If you think the Tagalog and Visayan mythology are mind-blowing enough, wait until you see what Mindanao has to offer. Religion and culture in the south are unique because of the Muslim and Hindu-Javanese influences that shaped them.
As a result, the way our Mindanaoan ancestors worshiped the spirits in the pre-colonial era combined both their old beliefs and those of the foreigners they came in contact with.
The colorful and fascinating Mindanao mythology would have probably died with our ancestors were it not for the few dedicated people who took the risk to study them.
For the record, the first mention of the Bagobos was in a letter written by a missionary named Fr. Matteo Gisbert, S.J. However, two authors at the dawn of the 20th century went the extra mile and lived with the Bagobo tribe. They immersed in their culture and wrote all the data they collected in their books.
I’m talking about Laura Estelle Watson Benedict, an anthropologist, and Fay Cooper Cole, author of “The Wild Tribes of Davao District, Mindanao.”
Thanks to the hard work of these researchers, we now have an idea of how our Mindanaoan ancestors made sense of everything. Take for instance the Bagobos: they didn’t understand “birth” and “death” as we do today. For them, there was no real death because there’s no country for the departed souls, nor did they believe in “birth” as they assumed the god made the additional creatures and left them so they could raise the babies on their own.
The Mindanao mythology is as colorful as the many tribes that lived in the island. They include the Bagobo, Manobo, Bukidnon, Subanon, and Tiruray, among others. Let’s jump right in and explore the magical world of the ancient Mindanao.
1. Pamulak Manobo.
Among the Bagobos of Mindanao, a supreme god called Pamulak Manobo was considered the creator of everything.
In Laura Watson Benedict’s “Bagobo Myths,” this diwata (a general term for deities) was also believed to be the creator of the first man and woman–Tuglay and Tuglibon. Another version suggests that the first humans were shaped out of corn meals and given life by Tuglay and Tuglibon, not by Pamulak Manobo.
Going back to Benedict’s version of the story, Pamulak Manobo also created an eel (kasili) and a crab (kayumang). These two creatures are always together, and every time the crab bites the eel, an earthquake occurs.
Pamulak Manobo was believed to be in control of other natural occurrences. When it rained, for example, the Bagobos believed it was the great god spitting or throwing water from the heaven. The white clouds, on the other hand, were actually the smoke from the fire produced by the other gods.
Similar to his Luzon and Visayan counterparts, this Bagobo god was also assisted by other lower-ranking deities. Among them were Mandaragan and his wife Darago, the gods of war who lived inside Mt. Apo; Tigyama, the protector of families; and Tarabumo, the god of agriculture and whom a shrine called parobanian was built for.
There were also bad spirits working for Pamulak Manobo, including Buso, who fed on the flesh of the dead and was described as “huge beings with curly hair, big feet and long nails, small arms, and possessed two big, pointed front teeth.”
2. Tuglay and Tuglibon.
Tuglay and Tuglibon are two of the most prominent figures in ancient Bagobo culture. In Jocano’s Oultine of Philippine Mythology, they are classified as assistants to Pamulak Manobo and were responsible for the births, marriages, language, and customs of the tribe.
In other sources, however, these two deities were either the creator of the world or co-creator of humanity. One of the Bagobo myths compiled by anthropologist Laura Estelle Watson Benedict even shares similarities with the biblical story of Adam and Eve.
In the said myth, Tuglay and Tuglibon created the world while an equally powerful yet unidentified god made the first man and woman. One day, a snake approached the first humans and offered them a fruit. The cunning reptile convinced them to eat the said fruit so they could “open their eyes,” only to find out later that eating it prevented them from seeing the god forever.
In yet another interesting version of the origin myth, Tuglibon (or Tuglibong in other sources) was pounding a rice when she noticed the sky was too close to the ground and was interfering in her activity. She scolded the sky and asked it to move up higher. The latter did as he was told, which explains why the sky is where it is now.
As for the origins of their names, the second syllable in Tuglay (i.e., “lay” or “lai”) means “man” in Malay, while the “libon” in Tuglibon means “virgin.”
3. Mebuyan and Lumabat.
According to one Bagobo and Manobo myth, there once lived two deities named Lumabat (god of the sky) and Mebuyan (goddess of the underworld). Both were siblings but complete opposites of each other.
Lumabat was a terrific hunter who once brought along his dog to catch an elusive deer. The hunt took so long that by the time he caught the animal, he was already old and graying. Still, he returned to his people, eager to show them his power. Lumabat even killed his father eight times, and each time the latter magically came back to life he became younger and younger.
When it was time for Lumabat to go to heaven, he wanted his sister, Mebuyan to join him. The latter refused and they started fighting each other. The Bagobo mythology describes Mebuyan as an ugly deity who decided to go down below the earth where she now rules a place called Banua Mebu’yan (Mebuyan’s town). Here, she welcomes the spirits of the dead Bagobos before they go straight to Gimokudon, the Bagobo equivalent of the underworld.
It is said that Mebuyan has many breasts because she nurses and takes care of all the baby spirits before they join their families in Gimokudon. As for the adult spirits, they also stop by at Mebuyan’s town, specifically in the black river where they wash their joints and heads.
The ritual bath, known as pamalugu, is done so that the spirits will not return to their earthly bodies and disrupt their journey to the underworld.
Note that the Manobo or Bagobo underworld, at least the one ruled by Mebuyan, has a relatively more positive connotation. It’s not a place where you can find a lake of fire and where the unbelievers are punished forever. In the book “Arakan, Where Rivers Speak of The Manobo’s Living Dreams” by Kaliwat Theatre Collective, Datu Mangadta Sugkawan gives us an interesting description of Mebuyan and her domain:
“Maibuyan (Mebuyan)….the diwata (deity) of the afterlife who takes care of all the souls before they receive Manama’s (Supreme Being) judgment…. Maibuyan’s entire domain is of pure gold on which the soul could clearly see its reflection. The souls there only talk about good and sensible things. If one starts to talk, everybody else listens. There is no need for food. Maibuyan’s domain in the underworld is where the soul lives a second life after its body–the physical twin–dies.”
Among the Ata-Manobo, a similar deity also existed. Rolando O. Bajo’s “The Ata-Manobo: At the Crossrooads of Tradition and Modernization” introduces us to a god of the afterlife named Moibulan. This deity takes care of the spirits in a place located at the bottom of the earth called Sumowow, where the souls can only experience peace and happiness as they await their final judgment.
The Manobos also believed in a supreme god–Tagbusan. This highest-ranking deity “ruled over the destiny of both gods and men.” And just like others of his kind in Philippine mythology, Tagbusan was also helped by other lesser divinities.
Among those who assisted Tagbusan in his day-to-day responsibilities were Kakiadan, the goddess of rice; Taphagan, the goddess of harvest; Tagbanua, the rain god; Umouiui, god of clouds; Sugudun (or Sugujun), the god of hunters; Libtakan, god of sunrise and sunset; Yumud, god of water; Ibu, the queen or goddess of the underworld; and Apila, god of wrestling and sports.
There were also Manobo deities with evil intentions, like Tagabayau, the goddess who convinced people to engage in adultery or incest; and Agkui, a diwata who urged men to indulge in sexual excesses.
Another important deity from Mindanao is Magbabaya, considered by the Bukidnon as their highest ranking deity. He was likewise assisted by other lesser divinities:
Domalongdong, the deity of the Northwind; Ognaling, the deity of Southwind; Tagaloambung, the deity of Eastwind; and Magbaya, the divinity of the Westwind.
Other interesting deities of Bukidnon mythology are Ibabasag, patroness of pregnant women; Ipamahandi, goddess of the accident; and Tao-sa-sulup, god of material goods.
Among these gods and goddesses, a deity named Tigbas was the most respected by the Bukidnon, while the god of calamity named Busao was the most feared and also the last one they offered sacrifices to.
6. Other Mindanao deities.
Mindanao is composed of many tribes, and in each tribe, one can find plenty of deities and supernatural beings. I know it’s impossible to cover them all in one blog post, but to live up to my promise of providing an “ultimate guide,” I’ll briefly mention some of them here.
For the Tirurays, they believed that the first man and woman were created by a superhuman named Sualla (or Tullus-God) who lived in the sky.
The Gianges of Cotabato, meanwhile, prayed to two major deities: Tigianes, creator of the world, and Manama, her governor. They also worshiped Todlay and Todlibun (notice the similarity with the Bagobos’ Tuglay and Tuglibon), the gods of love and marriage, respectively.
Lastly, the Subanuns of upper Zamboanga were also guided by several deities, the most powerful of which was Diwata-sa-langit, god of heaven. The other deities are Tagma-sa-dagat, lord of the sea; Tagma-sa-yuta, lord of the earth; Tagma-sa-mangga-bungud, lord of the woods; Tagmasa-uba, lord of the rivers; and Tagma-sa-langit, god and protector of the sick.