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Mandaya Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Davao Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Mandaya Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Davao Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Mandaya” derives from the prefix man meaning “inhabitant of” and daya meaning upstream” or “upper portion of a river,” and therefore means “people living upstream.” It refers to a number of groups found along the mountain ranges of Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur, as well as to their customs, language, and beliefs. Specifically, they are in the hinterlands of the municipalities of Mati, Sigaboy, Banaybanay, Batobato, Jovellar, Tarragona, Manay, Caraga, Lupon, Baganga, Cateel, and Boston in Davao Oriental; in the municipalities of New Bataan, Compostela, Carmen, Tagum, Asuncion, and Kapalong; in Davao del Norte; and in the municipalities of Lingig, Hinatu-an, Bislig, Mangagoy, Barobo, Lianga, Marihatag, Kagwa-it, Tago, Tandag, Cortes, Lanuza, and Carascal in Surigao del Sur. In 1988, the total number of registered Mandaya was about 33,000, with about 22,000 of them living in Davao Oriental alone.

Other speakers of the Mandaya language are the Kamayo and Dabaweño (combined population: 363,000 in 2000), Tagakaulo (40,000 in 2000), the Muslim Kalagan (70,000 in 2002), and the Isama of Samal Island. Recognition of the Isama’s Mandaya roots is seen in the 1901 Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, which identifies them as “Moro-Mandaya Mestizo,” with a population of 2,000.

Groups linguistically related to the Mandaya are the Mansaka of the mountain clearings (population: 57,800 in 2000); the Mangguangan of the forested mountain areas; the Pagsaupan, meaning “the place where the sun sets”; and the Managusan, who live in the headwaters of the Agusan River.

Video: Into the Heart of the Mandaya

Mandaya Tribe History

The origins of the Mandaya may be traced to the Indonesians who came to the Philippines in a series of immigration waves from 3000 to 500 BC, intermarried with the native women, and begot the Manobo of eastern Mindanao. The Malays who migrated to the Philippines between 300 to 200 BC through Palawan and Mindoro intermarried with the Manobo and begot the Mandaya. This Malay-Manobo union theory is based on similarities in ethnolinguistic patterns and the weaving technologies of the Mandaya and some Indonesian groups. The Chinese came in the 13th century and, through intermarriage, contributed further to the racial development of the Mandaya.

Depiction of Mandaya on rafts
Depiction of Mandaya on rafts (Montano, 1884)

Another theory is that the Kalagan was the original group. They captured and intermarried with the Austronesian-speaking natives to produce the Mandaya, Mansaka, and Tagakaolo. As the need of the proto-Kalagan for imported iron and bronze goods increased, their slave-raiding activities extended along the coastal regions north and south of their original Kalagan settlement. The split of the Proto-Kalagan into two groups—the river-bound Mandaya, or Mangal-lagan, and the sea-faring Kalagan—occurred when some Kalagan converted to Islam to continue selling captives and slaves to Muslim Maguindanao. Those who remained Mandaya were those who refused to convert to Islam and abandon their native religion. Sometime during this Islamization process, war broke out between the Mandaya group led by Gansa and the Kalagan group led by Isay Inam. They settled the dispute with a dyandyi (peace pact), a ritual in which the leaders of the two groups each held one end of a rattan strip, cut the strip in the middle, arrived at an agreement through dialogue, and promised to honor their word.

Slave-raiding continued but the Mandaya avoided living in coastal settlements where they could be raided anytime by the seafaring Kalagan. The two groups met only at appointed places and times to transact business. The Mandaya sold their biyag (captives) to the Kalagan, who by then had taken on the role of middlemen, selling these human commodities to slave markets, first in Butuan and Cebu and later in Maguindanao. The Mandaya’s northbound expansion was impeded by the Surigaonon or Kinaradyaw people, but they continued to raid coastal towns of Surigao, Leyte, Samar, and the Bicol region, especially when they started trading slaves with the Maguindanaon and participating in the Spanish-Moro wars as vassals of the Maguindanaon Sultan Kudarat.

Spanish invaders encountered the Kalagan in the mid-1500s, although the whole island of Mindanao eluded Spanish colonial rule until the second half of the 19th century. Before the year 1600, the Spaniards were intercepting ships within their colonial domains; hence, the nearest slave market left to the Mandaya-speaking slave hunters was Cotabato at the mouth of the Pulangui River (now Rio Grande), which was ruled by the Islamized Maguindanaon.

Beginning in the 17th century, Spanish colonization slowly expanded south of Surigao. In 1609, the Spaniards built a fort in Caraga to establish their foothold on the territory and protect themselves against the Mandaya and the Muslim Kalagan who had allied themselves with the Maguindanao people’s war against the Spaniards. Caraga would become the old Spanish enclave in the modern province of Surigao. Discovering that the Mandaya could not be forced to dig for gold like the Surigaonon, Spanish encomenderos and missionaries concentrated their efforts in the gold-rich areas of Butuan and Surigao. The non-Muslim Kalagan who refused to become either Muslim or Christian migrated upstream and were also called Mandaya; those who migrated further westward beyond the mountain ranges were recorded by the Spaniards as Tagabaloy because they lived in the mountains of Balooy.

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

In September 1629, the Mandaya, also known as Tagabaloy of Caraga, rose in revolt against Spanish rule. They had gone through decades of Spanish invasions in their villages, captured and sold as slaves by their Spanish captors. However, the immediate cause of this uprising was the verbal and physical abuse committed by the Spanish commander on the Mandaya chieftain of Caraga. Captain Juan Bautista was the newly appointed commander of the fort in Caraga. Traveling from Manila to Caraga, he had made a grand entrance into the fort with a parade of captives by attacking the villages of Caraga along the way and capturing the inhabitants whom he would then sell as slaves. One day, as he was about to make another foray from the fort, he abused the chieftain of Caraga, shouting invectives and throwing the chief to the ground, pummeling and kicking him several times. The chief returned to his people and exhorted them to rise in arms. They killed Bautista, 12 Spanish soldiers, and Father Jacinto Cor, a Recollect friar. Unable to enter the fort, the rebels killed all the Spaniards who were stationed on the coasts. They attacked the convent of the parish of Tangda near the fort, killed four more friars, and wounded two brothers, whom they afterward released in exchange for a ransom. Finally, they mounted a strategic attack on the fort. However, they were overpowered by reinforcements from Cebu, led by Captain Chaves, the encomendero of Caraga, who was residing in Cebu. In the next eight months, the Mandaya revolt spread as they forged alliances in secret meetings with their own fellow Mandaya in neighboring districts and with the Moros of Jolo and Maguindanao. In May 1630, they mounted another attack on the Spanish enemy to regain their sovereignty but were again thwarted, this time by reinforcements led by the Spanish commander Martin Larios.

In 1754, the Mandaya joined forces with about a thousand Maguindanaon and once more attacked the fort. This time they emerged victorious. The Maguindanaon sultan handed control of Caraga to the Davao Muslims, through whom he collected tributes. Each year in May, the Muslims sailed into the east coast of Mindanao. Hence, there were sporadic attempts from the non-Muslim Mandaya themselves to ask for Spanish protection from the Muslims. In 1797, Mandaya mangkatadung (elders) met the Alcalde Mayor (Governor) Juan Hipolito Gonzales of the Caraga Region in Cateel to negotiate for protection against raids by the Muslim Kalagan. In exchange for a permanent parish priest and a detachment of soldiers, the Mandaya promised to come down and live in Caraga, to be baptized, and to help the priest build the church. Until 1848, however, Spanish rule in this region was completely ineffectual, and, though there were parish priests assigned there, none arrived.

In 1848, Jose Oyanguren conquered Davao; three years later, Davao was made the Fourth Military District of Mindanao. Christians replaced the Muslims in the coastal commerce with the native uplanders. The economic exploitation of the native groups replaced the slave traffic practiced by the Muslims. The Mandaya were induced to settle in villages and be baptized. The Christianized Mandaya who resettled intermarried with Visayan and other emigrants. The Christianization of the lowland Mandaya-speaking population gained momentum with Oyanguren’s conquest of Davao and the assignment of permanent military detachments and Jesuit missionaries in Caraga, Mati, Baganga, and Cateel. The Mandaya-speaking converts were encouraged to cultivate tobacco, abaca, and coconut, and to participate in a new form of world trade. These Christianized, lowland Mandaya who gave themselves up to the Spanish resettlement policy called themselves Davaweños (now spelt Dabawenyos) to distinguish themselves from the upland Mandaya who resisted colonization. Thus, they are a “neo-ethnic group” that is historically and culturally subsumed under the Mandaya. Nevertheless, frequent Muslim raids continued; hence, there were some Christianized Mandaya who thought it safer to return to the mountains and to their old way of life. By 1885, only 596 Mandaya converts remained in Caraga.

One year after the Treaty of Paris in which Spain ceded the Philippines to the US on 10 December 1898, the Americans invaded Davao on 20 December 1899. American colonizers arrived at the beginning of the 20th century, bringing with them a form of political participation that was inaugurated by the Christian political leaders when Davao was made a regular province in 1922. American political administration followed a policy of accommodation; whereas special laws were enacted to deal with the Muslim groups, no definite policies were made concerning the native highlanders. When Davao was made a regular province in 1922, Christian migrant settlers from Luzon and Visayas took over the political leadership. However, American planters did encourage the Mandaya to work in the coastal plantations and adopt the lifestyle of Christianized natives. They also opened public schools and assigned teachers led by Thomasite veterans, which produced a new generation of community leaders, employees, and laborers less resistant to working for American and Japanese coconut and abaca plantations. Many of the Mandaya who studied with the colonizers eventually returned to the mountains, taking with them new ideas and technology. This led to further changes in the lifestyle of many Mandaya districts.

The first three decades of the 20th century witnessed the economic development of Davao and Cotabato. However, this was brought about more by the abundant natural resources in these areas than by deliberate planning. Davao’s soil and climate encouraged the development of the abaca industry mostly by the Japanese. Starting in 1905, Japanese farmers had been making large clearings in the rainforests of Lupon, Pantukan, Tagum, Monkayo, and Manat for abaca plantation. The once-forested coastal areas from Surigao del Sur towns to Davao Oriental and inside the Davao Gulf were already planted with coconut trees and abaca plants. The irrigated plains were planted with corn and wetland rice. Mangroves were transformed into fishponds. The Commonwealth government brought little changes to the socioeconomic structures already deeply entrenched. However, the American colonial government and the Philippine Commonwealth government encouraged the migration of Luzon and Visayan plantation workers and settlers to Mindanao, and this changed the demographics and eventually marginalized the lumad (indigenous) population in the Davao region.

Davao City was the first city that was bombed by the Japanese on 8 December 1941. When Philippine independence was declared by the Americans in 1946, an exodus of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas invaded the ancestral lands of the Mandaya. The latter lost their hunting grounds when titles were issued to all lands occupied and claimed by migrants. Soon, the Mandaya became an even more marginalized minority population in a land that had once been theirs. Migrants who found employment in government such as tax collectors and assessors, as well as professionals in the private sector such as teachers and lawyers who knew their way around the bureaucratic process, acquired Mandaya lands. However, a number of educated Mandaya also undertook the same process and eventually left large landholdings to their descendants.

As roads opened to facilitate logging activities, the Mandaya communities experienced rapid changes in their landscape. The limited distribution of power lines drew Mandaya to particular barangays and municipalities and enticed them to acquire consumer goods such as electrical appliances and communication technologies. The increased access to Western and non-lumad styles and ideas through the media, and the demographic changes brought about by the government policies greatly affected and eroded their kinaiyahan (culture) and traditions. Furthermore, the commercialized educational system that was imposed upon them tended to be biased toward foreigners and settler groups who controlled the large industries. Despite official pronouncements about institutional attempts at integration, the environment became increasingly hostile to ethnic culture and identity, and many of the Mandaya were disconnected from their cultural roots and indigenous history. To date, the Mandaya continue to struggle in their efforts to adapt to the changing times while retaining and regaining their pride in their cultural heritage.

Way of Living of the Mandaya People

The Mandaya originally thrived on pangayam (hunting), fishing, and gathering wild forest products. They also raided and sold their biyag among themselves or in slave markets in exchange for imported goods like iron ingots, bronze tools, weapons, gongs, small bells, apugan and patakla (containers for betel chew ingredients), pinggan or butangan (porcelain ware), liquor, perfume, ayop (colored glass beads), mirrors, and linama (colored threads and woven cloths).

Mandaya woman winnowing rice
Mandaya woman winnowing rice, 2014 (Eden Jhan Licayan)

The main economic activity of the Mandaya is kaingin (swidden farming). Their main crops include rice, aglay (Job’s tears) which are a kind of grain, dawa (millet), tubers like the wakag (taro, also known as gabi), banana, langka (jackfruit), tubo (sugarcane), gapas (cotton), and abaca. Additional sources of carbohydrates are natek (flour) extracted from the squeezed pith of wild palm trees like lumbia (metroxylum), idyok (sugar palm, also known as ka-ong), and bahi (fish tail palm or caryota). Camote, corn, cassava, coffee, and tobacco were cultivated only after these were introduced by Visayan settlers.

Galas (clearing the fields) starts after the appearance of the seven stars known as payo-payo or puyo-puyo in November. By December, when the payo-payo are directly above the sky, it is time to plant. The last reminder to start planting is the appearance of the stars called sabak and bagatik. In earlier times, the Mandaya sowed the rice grains with the simple method of sabwag, that is, they tossed the seeds in any direction. Later, as their farming methods became more systematic, the men cleared and plowed their fields, into which they thrust dibble sticks while the women almost simultaneously dropped the rice seeds into the holes. Harvesting was the more tedious chore before the appropriate tools became available. Each rice grain was picked one by one by the fingers.

Members of a Mandaya community share their labor and services as a matter of course. The al-luyon (aruyon or palusong in Isama) is a system whereby all the members of a community help to clear one another’s hillsides and fields for farming. The party who contracts the labor of the others provides the food and wine. The one who owns the biggest clearing and produces the richest harvest is called the sapi-anon. A sugoanon is someone who elects to reside with his kin as a volunteer worker. The Mandaya also practice bulig, in which everyone in the community not only participates in the work but also contributes to the feasting which follows. Traditionally, a part of the harvest is given to the datu, who apportions it among his own family and the needy and helpless such as widows, orphans, the disabled, and the disease-stricken.

The catch from hunting and fishing supplies additional food to the Mandaya. Bird lit-ag (trap) is constructed by applying a kind of glue to the bare limbs of fruit trees, by fastening gummed sticks in places that birds frequent, or by employing the bayatik or bal-latik (snare with a slip noose). Larger prey can be trapped in a gahong, which is a pit covered with banana and badyang (itch-inducing tuber) leaves, or may be felled by a budyak (spear) or a busog aw pana (bow and arrow).

Fishing in the river is done in groups so that each person would guide the fish into the bantak (bamboo traps) with a stick. Mixing lagtang, digaw, or tubli (mashed roots), or oliskeg (fruit) into the water would stun the fish and cause them to surface, thus facilitating the catch. Along the coast, they fish with metal hooks, dips, and throw nets. The most abundant catch are the banak (sea mullet) and bigok (parrotfish or coral fish; Tag isdang bato; Vis molmol).

Mandaya weaver Memay Masumpad at her loom
Mandaya weaver Memay Masumpad at her loom, 1991 (CCP Collections)

The Mandaya also wear dagmay cloth with intricate designs, which are worn on special occasions, used as part of the dowry, or sold to outsiders.

Three types of barter system are practiced. The first type, peddling, is done by upland individuals who go down to the coastal village to trade their root or farm crops and meat for ocean products such as salt, fish, and shellfish. The second type is tabu (meeting), which is held on market day, when upland farmers, coastal fisherman, and peddlers from across the seas meet to exchange their goods. It is the datu who determines not only tabu day but the exchange value of the goods, using a gold or brass item such as the agong (gong) as the standard. The third type, a thing of the past, was a prearranged meeting between a datu and foreign merchants such as the Arabs, Chinese, and Europeans, who traded perfume, porcelain, textiles, and women’s cosmetics for the Mandaya’s gold, pearls, and such other precious items.

Cash economy, brought in by the American colonial administration in 1910, encouraged the development of abaca and coconut plantations, the requisite for which was proof of land ownership. This system, in turn, entrenched a landlord-tenant relationship that further perpetuated the division between the Dabawenyo elite and the landless Mandaya. Child labor, though illegal, became standard practice. Access to cash, whether abundant or meager, developed a taste for imported merchandise, particularly canned goods, bottled liquor, and mascada (tobacco). A class of storeowners sprang from immigrant Chinese and Tagalog merchants married to Mandaya women.

After World War II, copra, also known as desiccated coconut, became the primary export product, particularly when a pestilence called the “mosaic,” also known as alkohires, swept through the abaca plantations of Davao, almost demolishing the industry in the late 1950s. The Mandaya-populated municipalities of Manay, Caraga, Banganga, and Cateel in Davao Oriental became the highest income earner of the country’s copra industry. The construction of logging roads hastened deforestation but also the proliferation of coconut plantations. Hence, coco-charcoal became a local industry in the 1970s, and coco lumber replaced hardwood timber in the lumber industry.also known as

On the one hand, the Mandaya gradually lost their lands, which they had bartered for the novelties that migrant settlers offered: sardines, tres-b (a kind of cigarette), and malorka (a beverage). Marginalized and peasantized, many of the Mandaya have been forced to work as hornal (daily wage earners and laborers) in the industries and corporations that have taken away their lands. Mandaya women are market vendors, street peddlers, manicurists and pedicurists. Sari-sari storeowners are either Bisaya or Mandaya married to migrant settlers like the Bisaya or Tagalog. On the other hand, the Mandaya who assimilated, such as the Dabawenyo, had become astute businessmen and shrewd political leaders by the 1980s.

The Kalagan, being coastal dwellers, have mainly depended on fishing. Those who are financially able own large fishing boats, for which they hire fishermen. Men willing to leave their fishing village hire themselves out to corporate-owned coconut plantations. However, air-sprayed insecticide has caused health problems, such as tuberculosis and diarrhea, not only for the workers but also the residents of the area. The Middle East has become a recent destination not only for employment but also for religious reasons because it is the site of Mecca.

After the colonizers and outsiders’ prolonged and relentless contact with them, the Mandaya have had to assimilate to new socioeconomic structures. Hindu and Chinese traders, Muslim merchants and missionaries, Spanish and American missionaries and colonizers, Japanese plantation developers, Filipino politicians, entrepreneurs, and migrants have all radically transformed the economic conditions of the Mindanao population. Money is their means of evaluating, pricing, and exchanging goods and services. They have gone into business, producing, buying, and selling lanot (stripped abaca fiber), copra, seeds of the wild lumbang tree, tal-low from honeycombs, resins, and sweet-smelling musk.

Mandaya Ethnic Group Tribal System

The Mandaya’s basic political unit is the banwa (group of houses), in which the kalagtowan, also called kalagtuan or lungtod (clan or set of relatives) live. The population of a banwa is composed of blood relatives as well as relatives by marriage. Non-relatives living inside the banwa are the puwanak and manginlayon (adopted relatives, friends, or relatives), the biyag or captives, binutong (purchased), and al-lang (trusted slaves). A traveler is welcomed into another banwa if the bagani (warrior) is considered a manginlayon in his or her place of origin.

Mandaya warrior
Mandaya warrior (National Geographic, 1913, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

The size of a Mandaya banwa depends on the reputation of the chief and the members of his council of elders. The boundaries of each banwa are fluid because the size of the territory depends not so much on physical boundaries but on the reputation of certain mangkatadung, bagani, and al-lal-laisan (chief priestess) to maintain the respect and loyalty of their followers.

The Mandaya notion of government and political authority includes the responsibility of community pangul-lo (leaders) to promote the well-being of all the sakop (members of the banwa) by maintaining peaceful and harmonious relationships between family members, between and among neighbors, and between the sakop and the tawagonon, the spirits who are often called to help. The Mandaya believe that offenses made against the spirits create disharmony and hinder the growth and development of the banwa and its members.

People in positions of authority and with particular functions are the following: the mangkatadong, also called likid, matadong, or pasado, who is the ruling authority; the bawukan, the council of elders, which is headed by the mangkatadong; the bagani; the balyan (also bailana and baylan), a shaman or priestess; the al-lal-laisan; and the panday or blacksmith. The mangkatadong wears a yellow (head cloth) as a symbol of his authority; the bawukan wear red pudong. Among the Kalagan, a datu’s wife, daughter, or his female descendant can be a biya, that is, one who holds a position of authority over the other women of her community. She forms her own council of female advisers and attends meetings of the datu and his council.

The mangkatadong is the person in the community most respected for his age, experience, wisdom, deep knowledge of tradition and customary laws, speaking ability, and reputation for passing correct judgment and solving disputes. With the council of elders, the mangkatadong is consulted in various matters like retaliation for a wrong committed or the size of the avenging party during a pangayaw (revenge killing). During litigation proceedings conducted by the mangkatadong, the culprits are made to pay fines to appease the offended parties.

The role of the mangkatadong in the community is not limited to politics but extends to religious and social affairs. Aside from the council, he is also assisted by the al-lal-laisan and the balyan, both of whom are influential religious functionaries who officiate at religious rituals and act as mediums for the community to communicate with the spirits and vice versa, to restore healthy relationships between the human society and the spirit world.

The bagani is the bravest man in the kin group and noted for the number of persons he has killed in battle. He becomes a bagani after he has proven his prowess as a warrior, having killed at least 7 to 10 enemies in battle. It is the duty of the bagani to defend his village from marauders and attackers from neighboring communities. An expert in combat, he implements the decisions of the mangkatadong to maintain peace and harmony by staging a pangayaw against offenders, organizing armed parties of mangayaw (warriors), and leading attacks against enemy settlements to pillage and take captives. He can accumulate wealth from the spoils of successful raids, such as weapons, bronzeware, silverware, beads, and textiles. Warriors in secondary leadership positions are the maniklad, and their band of warriors are the maguyantok.

The balyan is a woman who holds an esteemed place in the political structure. Being a balyan is a lifetime commitment. The responsibilities of the balyan are traditionally transferred through bloodline, from the eldest to the youngest in the family. Paawas or paawasan is the process by which the balyan’s skills are transferred to the next balyan.

Traditionally, the kalagtuan or sakop do not pay tribute and taxes but volunteer to serve as mangayaw when their bagani goes raiding. They supply the domestic pigs and chickens and prepare the ritual site whenever the balyan performs the pyaglindog (staging) of healing rituals, such as the pyagmana-ug, pyagbakal-lag, and the pyagbalilig. The bagong-utaw, the representative of the younger generation, is chosen and recognized by his elders by virtue of his character, accomplishments, and reputation.

The influx of Spanish influence imposed a new form of political system that required the Mandaya to pay tribute and render obligatory services to the government. Similarly, fixed territorial boundaries between banwa developed only after the introduction of the concept of “government” by the colonizers, whose purpose was to impose tributes, collect taxes, recruit fighting men, and obligate a labor force. Church and state power was one; therefore, those who refused baptism and resettlement in the lowlands and coastal areas were called nyaya ceduya, from nada cedula (no residence certificates) and were left out of what were heretofore their own, self-determined transactions and interactions.

In the 1920s, as the various settlements were collectively transformed into barrios, the political role of the bagani was taken over by the tenyente del barrio, literally “barrio lieutenant or chief.” What remained was the hari-hari (Visayan word for “little king”) and mangkatadong, to whom the Mandaya continue to pay a form of tribute consisting of a panel of cloth, a bolo, and several gantas of palay. The opinions of these leaders are heeded even by the mayor. Cases arbitrated by the mangkatadong include offenses involving murder, debt payments, and quarrels over women. Almost all offenses are paid for in fines.

Today, Mandaya lands are demarcated by seven provinces and one large city—namely, Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur, Compostela Valley province, Davao del Norte, Davao City, Davao del Sur, and Sarangani province. Each province or city is divided into municipalities; the municipalities are sub-divided into barangays; and the barangays are sub-divided into sitios and purok (villages). Persons of Mandaya descent who have held government positions are Davao Representative Teodoro Palma Gil for three terms, 1916-1925; Governor Pacifico Moralizon Sobrecarey, 1937-1939; and a Mandaya chieftain’s grandson, Governor Fernando Generoso, 1925-1928.

Don Teodoro L. Palma Gil, 1860-1935, was himself the grandson of a Mandaya chieftain named Lanabang of Baganga. He studied at the Jesuit convent in Caraga and later at the Ateneo Municipal (later renamed Ateneo de Manila), where Jose Rizal was a friend and schoolmate. After graduation, he returned to Mindanao and taught at the Jesuits’ convent in Davao, becoming one of the first Mandaya to distinguish himself as a maestro. During the American colonial period, under the Jones Law of 1916, he was appointed as one of the four representatives of Mindanao. In what is historically known as the “Cabinet Crisis of 1923,” Palma Gil resigned with cabinet members and other top-ranking government officials in protest of Governor-General Leonard Wood’s high-handed administrative style. He returned to Davao and, as a notary public, assisted fellow Dabawenyos in obtaining their own land titles. He himself became an owner of vast tracts of abaca and coconut plantations.

The first Mandaya college graduate, Pedro Bandigan, of the municipality of Manay, Davao Oriental, was elected to a government position in 1960; the first female Mandaya elected as councilor in the same municipality was Amparo Moralizon-Ranon.

Mandaya Tribe Customs, Culture and Tradition

The Mandaya have two types of kalagtowan: the nuclear family consisting of the parents and the children, and the polygynous family consisting of two or more wives with their children. Occasionally, the grandparents from either lineage may join the family. Genealogy may be traced through the kaompo-ompoan (great grandparents) and kaompo-an (grandparents), the ama (father), the ina (mother), the lumon (brother and sister), the ompo (nephew or niece), the ompo-tuhod (great grandson or granddaughter), and the kalomunan or katagsa (cousin). The Islamized Mandaya such as the Kalagan have written records of their genealogy through their tarsila.

Mandaya group at the ceremony for the awarding of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain in Davao Oriental
Mandaya group at the ceremony for the awarding of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain in Davao Oriental, 2014 (Eden Jhan Licayan)

The kalagtowan does not dissolve easily upon the death of one spouse. As a rule, when a married man dies, any of his surviving brothers inherits his widow even if he may already have a family of his own. Similarly, a widower replaces his deceased wife with her unmarried sister.

Two Mandaya women
Two Mandaya women (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884)

During a woman’s pagpangala (pregnancy), it is believed that the pyagapangala-an (her food cravings) must be given to her or else the pregnancy will fail. The pyagapangala-an determines certain characteristics of the child. For example, eating ubod nang uway (rattan shoots) or butong (young coconut fruit) will give her child a fair complexion. Thus, the husband most generously indulges his pregnant wife’s wishes. Pregnancy, however, does not deter the wife from going about her normal routine, which includes working in the fields, rain or shine. On the third month of pregnancy, the yanagamon, also known as hilot (local midwife), starts the monthly massage. On the ninth month, a talimughat (local medicine) made from the burned bark of the magasili tree and leaves of the tagsing grass is prepared with coconut oil. When the woman goes into labor, this mixture is applied around her navel during contraction (Valderrama 1987, 20). Before delivery, the branches of the kabaywa (native lemon tree) are fastened to the walls to drive away the wakwak or kikik (earthbound spirits possessing evil power).

In each step of the delivery, precautions are taken. However, should the wife be in danger, the husband must step out. It is believed that if the wife dies, she may turn into a tal-lakatak (evil spirit of the pregnant woman) and say to the husband: “Da ikaw, kon buku mo, di da ako masingod sin-i” (Were it not for you, this would not have happened to me). A husband killed by a tal-lakatak becomes a manguyatotot. The Mandaya also believe that the dead child can become a mantianak. These nature spirits join the host of malevolent spirits that haunt forest and brush lands especially at night.

To cut the umbilical cord, a sharpened bamboo piece is used. The tip of the cord is then applied with the extracted pugta (juice) of tatabako, an herbal plant with leaves like those of the tobacco plant. The cut portion of the cord is wrapped and hung with the placenta on a tree branch outside the house. This prevents the child from becoming a crybaby. On the third day after birth, a birthday celebration is held to cleanse the child of any evil. The celebration is called the yabangka nang luwag. The word bangka means “walking stick or cane”; thus, the phrase means “to use the ladle as walking cane.” The magpipisal, who is the officiating person, measures the child’s weight and moves it over cooked rice served on a plate or a big banana leaf. The elders who have gathered around then say, “Yabangka kaw itin nang luwag” (Boy, walk through life using the ladle as your cane). The associated belief is that the child would have luck, be free of hunger, and live a long life.

No rites accompany the act of name-giving. The father observes any event during childbirth and names the child accordingly. If the child is born during an earthquake, it is called “Linog.” When the child is one year old, the head is shaved, and the hair wrapped and kept pressed between slats of the roof. The hair must be carefully kept because throwing away the hair signifies a lack of love and affection for the child.

Mandaya children performing at the Kalindugan Festival
Mandaya children performing at the Kalindugan Festival, 2014 (Eden Jhan Licayan)

The Mandaya file and blacken their teeth at a young age. Children between 10 and 12 years old pass through an initiation in which their upper and lower sets of teeth are filed evenly. Instead of brushing the teeth, the Mandaya habitually chew tobacco pellets moistened with the juice of the am-mong vine. This practice strengthens their teeth.

Marriage, besides signifying the taking on of responsibilities as husband and wife, also means carrying on the responsibility of taking care of the environment by ensuring the perpetuation of the sugno or sumpaw (bloodline). The wisdom handed down from their kamunaan (ancestors) is that the land is useless if no one is left to live in it and take care of it.

There are several types of Mandaya marriages. In buya, the child is promised for marriage even before he or she is born. In bukug, the parents of a baby boy secure a baby girl for marriage to their son by shouldering her needs from infancy until marriageable age. In pagul-log, a woman is presented for marriage in gratitude to a man for an exceptional favor he has done for the family. In dyayon, an uncommon occurrence, a man forces a woman to marry him. In tupa, a marriage is arranged without dowry and the parents assume the expenses of the partnership; hence, the couple must live with the girl’s parents until death. In binaydan, a marriage is arranged because of the love and sincerity of a financially stable male suitor for a girl.

Various stages are followed before a Mandaya marriage takes place. The first is the pakasayod (“to learn or to discover”). The boy’s father and other male relatives visit the girl’s parents to let them know, in highly circumlocutory language, their intention to formally propose marriage. If the girl is not yet of marrying age, courtship takes place. If the girl’s family has responded favorably to the pakasayod, they proceed to the second stage, the pamuka or kagon, when both families meet for the second time. Through an uncle, the boy’s family inquires about the sukat (bride-price) that the girl’s parents desire. Bargaining follows, especially if the bride-price asked for is large. The third stage is the pagtawas (betrothal). If the boy’s parents cannot afford the bride-price, the boy may have to work for the girl’s family. During this period of service, the boy’s family presents a gift in any form to the girl’s family. The fourth stage is the kasamongan, when both families meet to set the date of the marriage. The sukat must be delivered at this stage.

Among the Kalagan, the wedding date is determined by the potikaan, which is based on the phases of the moon. The night of the new moon is best because just as it will wax to its fullest, so will a family grow in numbers. It follows that its opposite, the first night after the waning of the moon, portends a childless marriage for the newlyweds. The eve of the wedding called katipunan is a night of revelry, which includes communal dancing to the accompaniment of the kulintang (brass gongs) and gimbal (drum). No alcoholic beverage is served, as it is forbidden to Muslims.

The Mandaya wedding may be held at noon or dusk. The couple sits on a mat spread out on the floor of the bride’s home. The mangkatadong, also known as matikadong, prays to the diwata on behalf of the couple, who are then given food on a large leaf or in a bagol (coconut husk). Wealthy families use an heirloom china plate for this rite. In a custom called bungaw, the couple each takes a handful of the food and they feed each other. The matikadong delivers the tuwada (advice), a highly stylized speech instructing the couple on the ways of preserving the marriage and of rearing their children. The ceremony concludes with the pakong or bongkog, in which the foreheads of the bride and groom are briefly joined together.

An abbreviated version of this wedding rite is called the kasal sa banig, still in practice today. The couple, sitting on the mat, is given specially cooked animal innards of liver, intestines, and kidney on a leaf that serves as a plate. After they partake of this dish, they are pronounced married. The bride’s relatives are given the privilege of being first at the meal table, thus commencing the wedding feast, followed by the groom’s relatives.

The Isama kawin (wedding) begins with the bride and bridesmaids waiting at the wedding site under a pabilyon or limbonan (mosquito net). The bridegroom and his relatives would walk through the crowd of the bride’s relatives, to whom they would hand sunggodan (tokens) of valuables. Arriving at the pabilyon, he would proffer more sunggodan to the bridesmaids, and this is their cue to exit. The datu and the elders deliver their tuwada; the bongkog is performed; the groom places his thumb on the bride’s forehead while invoking the presence of the Magbabaya; and both bride and groom feed each other a handful of rice. The festivities last a week, marked by sayawan (dance), tagnuwan or tanawogon (song), and the playing of their musical instruments. The newlyweds stay in the pabilyon for three days and nights; when they emerge, a last feast concludes the ceremony.

The Mandaya’s wedding festivities last four days to a week, depending on the preparations made by the groom’s family. The final celebration is the pagtulod dapatulod, literally “it is goodbye now.” The couple joins the festivities by listening to the bayok (love or adventure songs, poetry jousts) or dawot (epic poems); they join the visitors in dancing to the litok (rhythm) of the gandang, sinakaysakay,and bakatog drumbeats. The couple will stay with the groom’s family, who provide a small space for them. Polygyny is practiced, but the man’s first wife must receive a more lavish reception than the subsequent wives. The first wife is also the most privileged in that she does the least work. However, Mandaya law forbids a woman to be polygamous.

In recent times, the Mandaya have, on occasion, reverted to their ancient traditions to solve certain social dilemmas created by Philippine laws. The Isama, for instance, have revived the wedding for underage couples (bukug) because the Family Code of 1987 raised the legal age for marriage to 18 years of age.

Items for personal use such as toiletries can be extracted by the Mandaya from natural elements. Soap and shampoo are obtained from the juice of the baubo, a shrub. Mata sa abo, which are ashes from burnt firewood, are placed in a bagol and taken to the river to serve as bath and laundry soap. Matches are from gutgutan or barobo trees. Candles are from the dugos sa putyokan (beeswax). They make a su (torch) from the salung (sap) of the danguog or (Tag lawaan) tree. First, they slice the tree bark and gather the dripping sap. Then they dry the sap in the sun for three days. When it is completely dry, they turn it into a torch by wrapping it in uway leaves to a length of one meter and tying it securely with a strip of uway. Another personal item is the calendar. It is an uway strip that is folded a number of times equal to the number of days leading up to a day of some importance to the individual. The Mandaya tie the uway to their waist and open up a fold with each passing day.

Before it became a cash crop, tobacco was grown for personal use. Sugar from a kind of tuber is made into wine when it is mixed with langkuway and ginger for three days, then transferred to a tadyao (jar) and buried for a period of time. Great quantities of this wine would be served at a communal feast to celebrate an abundant harvest. As an invitation to people living a considerable distance away, the host would beat his agong and gimbal loudly for three days before the feast. Because the distance between settlements takes several hours of fast hiking, guests must be given ample time to travel to the site of the feast.

A planting custom that creates camaraderie among the Kalagan is also meant to ensure an abundant harvest. Before cultivating a coconut plantation, they first plant only one seedling in the middle of a hectare of land. Then a number of them clamber onto each other’s back to form a human pyramid, to replicate a bunch of coconuts growing on a tree. Pursing their lips will also ensure that the trees will bear healthy coconuts. Planting watermelons is best done at low tide, because the number of rocks visible on the shore will equal the number of fruits that the plants will bear.

A favorite dish among the Mandaya is the kubong, a type of ube (purple yam), with thorns and a poisonous sap. The digger of the yam first asks the diwata’s permission so that the ground would yield large yams. Because of its poisonous sap, the kubong requires several steps to prepare. The yams are placed in a mosquito net, which is half-submerged in the river while one person holds up the other half out of the water. A second person chops and shreds the yams with a bamboo knife. The shredded yams are boiled until thoroughly softened and then returned to the mosquito net for a lengthier soaking in the river. After three days in water, the pulp is wrapped in the bark of the hanagdung tree. It is placed inside a clay pot lined inside with a layer of the trunk of the agutay tree, also known as saging sang unggoy (monkey’s banana). An alternative to the clay pot is a bamboo tube, into which the kubong pulp is stuffed after it has been wrapped in the tree bark. The bamboo tube is then tossed into the fire. Tradition dictates that kubong be cooked by the riverbank.

The Mandaya have distinct practices in death, burial, and mourning. The corpse is thoroughly washed and is laid straight with hands at the side. Close relatives keep vigil. It is then covered with dagmay (abaca cloth). Burial must be held on the same day that the person dies. In earlier times, the dead was wrapped in the bark of the ilang-ilang or lawaan tree. To enclose it in a hard container like a coffin would trap the soul of the dead and prevent it from joining the diwata in the afterlife. Some Mandaya groups bury their dead underneath the house, which they then set on fire. Others simply abandon their house after burying their dead under it. A Mandaya who is killed by an enemy is left exposed on a tree. In the past, tribal leaders like the bagani who sensed their coming death would either walk or be carried to the burial site to wait for the end.

When the coffin began to be used, it was made from a log cut lengthwise in two and a space made in the center. A palakub (dirge drumbeat or clapping) is played on the cover of the log coffin before the body is laid inside it. This is to keep evil spirits from snatching the corpse. If the husband dies, the wife sings her last bayok and is forbidden to sing again until she remarries. The dead is kept in a cave or buried in a standing position. The Mandaya also practice pyagbankay, where the dead is laid on a platform built over the cliff or in a place safe from carrions.

The Mandaya traditionally practiced secondary burial. After many years, they would clean the bones of their dead, wrap these in newly woven dagmay, place these inside a Chinese jar, and store these inside a cave. This custom of a second burial points to the Mandaya’s relationship with the Austronesians who had come from China in the area now known as Fujian Province. Most of the Mandaya jar burials, however, were stolen by treasure hunters between the 1950s and 1960s.

In ancient times, the Isama contained their dead in a bamboo or rattan basket and buried it in a cave. The well-off ones wrapped their dead in a kamon (mat) or placed the body in a coffin, which was made like a dugout canoe from a tree trunk. The body was laid on a platform of eight pairs of crossed wood placed evenly along the length of the coffin. This prevented the body from being laid directly on the coffin’s floor. Inside the coffin were the following items that were to be buried with the body: metal armlets and leglets, a pillow stuffed with aromatic herbs, two mats of pandan, a pair of trousers, a jacket, headkerchief, jewelry wrapped in musa textile, two brass boxes for betel nuts and lime, a 20-centimeter long bamboo reed and tobacco leaves, two kerchiefs to wrap the corpse’s head with, and a resin torch. The coffin and its lid were securely tied together with a bejuco (rattan) strip. At the burial, chinaware, pandan baskets, and water ladles were placed around and on top of the coffin. Death anniversaries were celebrated with the tawo (lamentation), which, despite its literal meaning, was an occasion for feasting, dancing, and singing. Isama delicacies such as amik and panyalam were served. Tinabyong was food wrapped in anahaw leaves and was an offering to the spirit of the dead.

The basic elements of the modern age began in Caraga when electric power lines reached its barangays, such as San Isidro, Manay, and San Miguel. A family’s social status came to be signified by the appliances that they owned, such as a television, refrigerator, video player, and videoke machine. When television viewing became possible in a remote village because a TV station’s broadcast signal was able to reach it, an enterprising villager bought a generator, which provided lights for 48 houses, and he showed video movies to the community for a fee.

Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Mandaya Ethnic Group

The Mandaya maintain harmonious relationships with their pantheon of deities and spirits through rituals of appeasement and supplication. These spirits are believed to reside in a different area of the universe. The creator and controller of the universe is variously called Tagginiit ta Kalibutan, Labaw na Magbabaya, or simply Magbabaya. He lives in Langit (paradise) with the busaw (malevolent spirits) and the diwata. Busaw, the god of warriors, manifests himself in spirits, also called busaw. These would descend upon the bagani and his mangayaw to make them brave and strong in combat, so that they may spill human blood for the busaw to drink. The diwata would descend upon the balyan to communicate with humans, to accept their apologies for their mistakes and unfaithfulness, to cure their illnesses, and to drive away their misfortunes. The friendly spirits accept the blood of domesticated pigs and chicken as offerings when human transgressions have been committed. Similarly, the Isama believe in Mamao, the god of the good, and Basao, the god of evil. The fourth dwellers of Langit are the fortunate human beings whom either the diwata or the busaw took up to paradise. These are Bal-la-oy; Bal-lak and his wife Sugnayo; Mansilatan, his wife Ongmong, and their son Badla; and Puda-ugnon and Malimbong, husband and wife.

Mandaya rice ritual
Mandaya rice ritual, 1981 (Ma’I Collection, Filipinas Heritage Library)

Lupa or Mandal-luman na Banwa is the earth where human beings live. Tagamaling is the god of fields and forests. He is manifest in spirits, also called tagamaling or tagaydum, whichare the most powerful on earth. They live in large trees like the budbud (banyan), also known as balete. They teach the people good manners, agriculture, blacksmithing, the healing arts, weaving, chanting of the dawot and bayok, and the making and playing of musical instruments. Like the diwata, the tagamaling are invoked by the Mandaya for good harvest, good fortune, and personal wellness. The earth is believed to be filled with benevolent and malevolent spirits like Binagumbon, Dagaw, Tal-lakatak, Manguyatot, Mantiyanak, Bingit, Siling, Tama, Apilâ, Gamawgamaw, Madinagat, Mabinaybay, Mamang, Manintal-lay, and Asuwang. All these spirits, if offended in any way, can cause harm to human beings.

Bilibulan or Ugsuban refers to the underworld, home of the dead. The guardians of the Underworld are Maybul-lan, his father Iboll, his mother Ladianâ, and his sister Langkawanan. They make sure that the dead do not visit their relatives still alive on earth because such contact could cause illnesses. Iboll is also fondly called Usog (the Old Man) and Ladianâ is Buyag (the Old Woman). This is where the Visayan and Tagalog expressions “puera usug” and “puera buyag,” which are used to ward off misfortune and bad luck, come from.

While still alive on Lupa, human beings strive to maintain and promote peace, understanding, and harmony among all creatures in the kalibutan (universe), as well as the spirits in Langit, Lupa, and Ugsuban. This is why the balyan must mediate between the spirit world and the human world through the diwatahan, a generic word for the various prayer-rituals and performance that are led by the balyan. Sickness and misfortune are punishments for those who displease the spirits. To appease angered spirits, the Mandaya seek the intervention of the balyan to conduct healing rituals. The al-lal-laisan may receive special messages from her diwata through tagaynop (dreams) and through a messenger spirit called Omli.

Mandaya woman performing the balitig ritual
Mandaya woman performing the balitig ritual, 1987 (The Colorful Mandaya: Ethnic Tribe of Davao Oriental by Ursula Cinco Valderrama, 1987, CCP Collections)

Other diwatahan ceremonies performed by the balyan include the pyagbalilig, pyagbakal-lag, and pyagmana-ug. The bakal-lag is a ritual performed to ward off sickness like epilepsy. A bobo (fish trap), together with seven buyo (black piper leaves) and a pitcher of tuba (fermented sugar cane juice), in which are placed seven crabs, are covered with leaves. These are left in the middle of the house for three days. On the fourth morning, amid shouts, these items are hacked to pieces and kicked out of the house.

Mandaya dancing to native instrumental music during tribal event
Mandaya dancing to native instrumental music during tribal event (The Manobos of Mindanao by John M. Garvan. Government Printing Office, 1931)

Their wooden images, called mana-ug, literally “he who descends,” are set in canopied altars in the Mandaya house. During the famine season, the balyan presides over nightly diwatahan ceremonies. She dances three or four times around the mana-ug while supper is being prepared. This is repeated until supper is served. The diwatahan concludes with the balyan caressing or tapping the inuta-utaw (wooden statues) with sacred bagaybay (betel nut flowers) and a kerchief.

Inanimate objects are believed to have souls. Every time they cultivate crops in the pawa (clearing) or harvest from the wild, they invoke the permission, assistance, and protection of a number of magbabaya, spirits assigned by Labaw na Magbabaya as guardians and stewards of the land, the rivers, the mountains, the plains, the animals, and the plants­­­. Matinaya-on (religiously oriented) persons may also pray to their magbabaya for protection and guidance.

The Mandaya take pride in being upland rice cultivators, for rice is considered sacred to the tagamaling. After they clear the land for planting, a panawagtawag ritual offering is held to obtain the spirits’ permission to start the farming activities. A pole is erected in the center of the field in honor of the spirit Omayan. It is then enclosed with fences known as tal-luginian. Before planting or sowing begins, the taugbini ritual is held to ensure an abundant harvest.

On the eve of harvest, at midnight, the balyan visits the fields and cuts off a few stalks. These are not offered to the spirits friends, but it is believed that failure to do so would result in a bad yield. Before the start of harvest, an egg is placed on the fields as an offering to the diwata Inang, owner and protector of rice. The prayer ritual is an expression of thanksgiving and request for permission to harvest the rice. On the other hand, a plague of pests called hakut is warded off by a ritual offering of fresh eggs placed under a fallen tree, prayers to the diwata, and a plea to the insects to depart.

After the harvest, the people hold a pyagtataan (thanksgiving) feast of bya-is (sugarcane wine), honey, and various dishes. A temporary shelter is built for a mana-ug, on which the spirit friends of harvest will descend. It stands on an altar, which is embellished with idyok leaves. Various dishes surrounding a plate of chicken liver are placed on the altar as offerings. Even the farm tools are blessed as part of the feast. The diwatahan commences with chants and prayers addressed to Kalinganan, the guardian of the fields and source of bountiful harvests, and Mananaop, protector of the fields from dangan (insects). The spirits would possess a participant, through whom they would convey their message in an unknown language. This is interpreted either by the balyan or the matikadong.

The Kalagan’s tagbinayan, the prayer before the start of planting, is addressed to Allah, as is their tagunsad, the prayer for the first harvest. To refrain from eating the first harvest will lead to more abundant harvests. The paaso (to smoke) is the blessing of the rice fields with the smoke of burnt incense or lanzones peelings. Pasumo is a prayer ritual to spirits to drive away pests and field rats.

Communication between people and the spirits occur even outside the ritual context. The limocon or limokœn (fruit dove), which produces a somber, mournful cry, is a bird of omen. If it coos to the left of the person, this is a good omen. However, if it coos to the right, the person must prepare for a possible attack from enemies. If it coos right in front, there is danger ahead. If it coos while a person is between trees, an ambush is waiting. If persons encounter a dead animal, death could befall them; they must then return at once to where they started. However, these bad omens may be neutralized by stomping one’s right foot on a pile of ashes. It is also believed that an eclipse is caused by a tarantula or serpent eating the heavens; and an earthquake by a paket (giant boar) scratching his back against pillars of the earth.

The silag (healer), who is male, is summoned for common ailments, which are cured with herbal medicine. Some healing methods practiced by the Mandaya without the intervention of the balyan are the inampo, alin, bongkas, syagol-labid, abli, dul-lok, bul-loy, pangapog, and ul-lok. Bunong is a rite for the newborn. Limpas and tinagamaling na alimo are rites of respect for the deities of land and farm crops.

The inampo is addressed to the spirits of the seacoast who cause stomachaches in children during the harvest season. The alin is performed by rolling a piece of decorated bamboo over the stomach while begging the spirit to cure the victim of stomach illness. The bongkas is an offering placed on a woven bamboo altar, which is passed through the roof of the Mandaya house. It is addressed to spirits residing in high places to beg them to cure members of the family suffering from convulsion. The syagol-labid is a ritual to ask the spirits to cure a sick pregnant woman or one who has just given birth. The abli is a festive offering placed inside a hole in the ground to beg dead relatives to cure their family members of sickness and to go back to the Ugsuban. The dul-lok is the sprinkling of chicken or pig’s blood along the path taken by a member of the family who has arrived home suffering from a sudden illness. The ritual is to beg forgiveness from spirits unintentionally offended by the sick member of the family. Bul-loy entails the sprinkling of chicken blood to please and befriend spirits found around the house, and to request them to remove the sickness they have cast upon the residents. The pagpangapog is a ritual offering of betel chew to the spirits to consult them over a certain problem or illness. Ul-lok entails erecting four short posts or props made of bayog wood under the house to pay their respects to the spirits and to request them to cure adult members stricken with an illness that keeps their head bent down so that they cannot look upward. There are many more rituals celebrated to strengthen the relationships of the members of the community among themselves and with the many spirits that surround them.

Among the Isama, the balyan performs the panawagan (prayer ritual), with tanawogon and sayawan. In the sayawan for a healing ritual, the centerpiece is a bamboo tube with seven nodes and a rattan strip with seven nodes, both of which are covered with seven flowers of the mamaon, bunga (areca nut), or bagaybay. This would be made to stand erect on the space where the sayawan will take place. The balyan waves palina (incense smoke) around the patient so as to divine the cause and to drive away the spirit causing the illness.

Bunong is the ceremonial washing of a newborn baby’s hands to protect him from evil spirits. Incense is burnt and ancestral spirits called upon to watch over the child as it grows. The community is also called upon to accept it as their new member. A pig is slaughtered as a sacrifice to be feasted upon by all present. Limpas is a request for the spirits’ permission for the family to use a piece of land for their farm or for their residence. The tinagamaling na alimo is addressed to the tagamaling to thank them for a good harvest, to appease them for the wasteful use of natural resources, and to ask them for blessings in marriage.

The Kalagan’s rites bear the syncretic character of the indigenous and the Islamic. In the ablution rites for the newborn, the baylan dips the infant in the river where the ancestor spirits dwell. The panulak bala (“to drive away war”) is a communal ceremony to drive away the manganilo (spirits) that cause misfortune of catastrophic proportions such as an epidemic, earthquake, or war. A community gathering is held every Wednesday and, with the balyan leading the prayers, they implore Allah to drive away these evil spirits. When food offerings are made to the spirits for any occasion, colorful banners are planted around these. Before clearing the land, the Kalagan ask the tree-dwelling spirits’ permission. Presently, however, the balyan of the Kalagan has been replaced by the pandita, who performs the role of the balyan in healing the sick and in communicating with the spirits. These are pre-Islam rituals that the monotheist imam (religious leader) or ustad (Islamic scholar) are not allowed to do.

In the 1600s, the Mandaya-speaking Kamayo of Surigao del Sur were Christianized by the Augustinian friars who reached Tandag. The Mandaya-speaking Davaweño were administered by Jesuits. The Christianization of Mandaya in the hinterlands took place after World War II, after more Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived.

The Christianity that the Mandaya profess, however, is a mix of traditional Catholicism and their own indigenous beliefs and practices. The Mandaya consented to Christian conversion only because the missionaries promised not to interfere with their own indigenous beliefs and practices. One significant similarity between the Mandaya and Christian religions is that both believe in one supreme being. However, the Mandaya do have other deities such as Tagamaling, the god of forests; Busaw, god of warriors; and Maybul-lan, god of the afterlife. They also believe that friendly spirits heal sick family members and drive away misfortunes, and they carve wooden images to represent these friendly spirits and hold that these otherworldly powers have been entrusted to them by Labaw na Magbabaya.

During the Spanish period, the Mandaya who submitted to baptism had to adopt a Christian, that is, Spanish, family name. Hence, the Mandaya came to have family names such as Burgos, Balante, Zamora, Alvar, and Moralizon. The first known Mandaya Catholic priest was Fr Ubaldo Basoc of Caraga, who became the first parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Church at the municipality of Rizal, Zamboanga del Norte in 1950 and remained so for 30 years.

Other religions to which a number of Mandaya have been converted are Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal, Iglesia ni Kristo, and Protestantism brought in by American missionaries during the colonial period.

Traditional Mandaya Houses and Community

Traditionally, Mandaya’s settlements were located in liwagan (riverbeds), forming a strategic and easily defensible piece of land almost surrounded by water, or in sabang (river mouths), where two rivers meet. The sakop or members of the settlement built their homes near their kaingin site, within shouting distance of each other’s homes. This arrangement was meant to enhance mutual defense, while at the same time providing enough space for domesticated pigs and chicken and a wide area in the woods for the disposal of human waste. This residential site was encircled by a vast rainforest that served as communal hunting grounds and freshwater fishing sites for the kalagtowan. Ownership of the land is ascribed to the family that occupies it; ownership is forfeited when the family moves. Today, though, the Mandaya have lowland settlements near coastal areas where they sell their abaca and coffee. On the other hand, houses standing along a mountain ridge came to be called a “ribbon development” (Ompang 2001, 236).

Interior of a Mandaya house
Interior of a Mandaya house (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884.)

Even up to the 1960s, Mandaya settlements were dispersed; houses were set apart from one another by as much as two kilometers. Despite the distances between the kalagtowan members, kinship ties were kept, binding kin groups of 75 to 120 persons. These ties were manifested when they assisted each other in building a house or making a clearing, or when they needed to borrow tools or attend feasts. Tapok (compact settlements) began to be established during the Spanish period. But since the 1970s during the martial law period, the national government has tried to combat the insurgency movement in Mandaya areas by compelling them to live in tapok so that non-residents or strangers could be more easily detected. In Davao del Norte a typical municipality consisting of 20 barangays was organized into an Integrated Tribal Association. To each barangay was assigned a datu, who submitted progress and situational reports to the municipal office.

The generic Mandaya hut is the bayay, which has a wooden framework and a slanting grass-thatched roof that also serves as the wall. In olden times, because the Mandaya were always on the alert for invaders, they had a pangayam (“spear” or “spear head”) standing by the door. The windows were small and had a tayakop (clapper) to sound an alarm against intruders. Scattered strategically around the house were saungag (booby traps). The agitated sounds of animals kept beneath the elevated house also served to warn the residents against approaching strangers.

The ile were houses built on trees or above bamboo marshes. Each ile was connected to another by hanging bridges elevated at a maximum height of about nine meters. A partition separated the pal-langka (men’ssleeping area) and the digpi (women’s sleeping area). Inside the house was an assortment of native weaponry, an altar with religious offerings, a spinning wheel, earthenware, baskets, and musical instruments. When darkness fell, ladders made of knotted vines were pulled up into the house as a precautionary measure against mangayaw or raids.

Still being built by the Mandaya on mountain slopes are one-room houses resting on the sawn-off trunks of big trees. These are built a meter or two above the ground. It has four walls made of tambul-lang (flattened bamboo slats), sinansan (woven rattan slats), sawali (flattened tree-barks), or inak-ak (wooden strips). They may also use amakan (woven tambul-lang or bamboo slats) or binu-ak (split wooden boards). The roof is constructed from either cogon thatch, tambul-lang, or anangilan (wooden shingles made of ilang-ilang). The floors are made from tambul-lang, patikan (fishtail palm tree), bahi (hardwood), or patong (a variety of bamboo). Posts, beams, trusses, and other structural parts are tied together with the vine strings of the uway, which are woven into artistic knots. The single room serves as living room, sleeping room, dining room, and kitchen. Separate corners are reserved for the boys and the girls.

The rich can be distinguished from the poor by the size and quality of their houses. A wealthy Mandaya, who can afford to have more than one wife, may have a bigger house made of hard wood and is divided into a number of rooms. The sleeping quarters of the wives used to be divided by a dagmay, the bangki (camote container made of rattan), or the lapi (basket for farm products). These divisions are a distinct feature of Mandaya architecture, though moveable partitions have given way to permanent ones, such as the tambul-lang slats or sinansan.The back-strap loom is kept in a digpi (room), which has a window where a piece of cloth for embroidery may be hung. The kitchen is an elevated box-shaped space located in a corner of the house. Cooking pots, the tambul-lang for the lol-lot or lo-ot (bamboo tube in which food is cooked), and yumbol (rice in a bamboo tube) sit on the sug-ang, composed ofthree stones arranged in a triangle. Firewood pieces are placed below the hearth, at the side of which kitchenware is kept. The Mandaya home has very few articles of furniture; tables and chairs are considered unnecessary. The household possessions include the handloom, musical instruments, weaponry and tools, and jewelry.

A hili is a bagani’s hut, which can fit two or three sleeping persons and is supported by a single post. A tambubong is a hut built on the swidden field to serve as a granary or resting place. During harvest season, the old granary is repaired or replaced by a new one.

During the Spanish colonial period, the Mandaya who were resettled in the coastal areas became affluent and built two-story houses. The ground floor was divided into a storage room for farm produce and equipment and a place for farm animals, such as horses, pigs, and chickens. The second floor, which was the residential area, had sliding windows with capiz panes, balusters, a spacious sala, and a dining room. Under American rule, the houses adopted the standard western design of the times, with foundations of steel and cement, and roofs of galvanized iron.

In 1884, San Salvador del Mundo Church was built in Caraga through forced labor of the Mandaya, including prisoners kept in the ground-floor jail of the priest’s convent adjacent to the church. Each family was required to bring in a weekly quota of 10 limestone blocks for its construction. Built as a fortress church, it was declared a national historic site in July 2012 and proved its sturdiness only five months later, on 4 December 2012, when it withstood Typhoon Pablo’s wind speed of 185 kilometers per hour.

Mandaya Traditional Costume and Weaving

The Mandaya excel in panul-lob (weaving), to produce dagmay. Traditionally, the art and skill of weaving the dagmay, sewing, embroidery, and beadwork were taught to girls when they were still very young.

Dagmay, abaca cloth of the Mandaya, from Davao City
Dagmay, abaca cloth of the Mandaya, from Davao City, 1991 (CCP Collections)

The weaving entails a complex process that can last for several months. First, the materials are gathered, after which the weaver, called mag-iinang, panday, or gipandayan na mag-iinang, undertakes pamul-lopok. She chants and invokes Tagamaling, goddess of dance and art, for guidance in creating the batok (design) of the dagmay. On the first day of the pamul-lopok, a pig or chicken is offered with special plants. No one may talk to the mag-iinang during the pamul-lopok; the design is made silently, the only respite for eating or sleeping. The materials for weaving may be touched only by the mag-iinang.

To produce dagmay, the abaca fiber is pounded into finer strands called bintok and then dried under the sun. Luon, the process of putting colors to the bintok, is then undertaken. Colors are taken from plants that have aesthetic as well as herbal value. Yellow is taken from dul-law (turmeric, yellow ginger), black or grey from the black vine of the kanal-lum tree; and red from the agaon or the sikalig (noni) tree. Pyaglinamaan is cloth that is woven from abaca and cotton threads; sugot is predominantly or wholly cotton cloth.

Mandaya woman wearing traditional dress, complete with balyug, a bib-like necklace of tiny glass beads
Mandaya woman wearing traditional dress, complete with balyug, a bib-like necklace of tiny glass beads, 1991 (CCP Collections)

The clothes of the Mandaya are considered by many as among the most beautiful in Mindanao. In general, the Mandaya motifs are characterized by block designs, line patterns, rickracks, scrolls or trellises, curvilinear motifs, and diamonds and crosses. Another popular motif is the man and the crocodile done in various levels of abstraction.

The dagum nang usog is the man’s blue, collarless shirt with full-length or three-fourths long sleeves. It is embroidered with lenama or linama (threads of various colors). The front of the dagum is open down to the hipline, and the edges are trimmed with contrasting colors. Pantot (trousers) are either long or short. The short trousers are 5 or 7 centimeters above the knee and embroidered on both sides. The long trousers are loose on the hipline but tight from the thighs down to the ankles. Men may also wear loose pajama-like trousers of ginggon (blue gingham). The bottom edges of this type are also embroidered with various colors and interspersed with colored beads.

Mandaya women wear cotton blouses also called dagum. These are in red, blue, and black, and decorated with byatata-an, animal and geometric designs on the back, front, and sleeves, and liberally spangled. Mandaya women also wear ginggon blouses, similarly designed. Elderly women and Christianized balyan wear simpler black blouses, with simple red trimmings on the edges and red crosses on the back and upper portion of both sleeves. The bado nang bubay (woman’s dress) is as ornately designed as the blouses and shows some Chinese influence.

Traditional skirts are made of dagmay, tailored in an almost A-style, and pleated on one side. The waist is held by a small piece of coco negra or gingham cloth. Some elderly women wear the patadyong (tubular skirt), and younger girls the cotton skirt. Poki (women’s underwear) is made of coconut shell, finely cut to prevent injury. It is typically 15 centimeters long, 7.5 centimeters wide at the bottom, and 10 centimeters wide at the top. Strings are inserted through corner holes at the front and back of the poki and tied to the waistband.

Mandaya women dancing with baskets at the Kalindugan Festival
Mandaya women dancing with baskets at the Kalindugan Festival, 2014 (Eden Jhan Licayan)

The weaving pattern of the dagmay follows the line designs of brown, white, and black. The white is used to break the monotony of brown and black. Background color is dark, and geometric motifs within larger rectangles are used in border designs. More affluent Mandaya women wear red blouses with black sleeves and side appendages. This type of blouse distinguishes the affluent from the less privileged women, who wear only black or brown. These red blouses are also intricately embroidered.

An example of a rust brown Mandaya weaving is the pudong, which uses the plangi dyeing method on cotton cloth and is decorated with applique beads and tufts of horsehair. The kabi (cloth bag) is dyed in the same manner. It is used to carry the ingredients of the betel chew, cigarettes, sigupan (smoking pipe), padî (small, sharp knife or razor), comb, small mirror, tiltilan (portable flint-and-iron fire-making tools), kubing (mouth harp), and onseta (coins). Another bag is dyed with the polychrome method in red, black, yellow, and green, decorated with applique mother-of-pearl sequins forming human and frog figures, with straps and edges ornamented with glass beads, small brass, and iron bells.

The Mandaya have a wide range of embroidery designs derived from their natural surroundings and from human figures. These include bagaybay, binul-lanbul-lan (moon), binituon (star), buwaya (crocodile), ginanis (flower), inunto (teeth), inutaw-utaw, linusag (curved lines), lyugit (diamond), suksuk ng kasili (fresh water eel), and tampuso (ox).

Ayup (beads) are sewn into traditional clothing or used to construct jewelry. Popular colors of ayup among the Mandaya include asukal (shiny yellow), dal-lag (yellow), ilawna lal-lag (yellow orange), ite ng limokon (violet), luto na lal-lag (orange), maitum (black), mal-lunaw (green), mapul-la (red), maputi (white), sal-lak (shiny blue), and sambul-lanay (shiny white).

The Mandaya hat is crafted from the inverted inner skin of the tambul-lang bamboo and the guinit, the cloth-like cover of young leaves and the flower of a coconut tree. The designs are burned into the concave-shaped hat. Black or colored feathers may be attached to the back of the hat. Thongs are attached to keep the hat in place.

Jewelry is a measure of the social and economic status of the Mandaya woman. No young Mandaya woman, whether single or married, goes out without donning a piece of jewelry. Family heirlooms cannot be shared with visitors. Mandaya jewelry is made at home when materials are available and when time permits. Silver is used for jewelry, and brass casting is copied from the Muslims. In general, metalwork is limited to a few skilled workers, but a number of crafts like the shaping of tortoise-shell rings and bracelets and the carving of spoons can be done by any Mandaya during their leisure hours.

Metal jewelry includes the sampad, earrings with a silver covering and carved round with an intricate design in the center; the balyug, a type of necklace of many sizes which covers the breasts, made of tiny glass beads sewn in several rounds with silver coins or unto nang buaya (crocodile teeth); the pal-latina, an heirloom made of a round gold or silver disc attached to the necklace, engraved with native designs; the sangisag, brass or metal bracelet worn by both men and women; the punod, brass bracelets; metal anklets; rings made of tortoise shell and silver; and the tungkaling, brass trinkets worn by women on the waistband to notify people of their presence and ward off malevolent spirits.

Mandaya Crafts

Mandaya metalcraft includes the fashioning of weaponry. Among these are the bal-ladaw (steel dagger); kakana (bolo or sword); likod-likod (single-bladed kakana); pangayam, which is a piece of diamond-shaped iron; and wasay (ax) for cutting wood and bamboo or for self-defense. Silver breastplates called patina arefrom flattened Spanish silver coins. These are slightly concave, measuring 13 centimeters in diameter. The center is adorned with stars surrounding two pierced holes, probably representing the sun and the moon. The breastplates are bordered by pierced diamonds, each with a cross inside.

Nonmetalcraft jewelry includes the suwat, wooden or bamboo combs with engraved circular designs in horizontal rows; the balikog, earrings of balatinaw wood, roundly carved; the la-og, earrings made of glass beads sewn 7.5 to 10 centimeters long; the linangaw, male necklaces representing the Mandaya man’s battle with the crocodiles; the pamul-lang and pag-ul-lang, ivory and black-colored necklaces, signifying a full-grown woman, usually worn by the balyan; the timusug, bracelets made of rare vines and rubber; sagay-sagay, a bracelet made from the branches of banaway plants; ul-lon, a rope belt made of abaca and decorated with cords to which beads and seashells are attached; and sangki, a beaded anklet. Nonmetalcraft weaponry include the pataw (haft) and tagub (scabbard) of the kakana, the tumod or bamboo inal-layon (arrow) decorated with a feather tied at the bottom, and the busog (bow).

The mana-ug are sacred wooden images, 12.5 centimeters tall, made of bayog or palm wood. The eyes are taken from the fruit of the magobahay, but facial and bodily features are only vaguely suggested by the carving. Although they have no arms, they are painted from the chest up with the sap of the narra tree to make them look more human. What distinguishes the female mana-ug from the male is the comb that she wears. The asho-asho is a larger image, which represents a rooster or bird and is kept in the house together with crocodile’s teeth, roots, and other charms and offerings. Human and animate representations in these images are merely hinted at; the natural qualities of the wood or stone are retained.

The Mandaya also weave mats and baskets of different shapes and uses, made of local plant materials.

Mandaya Tribe Literary Arts: Riddles, Proverbs, Myths, Folktales, and Epic Poems

Mandaya literary arts express the group’s attitude toward life, nature, morality, and the world in general. They include riddles, proverbs, myths, folktales, and epic poems. Mandaya riddles are rich in imagery. They provide a clue to the way the Mandaya see the world. Themes are derived from familiar things in nature. The verses may be rhythmic but unrhymed (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980):

Tu-ok sang tutukanon ko

Tagbi na dadallaga-ay

Matigam mana-i sang kasigullman. (Ligwan)

(Guess what it is

Only a small girl

Yet knows how to spin in the dark. [Honey bee])

Yakatalipag yang mangod

Wa yang magul-lang. (Pana)

(The younger can fly

The older cannot but sigh. [Bow and arrow])

Tagadi ako

Tagadi ako. (Siki)

(Wait for me

Wait for me. [Feet])

Some Mandaya riddles refer to objects brought in by outsiders (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980):

Yan daon nagaputos nang papel

Papel nagaputos nang bugas

Bugas nagaputos nang tubig. (Baongon)

(Its leaf contains the paper

The paper contains rice

Rice contains water. [Orange])

Mandaya proverbs are used by parents or the elderly to teach and guide the young on correct behavior. Other Mandaya proverbs tell of the group’s outlook toward life and the virtues needed to survive in this world. In style, the use of metaphor and assonance is marked. For example (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980):

Yang ata-og aw madugdog

Di da mamauli.

(An egg once broken

Will never be the same.)

Eng makaan sang kal-lumlluman

Mamaimo sang makupo.

(One who eats stale egg

Is doomed to be lazy.)

Kal-landong pa nang syumbang

Kabllaw pa nang similat.

(Nothing will be hidden

Under the light of the sun.)

The dawot of the Mandaya are chanted to entertain people on special occasions. They are performed by a magdadawot (native bard), who is expected to have mastery of the intricacies of the ancient art of chanting the panayday (versification of the poems). He is also expected to render the panayday in various traditional melodies and to be proficient in the use of couplets. It takes several nights to chant the several hullobation (long narratives) of the dawot. The Mandaya have at least nine known dawot or hullobaton: Yang Mangngagaw (The Taking by Force); Sadya na Yalabo (The Banishment of Sadya), which takes three nights to narrate; Yangagaw si Dilam (Dilam Takes Tibay’s Betrothed by Force), four nights; Syukli si Obang (The Abduction of Obang), four nights; Pyalid si Sadya (Dilam Uses Storm to Abduct Sadya), seven days and seven nights; Maylan (Maylan’s Death and Resurrection), seven days and seven nights; Yubolla si Daymon (Daymon Goes to War), three nights; and Gambong (Gambong and His Ornamental Tree), seven days and seven nights.

Gambong’s dream, from the Mandaya epic Gambong
Gambong’s dream, from the Mandaya epic Gambong (Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang)

The Mandaya epic Gambong is in an archaic language. Word contractions and substitutions, end rhymes, panayday, symbolisms, and superfluous speech are devices resorted to by the magdadawot to perform the Gambong. Before reciting an epic, the magdadawot starts with an invocation to the tagamaling (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980).

Tuyo di da ak makapanghimatok

Mangakatadong da;

Di mayo ako pagdadawi-in

Kutasan da ako

Tu-ok da yang kanak boses.

(I may not be able to sing well

I am already too old

Please do not despise me

I am already an aging bard

My voice is already dissonant.)

A fragment of the epic Gambong opens with Gambong, also known as panguub sang kabasing (terror of the people), fast asleep. Tagaynop appears to him in a dream and informs him that Sabul-lak, his “ornamental flower,” has been ruined by someone as powerful as he. Gambong ignores Tagaynop’s warnings and continues to sleep. Tagaynop persists until Gambong finally takes heed. Gambong contemplates exile from his beloved land, the belief being that a person without honor is an outcast. It is later learned that it is Diomabok Sibil-lyan, also known as Maginsawan, who has ruined Sabul-lak. The haughty Diomabok proudly admits being the cause of Sabul-lak’s ruin and suggests a duel with Gambong. Gambong remains quiet though hurt and angry. Knowing that Daug is Gambong’s enemy, Diomabok takes advantage of his silence and suggests a raid of Daug. He offers to give the spoils of the war to Gambong as payment for Sabul-lak. Gambong rises angrily and changes into battle attire. He tells his brother Liwanliwan not to interfere because he wants to finish this fight with Diomabok on his own. Diomabok is astounded and the battle begins.

Yang Mangngagaw is a dawot of the Mandaya of Caraga, Davao Oriental. The hero, Sabong of Kadigi (the South), journeys to Ullaynun, the Golden Place, with his brothers to court Sadya. She is, however, already betrothed to Ombang of Byadbadan (the North). At Ullaynun, the brothers come upon the betrothal feast already in progress. They are welcomed by Sadya’s brothers with great hospitality and solicitousness. The drinking and feasting is also in celebration of the setting of the bride-price that Ombang, the groom-to-be, gives Sadya’s brother. Sadya is summoned from her room and, as she walks toward the crowd, Sabong seizes her, embraces, and kisses her. Sadya weeps, for she is now fallen into disgrace. Sabong and Sadya’s brother Tibay engage in a battle of spears. The brothers on both sides are about to join in when a brother from each warring side becomes smitten with a sister from the enemy’s side. The smitten brothers prefer a truce between the two families. Lipig, the diwata of peace, comes down to earth and creates a large ocean wave to cause a flood. Tibay, seeing the impending flood, calls a halt to the fighting. Lipig tells them to share betel chew and let peace reign.

The limoken, a bird that laid two eggs, one that hatched into a woman, another into a snake
The limoken, a bird that laid two eggs, one that hatched into a woman, another into a snake (Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang)

The Mandaya creation myth tells the story of limoken, a bird that used to have the ability to speak. It laid two eggs, one of which hatched into a woman, and the other into a snake. The snake left for the place where the sea and river met; there it exploded and became a man. He lived alone for many years until one day, while crossing a river, a long strand of hair caught his legs. After a long search, he found the owner of the hair. They got married and the children they begot are the Mandaya.

The Mandaya have a version of the flood myth that exists among many ethnic groups in Mindanao. A version in Cateel tells of a great flood that spares but one pregnant woman. She prays for her child to be a boy and it is granted with the birth of Uacatan. When he grows up, he takes his mother for his wife and, from the union, begets the Mandaya. In another version, a pregnant woman survives the flood by riding in the hollow trunk of a tree which is stopped up on both ends with bark. When the flood subsides, she finds herself on top of Pandadagsaan, the highest mountain, where she gives birth to a boy. Upon reaching manhood, he marries his mother and she bears him children, a pair of whom they would leave in different places. They intermarry with people of other families, causing them to multiply in every place.

Legend has it that the first ayup were the multicolored fruits of a tree growing in the middle of the sea. From that tree, the first woman brought home materials to make necklaces, earning the envy of other women. In their spite, they wrongly claimed to own the tree, and so the tree vanished. The narrative seems to invoke the historical influence of Chinese traders who brought beads among their goods to Mindanao.

Mandaya oman-oman (folktales) are entertaining and contain moral values; they are a collective expression of the group’s attempts to articulate its experiences and outlook toward life and the world. They usually start with phrases like “Once upon a time” or “Long ago,” and are characterized by the absence of repetitions that mark other Mandaya literary genres such as folk songs, ritual songs, and epic poems. These tales are narrated and accompanied by facial and bodily expressions. It is believed that folktales are better told in the evenings because the tagamaling or tagaydum come out to help the narrator’s memory.

“Kimod and the Swan Maiden” tells of a man named Kimod who one day goes out to trap birds and sees seven maidens flying into a lake. He steals the dagmay garments of the youngest maiden and hides them in his sumpitan (blow gun). The maiden whose dress Kimod has stolen is unable to return home with her sisters. Kimod invites her to his home and introduces her to his mother as his wife. They live together as man and wife, and the swan maiden bears him a son. One day, while Kimod is on a hunt, the baby cries ceaselessly while gazing at the sumpitan. The mother blows into the sumpitan to get her child to stop crying. Thus, she discovers her clothes and realizes her husband’s deception. Donning her dagmay, she takes her child and flies home to the skyworld. Kimod goes after her to the skyworld by climbing a tandadura or tandal-lulla, a magical fast-growing rattan vine. But Tamisa, the swan maiden’s brother, subjects him to a series of tests first. Kimod must identify his wife among her six identical swan sisters, fill with water a bamboo tube that is open at both ends, cut down an amorawon tree with a dagom (piece of cloth), pick up to the last grain a ganta of millet and the beads of the balyog that Tamisa has scattered under the house, and survive an amorawon tree dropping on his head. Kimod passes all the tests with the help of various animals: an aminipot (firefly), a tabuwan (hornet), a baratok (woodpecker), an army of tigasaw (ants), and an ambaw (rat). The last test is a tuba-drinking contest between Kimod and Tamisa. When Kimod wins, he is allowed to take his wife home.

A monkey outsmarting a group of crocodiles
A monkey outsmarting a group of crocodiles (Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang)

“Amô aw Buwaya” (The Monkey and the Crocodile) starts with the two friends having a drink. The crocodile asks for the monkey’s advice regarding his wife’s eye ailment. The monkey tells the crocodile to pierce the crocodile-wife’s eye with a heated piece of string. The gullible crocodile does as instructed but his wife dies instantly. The crocodile vows revenge on the monkey. One day, the monkey calls to his house when he is returning home from a trip. When the house remains silent and does not reply, the monkey guesses that the crocodile is lying in wait for him in his house. The monkey leaves for the river and drinks the tubâ he has collected and falls asleep. The crocodile leaves the house, finds the sleeping monkey, and tells the monkey he is out for vengeance. The smart monkey suggests that other crocodiles be invited to feast on his meat and he be allowed to count the crocodiles who are going to eat him. The crocodile grudgingly leaves and returns shortly with his friends. The monkey asks them to line up so he can count them. When he gets to the last crocodile, the monkey swings to the highest tree where he laughs at the crocodile’s stupidity.

“Buyag na Butingin” (Old Woman with Warts) underscores the virtues of politeness, kindness, and charity. During a famine, Bakiwos comes upon a bahi palm, the pith of which is edible. He chops off a branch and discovers that it has natok, the edible substance from the pith. He quickly fetches his wife, and they decide to live near the bahi tree. The next day, an old woman with warts comes by and sees Bakiwos. She asks Bakiwos whether he has been able to collect plenty of natok. Bakiwos answers rudely that it is none of her business. The old woman simply answers that owners have a right to ask. Bakiwos retorts: “What do you expect from a bahi tree that has taken after its owner?” The woman becomes very angry and leaves. She then chances upon two orphans looking for food. As they are polite, the old woman points to a small bahi tree and teaches them how to collect food. The children follow the instructions and are happy to find so much food. They offer food to the old woman who readily accepts. She then tells the children to leave immediately and proceed to the cave. Should they find anything along the way, they should take it with them and slaughter it inside the cave. Should they observe anything supernatural, they should keep quiet. Following instructions, the children chance upon a wild boar, which they take to the cave. Entering the cave, they hear the old woman placing a curse on Bakiwos: “Explode, explode rainstorm, explode and bore a hole in Masara where Bakiwos is; and may Bakiwos be accursed!” Rain starts to fall and soon Masara becomes a marshland. As for Bakiwos, he is turned into a crocodile. His home is a 10-hectare lake, the mouth of Mount Leonard volcano in Masara area in the Municipality of Mabini.

One historico-mythical tale is about the first al-lang, whose name was Raja Trang Bandrang of Malaysia. One day he resolved to set out to sea to seek a wife, and so he loaded his ship with treasures for a bride-price. But a storm forced him to throw all his treasures overboard. Eventually he sighted an island where he decided to make port. This was the island of Mindanao. He was captured by the pirate Lacit Baisan who made him a slave. Trang had no way of proving his true identity as a raja, for he had lost all his wealth. One day, while doing the laundry for the pirate’s wife and baby, he lamented aloud about his past as a raja and his present, pitiful state. The pirate’s sister overheard Trang and asked her brother to make Trang a panday instead so that he could forge kampilan. A panday is a highly respected member of society, and eventually, Lacit Baisan gave his sister away to Trang in marriage.

Mandaya Music and Folk Songs

The Mandaya creation myth recounts that Tagginiit ta Kalibutan created man and the musical instruments gimbal, agong, and kulintang all at the same time. Thus, in ancient times, it was forbidden for the Mandaya to eat at diwatahan ceremonies without these three instruments.

Mandaya woman playing the kudlong
Mandaya woman playing the kudlong, 2014 (Eden Jhan Licayan)

The Mandaya have several other musical instruments: The kubing or kobeng is a slender piece of bamboo about 15 to 17.5 centimeters long, resembling a mouth harp. A balyan dances to the rhythm of the kubing while the gandang tempo is beaten on the gimbal. This drum is made from a hollow trunk of the bahî palm tree and covered with male and female deerskin. The kudlong is a two-stringed instrument similar to the kudyapi of the Maranao. The kal-lasag is aminiature ceremonial shield that the balyan plays like a tambourine to accompany the gimbal. The kuyab (ceremonial fan) is a pair of castanets or a tambourine. The paundag and bonabon are bamboo flutes; the sageysoy is a bamboo nose flute.

Gimbal, a Mandaya drum
Gimbal, a Mandaya drum, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Like their riddles and proverbs, Mandaya folk songs reflect the people’s collective attitude toward life and the world. With the coming of radios, however, many of these indigenous folk songs are fast disappearing. Two types of folk songs have remained within the native repertoire: the oyog-oyog (lullaby) and the bayok. The lyrics of the oyog-oyog, also known as aya-aya or ayaw-ayaw, are poetic and express maternal love and aspirations. The music is soothing (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980):

Oyog-oyog, mag-oyog-oyog

Masinga nang bul-lawan

Diyanay yagadadal-lawon;

Baan sumgaw malalwong

Dumal-law malalgwa;

Wal-la lalw sa pangubsa

Wal-la lalw sa panglalwasa,

Nang mal-lugon diabongan mo

Magaon na siol-lambodan mo;

Malaygon sa gigiba

Pugtok sa llol-lumpasi.

Wal-la sa pangungubsa

Wa sa pangawasa;

Awson pagpalal-indo

Ubson magpalalgawa.


(Lullaby, let us lullaby

[Child], glittering like gold

Who cries endlessly;

You who moan pitifully

Who cries so forlornly;

You are never oppressed

You are never neglected,

By your loving mother

By your merciful parents;

Ever since in the womb

Till you can sit alone.

You are never despised

You are never abandoned;

Forsaken you are pitiful

Oppressed you are doleful.


The Mandaya bayok is a rhyming couplet, each line consisting of 6 to 13 syllables. It employs devices such as metaphor, synonymous phrases, different words for the same referent, part-whole substitution, and the inclusion of memory aids such as longnaan (“it is said”). The pitch of the bayok varies depending on the mood of the story. Foreign words have been borrowed, such as tabangi, Cebuano for “help”; galing, Tagalog for “to come from”; sadmon, for “salmon”; and sadlinas, “sardines.”

The bayok “Dugidma” reflects the high value that Mandaya society places on a woman’s virginity before marriage. The following excerpt tells of a woman’s despair after false rumors about her lost virginity spread (Fuentes and Dela Cruz 1980):

Long magal-laong si Dugidma

Tingog ni Kinawbayan:

Magamano mamanoway mo

Mayan-mamayanay mo.

Long uman sin-nan tingog ko

Kadua sin-nan lyawngan ko:

Long ina laly ina

Long gyalingan ko laly gyalingan

Long tubang-tubang ad baba

Long gal-lab-gal-lab adi luyo,

Daw sining yagadal-la-dal-la

Ina sining yagaliwan-liwan,

Na salalyong da eng tiwi ko

Mal-lodgod da eng bagakwang ko.

(’Twas said by Dugidma

Voice of Kinawbayan:

Good if it was true

Better if true indeed.

Let me say it again

Hear me speak it again:

Mother, o dear mother

Mother, source of my life

If possible, come down to me

Please come, I implore thee,

And speak who the rumor spread

Pray, tell me who really said,

That my hips have gone to waste

That I am no longer chaste.)

Manday Folk Dances

The Mandaya have many types of dances, among them the courtship dance similar to the “earth kinship concept” of the Bagobo which imitates the fiercely beautiful movements of a mountain hawk. The dancers’ feet make rapid movements as they create circular patterns around each other, while their arms are spread out like wings. Any old, rusty kettle beaten with two sticks can provide the music. A similar dance is the kinabua, a hawk dance performed by a man and a girl or two girls. The dance portrays the hawks’ use of sweet songs to lure out the hen and her chicks, which are then made into a meal.

The tandak is danced to the rhythm of the gimbal. The dancer starts with both feet flat on the ground, the right in front of the left, with the right foot pointing toward the right and the left poised toward the left. The dancer stamps the right foot and then slides the left foot either away or toward the right foot. It is the step commonly used in wedding dances such as the basal, the sinakaysakay, and the katik.

The basal is danced before the wedding and only by the balyan. Permission is asked of the diwata or Tagamaling through the prayer-ritual panawagtawag. When the spirit descends upon the balyan, she enters into a trance. Wine and a live chicken are offered through the tuwakritual, in which the chicken’s neck is bitten and the blood is allowed to flow for the appeasement of the spirits.

The sinakaysakay is danced right after the wedding ritual by the parents of the bride and groom. It is performed as a sign of good fortune and a gesture to bestow their blessings upon the marriage. It is danced with the newlyweds sitting at the center with the parents facing the couple.

The katik is the grand celebration performed by all the relatives, friends, and guests after the marriage ceremony. Newlyweds sit at the center of two circles formed by their guests. The inner circle faces counter-clockwise, with their left shoulder toward center. The outer circle faces clockwise, with their right shoulder toward the center. The performers dance the tandak as the inner and outer circles move in opposite directions toward and away from the couple in an alternating pattern. Later, the newlyweds stand to acknowledge and take part in the celebration.

The sampak or sal-lud is the war dance of the Mandaya. It requires great skill in the handling of a spear, a sword, and a shield. The saut is a dance performed originally by the balyan, but nowadays, children may imitate the dance. Like the balyan, two young dancers are dressed completely in native attire. The tungkaling is fastened to the women’s byatata-an and anklets, and a neckerchief is held in the right hand. The dance starts with a prelude called the basal, accompanied by the slow rhythm of the gimbal. Following the beat, the dance proceeds to the sinakay-sakay, a slow swaying of the rump. The movements speed as the beat grows faster. The gandang, accompanied by the kudlong or kubing, is a free and improvisational dance for all and usually starts when the older guests get tipsy with bia-is (wine) during a communal feast.

Mandaya Rituals

Among the proto-dramas of the Mandaya is the ritual of the balilig or balilic, one of the highest forms of Mandaya worship performed by a balyan to cure illnesses believed to be caused by the busaw or bloodthirsty spirits. It is believed that the busaw takes the sick person’s soul and hides it inside the sun. Thus, the balilig is performed to appease them. In the course of the ceremony, the balyan stares at the sun, waiting for it to open and release the sick person’s soul. The performance of the balilig is announced to the temporal and spiritual worlds the night before. At about eight in the evening, a deer-hide drum is played. The beat used is the kasal if the drum is played alone or lisag if another plays at the other end of the drum. At sunrise, an altar is erected on which a pig is laid facing the rising sun. A branch of the sal-lapaw tree, decorated with mama-on (betel nut) flowers, is placed beside the altar bending to the east of the pig. When people gather, the drummer starts with the basal beat and the women begin to dance. The kasal and lisag are played for male dances, whereas the basal is played for female dances. The beat grows faster and the dancing becomes more hypnotic. Each balyan present calls upon her favorite kal-lbas (friendly spirit) or mugbong, to suck the blood of the sacrificial pig. The ancient chant goes thus (Nabayra 1979):

O Mugbong, pangayon kaw

Kal-lbas, kagomonkaw;

Sang amabalik na balyan

Amawason na dyanginan.

(O Mugbong, mercifully come down,

Kal-lbas propitiously descend

Upon this comely balyan

Upon this worthy prayer-woman.)

The Mandaya believe that a true balyan’s prayer should be heard. This is manifested in the coming of the spirit upon her (Nabayra 1979):

Magkalikad si Lugay

Magkasag si Bal-lugnon;

Magkalikid sang Ilawan Magkalikad sang (H)awan

Magkasag sang Tiwayan.

(Lugay, my hair, has been disarranged

Bal-lugnon has stood at their ends;

The heavens have been disturbed,

The skies are confused.)

At this point the balyan becomes ibusawan, possessed by the busaw, which speaks through her (Nabayra 1979):

Nang kyanangan ng Balyan

Nang kyanawan ng Dyanginan;

Na mingayo sang Mugbong,

Yamalyat sang Umayon?

(What does the Balyan need,

What does the prayer-woman want;

That she has called for the Mugbong,

That she has recourse to her Umayon?)

The ceremony reaches its climax when the sacrificial pig is stabbed through the right armpit. All the balyan present, including those who have not participated in the dance, have become the mediums of the bloodthirsty busaw. As such they now take turns sucking the blood and partaking of the raw flesh of the pig. The al-lal-laisan then dips a branch of the bagaybay in the pig’s blood. She lines the sick person’s right palm with this blood, from the middle of the palm toward the middle finger while chanting, “Paga-umal-lasan ko / Pagkuma-isan ko / Ng malamilo na dugo, / Na-al-lag na lipano ng baboy” (I am anointing you with the crimson blood of the pig). Other solemn healing rituals are the pagbakal-lag, which is officiated by a balyan periodically dancing inside a tawagan for a year or so, and the pyagmana-ug,officiated by a balyan periodically dancing inside a pyagmanawgan for two to three years.

There are rituals associated with farming, fishing, or hunting. Farming rituals include the pagpangapog, tul-lada, bul-loy, panawagtawag, tal-lugbinian, and tal-la, which are held during the different phases of planting, cultivating, and harvesting rice. During these rituals, the Mandaya offer live domestic pigs and chicken, boiled eggs, bya-is, apug (lime from charred shells), chewing tobacco, buyo, and bunga. They implore the spirits to partake of what is offered. When the benevolent spirits have done so, they are asked to remain and protect the place and the residents. The malevolent spirits are respectfully asked to leave the area and allow the humans to live safely and peacefully.

The pag-umbas is the ceremony that installs a Mandaya in the ranks of the mangkatadung or bagani. Before the candidate is proclaimed, he dances about, brandishing his kampilan. The climax is reached when a senior mangkatadung or bagani, acting as a priest, dances in front of the candidate, brushes his face and body with the sacred bagaybay, and sprinkles water on his forehead. Thus is authority and power vested on a mangkatadung or a bagani.

Mandaya Peole as Featured in Media

Various mediumwave and longwave stations operate in Davao Oriental, where many Mandaya groups reside. Several focus on religious programming, such as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’s DXHM-AM 549 Radyo Totoo and the Seventh Day Adventists’ DXME-FM 94.3 Hope Radio; educational and noncommercial programming, such as the National Nutrition Council’s DXNQ-FM 97.3 Radyo Kalumonan; and the regular fare of local news and musical programs through relay stations of the Manila Broadcasting Corporation. The Catholic media network in Mati also owns a local cable TV network called Trinity Cable TV (TCTV), which was recognized by the local government in 2018 as a “strong partner” in the development of the province through their “relentless and balanced information dissemination.”

Radio remains an important medium of public discussion and social engagement in these areas. In 2010, a radio commentator of the locally owned DXOR-FM 102.5 Sunrise Gold, Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, was shot dead by unknown gunmen. He was a known critic of illegal logging and mining. In Davao, Fernando Lintuan, also known as “Batman,” short for “Batang Mandaya,” famous commentator for DXGO-AM 855 Aksyon Radio was gunned down on Christmas Eve 2007 after airing his program, Ligas Paka (One Slip and You Are Dead).

In 1995, the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP) produced “Into the Heart of the Mandaya - A Journey through the Wilds of Davao Oriental” in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). This was first aired on Filipino television and later released on YouTube as part of their Audiovisual Collection IV: Pagdaloy.

Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Huling Balyan ng Buhi (The Woven Stories of the Other), 2006, is a full-length film based on the story of the Mandaya. It tells the interweaving narratives of a woman rebel, a soldier, two children, and a balyan amid the threats of development aggression, armed conflict, and rapid spread of Christianity. Arnel Barbarona’s Tu Pug Imatuy (Right to Kill), 2017, casts Manobo-Mandaya Jong Monzon in the role of a man who is captured by soldiers with his wife, played by Malona Sulatan, a Matigsalug-Manobo. They are tortured and forced by the soldiers to act as guides for the military in their counter-insurgency operation.

Because of the democratization of media through free video streaming platforms, young Mandaya artists have taken to YouTube to promote Mandaya culture. Mandaya music videos, Mandaya language tutorials, and even karaoke versions of Mandaya folk songs have found a place in the free platform.


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1 comment:

  1. The prefix "man" in Mandaya means "FROM" and "Daya" means beyond or upper areas of the river or a place. Mandaya ascribe their clans and families according to the location of the river, the place and natural formations. I am a full-blood Mandaya and speaker of the original language NOT the Dinabaw which is the variation of bisaya, tagalog, spanish, and all other languages surrounding Davao provinces.


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