Mindanao Study Center

Mandaya Epic Literature

Speaker: Emmanuel S. Nabayra

The Philippines is a country composed of various ethnolinguistic groups that are rich in both culture and heritage. The current session serves as an introductory course to the language and epic literature of the Mandaya people, an ethnolinguistic group in Mindanao. This brief course discusses features of the Mandaya language through syntax, grammar, and vocabulary. 

Reading episodes of Mandaya epic poems can help students look into the past and the worldview of the Mandaya people. “Become [a] true nationalist,” says Prof. Emmanuel S. Nabayra, “to continuously reformulate the culture, the socio-economic, and political systems of our country according to our current needs.”

Prof. Nabayra cites the observations of William Henry Scott and how the history of our ancestors was “covered with a thick curtain of western propaganda literature justifying their occupation, conquest, colonization, and subjugation of the lands and the oppression and mistreatment of our ancestors.”

Prof. Nabayra also discusses his experiences while serving as a Catholic missionary among the Mandaya in Baganga and Caraga, Davao Oriental. In his studies, he was surprised by the religious beliefs and practices of the so-called “pagan” people who were both monotheists and animists. The Mandaya people believe that all creation from the Labaw na Magbabaya have spirits or caretakers. All creation should be treated with respect and reverence as the spirits are vengeful and can be easily offended. If the Labaw na Magababaya’s creations were abused or disrespected, the offending parties should appease the caretaker spirits with appropriate rituals.

The beliefs of Mandaya people are deeply rooted in respect of the Labaw na Magbabaya’s creation. The western colonialists, however, found their beliefs as hindrance in their campaign to exploit the rich natural resources found in the ancestral lands of the Mandaya people. Using the Church and its various teachings as a medium and tool in imperialist campaign, the colonists disgraced the existence of the Labaw na Magbabaya and other Mandaya beliefs. This degradation and miseducation allowed the exploitation of the Mandaya people. 

By reflecting on the language, culture, and value systems of indigenous groups, we will be able to discover and recover the wisdom of our collective heritage. We would reclaim and regain the rights of indigenous groups that were taken and trodden by the colonizers. 

How does reading epic poems help us understand the beliefs and the worldviews of indigenous groups? How does looking into the Mandaya worldview assist us in our acknowledgment of their fight for their rights and self-determination?

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