Tagabawa: The southern folks

SunStar Davao has embarked on a special report series to give a deeper insight into the 11 tribes residing in Davao City that were highlighted during the Kadayawan sa Dabaw. This is the second of the series featuring two more tribes, the Tagabawa and Kagan.

TAGABAWA means people of the south as bawa means south. Like many of the Tagabawa-Bagobo, there remains a few of their elders who practice the ways of their ancestors. But present-day descendants are no longer as well-versed.

"Altho naay mga kabataan na naa na sa syudad, pero naa gihapon sa uban sa tribo na gina-practice gihapon ang culture (There are the younger ones who now live urbanized lives, but there are still those in the tribe who still practice our culture)," said Tagabawa Deputy Mayor Sheirelle Uy Anino, granddaughter of long-time Tagabawa Deputy Mayor Gregoria Uy of Catigan, Toril.

Jenfin Puroc Aguan, who emerged as the Hiyas ng Kadayawan 2017, is amongthe few who remain well-versed in their culture, having grown up in a village where the Tagabawa nurtured what is theirs.

"Gina-treasure gihapon ang tugtog og mga gamit, og kanang mga sayaw-sayaw (We still treasure the music, instruments, and our dances)," she said.

Among the dances that have been restored is the Bad-bad Tangkulo. This is a dance to drive away evil spirits and bring peace, understanding and prosperity accompanied by a full Tagabawa band made of the grand agong, the gandingan, standing kulintang, gabang, gimba, gimbar, and gimbe drums, with lantugy and palandag, the karakas, the kombeng (kubing), daging salappa, pangak Mannanap, and Maginsayo Lisu-Batu-Baklayan.

There is also the Siniduran, which is an offering dance for welcoming guests and opening negotiations for peace and development. It is also danced to a full Tagabawa ensemble.

But like many tribal folks, as well, it's the conversion to Christianity that is at the root of their changed ways.

"Sa una ang ginatoohan ang atoang ginoo na ginatawag na Manama, karon ang mga Tagabawa nag-ano na sila sa Alliance; open na sila sa Bible (Before, our ancestors only called on the Creator Manama. Now, Tagabawas have converted to the Alliance Church, they now accept the Bible)," she added.

Before all this, the Bagobo tribe, specifically the Tagabawa was held in high esteem by the Jesuit missionaries during the Spanish regime.

In Fr. Juan Doyle's letter to the Rector of Ateneo de Manila on board Francisco Reyes on May 30, 1888 regarding this Mt. Apo expedition on May 10-19, 1888, he wrote:

"The Bagobo race is, without doubt, the most advanced and intelligent of all pagans in the Philippine archipelago Divine Providence has set aside for their habitat and dwelling place. Of robust physique, they patiently bear with heavy work, especially traveling. They are of a dignified bearing and at times even handsome and attractive."

Dominant color among the attires of the Tagabawa is the color maroon, which quickly distinguishes them from the other tribe that are predominantly red and blue.

The Bagobo-Tagabawa had a well-defined social structure even in those long-ago years, which appoints roles on the people based on their strengths and recognized skills, talents, and special affinity to nature.

The community is normally headed by a Matanam tugal. The phrase matanam tugallan refers to a respected and brilliant-minded elders and a highly-evolved mature preson in the tribe. They were later called Datu, read a research by one Anita Orteza as told by Datu Isidro Anac, Datu Pitanio Atan, and pastor Roland Utay.

In Sonia Mangune's Tagabawa-Bagobo research for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), she writes that a Tagabawa community is divided into three classes; the Magani, the Mabalian, and the slaves. The Magani are the warriors andthe Mabalian is the priestess.

But in Orteza's research, there are more roles attributed to different members.

The Matanam tugal is supported by a council of elders called the rimmpung ka matanam ag tugallan who serve as consultants, advisers, and jurors in the community.

There is the Tara-nitoan or the spiritual guide who leads the rituals for planting, hunting and gathering, harvest, marriage, and other spiritual activities.

The Tarabawi-an and Mabalian are the traditional healers. The tarabawian are the healers, the mabali-an the traditional hilot.

The Panday-Puto is the blacksmith, a very important member of the village where menfolk are always armed with knives, swords, and spears. He is the one who make sthe sangngi, bolo, pangido, lawot, puko, and all accessories needed to till the earth.

The Panday-Kayo is the carpenter, the one who works with wood and builds the shelters.

The Tara-abal are the weavers, who are always women.

The Mananattang is a bamboo weaver who makes the bukkog, pinit, diggo, lubban, and bilaw kambol, and all kinds of baskets that the tribe needs. He also makes the sinassar and kalakat for roofing.

The Bagani or Magani are the warriors who ensure the security of the community, whilethe Taralumo are the farmers.

They have conflict resolution mechanisms including the palalai where a chieftain and the "anitohan" or him who has spiritual powers will conduct a ritual and pray over boiling water where Malbog seeds have been strewn. This is resorted to for major crimes like robbery and homicide. After the ritual is done, the accused is asked to get the Malbog seeds from the boiling cauldron. The guilty one will have his hands scorched, the innocent one will not be injured.

Then there is the Kandi wherein a bamboo node is pierced with holes equivalent to the number of accused. The holes will be plugged with "tado" or bees wax. Inside the bamboo tube, a cloth and more tado inside and this is lit. The suspects are asked to place a finger on one whole covered with "tado" and as the chieftain and the "anitohan" pray, the wax in the holes will soon melt and smoke will come out. The hole where the smoke first comes out is the guilty one.

It is of note, to remember, that these are but instruments and the judgment comes from the wisdom and interpretation of the Matanam.

Anino said that there are also those who still hold rituals for planting and harvest and her grandfather, Lolo Isang, or Datu Isidro Anac, is retrieving his accreditation to be able to solemnize tribal weddings.

In the past, one of the major rituals Tagabawas hold is the "Bangon sa Tambara" where refers to the house of the gods. This ritual involves human sacrifice of two slaves.

There's a lot more to be learned about the Tagabawa-Bagobo and how the tribe who has resided in Sibulan as guardians of Mt. Apo since time immemorial were forced out of the lands in the 1970s because of the incursion of the New People's Army, resulting to a displacement not only of the people but also of their culture.

It was only between 1989-1990 when the Tagabawas of Sibulan were allowed to return, but no longer into their original set-up but through a resettlement plan made for them by government.


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