Searching for ‘lumad’ tales, songs, dances

ILIGAN CITY—My students, who went on a literary journey in search of “lumad” lore, songs and dances, were told to experience what it’s like in the communities of indigenous peoples (IPs or lumad) and to take home memories of our recent visit to three of Mindanao’s IPs.

Secretly, I had hoped that all six of my students in folk literature at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) would eventually choose and study one out of 19 lumad groups on the island.


We took the grueling four-day trip across central, western and southern Mindanao to visit schools for living traditions of the Talaandig in Sungco, Lantapan, Bukidnon; of the B’laan in Koronadal City in South Cotabato; and of the T’boli in Lake Sebu, also in South Cotabato.

Talk with scholars


With brief stopovers in Davao and General Santos Cities, the class likewise interacted with scholars; Dr. Rita Tuban, for Tausug culture; Dr. Macario “Mac” Tiu, for lumad culture; and Dr. Heidi K. Gloria, for Bagobo culture.

With all of today’s distractions and priorities of our production-consumerist-oriented society, it is not easy to convince students to study lumad literature, and Gloria, at an Ateneo de Davao University faculty lounge where we stopped for a brief meeting with her, glowed with hope at the prospect of six women determined to do spadework for new material, or bring out new perspectives about the lumad.

Tiu and Tuban, who met us earlier at the University of Southern Philippines, were likewise as encouraging in suggesting that a folklore society be established for better coordination to further study and publish more of the lumad literature, recipes and other information.

Forma Lajarato Gonzales, a Jama Mapun from Tawi-tawi and first-time visitor to the lumad communities, repeatedly said, “A lifetime experience for me who lives by the sea, who travels by sea.”

Cultural Guards

From Iligan City where we are based and after six hours on the road, our first stop was in Sungco, Lantapan, Bukidnon, to witness a ritual for the Cultural Guards, guardians of the forests, to renew their vows and for the people to preserve and defend the Talaandig heritage.

This ritual was presided over by Datu Migketay “Vic” Saway who, throughout the ceremony, stood beside his wife, Bai Liza Llesis Saway.


Chickens and a pig were offered. My student, Nancy Allen, observed that when blood oozed unto the reddish soil, leaves from the talisay tree overhead fell quickly to the ground—an indication, perhaps, that the “diwata” (fairies) were pleased with the offerings.

White plates containing betel chew were passed around immediately for everyone to partake.

When the sporadic interviews with some of Datu Vic’s sisters were done, Cheryl Baldric and Venus Parmisana brought out the snacks for the children who were about to perform songs, like “Ang Tribung Atin,” and dances imitating animals at the School for Living Traditions with Teacher Flora, who, incidentally, had recently passed the licensure examination for teachers.

Talaandig life

Yes, most of the younger members of this cultural community have gone to our schools and they have taken it among themselves to teach their own children the Talaandig alphabet, history, tales, songs and dances.

Everywhere in Sungco where the Talaandig live, evidence of growth could be seen in the new structures built over the years with support from Join Together Society and the Korea International Cooperation Agency. Peaceful coexistence is the main theme, giving much meaning to the Hall of Peace made from hardwood, its exteriors decorated with sculpted figures.

Within these structures, sculptures and paintings represented mythic figures of an ideal past juxtaposed with the reality of the ritual outside that sought to ensure the survival of the Talaandig from serious threats of modernization and consumerism.

Some other artworks, photos and certificates were displayed around the “tulugan”-turned School for Living Traditions, also called Datu Kinulintang Hall after the Talaandig patriarch.

B’laan people

This passion to preserve one’s culture also prevails among the B’laan and the T’boli of South Cotabato. The following day, we trekked to the hills of Koronadal and Lake Sebu.

In all these visits, arrangements had to be made. As a group, we had to contribute for the snacks and tokens for the performers and a donation to the school.

In Koronadal, Yvonne Allen Conde negotiated for our group and prepared  the tokens and snacks for the performers before we were allowed to go up Barangay Bolul (mountain) where the B’laan people live, 8 kilometers from the city proper.

The uphill climb was a series of narrow roads that were, for the most part, unpaved and just cleared of debris. From that vantage point, we glimpsed now and then  the view of the city below which we labeled in our minds “reality” and “civilization.”

Our guide, Delia Patricio Lawi-an, a staff member of Councilor Sagin Monday, the first B’laan to be elected president of the Association of Barangay Captains, brought us to  Fr. Carl Shmitz Catholic Mission for Indigenous Peoples.

Catholics, too

We were surprised to learn that 90 percent of the B’laan there are Catholics. Apart from the spirited conversations in B’laan among themselves, their attire and the manner by which they interacted, they were like any group of Catholics making the Sign of the Cross, hinting broadly they knew their catechism.

One of the songs about the B’laan god was performed but instead of referring to the B’laan god the second time it was sung, the singer had Jesus Christ in mind, according to Lawi-an.

My class, composed mostly of language teaching and linguistics majors, like Cora Olpoc, Fredileen Enero,  Parmisana,  Baldric,   Allen and Gonzales, had fun taking down names of instruments, songs and dances, and a creation story, noting the absence of the “p” sound and use of the “f” sound in B’laan words.

A feast of songs and dances and the playing of indigenous musical instruments followed and performed by children as young as 8 years old and adults as old as 78.

In reality, most B’laan people have integrated into the mainstream and are not proud of their ethnic origin since they are vulnerable to ridicule and prejudice by the Christian majority, a familiar experience among other IP groups.

T’boli school

Reflecting on this sad state of affairs, we drove to Lake Sebu to check out the T’boli School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions (Sikat) which opened in 1997 and now has 120 pupils. The other school, unfortunately closed at the time of our visit, the School for Living Traditions, is for nonformal studies. Our visit was facilitated by Michael Angelo Yambok, the Sikat principal.

With little support from the local government, which, according to one of our informants, concentrates on ecotourism, Sikat is accredited by the Department of Education and is supported by foreign groups, the Ateneo alumni and other donors who pay for its teachers, provide scholarships for the children and support a feeding program.

Inside the school, the skill and natural rhythm of the children playing the drum and other musical instruments made from bamboo were simply overwhelming. The strong belief in their gods and the acknowledgment that their talents come from a higher power were demonstrated by the children who would touch the musical instruments before and after playing these.

One of the community leaders, Maria “Oyog” Todi, said the T’boli learn from the old people and pass this on to the children. She hopes that the local government would listen in order to help uplift their lives through education.

Show of pride

After a restful stay at Sarangani Highlands Resort arranged for us by General Santos City’s Dr. Antonieta Olandres Odi, we crammed once more into the school van, returning to Iligan via the Bukidnon-Davao Road, and stopping only for a quick dinner at Inday’s Kamalig hosted by MSU-IIT School of Computer Studies dean Ernst Empig. The restaurant owner and a chemist, Jose Ng Jr., was there to greet us.

The long trip that normally took only nine hours from Davao City to Iligan took 12 hours due to endless road repairs along the national highway. Despite the difficulties and expenses in fuel and other things, our visits cemented our respect for the lumads’ strong sense of self-determination and show of pride for their own.

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TAGS: Culture, Dance, Indigenous people, lumad, Mindanao, Song, Tale
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