Mangyan (Hanuno'o Group)

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Mangyan (Hanuno'o Group)

PRONUNCIATION: mahng-YAHN (hah-noo-NO-oh)
LOCATION: Philippines (island of Mindoro)
POPULATION: 7,000-13,000 (2000)
LANGUAGE: Hanuno'o
RELIGION: Traditional animism; some Catholicism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Filipinos


The Hanuno'o are the best known of the various groups called "Mangyan" living in the interior of the island of Mindoro. To an even greater extent than other such outsider-given names, "Mangyan" covers a wide range of meanings. In the Tagalog, Bikol, and Visayan languages of the central Philippines, the term combines the ideas of "savage," "mountaineer," and "pagan Negro," apparently once referring to Negritos rather than to Mangyan, who physically do not differ from lowland Filipinos. The word even came to mean "servant" or "debt-slave," much as, among the Tausug, captive slaves in general were called bisaya. In the usage of most Mindoro highlanders themselves, "Mangyan" equals "a person," a fellow "tribesperson," or "pagan." The exception is the Buhid who use it only to refer to other highland peoples and not to themselves. The Hanuno'o, on the other hand, insist that they are the "authentic" Mangyan (hanuno'o means "true" in their language).

Mindoro presents one of the great anomalies of Philippine history. Whereas Cebu, Panay, and, above all, Manila retained and increased their regional importance under Spanish colonial rule, Minodoro lost its pre-Hispanic prominence. Finding mention in Chinese accounts of the 13th century, the island was the first place in the Philippines to enter the historical record under the name Mait (Ma-yi in modern Mandarin pronunciation). To exchange for beeswax, musk, sandalwood, kapok, and the leather of the tamaraw (a wild and smaller version of the water buffalo), Chinese traders brought porcelain, metal, cloth, and silver coin; the Mait people themselves carried these goods to other islands and returned with the products the Chinese desired. Shaded by umbrellas, the Southeast Asian emblem of royalty, the chiefs of the coastal towns were powerful enough to deter pirate attacks, to exact customs duties from the Chinese traders, and to vouch for their own people, whom the Chinese regarded as "trustworthy."

Based on Panay and groping towards Manila, the Spanish first came to Mindoro in 1570. They called the coastal people "Moros," noting their connections with Muslim Brunei, which they would discover the Tagalogs farther north also enjoyed. The coastal towns were defended by moats, 4.25 m (14 ft) thick walls, and culverins (small cannons). Their inhabitants were rich in gold and savvy enough to present the greedy Spaniards with fake gold pieces that deceived even the most expert. In addition, the Spaniards also recorded that "Chichimecos" inhabited the interior. This was originally an Aztec term for the nomadic bands who lived far to the north of the Valley of Mexico; here it would generally be applied to Negritos. This is a reversal of the transfer of terminology that named the Aztecs and other American natives indios, "Indians." This distinction between sophisticated coast-dwellers and "primitive" interior peoples would widen through the coming centuries.

Because of its strategic position between Luzon, Panay, and Palawan, coastal Mindoro became a battleground between the Spanish and their Muslim enemies from the far south. From the 17th to the early 19th century, the Muslims controlled the entire west coast of the island, using it as a base from which to conduct piracy and slave-raids throughout Spanish Christian territory. The Spanish themselves attempted with only limited success to extend their control over the rest of the island, exacting tribute, gathering the natives into compact settlements (reducciónes), and establishing missions. The end result of this conflict was the Spanish evacuation of much of the coastal population to the more securely held province of Batangas on Luzon and the withdrawal to the interior of the rest whom slavers had not taken.

By the 19th century, the island that had been the Philippines' first recorded window to the outer world gained a reputation as a wild, mysterious, and inhospitable land. When Christian lowlanders (Tagalogs and Hiligaynon) began to settle the coasts, they looked on the natives as alien heathens ripe for exploitation. For a machete, Christians could demand rice crops from Mangyan in payment; Christian men would enter into sexual liaisons with Mangyan women, only to abandon them. The American colonial regime deepened the division by labeling the Mangyan as inferior to other Filipinos and designating Indian-style reservations for them. However, as many Filipinos pointed out, American interest in the Mangyan was inseparable from their desire to exploit the island's resources. Settling the coasts and penetrating the interior, Christian Filipinos have continued to exert pressure on the Mangyan.

The Mangyan response has been to seclude themselves even further and to avoid entering into any "reciprocal" relations with lowlanders, which they have long learned end up one-sided. They even distrust hierarchy among themselves, preferring egalitarian social structures. These characteristics have left them less able to assert their political rights in the manner that Cordillera and Muslim peoples have done in gaining a measure of autonomy. As the American regime in the end abandoned the policy of isolating the Mangyan, the Filipino government has favored simple integration, which would ultimately end the Mangyan existence as separate peoples. For instance, the Iraya of the northern highlands have been settled by the government in towns and have become wage laborers for Christians.

Although they are the only Mangyan group that traditionally maintained trade relations with lowlanders, re-trading the goods to the other groups, the Hanuno'o still keep to themselves, an all-the-more-striking feat since they live rather close to Hiligaynon settlements. Whereas other groups (particularly to the north), who are hunter-gatherers that grow root-crops only intermittently, may indeed be descended from the Spaniards' Chichimecos, the Hanuno'o, who not only grow dry-rice, weave cloth, make pottery, and forge metal but also possess a script, probably lived on the coast in earlier times. Many elements of their present culture correspond to those of pre-Christian Visayan culture as described by Spanish writers.

Some Hanuno'o have begun to integrate with wider Filipino society with the assistance of Antoon Postma, a Dutch Catholic priest who began work in 1958. Having failed to attract Hanuno'o to settle near lowland schools, he established a school-clinic-chapel complex in the mountains. The Hanuno'o living around it have even begun to elect their own leaders (rather than deferring simply to age and experience), a move that will allow them to participate in Filipino politics.


The Hanuno'o live inland from the southernmost tip of Mindoro. In the 1970s, the Hanuno'o numbered 6,000 out of a total of 20-30,000 Mangyan, already a minority on an island inhabited by 300,000 Tagalog and Visayan settlers. One 2000 estimate numbers the Hanuno'o 13,000. According to the 2000 census, 7,702 identified themselves as Hanuno'o in Oriental Mindoro province, 19,001 there identified themselves as simply "Mangyan," and 13,899 in Occidental Mindoro province identified themselves as "Mangyan." The other groups include, on the one hand, the Buhid and Batangan of the southern highlands, who with the Hanuno'o form a group linguistically close to Visayan and, on the other, the Iraya, Alangan, and Tadyawan, who speak languages more similar to Tagalog. In 2000, the Mangyan were proportionately an even smaller minority on their ancestral island; its total population surpassed 1 million.


The Mangyan groups speak mutually unintelligible languages. The Hanuno'o language is similar to the Visayan tongues of the central Philippines. Along with the neighboring Buhid and the Tagbanua of central Palawan (seeTagbanua ), they still use the script, ultimately of Indian origin, that was employed by the Tagalogs and other Filipino peoples at the time of the Spanish conquest. Incised into lengths of bamboo, this script is used to write messages and courtship verse; only recently has it been used for any other purpose, namely, in election materials.


See the following section on religion.


The Hanuno'o recognize certain named deities of creation, but these play only a minor role in everyday life. Ordinarily more significant to them are nature spirits living in mountains, rocks, the forest, etc., who all can be transformed into labang, evil spirits who can attack a person's soul, causing illness or death. Benign spirits (such as ancestors) may allow their evil fellows to do harm to humans who have violated custom.

Each person has three karaduwa (souls), a good one located to the right of the chest, a neutral one in the center, and an evil one to the left. The center-soul keeps both sides in balance. If the left soul gains the upper hand, the person may lie, steal, or kill. If the right soul fails to return to the body temporarily, this causes illness; if it leaves permanently, death occurs. Kalag are guardian spirits, the ghosts of the recently deceased or the souls of the living who have supernatural powers, such as becoming invisible or making others invisible.

Part-time specialists, such as masseurs, herbalists, and mediums (balyanan), perform curing rituals. The balyanan send their spirit familiars to combat evil spirits or extract harmful objects from a victim's body. The spirit familiars reside in stones that the balyanan carefully guard. Mediums also wave leaves or other plant parts over the patient's body. Balyanan are present at ceremonies for deceased kinfolk, area spirits, and swidden (shifting-cultivation) fields, especially for rice. Spirit offerings consist of cooked rice, pig's blood, and prepared betel chew, but spirits especially appreciate glass trade-beads.


See the sections entitled "Religion" and "Rites of Passage" in this article.


Hanuno'o marry by mutual agreement of the two partners' families; the man must provide some form of bride-service to his in-laws. In contrast to non-Mangyan groups, there is no bride-price, formal ceremony, or exchange of goods between the sides. Elopement is an alternative.

For a year after death, the right soul remains in the underworld, neither dead nor alive. The left soul remains with the body, however, and may bring misfortune to surviving kin. During the first year, the body is buried with its head turned towards the west, so the face will get sunlight. After a year, the bones are exhumed (kutkutan) and bundled in two blankets, with two ends tied together to make the "head," while the other two make the "arms." The relatives feed, talk to, and dance with the bones at a large, expensive socioreligious festival called a panludan, now also called by the Hispano-Visayan term, punsiyon. This is an occasion for merry-making, courting, singing, and dancing. Not being able to use the former house of the deceased, the relatives build a ritual house; upon entering the ritual house, they beat each other with branches to drive away the center- and left-souls of the deceased. During 24 hours of chanting, a priestly exhumation specialist (panugkutkutan) reconstructs the bleached bones in the form of a person and puts clothing on the "body."

Afterwards, the bones are cleaned, and certain valuables are placed in a cave niche with the remains of other relatives. The three souls become one and go towards agsalim, the spiritual world, situated on Mt. Aliwliwan. Before passing on to agsalim, the unified soul must pass through a checkpoint where a woman judges the soul. One's deeds, character, relations, and debts are believed to continue unchanged into afterlife. If the soul is good, the woman teaches it the way to Aliwliwan. If the soul is bad, the woman keeps silent and a big man with seven dogs appears and drives the soul into a boiling pond. These beliefs reflect the influence of Buddhism.


The Hanuno'o live in autonomous, named settlements largely corresponding to a kin-group. Society is egalitarian with some prestige accorded to age and special skills, such as weaving, smithing, spirit mediation. Individuals and families possess wealth in the form of ritual glass beads, bronze gongs, porcelain jars, and cattle, but accumulated property does not give rise to social differentiation. The eldest member of a kinship group acts as a caretaker or consultant. Disputes are settled by the eldest relatives of the disputing parties. Some cases are resolved by ordeal by hot water. Penalties take the form of fines in glass beads. Although the closest relatives of a murder victim will avenge the death, the Hanuno'o, like other Mangyan groups, have no recent tradition of warfare; their response to attack by outsiders (such as Moro slavers) has been evasion.

At panludan funerary feasts, young men and women engage in a highly stylized pattern of courtship involving the exchange of love songs (ambahan). The boy starts and the girl answers, both aiming to choose the wittiest or most appropriate verse.


Villages are semipermanent, traditionally autonomous, and consist of five to six single-family houses (50-60 persons maximum). They are generally built on valley slopes or hill spurs overlooking a water source. The sites are identified by a geographical landmark, and the settlement itself by the name of its eldest resident. Settlements within an hour's easy walking distance form a "local area" to which a person maintains a lifelong affiliation and ethnocentric attachment, no matter where he or she moves.

Houses are raised on piles, sturdily constructed of wood or bamboo, and roofed with thatch. They include a veranda that may connect to the verandas of other houses, linking several in a chain. Granaries resemble houses but are smaller and lack a veranda. Some Hanuno'o live in tree houses for protection.

Average family income in the MIMAROPA region (Mindoro, Masbate, Romblon, and Palawan islands) amounted to 109,000 pesos (us$2,137) in 2006, the second lowest in the country (above the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), cf. the national average of p173,000, the National Capital Region's p311,000, and those of the neighboring regions, Southern Tagalog, p198,000, and the Western Visayas, p130,000.

In Oriental Mindoro province, the proportion of houses with a roof of galvanized iron/aluminum increased from 27% in 1990 to 52% in 2000, with a roof of grass or palm thatch from 67.1% in 1990 to 40.7% in 2000. Houses with outer walls of concrete, brick, or stone reached 27% in 2000 and with wooden outer walls 16.2%; the proportion of houses with outer walls of grass or palm thatch remained high, 33.9% in 2000, though substantially down from the 1990 figure of 54.4%.


A family consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their unmarried offspring. This may be extended to form a local family group with married daughters, and their families usually live in adjacent houses. Such a group always respects its oldest male member. A single family may move away from the settlement but will always set up its residence near the kin of either the husband or wife.

The Hanuno'o use the body as a metaphor for the extended family, whose members cannot intermarry without infringing the incest taboo and who do arawatan, i.e., aid each other in farming. The husband is equated with the right breast, the wife with the left. The right upper arm represents the husband's siblings, and the left represents the wife's. The forearms are the cousins of the respective spouses, the hands are the second cousins, and the spaces between the thumb and forefinger are the third cousins. The right neck-cheek area signifies the father and the left symbolizes the mother, while the top of the head indicates the grandparents and all the ancestors. The two sides of the abdomen represent the husband's and wife's siblings, the right thigh represents the children, the left thigh symbolizes the nephews and nieces, the knees are the grandchildren, and the lower legs are great-grandchildren and all other descendants. This imagery parallels the terminology in other Filipino and Indonesian languages, such as the Hiligaynon apo sa tuhod, "grandchild at the knee" or great-grandchild; apo sa umang-umang, "grandchild at the thumb" or great-great-grandchild; and apo sa ingay-ingay, "grandchild at the smallest toe" or great-great-great-grandchild.

As most people marry within their locality, they often have to wed cousins; this is permissible after performing a cleansing ritual. At first, most couples settle with the wife's family, moving on only later. A set of brothers is allowed to marry a set of sisters, and a widow or widower is encouraged to marry the sibling of the deceased spouse.


Hanuno'o are noted for long hair, men as well as women. They weave and dye (indigo) their own clothing, which consists of short shirts and short sarongs.


Rice is the food of prestige and ritual importance, but half of all calories in the Hanuno'o diet comes from bananas and tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, and taro). Most animal protein comes from fishing, less from game or livestock.


With the exception of those attracted by Father Postma, the Dutch Catholic priest who established a school-clinic-chapel complex in the highlands, Hanuno'o avoid modern schools to a greater extent than do other minority groups.


Large repertoires of verse (ambahan) are incised on bamboo strips. Consisting of seven syllables with rhyming endings, these highly metaphorical verses are in an archaic poetical language that is quite distant from everyday speech. An integral part of courtship, they are chanted with or without the accompaniment of guitars, jaw harps, nose flutes, and git-git, a locally produced small wooden fiddle with strings of human hair. One example translates: "The honey-eater bird,/Not yet having left the nest,/A blinking trembler,/Began to be tempted/ By a pretty dear,/In the ulang bushes of the cogon meadow." Another goes: "Though I love your body,/I love not to intrude on two./If one accompany a married woman/Who shall obey his wink,/ His head shall have a nightmare/Up there in the mountains."

Another mood is expressed in an urukay song of the neighboring Buhid: "Like a tree overgrown with branches and leaves,/My mind is full of turmoil./Though loaded with pain and grief,/My dreams continually seek for an end,/Let it be known that I am on my way./Perchance you'll catch up with me."


The Hanuno'o rely on swidden agriculture. To ensure the success of their efforts, they employ not only astronomical lore, augury, and dream interpretation but also extensive pragmatic knowledge of soil types, crop rotation, erosion, and a knowledge of plants more precise than a Western botanist's. They recognize 1,625 mutually exclusive plant forms in 890 categories, of which 600 are edible, 406 are medicinal, and the rest have no use but are classified in order to complete their understanding of an ordered environment. By contrast, Western botanists distinguish only 1,100 plant species.

The Hanuno'o practice intercropping—before harvesting one species, they plant another. In this way, they grow maize, rice, beans, sugarcane, bananas, and papayas. They do not acknowledge permanent ownership of land but rather usufruct, the rights of those tilling it at any given time; fallow land may be reopened by another party. Individuals do own trees, spears, and beads, while families own heirloom gongs and porcelain.

For consumption at ritual feasts, the Hanuno'o keep pigs, chickens, and humped cattle (the last are also used as draft animals). Using spears, traps, poisoned arrows, dogs, and formerly fire-surrounds involving 50 or more men, they hunt wild pig, deer, monkeys, and in the past tamaraw (small, wild water buffalo). They also catch fish and crustaceans.

The Hanuno'o make occasional trips to the lowlands to trade their surplus rice, maize, bananas, cacao, and tobacco for salt, metal (scrap, needles, kettles), ritually important glass beads (also the standard of value in the south Mindoro pagan interior), red cloth, Moro gongs, and Chinese porcelain (for ancestral offerings). They trade these goods obtained from lowlanders to the neighboring Buhid, their fellow highlanders, for clay cooking pots.


See the article entitled Filipinos .


Because of their isolation, Hanuno'o have less access to modern entertainment forms than other "minority" groups.


Using double-piston bellows, men forge knives and other articles from scrap metal obtained through trade with lowlanders. Women plant, pick, gin, and weave cotton into clothing and blankets and also grow indigo for dyeing. Basketry is highly developed, using red-dyed rattan and displaying fine geometrical designs.


See the article entitled Filipinos .


According to the 2000 census, among the Hanuno'o, men and women are nearly equal in number (50.2% vs. 49.8%). In the Oriental Mindoro population as a whole, more women had a college undergraduate education or higher and received academic degrees than men by a substantial margin; elementary school completion, a measure likely more relevant to the Hanuno'o, was lower for girls than for boys; 52.6% of elementary school graduates were male while only 51.5% of the population was male.


Gordon, Raymond G., ed. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th edition. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2005. (November 16, 2008)

Kikuchi, Yasushi. Mindoro Highlanders: The Life of Swidden Agriculturalists. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1984.

LeBar, Frank M., ed. Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Vol. 2, The Philippines and Formosa. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1972.

Lopez, Violeta P. The Mangyans of Mindoro: An Ethnohistory. Quezon City: University of Philippines Press, 1976.

Mayuga, Sylvia, and Alfred Yuson. Philippines. Hong Kong: APA Productions, 1987.

National Statistics Office: Government of the Philippines. (November 16, 2008).

—revised by A. Abalahin