The Mandaya Culture

MandayaConsisting of both the non-Christian and non-Islamic, the Mandaya (Mangwanga, Mangrangan, Managosan, Magosan, Pagsupan, Divavaonon, Dibabaon, Mansaka) are found throughout Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte, Mindanao. Their name denotes the “first people upstream” and derived from man “first” and daya “upstream or upper portion of a river”. They are shifting cultivators who depend largely on swidden farming (slash-and-burn) and supplement it with fishing, hunting-gathering, and planting of abaca as a cash crop. The Mandaya family structure is traditionally paternalistic with the father seen as the head of the family and the sole provider of the family. The mother, in turn, takes care of all household chores, while simultaneously, looking after her husband’s and children’s needs; it’s also her role to rear the children in accordance to tribal practices. Major decisions are made jointly. Also, Mandaya parents undertake the role of preserving and handing down ancestral heritage onto their children.

The name Mandaya means “the people who live upriver”. They are also considered to belong to the Manobo group. They stand out among the others because of their sharp Spanish features. They are generally good looking and known to be peace-loving and honorable people. The “Christianized” portion of the Mandayas are considered to be the original “Dabawenos”.

Aesthetics and the arts rank high among the Mandaya; their metalsmiths excel in fashioning exquisite silver and brass ornamental items (much owed to their contact with Muslim groups), as well as, weaponry. Examples include the balladaw (steel dagger), kakala (bolo), likod-likod (single-bladed kakana), and wasay (ax for cutting wood or for self-defense). Mandaya jewelry, on the other hand, are fashioned at home pending the availability of material(s). Jewelry is used as a measure of one’s socio-economic status among the Mandaya women; no young Mandaya woman, single or married ventures out without donning a piece of jewelry. Oft times, silver was used for fashioning jewelry; brass, in the form of brass casting, was copied from the Muslims. Music is also an important component of their culture, oft times incorporating various musical instruments and dances in their celebrations and rituals. Mandaya riddles and proverbs were often retold as folk songs that reflected the people’s collective attitude towards life and the world. Two such examples (that have remained within the native repertoire) are the oyog-oyog (lullaby) and the bayok (love and adventure songs). Mandaya costume motifs were characterized by block designs, line patterns, rickracks, scrolls, curvilinear motifs, and diamond crosses; sometimes, incorporating a crocodile motif done at various levels of abstraction.

The national population of the Mandaya is about 172,506 (NM 1994). They are concentrated in the municipalities of Caraga (6,860), Manay (2,770), Cateel (2,665), Lupon (3,055), and Tarragona (2,935). The known subgroupings are: (1) Mansaka, (2) Pagsupan, (3) Mangwanga (Mangrangan, Compostela), (4) Managosan (Magosan), and (5) Divavaon (Dibabaon, Mixed Manobo Mandaya), (6) Karaga, (7) Mansaka (NSO 1980).

They occupy the upstream areas, practicing slash-and-burn cultivation in highly dispersed settlements. Apart from the wide range of cropping that they do for domestic consumption, abaca is cultivated as a cash crop. Rice, various tubers, and bananas form the bulk of the diet. Communities are dispersed usually near swiddens. Houses are usually occupied by two or three family units, and these are usually within sight even if dispersed. Proximity of these houses constitutes a neighborhood which is loosely organized into a larger discrete domain with all the households related through several crosscutting kin relationships. Families are either nuclear or polygynous.

Traditionally, each domain has a headman, bagani, whose word is considered law and who wears distinctive clothing. His rule is tempered by an advisory council, angtutukay, usually composed of elders in the community. With the disappearance of the bagani structure at present the civil structures of the barangay prevails.

The Mandaya/Mansaka are famous for their distinctive dress and ornamentation. The tie-dye weaving and embroidery by the women is linked up with a sophisticated symbolic art system that evolved design motifs that are provided with names. The beadwork and silver craft on body ornaments marks this group as one of the most noteworthy of Philippine indigenous peoples in terms of art.

Their house is a poorly constructed one-room hut. Clothes and tools can be found hanging from the rafters. They lavishly use gold as adornments. The design depicts the people’s folklore. Children are matched for marriage by their parents quite young. Men are allowed to have more than one wife but the women must have only one husband. A “bagani” (datu) with his “Likid” (advisory council) heads the tribe. An adjutant is tasked to make the announcements and summons.

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