced by the Christian practice of abstinence from fish and meat.

Current terms of respect for family members are of Spanish origin: manong (elder brother), from hermano; manang (elder sister), from hermana; tio (uncle), and tia (aunt). Like most other Philippine groups, filial duty of helping to support the family is observed.

Religious Beliefs and Practices

Among the Pintados, the creation story begins in Sumatra, where the first man and woman burst out of a reed stalk and occasionally quarreled in the course of their married life. Their creator might have been a god named Raon. The journey of the soul of the dead involved three stops: First, it went to an island where all the flora, fauna, and bodies of water were black; next, it traveled to a multicolored island; and finally, its journey ended on an island where all creation was white.

Dauis Church exterior
Dauis Church exterior, 2006 (wikimediacommons/Magalhães)

Life was protected and preserved by prayers and food offerings made to all of creation, visible and invisible. Objects of worship were the diwata (invisible spirits), who could be either good or hostile; the humalagar (ancestors with extraordinary courage and intelligence); one’s father upon his death; the nono (grandfather), which was the crocodile; the old nunok (balete) tree; the rainbow; the animals and birds; and certain land formations, particularly promontories. Omens that warned against traveling were the sighting of a snake or a lizard, or the singing of the corocoro (seabird). Ancestors were seen to be riding on a golden ship to visit their living descendants.

The process of Christian conversion that the first generation of colonized youths in Bohol underwent was exemplified by Miguel Ayatumo. He was baptized at age seven in 1593 and from thereon publicly demonstrated such Catholic acts of piety as fasting, praying, and self-flagellation. At age 12, he was sent to live at the Jesuit seminario. For four years thereafter, he served the priests and their religion with great devotion. He accompanied them on their proselytizing trips, cutting a path for them through the jungles with a bolo, bearing their load, and guarding them at night. Otherwise, he spent his days in the seminario praying and meditating. On 19 November 1609, at age 16, as he walked down to the river to join other boys doing their laundry, Ayatumo slipped and fatally fell against a boat on the bank.

Dauis Church nave and altars
Dauis Church nave and altars, 2011 (Francis Tan)

By 1631, the island had its first beata, Maria Oray, who, like Ayatumo, belonged to the principalia class. A beata was a zealously pious woman, devoting her life to prayer and corporal punishment, such as self-flagellation and fasting, and had a Spanish priest for a spiritual director.

By 1610, the Jesuits had baptized 3,300 natives. The Virgin Mary, they asserted, had replaced the idols that the natives once worshipped, and she was now their patron of hunting.

When a datu was found by the Jesuit Gabriel Sanchez to be keeping paraphernalia in his house for ritual healing, the latter ordered the village boys to spit and trample on these publicly, and then had these burned and thrown in the river. Yet, he declared that Catholic prayers and the sprinkling of holy water was an “antidote” that could cure the sick. A girl was persuaded by her father, a datu, to tell a “miracle tale” at a church gathering: that one night, she and her sisters saw in the sky a brightly shining crucifix with a crown on the head; it flew up to the moon and then disappeared.

Presently, belief in the Christian god coexists with the reverence for the anito or animo (life in objects of nature). Anito are either good or evil, and are placated with prayers and offerings. A woodcutter recites a prayer before cutting down a nunok tree. The custom, called buyagan, is meant to call the attention of malevolent deities away from someone’s fortune or good looks. If praise is offered to a child, someone should say “buyag” to divert the attention of an anito who may have noticed the child’s good looks. Animal noises, especially that of a crow at night, are associated with bad luck.

Such spirits are also called the dili-ingon-nato (they who are not like us), and one says “tabi,” meaning “excuse me” or “please step aside” when one passes by certain spots believed to be inhabited by these spirits. When one is about to clear a field or build a house, the tambalan (shaman), also known as meriko, sukdan, and dangkoy, is called on to lead in the pagdiwata, which is a rite to appease the spirit inhabiting the place. In Inabanga, it is believed that an invisible kingdom called Macaban exists at the source of the town’s river. Sightings of a golden ship flying over the town mean that Macaban’s invisible residents are taking human lives. When one is mino (losing one’s way in the woods), one counteracts this by reversing one’s clothing. The wake for the dead is held to keep the corpse from being being spirited away and replaced by a banana trunk. Physical deformities are manifestations of gaba, which is caused by one’s show of contempt for children, the aged, and holy persons. Baliw is manifested in a flash of lightning or a sudden change of weather, caused by the breaking of a taboo.

In the past, gimata (the first appearance of the moon) stopped work for one to three days. It was believed that the diwata feasted on these occasions. An eclipse was believed to be the work of Bakunawa, a giant snake that devoured the moon. Noises were made to frighten the snake to release the moon.

When an illness is believed to be caused by evil spirits, offerings of tuba, food, incense, a bottle of coconut oil, clothes, jewelry, and a drum are made. A tambalan is called to cast away the spirits causing the illness. The process includes incense burning, the tambalan’s trance, the recitation of prayers in pidgin Latin, the anointing of the sick with oil, and a procession that leads to a place with trees.

Miracles of the Holy Child are often cited as the reason for the end of a long drought or pestilence in Hanopol, Balilihan. Tales of the intervention of the Blessed Virgin during pestilence and natural disasters are told in Loboc. The people of Loboc, for instance, believed they were spared during the Japanese Occupation because they held novenas for the Blessed Virgin. Communities in Bohol have patron saints that are the focus of religious devotion.

Almost 96% of the Boholano are Catholic. The remaining 4% are Aglipayan, Protestant, or Iglesia ni Cristo. Although most Boholano profess the Christian faith, many still cling to traditional beliefs in spirits to this day.

The Boholano Community 

In Bohol, as in many island provinces, the settlements lined the coast. Around them were their rice fields and groves of banana, palm, and nipa trees, as well as their fishing and sailing equipment. The settlements of the tinguianes (people living in the interiors) were similarly along the riverbanks.

The houses, called bahandin, had a uniform structure. Arigues (hardwood posts) rose several feet above the ground and supported the dwelling made of wood and bamboo and with a low roof thatched with nipa or palm leaves. The ground floor was enclosed by lengths of split bamboo to keep in the domesticated animals like chicken and carabaos. Here, too, rice was pounded with mortar-and-pestle. Above this was the house proper, which was a simple square room that the whole family shared. There was no furniture. Meals were taken on the floor or on a wide, woven mat that the family would sit and sleep on. Behind this room was the open-air batalan used for washing. Standing here were large clay jars for water and tuba. The segments of a bamboo pole, because they were hollow, were used as cooking pots, with the bamboo node serving as the bottom of the pot; large shells and deer horn were used as drinking cups. Entry into the house was provided by a bamboo ladder, which could be pulled up when not in use.

A nipa hut in Balicasag Island, Bohol
A nipa hut in Balicasag Island, Bohol, 2010 (Dianne de las Casas,

The datu’s house was a larger, sturdier, more finely constructed version of the commoners’ house. The arigues were thicker, the building materials were of timber and planks, and it had many rooms. The interiors had appurtenances sufficient to provide the datu and his family with their daily necessities. The sole piece of furniture was a very low table called dulang in some Philippine languages, at which the family took their meals.

The Spanish pueblo complex in Bohol divided the towns into muto (hill), referring to uptown, and napo (sandy hill), meaning downtown. Inang-anan (chopped ladders) are stone steps connecting these two sections. The original settlement was napo, which was by the sea or river. Muto consisted of the church and convento (rectory or priest’s residence); a plaza flanked by two low, coral stone schools, one for boys and the other girls; a two-story coral-stone building; and a separate bell tower. Downtown consisted of the river docks, municipal hall, and market. The historic towns of Tagbilaran, Loay, Loon, and Maribojoc exemplify this colonial pattern of organization.

Orillo House in Quinogitan, Loboc, Bohol Casa Boholana: Vintage Houses of Bohol
Orillo House in Quinogitan, Loboc, Bohol (Casa Boholana: Vintage Houses of Bohol by Erik Akpedonu and Czarina Saloma. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2011.)

Traditional huts made of bamboo and nipa are still found in many rural areas such as in Ubujan District and Balicasag Island. The Spanish-era bahay na bato (stone houses) in Bohol are like most of the stone houses in the Philippines. The typical stone house has a zaguan, the ground floor with walls made of coral stone. Only a few of these now remain: the Incon House, probably circa 1734, in Loboc; the Clarin House, circa 1840, in Loay; the Gaviola House, circa 1850, in Ubay; and the Rocha House, circa 1840, and Beldia House, 1858, both in Sitio Ubos, Tagbilaran. The rest have either been demolished, such as the Casa Boholana, built in circa 1820 and demolished in 2002, or were built with wooden walls from the ground up, such as the Rocha-Suarez House, 1840. The Incon house is said to have been built by a priest and is as old as the Loboc church, though this is unlikely. The Gaviola House is the only house whose ceilings and interior walls have paintings, circa 1930s, by Raymundo Francia, just like those in several churches of Bohol. The Rocha House is only one of two in the province with a roof of tisa (clay tile), the other one being the Beldia House. All others have roofs of either galvanized iron or thatch. The unique feature of the Beldia House is the large dome over its sala, which is typical only of churches. The historical significance of this house is that it was the temporary residence of Jose Rizal’s brother-in-law, Manuel Hidalgo, while in exile in Bohol and which Rizal himself visited. It was also a municipal building during the Spanish period. The Rocha-Suarez House, now a museum, is a showcase of rare architectural features: a foundation of coral stone, a tray ceiling, and 20 corbels beneath the ceiling beams. The doorjambs on either side of the main doors have flower-shaped carvings, or rosettes, unique in the country. The bahay na bato from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are typified by the Malon House and Villamor House in Baclayon, the Orillo House in Loboc, and the Cloribel House in Panglao Island.

The most important architectural monuments in Bohol, however, are the churches of the Spanish period. Church construction in Bohol began in the 1590s, with the Jesuits using the same materials and building principle as that of the natives and their datu’s houses. These were of bamboo, wood, and thatch, and continued the “ harigue tradition,” the earliest surviving evidence of this being the precolonial hardwood posts on display at the Bohol Museum in Tagbilaran and the Baclayon Church Museum.

Because of the relatively enormous size of the churches, collecting the harigues was oppressively hard labor for the native conscripts. Chunks of forest were chopped down and the massive tree trunks transported in various ways. One way was through the riverbank or seashore, where the timber would be floated on rafts and then dragged from the river or sea to the construction site. The timber was stripped of its branches and bark, scraped and levelled, and one end of each sharpened into a point and driven into the ground. Its stability was then ensured by an encasement of acota (a low wall of rubblework and mortar).

Eventually, sturdier churches were constructed, of which there were two types. Stone churches had harigues that were erected between coral stones and cemented together by lime, sand, and water. The second type was the church with tabique pampango (thin wall Pampango), composed of “panels of woven bamboo or wooden strips” and coated with lime mortar. For the stone churches, men were required to come to Mass carrying a stone at least four kilos each, and the women, at least a ganta of sand.

The churches uniformly follow a cruciform plan. From the 19th century onwards, the Recollects extended the front entrance with portico facades. However, the original, Jesuit-built facades were not demolished and hence became, in the sense of an oxymoron, “inner facades.” Prominent historic churches that had portico facades added to them were those of Loboc, circa 1860s; Baclayon, 1875; and Loay, 1889. Spared of these portico facades and thus allowing a full view of the original Jesuit-built facades were those in Dimiao, Jagna, and Maribojoc. However, churches erected in the 20th century had portico facades already built into the design, such as that in Calape, 1933-1954.

In the historic churches, retablos (altar-pieces) were spread out evenly along the transept, the most magnificent being the retablo mayor (main altar-piece), which was behind the main altar. The roof over the crossing of nave and transept, near the altar, was either dome-shaped or pyramidal. The ceilings of the more magnificent churches of Bohol had paintings filling the whole length of the nave and converging at the domed ceiling. Floor patterns such as stripes, harlequin, herringbone, and chevron were created with the alternating light-and-dark colors of balayong and molave wood. These Spanish-period churches were well-preserved until the 2013 great earthquake.

Maribojoc Church
Maribojoc Church, circa 1990 (CCP Collections)

Two of the best and oldest churches that collapsed were those of Loon and Maribojoc. Five that were severely damaged are those of Loboc, Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, and Tubigon. The Baclayon Church Museum, which was originally the second floor of the old Jesuit convento, remains intact. The facade-with-tower of the modern church of Clarin, 1927-1937, stands deceptively whole, masking what is now a mere mound of twisted steel and pulverized concrete behind it.

Before it was reduced to fine powder and rubble of limestone, Loon’s Church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, also known as Birhen sa Kasilac (Our Lady of Light), had been “the crowning glory of Recollect architecture in Bohol” and “one of the largest, finest, and grandest churches in the Visayas.” Its predecessors were the Jesuit-built church in 1753; the Recollect-built church and convento of tabique walls in 1780; a third in 1815 and a fourth in 1854, both of which burned down; the last one, built in 1855 to 1864. This church had the widest nave in Bohol, even slightly wider than its own facade, which had been part of the earlier structure that burned down in 1850. The carvings on it have been described as “sensually undulating lines,” creating “a subtle and quiet movement,” thus giving a “feeling of serene majesty.” Until the earthquake, the azulejos (glazed blue-and-white tiles) on the floor at the other end of this church, near the altar, had been well-preserved. The towers, the convento attached to the church, the mortuary chapel in the cemetery, and the abandoned cemetery itself—all fell together with the church. However, the grand staircase of 174 stone steps outside the church, built in 1847 to 1849, is intact. In the nave section below would have stood the Spanish-period municipal hall and school buildings had the Americans not razed the town in 1901 (Trota 2001, 77-80; Rebayla et al. 2014, 178-81).

Maribojoc’s massive Church of La Santa Cruz—now gone—took 20 years to build, beginning in 1852, although an earlier church had been built in 1798. Some of this church’s unusual aspects were its location, which was uptown with its back to the sea, and its position: It being the only Spanish-period church in the Philippines fronting a ravine instead of a plaza. Intact in the church complex are the convento, which became a school and, a safe distance away in front of the church, a statue of Christ standing on a globe and holding a scepter aloft.

On the exterior walls, the decorative carvings and bas reliefs had an unusual reddish tinge to them. The facade had a bas relief of a patron saint, below which was a cornice with an incised floral pattern running along it. The magnificence of the church’s interior was primarily created by its “ordering of space.” No pillars impeded the view from the front to the rear end of the nave. The bareness of the walls led the visitor’s eyes toward the fully painted ceiling, then down its whole length to the five retablos, which were an exuberant mix of neo-Gothic, local color, and Moorish features. Unsurpassed in their artistry, these retablos, finished in 1934, were to be the last of such masterpieces, after those in Baclayon, Loboc, and Tagbilaran. Because of the 2013 earthquake, the only remnant of these retablos is half of the central retablo, which landed on the floor after its support underneath gave way. The museum on the floor above the sacristy also fell with the church.

The oldest church in Bohol is the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, which runs parallel to the river. In olden times, when people normally traveled to this town by riverboat or bamboo raft, one’s first view of the town was the church’s grandeur. The 2013 earthquake caused the collapse of 1/4 of the nave in the middle, so that, from the river, it appears to be two structures separated by space and rubble. Also completely gone are the rear of the church, which had consisted of the altar and sacristy, and, behind it, the three-story convento, which became the Museo de Loboc. At the other end of the church, the Recollect-built portico facade crumbled as well. However, parts of the original, Jesuit-built inner facade and the two exterior towers to which these were attached remain standing.

The original church was built circa 1602 but was destroyed by fire in 1638. Another church was finished in 1670 but was transformed into the priests’ three-story convento when the present church was built circa 1734, and then in recent years, the Museo de Loboc. The convento was therefore wrapped around what used to be the oldest church building in Bohol until its collapse.

After the Jesuits were expelled in 1768, the Recollect priests took over and subsequently added more elements and structures to the church. The inner facade is richly ornamented with scrolls, tendrils, niches, medallions, and pilasters. The main portal on this facade is flanked on both sides by fluted pilasters, the central one containing carvings of saints’ busts, each framed in a medallion and lined vertically along the pilaster. The two narrow, octagonal towers flanking this inner facade and standing beyond the exterior walls are similarly adorned by scrolls and tendrils. Although the sacristy at the rear of the church is completely gone, much of this sacristy’s facade is intact, along with its carved ornamentation of scrolls, tendrils, and medallions. Still intact above the door is a wooden carving, in bas relief, of San Ignacio holding a book, his right hand lifted in blessing. The relief is enclosed in a medallion held by two women, or perhaps wingless angels, wearing flowing robes and feathered bonnets.

The rear end having been obliterated, so was the altar with all its five retablos consisting of wooden panels and niches behind and beside the altar, considered to be among the most exquisite in Bohol. The central niche in the retablo mayor, located behind the altar, was “the most decorated, the intertwining vines in gilded wood matchless in its artistry.” All the other retablos had equally extravagant ornamentation, with “volutes entwined with garlands of flowers,” “clouds looking more like mountains in the Oriental manner,” and contrasting styles of the Baroque and the Neoclassic (Trota 2001, 71-73).

Some beams supporting the ceilings of the convent had carvings of hideous faces serving as corbels at their ends. Two of these that survived the earthquake resemble Aztec temple carvings. The most fearsome one, with fangs, glaring eyes, and flaring nostrils, is gone.

Outside, about 30 m away from the church, near the river, had been a four-story octagonal belfry cum watchtower, built by the first Recollect, because defense structures were more important for the Recollects than for their Jesuit predecessors. The two upper stories fell with the 2013 earthquake, but its seven bells, which had all been on the fourth floor, have been retrieved from the rubble. The oldest bell is dated 1863; the latest, 1937. The tower also had an 1893 clock of the Altonaga Company in Manila and a large 1899 matraca (a wooden instrument whose handle is twirled or cranked to make a clattering noise), which substituted for the bells when these could not be tolled during Holy Week.

Baclayon’s present-day Church of La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria, made of coral stone, was not built until 1727, although Baclayon was the first Catholic mission, begun in November 1596. During the 2013 earthquake, large parts of the baptistry, facade, middle part of the nave, and bell tower fell. Much of the church, however, is relatively intact; thus, the early 18th-century retablos and the saints are still ensconced in their niches. These retablos have been described as “the best examples of Philippine baroque” (Jose 2001, 23), their exuberant floral and plant details illustrating the intermingling of the sacred and the sensuous. Other outstanding features of the church are the ceiling of solid planks; benches with carvings, one of which shows a man hanging upside down in the stocks; and the 19th-century azulejos with floral designs at the communion rail.

The unique feature of the Church of Santa Monica in Alburquerque (correctly spelled with the additional r, unlike Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA) is the balustered arcade bridging the upper floors of the church and convent. The arched entrances on the church’s facade and the long line of arches along the vertical side of the convent’s zaguan are linked by the arcade’s arches of the same height and width. These create a straight line of uniform arches from one end of the church front to the farthest end of the convent. Construction of this church lasted from 1885 to the 1920s. Thus, it is a combination of the Spanish-period walls of coral stone and American-period cement plaster over the facade. The whole church complex was only slightly damaged by the 2013 earthquake.

One church that completely withstood the earthquake is that in Jagna, which holds the distinction of being the longest church in Bohol and the most buttressed along the exterior walls, probably because there are no pillars inside to support the roof. It took almost 60 years to build, from 1808 to 1867, the previous church having been burned down accidentally by a candle in 1808. The grandeur of the ceiling paintings, also by Raymundo Francia, circa 1920s, is emphasized by the continuous view from one end of the nave to the other.

The Duero church, constructed circa 1863 to 1874, is unique among the Bohol churches not only for its likeness to a Greek temple but for its material that is predominantly of wood rather than the typical coral stone and lime mortar. It stands intact, perhaps because the manner of its construction ensured both solidity and stability. The ends of its molave posts are buried seven to nine feet deep. It has double walls of thick wooden planks, the inner ones laid vertically and the outer ones, horizontally. The austere effect of the Greek-temple facade, which features the straight lines and rectangles of pillars and Doric friezes, is relieved by the colorful, Asian-style image of the sunburst with the eye in the triangle surrounded by a circular blue sky and white clouds. The church interiors bear a similar Asian theme, with its recurring pineapple motif, the sadok, a dome shaped like the native hat, and “the huge flowers and concentric circles” on the all-wood ceiling. The Americans spared the church and convent when they burned down the whole town in July 1901 because they used it as a base from which they forayed to destroy the rest of the island (Trota 2001, 48-50).

In Dauis, the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady lost its portico facade, some columns of a side retablo, and some of its exterior and interior walls during the 2013 earthquake. In Dimiao, coral stones on the walls of the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino were dislodged, and cracks ran through several parts of its exterior and interior walls. Crucial parts of the Church of San Isidro Labrador in Tubigon collapsed: both the front and rear ends (facade and sanctuary); Raymundo Francia’s magnificent mural on the domed ceiling above the crossing; the supporting pillars from the middle of the nave down to the sanctuary, hence bringing down everything above it; and large parts of the buttresses and exterior walls. After the earthquake, the convento was deliberately demolished after its roof fell and its walls cracked in several places.

Arts and Crafts of the Bohol Island

When they first arrived, the Spanish colonizers observed that the men of the central islands, now called the Visayas, covered their bodies almost entirely with tattoos of various designs. Hence, the Spaniards gave these islands the collective name of “Province of Pintados.” On the face, however, they confined their tattoos to their chin and the area around their eyes. The women tattooed only one of their hands and a part of the other.

Tattoo artists used the following procedure: First, they outlined the design on the body of the person about to be tattooed; then they traced the outline by pricking the skin with the pointed end of a bamboo stick or an iron stylus until they drew blood; they covered the wound with soot, or black powder, which turned gray as it stayed permanently on the skin. Tattooing was done on the persons in their youth, when they were in the peak of health and could endure the pain. The body was not covered all at once but part by part through a period of time, each of which was done after a courageous deed was performed. The tattoos were invariably “pretty and well-proportioned.”

The people’s teeth resembled those of a saw because, from their early childhood, these were filed into points; these were either black, from a certain type of black polish, or red, from the betel chew. The higher-ranking people capped their upper teeth with gold.

The Visayan men wore their hair shorter than did the men in the other islands but long enough so that they tied it back in a queue. Those who had killed at least one enemy wore a red putong (headkerchief), which they tied around their head, whereas those who had killed at least seven wore a putong that looked like a crown because of the gold embroidery along the edges. The women tied their long hair in a knot atop their heads.

Men and women alike wore numerous necklaces, bracelets, anklets, leglets, and rings of gold, ivory, brass, and precious stones like carnelians and agates. The leglets might also be made of many rattan cords, which had been dyed black. For earrings, the loose skin of the lower ears was plugged with gold discs with a diameter each as large as two inches. A smaller earring might be placed above the disc on each ear.

Both men and women’s garments were made of local fibers such as abaca and colored silk. They wore a loose, collarless, and short-sleeved tops and knee-length, white or red wraparound skirts, fastened in front or secured by a wide piece of cloth long enough to be wound a few times around the waist. If the men pulled the skirt from behind, between the legs, and up toward the waistband, it functioned as trousers that reached mid-thigh, underneath which they wore a bahag (loincloth). For important occasions the datu put on a richly embroidered, floor-length tunic.

Although Boholano pottery may be classifed as Cebuano, a major difference lies in the building technique. In the towns of Albuera and Valencia, turn modeling is a major building technique, thus distinguishing the Boholano potters from the Cebuano. Products include banga (water jars), masitasan, also called masitera or kaang (flower pots), kulon (a round-bodied pot used mainly for cooking rice), dabahan (a widemouthed, shouldered pot used mainly for cooking viands), lutoan sa asin (a small round-bodied, flared rim pot for storing salt), batirol (a chocolate pitcher), kalan/sugang (stoves), hudno (an open-topped, round or square oven), kadiongan (a two-part steamer pot), bibingkahan (a rice-cake molder), takob (covers), banga (a jarlike flowerpot support or stand), duang-duang (a wash basin), bitay-bitay (hanging flower pots for orchids and cactus), tubigon (a round-bodied water jar), and takso (a basinlike frying pan with two tubular handles).

The terms used to refer to vessel parts are modeled after the human anatomy: baba (mouth), hog (neck), wait (lip), abaga (shoulder), lawas (body), and samput (base). Non-anatomical terms include buho (hole), rebite (rim of collar of a flower pot), puertahan (stove door), tumbahan (stove basal rim), puwu (stove cleats), bangag (cutouts on stove rims or bodies), ulbo (domed portion of jar cover), and paldias (outer flange of jar cover).

Building techniques differ, depending on the product type: For flower and rice pots, turn modeling is used; for water jars and stove, the coiling technique; for cover, lump modeling. A variety of tools is at the potter’s disposal: paddanan (a potting board upon which the potter can sit while working), palo-palo or pikpik (bamboo and wooden paddles), hampin, also called dagangan or saco (a folded grain sack used as a pot support on the working board during paddling), dokow (a stone cobble anvil), lagit or nisnis (a fine-grained polishing stone), gihit or noog (the cloth used in turning), dahon ihapin (a piece of banana leaf placed under an object to prevent the latter from sticking to the board), and togsoc (a daggerlike bamboo tool stuck through the starting piece to serve as a handle in turn modeling).

Palm leaf and fabric weaving, called saguran, is an ancient tradition in Bohol. Woven rice pouches can be in the simplest shapes or as elaborate as a buntal (hat) of woven nipa overlaid by nito basketry (see logo of this article). The inumol is the smallest rice pouch, consisting of one strip of coconut leaflet woven in the shape of a fist. The tinaligsok is a diamond-shaped rice pouch. The binangkito is shaped like a low stool turned upside down. Several of these types of rice pouches may be laid side by side on a lantayan (altar) as offerings, along with cigarettes, candy, and coconut oil, for the pagdiwata ritual. The tambalan priest officiates this ritual, which the farmers hold before building a house or clearing a field.

Rice storage basket from Southern Bohol
Rice storage basket from Southern Bohol (Lane 1986)

On the other hand, the mats that the Boholano weave are made not of palm leaves but of seagrass, and the process involves weaving the material finely in a loom. Colors employed are similar to those used by the Sama: dark green, purple, and magenta. Talibon specializes in the finely woven buntal hats; another town displays its combination of bamboo and nito weaving, producing such artifacts as the Antequera baskets.

Nativity, anonymous Bohol master painting
Nativity, anonymous Bohol master, undated, The Vicky Vizcarra Amalingan Sales Collection

Bohol Island stands out in the history of Philippine art as a center of artistic activity in the 19th century. Because of this, scholars have likened it to Santa Cruz, Manila, which was then the hub of artists, and to provincial centers like Lucban and San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. Unlike the works coming from these other centers, the innumerable pieces of Bohol have survived the encroachment of the chromo-lithograph at the beginning of the American period as well as World War II.

The earliest painters of Bohol seem to have been Chinese artisans who migrated to the remote provinces like Bohol on account of the periodic expulsions, bans, and persecutions waged on them. This theory is supported by the prevalence of expressive elements identifiable as Chinese-influenced in many Bohol paintings, particularly the early ones. The extant pieces, mainly dated to the 19th century, were undertaken under the initiative of the Recollect Fathers.

Stella Matutina
Stella Matutina, anonymous Bohol master, 1871, The Vicky Vizcarra Amalingan Sales Collection

One of the earliest pieces from Bohol is the Kuan-yin Nuestra Señora del Rosario, circa 1825, so-called because its rendition was apparently inspired by the image of Kuanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Mary and Jesus are depicted with Sinitic features, their gestures exuding the tenderness observed in the rendition of women in Chinese painting, and their robes approached along the rhythmic pattern of design also observed in the depiction of robes in Chinese painting. The painter of the Kuan-yin Nuestra Señora del Rosario apparently influenced the next active painter, one of whose works, now with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Art Collection, is the set of the Via Crucis, which features one unit with a date, 1830.

13th Station of the Via Crucis
[13th Station of the Via Crucis], anonymous Bohol master, 1830, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection

Only one name is known of the Bohol painters: Liberato Cachalian (perhaps Filipinized from the original Chinese, Ca-cha-liang). Cachalian signed his set of the Via Crucis, originally in the parish church of Dauis, Bohol, and now in the Luis Ma. Araneta collection at the San Agustin Church Museum. His inscription states that he was commissioned in 1854 by Fray Antonio Obeda to execute the actual paintings in 1854.

The churches of Bohol are famous not only for their architecture but also for their ceiling murals. The series of such paintings by Raymundo Francia, circa 1930s, in the Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Balilihan is not only outstanding for its own sake but has become more precious because it remained unscathed despite the 2013 earthquake. The panels are depictions of the seven sacraments, numerous biblical scenes, the martyrdoms of Saint Stephen and Saint Cecilia, and, according to Bersales, a “magnificent rendition of Heaven”—all of which make for “a spectacular work of art” (as quoted in Rebayla et al. 2014, 58).

Many of the ceiling paintings of the Church of San Antonio Abad in Carmen fell during the 2013 earthquake. However, the most interesting, titled Moda Indicente (Indecent Fashion) is intact, together with its pair, Moda Dicente (Decent Fashion). Moda Indicente shows a young woman, arms spreadeagled, wearing a red, knee-length dress with spaghetti straps, a filmy white veil flowing freely from her head, and matching red shoes. She is being led by Lucifer toward a giant, fire-breathing serpent. Moda Dicente is a more staid painting of a demure young woman. Although the ceiling paintings are of the style of Raymundo Francia and Canuto Avila, circa 1920s to 1930s, no signatures nor identifying marks can confirm this.

The murals that fill the ceilings of Loboc’s Church of San Pedro Apostol seem to have all been done in 1926 to 1927 by Canuto Avila, with his son Ricardo’s assistance, except for the mural over the altar that bears Raymundo Francia’s signature. The panel over the middle of the nave is of historical significance because it commemorates the flood of 26 November 1676, when 400 persons fled to the safety of the convento’s upper floor. The scene is of Our Lady of Guadalupe saving the church from the overflowing river.

The ceiling murals of Panglao’s Church of San Agustin, Obispo y Doctor, are “the most unusual in Bohol,” kaleidoscopic at best and “so incoherent they resemble Op Art,” with the unlikely combination of lavender and brown, besides other flashy colors. This flamboyance is matched by the confessionals resembling “frilly gingerbread houses.” Lending a somber contrast are the more traditional paintings on the domed ceiling over the crossing to the altar in the style of Francia and Avila.

Raymundo Francia’s murals on the ceiling of the Loon church, once “one of the grandest in the Visayas” (Trota Jose 2001, 75), collapsed with the church and are now completely gone. It began with The Entry into Jerusalem above the entrance, and continued on, one panel after another, along the whole length and width of the nave toward a semi-dome with the painted likeness of “net-like lacework.” This formed an integral whole above the central retablo, which was an elaborate stone-and-wood baldaquin (canopy) housing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This baldaquin was supported by six Ionic pillars spread out evenly in two rows on either side of the image. On the wall in a row on both sides of the baldaquin were scenes from the life of Mary; above each was an illustration of the Litany, one of which was the Tower of Ivory standing atop an elephant. Still above these two rows of scenes and illustrations, just below the half-domed “lacework,” were representations of the four Evangelists: an eagle, a bull, an angel, and a lion. Four sculptured cherubs were each perched atop a serpent’s head that jutted out of the baldaquin’s roof.

Literary Arts

Boholano literary arts consist of riddles, proverbs, lyric poetry, myths, legends, folktales, fables, and magic stories. Riddles are primarily told for enjoyment and relaxation, but they also serve a pedagogical purpose by honing one’s wit and developing an awareness of, and appreciation for, one’s environment, as seen in these examples (Pajo 1954):

Gamay pa si pari,

Kusog nang mosaka ug lubi.

(Compadre is still small,

Already he strongly climbs a coconut tree. [Ant])

Kadakung kahilulongan,

Kadakung katingalahan,

Mi turok nga walay liso,

Mi tindog nga walay punoan.

(Oh, what a surprise!

Oh, what a miracle!

It sprouted without a seed,

It stood without a trunk. [World])

Moral, psychological, and practical truths are encapsulated in Boholano proverbs, which use common experiences and objects for imagery and metaphor (Pajo 1954):

Ang mag baligya

Firming mokanta nga matamis ang iyang baligya.

(The vendors

Always sing that their wares are sweet.)

Sa katapusan, ang maayo ug dautan

Paga gantihan; ang pangutana mao,

Moabut ugma ug karon?

(In the end, good and evil

Will have its rewards, the question is,

Will it come sooner or later?)

Ang mga butang nga dili hikitan,

Ug dili hidungan sa tawo,

Sa langit hikitan ug hibaloan.

(What a person sees not

And hears not,

Heaven sees and knows.)

Kon gusto ka nga makakita ug higala,

Pautangan siya ug oyaw paninglo.

(If one wishes to have a friend,

Let one borrow and never collect the money.)

The babaylan named Karyapa has this prayer-chant, which laments the impending ruin of the Diwata to be caused by the arrival of those who would take possession of the island of Bohol:

Baibai co sa nagbanua

Bulong co sa nagcubayon

Cai magdalibaliba ra ang banua

Magcapuera ra ang cubayon

Mabulag ra quining lungsond

Matumpang ra quining cubayon.

(My proclamation to those who think

themselves great,

My curses to the settlers

This region will be in turmoil

This settlement will soon know it,

This town will be separated,

This settlement will be destroyed.)

One common subject matter of Boholano lyric poetry is love, the object of which may be one’s country, a friend, or a romantic interest. Patriotism is expressed in one’s love for one’s home province as in the sample verses from this poem (Pajo 1954):

Bulak siya nga bisaya tabunon

Nga mingturok sa tanamang kunon,

Pinaril sa mga batong lag-it;

Inatupan sa tagumong langit;

Walay lunok, putli ug maamyon,

Bulak nga sa Sidlakan nagpahiyom,

Naghang-gap sa hoyohoyng mabugnaw,

Sa iyang igsoong Luzon ug Mindanaw:

Kanang bulaka nga walay pagkalawos,

Dili malarag gugmang tim-os,

Mao ang Bohol, tipik sa kabisayan

Ang Bohol! diutay nga lalawigan

Diutay, apan nagtipig sa iyang dughan

Daku ang kalag, malumo, di labwan.

(She is a flower of true Visayan color,

Sprouted in its clayest soil

Surrounded with hard stones

Covered by its cloudiest sky

No thorns, it is a virgin beautiful land.

A flower it is, in the Orient smiling.

Inhaling the coolest of air

With her neighboring isles, Luzon and Mindanao,

There is a flower islet that never fades away,

Never wilts, because of true love,

That is Bohol, part of the Visayas

Small, but in her live

A people, peaceful, loving and contented.)

Marciano Camacho, born in 1925, who finished his studies at the University of the Philippines and became a judge in his hometown of Inabanga, Bohol, describes the pain of unrequited love in his poem, “Sa Akong Kapakyas—ang Silot!” (For My Failure—the Punishment!), published in Bag-ong Kusog, 1925. An excerpt follows (Alburo 1988):

Ilhanan sa akong pagbati kaniya,

Kamingaw, paghandum, amang nga binakho,

Kaul-ul nga pintas sa tudyuk sa gugma—

Tanang alantuson sa yuta naako!

Apan, kapait sa nadawat kong balus—

Kaniya way dapat ang akong tinuha!

Ang iyang hukom nga gihatag: “Pag-antus,

Pagbakho kanunay, ikaw kay timawa!”

(Telltale marks of my affection,

Loneliness, pining, inarticulate sobs,

Cruel, gnawing pains of love’s slings—

All that’s on earth to suffer are mine!

But, how bitter the response I get—

For she, my intentions do not graze!

The judgment she renders: “Suffer.

Go on weeping, for you are lowly!”)


The bakunawa or sky serpent eating the moon
The bakunawa or sky serpent eating the moon (Illustration by Ara Villena)

Canuto Lim, born in 1900, wrote “Ang Bakunawa Kaniadato” (The Monster of Old), 1936, as a eulogy to the son of Cebuano poet Fernando Buyser. The last two stanzas of the poem use the bakunawa, literally “bent serpent,” referring to a mythical sky serpent that swallows the sun or moon in an eclipse, as a metaphor for death (Alburo et al. 1988):

Bulan mingiub! Kabanhang makalisan!

Sa mangapatalinghug alanggisang

Dunggan ug mabungol’s soliyaw lamang

Kay konong bulan dyutay na may kulang

Sa bakunawa, daw kusog mikamang,

Pagalamyon, suma’s mga tigulang.

(Moon getting dark! Terrifying noise!

To all within hearing, assault

On the ears, the shouts deafen

For, they say, the moon is almost taken

By the monster crawling fast, Oh the moon

Will soon be swallowed, warn the folks.)

Carlos P. Garcia, who was, besides being a poet, also the country’s president, used words that are distinctly Boholano and not Cebuano, such as moto (hill or mountain; Ceb. bungtod) and binog (pool of water; Ceb. lim-aw). Some of his poems are “Mga Hunahunang Layaw” (Wild Thoughts), published in Wagas, 1961; and “Mga Gihay sa Handomanan sa Akong Kabatan-on” (Pieces of Memories of My Youth), in Bisaya, 1961. His “Dalagang Pilipinhon” (Filipino Maiden), published in both Pilipinhon, 1960, and Bisaya, illustrates the use of concrete and sensuous imagery that had become a convention in modern poetry by then, as in the stanza below (Alburo et al. 1988):

Dalagang Pilipinhon,

May lawas kang nindot, bigot ug tigson,

Mga lalik sa dughan mo nga lison

Nagbihag kanamo ngadto sa kaluhang moto,

Diin among nalantaw ang himaya sa Paraiso.

Ayay lawas! . . . misinggit ang hangin mabugon

Ug hangtod ang binog nga imong kaligoanan

Nga nakakita ug nakahikap sa mga kurba

Sa lawas mong dili tinabonan,

Misulat sa sulog sa lilo ning mga pulonga:

Pagkatam-is ug katahom mo, Babayeng Pilipina!

(Filipino Maiden,

Your body is graceful form,

The slopes of your full breasts

Carry us captive to the twin hills

From where we can view Paradise

Ah, body . . . Cries the envious wind,

And even the pool where you bathe,

Even this that has seen and touched the rise and fall

Of your nudity,

Writes these words on the current of the whirlpool:

How desirable and dazzling you are,

Filipino Woman!)

Leo Bob Flores, born 1963, writes in free verse, as in his poems “Satoko,” 1987, and “Buhok” (Hair), 1988, both exhibiting the poet’s erudition. The first carries an epigraph from Czech fictionist Milan Kundera, and the second alludes to American poet Sylvia Plath. “Buhok” begins with the following verses (Alburo et al. 1988):

Mahitungod sa kasakit

Wala siya masayop

Gikan sa hangin mosulod

Kini sa unod

Ug diha sa unod

Moturok kini sama sa buhok.

Nanurok na usab ang

Mga buhok sa ulo sa kahapunon

Ug nitubo


Ngadto sa kagabhion.

(Of sorrow

She was not mistaken

From the air it enters

Into flesh

And in the flesh

Takes root like hair.

Hair was again grown

In the head of afternoon

And it grew


Into the night.)

In 1991, Clovis L. Nazareno and 23 other poets founded the Bohol Alternative Literary Arts council, which published Sobo 1 and Sobo 2. The following year, they honored poet-musician Justiniano Romea with a balak (poetry) contest. The winning poem, “Kalambuan: Taliwala sa Kapit-os” (Progress: In the Horns of a Dilemma) by Eddie Butalid, laments the toll that progress has taken on nature and the consequent deprivations for the people who subsist on its resources. The opening stanzas describe earth’s former Edenic state and the abundance of people’s harvests before trees were cut down and forests disappeared. The poem ends with a call to heed the laws that protect the environment.

In 2000, poets Anthony Incon, Noel Tuazon, and Bonifacio Quirog formed a Tagbilaran-based writers’ group, called Kaliwat ni Karyapa, in honor of the Boholano baylan of that name. Its acronym, KAKA, also refers to the mythic spider-storyteller. Other poets writing either solely in Boholano or in both Boholano and English are Cory Ponte, Boni Quirog, Chrisylli Mitzi Ibaya, Ramon Boloron, Rowena Seloterio, Marjorie Evasco, and Edgar Godin. The last is also a Palanca award-winning fictionist in the Cebuano category for his short story, “Bingo,” 2008.

Boholano prose narratives include myths and legends recounting the origin of things. The following is a mythical account in three episodes of the origins of the world, the first man and woman, and the division of the human race into social classes. In the beginning, there were only the sea, the sky, and a flying bird. Not finding a place to rest, the bird took water from the sea and splashed the sky with it. The sky pinned the sea down with rocks and boulders, which became islands. And so the bird now had a place to rest and build its nest. One day as this bird was standing on the seashore; a large bamboo with only two segments floated toward it and struck its feet. This angered the bird, and it pecked at the bamboo until it split open. Man came out of one bamboo segment, and woman came out of the other. The couple’s relationship was much troubled because of the incest taboo. And so the god of earthquake, with the approval of the fish and birds, allowed these two people to marry. They did and had so many children it began to annoy their parents. It did not help that their children were lazy and of no use around the house. One day the father finally took a stick to beat his children with it. The children scattered, some to the different parts of the house and others, outside. Those who hid in the most private rooms became the ancestors of the datus. Those who scampered outside became the timawa or freemen. Those who sought refuge in the kitchen and under the house became the ancestors of the slaves. And those who escaped to distant places became the other races.

There are, however, other versions of the creation story. The “Myth of Bohol” traces the genealogy of the original sky-dwelling people and their chief. The chief’s daughter fell ill one day. To get well, she was told to touch the roots of the wild nunok tree. After she had dug a trench around the root, the sky gave way and she fell toward the earth. Two yakit (wild ducks) witnessed the event, caught her just in time, and brought her to Big Turtle, who immediately called a meeting on how to make the new member of the community a home on earth. It was decided that old Toad should dive and collect dirt from the tree roots. The collected dirt was spread around the edges of Big Turtle’s gathered lightning.

Companionship took the form of an old man with whom the chief’s daughter had twin boys—one good, one cruel. The good one created fish without scales whereas the bad one made them with large horrible scales. In time, the bad one died. The good one then continued with his brother’s work, improving everything along the way. Finally, he made the first Boholano by fashioning two lumps of soil, spitting on them, and endowing them with the virtues of industry, hospitality, obedience, good nature, and peacefulness. The two Boholano ancestors married and continued with the work of the good one. Creatures such as eels and crabs were fashioned, but their incessant quarrels produced the first earthquakes.

“The Chocolate-Dropped Hills of Carmen, Batuan, and Borja Towns”
“The Chocolate-Dropped Hills of Carmen, Batuan, and Borja Towns” (Illustration by Ara Villena)

“The Chocolate-Dropped Hills of Carmen, Batuan, and Borja Towns” is a folktale that explains the origin of the Chocolate Hills while teaching the virtues of kindness and courage. Once upon a time two families lived at the foot of Happy Mountain: One couple had a daughter, Amada, who was bad, whereas the neighbor’s twin children, Ruben and Teresa, were good. One day, while the three children were playing together, an old woman appeared and begged for alms. The twins, not finding anything else, gave her Teresa’s pearl necklace. Amada threw stones at the old woman, tried to take Teresa’s necklace, and poured a pitcher of water on the old woman’s head. The beggar, who was a divine being in disguise, took Amada with her to teach her manners. The divine being promised to return Amada to her parents if she learned to work hard. Each day of hard work represented each of the 65 pearls of Teresa’s necklace. One day, a hungry giant captured Ruben and Teresa and was about to cook them when a chocolate army came to the rescue. The divine being and Amada also came to help rescue Ruben and Teresa. Soon, they were all united and the pearls earned by Amada were scattered into the fields. These became the chocolate or rosary hills of Bohol.

Nonhuman characters populate the fables, which portray various aspects of human nature. Told for pure entertainment, fables teach values to children and comment on human frailty and society in general. The following is an example: An old basket, discarded by its owners, yearns mournfully for its happy past. A cat nearby agrees with the basket, saying that his masters used to pamper him when he could scare the mice away, but now that he had grown old, he was homeless. An old cow tells of the old days when she could supply her owners with milk and cheese but now awaits slaughter for her meat. A tree confesses that it used to provide people with shade and fruit. Dejected, the basket rolls itself down to the river to drown.

Supernatural beings and occurrences are the subject matter of magic stories which encapsulate some of the folk beliefs that some Boholano still cherish today. Here is an example:

One night, an old priest in his convent room sees a figure noiselessly walking past the church gate. The figure is a white-faced, elderly woman clutching a bloodstained rope. The priest follows the figure, which enters a house. The priest peers through a window and sees a young woman weeping and lamenting her despair. The elderly woman, who is now sitting up in the rafters, makes a noose of the bloodstained rope and urges the miserable wife to use the rope to attain her longed-for peace. The woman changes into a silk dress, powders her face, and stands on a chair. She is about to put her head through the noose when the priest breaks in and stops the suicide. The priest reprimands the figure, which then explains, “I am condemned to walk the earth until I can find a replacement for the release of my soul.” Because the priest has gotten in the way, the figure disappears to find another victim (Pajo 1954, 142-44).

The first known published “biography of a Filipino” was a 49-page hagiography about a Boholano youth at the turn of the 17th century. Titled “Vida de un Mancebo Indio, Llamado Miguel Ayatumo, Natural de Boholio en Filipinas” (Life of an Indian Youth, Named Miguel Ayatumo, Native of Bohol in the Philippines), it is appended to a conduct book, El Cristiano Virtuoso (The Virtuous Christian), 1673, written and published in Madrid by a South American creole Jesuit, Pedro de Mercado, who had never been to the Philippines. However, it is adapted from an account written in 1609 by Jesuit Pedro Aunonio for the Jesuits’ “Anuas” (Annual Letters). Aunonio spent all his priestly life in Bohol, his first assignment in 1603 being in Loboc, where he died in 1655.

A conduct book in Boholano is La Teresa, 1852, by Father Antonio Ubeda de la Santisima Trinidad, the parish priest of Baclayon from 1831 to 1867. The minimal plot consists of the visit of Uncle Juan to his hometown in Bohol after years of being away in Manila, and his meeting with relatives and imparting to them Christian lessons he learned from his saintly wife, Teresa, who never makes an appearance in the narrative. Details of life in Bohol, such as typhoons and folk beliefs, lend verisimilitude to the characters’ dialogues, which impart lessons in Christian living, such as proper behavior in church and at home, intrafamily relations, and the evils of superstition and usury. The book may be considered a prototype of Cebuano modern fiction.

Bohol Dances, Songs and Performing Arts

The musical instruments used in Bohol are similar to those played in other parts of the Visayas. The codiapi resembles a zither, although it is longer, short-armed, and narrow. It usually has three strings over three or four frets. It is played by men in response to the cariong, a female instrument resembling a guitar. A notable wind instrument is the bacacal, a nose flute made from cane cut at the top, bottom, and sides for the fingers.

Early Spanish chroniclers remarked that the religion of the natives was intertwined with song, which they learned while at work and at play, during celebrations and especially at wakes and funerals. Genealogies and stories of their gods were recounted in song.

Bohol folk songs can be divided into children’s songs, humorous songs, occupational songs, occasional songs, love songs, and religious songs. Children’s songs such as lullabies and nursery rhymes carry a simple rhyme and rhythm. “Tingkatulog” is one example of their lullaby (Pajo 1954):

Pinalangga, marika, katulog na,

Katulog, pahulay, aron modaku;

Ang imong higdaanan,

Andam na ug katulog na,

Hangtud si Mama mobalic

Sa kabuntagon.

(Come, beloved, go to sleep now,

Sleep long, so you will grow;

Your bed is ready,

Now go to sleep,

Until Mama comes back

In the morning.)

Nursery rhymes are livelier, such as the one titled “Inday Kalachuchi”:

Inday Kalachuchi,

May langgam tamsi,

Iyang balahibo,

Pula ug verde;

Ayaw hingkalimti,

Ang barrio dinhi,

Daghang dalaga,

Daghang dalaga,

Ako day guapa.

(Inday Kalachuchi,

Like the bird tamsi,

Its feathers,

Of red and green;

Don’t forget,

This barrio here,

Has many ladies,

Has many ladies,

But I’m the prettiest.)

A song can transform a sad situation into a comic one when its lyrics are understood as ironic and playful, as in “Ang Tolo ka mga Daga” (The Three Sisters):

Sa lungsod sa Buenavista,

May tolo ka mga daga;

Naminyo ang kamanghuran,

Nag hilak ang kamaguangan.

Mitubag ang tunga-tunga

Ay, Manang, ayao pag saba,

Kay dili abutan ug bulan,

Maminyo kitang tanan.

(In the town of Buenavista,

Dwelt three sisters, fair young ladies;

When the youngest one got married,

The eldest with envy cried.

But the middle sister told her,

Please dear sister, weep no longer;

Before this month is over,

You and I shall both be married.)

Occupational songs are sung to accompany work; thus, the melody is adjusted to the rhythm of the work pace. There are work songs for various occupations, such as “Ang Mga Ngane ni Tio Doroy” (The Rice Harvesters of Old Doroy), which is sung to the rhythm of the motions of harvesting, while the lyrics condition boys and girls to their gender roles (Pajo 1954):

Kami mga ngane ni Tio Doroy,

Ang kahimtang namo makalolooy;

Kon walay ma ani, kami ang mangahoy,

Kay ang ginikanan makalolooy.

Kining among lakat, among padayonon,

Mangadto kami sa among agalon,

Si Tio Doroy, among suplikohon,

Nga ang among bahin iyang husto-on.

Kay ang uban, among dung-agon,

Matamis nga humay nga among paga kanon,

Kay ang uban, among pilipigon,

Ug ang sobra alang sa motambong .

Girls: Ang tanan nga mga kabataan,

Mag escuela kay sila nag handum,

Nga sila may alam;

Sa adlaw ug gabii,

Maga toon lamang.

Boys: Ang mga lalake, ginatoldoan man

Pag away, pag kupot sa pusil,

Pag pasan sa pusil, ug pag lakatlakat,

Pag pasan sa pusil, ug pag lakatlakat,

Girls: Ang mga babaye, ginatodloan man

Sa pag tahi, pag tuyoc sa makina,

Pag tuyoc sa makina, pag sursi sa guisi,

Pag borda sa bisti, pag tapak sa guisi.

Boys: Mao man usab kami, ginatodloan man

Sa pag pamanday, pag tiguib sa tabla,

Pag kupot sa sapilla, pag gabas sa kahoy,

Pag kupot sa sapilla, pag gabas sa kahoy.

Girls: Mao man usab kami, ginatodloan man

Sa pag lung-ag, pag hinlo sa balay,

Pag sisig sa bugas, pag hugas sa pinggan.

Pag nosnos sa salog, sa pag panilhig man.

(We, the rice harvesters of Old Doroy,

Find life so very miserable.

When we don’t havest, we gather fuel,

For our parents are miserable.

Now we go, we shall pass on

We are going to see our landlord,

We shall ask Uncle Doroy

To give us our full share.

Because some of the rice we shall cook

We shall eat the new sweet rice,

Some of it will be made to pilipig

And the rest is for those who helped.

Girls: Almost all the children

Are going to the school,

That they may learn something;

They spend all their time,

Reading their daily lessons.

Boys: We, also, as young boys,

Are trained to fight and use guns,

To carry them and march,

To carry them and march.

Girls: We, young girls, are trained

To sew and use the sewing machine,

To use the sewing machine and darn clothes,

To embroider handkerchief and patch old clothes.

Boys: We are also taught

To be carpenters, to make holes with chisels,

To use the plane and saw wood,

To use the plane and saw wood.

Girls: Some of us are also taught,

To boil rice, to clean the house,

To clean the rice, to wash the dishes,

To scrub the floors and sweep it too.)

Love songs tell of meetings and partings. They express one’s feelings or intentions in the most sentimental manner.

Hain kana, himayang dayon

Hain kana, kalipay ning du-ughan

Kaluya na, tabangi ako

Langkata kining akong mga kagool ning dughan

(Where are you, everlasting love

Where are you, happiness of my breast

Pity me, help me

Only you can console my longing in life.)

Religious songs find expression in the Christmas carols, in the pasyon sung during the Lenten pabasa, and during wakes. One Christmas carol called “Daegon Ta” has the following stanza (Pajo 1954):

Daegon ta sa walay indig,

Ang ginasubangan sa adlaw;

Ang natao sa kamalig,

Nagantus sa dakung katugnaw.

(Let us carol, let us carol,

And adore the place of His birth;

He was born in a shed,

Suffering the bitter cold.)

Baclayon Pipe Organ
Baclayon Pipe Organ, 2009 (Cealwyn Tagle)

Bohol has a very strong tradition of Western religious and secular music dating from the Spanish occupation, during which Western musical instruments like the pipe organ and the guitar were introduced. In 1820, the Baclayon parish began to assemble an orchestra by acquiring musical instruments over the years: violins, flutes, horns, clarinets, an oboe, and a bassoon. Two organists and a voice teacher were hired, as well as scribes to write music on parchment. The parish priest, Fray Juan de San Nicolas, composed the Misa Baclayana, which was completed in 1827. Thus was both choral and instrumental music made integral to the liturgy. After about a century of silence, Misa Baclayana was revived in the late 1990s and was performed in a concert tour in Baclayon, Loay, Loboc, and Tagbilaran.

By 1840, the choir and at least one clarinetist in the Tagbilaran parish were being trained by musicians sent from Baclayon. Soon, it had its own orchestra of violins, basses, flutes, horns, and triangles to accompany church services. Recently discovered in a church cabinet in the relatively new town of Corella, founded in 1884, were music sheets not only for sacred songs but for such “profane” music as marches and foxtrots.

Loboc Children’s Choir performing at the Bohol Wisdom School Gymnasium
Loboc Children’s Choir performing at the Bohol Wisdom School Gymnasium, 2015 (Roel Hoang Manipon)

A contemporary singing group is the Loboc Children’s Choir, originally a school choir founded in 1980 by their teacher, Alma Fernando Taldo, of the Loboc Central Elementary School. With a repertoire of classical, religious, Philippine folk, and popular songs, the choir has won numerous competitions both local and international.

Dances were performed by men and women, to the admiration of the first Jesuit missionaries in Bohol. The dances were accompanied by the fast and continuous music of gongs both large and small, which were described as “metal bells like basins.” One dance, “warlike and passionate,” was also very strictly choreographed though not without its surprises, such as leaps and kicks at regular intervals. Dancers held spear and shield, or alternatively, a large kerchief. They mimed the movements of attack and retreat, provocation and submission, lunges and retractions. These dances were so gracefully and elegantly executed that the Jesuit observer thought them fit to be performed at the most solemn of Catholic celebrations (Colin 1906).

The tradition of performing dances during social occasions such as baptisms, weddings, or fiestas has continued to the present day, although the Hispanic influence is now easily discerned in these dances. A formal ball opens with the rigodon or lanceros, both lively square dances, with the latter having more variety in movements. Formal attire is needed for the dance. The kuradang is a courtship dance where couples eye each other in the first part, and move in a manner reminiscent of a rooster-hen love play. There is a lively and competitive atmosphere, as the male and female try to outdo each other in agility and elegance.

The cariñosa is a dance that revolves around a love story. In simple clothes, the men woo the ladies, who with fan in hand, act coy. The dance gradually becomes flirtatious, and the men end up being courted by the women. The fiesta is celebrated with the popular curacha, a dance where a couple may match the accelerating tempo with their own original and supple movements. When tired, the couple may rest and another couple replaces them.

Another courtship dance is the maramion (fragrant). One or more couples participate in two parallel lines 1.8 m apart. As the couples dance out a courtship story, they or the audience sing. The men kneel to offer their love and the women accept by helping them up. The men are in barong (a long-sleeved shirt), while the women are in patadiong (a wraparound skirt) and kimona (a short-sleeved blouse). Similar to the maramion is the balitaw, where a male courts a female, and the two exchange verses full of imagery and wit, dancing to the accompaniment of a guitar as they sing. Aside from love, the balitaw may speak of diligence in work and the proper care of children.

The Boholano adaptation of the Spanish fandango is similar to the curacha in that only one couple dances. Courtship is simulated when the man imitates a pursuit. The men are clad in barong and the women in patadiong.

In the mananguete, the movements of harvesting coconut buds are mimed. The stages of the dance include the preparation of the scythe, to climbing the tree, to brewing and mixing the tuba or coconut wine, to tasting it. The palay dance is an occupational dance performed during the rice festival. This begins with the dancers, who are attired in contemporary clothes, imitating the sway of palay in the breeze. This is followed by the movements representing the culling, harvesting, and threshing of palay. The next part shows the women winnowing rice while the men observe. The dance highlights the skill of the women in cleaning the palay, throwing them into the air and catching them as they fall. The final part mimics a feast, with the men preparing a lechon (roasted pig) and the women preparing the dishes. The dance ends with the dancers putting away the dishes and everybody joining in a general dance.

War dances are variations of the moros y cristianos, where the dancers take the roles of Christians and Muslims in war. The dancers carry spears and shields and taunt each other with words and actions. The dance ends when the Christians win. Religious dances are performed in fiesta galas (offerings) and as prayers in front of the saint whose help or favor is being sought, for example, San Vicente and the Santo Niño. Although earnestly performed, the dancers’ movements may elicit laughter, as they are mostly jogs and skips. During the Tanda sa Tubigon, Tubigon’s town fiesta, the honoree is the crab, which is the town’s major produce and thus its symbol. Drumbeats or brass band music provides the accompaniment to the many groups that dance in different costumes for the nilambay (like a crab) parade. Prizes are given to the most imaginative representations of the crab.

The first Western play ever performed in the Boholano language was probably in 1609 in Loboc, when the Jesuits staged the martyrdom of Santa Barbara, showing the tortures inflicted on her, her subsequent reward in heaven, and the punishment of her torturers in the fires of hell.

Pastores staged by members of the Baryo Amigo Cultural Troupe of Toril, Maribojoc
Pastores staged by members of the Baryo Amigo Cultural Troupe of Toril, Maribojoc, 2011 (Leo Udtohan)

Boholano theater continues to supplement religious observances. The pastores is performed during the Christmas season. Its performers are both young and old folks who dramatize through song and dance the birth of Christ, in the houses of the wealthy residents of the town. The performers are dressed as shepherds and saints. On Palm Sunday, choirs of girls sing on several platforms constructed outside the church. A crowd of people, all carrying palms, follows a priest down the center aisle of the church and into the churchyard, where he stops at each platform. At each stop, the girls sing the “Hosanna.” After the fourth “Hosanna,” the priest proceeds to enter the main church door. On Easter Sunday, the sugat (meeting) is performed. A diana (band procession) accompanies the image of the Risen Christ to meet the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in black. Under the canopied arch, a little angel sings the “Alleluia” and removes the black veil from Mary. The images are then carried to church for the mass, after which a likeness of Judas Escariote is hanged from a tree.

Linambay is also the Boholano term for the Tagalog komedya or moro-moro, which is a long, episodic play depicting Muslim-Christian conflicts, with lines in verse, and performed over several nights. Anacleto Clavano wrote the first Boholano linambay San Julian, 1893, in Dauis. Subsequent plays that he wrote and staged, all in Dauis, were Felisitas, 1895; Siete Doktores (Seven Doctors), 1896; and Amazona, 1897. After a hiatus caused by the Philippine revolution against Spain, Clavano resumed writing and staging more linambay in the second decade of the 20th century: Flor de Luna, Flor de Rico, and Flor de Calle. Juan Cadao of Duero followed suit by presenting Santa Filomena, 1908, and Siete Infantes de Lara (Seven Princes of Lara), 1910. The last linambay that was staged in Dauis was Tulo ka Guinharian (Three Kingdoms), 1947, although the audience did not see it through to the end because the stage collapsed. In Inabanga, the last linambay was Kaluha sa Makaban, 1961.

The sarsuwela form was adapted in Bohol as the duwa nga inawitan (play with songs) in the second decade of the 20th century. The first ones were Singsing nga Bulawan (Golden Ring), 1914, by Macario Saniel of Duero; Malubog (Nebulous), 1915, by Candelario Borja of Tagbilaran; and Elena, 1918, by Felix Tubal of Dauis. The minoros was a hybrid of the duwa (play) and the linambay. It had an action-filled plot with prose dialogue but had Moro characters, a Moro setting, and Moro costumes. Later playwrights were Justo Boiser, Honorio Grupo, Pedro Usaraga, Artemio Descallar, Margarito Lofranco, and Inocentes Azarcon.

Barrio Napo in Loon has a community theater that has staged a play every year on its fiesta day since the American colonial period. Before World War II, Mayor Honorio Grupo of Tagbilaran presented plays at the public market and during World War II wrote and mounted at least one socially realistic play despite Japanese censorship. In the 1960s, Boholano Lutgardo Labad, who had been trained by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in Manila, gave a series of workshops that started a school of theater that bore the distinctive style and sensibility of PETA. In 1980, Father Jose Sumampong SVD presented Kasaysayan (History), which was remarkable for its use of a multilevel stage. Protest theater was alive during the years leading up to the EDSA Revolt that ended Marcos’s rule in 1986. Ten years later, the centenary of former President Carlos P. Garcia was celebrated with the musical play Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts), 1996, written by Rudy Aviles, with music composed by Father Arnold E. Zamora. This was followed a year later by a musical play depicting the life of Francisco Dagohoy, Dagon sa Hoyohoy (Talisman of the Breeze), 1997, written by Marianito Jose Luspo, with music by Elvis Somosot. Theater groups have sprung up since, such as Teatro Bol-anon and the Bohol Teen Theater League.

Sandugo Festival Street Dancing Competition
The grand champion of the Sandugo Festival Street Dancing Competition, 2015 (Roel Hoang Manipon)

In 2012, the cultural and theater groups Bohol Antequera, Maribojoc Cultural Collectives, and Teatro Bol-anon collaborated to produce a docu-play for the National Theater Festival held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Duha Ka Alimpo sa Habagat … Bohol 1700 (Two Eyes of the Monsoon Storm ... Bohol 1700), directed by Lutgardo Labad, presents scenes in the lives of the Boholano: a 14-year-old dried-fish vendor, a 70-year-old farmer, basket weavers, and bolo makers. It presents episodes in Bohol history, such as the rebellion of Tamblot and the construction of a watchtower. The habagat (monsoon weather or storm), which in real life determines the quality of the Boholano’s life, is used to frame the play. The backdrop consists of such Boholano cultural icons as nipa fronds and the sail of a ship.

Media Arts

VIDEO: Panaghoy sa Suba 

A mainstream feature film whose dialogue is almost entirely in the Boholano language and which featured a largely Visayan cast is Panaghoy sa Suba (Call of the River), 2009, which Boholano movie actor Cesar Montano produced, directed, and acted in. The period film, set in the American and Japanese occupations, tells the love story of the boatman Duroy, who is also a guerilla, and Iset, the most sought after lady in the town. Loboc River portrays a central character in the film, as it is witness to the series of historical events involving different characters. Panaghoy sa Suba won the 2004 Gawad Urian for Best Film, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Music, Editing, and Sound. It was endorsed by UNESCO and screened in various international film festivals.

Filmmaker Maryo J. de los Reyes, of Boholano descent, has several films about Bohol. In Kamoteng Kahoy (Cassava), 2009, De los Reyes dramatizes the 2005 incident in San Isidro, Bohol, in which 27 students died and hundreds hospitalized after eating kamoteng kahoy cooked and sold by an elderly woman. De los Reyes’s Nandito Ako . . . Nagmamahal sa ’Yo (Here I Am . . . Loving You), 2009, uses the beautiful scenery of Bohol as a backdrop for a formulaic story of forbidden love. Here, an illegitimate son falls in love with his stepbrother’s bride-to-be. Bamboo Flowers, 2013, by De los Reyes is a montage of three narratives: a generational story of a woman and her relationships with her ailing father and her own son; the adjustments that a newly widowed mother and her teenage son must make when they move from urban to rural life in Bohol; and a couple’s marriage beset by the problems of migration and diaspora. Boholano artist Lutgardo Labad composed the film’s musical score.

The island of Bohol has been featured in several films even by non-Boholano. It is the setting of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s multi-awarded Muro-Ami, 1999, which depicts the exploitation of impoverished youths for the deep-sea fishing technique that requires the manual destruction of coral rocks in order to drive the fish out of hiding. Cesar Montano stars as Fredo, who employs young reef hunters and keeps them in oppressive conditions in his dangerous sea expeditions.

Although set in a fictional barrio in the Luzon island, John Sayles’s Filipino-American drama film Amigo, 2010, was shot entirely in six towns of Bohol. The film depicts the internal and external contradictions experienced by Filipinos during the early American colonial period in the Philippines.

Popular tourist attractions in Bohol have been featured in the 2006 romantic mainstream movie Close to You. John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo play childhood best friends; Sam Milby plays Alonzo’s love interest who has migrated abroad but who is coming back to the Philippines to tour the country with his band. Alonzo’s character chases him and his band across the Philippines while accompanied by Cruz’s character. Bohol is one of their destinations, and while there, they see the Chocolate Hills, visit the old churches, go on a Loboc River cruise and get a glimpse of Bohol’s famous tarsier.


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

Title: Boholano

Author/s: Gary E.P. Cheng, with Rene B. Javellana, Santiago A. Pilar, and E. Arsenio Manuel (1994) / Updated by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, with additional notes from Jake Soriano, and Jay Jomar F. Quintos (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: July 26, 2022


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