Pre-hispanic Bukidnon theogony

José S. Arcilla, S.J.

Posted on April 08, 2013

THE “BUKIDNONS” in Misamis were initially three groups: those in the fertile mountains and valleys of the Cagayan, Tagoloan, and Iponan Rivers; those near the “Bagobos” of Agusan between Gingoog and Nasipit; and those on the right bank of the Pulangi River and its tributaries.

Tall, generally handsome, affable and open, alert and well-mannered, they could compare with the old Visayan Christians. In their trade, they were hardly distinguishable from their baptized customers or trade partners. Polytheists, they believed in four gods, dwelling in the four cardinal points: north, “Dumalonglong”; south, “Ongli”; east,”Tagolambong”; and west, “Magbabaya.”

“Magbabaya” had two equal deities, “Imababasang,” invoked for safe delivery, and “Ipamahandi” in charge of livestock (carabao, horse, etc.).

These gods dwelt inside tree trunks or in enormous cliffs. When people pass by a Balete tree, they bent down and lowered their voice to a whisper. For they believed that the Balete was the dwelling place of “Magtitima,” the invisible being in the forest.

The most revered was “Tigbas,” who had descended from heaven. Only the principal datus kept his stone image guarded with extreme care and showed it only to their most trusted friends and allies.

Another deity, the “Talian,” represented by a squatting monkey, was made of the root of the alder tree. They tied its small image around their neck, and they never went out on a journey without it. When fearing an ambush, they hung this image with a string in the air. The direction it faced once it stopped swinging was where their enemy would appear. To save themselves, they turned around and took a different route for their journey. To cure sickness, they kept the idol in a glass of water and dank it.

The “Basco,” or evil spirit, they constantly feared and tried to appease with food and drink, singing and dancing, while reciting some prayers to free them from a calamity they feared would befall them. The elders were usually the ones who offered their sacrifices, generally of fruits, or pigs and chickens. One of their more common altars was a bare post on top of which they placed a plate containing some offerings. On two transversal pieces of wood midway in the post they placed idols.

A deep fear among the Bukidnons was being victimized by deceit or poisoning. Before offering food to guests, they first tested it, to show they had nothing to fear if they accepted the food or drink... No Bukidnon would ever mention his own name, and when asked, someone else answered, “They call him ‘Gulas.’” Those who lived isolated in the forest or mountain clefts, built their house low, although raised above the ground, out of fear of the enemy’s spears.

They believed that the dead rose to heaven by jumping, more or less upwards, to remain there forever. Mourning they observed by letting their hair loose and did not tie it up until after a long period, depending on their love for the deceased.

As one can see, the indigenous religion of the Bukidnons had clear affinities with Christian truth, and which needed only to be purified. In many ways, this was one reason why the missionaries generally succeeded in convincing them to accept Christian baptism.