Panay Bukidnon Culture

 Photo by Bill Gange

Photo by Bill Gange

The Panak Bukidnon are the tumandok, the native or Indigenous dwellers of the more interior portions of Panay Island, covering the interior barangays of the four provinces of Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, and Capiz. They speak the same Kinaray-a language with very few semantical differences, and are similar in their farming and hunting practices, in their spiritual beliefs and binabaylan (shamanistic) practices, in their having a binukot (kept maiden) tradition, and in their tradition of epic chanting. Every activity, whether in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and so on, is influenced by the environmental spirits and deified umalagad (souls) of the departed ancestors. Their economic life is largely dependent on ka'ingin agriculture, supplemented with hunting and fishing. They also make bolos with elaborately carved handles, knives, and spears and weave baskets, mats, and headwear - items which they exchange for lowland goods such as cloth, salt, and other household necessities brought into the mountains by Christian traders with whom they carry on seasonal commercial relations.

In the 13th Century during the height of the Sri-Vishayan Empire's power, a group of Borneans headed by Datu Puti escaped the tyrannical rule of Sultan Makatunaw and sailed northward until they reached Panay. The group was composed of ten chieftains, their wives, and some slaves, and they are collectively known in historic documents as “the ten datus of Borneo." They were Datu Puti and his wife, Pinangpangan; Datu Bangkaya and his wife, Katarung; Datu Paiburong and his wife, Pabulanon; Datu Sumakwel and his wife, Kapinangan; Datu Paduhinog and his wife, Ribongsapaw; Datu Dumangsol and his wife, Kahiling; Datu Lubay, Datu Dumangsil, Datu Dumalogdog, and Datu Balensuela. The Atis, under the rulership of King Marikudo and Queen Maniwangtiwang, obliged to the trade of their flatlands for a saduk (golden hat), a manangyad (long golden necklace), and other assorted items. The Atis then went further inland and the Borneo people populated the flatlands. In 1566, the Spaniards, having come from Cebu, arrived at the place called Irong-Irong/Ilong-Ilong (so called because of the nose-like shape of the land), which they then contracted into Ilo-ilo.

The Panay Bukidnon are descendants of those datus. We know that they were once coastal dwellers by the relative similarity of their social organization with that of the lowland dwellers and by the general theme of their folk stories - especially their epic, the Sugidanon - which deal largely with the sea rather than the mountains. F. Landa Jocano, in his seminal work Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinship System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay, wrote that some of his older informants "still remember their childhood days in the lower section of the Panay River valley and how they had moved upstream because their parents 'sold our clearings to the lowland settlers.'" Their interior mountain barangays began many generations ago as minuro, small settlements of blood-related families who intermarried through the years. Later, the minuro enlarged and were renamed as barangays in the 1960s, during the ascendency of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Many of the families in the far interior barangays of Siya, Buri, Takayan, and Nayawan moved down to safer areas like Masaroy, Garangan, and Passi (now a city) during Martial Law (1972-1984). Some even went to places far outside Panay Island, such as Palawan and Mindanao, and never returned. Houses of these mountain dwellers are traditionally scattered far apart, some located near the river and some on the mountain slopes where they can see approaching people. 

 Panay Ethnographic Map / Source: F. Landa Jocano, Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinship System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay. Diliman, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 1968, 2008

Panay Ethnographic Map / Source: F. Landa Jocano, Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinship System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay. Diliman, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 1968, 2008

The Panay Bukidnon people were previously called "Sulod" by their neighbors because of the sandwich-like location of their territory, which literally means closet or room. However, because of the socially unfavorable connotation which the Christian lowlanders attach to the term Sulod - who take it to mean untamed or wild - many of the mountain people resent being called by this name. The term Panay Bukidnon was more recently coined by Dr. Alicia P. Magos, a former UP Visayas professor who's spent over 25 years documenting the Sugidanon epic, and which literally translates to People of Panay.

To distinguish themselves from each other, those who get their sustenance from the Halawod River (Jalaur on the map) and are politically differentiated as belonging to Iloilo Province are called Halawodnon - like the embroiderer we collaborate with, Regina Villanueva. Pan-ayanon (taga Pan-ay) refers to mountain dwellers who inhabit the majority of the barangays of the town of Tapaz, Capiz; while from the Antique side, the interior town of Valderrama have Bukidnon or Iraynun dwellers and are nearest to the mountain people of Calinog and Lambunao, both of Iloilo province. They are are united by a common historical tradition, and all believe that they came from the same ancestors. This belief reinforces the powerful kinship ties that link all their settlements with one another.

In Panay Bukidnon society, all members tend to care deeply about the welfare of one's community. Community gathering strengthens group integration by requiring intensive participation of non-family members in drinkfests, weddings, religious celebrations, etc., where interaction involves patterned socio-ritualistic formalities as in the offering of food to the spirits before starting the feast, and in having the older men drink or eat first. During such social gatherings, wine jars become the focus of interacting subgroups of competitive drinkers which are structured by sex and age, not by family affiliation. Labor among the members of the community is a universally shared activity. There are no hired laborers among them nor is there any concept of compensation, monetary or in kind, for any kind of work rendered. Approaching the neighbors for help is called baheg, and labor is reciprocal and accompanied by drinking and feasting, which further reinforces the kinship ties within the community.

The most striking feature of Panay Bukidnon culture is the persistence of ceremonies in every facet of life. These ceremonies are associated with the belief that the relationships between the living and the spirits of the dead continue, and that environmental spirits have influence over daily affairs. The world is not only inhabited by humans, but also by deities and ancestors who inhabit the upper layer of the world above us, the langitnon, and the world below called idalmunon. They believe in an hierarchy of good and evil spirits called diwata with whom communication is held through the mediation of the baylan or medium. Sacrifices are given to the spirits for their good graces. Because of the importance of connecting to the unseen world to communicate with deceased ancestors, ceremonies and rituals play an important role in day-to-day life for interacting with the unseen world. Traditional beliefs are changing, however, as many Panay Bukidnon have converted to Christianity.

 Leopoldo "Paino" Cabellero and his wife, the late Rosita Caballero / Photo by  Jacob Maentz

Leopoldo "Paino" Cabellero and his wife, the late Rosita Caballero / Photo by Jacob Maentz

Generally speaking, these mountain people are conservative in their ways and have retained many beliefs and traditional practices. Community leadership among the mountain people is based on age, relative wealth and knowledge of the traditional lore. Marriages are contracted by the parents, often even before the children are born, the agreement being conditional upon the favorable sex outcome of births. In tracing descent, there is no emphasis placed on either side (the mother's or the father's) although many more easily trace their mother's kin than those of their father, which is largely due to the fact that mothers spend more time with the children than the father. Important decisions in life are governed by customary laws, which have the strength of today's written law, and are arranged by both parties in the presence of an arbiter. Precious material objects (called tuos) are used to seal an agreement, and there are serious consequences if customary laws aren't abided; when conflicts arise they are taken to a manughusay (arbiter) for advice and help in creating resolutions. But as customary law has a punishment for defying an agreement, it also provides a way out by making an acceptable payment or substitution to avoid further conflict.

 Ancient Visayan tattoos as documented in the Boxer codex, a manuscript written c. 1590, which contains illustrations of ethnic groups in the Philippines at the time of their initial contact with the Spaniards.

Ancient Visayan tattoos as documented in the Boxer codex, a manuscript written c. 1590, which contains illustrations of ethnic groups in the Philippines at the time of their initial contact with the Spaniards.

Panay Bukidnon culture is a warrior society, which we can find evidence of in their epic story, in which men are always considered handsomely attired when adorned with weapons such as a sinaha (long, shard-bladed knife), kalasag (shield) and bangkaw (lance) and with their body wrapped around down to the ankles to be well protected in a fight - and even their panubok embroidery motifs, such as kalasag (shield), bangkaw (spears) and iwot pula (bolo handle). Historically, tattooing used to be a widespread practice and the prevalence of "skin-painting" led early Spanish chroniclers to describe the Visayans as "Pintados." The tattoos are called batek, and they are pricked into the skin with a needle or any pointed iron instrument dipped in an ink made from the juice of the ripe fruit of the vine langi'ngi (Cayratia trifolia, Linn.) and powdered charcoal, or soot scraped from the bottom of pots or cooking cans. They also chew betel, the ingredients being the leaves of the piper betel, the areca nut, lime and tobacco - I did this while I was staying in a Panay Bukidnon community and it's definitely something that takes getting used to, but it's said to make the teeth strong and white. The duyan (hammock) is also still very important in every Panay Bukidnon home, and is one of the most used items - slept in by the family head, used to rock babies to sleep, and used by elders when singing stories to children and chanting epics.

 

Read more on Panay Bukidnon culture in F. Landa Jocano's Sulod Society: A Study in the Kinship System and Social Organization of a Mountain People of Central Panay or check out the short documentary below:

Stephanie Gancayco