BAGOBO AREA | Beliefs Concerning the Soul, Oracles & Magic

The west coast of Davao Gulf between Daliao and Digos is dotted with small villages, the inhabitants of which are largely Bagobo who have been converted to the Christian faith and have been induced to give up their mountain homes and settle in towns. Back of this coast line rise densely timbered mountain peaks, lateral spurs from which often terminate in abrupt cliffs overlooking the sea. From other peaks extensive grass covered plains slope gently down nearly to the water’s edge. Deep river canons cut between these mountains and across the plains, giving evidence of active erosion for a long period of time. If these mountain chains and river courses are followed back it is found that they all radiate from one stupendous mass, the center of which is Mt. Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines and reputed to be an active volcano. Near to its summit is a deep fissure from which, on clear mornings, columns of smoke or steam can be seen ascending, while the first rays of the rising sun turn into gold, or sheets of white, the fields of sulphur which surround the cone.

Along the lower eastern and southern slopes of this mountain and its tributary peaks live the wilder branch of this tribe, whose traditions, religious observances, and daily life are closely related to the manifestations of latent energy in the old volcano.

Taken From: Field Museum of Natural History , Publication 170.  Anthropological Series Vol. XII, No. 1,
THE WILD TRIBES OF DAVAO DISTRICT, MINDANAO BY  Fay-Cooper Cole, Assistant Curator of Malayan Ethnology, September, 1913



There is some variance, in different parts of the Bagobo area, in the beliefs concerning the spirits or souls of a man.  In Cibolan each man and woman is supposed to have eight spirits or gimokod, which dwell in the head, the right and left hands and feet, and other parts not specified.  At death these gimokod part, four from the right side of the body, going up to a place called palakalangit, and four descending to a region known as karonaronawan. These places differ in no respects from the present home of the Bagobo, except that in the region above it is always day, and all useful plants grow in abundance.  In these places the gimokod are met by the spirits, Toglai and Tigyama, and by them are assigned to their future homes.  If a man has been a datu on earth, his spirits have like rank in the other life, but go to the same place as those of common people.  The gimokod of evil men are punished by being crowded into poor houses.  These spirits may return to their old home for short periods, and talk with the gimokod of the living through dreams, but they never return to dwell again on earth.

In the districts to the west of Cibolan the general belief is that there are but two gimokod, one inhabiting the right side of the body, the other the left.  That of the right side is good, while all evil deeds and inclinations come from the one dwelling on the left.  It is a common thing when a child is ill to attach a chain bracelet to its right arm and to bid the good spirit not to depart, but to remain and restore the child to health.  In Malilla it is believed that after death the spirit of the right side goes to a good place, while the one on the left remains to wander about on earth as a buso, but this latter belief does not seem to be shared by the people of other districts.

Aside from the gimokod the Bagobo believe that there exists a great company of powerful spirits who make their homes in the sky above, in the space beneath the world, or in the sea, in streams, cliffs, mountains, or trees.  The following is the list related by Datu Tongkaling, a number of mabalian, and others supposed to have special knowledge concerning these superior beings.

Philippines | Bagobo | Datu Bulon, 1904

I. Eugpamolak Manobo, also called Manama and Kalayagan.  The first and greatest of the spirits, and the creator of all that is.  His home is in the sky from whence he can observe the doings of men.  Gifts for him should be white, and should be placed above and in the center of offerings intended for other spirits.  He may be addressed by the mabalian, the datu, and wise old men.

II. Tolus ka balakat, “dweller in the balakat (A hanger in which offerings are placed).”  A male spirit who loves the blood, but not the flesh of human beings, and one of the three for whom the yearly sacrifice is made.  Only the maganimay offer petitions to him.  He is not recognized by the people of Digos and vicinity.

III and IV.  Mandarangan and his wife Darago.  This couple look after the fortunes of the warriors, and in return demand the yearly sacrifice of a slave.  They are supposed to dwell in the great fissure of Mt.  Apo, from which clouds of sulphur fumes are constantly rising.  The intentions of this pair are evil, and only the utmost care on the part of the magani can prevent them from causing quarrels and dissentions among the people, or even actually devouring some of them.

V. Taragomi.  A male spirit who owns all food.  He is the guardian of the crops and it is for him that the shrine known as parobanianis erected in the center of the rice field.

VI. Tolus ka towangan.  The patron of the workers in brass and copper.

VII.  Tolus ka gomanan.  Patron of the smiths.

VIII.  Baitpandi.  A female spirit who taught the women to weave, and who now presides over the looms and the weavers.

IX. and X. Toglai, also called Si Niladan and Maniladan, and his wife Toglibon.  The first man and woman to live on the earth.  They gave to the people their language and customs.  After their death they became spirits, and are now responsible for all marriages and births.  By some people Toglai is believed to be one of the judges over the shades of the dead, while in Bansalan he is identified with Eugpamolak Manobo.

XI. Tigyama.  A class of spirits, one of whom looks after each family.  When children marry, the tigyamaof the two families unite to form one who thereafter guards the couple.  While usually well disposed they are capable of killing those who fail to show them respect, or who violate the rules governing family life.

XII.  Diwata.  A class of numerous spirits who serve Eugpamolak Manobo.

XIII.  Anito.  A name applied to a great body of spirits, some of whom are said formerly to have been people.  They know all medicines and cures for illness, and it is from them that the mabalian secures her knowledge and her power.  They also assist the tigyama in caring for the families.

XIV.  Buso.  Mean, evil spirits who eat dead people and have some power to injure the living.  A young Bagobo described his idea of a buso as follows:  “He has a long body, long feet and neck, curly hair, and black face, flat nose, and one big red or yellow eye.  He has big feet and fingers, but small arms, and his two big teeth are long and pointed.  Like a dog he goes about eating anything, even dead persons.”  As already noted, the people of Malilla are inclined to identify the gimokod of the left side with this evil class.

XV. Tagamaling.  Evil spirits who dwell in big trees.

XVI.  Tigbanua.  Ill disposed beings inhabiting rocks and cliffs in the mountains.  These last two classes are frequently confused with the buso.

In addition to these, the old men of Malilla gave the following:

  1. Tagareso.  Low spirits who cause people to become angry and to do little evil deeds.  In some cases they cause insanity.
  2. Sarinago.  Spirits who steal rice.  It is best to appease them, otherwise the supply of rice will vanish rapidly.
  3. Tagasoro.  Beings who cause sudden anger which results in quarrels and death.  They are the ones who furnish other spirits with human flesh.
  4. and 5.  Balinonok and his wife Balinsogo.  This couple love blood and for this reason cause men and women to fight or to run amuck.
  1. Siring.  Mischievous spirits who inhabit caves, cliffs, and dangerous places.  They have long nails and can be distinguished by that characteristic.  They sometimes impersonate members of the family and thus succeed in stealing women and children, whom they carry to their mountain homes.  The captives are not eaten but are fed on snakes and worms, and should they try to escape the siringwill scratch them with their long nails.

Other spirits were named and described by individuals, but as they are not generally accepted by the people of the tribe they are not mentioned here.

The stars, thunder and lightning, and similar phenomena are generally considered as “lights or signs” belonging to the spirits, yet one frequently hears hazy tales such as that “the constellation Marara is a one-legged and one-armed man who sometimes causes cloudy weather at planting time so that people may not see his deformities,” or we are told that “the sun was placed in the sky by the creator, and on it lives an evil spirit who sometimes kills people.  The sun is moved about by the wind;” again, “the sun and moon were once married and all the stars are their children.”

Despite repeated assertions by previous writers that the Bagobo are fire-worshippers no evidence was obtained during our visit to support the statement.  The older people insisted that it was not a spirit and that no offerings were ever made to it.  One mabalian stated that fire was injurious to a woman in her periods and hence it was best for her not to cook at such times; she was also of the opinion that fire was of two kinds, good and bad, and hence might belong to both good and bad spirits.

A common method used by the spirits to communicate with mortals is through the call of the limokon All the people know the meaning of its calls and all respect its warnings.  If a man is starting to buy or trade for an article and this bird gives its warning the sale is stopped.  Should the limokon call when a person is on the trail he at ones doubles his fist and thrusts it in the direction from which the warning comes.  If it becomes necessary to point backwards, it is a signal to return, or should the arm point directly in front it is certain that danger is there, and it is best to turn back and avoid it.  When it is not clear from whence the note came, the traveler looks toward the right side.  If he sees there strong, sturdy trees, he knows that all is well, but if they are cut or weaklings, he should use great care to avoid impending danger.  When questioned as to why one should look only to the right, an old man quickly replied:  “The right side belongs to you; the left side is bad and belongs to someone else.”

Sneezing is a bad omen, and should a person sneeze when about to undertake a journey, he knows that it is a warning of danger, and will delay until another time.

Certain charms, or actions, are of value either in warding off evil spirits, in causing trouble or death to an enemy, or in gaining an advantage over another in trading and in games.  One type of charm is a narrow cloth belt in which “medicines” are tied.  These medicines may be peculiarly shaped stones, bits of fungus growth, a tooth, shell, or similar object.  Such belts are known as pamadan, or lambos, and are worn soldier-fashion over one shoulder.  They are supposed to protect their owners in battle or to make it easy for them to get the best of other parties in a trade, A little dust gathered from the footprint of an enemy and placed in one of these belts will immediately cause the foe to become ill.

It is a simple matter to cause a person to become insane.  All that is needed is to secure a piece of his hair, or clothing, place it in a dish of water and stir in one direction for several hours.

Father GISBERT relates the following method of detecting theft:

“There are not, as a rule, many thefts among the Bagobo, for they believe that a thief can be discovered easily by means of their famous bongat.  That consists of two small joints of bamboo, which contain certain mysterious powders.  He who has been robbed and wishes to determine the robber takes a hen’s egg, makes a hole in it, puts a pinch of the above said powder in it, and leaves it in the fire.  If he wishes the robber to die he has nothing else to do than to break the egg; but since the thief may sometimes be a relative or a beloved person, the egg is not usually broken, so that there may be or may be able to be a remedy.  For under all circumstances, when this operation is performed, if the robber lives, wherever he may be, he himself must inform on himself by crying out, ‘I am the thief; I am the thief,’ as he is compelled to do (they say) by the sharp pain which he feels all through his body.  When he is discovered, he may be cured by putting powder from the other joint into the water and bathing his body with it.  This practice is very common here among the heathens and Moros.  A Bagobo, named Anas, who was converted, gave me the bongat with which he had frightened many people when a heathen.”

In Bansalan crab shells are hung over the doors of houses, for these shells are distasteful to the buso who will thus be kept at a distance.

I was frequently told of persons who could foretell the future by means of palmistry, but was never able to see a palmist at work, or to verify the information.

Follow this link to read the entire study. THE WILD TRIBES OF DAVAO DISTRICT, MINDANAO BY  Fay-Cooper Cole


ALSO READ: Beliefs from the B’laan Ethnic Group (Mindanao) | Philippine Mythology


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Jordan is a Canadian documentary director/ producer. He made the 2011 feature length documentary THE ASWANG PHENOMENON - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in post production for "The Aswang Project" web-series, which will feature 6 myths from the Philippines. The TIKBALANG, KAPRE and BAKUNAWA episodes are available to watch on YouTube.