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Mindanao, second-largest island in the Philippines, geographically located in the

southern part of the country is home to the 25 million multi-culturally diverse Filipino
people. It is known for its landmarks and travel destination places. More than these
notable proclamations are the rich and bountiful culture of its inhabitants and people.
There are 18 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups and 13 Muslim ethnolinguistic group that can
be found in the Mindanao island. These ethnic groups were birthed and were inhabitants
of the island even way before the settlers moved in the country. They are believed to be
Malay descents. These ethnic groups share the same culture and some of the same origin
and has been essential in shaping the course of events in the history of Mindanao. Among
these ethnic groups are the following: Manobo, T’boli, B’laan, Mandaya, Bagobo,
Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, Kalagan and Badjao.

Manobo Tribe

The Manobo tribe is the first settler that inhabited northern Mindanao. Their
ancestors were led by two brothers; Mumalu and Tabunaway. The culture is described
as deeply rooted in lands and its nature. Just like other ethnic tribes, their religious belief
revolves around in one Great Spirit that is usually viewed as the creator figure. These
spirits intervene to human customs and activities that can either bring good familiars or
great peril. Human activities (i.e. hunting and farming) had always been associated to
rituals and spirits. One common example is the native ritual called Samayaan. This ritual
is where omens are read in connection with the various stages of farming cycle. Moreover,
the socio-political aspect of the Manobo’s is patriarchal (male dominated). The man is the
head of the family. Also, the Datu or Sultan is the ruler and head of the tribe. They
integrate their selves in social gatherings and activities as the headmen to make all the
arrangements. Arts and skills such as embroidery and beadwork are still practiced up until

With the arrival of the Spanish fleet in the Philippines as an attempt to colonize the
island, the Manobo’s and Moros fought and resisted to the colonization by constant
warfare and rebellion. To this successful resistance from the Spaniards, the Manobo’s
were able to retain their lands and most of them were converted back from being
Christians. And we can say that the Manobo tribe have been least influenced by the
civilization and still live their ancestral lives, uncommercialized, unsophisticated and
unspoiled by the bustle and rustle of the busy abodes of civilization.


Among the 18 tribal groups in the island of Mindanao, the most well known is the
T’boli tribe. This tribe lives in the province of South Cotabato, around Lake Sebu. The
T’boli culture is distinguished by their colorful garments, bracelets and earrings, with its
complicated beadwork, wonderful woven fabrics and beautiful brass ornaments. Their
rich culture is also deeply rooted in nature as their dances seems to mimic the movements
of animals such as monkey and bird. Accompanied with the dances are variety of music
from primitive and man-made instruments ranging from percussion and membranophone
instruments. Just like the Manobo tribe, T’boli’s believe that everything has a spirit and
they should be respected in order to keep peace and harmony and if not will bring bad
luck and disaster. The T’boli tribe’s art and craft is evident in their sacred clothing, T’nalak.
This traditional textile is used as an exchanged gift for weddings and to cover newborn
babies. The weavers are women and are called dream weavers. The legend behind dates
back centuries ago when a goddess Fu Dalu taught the T’boli women how to weave
through their dreams and they memorize these tribal designs and patterns after that. This
garment is highly sacred for them as they perform rituals such as, not mating during the
process when it is woven.

The T’boli tribe, along with other tribes, have also resisted from the settlers
especially the arrival of the Muslims and their agenda to convert the T’boli’s into their
religion. Unfortunately, the T’boli’s were successful in their resistance, however, the
Spanish settlement is a different story. Some of the tribe members were converted to
Christian as churches and schools were built in their lands. The good thing was these
converted T’boli’s did not abandoned their original identity and find a way to fuse
Christianity and the culture of T’boli. The T’boli tribe have been influential to the bounteous
history of Mindanao giving the island a sense of identity and recognition. They have kept
peace and harmony within their tribe and have been effective in the preservation of their

B’laan Tribe

The B’laan tribe is highly concentrated in the regions of central and southern
Mindanao, but their settlements are widely dispersed throughout the island. The B’laans
live in close association with the T’boli and Maguindanao with whom they intermarry and
the reason why influences from both groups are evident in the B’laan culture. Blaan’s
religious and traditional beliefs, practices and rituals have evolved out of their relationship
with land, forest and the diversity of resources therein. This in result have integrated their
development in cultural and socio-political system. Although the tribe have adopted
modern ways of living, they still practice customs and preserve their beliefs and culture.

The B’laans also share their own version of the creation and god through myths
and legends. They believed that the world was created by Dwata. There was no land and
sky and there was only darkness. They called the land Tah Tana,the sky as Tah Labun,
the ocean as mahin, the rivers as salwen or ba yeel, the stars as blatik, and the mountains
as bulol. Their cultural practices are heavily evident and integrated in their customs and
human activities such as birth, marriages, death and burial, and political aspect. The birth
practices are characterized as deeply dependent on superstitions and rituals, same to
marriage and burial. They believe that no one should block the door when birth is taking
place. They also discourage pregnant women from eating “twin” fruits to avoid conceiving
twins. For the death of the member, Tufa Lam Eel is a ceremony performed in case of
death in the tribe. The marriage is distinguished with complicated stages from the parents
and in-laws exchanging rings to the scheduling of the wedding’s date. The B’laan also
have a similar political structure as to modern political states with law makers called

Moreover, the B’laan have contributed to the rich identity of Mindanao. From its
complicated practices, cultural and socio-political systems, they have effectively
succeeded passing their culture to the next generation and continuously striving for their
tribe’s future.

Mandaya is an ethnic group known for their garish and vibrant culture that has
been preserved from successive generations and has withstood the colonization’s that
the country surpassed. More than the shared culture from other neighboring tribes is the
distinct culture of dreaming from the Mandaya. Various practices such as weaving and
practical knowledge about medicine or healing in the Mandaya culture has been greatly
influenced by dreaming. In the aspect of crafts, Mandaya has also their own sacred textile
just like the T’nalak of the T’boli, called the dagmay. According to the elders, dagmay was
bestowed to them through a dream by Tagamaling, a spirit. Because this is deemed to
be a sacred textile, the Mandaya weaver will have to say a prayer before weaving. Aside
from weaving that the Mandaya are excellent for, jewelry making is also a prominent skill
and craft. The remarkable jewelry called the pamulang where there are layers of
bracelets alternating between dark brass and white shell bangles.

Mandaya has truly helped shape the history of Mindanao island. With 2 years
resistance from Spaniards, many Mandaya were converted to Christianity. After the
province of Davao was established, numerous Mandaya politicians rose into power,
however, they were not associated with the name Mandaya anymore but currently called
as Davawenyo. The Davawenyo were Mandaya who were Christianized and


The Bagobo tribe is one of the tribal ethic groups in Mindanao that traces its origin
from the people who brought Hinduism to the island. Through the course of time, the tribe
blended well in the original population and developed their own custom, practices and
culture. The Bagobo’s customs, culture and practices is heavily influenced by the belief
to transcendental beings. The inhabitants feared Anitos, spirits and nature spirits called
diwatas, who could grant their desire through offering of sacrifices. Moreover, crafts and
skills such as weaving, and embroidery is also highly practiced by tribal women. Their
ornaments are decorated with vibrant and sophisticated colors, considered to be the most
colorful among the tribes in the country. Even though some have abandoned their tribal
roots, most member remain to be proud of their heritage and still practice traditional
custom and practices. They play their ritual music with gongs and kulintangs, and dance
and sing their harvest rituals in solemn chant.


Maranao is the largest of the Muslim ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines with
numbering more than 840,000 members. This group were the first inhabitants of the
shores of Lake Lanao and still inhabit this region. The Maranao culture revolves around
kulintang music, a specific type of gong music that is present in Muslim and non-Muslim
tribal groups. Also, every family specializes in some form of art or craft that is part of the
traditional Maranao culture like woodcarving, tapestry weaving, brass-making and the fine
art of silver and gold smiting. The architecture of their houses is decorated by a design
called Okir or Okil, an indigenous and branching motif. Since the Maranao tribe originated
from Islam and their practices is in accordance to the belief of their god Allah, the
Maranao’ have developed their own native practices that is in-line into the pre-Islamic
teachings and custom.

Their influences in shaping the history of Mindanao was through the representation
they asserted in arts and music. They have preserved their culture and protected their
lands despite of the foreign settlers in the post 20th century.


The Maguindanao culture follows standard Islamic beliefs and practices, but the
native Maguindanaons persevere to a form of folk Islam, their believe in spirits, sorcery
and supernatural beings is still evident in their culture and ceremonies. They conduct
rituals on their rice fields during harvest headed by Apo na Palay or grandfather of the
rice. In the season of Ramadan, tribe members participate in various ceremonies
associated with fasting. Other ceremonies such as marriage and childbirth have both
indigenous and Islamic beliefs and rituals. Maguindanaons is a peace-loving and inland
dwelling tribe in the island, however, contradictions of this started from family feuds of
lands, offenses and other crimes that resulted to violence and chaos among the
community. Moreover, the Maguindanaons are widespread throughout the island and
they have been inhabiting Mindanao for almost 500 centuries and will continue to strive
for the next centuries to come. They were part of the resistance against the Spanish
colonization and were successful in suing them from the island.


Tausug is an Islamized tribal group in the Sulu archipelago. Traditionally, they are
sailors, divers and traders in the island. The tribe possess the virtue of courage and were
born warriors. Prior to the Islamization of Mindanao, they were the first indigenous group
to be concerted. Along with the colonization, they have been in a continuous warfare with
the Spanish conquerors that ended by the defeat of the Spaniards. Their beliefs and
practices are under the influence of Sunni Islam, the largest branch of Islam. However,
despite of the Islamic origin of their practices, they have incorporated and integrated
indigenous customs as well. They believe in spirits that inhabit nature such as spirits of
rocks and trees. In accordance to this, the spirit brings good fortune and bad lucks to
people. This belief is evidence in their rituals as they are seen in the mountains dancing.
Their dances reflect nature such as the flow of waves of the ocean. A great example
would be the ethnic dance Pangalay, characterized metal or golden nail extenders or
janggay. The dance imitates the mythical Sarimanok bird.

They have been influential in the history of trading between pre-Hispanic period
Philippines with other islands at that time. This traces our roots and the origins of the
Filipino people that gives us deeper sense of identity and appreciation for the Mindanao

The native Filipino Muslim group known as Kalagan is found in the Davao region,
notably Davao City, Tagum in Davao del Norte, and Sirawan and Mati in Davao Oriental.
The Kalagan culture and beliefs is characterized as animist (believe that non-human
objects have spirits). The also believe in environmental spirits. Muslim religious leaders
taught young boys to read the Quran and various Muslim holidays are observed and
celebrated. Their culture is influenced by the Tausug and Maguindanaon due to
intermarriages and exposure with neighboring community tribes.


The Badjao is a tribal group known as the Sea Gypsies because they move with
the wind and the tide on their small houseboats called vintas, they can be found in many
coastal settlements and inhabit the waters and shores of the Sulu archipelago. Their
culture is highly centered in human activities in the sea. They believe in spirits and made
offerings to the god of the sea, the Omboh Dilaut. They are greatly influenced by Islam,
however the constant coercion of other Muslim tribes made them moved to the coastal
area. This tribe is known as the sea nomads, travelling by boat from one island to another
to harvest fish. Practices their culture included dynamite fishing and over harvesting that
causes great damage to the biodiversity in the ocean.

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