Mindanao Customs and Beliefs


(Source: Pobre, C.P., et al, 1978. Tuladan, The Philippine South.  Metro Manila, Philippines: The Executive Committee; 160pp.)


To travel through Mindanao and Sulu is to pass through many worlds--through the primeval world of the indigenous tribes, through the exotic and colorful world of the Muslim groups, and through the more familiar world of the Christian Filipino communities.   There is an infinite variety of tradition and culture--one group is never the same as another.  Underneath the seeming diversity, however, lies a unifying body of commonly held system of values, social structures, beliefs, practices, and traditions which give the Filipinos a collective identity as a people.

One aspect of commonality is the respect for and obedience to authority.  Just as this is held close to the hearts of southern Filipinos, so is it highly valued by Filipinos elsewhere in the country.  The hierarchical structure and authoritarian nature of Philippine societies are pervasive.

Basically familistic in orientation, the southern Filipinos also place a high premium on loyalty to their kin.  Such loyalty is equally expected and valued all over the rest of the Philippines.  Among southern Filipinos, kin and those of their spouses oftentimes serve as the major source of support in crisis situations, disputes, and economic activities.  Kindred groups tend to stay close together, thereby forming small communities interrelated by blood, marriage, and friendship.  Among the Maranao, the Jama Mapun, the Subanon, and the Manobo, married offspring are customarily retained in the parental household for sometime after marriage and are later expected to build their houses close to their parents' or at least in the same community.

Reciprocal gift-giving involving commodities and services is commonly practiced.   Among the Taosugs are observed quasi-contractual reciprocity and the buddi, freely translated as "debt of gratitude."  The former involves keeping of fairly accurate accounts of mutual debts as exemplified in monetary exchanges which take place at every formal social affair.  On the other hand, buddi involves a rather nebulous form of record keeping in which there is no specific agreement on the terms of repayment, precisely because the things exchanged can never be strictly equated with each other.  Buddi is akin to the Tagalog utang na loob and the Cebuano utang sa kabubut-on.  To the Tausog buddi is thought of as "love repaid by love" or a "debt which cannot be demanded." 


Superstitious Beliefs

(Source: Mindanao Art and Culture, Number Two, 1979.  Marawi City, Philippines: University Research Center, Mindanao State University)


In the Lanao area, as in all other areas in the Philippines, many beliefs and practices considered superstitious are still very popular.  One of these is the belief in the tonongs, supernatural spirits that live in lakes and other places.  Legend tells of a tonong named Mipato who is said to have been seen around Lake Dapao.  He looks like a big carabao (water buffalo) with golden horns.  Anyone who tries to catch him will drown in the lake.  According to one story, he appeared and blocked some Spanish soldiers who were crossing the lake.  The soldiers fired on him, but he disappeared.  Suddenly, the water rose and drowned all the soldiers.  It has become the custom for Maranaos to drop coins or other metallic objects, like nails, into any lake or big river whenever they cross it, in the belief that if they failed to do so the resident tonong there might drown them as they crossed.

The nonok, a tree that grows to great size, is believed to be inhabited by spirits who prey on people.  Easy victims of these spirits are those who wander nearby without a companion.  A victim is deceived by the appearance of the nonok as a palatial house.  The victim enters the house and, once he eats anything there, he can no longer go back home.  However, if he asks for salt he would find himself sleeping under the tree.

It is a common belief that eating outside the house or eating in the open air would invite evil spirits to share the food, and, therefore, no matter how much one ate, he would never be satisfied.  It is also believed that tapping one's stomach at night will attract ghosts to come and suck out one's internal organs.

On moonlit nights, especially during a full moon, one would become crazy if he sees a cat on a tree while looking at the moon.  On the other hand, a crown of light around the moon means that a beautiful and famous woman in the clan would soon die.

A sure sign that a datu or someone who is famous will die soon is when a rainbow appears in the sunlight.  Children may not point at the rainbow or they may cut their fingers in an accident.

A sickly child should have a chicken or a rooster named after him.  This rooster becomes valuable property for, if it is killed, the killer shall be made to pay a large sum for it.  If a hen is killed, the killer must also pay for all the eggs it could have produced for the rest of its life had it lived.  However, chickens are not allowed inside the house as this is believed to bring a bad omen.  If a chicken enters a house, anyone has the right to kill it, no matter who owns it, and it can be eaten without any objection from the owner.