Wednesday, October 12, 2011

History of Mindanao, Part III: The Bagobo Lumad, Circa 1910, Part 3

In this excerpt, the third from American Anthropologist Fae Cole Cooper's "The Wild Tribes of Davao District," (, Cooper discusses the Bagobo's Animist beliefs at a time in which Christianity and its cancerous missionaries had yet to twist the arms of most Bagobo. In this, Cooper's contribution is invaluable. With groups today, virtually all of them based in Western countries, the Bagobo's traditional mores have been greatly eroded. Today Bagobo Sprirituality is like that of most Philippine (non-Muslim) ethnicities, a synchrestic blend of Christianity with a sheen of Animism. This isn't to judge this new hybrid Belief System, only to lament the chances lost to consider what came before it and to greatly rue Westerners operating under their (usually) White Man's Burden mindset. Enticing tribes with infrastructural trinkets like foot paths, electrical generators, and food staple allowances IF they agree to allow a church and church run school to exist in their midst... AND then ONLY IF they show regular participation in its activities, is about as disgusting as disgusting gets from my perspective and mind you, Mindanao is a place where "disgusting" comes a dime a dozen every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

All Belief Systems offer lessons for non-adherants even if only to learn more about how its purveying culture developed and how it interacted with others. The extinction of ancient fonts of wisdom is a lot like the extinction of a language. It hurts non-adherants just as it hurts those who contributed towards that particular wealth of knowledge.

Cooper arrived in Davao District, which at the time extended all the way to today's Region 13, aka Caraga. It encompassed today's Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, and Compostela Valley (ComVal) Provinces. Its coastal environs were peopled with a roughly even mix of Christian and Muslim villages, including recently Christianised Animists, people whom the Spanish classified as "Conquistas," idiomatically meaning "Civilised," though the literal definition, quite ironically, is, "The Conquered Ones." The vast interior, a portion still uncharted by the early 1900s, was entirely Animisy. It is this last demographic whom Cooper focused upon. Working on a grant from the Filed Museum of Chicago in the United States, in the then nascent field of ethnography, Cooper hoped to index the Animist Tribes and their way of life which even then was on its well trodden path towards extinction.


"Sketch of Fundamental Religious Beliefs"

Although we shall treat religion more fully in a later paragraph, it is desirable that we now gain an idea of those beliefs which enter intimately into every activity of the daily life of this people.

The Bagobo believes in a mighty company of superior beings who exercise great control over the lives of men. Above all is Eugpamolak Manobo, also called Manama, who was the first cause and creator of all. Serving him is a vast number of spirits not malevolently inclined but capable of exacting punishment unless proper offerings and other tokens of respect are acorrded them. Below them is a horde of low, mean spirits who delight to annoy mankind with mischievious pranks, or even to bring sickness or disaster to them. To this class generally belong the spirits who inhabit mountains, cliffs, rocks, trees, rivers, and springs. Standing between these two types are the shades of the dead who, after they have departed from this life, continue to exercise considerable influence, for good or bad, over the living.

We have still to mention a powerfull class of supernatural beings who, in strength and importance, are removed only a little from the Creator. These are the patron spirits.

Guarding the warriors are two powerful beings, Mandarangan and his wife, Darago, who are popularly supposed to make their home in the crater of the volcano. They bring success in battle and give to the victors loot and slaves. In return for these favours they demand, at certain times, the sacrifice of a slave. Dissentions [sic], disasters, and death will be sure to visit the people should they fail to make the offering. Each year in the month of December the people are reminded of their obligation by the appearance in the sky of constellation known as "Balatik," (Orion) and soon thereafter a human sacrifice doubtless takes place in some one or more of the Bagobo settlements.

A man to come under the protection of these two dieties must first have taken at least two human lives. He is then entitled to wear a peculiar chocolate-colored kerchief with white patterns in it. When he has killed four he may wear blood-red trousers, and when his score has reached six he may don a full blood-red suit and carry a sack of the same color. Such a man is known as a "Magani" and his clothing marks him as a person of distinction and power in his village. He is one of the leaders in a war party; he is chosen by the datu to inflict the death penalty when it has been decreed; and he is one of the assistants in the yearly sacrifice. It is not necessary that those he kills, in order to gain the right to wear the red suit, be warriors. On the contrary he may kill women and children from ambush and still receive credit for the achievement, provided his victims are from a hostile village. He may count those of his townspeople whom he has killed in a fair fight, and the murder of an unfaithful wife and her admirer is credited to him as a meritous deed.

The workers in iron or brass, the weavers of hemp cloth, and the mediums or shamans- known as "Mabalian"- are under the protection of special dieties for whom they make ceremonies at certain times of the year.

The "Mabalian" just mentioned are people- generally women past middle life- who, through sufficient knowledge of the spirits and their desires, are able to converse with them, and to make ceremonies and offerings which will attract their attention, secure their good will, or appease their wrath. They may have a crude knowledge of medicine plants, and, in some cases, act as exorcists. The ceremonies which are performed at critical periods of life are conducted by these "Mabalian," and they also direct offerings associated with planting and harvesting. They are generally the ones that erect the little shrines seen along the trails or in the forests, and it is they who put offerings in the "spirit boxes" in the houses. Although they, better than all others, know how to read the signs and warnings sent by the spirits, yet, all of the people know the meaning of certain omens sent through the medium of birds and the like. The call of the "Limokon" (Calcophops Indica, a Dove, and in this way their belief is very similar to that of the Tagalogs in the pre-Hispanic Era as recorded by Juan de Plasencia in 1589) is recognized as an encouragement or a warning and its message will be heeded without fail. In brief, every natural phenomenon and every living thing is caused by or is subject to the will of unseen beings, who in turn can be influenced by the acts of individuals. As a result everything of importance is undertaken with reference to these superior powers.

"Dwellings- Household Utensils"

The houses found in the coast villages line well marked streets and differ in few respects from those built by the Christianized natives throughout the islands. Even in the more isolated districts the effect of this outside influence is marked. However, we can state with confidence that village life is a new idea to the Bagobo. He has, from time immemorial, built his home near to his fields, and there he and his family reside, except during festivals or when extreme danger threatens. At such times all go to the house of the local ruler and there unite in the festivities of the common defense.

The smaller dwellings have but one room, the floor of which is raised several feet above the ground and is supported by many piles. A part of the latter extend five or six feet above the floor and form supports for the side and cross-beams. From the center of the room lighter poles project eight or ten feet above the cross-beams and form the main supports for the ridge timber. From beams at the ends and sides of the room similar pieces run to this central ridge; below this they are joined together, at intervals, by means of horizontal poles and cross-beams. To this framework are lashed strips of "Palma Brava," supports for a covering of closely laid "Runo," on which rests the final toping of flattened bamboo. The ridge pole is always at a sufficient height above the floor to give the roof a steep peak, and is of such length that, at the top, the side roof overhangs the ends. The roof generally rises in two pitches and always extends past the sides ofthe room.

In house building, the roof, which is made first, is raised to the desired height, thus serving as a shelter for the workers until the structure is complete. Resting on the cross-beams, just below the rafters, a number of loose boards are laid to form a sort of attic or storage room where all unused articles, and odds and ends are allowed to accumulate.

The sides of the room, which are of flattened bamboo, are about six feet in height, and extend only to within a foot of the roof. In the walls small peep holes are cut so that the inhabitants can look outside without being seen.

The flooring, which is generally made of strips of Palma Brava, is in two levels, forming a narrow elevated platform at one end of the room on which a part of the family sleep.

The furniture of this house is very scanty. Near to the door is the "stove"- a bed of ashes in which three stones are sunk to form a support for the pots and jars and nearby a stand a few native jars and sections of bamboo filled with water. On a hangar above the fire may be found articles of food, seeds, and the like, which need protection from flies and insects. Against the wall is a bamboo rack, filled with Chinese plates, or half coconut shells which serve as dishes. Near to the stove is a rice mortar standing on its own wooden pedestal which reaches to the ground.

A child's cradle, made of a blanket suspended hammock-like between the wall and a beam support, will probably be found. A few boxes and jars, usually of Chinese make, and always a copper gong or two are regular furnishings, while to these can be added a miscellany of clothing, looms, spears, shields, meat blocks, spoons, and the like. Akin to furniture, since they are found in every house, are little basket-like receptacles made by splitting one end of a bamboo pole into several vertical strips and then weaving in other shorter horizontal strips. These are attached to walls and supporting poles, and in them offerings are made to the various spirits.

This is our picture of a typical home. It is not a cheery place by day, for the lack of windows, as well as a fog of smoke from the open stove, makes it dark and gloomy. Nevertheless, since the house offers a cool retreat from the blazing sun, and the smoke-laden air is free from flies and mosquitoes, it is a popular resort for all members of the family during the hottest part of the day. The little light, which filters in through the many cracks in the floors and walls, is sufficient to allow the women to spin, dye, weave, and decorate their clothing, or to engage in other activities. After dark the resinous nuts of the "Bitaog Tree," or leaf covered resin torches are burned, and by their uncertain light the women and men carry on their labors until far into the night. Entrance to the dwelling is gained by means of a notched log, bamboo pole, or by a ladder of the same material. As a protection against strong winds many props are placed against the sides of the house, and what large trees are available the dwellings are further secured by being anchored to them with rattan lines.


In my next "Wild Tribes" excerpt I will continue where I left off, with Cooper offering a detailed description of a datu's home and the Bagobo Cuisine.

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