The Mangyans


Mangyan is the generic name for the eight indigenous groups found in Mindoro island, each with its own tribal name, language, and customs. The total population may be around 100,000, but no official statistics are available because of the difficulties of counting remote and reclusive tribal groups, many of which have no contact with the outside world.

The ethnic groups from north to south of the island are: Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tawbuid (called Batangan by lowlanders on the west of the island), Buhid, Hanunoo. An additional group on the south coast is labelled Ratagnon. They appear to be intermarried with lowlanders. The group known on the east of Mindoro as Bangon may be a subgroup of Tawbuid, as they speak the ‘western’ dialect of that language.

Mangyan selling their goods

Mangyan are mainly subsistence agriculturalists, planting a variety of sweet potato, upland (dry cultivation) rice, and taro. They also trap small animals and wild pig. Many who live in close contact with lowland Filipinos sell cash crops such as bananas and ginger.

Their languages are mutually unintelligible, though they share some vocabulary. Tawbuid and Buhid are closely related, and are unusual among Philippine languages in using the /f/ phoneme. Tawbuid is divided into eastern and western dialects. Western Tawbuid may be the only Philippine language to have no glottal phonemes, having neither /h/ or /ʔ/.

Their traditional religious world view is animistic (Animism). Around 10% have embraced Christianity, both Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. New Testaments have been published in six of the languages.


Tawuid Men, Mangyans of Occidental Mindoro Photo by Derek Daniel

Tawuid Men, Mangyans of Occidental Mindoro Photo by Derek Daniel

“Mangyan” is the collective name of seven ethnolinguistic group inhabiting most of the highland region of Mindoro, the seventh largest island in the northern end of the vast basin of the Sulu Sea, south of Batangas and the mainland southern Luzon, and west of the Bicol region. Most parts of the island are mountainous. There are still small stretches of flatlands, and the rest are coastal areas. These plains are home to non-Mangyan groups such as Tagalog, Visayan, and Ilocano.

The exact etymology of the word Mangyan has not been identified or traced. It had been in use for a long time before the realization, in the present century, that there were actually several diverse groups making up the Mangyan population on the island. Based on existing studies, there are at least six different groups scattered throughout the island, all speaking related languages. The northern groups are the Iraya, Alangan, and theTadyawan. The southern groups are the Hanunoo, Buhid, and the Taubuhid who are also known as “Batangan” or “Bangon”. The Buhid and Batangan are closely related groups. A seventh group, the Ratagnon (sometimes called “Latagnon” or “Datagnon”), is said to be non-indigenous to Mindoro because they speak Cuyunon, a Visayan language. Some of the Mangyan groups are composed of smaller units or subgroups.

Rough estimates of population from NCCP-PACT: 1998 give the following figures:
Batangan  – 36,000
Iraya   – 35,000
Hanunoo – 18,500
Alangan – 13,500
Ratagnon – 10,500
Buhid  –   6,500
Tadyawan  –   2,000

The Iraya occupy the northwestern part of Mindoro, where one of the country’s highest peaks, Mount Halcon, is located. The word “Iraya” is derived from the prefix “i” – denoting people, and “raya”, a variation of “laya” which means “upstream,” “upriver” or “upland”. Thus the meaning of the word is “people from upstream” or “uplanders”. Historically, however, the Iraya occupied the coastal region in some distant past, until they were pushed further inland by settlers from other places. The word also means “man”, “person”, and adult”.

The Alangan occupy northwest central Mindoro. One theory about this term is that it could mean “a group of people whose culture is awkward”, from the Tagalog word alangan, which means among other things “uncertainty”, “doubt” or “precariousness”.

There is scant information available regarding the Tadyawan, who live in sparse settlements in the northeast part of the island.

The Batangan or Taubuhid (also Tawbuhid), the most numerous of the Mangyan groups, occupy the central highlands of the island in the Occidental Mindoro. They live in a region where mountains tower 1950 m high. The word “batangan” derives from “batang”, meaning “trunk of a felled tree”, and “an”, meaning “place”, and refers to a place where felled tree trunks may be found, probably a swidden field. The main economic activity of the Batangan is slash-and-burn farming. The Batangan are also known as Bangon or Taubuhid. Other names used to refer to them are Bukid, Bu’id, Buhid, and Buhil, despite the fact that there is a separate identifiable group to the south, the Buhid. Local subgroups
include the Bayanan and Saragan.

The Buhid occupy the south central part of Mindoro. Their territory just about equally straddles the eastern and western provinces comprising the island.

The Ratragon occupy the southernmost tip of the island province, quite close to the coast facing the Sulu Sea. They lie nearest the aquatic route going to Busuanga Island in the northernmost Palawan and the Cuyo islands, two places
where the language spoken is Cayunon, which is also used by the Ratagnon.

Of these groups, the Hanunoo have been the most studied in terms of ethnography. “Hanunoo”, according to the group’s language called Minagyan, meaning “genuine”, “real” or “true”. However, the members of this group call
themselves Mangyan, and use the term Hanunoo Mangyan or Mangyan Hanunoo only to distinguish themselves from the other Mindoro groups.

The Hanunoo Mangyan live in a mountainous area about 800 sqkm in the southeastern part of the island, mainly in Oriental Mindoro. Their territory is under the municipal jurisdiction of Mansalay, Bulalacao, and a certain part of San Jose, which is the capital of Occidental Mindoro. Christian lowlanders surround them on the east. To the north lie the Buhid, and to the southwest the Ratagnon. They are often referred to by their Buhid neighbors as the Mangyan patag – “Mangyan of the flatlands” — to distinguish them from the former who live in the higher hinterland of the island.

Despite their proximity to the lowland settlements of the Christians, the Hnunoo Mangyan have succeeded in insulating themselves from lowland influences, and this has helped them preserve their basic culture. As far as the Hanunoo are concerned, human beings can be classified into two categories: Mangyan and non- Mangyan. Thus, the Hanunoo, Buhid, Ratagnon, and all those who wear the traditional loincloth (Miyamoto 1975:14). It is for this reason that the Hanunoo Mangyan can speak of the Cordillera Ifugao as being Mangyan too, because their traditional wear is the loincloth (Miyamoto 1975:14). The term damu-ong is refer to all non-Mangyan peoples, and to all outsiders. As used by Hanunoo mothers to hush up their crying babies, the term is defined early on some kind of bogeyman of threat-object among the Hanunoo. The word kristiyano is often used as a synonym for “damu-ong” and suggests the negative image the Mangyan have of their Christian neighbors. This was observed by Miyamoto who asked several old Mangyan if they remembered anthropologist Conklin who conducted fieldwork between 1947 and 1957. They all remembered him fondly. One Hanunoo said that Conklin “was not a Christian” because “he was a very kind person” (Miyamoto 1975:16).


The pioneer settlers of the Mindoro Islands were the Aeta, referred to in the early Spanish accounts as the Chichimecos. It has been theorized that when the Malay immigrants arrived in Mindoro, they pushed the Aeta deep into the interior. The former, however, did not completely isolate the latter and instead continued bartering their commodities with forest products which were in turn traded with foreign merchants plying Philippine seas.

The Mangyan settled along the shores of Mindoro Island approximately 600-700 years ago.  It is believed that they had come from the southern regions of the archipelago. They were gradually forced to leave their coastal settlements by more aggressive groups. It appears that the Mangyan have traditionally been an unwarlike people, choosing to give up an area uncontested rather than fight for it.

The earliest accounts, which mention Mindoro and its people, are found 13th century Chinese dynastic records. A number of Chinese state documents, particularly those written in the Sung and Ming dynasties, suggest that before the coming of the Spanish conquistadors, commercial trade was flourishing between the inhabitants of Mindoro and Chinese merchants. Objects unearthed on the island, such as ceramics, porcelain, large earthenware, beads, and glass object are evidence of precolonial trade, which contributed to the shaping of an
indigenous material culture among the early inhabitants of Mindoro.

The island was a viable and busy trading port, one of the many islands regularly visited by Chinese merchants. Chao Ju-Kua’s Chu Fan-Chi, written in 1225, mentions the island of Ma-i, believed to be the ancient name of the present day Mindoro. Other names associated with the island include Mait, Minolo, Min-to-lang, Mang-Yan San, and Ka-Ma-Yan. “Mait” is believed to be an old Chinese term meaning “gold”. Chinese references to the term ” Mangyan”, or
that which sounds like the present day word, could be evidence that it existed in earlier times.

In the 16th century Spanish colonizers overran the native settlements of Mindoro and reduced the island to vassalage. Spanish accounts describe the inhabitants of the coast as a well-dressed people who “wore showy headdresses of many colors turned back over their heads”, and who, more significantly, casually wore gold on their bodies. The conquistadors attacked villages, destroyed settlements, and pillaged the inhabitants of their possessions. The Spaniards exacted heavy tributes, imposed onerous monopolies and demanded forced service
from thesubjugated people. As a result, the people of Mindoro fled to the mountains.

Yet the natives were not completely defenseless or given to passive surrender. There existed native forts, which were surrounded  by moats. The local warriors also used metal weapons, a fact, which surprised the Spanish forces. Excellent knowledge of metallurgy and martial skills characterized the defenders of Mindoro. But predictably, the technological superiority and firepower of European weaponry carried the day for the marauders.

One factor that could explain the outright hostility of the Spaniards towards the inhabitants of Mindoro was the presence of an old foe: Islam. Preacher-traders from southern Philippines had earlier succeeded in spreading the Islamic faith among a number of Mindoro natives. Spanish chroniclers relating events in Mindoro referred to the people there as the “Moros of

The colonialists imposed the Christian faith and their political will with much harshness and taught the Mangyan the ways of loyal subjection to the faraway European monarch.

Muslim incursions into Spanish-held territories intensified in the 17th century. For the European colonizers, the encounter with Islam in the Philippines was but a continuation of the centuries-old conflict in Europe and in the “holy Land”. For the Muslims on the Philippine archipelago, however, the wars with the Spaniards were simply a reaction to European incursion in the islands where Islamic influence had built up and spread over a long, evolutionary period of conversion and commerce. Branded as piratical attacks in some accounts, the Muslim expeditions were mainly responses to Spain’s occupation and control of Muslim territories.

During the Spanish colonial period, tremendous pressure was brought to bear upon the lives of the Mindoro natives, who found themselves the object of contention between two armies fighting for their spheres of influence. As a result of the Moro-Christian wars, the Mangyan of Mindoro were taken captives, sold as slaves, and sometimes killed without mercy. The island went through a period of depopulation. Trading deteriorated badly. A plague of malaria made conditions even worse. The rivalry of Christian and Muslim forces in the island of Mindoro went on intermittently for most of the 333 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, such that the Mangyan suffers extreme pain and privation.

The Spanish regime ended, but the colonization of the Mangyan continued — and their marginalization with the rest of the other Philippinegroups grew apace with the imposition of the American colonial rule in the archipelago. American arms came with American anthropology. As with the Spanish derogation such as “savage” and “infidels”, the concept of “pagan”, “minority” and “non-Christian” entered  current usage, referring to tribal communities in the Philippines such as the Mangyan.

The shy, withdrawn, and hardworking nature of the Mangyan  came to the attention of the American entrepreneurs who saw their potential as a labor force. Such traits were valuable for an American-owned sugar estate that was to be established in Mindoro. When Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester, who had an explorer’s background, approved the purchase and lease of a large piece of land to an American company, he set off a process of economic exploitation that perpetuated the pattern of colonial extraction started by the Spanish
government. Worcester’s activities didn’t go unnoticed. Nationalist writers of the El Renacimiento denounced him in a celebrated editorial. “Aves de Rapina”
(Birds of Prey), which gave rise to a controversial suit in 1908. The editorial pilloried the American colonial administration, and Worcester in particular, for exploiting the tribal peoples of the country in guise of “benevolence”.

The racist tribal policies adopted by the Americans abetted and perpetuated the discrimination against non-Christian indigenous groups in the Philippines. The Mangyan were forced to live in reservations, much like those created for the native American Indians, and relocated to areas far from lowland settlements inhabited mostly by the Tagalog. The American government favored such an isolation since “a people divided cannot effectively press for freedom” (Lopez 1976).

The cumulative effect of centuries of exploitation is being felt to this day. Wily lowlanders time and again have tricked the Mangyan intodubious debts, barters, labor contracts, and often succeeded in displacing the natives from their ancestral domain with the use of spurious land titles. It is no wonder that  the Mangyan have become only too wary of the damuong, non-Mangyan, the transgressor. Displaced and dislocated, the various Mangyan groups sought
peace and freedom from the harassment in the deeper and higher parts of the mountainous interior of Mindoro, but their life has continued to be precarious. Natural disasters, inclement weather, limited food supplies, difficulties in taming the wild and rugged land, have exacerbated their subsistence level of life. “Illiteracy” has prevented them from coping with the challenge posed by “mainstream” society in terms of legal issues concerning land as well as development schemes that threaten their culture and ecosystem, and therefore their survival as a people.

The process of cultural disintegration and ethnic extinction appears to be irreversible, if proper intervention is not effected soon. Counterinsurgency campaigns, economic exploitation of Mindoro’s natural resources, landgrabbing and speculation, and the more gradual but potentially erosive influx of modernization and assimilation into lowland cultures are constant threats to the survival of the Mangyan and their centuries-old folkways.

Characteristically, the Mangyan avoid trouble at all costs, even losing territory they have long occupied. In the process, they continue to face instability in their living conditions and economic dislocations. Sadly, this process of dislocation and dispossession continues to the present. After Christian settlers came the loggers, and then the mining corporations. Today the
Mangyan find themselves with increasingly less space in which to conduct their age-old subsistence activities.

Religious beliefs and practices

Since the Mangyan are swidden farmers, their spiritual beliefs are related to their means of livelihood. Agricultural rites suggest the importance of farming and the belief in spiritual beings or forces that can influence a good harvest.

The Hanunoo Mangyan believe in a Supreme Being who is referred to as the Mahal na Makaako, who gave life to all human beings merely by gazing at them. They believe that the universe, called sinukuban (“that which is covered) or kalibutan (“the whole surrounding”) has a globular shape “like a coconut”. All beings, visible or invisible, live in this space. The stratum of the earth is called the usa ka daga. The daga (land) is  surrounded by a border area, which is dagat (sea). Beyond the dagat is the katapusan, the edge of the universe, covered with thick woods and rocks. Nothing lies beyond it. This is the home of  the labang or the horrible creatures and evil spirits greatly feared by the Hanunoo. The labang can take on animal and human forms before killing and eating their victims. They are believed to roam the areas they used to frequent during their mortal existence until they move on to dwell in Binayi’s garden, where all spirits rest. Binayo is a sacred female spirit, caretaker of the rice spirits or the kalag paray. She is married to the spirit Bulungabon who is aided by 12 fierce dogs. Erring souls are chased by these dogs are eventually drowned in a caldron of boiling water. The kalag paray must be appeased, to ensure a bountiful harvest. It is for this reason that specific rituals are conducted in every phase of rice cultivation. Some of these rituals include the panudlak, the rite of the first planting; the rite of rice planting itself; and the rites of harvesting which consist of the magbugkos or binding rice stalks, and the pamag-uhan, which follows the harvest.

Batangan cosmogony is less clear. They believe in four deities, who are all naked. Two come from the sun and are male; two come from the upper part of the river and are female. They are believed to be children (Kikuchi 1984: 7). The paragayan or diolang plates play an important role in Batangan religious practices. These plates are owned by only a few families, and are considered heirlooms. They are essential in summoning the deities to all religious and curing rituals (Kikuchi 1984: 7).



Visual arts and crafts

A common attire for the Mangyan groups is the ba-ag or loincloth worn by males. Clothing is considered by the Mangyan as one of the main criteria distinguishing them from the damu-ong. A Hanunoo Mangyan male wears his ba-ag, topped by a balukas or cotton shirt. A female wears the ramit, an indigo-dyed short skirt, and a lambung or blouse. Their traditional shirt and blouses have on the back an embroidered motif called pakudus, from the Spanish word cruz,
meaning “cross”, which bears its shape. This motif is  common on their bayong, bags made from the palm leaf buri and the black fern nito. Miyamoto believes that the pakudus motif might also be explained by the sacred number four and the mandala symbol often seen in Southeast Asian art.

Hanunoo men and women wear the hagkus or willed rattan belt with a pocket. Women wear the hulon, a belt made from nito, around their waist. They wear their hair long, and sometimes wear a headband made of beads or buri or nito. Hanunoo Mangyan of all ages and both sexes are fond of wearing necklaces and bracelets made from beads. These beads are used not only for decoration but also for magical, religious and judiciary purposes. They are used as adornments by lovers, in curing a sick person (white beads only), in rituals presided over by
the pandaniwan, and for paying fines, the quantity depending on the severeness of the wrongdoing.

Among the Iraya, males wear bahag or loincloth fashioned from a tree bark, the kaitong or belt, and the talawak or headband. The females wear the tapis or skirtlike covering made from bark, the lingob or belt, and the sagpan or pamanpan to cover the breast. They wear necklaces called kudyasan, made from tigbi seeds, and the panalingnaw or earrings.

Some Ratagnon males still wear the traditional loincloth, and the women wear a wraparound cotton cloth from the waistline to the knees. They weave a breast covering from nito or vine. The males wear a jacket with simple embroidery during gala festivities and carry flint, tinder, and other paraphernalia for making fire. They also carry betel chew and its ingredients in bamboo containers. Strings of beads or copper wire may adorn their necks. Both men and
women wear coils of red-dyed rattan at the waistline.

Among the Hanunoo, men forge and repair blades for knives, axes, bolo or long knife, spears, and other bladed instruments. Women traditionally spin, dye, and weave cotton cloth for clothing and blankets. Tailoring and embroidery of garments is usually women’s work, while men carve the handles and scabbards. Woven basketry is mainly women’s work, but sewn goods, twisted cordage, and other goods are craftedby both sexes.

Basketmaking is well developed among the northern Iraya and southern Hanunoo groups. Lane (1986: 141-144) describes the various kinds of Mangyan baskets.

The Iraya have the hexagonal household basket, which is always made in small sizes, from 18-20 cm in diameter. The materials used consists of soft and narrow strips of the buri palm leaf, which are then overlaid with nito strips. Another Iraya basket is the open grain basket made from bamboo strips, which are first blackened and dried. Variations in the weaving process produce the many designs of the basket.

The Hanunoo baskets are small, fine, and leatherlike in texture. Various designs such as the pakudus or cross pattern are created with split nito or red-dyed buri laid over strips of buri. The base of the basket is square but the mouth is round. Other types of Hanunoo basketry include purses and betel-nut carriers which come in round, polygonal, or other shapes. The covers fit snugly with the container.

Performing arts

The musical instruments found among the Mangyan are the gitara, a homemade guitar; the gitgit, a three-string indigenous violin with human hair for strings; the lantoy, a transverse nose flute; the kudyapi, a kind of lute; and the kudlung, a parallel-string bamboo tube zither. Most of these instruments are used by a male suitor in wooing a Mangyan female. A young man and his male friends strum the guitar and play the gitgit to announce their arrival at the house of the woman. The Hanunoo use the guitar to play harmonic chords and interludes between verses sung in one or two tones.

The Hanunoo use several kinds of flute. The transverse flute has five stops (unlike the Buhid’s palawta which has six), and is tuned diatonically. The pituh is a flute which is diatonically tuned, has finger-holes, but no thumb  hole. The bangsi is an external duct flute, which has a chip glued on to the tube of the flute. Another type of aerophone, aside from the flutes, is the budyung, a bamboo trumpet which is also found among the Mandaya in Mindanao.

Two idiophones are used by the Hanunoo: the buray dipay, a bean-pod rattle used in ensemble with other kinds of  instruments , and the kalutang, which are percussion sticks played in pairs to produce harmonies on seconds, thirds, and fourths (Maceda 1966: 646).

The Hanunoo also have an agung ensemble, which consists of two light gongs played by two men squatting on the floor: one man beats with a light padded stick on the rim of one of the gongs. Both performers play a simple duple rhythms (Maceda 1966: 646).

Music for the Hanunoo is part of celebrating ordinary and festive occasions. Accompanying themselves on these instruments as they recite their love poems, the Hanunoo Mangyan pay court to the women. During the wedding rituals, songs are sung, musical instruments are played, food is eaten, and wine is drunk. The songs of the Mangyan are lullabies, recollections of war exploits in the distant past, lamentations, lovelyrics, and stories based on persona.


by: Miniña R. Servano ,

Derek Daniel

CCP Encyclopedia






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