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Romblomanon People of Romblon: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [MIMAROPA Philippines]

Romblomanon People of Romblon: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [MIMAROPA Philippines]

“Romblomanon” comes from the Visayan domblon or lamyon, which means “sitting,” and refers to the people and language of Romblon, an island group off the mainland of southern Luzon. When the Spanish encomendero Miguel de Loarca visited the place in 1582, he referred to it as Lomlon or Donblon. The name of the province may have been derived from the Spanish word for bolt, roblon, or the Spanish coin doubloon, referring to the shape of Romblon Island.

Banton Caves entrance
Banton Caves entrance, 2014 (Laurence Ruiz, Wikimedia Commons)

The inhabitants of the province of Romblon are linguistically divided into three major groups: Asi, Ini also known as Romblomanon, and Unhan. Asi is dominant in the towns of Banton, Calatrava, Concepcion, Corcuera, and Odiongan; Ini in Cajidiocan, Magdiwang, Romblon, San Agustin, and San Fernando; and Unhan in Alcantara, Ferrol, Looc, San Andres, San Jose, Santa Fe, and Santa Maria. However, all their languages are classified as Visayan; thus, they also refer to themselves as Bisaya and their language as either Bisaya or Binisaya.

The archipelagic province is composed of a total of 158 islands and islets, of which only 26 have been named. The province of Romblon is composed of the major islands of Tablas, Sibuyan, and Romblon, and the smaller islands such as Alad, Banton, Simara, Carabao, Logbon, and Cobradar. The province is bounded by Marinduque in the north, Panay in the south, Mindoro in the west, and Masbate in the east. Tablas is the largest island and the leading producer of staple crops. Sibuyan, the second longest, is thickly forested and mountainous but has wide grazing lands, mercury ore deposits, and vast timber resources. Romblon is the smallest of the major islands but has become the center of commercial and economic activities in the province. Romblon town, located in this island, is the provincial capital.

With a total land area of 135,593 square meters, Romblon had a total population of 279,774 in 2007. As of 2010, the total population is 283,930 and 63% of this are Romblomanon. The rest are Asi, also known as Bantoanon, 23%; Kiniray-a, 8%; Tagalog, 0.76%; and others, 3.38%. In Oriental Mindoro, the Romblomanon number 1.44% or 9,809, out of a total population of 681,208.

History of Romblon and the Romblomanon People

The island town of Banton was already inhabited by people centuries before the coming of the Spaniards. It was in the caves of Guyangan that archaeologists uncovered the oldest surviving burial cloth in Southeast Asia known as ikat, along with some old wooden coffins and chinaware. Early Romblomanon were also skillful in boat building and woodcrafts.

It is believed that the Ati and the Mangyan were the first inhabitants of the islands. Oral tradition has it that the Ati had sailed to Romblon from Panay when their king and queen, Marikudo and Maniwantiwan of Panay, sold off the Panay lowlands to 10 Bornean datus. The Mangyan came to the islands in their effort to escape the Spanish soldiers, tulisanes (bandits), and Moro pirates attacking Mindoro. Across centuries, the Ati and Mangyan decreased in number and were pushed to the forests and mountains when the Bantoanon came from the north and the Unhan and Nayon Visayan from the south. In the 17th century, the Mangyan left for Mindoro while some of the Ati remained and became kalibogan (half-breeds). Later, the Tagalog from Batangas and Chinese migrants came and grew in number.

In 1635, the Augustinian Recollects established Christian churches in Banton, Romblon, and Cajidiocan. Like many Visayan provinces, Romblon experienced frequent attacks, initially from the Muslims and, in 1646, from the Dutch. Loarca noted that the Muslim pirates would swoop down on Romblon villages, burn the churches and houses, kill the men, and take the women and children with them. To protect the people from the devastating effects wrought by these invasions, the Recollects built twin forts in Romblon and in Banton Island in 1650. Friar Agustin de San Pedro, known as “El Padre Capitan,” was one of the staunchest defenders of the islands. When he died, he was buried in the church of San Jose, now the Saint Joseph Cathedral, the old church he had built in Romblon town. The Moro wars subjected the region to Muslim attacks until the latter half of the 19th century.

In 1898, Romblon was administered by an army captain, with Romblon town as its capital. Other municipalities were named Azagra, Badajoz (now San Agustin), Banton, Cajidiocan, Corcuera, Looc, Magallanes (now Magdiwang), Odiongan, Despujol (now San Andres), and Santa Fe.

In 1896, a Katipunan chapter was established in the islands by several workers from Sibuyan, led by Higino Musico. In July 1898, Filipino revolutionaries, most of them from Maragondon and Indang, Cavite, arrived in Romblon on two boats. They were led by Caviteño General Mariano Riego de Dios, who became the administrator of Capiz, which at that time still included Romblon. During the Philippine-American War, this same general headed the Filipino revolutionary forces in the Visayas.

On 16 March 1901, a civil government was established by the Americans under Act No. 104, and Romblon became a regular province. But due to insufficient funds, it again became a subprovince of Capiz through Act No. 1665 in 1907 until 7 December 1917, when it was reestablished as a province. On 8 June 1940, it was again demoted to an irregular province with four special municipalities through Commonwealth Act No. 581.

In 1942, during World War II, the Japanese Imperial Forces in Romblon established a garrison, which stood until the Battle of Sibuyan Sea on 24 October 1944. In 1946, Romblon regained its provincial status through Republic Act 38, and its previous municipalities were restored. Today, there are a total of 17 municipalities comprising Romblon province.

The Livelihood of the People of Romblon

Romblon is best known as the island of marble. The very foundation of Romblon Island is marble, thus making this highly prized resource virtually inexhaustible. The islet alone of Alad is said to have enough marble to last 20 years if quarried under full-time operation every day of the year. The other major marble deposits are found in Cobrador and on the northern side of Tablas.

Copra farming in Romblon
Copra farming in Romblon, 2014 (Laurence Ruiz, Wikimedia Commons)

There are at least two dozen varieties of marble underneath Romblon Island and approximately 158 different shades in the entire province, possibly more, because marble shades vary as extraction goes deeper under the surface crust. Marbles are classified according to their colors. Since the early part of the century when quarrying began, the following have been the most commonly found: white or light gray with grayish spots similar to that of Carrara in Italy; light bluish gray with white spots known as Pentellic; a variation of white to cream with mellowed tones of rusty yellow veins and spots, labeled as Golden Romblon; shades ranging from dark bluish gray to blackish with patches of white, known as Bardilli; and white with tints of green, named Romblon Green Onyx.

A Romblomanon marble sculptor
A Romblomanon marble sculptor, 2015 (Abigail Javellana,

Marble is very popular as construction material for flooring tiles, wall paneling, and structural pillars. It can also be made into decorative items such as ashtrays, chess pieces, powder bowls, animal figurines, statuettes, miniature mortars and pestles, globes, penholders, jars, and flower vases. Marble has been used for tablets on monuments and tombstones, garden sets, tabletops, chess tables, and stools. These items are crafted by some 100 small enterprises, mostly family businesses, in Romblon. Finished products mostly find their way into the local novelty stores where they are sold to tourists or Manila distributors. The region also has large deposits of kaolin clay, nickel, magnetism, quartz, silica, and zinc, copper, silver, limestone, and sulfide ores.

A shop showcasing marble sculptures and wares in Alcantara, Romblon
A shop showcasing marble sculptures and wares in Alcantara, Romblon, 2014 (Jean Lanit, Provincial Government of Romblon Tourism Office)

Due to its location along typhoon paths, the province experiences devastation every year, aside from the drought that usually occurs during the dry season. These phenomena do not allow the Romblomanon to engage heavily in agriculture except for cultivating a few cash crops and staple goods for domestic consumption. Tigsilakun is the dry season when they prepare for the tinguyanun (rainy season) by making fields in the uplands on which they plant when the rains come. After harvesting rice with a yatab (harvest knife) or karit (sickle), they place the rice stalks on a langkapi (bamboo table), where the palay (unhusked rice grains) are trodden to remove their husks. The farmers also have a panag-araw (second-crop season), in which rice stalks begin to grow out of those already cut and harvested. Second-crop rice is cultivated and, in time, harvested as well.

Romblon’s mountainous terrain provides advantageous conditions for the growing of coconuts, which is another major source of income for its people. Its islands have more coconut trees planted per square meter than any other island in the Philippines. These trees are a source of timber and raw materials for baskets, mats, and rope. The elders recall that, before the introduction of copra-making machinery, they processed copra by hand: they husked each coconut, broke it open, laid it on a smoking rack, gouged out the meat, and chopped the copra or dried coconut meat into pieces. They have devised a system for counting coconuts that are harvested by the hundreds for the making of copra. They use a palilyu, which is a small piece of the husk, to mark every hundredth coconut so that they can keep track of the counting.

For the making of tuba (coconut wine), the mananggiti (tuba gatherer) requires a number of utensils: the sanggut (collecting scythe), kuyagi (cleaning brush), sayaan (strainer), tangay (coloring powder), and tangayan (container for the coloring powder). Additionally, the mananggiti carries two types of bamboo containers: the sayud, for collecting the tuba, and the kawit, for transporting it. The sayud is a section of a bamboo trunk, 1 1/3 feet long and 12 centimeters in diameter, which catches the sap dripping from the coconut flower when the tuba gatherer cuts it.

Other means of livelihood include cattle raising, logging, fishing, and bamboo crafts, as the waters around the islands abound with various fish species and the forests are a rich resource of timber, rattan, buri, and nito.

Traditionally, the family was the basic unit of production in Romblomanon society. Food and harvest were shared with other families in the community, in the tradition of reciprocity, cooperation, and filial obligation. However, the emergence of the merkado (market) as a structure of exchange during the Spanish period and the eventual entrenchment of the cash economy during the American period resulted in changes in the Romblomanon economic organization. In the town of Odiongan in Tablas, as more stores were established, more products imported from Luzon and other nearby islands, and more varieties of crops planted, there came to be greater demand for labor. Farm tenure, instead of being communal, became differentiated among landowners and tenants or farm workers: the landowners provided the carabao, seeds, and farmlands; the tenants provided the physical labor in preparing and harvesting the crops. In fishing, the catch was divided among the tag-iya (owners) of the fishing nets and boats and the other parties involved, including the tikong or the caretaker of the boat and net, and the postor, who repairs the fishing implements.

Individual fishermen use simpler methods and more modest equipment: the sayangsang, which is a bamboo spear with sharply pointed umbrella ribs attached to one end of the bamboo shaft; and the sibut (small-mesh fishnet), which has a one-meter-long bamboo handle, on one end of which is attached a metal ring 30 centimeters in diameter, to which the fishnet, 40 to 50 centimeters deep, is tied. On moonless nights, the people wade into the sea by the shore to catch schools of sibud (small fish), such as anchovy. Medium-sized fish are hung in a row by ambulant fish vendors from their sangyayan (fish-carrying pole), which they balance on their shoulder.

The people’s valuation of goods for trade was also changed by the new commodity exchange system, which applied arbitrary measures to quantify objects for exchange, such as pasong (cavan), litro (liter), bulto (bundle), canastro (big basket), rollo (roll), and tudlo (finger). The market economy led to the increase of more business-minded merchants and traders, replacing the traditional culture of reciprocity and cooperative labor. Labor unions came to be organized. As exchanges between islands increased, problems of poaching also arose.

New technologies further transformed the social and economic life of the Romblomanon. In 1925, the introduction of the telegraph connected Romblon to Manila. In 1932, a radio for receiving and transmission was put up in the local post office. New entertainment institutions also arose, such as the movie house and the cockpit. Infrastructures like roads were built, paving the way for the use of new transportation systems like jeepneys.

Romblon lies at the center of Luzon-Visayas trade routes, making it ideal for sea freight distribution. The town boasts of an enclosed harbor. Protected by the three islets of Logbon, Alad, and Cobradar, the harbor is known to be the country’s safest and most natural. Visitors are greeted with goods displayed at the pier where the tourist ships dock. The beauty of its harbor has been described in various literatures, including Jose Rizal’s diary, where the national hero recounts a brief stopover aboard a steam ship on the way to Manila.

On the other hand, the Romblomanon’s knowledge in the preparation of “famine food” manifests in their survival techniques during hard times, including periods of war. Niyug nga kinayus (grated mature coconut meat) is eaten when there is nothing else to eat, or is fed to domesticated animals or pets in more fortunate times. Bualaw is a simple dish of salted or sugared corn kernels that have been boiled in water or coconut milk extract. Natuk nang buli (buri starch) comes from the core of a buri tree trunk that is finely chopped, pounded, mixed with water, and strained through a piece of cloth to produce buri flour that can be cooked. The pakuy or butuan is a banana with many seeds. It is broiled on a grill, which is placed over live coals in a hole on the ground. The seeds are removed, and the fruit is salted, crushed, and ground in a mortar. Kuyut is the poisonous yam of the nami vine (Dioscorea hispida), which is made edible with soaking, washing, pressing, and sun drying.

Even as the national government has declared the province’s three major islands—Tablas, Romblon, and Sibuyan—as Conservation Priority Areas, metallic mining threatens the ecology in these same islands, particularly Sibuyan. Panning for gold, which 500 families in Sibuyan are dependent on, requires the use of mercury, a deadly pollutant. Twenty-four large-scale mining companies have filed applications for mining permits, which cover 191 square meters or 42% of Sibuyan Island. These have been suspended, largely because of the resistance of environmental groups and some local government officials.

Romblon Political System

In the 19th century, under the Spanish colonial government, the province underwent various political and jurisdictional reorganizations. In 1818, it was incorporated into the province of Capiz; in 1853, its islands were reorganized into a Comandancia Politico-Militar of which Don Pedro Sanz, a Spaniard who had settled in Sibuyan Island, was appointed governor, thus functioning as a proxy governor-general. He was also the treasurer and postmaster general. He oversaw the extraction and exploitation of the land’s minerals, appointed or removed the gobernadorcillo (mayor) and cabeza de barangay (barangay chief), controlled the systems of trade and exchange, took charge of the treasury, and supervised the collection of tributes. Apart from these, he sometimes provided moral counsel from the pulpit. The islands were governed under the Recopilacion or the Laws of the Indies.

Old Municipal Building of Romblon
Old Municipal Building of Romblon, 2013 (Photo courtesy of Heritage Conservation Society and Ivan Henares)

Towards the end of the 19th century, social differentiation resulted in the privileging of certain classes: the los Españoles, comprised of the money lenders, bureaucrats, and other people of power and privilege; the capitanes, chief executives of the towns in charge of drafting people into polos y servicios (military service), tanoria (prison guarding and court service), and night-watching; the ratus, who were people of lower rank than the gobernadorcillos, like the cabezas de barangay, lieutenants, and judges; the escribientes or estudiantes, the educated classes; the polistas, who were the peasants, farm workers, and wage laborers; and the bukirnon, who lived near forests and mountains and might work as baggage boys and rice pounders, or other such manual jobs.

In 1901, at the beginning of the American period, Romblon was made into a province, with Francisco Sanz, the son of the former governor Sanz, as its governor from 1901 to 1906 and again from 1908 to 1916. Each village elected a councilor to represent them in the municipal council. The councilor appointed a barrio lieutenant to oversee conditions on the ground. The municipal government focused mainly on medical, and peace-and-order functions. At this time, the constabulary was also organized.

Today, Romblon is governed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, acting in behalf of the president, through its local government units. Like other small provinces, it is headed by a governor and a vice governor, with a single representative for its lone district and two board districts composed of four members each. The barangay is the basic unit of government. It consists of not less than one thousand inhabitants and is administered by a set of elective officials headed by a punong barangay. The barangay functions as a basic arm for delivering goods and services at the community level. The municipality is a conglomeration of a number of barangays and is administered by elective and appointive officials.

Romblon Culture, Customs and Traditions

The Romblomanon community is structured around kinship ties. The prominent community institutions in the community are the pamilya (family), the kamaguyangan (elders), the kahalihan (relatives), the meriko (folk doctor), and the kayungot or kababaryo (neighbors) (Faderon 1979, 6). The pamilya is composed of the tatay (father), who is responsible for food production and holds authority over the children’s occupation, spouse, and share of inheritance; the nanay (mother), who is in charge of child rearing and domestic chores; the anak (child), who is helped and guided by the parents until he or she grows into maturity; and the ulo (grandfather) and the ula (grandmother), who function as bearers of wisdom and knowledge. They are consulted for advice on matters of production, such as in the variety of rice to plant for the year; child rearing, such as in the naming of a child; and spirituality, such as in the proper talismans to use for specific conditions.

The shaman, called meriko in Asi and miyugbuyung in Romblomanon, is consulted for the treatment and diagnosis of illnesses. He is believed to have extraordinary abilities and is able to prescribe herbal remedies for bodily discomforts and antidotes against witchcraft and sorcery.

Buut, which is the core of one’s being, determines not only the Romblomanon’s individual character but also their relationship with the community. To be maayu nga buut is to be good hearted, which is demonstrated in one’s generosity and willingness to help one’s neighbor; to be malain nga buut is to be not only demonstrably greedy and selfish but worse, indifferent to the misfortune of others. Magapakabuut is to behave appropriately, as shown in one’s good manners and proper conduct. For instance, one must refrain from masanting (obscene speech) because it leaves an indelibly bad impression in the hearer about the speaker’s buut.

At a baby’s pabunyag (baptism), the godparents present the child with a pakumkum (baptismal gift). Children, even from infancy, are reared with a sense of security and closeness. As infants, they are carried around in an abitan, a two-meter long blanket that functions like a little hammock, with the blanket’s ends tied together at the mother’s neck so that the baby is lying snug or sitting in it, while the mother’s hands are free for her to do her chores.

A child’s earliest lessons in socialization are group games such as the bakingkila or bikaka (hopscotch), pinikutan (blind man’s bluff), and the tutupung, a variation on hide-and-seek, with the “it” having to retrieve a coconut half-shell that someone has thrown far away before the “it” can seek out all the other players who have run to hide. Duels are the sungka, a game of strategy, speed, and fist control, with the game pieces consisting of small shells and the “game board” being simply shallow holes dug into the ground or carved from a boat-shaped piece of wooden block; syatu, which requires one player to catch the gatu, a short stick that the other player hits with the taku, a long stick; and the trumpu (playing top), which can be played with a kasingan, an all-wood top, or the riskier langsangan, a top with a nail portruding from the bottom.

Formal education traces its history to the Spanish period: apart from the family’s guidance, children went to the eskoylahan (school) for their education. Schools were gender-exclusive and classes were devoted mainly to teaching prayers and catechism, with some reading, arithmetic, and elementary geometry. During the American colonial period, public education was conducted in English and mainly by American soldiers. It focused on farming courses for boys and household arts for girls, with classes in arithmetic, geography, sanitation, and good manners.

As the children become young adults, their birthday celebration might start at dawn with a manyanita, in which their friends serenade them with both religious and birthday songs. The celebrant then invites them up for a special breakfast. On the other hand, a neighborhood get-together might be occasioned by someone hosting a pabita (video show), from the English word betamax.

Wedding preparations require the direct involvement of the couple’s family and relatives in decision-making. In the past, parents chose their children’s spouse, whose requisite qualification was that he or she carried a good reputation as widely as possible. Still in practice are three stages in a couple’s engagement process. In the pamalayi, the suitor’s tiglyaki (the man’s family and other close relatives) call on the lady’s parents, taking food and liquor with them. Over polite conversation, the lady’s parents observe the suitor’s sincerity. If they approve of the suitor, the two families set a wedding date, one of the determiners being the state of the moon—a new moon is ominous but a moon that is almost full bodes well. The second stage is the sigir, in which the two families discuss the wedding details such as the wedding feast, the dance, and the gown, because the suitor’s parents will bear the cost. The third stage involves friends and neighbors being invited to the pasuga (wedding announcement feast). At the wedding itself, which is generically similar to most weddings, a practice particular to the Romblomanon is the couple being given a drink of water, which signifies the coolness of mind required to sustain a marriage.

There are a number of beliefs and taboos that the Romblomanon must heed at any age, as well as those which guide them in the different stages of their life cycle. Pointing at things while one is taking a walk will provoke the spirit-guardian of the place to cause one to fall ill. A bad dream is caused by a rise in one’s body temperature if one seldom bathes. One who dreams that all their teeth have fallen out should whisper this dream to the house post, to prevent the dream from coming true. One avoids engaging in activities on Fridays, such as bathing, taking trips, setting a wedding date, moving house, or planting; on the other hand, medicinal plants picked by the miyugbuyung (shaman or folk doctor) on that day are most effective. The cure for skin disease, ranging from rashes to boils, requires a long list of taboo food: mung beans, eggs, fish, pork, marine animals like the octopus, squid, and shrimp.

When a girl’s first menstruation occurs, she is made to hop from the top of the house steps down to the third step, and to sit on three strips of split bamboo to ensure that her menstrual period will always last for no more than three days. A lady who sings while cooking will marry a widower. If she eats the meat of a cow that has died while giving birth, she risks a similar fate when she gets pregnant. On the other hand, a single man who eats directly from the pot instead of a plate will marry a “fallen woman” or one whom other men have shunned.

The Romblomanon take notice of natural phenomena to guide them through marriage. A star close to the moon foretells elopement because it is believed that women, during this period, are easily won. But if a hen not old enough to lay eggs starts cackling, this means that someone’s daughter has eloped. An engaged couple avoids traveling by sea because it invites disaster. If on the day of the betrothal either the groom or the bride gets sick, this is an omen that they will have a short married life.

Wedding taboos, if heeded, will prevent future marital problems. The man must arrive on time at the wedding and, during the wedding, follow his cues promptly; his tardiness in these details signifies that his bride will bear their problems by herself. He avoids having the bride step on his feet or leaning on his shoulder so that she will not dominate him in the marriage. The wedding coins and the ring must not jingle; otherwise, it will be a noisy, turbulent marriage.

During and after the wedding, the objects used in the ceremony are cared for, as these may influence the marriage. The candles lighted in front of the couple during the ceremony determine their life span. If the candle near the girl is brighter and lasts longer than that of the boy, it means that she will live longer. A ring falling during the wedding ceremony is a sign that something bad will happen to the couple. If the wedding veil falls from the groom’s head during the ceremony, it signals that he will not live long. In contrast, if a pot, a glass, or a plate is broken during the wedding reception, the couple will prosper. While they have not yet changed their wedding attire, both the groom and the bride refrain from looking at the mirror, as this may cause bad luck. But if the bride alone changes from her wedding dress, her husband will neither help nor support her when she faces problems.

Pregnancy brings good luck; thus, pregnant women are believed to make good planters of rice because they ensure abundant harvests. But a pregnant woman wearing a scarf will cause the child to die, either before or after delivery. If she eats slimy food, her baby may be in danger of slipping out prematurely. Deeds of lighter consequence would be to eat twin bananas, which would cause twin babies, and to have her hair cut with scissors, which would cause her baby to be born bald.

Ease in the delivery of a baby is associated with loosening objects in the house. Thus, an expectant mother’s husband refrains from tying knots, as this may cause problems in the delivery of the child. When the woman goes into labor, some closed objects inside the house are opened, and knotted or tied objects are loosened to “make way” for the baby. The things that the newborn lies down with will determine what it will enjoy as it grows up. The way the inonlan (placenta) is disposed of will determine the child’s degree of attachment to the home in its adulthood. If the inonlan is buried near the mid-post of the house, the child is likely to be a homebody. If the inonlan is buried at the post of the stairs, the child, even if it travels far, will always return home. And if the inonlan is thrown into the sea, the child will be a wanderer. If a breastfeeding mother eats a dish of jackfruit mixed with lumbay leaves (Gnetum gnemon) and stewed in coconut milk, it would reduce her breast milk.

The Romblomanon take notice of signs that foretell the death of relatives, such as a moon resembling a cradle, the combing of the hair at night, dreaming of losing a tooth, riding on a boat, or the chirping of the salagunting (beetle). Even a dying person can have a premonition about his death when he is heard to utter meaningful words about it. To forestall death, the person who hears it should interrupt the ominous speech and change the subject of the conversation.

When a person dies, the girls of the bereaved family wear black clothes, whereas the boys wear black ribbons. For three days, no member of the family is allowed to clean any part of the house, including the kitchen and the yard, because this will cause another death in the family. The dead person’s toes pointing toward each other or inclined inwards is an omen of another death in the family. During the belasyon (wake), food is served to neighbors and visitors to ensure the passage of the dead man’s soul to heaven. In more Christianized practices, the dead is consigned to God through nine nights of prayer or novena.

After the burial, the widow or the widower is not allowed to look out the window until after the third day. Relatives and other people who stay in the house where the death occurred are prohibited from combing or cutting their hair during those three days. On the third day after the burial, relatives participate in the gulgul (washing) to help the soul of the departed cross the River Jordan.

In Banton, a buhat (ritual) is conducted on the ninth night of the wake to determine the will of the deceased in the distribution of his or her properties to the surviving members of the family. With the help of an albularyo (medicine man), the following ritual objects are prepared: a silver ring, betel leaf, betel nut, lime, a basin of water, a cross, two candles, and some food offering. While prayers are uttered, the children of the deceased, one after another from the eldest to the youngest, face the basin where the ring is expected to float and move in a circular motion. If it moves fast, the child is believed to have been chosen to inherit a particular piece of property. If it does not move, the ritual will be repeated until it does.

There are several taboos and beliefs regarding domesticated animals as well. Bathing a cat or laughing at it causes lightning, thunder, and a heavy downpour. If an earthquake occurs while a hen is sitting on its eggs, the eggs will no longer hatch. To prevent the spread of a pestilence that has struck the hens next door, one hangs a huwag (rattan strip) around one’s house. To increase the milk supply of a sow that has just given birth, one feeds it from that side of a coconut half-shell with the three holes, through which much of the liquid of the sow’s feed will pour.

Romblon People Religious Beliefs and Practices

After all the various transformations and religious conversions that the Romblomanon have undergone, what has remained firm is their faith in Makaaku, the Mighty One. The coming of the Spaniards to Romblon resulted in a syncretic culture that combines Spanish influences with local beliefs. In Odiongan, Makaaku is venerated through pangopong, a ritual of thanksgiving, in which food offerings are placed on a platform in one corner of the house and offered up to Makaaku through incantations. The people then partake of the food and bury the used plate in the field as an offering to the spirits. It is also believed that sinful souls are exiled to Mount Cayatong in Tablas or Mount Ampongo in Banton. At the same time, Catholic teachings of the Holy Trinity, heaven, purgatory, and hell have been firmly imbibed. Priests, saints, and angels are perceived as the mediators between God and humans.

Hermanas de Maria on Good Friday inside San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Romblon, Romblon
The Hermanas de Maria on Good Friday inside San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Romblon, Romblon, 1955 (Ish Fabicon Collection)

Souls or the spirits of the dead are appeased through remembrance. A kalag is a departed soul that is unable or unwilling to leave earthly life because the person it belongs to is a sinner who did not repent before dying. A kalag may inflict kamalu-uy or sabid (soul sickness) on a person that it becomes attracted or attached to. The hands and feet of the malaut (persons inflicted with soul sickness) are cold and clammy; they have no appetite and may feel so debilitated they only want to sleep all the time. Anyone concerned might utter the formula phrase “purya muyu” to drive away the kalag and call in the miyugbuyung or folk doctor. The miyugbuyung’s curing ritual consists of drawing a cross on the stricken person’s forehead, hands, and feet with a piece of ginger, while performing the actions of constant kutibkutib (murmuring) and continual huy-ab (yawning). When the shaman finally identifies the kalag causing the illness, the pangalagkalag, which is anoffering of food, liquor, and tobacco, together with prayers, is made. Another curing ritual is the tuub, in which the miyugbuyung uses tawas (alum crystals), kamanyang (incense), and a coconut half-shell holding live coals. The tawas is sprinkled on the glowing coal and the shaman circles around the patient seven times while holding the shell low enough for the smoke to waft around the patient.

A muytu is a kalag that is seen as a flickering flame on the spot where a person has died suddenly, as in an accident or a violent act. The muytu of a miyugpanglanggab (land grabber) is condemned to flit back and forth between the spot where the boundary marker originally stood and the spot to where the landgrabber moved it.

The Romblomanon still believe in anito or engkanto (spirits) that inhabit the mortal world. These spirits live in balite or balete trees (Ficus), which they call nunuk or lonok, and the Romblomanon see to it that the trees are not destroyed, harmed or despised because the unseen inhabitants of these trees have the power to do harm or offer good luck. Particular mountainous places in the province are believed to be inhabited by these spirits, such as Calatong in southern Tablas, Payaopao in northern Tablas, and Mount Guiting-Guiting in Sibuyan. The nunukis feared as the habitat of powerful spirits, such as the kapre (from the Spanish cafre), which is a big creature five meters tall, and similar to a coconut tree. It appears at night and does not harm innocent persons but may also be malevolent when its habitat is not shown proper respect. A supernatural but undesirable ability that a person may have is to be a dyagun (evil spirit observer), who may fall ill from what he sees.

Besides good spirits that bring luck, there are wizards and witches that harm people. An example is the aswang, who eats babies and assumes different forms at night in search of victims. They can fly and cause illnesses on people they hate. In Odiongan, it is believed that aswang and spirits can be appeased through respect and compliance with their wishes. One of the people’s codes of courtesy and appeasement toward these spirits is to utter the phrase “tabi-tabi kaninyo” when requesting passage through places believed to be their abode. In Odiongan, if the spirits are displeased, the people conduct a buhat,consisting ofritual incantations and an offering of wine and animals, especially white-feathered and black-legged chickens. Displeased souls are appeased through parasay, a ritual involving the offering up of food such as fruits, crops, and rice, and animals such as chickens, pigs, and goats. Displeased aswang are repelled or appeased by the drinking of potions or the wearing of talismans.

The Romblomanon have the kinaagman,an amulet that a person wears to deflect evil and misfortune and to bring good fortune on oneself. The dimindimin or karminkarmin is pinned to the garments of a baby, a child, or a pregnant woman to deflect evil spirits.It can simply be a bullet casing or more elaborately, a small, red or black bag resembling a coin purse, in which a miyugbuyung places tiny pieces of the following items: banawug (a deep-sea plant); bawang (garlic); dyugdugay (alum); luya (ginger); inggu (gum resin); and uling (charcoal). To these may be added the diris, which is the strong musk of the singgayung (civet cat).

Similarly, the barang (amulet) protects a person from all physical encounters with the supernatural. One way of acquiring a barang is by swallowing a mutya, a small stone yielded by a certain type of banana at midnight on Good Friday. An object that shields one’s home from destructive forces is the palm leaf that has been blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday; during an electric storm, it is lit up and tossed out the window to prevent lightning from entering one’s house. On a malain nga adlaw (taboo day), a baby or child might have a makabuhay vine pass back and forth on its body; the same plant or its fruit is placed by the door to keep the aswang out.

Kilkig is a way of poisoning a hated person’s food with one’s rage or vengefulness, and which causes that person to become ill even if there is no perceivable medical condition in his or her body. Only the miyugbuyung has the secret knowledge for curing such ailments. Boils on the skin are believed to be an expression of an unseen being’s wrath. The curing ritual for this begins with the pagsapu, a ritual for diagnosing the disease. The miyugbuyung mixes and pounds together his secret ingredients with tawas. He wraps these in a piece of white cloth, which he rubs repeatedly on the sores, places it on a plate, and presses around it to learn what has caused the sores. The grainy texture of this wad of ingredients indicates that sand has caused the sores, for which the miyugbuyung also knows the cure.

A man suffering from unrequited love might ask the miyugbuyung to prepare a love potion, the secret ingredient of which is said to be a kind of oily perfume and over which the miyugbuyung prays to ensure its success. This is worn by the lovestruck man anywhere in his person. Women are not known to resort to this desperate measure.

Image of the Santo Niño de Romblon during a festival
Image of the Santo Niño de Romblon during a festival, 2014 (Jean Lanit, Provincial Government of Romblon Tourism Office)

The Romblomanon celebrate their nine-day town fiesta every January, in honor of the Santo Niño (Holy Child), patron saint of Romblon town. With Loarca’s expedition had come the image of the Santo Niño, a replica of the one in Cebu. Legend has it that when the expedition was ready to depart, strong typhoons prevented it from getting out of Romblon Bay. The Spaniards attempted seven times to leave, and each time they had to turn back. It was believed that the Santo Nino wanted to stay in Romblon. When the Spaniards left it on the shore, it stuck to its present place, and the expedition sailed safely out to sea. Hence, many natives were converted to the Catholic faith.

In December 1992, the holy image was lost and believed to have been stolen from the cathedral. It was recovered and returned to its place after more than two decades. Its return became a media event as devout Catholics joined in a joyous celebration.

Retablo of San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Romblon, Romblon
Retablo of San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Romblon, Romblon, 2014 (Joanner Fabregas, Wikimedia Commons)

Apart from Catholicism, other religions have penetrated Romblon. The Iglesia Filipinas Independiente (Philippine Independent Church also known as Aglipayan Church), was introduced by Reverend Jose Magbanua in 1906, and he was followed by more priests of this sect from Marinduque and Antique. The Baptist Mission was brought in by Modesto Formilleza in 1916; and the Seventh-day Adventist made its entry in 1929.

Romblon Traditional Architecture and Community

Many bridges and houses of stone from the 16th century dot the province of Romblon, particularly the capital. The San Jose Cathedral, now called Saint Joseph’s, and its accompanying bell tower date back to 1635 when the Augustinian Recollects arrived in the islands. The church has a Rococo-type altar and several distinctive paintings and icons.

Saint Joseph Cathedral in Romblon, Romblon
Saint Joseph Cathedral in Romblon, Romblon, 2014 (Jean Lanit, Provincial Government of Romblon Tourism Office)

Fort San Andres was built in 1640 by Father Agustin de San Pedro. Along with Fort Santiago on the opposite side of the town, it served to alert the people about the arrival of Moro invaders who would burn villages and carry off the villagers into slavery. After the construction of the towers, the biggest Moro invasion in 1753, when Moro fleets practically covered the entire Visayan seas, was repulsed. Today, the fort still stands beside the building of the weather bureau atop a hill overlooking the town and is used for navigational purposes. To make it more accessible to visitors, a 210-step stairway leading up to it has been constructed.

In 2012, the twin forts as well as Saint Joseph Cathedral were declared by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) as National Cultural Treasures after Romblon was declared a Heritage Province. Also declared Important Cultural Properties in the province were the Casa de San Fernando in Sibuyan, the Old Municipal Building, the Triada de Aguas, the colonial bridges, and the Guyangan Caves.

Traditional beliefs which guided the early Romblomanon in the construction of their houses are still prevalent among many of them. The time for building a new house is determined not only by the availability of material or the suitability of the weather but also by the beliefs associated with each month of the year. Houses built during the months of March, June, September, and November will bring luck and prosperity to their owners. Owners of houses built in July will also prosper if they raise animals such as pigs and cattle. Houses built during the months of May and October will easily catch fire, and all household belongings including the owners will perish with the fire.

In the selection of housing materials, the Romblomanon believe that a nunuk tree where nunuk vine has grown is not suitable for building a house, as this is the dwelling place of an engkanto. Bamboo to be used for construction is cut in December to make it more durable. Dead trees are not used, as this may cause the family members to be sickly.

Building a house disturbs the unseen owners of the land; therefore, a peace offering is prepared for the spirits. For this purpose, the Romblomanon kill either a pig or pure white chicken and pour the animal’s blood into the holes where the posts will stand. Burying a centavo and herbal medicine beneath every post ensures prosperity and good health for the future residents. The posts are placed clockwise in order for it to become windproof.

Transferring to another house is best during full moon and never on a quarter moon. The first commodities brought into the new house are water, rice, and salt to ensure that the prime necessities of life will always be abundant. Once in the house, the jar is not emptied for one week, and the stove is kept open for one day. During the first seven days, the family avoids spending a centavo. Permission of the spirits is asked when repairs are made on the house; otherwise, the person who repairs it will get sick.

The most numerous type of bayay (house) in Romblon is made of bamboo and thatch. One type is the kamarin, which has perpendicular gables, and another is the pinanuluk, which has pitched gables. The frames for the roof and wall are bamboo; the floor consists of split bamboo strips; and the cords tying the thatching materials to the frame are thin, narrow bamboo strips. The dugdug (roofing material) can be cogon grass, galvanized iron, nipa shingles, or salirangdang (woven coconut frond shingles). The walls are of sawali (woven bamboo), sikyat (bamboo pole and strips), or salirangdang. Aslar (marble tiles) may also be used for the outer wall. Inside the house, the kitchen is at one end, which contains the abuhan (fireplace) with three rocks forming a triangle. A sig-ang (fire stand) is a metal grill that lies across the rocks and over the fire; a pot or pan is placed on the grill for cooking. A langkapi functions as the dining table, 3 meters long, 1.5 meters wide, and a meter high. Outside is a storage room called the suyambi (lean-to), which is attached to the house. The lambun is a shed that a farmer has built in the middle of a field as a resting place.

Romblon Handicrafts

Basketry is not only a major industry in Romblon but also a source of aesthetic pride. Romblon baskets are unique in material and weaving technique. An important basket material is kokolongkoy vine, about three millimeters in diameter and used to form a small bowl in a twilled technique called roping. This formation highlights the natural luster and resilience of the vine and makes an unusual basket with great spring and expansiveness. This technique is used only in Romblon.

Detail of a petate woven buri
Detail of a petate woven buri (Philippine Craftsman, Bureau of Education, 1913, Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

Another technique involves the splitting of the kokolongkoy vine to form a jar-shaped butit (locust jar) for the collection of grasshoppers. This highly decorative craft allows enough air inside to keep the captured insect alive. A fitted cap formed from a split kokolongkoy vine, braided and knotted, is placed on top of the jar. The split vine may also serve as an open screen or drying tray when formed in a weblike structure surrounded by a frame made of whole vine in twined construction.

Another popular basket material is the nito vine, used principally for covered market baskets and bowls of various sizes. The usual design would be dark nito woven against a ground of light-colored vine. Other products use a combination of buri strips overlaid with split nito by means of plaiting. For the export baskets, many other kinds of vines are available, such as malipali, ungali, and sagagap. There are huwag baskets for carrying fish and shrimp: the ayat is a rattan colander for collecting freshwater shrimp in brooks and ponds, or small fish. It is 32 centimeters high, and its mouth is 15 centimeters in diameter. Other products of leaf and vine weaving in Romblon are coiled baskets, small coin purses, men’s hats and salakot, nested sets of as many as six boxes, covered jars, open bowls, and covered trays.

Palm leaf art is made from hanig (young, green fronds): the pusu is a fist-shaped, woven pouch for sticky rice, and the lukay is woven for Palm Sunday. The typical lukay is two feet tall, its fronds woven in a zigzag pattern, with the kugung (midribs) protruding or looped at the top. After the priest has blessed it, it is displayed in the house, sometimes above the door or window, until it is time to replace it with a fresh one the following Palm Sunday.

Petate (double-layered mats) may be of sabat (dyed buri strips). Before starting, the weaver counts the number of buri strips that she will weave into the mat, so that when the colored buri strips meet in the middle of the mat, they are exactly the same number on each side. This assures the symmetry of the design.

An example of pottery excavated in Banton
An example of pottery excavated in Banton (Asi Studies for the Culture and the Arts and Ish Fabicon)

Romblomanon Literary Arts

Most of the collected samples of Romblomanon literature are in the form of aphorisms and proverbs, which use metaphorical expressions in referring to traditional lore and everyday experiences. In content, these proverbs may have a wide variety of subject matter and may explain general views and laws of life, recommend certain virtues, condemn vices, and express a system of values. Romblomanon proverbs may be prosaic, as in the example below:

Filipino man under tree on island drawing
Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang

Ang tawong may calisdanan, buot guid buligan.

(A person in need, heeds help.)

Or it may be poetic, with monorhyming couplets of five- to 12-syllable lines:

Ka tawong marahan magpanaw,

matunok man ay mababaw.

(Those who walk slowly will have

a shallow wound when they step on a thorn.)

Others are longer, with three- to four-line stanza forms:

Ang kawayan nga tubo,

sa langit nagtudlo;

kung gumolang kang tumambo,

sa duta nakaduko.

(A bamboo while young

always points to heaven;

but the moment it gets old

it bows to the lowly earth.)

The most important stylistic device used in proverbs is the metaphor. Images in these metaphorical proverbs are derived from the common everyday life and occupations of the people—plants and animals, common objects at home and in the working areas, customs and beliefs, food, and games (Newell 2006):

Ang tawu nga madali mautu-utu, bisan pantingi na

ning bugas, itatangway pa niya ning tuba.

(One who is easily fooled will spend his money for

coconut wine rather than for rice).

Ang miyugpangisda dapat may ginahipid nga

kwarta para nga kung panahun nang tinguyanun,

hay may makakaun kag indi magutum.

(If a fisherman saves for the rainy season, he is

certain to have something to eat and will not go


Para makahuman nang isa ka libra nga dugus,

ang isa nga putyukan kahinangyanun gid nga

magbalikbalik sa buyak ning kinsi mil kabalik.

(So that it will be able to make one pound of honey,

one honeybee must go back to the flowers fifteen

thousand times.)

Other examples of proverbs are the following (Demetrio 1991):

Ka bato ay inde magso-or sa sehi.

(The stone will not go to the snail.)

Kung matutubi-an ka baka, ay talagang makaba.

(The frogs are very noisy when there is much water.)

Drawing of frogs in river while raining at the forests
Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang

The Philippines’s history of colonization and periodic wars may be summarized in a Romblomanon aphorism about the relationship between soldiers and civilians (Newell 2006, 124):

Kung makakita ang manga sundalu nang baka,

ginaihaw, kung makasayang ning bayay nga igwa

nagi-uk, ipabayu sa manga sibilyan.

(When soldiers happen to see a cow, it is butchered;

when they happen to pass by a house where rice has

been trodden out, it is pounded with a pestle by the


Mutda: Mga Tulang Asi, 1916-2004 (Pearl: Asi Poems, 1916-2004), 2005, is an anthology of Asi or Bantoanon poems, and includes three poems by Cornelio Faigao, in whose honor the national writers’ workshop at the University of San Carlos, Cebu is named. Born in Jones, Banton Island in 1908 and a graduate of the Romblon High School and the University of the Philippines, Faigao was better known as a poet, fictionist, and literary critic in English. A story of his was included in Jose Garcia Villa’s honor roll in 1936. However, Faigao also wrote a few poems in his first language of Asi, such as “Patawar sa Kahilom” (Forgive the Silence) (Fabicon et al. 2005):

Ka pinalangga it at kalag

Inde nato gingayanan;

Ag it ato nahipira

Sa suyor it rughan.

Kung malikwar sa at rila

Ay mahusay ka pagmitlang;

Kung masikwil ka at bibig

Ay pay inde gibuhian.

Ka ida ngayan ay pay rugos

Nak inde nato igpaudak,

Pay manipis nak salamin

Ag malenghur nak buyak.

Maathag nak natatago

Hinipir nak nararadag;

Ka pinalangga it ak puso

Ay inde nato ikarugsak.

Kada ngani ako hale,

Nupay inde ak mamitlang;

Ngayani yang sidang buyak,

Panayumsum, bitoon man.

Mahilom nak rapit-hapon,

Kagab-ihon nak mabuyan,

Ka pinalangga it at puso’y

Inde nato gingayanan.

(The love of our soul

will not be named

and we will keep hidden

inside our heart.

If the tongue were to utter it,

It would be so sweet to mention;

If it were to brush our lips,

We would not want to release it.

The name is like a downpour of rain

that we would not want to throw away;

like a thin sheet of glass

and a bud of a flower.

Carefully hidden

is the adoration I feel;

O beloved of my heart

We have nothing to fear.

That is why I am here,

But I can’t seem to utter it;

Let us just name it “flower,”

“twilight” or “star.”

Silent is the twilight,

Moonlit is the night;

Yet, the beloved of my heart

We still could not name.)

An army of ants helping Magbayutu gather millet seeds
An army of ants helping Magbayutu gather millet seeds (Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang)

National Artist for Literature N. V. M. Gonzalez spent the first five years of his life in Romblon, a period to which he alludes in his first novel Winds of April, 1941, and in such short stories as “On the Eve,” 1979, and “Confessions of a Dawn Person,” 1997. Award-winning Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., born in Alcantara, Romblon, writes about his home province in his novel Killing Time in a Warm Place, 1992. Here, the main character recalls his bucolic childhood in Romblon before coming of age in the turbulent years of the martial law era.

Groups such as Silak, Binuot, and Sanrokan have assembled publications, whether in print or online, to encourage Asi writers to cultivate their literary arts. In efforts to revalue and promote the Asi language, writers’ workshops have been organized in the region.

Romblomanon Legends

Video: Local Legends: A Reflection of Romblomanon Culture

The Romblomanon have their own version of the legend of the sky maiden, which is widespread not only in the Philippines but all over Asia. One day, Magbayutu is at the riverbank building a boat when three winged maidens come down from the sky. He keeps out of their sight as they undress and take off their wings to bathe. For several evenings after that, Magbayutu secretly watches the three sisters bathing until he falls in love with Maria, the youngest. Magbayutu furtively hides Maria’s wings so that she will be forced to stay. When the two sisters have to fly off, Magbayutu emerges from hiding and offers to take Maria home with him. Later they have a child. One day, while Magbayutu is away fishing, Maria discovers her wings hidden in the roof. She puts them on and flies to her sky home, calling from above for Magbayutu to return home to care for their infant son. An elder with magic powers helps Magbayutu to travel in an instant to the kingdom of Maria’s family. Discovering Magbayutu’s deception on his daughter, the king gives Magbayutu two punishments. First, Magbayutu is to spread millet seeds on the sand and gather these at the end of the day. That evening, as Magbayutu weeps hopelessly over the impossible task, an army of ants carries the seeds into Magbayutu’s sack. Magbayutu’s second punishment is to collect water in a copra basket. Again, Magbayutu weeps, but an eel helps him by sealing all the holes in the basket with its slime. Magbayutu then carries the basketful of water back to the palace. And so the king allows Magbayutu and Maria to marry.

The image of the Santo Niño, carved out of black wood with gold boots, stands confined at the Saint Joseph Cathedral but a number of tales tell of sightings of him in various places. This 30-centimeter-tall image is sometimes seen playing with little children, but it immediately disappears when approached by an adult. Many times, it would be standing in its place in the cathedral, its clothes and feet stained with mud, although these had been unsoiled the previous night. The belief that the religious icon roams around at night and returns to the church altar with its dress filled with amor seco (love grass) continues to circulate among the faithful. Thus, it is said that a resident priest of the church once cut off the legs of the image to prevent it from walking around.

Romblomanon Folk Songs and Rituals

The Romblomanon have songs for the different life stages intimating a close relationship between life and music. Thus, songs may be classified as cradle songs, love and courtship songs, work songs, and death and burial songs. The kabubuyaw, also known as langas, are humorous songs that may also carry a cautionary word, particularly for children. For example (Newell 2006; Perlas 2011):

Dancers at the Saginyogan Festival
Dancers at the Saginyogan Festival, 2015 (Provincial Government of Romblon Tourism Office)


Kay, kay, kay, kay

May manok akong bukay

Binuyang ko sa baybay

Nagdaog pero patay

Nanay ko, Tatay ko

Hatagi ako piso

Anhon mo ang piso

Ibakay ko tinapay.


Kay kay kay kay

I had a white hen

I placed it in a cockfight by the river

It won but it died

My Mother, my Father

Please give me a peso

So I can buy bread.)

A son’s desire to fulfill his mother’s wish as he goes to seek his fortune echoes his mother’s warning against violating the taboos on the gods’ favorite pet (Perlas 2011):

Ang Tinagong Dagat

Ang tugon ni Nanay con aco’y palaron

Bantoon, Simara, imo nga patagon

Mapatag mo gani dalhon sa acon

Ang tinagong dagat imo nga salucon.

Ang tinagong dagat daan co natundugan

Sa isla ng Tablas, puntay Cabibihan.

Madamo nga isda ang nang lutaw lutaw

May iho, may pagi, bukay nga pawican

Bucay nga pawikan kung igtinguhaon

Mahugang pagdakop con imo paunhon

Cag ina may bantay nga dili kitaon

Ang kilat kag linti, ulan ang matunton.

(Tinagong Dagat

Mother wished that, should I be fortunate

Bantoon, Simara, I should level

When you have levelled it, bring it to me

And scoop some water from Tinagong Dagat.

Tinagong-Dagat at once I found

At Tablas Island, at the end of Cabibihan.

There were fish aplenty floating in it

There was the iho, manta ray, and a white sea turtle

The white sea turtle if you will persist in having

It is hard to catch, how can it be done,

Because it has a guardian that cannot be seen

Lightning, thunder, rain will pour down.)

A love-and-courtship song may be a complex weave of several narrative lines, as in this example (Perlas 2011):

Panit Ko Maitom

Panit ko maitom, guya ko malaw-ay

Di ko iga-impon sa iban nga dagway

Paano na lang ako pirmi sa balay

Para may sugo-suguon si Nanay, si Tatay.

Si Nanay, si Tatay daw indi ko pagibulag

Bisan kami imol na wala gid it manggad

Kami naga-utang syempre ako nagabayad

Imol, manggaranon sa amon naanad.

Maley kita, Inday, indi man masyado

Odya ang singsing mo sa tudlo ko bol-a

May isa ka pispis nga nagtingala

May nobya ka gali sa lain nga banwa.

May nobya ka gali, may nobyo man ako

Bisan maitom lang, palangga nana ako

Onhon ko maputi, medyo mistisahon

Matood nga may alam, wala naluyag sa akon.

(My Skin Is Dark

My skin is dark, my face ugly

I don’t belong with other creatures.

Woe is me, stuck at home

For Mother and Father to lean on.

Mother and Father will not part from me

Even if we’re poor and without wealth.

We borrowed some money, which I must inevitably

pay for

Poor, rich, they’re used to us by now.

Come, Inday, that isn’t really so.

Here is your ring, take it from my fingers.

There was a bird that was surprised

That in another country you have a girlfriend


You have a girlfriend already, I have a boyfriend too.

Dark as I am, he loves me anyway.

What would I do with a fair-skinned one, a mestizo

Intelligent though he be, if he doesn’t desire me.)

Or it may simply be about a misunderstanding between two lovers (Obrique 1983):

Ano ang Dahilan

Bigla haw nahangit

Ano ang dahilan

Kung pamatian mo lang

Ang gugmang nahihidlaw

Ang tangis ko adlaw-adlaw

Ikaw ay para sa akon Inday.

(What Is the Reason

Don’t feel jealous

About what happened

If you’ll only listen

To my lonely heart

It is constantly yearning

For you, my Inday.)

A song may use nature imagery to express a lover’s yearning (Obrique 1983):

Ang Higugma cag Pispis

Kung ako lang ay pispis

Lupadon gid kita

Ogaling ikaw ay odyan sa langit

Kag sa akon ay naka tan-aw.

(The Love of a Bird

If only I were a bird

I’d fly my way to you

But you are in the sky

Watching over me.)

Work songs are sung by men and women as they perform their tasks in the house, in the fields, or at sea. Sung to relieve boredom, these songs try to lighten work with humor, like this fishing song (Perlas 2011):

Pantat nga Bungoton

Toyang hamos manawayan

Sa suba nga ginbirayan

Dira ka Toyang sa pampang

Aton patakason, pantat nga bungoton.

(Whiskered Mudfish

Toyang, let’s go fishing

In the river where we hold the biniray

Stay there, Toyang, on the bank,

We’ll let float up the whiskered mudfish.)

This tuba gatherer’s song is a pithy story about the state of his bamboo container and its effect on his tuba supply (Perlas 2011):


Ako’y si Tururot, usang mananggít,

Sabit ka kalawit, subukon it igot,

Waya ako malay, kato yakìy yubót,

Ogáey ka tuba’y, perming nauurot.

(I am Tururot, tuba gatherer

Slung on my shoulder is the container, weevils fill its


Little did I know, there was a hole in it,

No wonder the tuba is always gone.)

For all its lightheartedness, the folk song tradition is not wanting in historical consciousness (Perlas 2011, 308):

Ang Banog

Ari na ang banog halin sa España

Maluya ang lawas cay halin sa guerra.

Iyang guina ca-on pulbura cag bala;

Iyang guina inom gatas ng dalaga.

(The Hawk

Here comes the hawk that’s come from Spain

Its body is weak because it has come from the war.

Its diet is gunpowder and bullets;

Its drink is maiden’s milk.)

Singing and dancing are the highlights of a wedding reception. After the wedding, the newlyweds return to the bride’s home for the alabadu, a ritual in which the newlyweds each lights a candle at the family altar and kneel in front of it. A group of elderly women surround them and sing Spanish songs about their transition from singlehood to their new, married state. The wedding feast is either begun or ended by the buyang (money-pinning dance), performed by the newlyweds while the bride’s relatives pin paper money on the groom’s clothes and vice-versa; alternatively, the newlyweds dance the saboangan or galahan while their guests toss coins and paper money at them. This signifies the couple’s first income.

At a wake for the dead, the people play games and sing songs to while away long hours of vigil. A popular song for wakes is “Ahay Singsing” (Oh Ring), sung by both young and old who participate in the game. The game starts with participants forming a circle and assigning an “it” in the middle. The participants hold hands and swing them alternately. A ring is secretly passed from one person to another. The objective of the game is for the “it” to catch the person who holds the ring before it reaches its point of origin. When the “it” has successfully guessed the holder of the ring, the one caught will become the next “it.” The “it” is spared from the penalty, which is usually in the form of a pledge of a song. The game is accompanied by singing of the lyrics (Obrique 1983):

Ahay singsing

Lakot sing madali

Padakto sa hari

At reyna ng madali

Ang bantay mag-usay

Singsing sa gihapon.

(Ring, oh, ring

You better move fast

Go to his Highness,

The king and the queen.

Immediately the guard will

Constantly search for you.)

Three days after the burial, the Romblomanon go through a rite called belasyon in which the relatives and friends offer prayers for the departed. After the rite, the “Ahay Singsing” is played, accompanied by another song with traces of Spanish influence.

Early Romblomanon theater was in the form of rituals performed as peace offerings to the unseen spirits. These rituals were handed down from one generation to another and some are still performed in remote communities of Romblon province.

An example is a ritual called mahikaw. Usually held in January, June, or December, this ritual is performed by the head of the family to invoke the spirits’ protection of the family from sickness and other misfortunes. Before the ritual proper, the head of the family prepares seven bundles of suman (rice cake), each bundle consisting of seven pieces; seven sticks of tobacco; a young banana leaf; a glass of tuba; a glass of water; charcoal and incense; two lighted candles; and a piece of clothing used by the head of the family. An important element in this ritual is the chicken, which is delicately prepared by cutting off the head and making sure that the organs are intact. The chicken’s head is set aside while the rest of the chicken is boiled for the offering.

At eight o’clock in the evening, these paraphernalia are meticulously arranged before the bedroom altar. A buri mat is set on the floor, at the center of which the banana leaf is placed. The chicken’s head is fastened again to its body to make it appear whole again, after which it is placed on top of the folded piece of clothing. Four tobacco sticks, four bundles of suman, and three pieces of rice cake are set on the right side of the chicken while on the left side are three tobacco sticks, three bundles of suman, and three pieces of rice cake. The remaining piece of rice cake is placed on top of the chicken. The glasses of tuba and water are set on each side of the mat. Candles are then lighted before a religious image.

As the ritual begins, family members gather around the mat. The head of the family chants a prayer as he spreads the incense smoke from the coconut shell to the entire room. He repeats a chant seven times; then he sprinkles first the water, then the tuba, seven times each over the offering. He throws these beneath the house, sprinkles water over these seven times, and ends his prayers.

What remains of the offering is divided in two. The first half is distributed among all those present in the room, and they must consume everything before they leave the area. The other half is shared with the other relatives in the house. After they have eaten, the head of the family buries the chicken’s head, which serves as protection against sicknesses and misfortune.

This practice is handed down by the head of the family to the eldest child. If the child, however, wishes to put an end to this practice, the head of the family must bury all the offerings to signify the end of the tradition. If the ritual is to be continued, the banana leaf is stored. It is the gender of the chicken that determines the storing place of the banana leaf. If the chicken is male, the leaf is placed on the porch ceiling, but if female, the leaf is placed on the bedroom ceiling. The Romblomanon who practice this ritual are consistent in choosing the gender of the chicken.

Another Romblomanon ritual is the paghahalin (transferring). Usually performed on a Saturday, this ritual is done to cure the sick. In a remote area, a makeshift house is built under a tree. The head of the family prepares food offerings, which he places in a basket tied with a yantok (rattan). He takes this basket to the makeshift house and scatters the food inside. During the ritual, he chants prayers for the spirits and malignos (malignant spirits).

A commencement ceremony performed just before planting or harvesting is called tuna (beginning). For this ritual, leaves of tanglad (lemongrass) or those of nipa palm are used. Prayers are offered to the spirits for a bountiful harvest. Among the Unhan, the start of planting is timed with the coming of a new moon, low tide, or a lucky day.

A harvest ritual is performed when farmers begin their first harvest. In this rite, a farmer takes seven stalks of rice and leaves them in the place of harvest. Then, the farmer harvests one basketful of rice and puts it away in the granary. It is believed that with this ritual, the spirits will help the farmer harvest the rice quickly and will provide a bountiful harvest.

During the town fiesta in January, the people hold the biniray, in which they decorate themselves with flowers and vines, paint their faces, and dance in the streets. A fluvial procession led by a ship carrying the replica of the image of the Holy Child circles the bay seven times to reenact the Spaniards’ futile attempt to leave the bay. In fulfillment of a vow to the Holy Child, some perform the ati-ati, covering themselves with soot to look like the Aeta. Still vivid in the memory of the elders is the kulukyu or sarswila, musical stage plays that used to be performed by local artists during town fiestas.


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1 comment:

  1. Maraming Salamat sa salaysay nak kali. Pay imaw kali ka pinakakumpletong storya it ato Romblon. Mabuhay kamu! C. Fortu Montesa.


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