The Bagobo are a proud people with proto Malayan features and with a strong social structure enabled them, as a group, to integrate with the main body politic while retaining much of their indigenous customs, beliefs, and values. That said, most of the Bagóbo have suffered dislocation due to the loss of their ancestral lands and the effects of modern day insurgency. While many are in economically depressed circumstances, a considerable number have attained a substantial degree of self-sufficiency. For instance, they are renowned for their metal-craft skills, particularly in the production of brass articles by means of the ancient lost-wax process; weaponry best exemplify Bagóbo ornate traditions of metal-crafting. While still others of the Bagóbo specialize weaving abacca cloths of earth-toned hues, as well as, basket-making trimmed with beads, fibers and horse hair.
Their distinct ceremonial attire made of ikat textiles is likely to be referred to as either costume or dress. For the Bagóbo, however, whichever word is used made a difference. For example, they tend to use kóstyom (costume) when speaking to non-Bagóbo; amongst themselves, they use ompák (garment or clothing). Kóstyom is not just “costume” pronounced with a local accent, it referred to something more exact. For the Bagóbo, the implementation of these clothes took on multiple meanings that delineated the many modes of being a modern Bagóbo. Textiles continue to profoundly connect to ideas of the self in relation to the group, especially with regard to shared ideals of spiritual understanding and belonging.
The upland Bagobo ( Manobo, Obo, Obbo, Manuvu, Matigsalug, Matidsaug, Kulamanen, Tigwa-Salug) and Guiangan (Attaw, Jangan) traditionally live in the east and south of Mount Apo and the eastern side of Cotabato. Presently most Bagobo populations are scattered in the interior ranges beyond Davao City, whole those on the coastal plains have adapted a lowland way of life. The national population is placed at 58601 (NM 1994).
The Bagobo are heterogeneous, including subgroups like the Tahurug west of the middle of the Davao river; the Timananon in the headwaters of the Tinaman river; the Puangion in the southeastern Bukidnon; the Kuamanon living near the Kuaman river, etc., with differences in dialects and other culture traits. Bagobo in the linguistic sense, belong to the Manobo family of languages. The term is of little help in fixing ethnic identity because for intents and purposes the group described in 1910 is virtually non-existent to date due to the spread of Christianity, plantation economy and the market system.
Traditionally, Bagobo society is dominated by a warrior class called magani, that includes the community leader, usually a datu who wields no real power except his influence as senior arbiter and judge, qualities, which derive from his being a magani. He exerts influence over a community composed of households organized through kinship principles, whether by blood or by marriage.
The houses are scattered near swidden fields. The scattered neighborhood is organized into a district or political domain under the datu who functions as a temporal head of a group. It is said that several domains identified as Bagobo with its datu or chief, recognize the political authority of the datu of Sibulan, as a higher level of hierarchy. The house of the datu has been said to be able to accommodate several hundreds of people, and it is the ceremonial and defense center for the community. Specific domains are controlled by magani. The magani is identified by his blood-red clothing, which he earns in successful combats.
Abaca used to grow wild in the Davao provinces. These are usually stripped for the fibre for which are used for commercial purposes especially during the early 1900s when the demand for hemp was great. Domestically the fibre is used for weaving tie-dyed cloth. Both men and women use the abaca for clothing which usually are heavily decorated with multi-colored beads and embroidery over the woven designs on the cloth. The Bagobo is also known for the production of cast brass ornaments like bells using the lost-wax process.
They subsist largely with upland rice cultivated in a dry regime in swiddens. This crop is supplemented by corn, sweet potato, bananas, sago and coconut. Food gathering and hunting, and fishing are regularly done when the environment was not yet degraded.
The Bagobo pantheon is composed of a number of spirit beings that interfere in the affairs of men. The principal being is the creator called Eugpamolak Manobo or Manama. There are a large number of lesser nature spirits who have to be shown respect and others who take pleasure in being irritants. The mabalian who are usually women, are the ritual practitioners which include healing. It is not rare that mabalians are also skilled as weavers.