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ETHNONYMS: Binokid, Binukid, Higaonan, Higaunen


Identification. The Bukidnon people of the southern Philippines speak the Binukid dialect within the Manobo Language Family. "Bukidnon" is a Bisayan word for "people of the mountains," first used by Bisayan-speaking settlers of Mindanao's north coast, on whom its negative connotation for non-Hispanicized (i.e., "non-civilized") mountain people was not lost. The Spanish, who had referred to all upland peoples simply as monteses, adopted it in the late nineteenth century to distinguish Binukid speakers from the Manobo living directly to their south. The nonindigenous origin of the term has occasioned some controversy in recent years, with Bukidnon influenced by PANAMIN, the Philippine government agency formerly in charge of tribal peoples, adopting the name "Higaonnan" (derived from the Binukid gaon for "away from the water") as an alternative. This, however, has not caught on with most Binukid speakers who, grown used to "Bukidnon," steadfastly continue to call themselves by this name.

Location. Bukidnon today is the name of a Philippine province measuring 8,294 square kilometers landlocked in north-central Mindanao. The Bukidnon people for the most part live north of the eighth parallel on the grassland plateau 300-900 meters in elevation that is dominated by Kitanglad Mountain, the second-highest (after Mt. Apo) Philippine peak at 2,938 meters. Rivers rush from Kitanglad and other mountains, cutting precipitous gorges through the adtuyon clay soil. The Cagayan and Tagoloan river systems empty into Macajalar Bay to the north; the Pulangi, which originates in northeast Bukidnon, sweeps south into Cotabato where it becomes the Rio Grande of Mindanao. The plateau's average mean temperature is 23° C and rainfall averages 274.3 centimeters annually. September is the wettest month; the driest period is in March and April.

Demography. The Bukidnon people have been a diminishing minority in the province that bears their name ever since Filipinos from elsewhere in the archipelago began settling there in growing numbers after World War II. Many have intermarried with these newcomers, and their children have grown up speaking Cebuano-Bisayan, the province's lingua franca today, with 65.9 percent of the population now listing it as their mother tongue. In contrast, only 71,007, or 13.3 percent of the province's population of 532,818 in 1975, reported Binukid as their mother tongue, and only 3,351 of these reside in urban areas. Binukid speakers can be found today mainly in small barangay in the northern municipalities of the province. Few possess either wealth or political power.

Linguistic Affiliation. According to the linguist Richard Elkins, Binukid and its sister languages, Kinamigin and Cagayano, represent the first branch in the family tree of Manobo languages within the Malayo-Polynesian language category. Dialects include Banuaon (Banuanon), spoken along the Agusan border, southern Bukidnon Manobo, and Higaonan in the northern reaches of the province.

History and Cultural Relations

Bukidnon trace their origins to a pre-Islamic, Proto-Manobo-speaking population located along the southwestern coast of Mindanao, perhaps near the mouth of the Rio Grande. According to their oral epic known as the Ulagina, or Olagina, the central event in their history involved their journey away from the coast and the trials they endured in the wilderness as they followed their great culture hero named Agyu. They settled on the plateau and developed trade ties with both the Islamicized Maguindanao to their south and the Hispanicized Visayans to their north. They remained relatively uninfluenced by Spanish rule until the 1880s and 1890s when Jesuits baptized over 8,000 of the 20,000 people whom they estimated to comprise the Bukidnon population, and persuaded most of these to settle in towns built on the model of the Philippine plaza complex. Bukidnon also became more and more closely tied to the Philippine economy as producers of cash crops like abaca, cacao, coffee, and tobacco. The American colonial government created a special province called Agusan in 1907, with Bukidnon as one of two subprovinces whose "non-Christian" population came directly under American governance. Bukidnon became a full province in 1914, but as an area predominantly of "non-Christians" and hence still a Special Province, it remained directly under American control. Americans initiated a flourishing cattle industry on the plateau, which employed a number of Bukidnon men as cowboys. They also opened a pineapple plantation, which involved still more Bukidnon in the new cash economy. Guerrillas and Japanese soldiers destroyed the cattle herds during World War II, leaving the land open for thousands of farmers who migrated to Bukidnon in the 1950s and 1960s, thus raising the province's population from 63,470 in 1948 to 194,368 in 1960, and to 414,762 in 1970. During this time of rapid population growth, the Binukid-speaking population remained comparatively stable. Today they may be divided into three principal categories. First, some continue to reside in very remote settlements near the headwaters of the Pulangi or high up on the slopes of Mount Kitanglad or Mount Kalatungan. A second category, comprising the majority of Bukidnon who reside in small barangay spread out across the plateau, is more acculturated. Finally, a third and much smaller category embraces those living in Malaybalay and other towns along the highway, most of whom have ceased to regard themselves as culturally different from their Bisayan neighbors.


Bukidnon once lived in or near tulugan (communal houses with appended individual quarters) in groups of usually fewer than fifty related families presided over by a head datu (chief) and lesser datus. By the turn of the century, thanks to the efforts of Spanish priests and American colonial officials, all but a few of these had been replaced by settlements of single-family houses located for the most part along the main north-south road or along feeder roads. Today some Bukidnon continue to live in small, rather dispersed strip settlements located along trails and logging roads far from the highway. Houses in these remote villages are usually made of bamboo and thatch, and many are raised above the ground with floors of bamboo strips. More Bukidnon live in barangay along the highway or feeder roads, where small general stores are typically made of wood and cinder-block, as are some of the homes, and corrugated iron is the preferred material for roofing. Finally, a minority of the Bukidnon people live in towns like Malaybalay, Impasugong, and Valencia where their housing is indistinguishable from that of their migrant (usually Bisayan) neighbors.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Bukidnon have always been farmers, and with 95 percent still living in rural areas they remain primarily farmers today. Maize and rice are their principal crops. Until the turn of the century they cultivated these entirely in swidden plots along the edge of the plateau. As they were persuaded to settle in towns and villages on the grasslands, they began plow agriculture in small plots near their homes. Nevertheless, it is still common for Bukidnon, especially in remote villages, to practice slashand-burn farming while also maintaining a garden plot around their home. Few possess mechanized means for plowing. They use a water buffalo or bullock to pull their plow and they harvest by hand. Other subsistence crops common in Bukidnon communities include nangka, camote (sweet potato), gabi, cassava, beans, banana, and coconut. In recent years many farmers have invested in coffee growing as a commercial substitute for abaca, which for decades was their principal cash crop. While agriculture remains the foundation of the Bukidnon economy, many young Bukidnon have gained employment with mining and logging companies in the province, usually as guards rather than miners or loggers. In all of these cases, Bukidnon represent an impoverished or at best marginal economic group. The exceptions to this rule are the Bukidnon civil servants (usually teachers or clerks) who represent a significant minority of the Binukid-speaking population, especially in urban areas.

Industrial Arts. Some Bukidnon families supplement their meager income by mat making, basketry, and embroidery. But other traditional arts such as pottery and wood carving have been virtually lost.

Trade. Few Bukidnon have ever been traders. Today some farmers transport their produce as far as Cagayan de Oro, but most sell at the nearest mill. There are a number of local Bukidnon cooperatives and Bukidnon-owned general-merchandise stores, but these are the exception in a trading world dominated by Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Cebuanos, other migrants, and Chinese. Bukidnon, as a rule, are just too poor to become economically competitive.

Division of Labor. Bukidnon women have enjoyed a degree of power and respect, especially those with salaried jobs such as teaching. But the division of labor continues to place them at a disadvantage because they also are expected to cook, clean, rear the children, and launder. In agriculture they do the planting (although men assist) and weeding, and they help with the harvest. They also earn some supplementary income through their mat making, basketry, and embroidery work, and by serving as washerwomen for more affluent families. When not engaged in preparing the soil for planting and other agricultural tasks, men may work at carpentry, construction, stripping abaca, and transporting crops to market.

Land Tenure. In Bukidnon Province over 60 percent of the farms are under title to their resident farmer, although tenancy rates have been rising since 1960. The Bukidnon people worked their land under usufructory arrangements rather than as private property until the present century. Today most do not own any land. Those who do own very small farms of less than 5 hectares, and many of these do not have a secure title. In remote areas, where swidden agriculture is still common, they slash-and-burn unused land without any title at all. Whether swidden or plow agriculturalists, smallholders or tenants, Bukidnon tend to be, at best, poor subsistence farmers, and many do not have sufficient land or tenancy rights to be self-sufficient at all.


For Bukidnon, descent is traced bilaterally. Their kin group consists of consanguineous relatives on both their father's and their mother's sides, and affinal relatives by marriage. Today they live in nuclear-family households, but there are usually kindred living in the same barangay to whom they can turn for help and support, and, like other Filipinos, they maintain a relationship based on ties of reciprocity with relatives wherever these may be.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Bukidnon marriages are monogamous, although in the past datus took more than one wife if they could afford to do so, a custom still practiced by a few datus in remote areas today. Child betrothal, studied by Cole in 1910, is a thing of the past. Marriages, which used to be initiated by the bridegroom's father and arranged by parents of both bride and groom who used go-betweens to negotiate an appropriate bride-price, are now typically based on freedom of choice. While one can marry either within or outside one's community, brothers and sisters, and cousins on both sides, are forbidden to wed. After marriage it is still common for the new couple to live with and work for the wife's parents for at least a few months before they move to a house of their own. Some Bukidnon still conduct two marriage ceremonies, one following their ancient customs and presided over by datus, and a second within the Roman Catholic church. Divorce is rare. Where it happens, common property is divided equally, and if the wife has any property in her own name she may take this with her.

Domestic Unit. In contrast to the past when large extended families lived in tulugan, today few Bukidnon households are larger than mother, father, children, and perhaps grandparents. When the families of married sons and/or daughters are dwelling in the same household, this is usually only a temporary arrangement.

Inheritance. When her husband dies, a wife without children will inherit all the family property. If she has children, she will inherit half the property, and her children (male and female) will split the other half equally.

Socialization. The mother, with help from her older children, has primary responsibility for child rearing. Bukidnon children are socialized to be generous in their treatment of others, to avoid or minimize interpersonal conflict by being sensitive to others' self-esteem, and to be respectful of their natural environment.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Bukidnon today are so intermixed and intermarried with non-Bukidnon that, while they remain cognizant of the ethnolinguistic identity of other residents in their barangay, they cannot be said to maintain a separate social organization. Like other Filipinos, their social circle consists of a mosaic of personal alliances that each Bukidnon weaves with non-Bukidnon as well as with other Bukidnon out of real kinship ties, ritual kinship relations, relationships based on special debts of gratitude, market-exchange partnerships, patron-client bonds, and friendships. One's place in this circle is not determined by rank at birth. Those who receive greatest respect from other Bukidnon tend to be those living in towns who have, by virtue of their educational level, obtained salaried civil-service jobs. It follows that the Bukidnon tend to place extraordinary importance on education, for this has been their ticket to success. This relatively open social system, however, represents a marked change from the past. Until the turn of the century, Bukidnon society remained hierarchically organized, crowned by the tribal head datu whose sakop (followers) included his first wife and other wives and their children, lesser datus and their families, families of freemen without a datu as their head, and slaves by debt bondage or capturealthough even then, and with the exception of slaves, rank depended less on birth than on talent. Sakop worked the land designated for them by the head datu, protected the community from would-be slavers, and served the head datu on request.

Political Organization. Despite recent efforts by the Philippine central government to organize and employ datus in a Higaonan Datu Association, political unity continues to elude the Bukidnon people. Before the Spanish began resettling them in villages on the plateau, they may have recognized regional chiefs known as masalicampo. But there is no evidence that they were ever united under a single leader possessing the stature of a sultan or raja, and they have never regarded themselves as anything like a nation.

Social Control. As is the case with other Filipinos, Bukidnon stress skills that enhance smooth interpersonal relations and minimize interpersonal conflict. When a difference of opinion arises, in order not to injure another's self-esteem, they will seek out a go-between, employ euphemism rather than open criticism, or just go along (at least superficially) with the situation. In the old datu system, if a go-between succeeded in settling disputes without arousing hard feelings on any side, he soon came to be called "datu" for dispute settling; this involved not only fairness and acquaintance with customary law, but generosity in using one's own resources (plates, jars, animals, money) to assuage the bad feelings of a disputant. Today Bukidnon continue to seek out leaders who can arbitrate their disagreements and thereby help them circumvent the more expensive and formal legal system of the Philippines.

Conflict. Bukidnon generally seek not to engage in fighting but rather to avoid it. This, however, was not always the case, and there have been important exceptions to this rule in recent history. Cole reported that until the twentieth century bagani (warriors) would frequently raid Manobo or other Bukidnon settlements for slaves and personal prestige. They produced only very crude weapons themselves, depending on trade with Moros for their best knives and spears. They did not practice headhunting, but did on occasion engage in the ritual sacrifice of a captured enemy. In the last two decades acts of violence have become more and more commonplace as Bukidnon have lashed out against loggers, migrant settlers, the personnel of large sugar and pineapple corporations, and others whom they blame for their general loss of land and power. The most serious of many such incidents occurred in 1975 when hundreds of Bukidnon joined the Rizalian revitalization movement in the remote region of Miarayon between Mounts Kitanglad and Kalatungan. At least 34, and perhaps as many as 200, were killed in the fighting that ensued between them and the Constabulary.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Today, Bukidnon in the major towns worship no differently than their non-Bukidnon neighbors, but those in more distant villages have accepted Christianity more selectively. They continue to believe in a vast hierarchy of invisible supernatural beings led by Magbabáya, "most powerful of all." These spirits possess human characteristics and, while most are beneficent, they have to be won over with sacrifices of food and drink. Christian images, novenas, crucifixes, celebrations, and saints have simply been substituted for the old amulets, ceremonies, and guardian spirits, and the primary purpose of worship remains one of short-term gain rather than long-term salvation. Some Bukidnon in the vicinity of Malaybalay have converted to Protestant churches. Others, in remote regions of the province, have become Rizalians. In the traditional Bukidnon pantheon there are six categories of spirits. Highest of these are the great spirits of sky, earth, and the four cardinal points, including Magbabáya. Second are the guardian spirits of certain activities (farming) and things (water, animals). Then come the localized nature spirits of whom the busao are malevolent. Each Bukidnon has his/her personal guardian spirits. Finally, there are the gimokod, or multiple souls within one's body, which may leave and have to be called back by an intermediary (baylan ) to avert death.

Religious Practitioners. Catholic priests are the principal religious figures to whom Bukidnon turn today. But in villages where priests are not resident, and especially in those that are visited by priests only once a month or less, the baylan still plays an important role as the one who can communicate with spirits. Both men and women can be baylan. One who wishes to do so simply studies with an established baylan to learn how to ascertain the cause of illness by identifying which spirit is involved, and how to perform the precise actions and intone the exact invocations called for in ceremonies intended to summon and please the spirit in question. Baylan claim to be intermediaries, not mediums. A few have become millennarian leaders. They have never formed a priesthood, and they have no temples or churches.

Ceremonies. Pamuhat is the generic term for ceremonies propitiating the spirits through prayers and sacrifices of food and/or drink. The principal Bukidnon celebration was kaliga (kaliga-on ) at harvest time, but today the fiesta serves as a substitute.

Arts. The arts have declined in both quality and quantity throughout this century. Today Bukidnon women still make and sell grass mats and grass or abaca-fiber baskets. Also, the annual celebration since 1974 of Kaamulan in the provincial capital of Malaybalay has helped revive the art of appliqué in the creation of bright red, white, blue, black, and yellow Bukidnon outfits. Owing to the popularity of Western songs played loudly over the radio, few Bukidnon sing the old songs (sala and limbay ) or play the old instruments (flutes: lantuy and pulala; Jew's harp: kula-ing; stringed instrument: dayuray ; gong; and drum). Dances, some of which are mimetic of birds or animals, are limited to the Kaamulan festival and, where kaliga-on is still celebrated, to that harvest festival.

Medicine. Today Bukidnon everywhere know the value of modern medicine and medical practices, and when seriously ill will spare no effort to obtain treatment in a clinic or hospital. But because even common drugs are too expensive for most Bukidnon, they will utilize home remedies and medicinal herbs, and may also call upon a baylan, before seeking help from trained medical personnel.

Death and Afterlife. Few Bukidnon today think of death or the afterlife any differently than do their non-Bukidnon neighbors, and their funeral ceremonies are also identical. In villages far from the highway, some Bukidnon continue to believe that one's soul goes to Mount Balatukan regardless of one's conduct in life, and these people will bury with the deceased a few of his/her belongings for use in that terrestrial abode of the dead. Otherwise Christian burial is practiced.


Cole, Fay-Cooper (1956). The Bukidnon of Mindanao. Volume 46 of Fieldiana: Anthropology. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.

Edgerton, Ronald K. (1982). "Frontier Society on the Bukidnon Plateau, 1870-1941." In Philippine Social History: Global Trade and Local Transformations, edited by Alfred W. McCoy and Ed. C. de Jesus. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

de Guzman, Alfonso, and Esther M. Pacheco, eds. (1973). Bukidnon Politics and Religion. Quezon City: Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University.

Lao, Mardonio M. (1985). Bukidnon in Historical Perspective. Musuan, Bukidnon: Central Mindanao University.

Madigan, Francis C. (1969). Mindanao's Inland Province: A Socio-Economic Survey of Bukidnon. Book 1, Bukidnon Province as a Whole. Cagayan de Oro City: Research Institute for Mindanao Culture, Xavier University.


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Bukidnon (bōōkĬd´nŏn, Sp. bōōkēdh´nōn), province (1990 pop. 843,891), N central Mindanao, the Philippines. Malaybalay is the provincial capital. Much of the area is on a high plateau (alt. c.2,000 ft/610 m). With very fertile soil and a heavy, evenly distributed annual rainfall, Bukidnon is of great importance agriculturally. Intensely cultivated, it is the nation's major pineapple-producing region and a center of coffee production. A great variety of fruits is also grown, primarily for canning and export. The province has a high percentage of owner-operated farms. Central Mindanao Univ. is at Musuan.