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Mindanao Tribes' "Avatar" Epic Story Tells of Golden Age of Peace, Justice, Abundance and Harmony

Updated on July 20, 2013
A T'boli youth plays the bamboo flute
A T'boli youth plays the bamboo flute
The Hegelung, a two stringed musical instrument
The Hegelung, a two stringed musical instrument
T'boli children perform m'dal seyow a dance routine portraying the origin of land from soil brought by the Betoti bird after the great flood
T'boli children perform m'dal seyow a dance routine portraying the origin of land from soil brought by the Betoti bird after the great flood
Children learn how to dance the Madal Seyow by watching their older siblings perform.
Children learn how to dance the Madal Seyow by watching their older siblings perform.
The Philippine Eagle - The largest eagle in the world and the national bird of the Philippines, lives in Lake Sebu tropical forest, ancestral home of the T'boli tribe and five other native communities.
The Philippine Eagle - The largest eagle in the world and the national bird of the Philippines, lives in Lake Sebu tropical forest, ancestral home of the T'boli tribe and five other native communities.
Nga Maria, a T'boli graduate nurse
Nga Maria, a T'boli graduate nurse | Source

"Story tells of Tudbulol riding on a white flying horse leading his people ..."

Earth Music - From a land where the largest eagle in the world lives.

Edwin C. Mercurio

Vying for the distinction of being the most Original Pilipino Music (OPM) of the Philippines is the Lumad music of the South Cotabato tribes in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. The melodies emanating from the tribes’ integration with nature and the spirit world have been given that unique distinction by the Santa Cruz Mission Study Centre in South Cotabato in a film documentary “Earth Music”.

Handed down from countless generations, the music of the Cotabato Lumads (“People of the Earth”), has only been lately recognized and appreciated. But it had always been with us. And those who are considered experts in their field attribute their inspiration and success to their communion with nature, the spiritual world and a rich cultural heritage.

“The spirits guide me in my songs. If I miss a single word, the ‘D’wata’ (Gods of my ancestors) will punish me with death,” says Mendung Bensawan, a lovely T’boli lass.

Mendung believes that the spirits tell her what to sing. Unschooled and does not even know how to read or write, Mendung can surpass any professional musician’s skill in the mastery of her songs, whose verses ooze with poetic style and creativity. Major T’boli feasts like the Lemlunay Festival, celebrated every September, are incomplete without her presence.

One of the most outstanding composition of Mendung tells of the heroic exploits of the legendary T’boli hero Tudbulol. The "Avatar - Pandora" like epic story tells of the mythical hero leading his people's battles against foreign invaders on a white flying horse with sword raised to the sky. Said to be taught to her in a dream by her spirit guide Lintinum, the song describes the hero’s successful war exploits and announces the advent of the golden age of civilization – Lemlunay – a mythical place of abundance, justice, peace and harmony.

Eyes fixed at a distance, the outer countenance of Mendung changes as she sings the melody in a trance-like manner, 24 hours during major T’boli celebrations.

Other tribal musicians uses songs, movements and musical instruments to convey love, harmony with the natural world, conflict or even flirting with the opposite sex.

One such musician is a lady named Ganay Dalikan. Known for her charming dance, music and flirtitious eye movements, she was said to have caused her husband to smash her ‘hegelung’ a two-stringed guitar in a fit of jealous rage.

The tribes’ harmonious relation with the natural world environment is evident in their music.

Duhel Temlas, a Manobo who plays the ‘dewegey’- a coconut two-stringed violin imitates the distressed calls of the trees being cut by loggers or a love-sick woodpecker knocking on trees to attract a potential mating partner.

The ‘kumbing’, too, a bamboo flute played between the lips imitates the frogs’ deep-sounding courtship calls.

Children of the hinterland tribes, also have their own brand of musical entertainment. Anywhere, anytime where tribal children gather, they tap anything in sight with rhythmic beats and there they go a-dancing, coupled with festive laughter and wild cheering. Breakdance, Hip-Hop, GangNam style or what have we, they have their own brand of all time tops – monkey dancing – complete with whirls, jumping, tumbling, scratching and all the things any normal monkey does.

Music not only serves as a form of entertainment for the tribes of South Cotabato. Its significance and purpose vary. It can be used to express joy at an abundant harvest or serve as outlet for the pent-up emotions of a distressed wife.

Take the case of Ye Bon. Unable to lash out at her husband’s wrong doings, she softly hushes a lullaby which not only puts her child to sleep in a cloth hammock but also calms her down after the musical outpouring. In the T’boli world which smacks of ‘machismo’, tribal women had to be gentle and obedient. Thus, tribal music has its own variety.

“Earth Music” captured in video form presents a wide variety of T’boli music played in the natural and pristine surroundings of Lake Sebu. The film documentary whose theme is similar to that of the “Vanishing Earth” portrays T’boli music in it unique perspective – music inspired from the tribes’ intimate, respectful and harmonious relationship with the natural world.

Even the instruments, with the exception of the gongs, are made from the trees and plants growing in the tropical forest.

“Truly, T’boli music has given a beautiful conscious form and voice to the music of the earth,” remarked those who have seen the film.

Sad to say, both T’boli culture and the natural world are threatened in South Cotabato. “The Vanishing Earth ,” another film documentary about the T’boli world, portrays the destructive impact of modern industrial technology in agriculture, subsurface mining and industry on the culture and natural world of the indigenous tribe of South Cotabato, Mindanao.

The 'Avatar-like" epic story of the T'boli mythical hero Tudbulol tells the tribes that they have the right like all "lumads" (people of the Earth) to protect and defend their lands from foreign and destructive invaders.

“Earth Music” calls attention to the changes which will inevitably take place in the T’boli world. It also challenges people who have accepted Western values and technology to be more sensitive to the rhythms of the earth.

If we are not, then we are contributing, continuing and accelerating the process which will eventually create a drab, lifeless, silent and lonely earth.


Submit a Comment

  • MercuryNewsOnline profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    The ancient epic story of mythical hero Tudbulol is an important part of the indigenous peoples cultural heritage. Many similar stories can be found in other indigenous communities. Colonial aggressors have been historially recorded to have purposely eradicated these native stories to complete the subjugation of native peoples around the world.

    I wonder if a popular movie about Pandora's native communities originated from these epic stories handed down orally from countless generations?


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