Manobo Folktales

Abstract / Excerpt:

The value of studying folk literature cannot be overemphasized. Folk literature provides us the opportunity of knowing the culture of a people. Created by indigenous minds, it defines their identity and projects the inner quality and strength of their culture. According to Landa Jocano (1969), every society produces its own literature which is given form and meaning by its heritage, ideals, and aspirations.

The Manobo, being an indigenous group, typify the lifeways that form part of the early Filipino culture. Their lifestyle projects their traditions and customs that mirror their values as a distinct culture. Their literature, an oral tradition handed down by word of mouth, speaks of their sentiments, aspirations, and traditions. These values serve as their guide and inspiration in their life's struggles.

Full Text

The value of studying folk literature cannot be overemphasized. Folk literature provides us the opportunity of knowing the culture of a people. Created by indigenous minds, it defines their identity and projects the inner quality and strength of their culture. According to Landa Jocano (1969), every society produces its own literature which is given form and meaning by its heritage, ideals, and aspirations.

The Manobo, being an indigenous group, typify the life-ways that form part of the early Filipino culture. Their lifestyle projects their traditions and customs that mirror their values as a distinct culture. Their literature, an oral tradition handed down by word of mouth, speaks of their sentiments, aspirations, and traditions. These values serve as their guide and inspiration in their life's struggles.

This article presents twelve Manobo folk narratives in the form of myths, legends, and folktales that were collected, recorded and translated.

The demographic area covers the Libungan and Midsayap municipalities of Cotabato Province where a representative Manobo group, the Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo is found: in Barangay Anonang in Midsayap; Barongis Grebona and Sinapangan in Libungan and Libungan town proper.

Six informants facilitated the collection, transcription, and translation of  materials. They were chosen on the basis of these qualifications: (1) knowledge about the tribe's customs and traditions, (2) knowledge of folk literature, (3) acknowledged authority in the tribe, and (4) sufficient educational background to facilitate the language transcriptions and translations.

The same informants, who were not related to each other and who belonged to the different age levels, were also used by the researcher in conducting the "three-generation test" and the "five-individual test" were: Macol Bidangan (78 years) and Calerio Randing (78 years) as belonging to the set of older generation; Venancio Quirino (56 years), Carina Vicente (55 years), and Dominga Pasaol (41 years) as belonging to the set of middle-age generation; and Jeanelyn Tomaring (15 years) as belonging to the younger generation.

After the informants related their stories in Manobo, they were asked regarding the tribe's customs, practices, and beliefs to confirm the values projected in their stories. One informant, who is knowledgeable in the transcription of the Manobo language and who can speak the Visayan language, Venancio Quirino, was asked to transcribe all the Manobo folk narratives. The researcher copied the transcribed stories for her second copy. While the two of them read together the transcribed narratives, Mr. Quirino translated them orally, mostly sentence by sentence and sometimes freely, to the Visayan language. The researcher translated these into English.

The Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo

The Manobo, of which the Livunganen-Arumanen is only one of several subtribes, are scatteres throughout Mindanao. When the Spaniards came, they saw the Manobo in the interior watershed of Agusan, Iligan, Caraga, Camiguin Island, Malalag, Sarangani, Cotabato, Davao areas, and Rio Grande de Mindanao. The Spaniards found out that the name Manobo was applied to several pagan Malay tribes in northern and eastern Mindanao: the Subanun, Bukidnon, Tiruray, Bagobo, Ata, B'laan, Tasaday, and others. They saw them as homogeneous (Blair and Robertson, 1903).

The origin of the Manobo is not definitely known. A Jesuit Francisco Combes (1620-1665), said they probably came from Burney based on the language structure that they used. Dr. Richard Elkin's "Proto-Manobo Theory" (in Manuel 1973) defines a class relationship of Manobo languages of which there are 19 dialects today. The change in languages took place when the Proto-Northern Manobo separated from the mainstream body and located themselves in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental, then to Camiguin Island and Cagayan Island.

Their epic, Ulahingan, which is religious and historical in nature, supports the theory that the first Manobo settled in Northern Mindanao in Cagayan de Oro. The Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo believe that the Ulahangin people were the original Manobo who were later scattered in Mindanao. They claim that from Cagayan de Oro they sailed to Banobo. When the Muslim faith reached their place, some were converted into Islam while the others refused to accept and sailed away in their vintas. The converted brothers called them stubborn Banobo, which later became the term "Manobo" (Peñares and Bidangan in Manuel 1962).

More discussions however, were presented as to where the term "Manobo" came from. Dr. David Barows (in Benedict 1907) reports that Manobo is a native word which means in the Bagobo language tao. Dr. Arsenio Manuel (1973) says that the word "Manuvu" means person; however, he says that munuvu is a term used by other tribes in referring to the Bagobo people. Blair and Robertson (1903) say that the term "man" is also applied to many savage tribes in all parts of the world.

Some Arumanen have also settled in Arakan Valley, but Dr. Sebelion Wale (a Manobo elder) says they are of different background; while Elkins (in Manuel 1973) says that they also came from Aruman, and the Livunganen-Arumanen belongs to the same subgroup. The Arakan Arumanens are reffered to as  the "Iliyanen Manobo."

The home of the Livunganen-Arumanen is Aruman in Carmen, North Cotabato, Famine struck them so they transferred to the Libungan area and extended to Pigcawayan. Another famine struck the area so most of them  settled at Barongis, a barrio of Libungan municipality, while some settled at other barrios of Libungan such as Grebona and Sinapangan, Libungan town proper, and Anonang which is a barrio of Midsayap municipality. This is the research area.

Today, Barongis has a mixed population of Manobo, Muslims, and Visayans, with intermarriages taking place and with the Manobo as the dominant settlers. The clash of values takes place in clothing, housing, method of farming, and faith. Some cultivate the ricefields in irrigated areas, especially those living in the barrio of Anonang, Midsayap; but most of them generally engage in upland farming where they plant corn, cassava, camote, banana, mongo, peanuts, and coconuts using the traditional farming of carabao and plow system. The younger generations are exposed to more education with the accessibility of elementary and high schools. Moreover, many have become professionals who are gainfully employed and who can move towards the upliftment of their people. Living together with other linguistic groups, they have become conversant with other languages, such as the Visayan, and have harmonious social relations with the latter.

Acculturation is fast taking place, but their traditional beliefs and practices are deeply rooted as an integral part of their culture. Many have become Christians,  while some retain their tribal religion. Other aspects of their society's personality may have changed, yet tradition would evidently stand out to mark their identity as an indigenous people.

Evidence shows they still cling to traditional beliefs and practices: (1) the practice of their tribal faith despite being Christianized, as shown in their Salilaya ceremony which is ministered by the walian or medicine man who invokes and communicates with supernaturals and other beneficent spirits on occasions like thanksgiving, petition, and festivity; (2) the preservation of their folk literature via oral transmission from generation to generation. This is done through gathering together young and old members for the story time with the aim of preserving their old traditions that inspire them to emulate and guide their ways in life' daily struggles; (3) the recognition and respect accorded to their datu or chieftain whom they call Timuay, their walian or medicine man who foretells future events and ministers to the sick, and their Pekelukesen or Council of Elders that serves as consultative body for the community's affairs; (4) the practice of parental arrangement and dowry systems in marriage; (5) the tolerance of polygamous marriages for men who can afford more than one family; (6) the close family ties through an extended family; (7) the close social  relation of sharing among the neighborhood and the community; and (8) the type of clothing they wear during festivals and other special occasions.

  1. Ka Uled

[Pg 3. Refer to the Original Copy]


There was an old couple who had no children. They possessed the power of foretelling the future, so their followers believed them. That time there was a famine. All of them experienced starvation and many of them died. The famine became so severe with the burning of forests. All people and animals suffered from hunger. Many also suffered from different kinds of illness.

While the famine intensified, the spirit entered into the old woman.

The spirit through this woman said that something fearful was about to come. It would look frightening but this would help them in many ways. That time really came as told by the old woman, and the people were shaken when they heard a sound.

The old woman saw them, and so she warned them to stop and not to go away. Then that frightful thing approached them.

The old man also looked at it and he saw a big animal with horns and ears. It looked as though it was panting and wet.

The old man touched the old woman, and he pointed to that frightful thing. The old woman also looked at it, and she said that they would just wait for it.

Then she told the people that they should just watch it for God was with them.

When that big frightful thing finally arrived, it was seen as a big serpent.

That was what the old folks called before as "Tendayag." It looked fearful but it could help the people.

When it got near them, they saw the different types of fish jumping alive around the scales of the serpent's body.

The old woman said, "You get near it, and you pick up some fish."

They picked up plenty because their baskets were filled. The serpent continued crawling until it reached the place of Kituved.

Some people followed the serpent. When it reached Kituved, it raised its head to find out if somebody would answer if it would shout.

The people projected that the answer might come somewhere from the Merepangi waterfall, and the serpent went there. It lowered its body, and it really showed how big it was because the earth eroded. That is why that mountain is called "Kimenembag" or eroded.

It left the area and moved towards Merepengi.

When it arrived, it crawled under the waterfall. The foaming bubbles made it obvious that the two had finally met. Blood and rotten leaves of trees floated in the water.

Not long after, one came out and then the other one followed. They came out and talked to each other as serpents.

 "We will take off our serpent's cloak because we are both humans." "Yes," said the other one.

And they turned into human beings. Now, they faced each other and each held a weapon. As they faced each other, they stared at each.

One said, "Are you Menelism?"

"Why, are you Bete-ey?"

They both answered, "Yes!"

"Since you are Menelism?"

"Why, are you Bete-ey?"

They both answered, "Yes!"

"Since you are Menelism, you go back to heaven; while I will stay here on earth," said Bete-ey who was his brother, "for I will help and teach righteousness to the people."

2. Kine Pebpangkat Dut Dunya

[Pg 5. Refer to the Original Copy]

Order in the Universe

This is the story of how God divided the work in the universe. He divided it like the beehive which is watched by the caretaker named Peneyangan. This Peneyangan can make himself appear like a bee. God also assigns Kelayag to take care of the rice and corn. The one who takes care of the fish is Elimugkat, the god of the fish. The caretaker who is called by the hunters is Kelayag. He watches the wild pigs, the deer, and the other animals. Either Kelayag or Lelawag does this work. The one who takes care of all the needs of men is Derahangan ne karang. The one who takes care of men of bad character is Mengilala.

These are the seven gods assigned to the universe. The one who takes care of peace is the creator God because the whole world as in Him. Those who don't obey Him belong either to Mengilala or Derahangan ne Karang. Most men seek Mengilala and Derahangan ne Karang.

3. Apo At Agkir-agkir Si Wara Bulvul

[Pg 5. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Hairless Apo of Mount Akir-akir

This Apo of Mount Akir-akir had no hair. The parents of Apo were both walian or healers. After he was born, they soon became weak and sick. They eventually died, leaving Apo an orphan.

In his young age, he lived with his uncle. The wife of his uncle was cruel. When his uncle was away, his aunt would scold him.

His aunt refused to take care of his health. He acquired many skin diseases. He became so dirty that flies would flock to him. He could no longer stay in the house, and he was treated by his aunt as a servant.

His uncle had a cornfield which was being destroyed by monkeys and pigs. There the boy would stay until the afternoon to drive away the
monkeys and pigs. Sometimes, his aunt refused to give him food.

As he grew to manhood, his diseases healed but his hair started to
fall. Surprisingly, those who pitied him got healed when they came to him. His healing powers grew stronger the more his aunt oppressed him.

By the time he became an adult, his family brought him to the
mountain of Akir-Akir. It turned out that the trials he had undergone were actually the test required of a healer. He surmounted all the trials.

That was the time that he acquired the familiar. At first he did not
stay permanently on Mt. Akir-Akir. He would go home occasionally. The people in his hometown got used to his periodic disappearances. Then he told them he would no longer come back.

"If you truly trust God, you will come to me because I will be on top of that mountain. When you come, make your offering of betel nut. My friend will tell me what you should do if you ask for help.

The people obeyed all his words. If they had problems, they would come up and make him an offering on the mountain. What looked like a mountain was actually a big palace.

Because he was really human, he did not disappear all at once. Time came when only his arm appeared to them. Then only his voice could be heard. Later, it happened that he could only be heard speaking through a faith healer.

He was called "Apo without Hair." Because of his experience of cruelty, the gods took pity on him and turned him into a supernatural being.

4. Ke Pu-Un Te Barongis

[Pg 6. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Legend of Barongis

This story is about Barongis. There was a man who had a sweetheart
he wanted to marry. He looked for a job to prepare for their wedding. He found one.

But there was another suitor whom the woman did not love. This
rival killed him [Barongis].

On his way back to work, this rival assaulted him [Barongis] and
killed him.

The woman cried a lot during the burial. The murderer felt so happy
for he would be able to marry her. He was no longer worried for he already got what he wanted.

The woman mourned a lot and got sick and died. Before she died, she left instructions that she wanted to be buried beside her slain love.

After a few weeks, a grass grew on their graves. People were
wondering what it was and called it Barongis.

5. Ke Pu-Un Te Livungan

[Pg 7. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Legend of Libungan

A long time ago, the name of this place was "Tubak." There was a
drought. All the people, including those from Bukidnon and Arakan Valleys, were affected. It was really a dry season because no water remained, except in Tubak where a little amount of water was flowing night and day. Then the people learned that there in Tubak was flowing water that did not dry up. Because of that, many people took refuge here.

When they arrived, many went to fetch the water, especially the
Manobo, some of whom were hunters.

They had already united and they agreed to farm in Sinewaran.
The seeds that they produced were used as feeds for chickens. They planted the field that they had cultivated with only one cob of corn. When the corn was already harvested, they divided the harvest among themselves and kept some for their seeds. They could already plant anytime and they would continually harvest.

The people improved their economic life, and they intermarried
with other groups, and that was the beginning of a mixture of people living in Tubak. Since they already understood each other, they agreed to change the name of Tubak.

"We will call it Libungan." That was because many people could
hardly recognize each other's differences due to intermarriages.

Thus, the name of the river became Libungan.  After settling in Libungan, some of them still longed to go back to their respective places that they had left before. So, some of them remained in Libungan, while some went back to their places of origin. Those in Libungan also looked for their relatives in the places they had left behind in Carmen, Arakan Valley, and Senipen. Then they offered thanksgiving for having found a place to live in Libungan.

6. Ke Pu-unanTe Lewa-an Wey Dengeleg

[Pg 8. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Origin of Lawaan and Dengeleg Trees

Once there were women who were all widows.
One day, they agreed to go fishing. When they reached the forest,
three got lost along the way. The other two just stayed together.

When they started fishing, they caught more fish in the water. After
they caught more, they started cleaning them.

This one widow was a bit rough.
She said, "I will blow into the mouth of this balanak"
When she did, the balanak produced a loud sound because the fish'
mouth was big. This rough lady laughed loudly. She picked up the paitan.

"This time, I will try to blow harder because this will make a louder
"Be careful," said the other widow.
"Are you afraid to die?"
"We will not die, but we might be cursed."
"We will only believe that after we have tried it."
Then the first widow blew once more into the paitan which
produced a still louder sound. After this, the place fell silent. They heard thunder. They looked to the east and saw the dark clouds. The sky poured down a heavy rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder.

An old woman appeared and said, "You want to be cursed? You will become frogs," said the old woman.

The rough lady said, "I don't want to become a frog."

"What do you want to be?" said the old woman.  The other widow answered, "I want to become a lawaan."

The other one said, "I want to become a dengeleg so that the coming generations can use me."

The other widow said, "We will not stay far from each other." So they became the two lawaan and dengeleg trees.

7. Si Uval Wey Si Be-U

[Pg 9. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Monkey and the Turtle

The turtle said, "I'll go to the forest." When he arrived there he saw a rattan vine; he tied it around his body. A monkey was passing by and saw the turtle.

The monkey said, "Please lend it to me."
But the turtle refused saying, "I'll not lend this [to you] because this is owned by my grandparents."

Then he said to the monkey, "Come here now and I will let you sit
on this pointed end."
"I will die here," said the monkey. The turtle said, "So that you'll learn [a lesson]."

When the monkey sat down, the turtle right away inserted the rattan vine in the anus of the monkey until he died because the turtle inserted the thorns.

Then the other monkeys captured the turtle. They built a big fire to bum the turtle to death.

The turtle said, "I will not die by fire, but if you throw me in the
river I will die!"

The monkeys said, "Come here now and we will throw you into
the river."

The monkeys then threw the turtle into the sea. The turtle rejoiced
and shouted, "I am now home!"

 8. Ka Keyumang Wey Menge Bata

[Pg 9. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Crab and the Children

There was a family who lived in the mountain. They had two
children who were both girls. Later, the father of these children died. Only their mother was left behind. She married again, but she married a witch. The man was cruel to the children. The mother also became a witch.

One day, they commanded the children to fetch water from the
well. The woman did not work anymore since she remarried. When the children disobeyed her, she would whip them.

Because of this, the children fled to a hole filled with crabs and
lived with them.

When their mother died, the big crab that was taking care of them
brought the children out of the hole. The crab was already growing old.
The children said, "We have nowhere to stay."
The crab said, "Don't worry because we will build a hut."
Then the crab died. They buried him near their hut. Not long after
they buried him, they heard a voice saying, "Tomorrow before the sun rises, go where you buried me. When you see a ring, get it. Cut it into four and bury it in the four comers of my grave."
They followed the orders of the voice. When they looked at what
they had buried, a big house appeared, and there they finally lived.

9. Kine Benawa Ki Gambar

[Pg 10. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Restoration of Gambar's Life

Ulaleg was a medicine man who was admired by the people. One
day, he disappeared. Many became severely sick soon after. One of those  was a woman named Gambar. She did not survive the said sickness and she died.

That time, there were hunters. One hunter went home and he brought with him a pig; but when he arrived, Gambar was already dead. Their friends and relatives were crying. They were already cooking their meat but still they continued crying, "If only Ulaleg were here, Gambar would still be alive."

Later, a witch arrived. The people panicked. They went upstairs
because of fear. The witch called to the mourning relatives who thought that the witch was coming for Gambar.
"Now, the witch will eat Gambar." When they saw the witch, they found that it was Ulaleg! He asked when Gambar died. They told him about it. Ulaleg said that Gambar was only sleeping.
Ulaleg brought Gambar back to life.

10. Si Bater Wey Si Uval

[Pg 11. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Monkey and the Beetle

The beetle and the monkey agreed to go on a journey. The monkey
got angry because all the people they met noticed only the beetle. No one greeted the monkey when in fact he was the one paddling the boat.

"Why," said the monkey, "do they only notice you?"
The beetle said, "I don't know because I'm only lying here in the
middle of the boat."

They continued their journey. When they passed by the house of
the datu, he asked the beetle where they were going.
"We are going to look for our livelihood," answered the beetle,
"because we are miserable."

They left and continued sailing downward.
"Come here, friend, because we are going ashore already," said the

The monkey went out ahead quickly, thinking that he would soon
be noticed, and the beetle was a bit slow.

The monkey sat down with crossed legs. Then someone came and saw the beetle.

She was a young lady who said, "The beetle will be eaten by the chicken if he is seen!"

The young lady approached the beetle.
"Why did she greet him when I'm already seated and crossing my
legs, and she did not greet me?" said the monkey.
The lady placed the beetle on top of her bed.
The datu said, "You ask Putili."
"Why ask her? We will be cursed because this is an insect."
Then the datu asked, "Are you going to marry the beetle, Putili?"
The lady said, "Yes, I'll marry him. Father, because I don't want
the monkey!"

The datu answered in agreement that he also preferred the beetle.
"You plan for your wedding,"

When the lady and the beetle became husband and wife, the monkey
became violent and he threw away all the things in the palace of the datu. The datu called for Sebandar to take the monkey out and let the dogs run after him.

11. Akal Ni Pilanduk

[Pg 12. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Clever Pilanduk

 Pilanduk was cleaning the rattan vine. A giant arrived and he wanted
to eat Pilanduk.

"Don't eat me. I'm cleaning this rattan vine because I'm going to
tie my body to that tree because the sky is about to fall."

[The giant was alarmed and said to Pilanduk] "You tie me first.
You'll be the last." So Pilanduk tied the giant then he ran away. But the
appearance of this giant changed.

Pilanduk saw a big snake that was coiling itself. [Just then, the giant caught him again.] "Now, you'll really be

Don't get mad right away," said Pilanduk.
The giant's anger again subsided. "Look at the belt of that datu. I
want that belt," he said to Pilanduk.

"I will be the first [to use it], you just keep quiet," said the giant.
Pilanduk made a belt of snake; and when the giant noticed it, Pilanduk tightened it. Then he ran away.

Once more the giant caught up with Pilanduk.
"There you are, Pilanduk!"

"Don't just say Pilanduk carelessly. Remember who you're talking

Then the giant's anger subsided.
Pilanduk ran away again. There he was again under the lawaan
tree with the baliti vine around it. The said giant caught him again.
"Now this is your last chance, Pilanduk; I will really kill you!"
"Don't be in a hurry because the datu will get angry." Pilanduk
peeped in the tree.
"Let me peep also," said the giant.
"You can peep, but don't touch the gold."
While the giant was peeping in, Pilanduk burned the baliti vine
and the giant was burned to death.

12. Kine Esawa ni Uval Ki Bater

[Pg 12. Refer to the Original Copy]

The Marriage of the Monkey and the Beetle

There was a datu who had two young daughters who were married
to a monkey and a beetle. The datu didn't refuse the marriages because he feared being cursed. The datu said, "Since you are already married, Puteli, you will have to work for a living."

The first to go was the monkey. He went to the thick baliti and cut
the branches.

The beetle also went. He said to his wife, "You bring me to a faraway
place where there are no chickens for they might eat me and I would not be able to go home."

When he was already there, the beetle changed into a human being.
He went to the mountain where there were many vines, then he cut them. In the afternoon, the beetle went home. He went to the place where his wife left him and then he assumed the form of a beetle.

After many days, he went to his kaingin again to bum it. Because
the grasses and trees were so dry, it resulted into a big fire which ate up even the forest.

The datu noticed it and so he said, "The whole world is already
burning because we are cursed by these animals."

When the beetle got home, the datu said, "You make your own
home elsewhere so you can live your own life."

The couple went to their own kaingin. The beetle said, "This is my
work here." He invited his wife to take a bath in the river. He said, "You
stay down here. And I'll stay there."

The beetle removed his beetle cloak and threw it into the flowing
river and he was changed into a young man. His wife saw the clothes and she took them. He saw his wife crying. He asked why.
"My husband drowned," said his wife.

Source JournalTambara
Journal VolumeTambara Vol. 17
AuthorsCebella T. Guintaos
Page Count14
Place of PublicationDavao City
Original Publication DateDecember 1, 2000

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