Life Among the Manobos by M. M. Flores

When the voice of the bird kwahau was first heard from the forest, when the leaes of the lanipau tree began to fall and when the nato of the ba-ro-bo trees began to bear fruit, the Manobo knew that the planting time had come. Or whenthe bright star Givang was in the eastern horizon in the evening or when the cold wind Otara began to bite, it was time for planting. The Manobo hurried to the woods or to the hillside to choose his rice field. He was content with the small clearing for he knew that anytime he might be force to leave his home and his farm. Somebody in the family might die, or the enemy might come.

Like other pre-Spanish Filipinos, agriculture was the ancient Manobo’s main source of livelihood. He wanted to make sure that his harvest would be big. Otherwise, he would have to gather roots from the forest. What must he do, then, to have a bountiful harvest? After deciding on the location of his field, he make friends with the spirits of the forest by giving an offering of betel-nut. Then, he began work without delay. He had to cut the underbrush and the small trees and fell the big trees. When the branches and other parts of the trees became dry, the entire field was burned. The clearing and planting of the kaingin was done on a pag-a-bai-yus-an or mutual help system (bayanihan). The farmer’s relative and friends help him. The entire process took several days and the work could be stopped or delayed if the omens were not favorable. The rumbling of thunder meants the work had to be stopped temporarily. A lizard in the clearing meant a quarrel over the harvest. If a tree fall on the newly planted kaingin, the evil spirits who had caused that tree to fall must be pacified. A religious ceremony must be performed. To insure a good harvest, a prayer was said to Taphagan, the diwata who guarded the crops. The seeds to be planted were sprinkled with the blood of a white chicken or a pig. Then the men punched holes in the ground with pointed sticks. Right behind them were the women, dropping the seeds into the holes and covering them with their feet.

July, August and September were the happiest months of the year. It was the harvest season. It was the time for weddings and festivals. In many places, it was also the time for watching out against the attacks of the enemies.

Before harvesting actually began, all trails leading to the house and farm had to be closed. No one was allowed to enter except the members of the farmer’s household. Anyone caught trespassing was fined and work had to stop until the following day. Otherwise, the grains would never ripen. Another requirement before harvesting was the harvest feast. It was held one week after the closing the trails. The trails were opened and the drums and gongs were sounded to welcome relatives and friends to the feast of Kakiadan, the goddess of grain. Offereings were given to the goddess so that the rice would not be stolen or destroyed by their enemies, carried away by floods, wet by the rain, eaten by rats and ants, or stolen by an evil spirit. A pig or a white chicken was offered in the sacrifice. The dead were also given a betel-nut offering and asked not to touch the grains. The feast ended with a merry making. Then, the women and children went off to field, each with a basket hanging upon he back supported by a cloth band or string which passed across her forehead. She cut the rice stalk with a clam-shell or a piece of thin fitted in the palm of her hand with rattan. It took three to five days to harvest the crop. While the women and children were harvesting, the men were getting ready to store the rice. They built a granary somewhere in the clearing –– a crude structure consisting of four small posts and a roof made of rattan leaf thatch. The rice stalks were brought near the granary, spread on grass mats and threshed with hands and feet to separate the grains. The grains were then left on the mats for one day to dry in the sun. Next, they were scooped in winnowing trays and tossed into the air to remove the chaff. Finally, they were placed in the granary where they would stay until some would be sold and some would be consumed by the family. One hectare of kaingin yielded from twenty-five to fifty sacks depending on the fertility of the soil.

The early Manobos practiced what we now know as crop rotation. When he had burned the rice stalks in the field, he planted camotes, some corn, and taro. After two successive planting seasons, he would for another place to clear. Perhaps, he would go back to the same place after several years when he thought the soil is fertile again.

For fruits and honey, the Manobo had the wide expanse of forests to gather from. Wild honey was one of the Manobo delicacies. It still is.

Aside from farming, the Manobo also hunted animals for food and for sport. He loved to hunt and he was an excellent hunter with his bows and arrows, spears and traps. He kept dogs to help him hunt deer, pigs, monkeys, doves and wild chickens. He never forgot to call the spirits first to request them to give him success in hunting and to enable him to find his way in the forest. If he caught an animal, he would divide the meat among him and his hunting companions. He would leave some meat on high place for the spirits.

The Manobo fished more than he hunted. Fishing was done in daytime and at night. Bows and arrows, hook and line, nests, traps, spears, and fish poisons were the common means of catching fish. The women used woven baskets called alat to catch fish. The fish were placed in a bamboo tube, wrapped in leaves, this tube was then laid over fire on a rack.

Fish and meat were cooked by boiling and broiling. They were preserved for future use by drying and smoking. Pounded rice was usually boiled and ground corn roasted. Bananas and sweet potatoes (camotes) were either boiled or roasted. To give more flavor to the food, salt honey, red pepper, ginger or an herb called tanglad (ginger grass) were added. Food was cooked in bamboo tubes, earthen pots or iron pans. Some of the favorite Manobo dishes were: the apai (taro tops cooked in water with red pepper and tomatoes), binukbuk (corn which was roasted and then pounded), tine lumbu (fish coked in bamboo tubes), tinapayan (fermented rice wrapped in leaves) and inti (grated coconut meat mixed with honey).

Only when food was abundant could the Manobo have three meals a day. Yet, he actually ate the equivalent of three or more meals because of his habit of munching sugar cane and eating wild fruit like durian, lanka, lanzones, and makopa.

Water was carried from the rivers or springs in long bamboo tubes and drunk from coconut half shells.

During ordinary mealtime, the husband, his wife and children and the female relatives squatted or sat around the floor and ate together. Unmarried men, widowers and male visitors ate separately. Nobody began to eat until everybody was seated. Once the meal was begun, no one left. It was considered a bad habit to call anybody away from his meal. The Manobos thought it best to be quiet while eating because of the possible danger of the enemies attacking them. It was unusual for the men to eat with their left hands while their right hands rested on their weapons. Most probably, many attacks had been made during the mealtime when people were expected to be relaxed and off their guard.

Festive meals were prepared for special religious and social events. The arrival of a visitor, an unusually bug harvest or very big catch of fish would call for a celebration. A pig was killed and cooked in bamboo joints, earthen pots and iron pans. There would be plenty of rice and camotes. Before the meals, drinks made from the sugarcane, honey or palm were distributed to the guest according to their degree of importance. For their sum-sum-an, they would have meat or fish to go with drinks. There was always laughter and loud conversation. There was chewing of tobacco and betel-nut. At mealtime, all the male members and visitors sat in a circle sat apart in the floor in places assigned to them. The women and children sat apart in little groups of their own. The women of the house had to attend to the need for more food.

The equal distribution of the food on individual plates and the seating of the guests took good part of an hour. These had to be properly done so that no envious feelings would be aroused and no quarrel would follow –– before the meal was over. The host always gave special attention to the guest of honor and he could show preference to others, but he always made it known why he was doing so. Then, the meal would begin in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie. Food was served in bark plates, in bamboo joints or in basket lined with leaves. At a Manobo banquet, one was expected to be a good eater and a heavy drinker.

The Manobo had no reason to fear hunger and starvation. What he could not produce, nature would provide. There were always the forest to supply him with fruits, meat, drink and honey. There were rivers and streams to give him fish and shells. There were the clear springs for his water.

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