The wonder of Sibugay


The old Subanen houses were supported by long posts of round timbers with removable stairs. Whenever unidentified people were sighted, they would always pull up the stairs. Aggressors were afraid to approach Subanen houses, because their occupants were ready with deadly spears or with itchy concoction made by mixing poisonous herbal juices with the salty liquid (ona) from salt-cured anchovies (ginamos bolinaw). The roofing was usually made of cogon grass, which grew practically everywhere, bound together and attached to the purlins. In the bedroom were found the kaban, a wooden box containing the family’s meager valuables; and tangkob, a roundish container made of bark, about a fathom in diameter and two (2) fathoms long, which contained the staple rice of corn stored for future use. The houses of poor or itinerant Subanens are no more than leantos, made of small wooden poles and with roof made of cogon or large tree leaves so it is very easy for them to transfer from place to place, as they can immediately build new, temporary hovels in their newly settled places.


Whenever a strong Subanen leader emerges, who is powerful enough to protect his neighbors, they make him a timuay or leader. A timuay protects the people who recognize his authority. A rich timuay usually builds his house, long in shape to accommodate several rooms for his wives. It is surrounded by the houses of the people who seek his protection. In this case, such houses are studier and bigger, as the group’s stay is more or less permanent. And the whole Subanen village becomes more prosperous. Timuays have traditional powers to settle disputes between group members. He can impose fines and light punishments.

A Muslim patriarch or leader is supposed to be concerned with the welfare of his relatives, including distant ones. He is expected to extend financial help to clan members who are sick or getting married. Muslims have a high degree of respect for their elders and leaders. It is this family loyalty that sometimes lead to dire consequences. Muslims believed that when an offense is committed against a person, the same offense is actually directed against the entire clan, any member of the latter clan may then volunteer to slay the offender, to make things even. This is the rido system which is still practiced by some Muslims. The cyce of revenge continues until when religious or political leaders mediate the conflict, and adequate blood money is paid to the family of the victim or victims who were not at fault.

Other settlers from Visayas and Luzon have their own culture or peculiar customs and traditions, moral values, mannerisms and the like.

Celebrations and Marriage Practices


Buklog or Beklug Fiestival

The most colorful and expensive of the Subanen celebrations is the buklog (Subanens pronounce it as gbecklug), a rite observed after a happy event, such as good harvest. Up to the 1950’s, many buklogs were held, sponsored by rich families or those with the largest landholdings. However, as the traditional Subanen chieftains began to become impoverished, having sold or lost their lands to the migrants, or have them divided by many heirs, buklogs are held occasionally. Nowadays, even in such Subanen bastions as Lapuyan, buklogs are held only during very special events, like the visits of VIP’s or politicians, and the activities are now limited to the ceremonial or merry – making aspects, minus the sumptuous feast and drinking.

In the early days, when a powerful Subanen hosted a buklog, there was along preparation to raise and fatten pigs, cows, carabaos and chicken. Other renowned and rich Subanen and relatives from afar were also invited.

An open rectangular stage, called a buklog, is constructed with round timbers, about five fathoms in diameter. It has split bamboo flooring supported by timbers which are chosen for their pliability. Beneath the center of the floor is a big pole which is positioned to pass through a hole carved on a rounded piece of log. Dancers, both men, women and children take turns in going up to the buklog to dance. They jump and dance in unison, so that their combined weight would move the stage downward, resulting in the pole striking the hollowed log, thus producing rhythmic sounds which reverberate even to the distant hills. Each sound is accompanied by joyful, synchronized shouts from the participants. The dancing lasts up to the wee hours of the morning. A sumptuous feast is served to everybody around the clock. Adult males and even some women sit on the floor of the house in a circle, at the middle of which is an expensive porcelain jar, filled with basi wine, made from fermented rice. Only one bamboo straw is used for drinking, which is passed around. Sumptuous foods are eaten without let up.

During fiestas and other festivities, such dances as the sothalek and mangalay with all their intricate movements are also performed. Women, carrying palm fronds and men, carrying wooden shields and lances, gracefully strut, advance or sidle up in measured steps.

In the past, Subanen chieftains practiced polygamy. The number of wives depended on the chieftains’s wealth or influence.



By Ma. Congee S. Gomez
Inquirer News Service

Part of understanding Sibugay's culture is getting to know the Subanen.

My first encounter with them was on a makeshift stage where a man and a woman were performing Subanen courtship steps.

The haunting sound of the agong is indicative of Subanen treasures. Their brass pieces were top items for trade with Chinese merchants in the olden days. Some of these wares are now priceless pieces on the glass shelves of Subanen coordinator Magdalena Cayon.

Subanen villages are located in Diampak, Latnapan, Sioland, Tapilisan, Sanghanan and Bangkor.

According to Cayon, some Subanen have become professionals, while others remain predominantly kaingeros (slash-and-burn farmers) and rubber strippers.

But despite the Subanen's fast assimilation of lowland ways, the revered Boklog remains a unifying ritual. Being baptized Catholics does not obliterate the practice of their laws, marriage rites and attendance of their Mass (held every October 29).

But there are unresolved issues concerning ancestral land. Cayon herself has been dragged into a controversy over her claim to 2,500 hectares. She says she entrusted the original land titles to William and Manuel Seelin of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines, and no progress has been made.


Ateneo Peace Institute Publication

JOURNAL 4 - FOREWORD (VOL. 2 No. 2 January 2003)

During SY 2002 – 2003, the Institute to Cultural Studies for Western Mindanao (ICSWM) and the Ateneo Peace Institute (API), in cooperation with the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD) Social Fund, the Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), the Sarang Bangjn Foundation , and the Social Amelioration and Literacy Agenda for Muslims (SALAM) Foundation, ran a special lecture series entitled “On Contemporary Moro Issues.” The lectures were held late in the afternoon for four consecutive