ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu. A preliminary study (1)


1st of seven parts

[This is extracted, with slight revisions, from THE NATIONAL CULTURAL MINORITIES OF MINDANAO AND SULU, A PRELIMINARY STUDY, December 1974 by Rudy Buhay Rodil, team leader. This was officially the INTERIM REPORT NO IX A.1  submitted to the Mindanao Regional Development Project, National Regional Planning and Development Group, a joint project of the UNDP and the Philippine Government, administered by the Mindanao Development Authority,  Mindanao Magsaysay Avenue, Davao City.

I acknowledge with many thanks the wholehearted assistance of the following: Prof. Alfredo Tiamson, a long-time colleague at Ateneo de Davao College (at that time) who lent us from his library more than 90 percent of the secondary materials we used and gave us the initial leads we needed so badly in the early stages of this study; Ms Aurora Pelayo of UM and Ms Perla Somoza of NEDA, Region XI, both Social Anthropologists, who, without expecting any returns, shared their technical knowhow and wise counsel, and our field researchers, Ana Corpus, Fe Jolejole, Rene Jutic and Joaquin Timogtimog who did their share of field work in a dedicated and unselfish fashion in the face of almost continual difficulties.  Very early, I found out that all field work among the tribal communities had to be done, at least in Bisaya, if not in their own languages.  My research guide outline, done in English, did not fit the realities in the field. Luckily, there appeared a graduate student who was on observation status from  the UP graduate program on Urban and Environmental Planning. She was Marilu Macabale Alferez, also a  graduate of Mindanao State University – Marawi City, who stayed with the team at the office for a month. She wrote the Bisaya version of the Research Outline prior to the actual field work and enabled the field work to do more feasible exchanges with the indigenous communities. These communities generally had excellent command of Cebuano. We can never thank completely those members of the National Cultural Minorities who had no second thoughts in giving us their time and accommodation.

All conclusions and recommendation contained herein are those of the author alone.]


This is a preliminary report on the research/study of the National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu – the result of 16 field trips out of the 34 originally projected. Work study began in April, 1974. This included consultation of secondary materials and verification of field contacts. Actual field work began in mid-July and was slated to last until mid-January for a total of six months. Operation proceeded at a normal pace until the third week of September when news was received that the operations of the Mindanao Regional Development Study would cease at the end of 1974. This prompted re-adjustments in the timetable of activities: field work time had to be shortened and the order of priorities had to be reversed. the duration of each field trip ranged from 15 days to a little less than 24 hours. Trips that began in July ended in mid-November 1974.

Originally the study was undertaken as a part of the general attempt to formulate a “comprehensive framework and strategy for the development of Mindanao and Sulu”. As clearly pointed out in the Interim Report, Indicative Physical Framework Plan for the Development of Mindanao and Sulu, 1970-190, p. 79, “all development projects or progress for Mindanao and Sulu should take into consideration and make provisions for the aspirations of the National Cultural Minority groups… and their assimilation into the development processes”. This last point provided the basis for the objectives of the study which follow:

  • To investigate and determine the peculiar characteristics of the ethnic minorities of Mindanao and Sulu.
  • To determine and identify their basic aspirations and attitudes.
  • To see how they should influence and can be accommodation in the preparation and implementation of regional plans.

This is the first time that a comprehensive study of this nature was made on the National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu and its importance cannot be overemphasized, considering that in the 1970 Census, they number 2,030,854 or 25.50 per cent of the total population of Mindanao-Sulu. Note that this is even an understatement; practically all the people contacted by the field workers were not aware of having seen or heard about the census enumerators.

This report is written from the minority point of view. Thus, problems presented, for example, will be analysed as the different minorities groups see them. We feel that this is something the majority has long failed to do, and, if this report is going to be consistent with the intent of its objectives and its findings, this is one step that must be made at the very outset. Should the report sound a bit too negative for some people, we would hasten to point out that this is probably the most positive thing we can do. They have been at the receiving end for too long a time and will probably still be for many years more. Some people would insist that we should show both sides of the problem, that of the majority and of the minority. Our position is that we have yet the see their side. Indeed we have developed the habit of always seeing our side and even seeing their side through our glasses.

A word must be said about “Christian”, a word we often use to distinguish the minority from the majority. At a point in time, this used to be a valid reference, though not necessarily a charitable one. But over the last few decades, these so-called pagan minorities (Muslim excluded) have been gradually adopted one Christian religion or another, depending on which missionary group got to their place first.  Their new religious colour, however, has not removed their minority identity. They still see themselves as minorities and the majority still consider them as such. And, as in this report, we shall refrain from using “Christian” as a distinguishing factor except when we refer to a point in time when clear distinction can be made. We are also introducing the word “highlander”, a term which has been in vogue in many quarters over the last few years, to refer to the non-Muslim minorities.

For purposes of effective regional planning and implementation, our data are too inadequate to serve as a concrete basis. There are enough data, however, to enable the readers to form a general picture of the minority situation in the region. In any case, it will be in order to let the reader understand that this shortcoming, though one may refer to it as one of those typical half-hearted attempts to help from the majority side, is mainly due to the totally unexpected termination of MRDP/S by the end of December 1974, which seriously disrupted not only the timetable of this study but its order of priorities as well.

We have so far identified with certainty 36 ethnic groups indigenous to Mindanao and Sulu. Arranged alphabetically, these are as follows:

  1. Ata
  2. Bagobo
  3. Banwaon
  4. Bla-an
  5. Bukidnon
  6. Dibabawon
  7. Didayaon
  8. Dulangan
  9. Higaunon
  10. Ilanum/Iranun
  11. Isamal
  12. Jama Mapun
  13. Kalagan/Kagan
  14. Kalibugan/Kolibugan
  15. Lambangian
  16. Maguindanawon
  17. Mamanwa
  18. Mandaya
  19. Manguwangan
  20. Mansaka
  21. Manobo
  22. Meranaw
  23. Matigsalug
  24. Samal
  25. Sama Dilaut
  26. Sangil
  27. Subanen
  28. Tagabili/T’boli
  29. Tagakaolo
  30. Talaandig
  31. Tasaday
  32. Tausug
  33. Tigwa
  34. Teduray
  35. Ubo
  36. Yakan

Nine of these have been Islamized: Ilanum?Iranun, Jama Mapun, Kalagan, Maguindanawon, Meranaw, Samal, Sangil, Tausug and Yakan.

Located by region, Region IX, there are seven of these, all indigenous, the Sama Dilaut, the Kalibugan/Kolibugan, the Jama Mapun, the Samal, the Sama Dilaut, the Subanen, the Tausug and the Yakan.

The next cluster are those nine ethnic groups located in X,  the Bukidnon, the Higaunon, the Manobo, the Matigsalug,  the Meranaw, the Mamanwa, the Subanen, the Tala-andig and the Tigwa.

Some specifications on location must be made of those which have not been accounted for in the 1970 Census.  The Dibabawon can be found in the municipalities of Asuncion, New Corella, Monkayo ang Montevista, Davao del Norte. The Didayaon, who are linguistic relatives of the Dibabawon, are found in the barangays of Laac, Inakayan, Baunu, Makopa, Mangluy, Bumbun and Sudlayan in the municipality of Asuncion, Davao del Norte.  The Higaunon are found in the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Iligan City. The Manggwangan are found in the municipalities of New Corella, Asuncion, Montevista, Monkayo, Mawab and Nabunturan. The Matigsalug/Matidsaug are located in the Upper Calinan region of Davao City, in the general east-northeast direction, Bukidnon and North Cotabato. The Talaandig are found in the provinces of Bukidnon. The Tigwa are located in the northwest corner of Kapalong municipality in Davao del Norte, more specifically at the Davao del Norte-Agusan del Sur-Bukidnon boundaries. The Ubo are found in Surallah, South Cotabato.

As a whole, the ethnic groups, more commonly referred to as the National Cultural Minorities, indigenous to Mindanao and Sulu number 2,030,854 or 25.50 per cent of the total population of the region in 1970. Distributed by region, in Region IX they constitute 37.73 per cent; in Region X, 20.29 per cent and in Region XI, 23.17 per cent. However, it must be pointed out that it would be more meaningful if population percentages were determined by municipality rather than by region. Their relative population size becomes less and less significant the more we depart from the municipal level.

Thus, at this juncture, it would not be out of place to suggest that actual program and plans that would affect the minorities should be shifted to the local level. The best that could be formulated on a regional scale would be policy-making.

For the purpose of showing the general situation of the minorities in Mindanao and Sulu, and considering our limitations, we found it sufficient to have separate discussion only on the Manobo and Teduray, the Ata and the Subanen, and to have a summary discussion for the Islamized groups, the latter being integrated to the section on historical background.

Our field work among the highlanders showed a high level of similarities with respect to socio-economic situations, manner of resolving conflicts and responses to the incursions of majority forces. The Islamized groups may be distinct from one another, but their adoption of Islam has brought about so many common features that it will not really do much harm if we group those together in this report. It must be emphasized, however, that this approach in no way represents non-recognition of distinct cultural characteristics. It is more an admission of our limitations and the constraints brought to bear upon us.

A word must be said about the discussion on the Subanen. One would notice that undue stress is placed on their judicial system at the expense of the other sections. The extremely short stay in the area gave our field worker very little time to explore the other aspects of culture. Also, he was so enthralled by the strikingly high level of sophistication in their judicial system, that he felt this should not be missed.

Finally, some explanatory notes must be put in concerning the census figures of 1970. The reader must be made aware of the great possibility of undercounting. As we pointed out earlier in this report, many of our respondents from among the highlanders were not aware of having met any of the census enumerators. Corollary to this is the fact that their classification of the National Cultural Minorities based on ethno-linguistic characteristics was obviously incomplete. For this reason we found it necessary to make some adjustments in the classification while retaining the figures.

We replaced the Mandaya/Mansaka of Asuncion, Davao del Norte with Dibabawon, for the simple reason that the latter are more indigenous in the place then the former. This is how we got the 2,406 for the Dibabawon. This is not to say, however, that the figure is a fair representation of the actual Dibabawon population, nor that there are no Mandaya in the place. But in the absence of a better alternative, we thought this was the best step to take.

The Samal in the municipalities of Babak, Kaputian and Samal (in the island of Samal), Davao del Norte were placed under Isamal. The Isamal are indigenous to Samal Island. While it is true that their ethno-linguistic origin is Samal, their present ethno-linguistic of themselves, however, is Isamal. This is how we got 4,426. Again, this is not necessarily a fair representation of the actual Isamal population, nor that there are no Samals in the island. But all limitations considered, this was the best that we could.

The inavailability of the Census volume for Agusan del Sur prevented us from coming up with population details on the municipal level. Our field researcher, however, was able to obtain a summary for the province based on the 1970 census in his trip to Butuan City.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

Tomorrow: Historical background