Activity on this blog’s been very slow lately, thanks to a spate of research – er, I mean, work. For the past several weeks my wife and I have been covering a series of cultural revival workshops wherein crafts masters from the more traditional indigenous communities like the Kagan, Tausug, and here, the Ata Manobo, come to teach their more assimilated brethren the traditional ways. Needless to say, it’s been a great experience.
We spent most of the past week in the Paquibato District of Davao City, a remote hilly area that can only be reached overland by looping through the province of Davao del Norte – there’s no direct way from Davao City proper. As the crow flies, we were surprisingly close to home, but the terrain simply makes this area practically another world. The roads are still dirt and rock in many places, steep, winding, and without safety rails or lights. The regular afternoon thunderstorms make travel after sundown doubly difficult, as there are a number of bridgeless rivers that cannot be crossed once their waters swell with rain. The result is that these highland tribes’ communities are still relatively isolated, giving them space to keep their old ways. The remoter the community, the more traditional they are.
And what traditions! I’m learning a lot of things that’ll make great additions to Hari Ragat. Among them:
- The Tuno – a giant with the upper torso of a man and the underparts of a deer or boar; those with deer underparts are benign, but those with a boar half are evil;
- The La’aw – tiny, mischievous but benign elf-like beings of the deep forest, whose feet grow backward.
- The Timbusaw – a kind of Busaw ogre, tall, hairy, and with enormous claws, that eats men’s souls. A datu of the Tiguahan Manobos told me this story:
Two hunters once went into the jungle. After a whole day of hunting, they made camp beneath a tree, one hunter choosing to sleep in the branches, the other on the ground because he wanted to lie beside the fire. Late in the night, the hunter in the tree awoke to ominous grunting sounds; he looked down and saw a Timbusaw tearing apart his companion. He froze with fear and could do nothing to help.
In the morning, though, he discovered his companion apparently alive and well, and without a mark on him. They returned to the village, but the first hunter continued to have misgivings and warned the other’s family. They paid him no heed though. The morning after, the second hunter’s body was found on his sleeping mat, stone dead. The Timbusaw really had eaten his soul, but delayed his death.
- Many Manobos have Christianized, but still revere the diwatas and other nature spirits. I found their justification for this really interesting. My source, Datu Roger Limbo of the Tiguahan Manobos, told me that his people don’t worship the diwatas as such, but consider them as very real, very powerful neighbors, so it’s only good manners for them to give signs of respect. They fell no tree and plant no field without trying to make contact and ask permission, usually with gifts of food. Such offerings must be cooked without salt, because salt repels the diwata’s kind. It’s an interesting correlation between this and the belief that salt (and ashes) repel or harm the supernatural – for example Visayan belief is that the manananggal can be killed by sprinkling salt or ash on the stump of its lower torso.
- And the best for the last: By Manobo law, the honor of one Manobo woman is worth the lives of ten men. Yep, that’s exactly what it means.