Make your own free website on
By: Gwendalene Ting 

The term "Mansaka" derives from "man" meaning "first" and "saka" meaning "to ascend," and means "the first people to ascend the mountains or go upstream."  The term most likely describes the origin of these people who are found today in Davao del Norte, specifically in the Batoto River, the Manat Valley, the Marasugan Valley, the Hijo River Valley, and the seacoasts of Kingking, Maco, Kwambog, Hijo, Tagum, Libuganon, Tuganay, Ising, and Panabo (Fuentes and De La Cruz 1980:2).  The Mansaka are generally fair with bridged noses, brown hair, and oval faces.  In 1972 the population estimate of the Mansaka was around 4,000 (Magana 1972:347). 
Some scholars have classified the Mansaka as a Mandaya subgroup (Bagani 1980:30; Cole 1913:165; Fuentes and De La Cruz 1980:1).  Linguistically at least, the Mandaya-Mansaka group of languages is often classified under the Manuvu linguistic group which includes the dialects of the Tagacaolo of Davao del Sur, Davaoeno of Davao City, Mansaka or Mandaya of Davao del Norte, and Isamal of Samal Island (Bagani 1980:95). 


Valderrama (1987:5-6) hypothesizes that the racial development of the Mandaya-Mansaka progressed in three phases.  From 3000 to 500 BC, the Indonesians came and intermarried with native women, begetting the Manobo.  The migration of the Malays from 300-200 BC and the intermarriage with the Manobo produced the Mandaya-Mansaka.  In the 13th century, the Chinese arrived and contributed further to the racial and cultural development of the Mandaya-Mansaka. 
The island of Mindanao had eluded Spanish rule until the second half of the 19th century.  Spain slowly expanded her control in the beginning of the 17th century.  In 1851 Davao was made the Fourth Military District of Mindanao.  One result of the Spanish conquest was the substitution of the Muslims by the Christians in the coastal commerce with the native highlanders.  Although slavery, as practised by some Islamized groups, was effectively halted, a new form of economic exploitation by the Spaniards was introduced (Bagani 1980:121-122). 
Spanish reduccion was only partially successful.  Many Christianized Mandaya-Mansaka who have intermarried with the Visayan, eventually returned to the mountains and to their old way of life.  This was due to the frequent Muslim raids in the 17th and 18th centuries (Gagelonia 1967:259). 
The Americans were more successful.  The Mandaya-Mansaka were encouraged to work in coastal plantations and adopt the lifestyle of Christianized natives.  The American effort was helped by Japanese businessmen, who developed the abaca industry by introducing new ideas and technology into the area.  During the Commonwealth, laws liberalizing Christian migration to the are further changed the lifestyle of many Mandaya-Mansaka (Gagelonia 1967:259-260; Bagani 1980:123). 

Back to top 


Mansaka manaog or domestic gods are represented by wooden statues standing on a parangka (pedestal).  Manaog have sexes which can be discerned on the sculpture and ornaments on the statues.  Offerings are given to the manaog after rice planting, harvest, and before death.  The rituals can be either indoor or outdoor.  If indoor, the balian places humay, wine, manok, lime, tobacco, and betel nut on a siklat (a square bamboo platform suspended from the ceiling).  If outdoor, the balian constructs a siklat with the use of four 1 m wooden poles arranged like an Indian teepee skeleton.  Either way, a manaog about 30 cm high, is placed at the foot of the siklat.  The manaog of the balian are kept on the ceiling near the kitchen, where they become black from the smoke. 
Christianity has been introduced and accepted by many Mansaka, but it has not totally eradicated the manaog cult.  The Mansaka believe in the saving grace of the Christian God but remnants of the old religion, as in many ethnic groups, persist.  Curiously the Mansaka belong to various Christian denominations, often at the same time.  For example, in 1973, close to 95% of the Mansaka were Catholics at the same time that they were members of other Christian sects -  the Baptist Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and so forth (Magana 1973:15, 26-27). 
Old Mansaka religious beliefs persist in native medicine.  For wounds, the Mansaka mix crushed marabiga roots, chewed sakati sprouts, pamantigi leaves, and oiled lenek; for headaches and stomach troubles, heated kepet leaves, roasted baganga fruit, boiled aribetbet roots, boiled buds, and sterilized sara saps; for boils, crushed darupang flowers and scraped pitugu fruit; for pinkish eyes, scraped tambabasi stalks; for constipation, ground warasiman and boiled anuring; for malaria, the bark of the bagol tree; for fractures, the bark of the arit tree; and for a Mansaka mother's first bath after giving birth, agosais, basikay, gapas, and baay (Magana 1973:27). 
Nowadays, traditional medicine is rarely used  even by the children of the balian, who go to the Christian town doctor.  But the older Mansaka still believe that sickness is caused by supernatural beings and thus make offerings to the gods (Magana 1973:28). 

Back to top 


Before the advent of modern textile products, the Mansaka made their dagmay (abaca cloth) from a loom of the same name.  The process of making a dagmay using this traditional method is extraordinarily tedious.  The dagmay is woven with three types of abaca fibers: the bintok, prepared from knotted abaca fibers boiled in the extracted red dye of the plant sikarig; the sikarig prepared from unknotted abaca fibers boiled in the red dye of sikarig; and the kanarum, prepared from abaca fibers boiled in the black dye of the plant of the same name.  Dagmay designs are varied --- squares, human forms, laron na opat (crocodiles), dots, among others.  The most common designs are the laron na opat which holds an aesthetic and religious significance for the Mansaka.  Squares, dots, and other geometric designs appear on clay pots and patadyong (barrel skirt);  human-figure designs are available but rare (Magana 1973: 24-25). 
Mansaka women wear the dagum (blouse similar to the Chinese shirt) which is half open in the upper and bottom front.   Running across the shoulders from the back are two panahi or strips of finely embroidered cloth contrasted with color-stitched seams.  Mansaka women can opt for four types of skirts to match the dagum.  These are the pula or ordinary cotton skirts produced by and bought from the Visayan, the piamuntakan, saragboy, and dagmay, all painstakingly made by the Mansaka and worn only on special occasions.  The last is made of dagmay or stamped young abaca fibers (Magana 1973: 16-17; Fuentes and De la Cruz 1980:3). 
Visayan influence in terms of clothing, is more marked with Mansaka men than women.  Traditionally, Mansaka men sport a shirt with an embroidered cross at the back, and panahi strips and red cloth lined across the shoulders and hem, respectively.  The shirt is closed by rattan twines which are also used to hold up the trousers (Magana 1973:17). 
Both Mansaka men and women don jewelry and other accessories to match their colorful costumes.  The women wear the pislitan or belt with round marble buckles to hold up their skirt.  Mansaka barikog (earplugs), which are gold-plated rubber discs about 0.6 am thick and 2.5 cm in diameter,  dot the ears.  The size of the holes on the earlobes is determined by the size of the barikog.  Attached to the barikog are liaog or bead strands of various colors.  Barikog (necklaces) include the parotgot or choker, made of beads strung and woven together, the balliug, which extends to the navel and is made of beads, rubies, and crocodile teeth; and the linangkaw or necklace made of crocodile's teeth.  Mansaka women have three kinds of bracelets:  the pamurang, made of white marble and worn in fours; the sagay-sagay or black wooden ring which can only be worn by itself; and the punod or brass bracelet also worn by male Mansaka.  Very distinctive among the Mansaka is the paratina (see logo of this article) or silver breastplate 15 cm in diameter.  Female balian also carry the tungkaring (bells) which are placed at the back of the shirtwaist, and are used in ceremonial dances to placate angry gods.  The men wear the sarakob (hats made from tamboorang) to protect themselves from the heat of the sun.  A mamaan (betel nut container) attached to a string tied to the waist forms part of the male costume.  Until the class was abolished, the bagani and maniklad had worn punod and bell on their legs, and red/white pudong (headbands).  The sinturon or loose belt was used more for ornamental than practical purposes.  The Mansaka youth of today dress more like the Visayan lowlanders (Magana 1973: 16-18). 
The Mansaka, like the Mandaya, are known to have filed and blackened the teeth of their young.  The Mansaka believe that only animals have white teeth.  This practice has largely fallen out of favor among the youth of today because the latter want to escape from prejudice and economic depression (Magana 1973:18). 
Mansaka weapons include the following varieties of spear:  the piaransan, a spear with a 30-cm blade attached to it, the tuklo, a spear with a blunt point 7.5 cm long, and the budjak, a spear with a leaflike blade, 10 cm long and 7.5 cm wide.  In the past, Mansaka warriors carried the karasag (wooden shields 12 cm long) with their spears; nowadays, only two of these karasag remain.  Other weapons include those which require the use of arrows:  the sumpitan and the busog or bow made of a bamboo stick with a rattan twine strung to its ends (Magana 1973:24). 
Mansaka wood carving art is exemplified by the wooden statues of their manaog which can be classified into male and female.  The male manaog stands on a parangka and is about 15 cm  high.  The eyes of the male manaog are made of two red glass beads, the ears, of earplugs with pendants, the nose and mouth of short lines carved at the appropriate places.  The jaw and neck are bloated, as though the image had mumps.  The female manaog sports a comb and a long necklace, and has apelike features with big ears.  The sides of both types of manaog are profuse with dark and diagonal lines for decoration (Magana 1973:26). 
Basketry, pottery, and brassware are not only art forms for the Mansaka but are also used as containers.  Examples are:  the mamaan, a brass box to hold chewing ingredients; the patakia, a brass dowry box; the coron, a hemispherical clay pot decorated with dots and triangles; the tibud (an earthen jar to store biais or wine), the bikat, a rattan travelling basket with shoulder slings, and waist and headbelts; the bakotal, (a cylindrical, 30-cm high mudfish container), ababa (a finely woven needle box with wooden linings inside), cabebeng (a 30-cm high cylindrical rattan cage), kambol (a flat baroy bag), kayad (a clothes container), limot (a coffee bean container made of bark), kampipi (a wallet made of baroy strips and decorated with panahi), bakag (a clothes or cereals container), sapia (a container used to measure rice or corn), pugonan (a corn receptacle), saboy (a dried gourd to store rice or biais), and kabong (a bamboo container to store nails) (Magana 1973:28-29). 
The Mansaka make their sarong or lamp by wrapping dried lauan sap in abaca leaf, and tying this cover with rattan twine.  When burned, it exudes the smell of incense (Magana 1973:29). 

Back to top 


The Mansaka possess a wide array of musical instruments, giving life to their songs and dances.  Examples of Mansaka musical instruments include the agong or round brass percussion instrument; a larger version of the agong is the tarabon, which was used to give war signals.  The kudlog or two-stringed guitar which resembles the Maranao kudyapi (lute) comes in two varieties: a binudyaan or a two-string eight-fret guitar which has the shape of a boat with a curved neck at the end, or a binarig which has only four frets.  Another Mansaka string instrument is the four-chord takol which is made of  bamboo about 60 cm long and has pieces of wood placed under the string for tuning and pitch control.  The kubing or jew's harp is carved out of bamboo, measures 12.5-15 cm long and 7.5 cm wide, and produces a soft melody when vibrated.  Wind instruments include the parundag or Mansaka saxophone which is a 60-cm bagakay tube with five holes; and the bamboo flutes of which there are two types --- the longer bonabon and the shorter lantoy which resembles the flute.  A Muslim contribution is the kulintang or gong ensemble consisting of several graduated gongs (Fuentes and De la Cruz 1980:3-4, 116-119; Magana 1972:353; Magana 1973:25-26). 
One of the most popular Mansaka instruments is the gimbal or drum made of bahi (betel nut) and animal hide, of which two are appropriate: doeskin and male deerskin.  The Mansaka believe that the animal hide which have not been properly aged for at least five years will not produce the right sound.  A musical rendition where the gimbal is played is the lisag, a 10-minute instrumental piece performed by a man and a woman each playing the instrument.  The woman assumes the feminine role when playing, and the man takes on the male's (Magana 1972:353; Magana 1973:25-26). 
Mansaka folk songs are expressive of the group's culture, folkways, and traditional beliefs about the world and themselves.  Magana (1972:356-357,373) has identified two forms of Mansaka folk songs: the saliada, which is similar to the ballad, and the bayok or songs of love and adventure.  The former resembles the ballad in style, i.e., it employs refrain and repetition.  An example of the saliada is "Amando" which tells of a protagonist who wakes up one morning, leaves his wife, and decides to marry another woman.  A portion of the "Amando" follows (Magana 1972:357-362): 

Yang kay laong nang Amando 
Tingug nang leomakilat
Babay da sang karim ko,
Badya sang kadigi ko. 
Nay panday kadyag ko
Kaubayan kaubayan
Siding buntod panday
Sang banaybanay.
Kaubayan si Nogonon
Panday si Lintawanan. 
Kadegi ko pandugang
Kadyag ko pandarugno
Kaubayan si Nogonon
Panday si Lintawanan. 
Agad pa kay mayninan, 
Misanay gid ko pandugang, 
Yandang pagapawpot,
Yandang pagapadarit
Pagapadarit na timbang
Pagapawpot na timaroy. 
That was said by Amado,
The voice of the thunderbolt,
That is my love, 
The object of my affection.
I want girls very much ---
Girls, ladies, and
Living mountain girls
Of the mountain, 
Nonogon is a woman
Lintawanan another one.
Though married, I want to marry again
Though tied, I want to be tied again.
Nogonon is a woman; 
Lintawanan another one.
Though married, I will love you; 
Though married, I have affection for you. 
She is the only one I want for a companion.
She is the only one I want
To embrace in bed
And to be my companion in marriage.

Although Magana (1972:373) mentions the existence of the Mansaka bayok, no samples have been recorded. 
Other than literature and music, dancing is a source of pleasure and entertainment for the Mansaka.  Various hand, arm, feet, and knee movements characterize Mansaka dances, which are expressive of rituals no longer performed; in such cases, the dance assumes a more leisurely role.  One such dance is the anito balyan of Samal Island, Davao, an ancient ritual-dance for healing the sick.  The ritual-dance consists of a medicine man and a female medium in a complex healing ritual involving the sacrifice of a chicken and the use of a human skull.  Color is added with dancing girls, waving palm fronds, and flickering lights.  The japa kaunod, tha Mansaka version of the courtship dance, is performed by a boy "dancing in a path around the girl."  The inamo na sayaw or monkey dance is performed by two people, while the udol commemorates fallen warriors (Orosa-Goquingco 1980:136-137).   l G.E.P.  Cheng with notes from E.A> Manuel  

Back to top 


Abrams, Norman.  "A Short List of Mansaka Flora and their Uses."  Philippine Journal of  
Science, Vol.  XC, (1961), 26-36. 

Abrams, Norman and Gordon Svelmore.  Mansaka Vocabulary.  Manila: Summer Institute of  
Linguistics, 1955. 

Bagani. Man of Dignity.  Manila: The Presidential Commission for the Rehabilitation and  
Development of Southern Philippines, 1980. 

Cole, Fay Cooper.  The Wild Tribes Davao District Mindanao.  Field Museum of Natural  
History Publication 170.  Anthropological Series Vol.  XII, No. 2.  Chicago:  Field  
Museum of Natural History, 1913. 

De los Reyes, Roberto A.  Traditional Handicraft Art of the Philippines.  Manila:  
Casalinda, 1975. 

De los Reyes, Roberto A. and staff.  An Ethno-Artological Catalogue of the Philippine  
Traditional Design Motifs.  Design Monograph No. 3.  Manila: the Design Center,  
Philippine College of Arts and Trade, 1973. 

Demetrio, Francisco Radaza (ed).  Dialogue for Development.  Papers from the First National  
Congress of Philippine Folklore and Other Scholars.  Cagayan de Oro: Xavier University,  

Elkins, Richard E.  "An Extended Proto-Manobo Word List"  Panagani, Language Planning,  
Implementation and Evaluation: Essays in Honor of Bonifacio P. Sibayan on His  
Sixty-Seventh Birthday.  Andrew Gonzalez (ed), 218-229.  Manila: Linguistic Society of  
the Philippines, 1984. 

Gagelonia, Pedro A.  The Filipinos of Yesteryears.  Manila: The Star Book Store, 1967. 

Fuentes, Vilma May A. and Edito T. De la Cruz (eds). A Treasury of Mandaya and Mansaka  
Folk Literature.  Quezon City:  New Day Publishers, 1980. 

Jose-De la Cruz, Mercedita.  Sourcebook of the Philippine Traditional Art Motifs and Crafts  
Processes.  Manila: Philippine Committee for International Fund for the Promotio of  
Culture, 1982. 

Landor, A. Henry Savage.  The Gems of the East.  New York: Harper, 1907. 

Magana, Antonio S.  "Mansaka Forms of Oral Literature."  Dialogue for Development.  
Francisco Demetrio (ed).  Cagayan de Oro:  Xavier University, 1972. 

_________________.  "The Culture of the Mansaka."  Mindanao Journal, Vol. I, No. 1, (Jan- 
Mar 1973), 13-31. 

Orosa-Goquingco, Leonor.  The Dances of the Emerald Isles.  Quezon City:  Ben-Lor  
Publishers Inc, 1980. 

Regional Map of the Philippines --- XI.  Manila: Edmundo R. Abigan Jr, 1988. 

Rubinstein, Donald H.  Fabric Treasures of the Philippines.  ISLA Center for the Arts at the University of Guam, 1989. 

Valderrama, Ursula C.  The Colorful Mandaya:  Ethnic Tribe of Davao Oriental.  Davao City:  Ursula Valderrama, 1987.  

Back to top