Manobo People : Superstition and Slow Life in Agusan Marsh

Every time I come to Mindanao, I’m always surprised about meeting indigenous people. Meeting the 18 indigenous ethnoliguistic groups/Lumad of this region has never been my goal; in fact I don’t plan my trips around cultural events and festivals either. For better or worse, I tend to be hedonistic and more passionate about nature and food. So last February, coming to Agusan Marsh, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the village I was staying at is Manobo.

My main impression is they are a cheerful, proud, superstitious, fun-loving and extremely laid-back people. In a floating village in the middle of a 5000-hectare lake entirely without electricity, their main preoccupation seems to be to talk, talk, talk (actually great, since this IS the way to resolve conflicts and issues). They greatly enjoy each other’s company.

At that time, the people hanging out in the tourist lodging house were having very long meetings and are preoccupied with these issues: 1. the fact that their neighbors envy them because they’re the ones making money from taking care of the guests 2. getting the other Manobo clans to help and pitch in money so they can clean away the hyacints that infested the lake. They needed only P2500 to buy a net but even this seemed a huge financial burden 3. uniting different Manobo villages, clans and groups to better care for the Agusan Marsh. Far from our image of indigenous people as hapless and ignorant, it is quite clear that the Manobo of Agusan Marsh are committed, future-oriented, energetic and smart people concerned about their community and livelihood.

Locals chilling out at this tourist lodging while I am staying there. Normally this lodging house is closed.



A Manobo woman showing off the slippers sho wover herself using dried hyacinth fibers.


 The locals after their meeting.



An Encounter with Manobo Superstition

The moment I entered Agusan Marsh by motorized boat last December, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I was to find out later on that this is forbidden!

As soon as I reached the lodging house, they conducted a ritual to ask their God that lives in the lake for my protection and blessing. They lit a candle and prepared cigarettes, beer, soft drinks and candies as an offering- all happily consumed by the four attendees later on, I must add. Eric, the village captain, led the prayers. Later, I was told that God himself literally “spoke through” him. Even though he prayed in their indigenous tongue, I distinctly heard him apologize to God for my taking pictures. Apparently, this was forbidden and that I should’ve secured God’s permission first.



The Manobo’s here have been Christianized for several decades now. Interestingly, they believe that the God in the lake lives in harmony with the Christian God; He’s more like the main intermediary for the Manobo’s and caretaker for the Nature surrounding them. I find that most indigenous religious and mystical beliefs are often beneficial or at worst, harmless. When you believe that gods reside in the lakes, rivers, and mountains, you are more inclined to preserve them and care for them. Of course this sacred view of Nature is in conflict with the modern world, but we who are hell-bent on mindlessly exploiting and destroying our planet have a lot to learn from them.


P.S. Take note of the darling cat under the table. I was so obsessed with this cat, but he left with his owner’s boat the next day. Also, after the ritual, I was able to take pictures to my heart’s content. ^^*


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