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by: Mark Joel Velasquez
The term "Tagbanua" - also spelled "Tagbanwa" and "Tagbanuwa" - may have been derived from "taga" meaning "people from" and "banua" meaning "countryside," and therefore means "people from the inland area".
The Tagbanua are the most widely distributed group on Palawan Island, Philippines. They occupy areas in the northern, central, and southern parts of the island, particularly the eastern and the western coastal area, the near-coastal plains and the valleys of central Palawan. To the north of the main Tagbanua communities live the small and dwindling Palawan group known as Ken-uy, and the southern highlands dwellers known as the Palawan. On Culion Island, at the northern end of Palawan, also live some Tagbanua groups. In 1988, the Tagbanua numberd about 10,000.


The Tagbanua may be said to have undergone three main historical periods: the indigenous period, during which there were protohistoric contacts and trade with Hindu-Indonesian culture; the Muslim period, which included contacts with the sultanates of Borneo, and the Muslims of Sulu and Mindanao; and the Spanish, American, and contemporary periods.
According to folk history, the Tagbanua had an early relationship with Brunei, with the first sultan of Brunyu, from the place called Burnay. Their formal history begins with the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. In 1521 Magellan's ships docked in Palawan for provisions, and Antonio Pigafetta recorded that the Tagbanua practiced the ritual of blood compact, cultivated their fields, hunted with blowpipes and thick wooden arrows, valued brass rings and chains, bells, knives, and copper wire for binding fish hooks, raised large and very tame cocks which they pitted against one another and laid bets on, and distilled rice wine.
Until the latter part of the 17th century, southern Palawan was under the jurisdiction of the Sultan of Brunei, leading to friction between Spaniards and the Sultan. During this time, and for almost three hundred years, the Spaniards and the Muslims of Sulu, Mindanao, Palawan, and north Borneo were at war.
In the 19th century, the Tagbanua continued to believe in their native gods, specifically in four gods. The first, the lord of the heavens, was called Magnisda or Nagabacaban. The god of the sea was named Poco and was deemed a benevolent spirit. His help was invoked in times of illness. The third was the god of the earth named Sedumunadoc, whose favor was sought in order to have a good harvest. The fourth was called Tabiacoud, who lived, in the deep bowels of the earth.
For these gods, the Tagbanua celebrated a big feast each year, right after harvest. The babaylan (shaman) called for the people to converge at the seashore, carrying food offering of all kinds. The babaylan took the chickens and roosters brought for the ceremony, and hung them by their legs on tree branches, killing them by beating with a stick. They were allowed only one blow for each animal, and those who survive went free, never to be harmed again, because Polo, the sea god, took them under his protection. The fowl that died were seasoned, cooked and eaten. After eating, they danced and drank rice wine. At midnight, as Buntala, a heavenly body, passsed the meridian, the babaylan entered the sea waist dipped, all the while dancing and pushing a raft made of bamboo, which had offering on it. If the offering was returned to the shore by wves and winds, ot meant the sea god refused the people's offering. But if the raft disappeared, there was rejoicing. Their offering was accepted and their year would be a happy one (Marche 1970:236-237).
With the end of Spanish colonial domination and the entry of the United Stats as the new colonial administrators, change came to the island of Palawan, and to the Tagbanua. In 1904, Iwahig became the site of a penal colony, which displaced the Tagbanua as it expanded. In 1910, the Americans put up a reservation for the Tagbanua. In succeeding years, internal migration from the Visayan islands and from Luzon, the dominance of the Christian religion, and the absorption of the island into economic and political mainstream marginalized the Tagbanua, especially those who had been fully acculturated.

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Visual Arts and Craft

The traditional costumes of the Tagbanua were fashioned from the bark of trees, particularly the salugin. The preparation of this bark was unique. After being felled, the tree would be cut around the trunk, the outer bark stripped off to expose the inner layer. A mallet would beat the layer, until it is soft to hang loose from the bole. This is washed and dried under the sun. In the past, menfolk wore simple loincloths, supported by a woven rattan waistband called ambalad, while women wore only brief wraparound skirts made from bark. The Tagbanua later adopt some articles of Muslim clothing. At present, while many Tagbanua still wear their traditional apparel, western-type clothing has found its way among the people.
In the past, when both men and women wore their hair long, they filled and blackened their teeth, and carved earplugs from the hardwood bantilinaw. The Tagbanua also carved wooden combs and bracelets. They strung bead necklaces to be used in covering women's necks. Anklets of copper and brass wire were also crafted and worn by women.
Baskets and woodcarvings are the more notable products of Tagbanua artistic crafts today. They excel in the number of designs which they apply to their tingkop (harvest basket) made of hard strip bamboo. These baskets are made if blackened and natural bamboo, which makes the designs, stand out. The cone-shaped type of basket is another fine example of Tagbanua skilled artistry. Using black and natural color designs outside, the center of the cone has the bamboo strip skived slightly smaller, creating even holes for the screen. The funnel effect is accomplished through a close weaving of the bamboo strips towards the top.
The soft rice baskets, called bayong-bayong, are made with different unusual shapes. These have square bases and round tops. To produce interesting block and V-shapes, the plain buri sides superimposed with colored buri. Color is woven into the Tagbanua basket with the used of dyed palm leaves.
Blackened woodcarvings of animals, with simple etched or incised features exposing the original whit grain of the wood, are the most well known examples of Tagbanua woodcarvings or sculpture.
Some of the objects carved are mammanuk (rooster), a ritual bowl, kiruman (turtle), kararaga (a native bird), dugyan (a small ground animal), lizards, and wild pigs. Carved animals are used with rice, betel nut, and other offerings to attract the deities and spirit relatives in the pagdiwata rituals. The turtles, for instance, floats on grains of palay in an ancient Ming trade bowl. Others that are not used in rituals become toys for children.

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Performing Arts

Complementing the rich Tagbanua rituals and social gatherings in the past was an assortment of musical instruments. These included the aruding or jew's harp; the babarak or nose flute; the tipanu or mouth flute; the pagang and tibuldu, two variations of the bamboo zithers; the kudlung or boat lute; the gimbal or drum, whose top was made from the skin of the bayawak or monitor lizard; and the tiring, composed of lengths of bamboo with openings of various sizes producing different notes when struck with a stick. In addition, there were two generic types of gongs obtained from the shallow babandil. The mouth flute is still in use, and the gongs and drums are still played during rituals. Modern acoustic type guitar and the ukulele, which is fashioned from a half coconut shell, supplant the other instruments.
The known dances associated with the rituals are the following: abellano, also called soriano, a traditional dance performed by males; bugas-bugasan, a dance for all participants of a pagdiwata, after they have drunk the ceremonial tabad (rice wine); kalindapan, solo dance by the female babaylan and her attendants; runsay, ritual dances performed by the villagers on the seashore, where bamboo rafts laden with food offering are floated for the gods; sarungkay, a healing dance by the main babaylan as she balances a sword on her head and waves ugsang or palm leaf strip; tugatak and tarindak, dances perform by the villagers who attend an inim or pagdiwata; tamigan, performed by male combatants using round winnowers or bilao to represent shields.
The dancing accompanying the runsay, performed about midnight and lasting until daybreak, is possibly the most moving of all Tagbanua dances, since it is a part of a sacred ritual that takes place only once a year, and is performed on the beach from where the ritual raft has been launched towards the sea world.
  Guests who attend the albarka ritual watch dances such as the busak-busak, the spider dance; batak ribid, a dance simulating the gathering of camote; bungalon, a showing off dance; bugsay-bugsay, a paddle dance using fans; segutset, a courtship dance; and tarek, a traditional dance. The andardi is a festival dance of the Tagbanua in and around Aborlan, perform at social gatherings. When dancing during a festival, the performers are dressed in their costumes, and hold in each hand a dried palm leaf called palaspas. The music of the andardi is composed of one part of twelve measures, played or sung continuously throughout the dance. Drum or gongs accompanies the music and the song.
Drama in Tagbanua society is expressed in the mimetic dances imitating animals, such as busak-busak, and those showing occupations, such as batak ribid and bugsay-bugsay. But the most important mimetic forms are the rituals where the priestess is possessed by and plays the role of the deity to whom the offerings are being made. The most important of Tagbanua rituals is the diwata, also called pagdiwata or inim, which is essentially an open invitation to the deities to partake of a lavish feast of ceremonial tabad, cooked rice, rice cakes, jewelry, music and other offerings. The ritual is undertaken for any of various purposes: healing of the sick, supplication for a bountiful harvest or a successful hunt, thanksgiving for rice harvest, and the general well being of the village. The ritual is held in honor of Mangindusa and the other deities. 
The jars of fermented rice wine play a most important role in these rituals, because they the means by which the deities are attracted to participate in the feast, rice wine being the only thing absent in the spirit world. The bond formed through the rice wine is at once social and cosmological, since the beverage binds the individual to the group, and mortals to the gods and the spirit of the dead and the deities.
At the center of the diwata rituals is the babaylan, who has the responsibility of selecting the areas for a new clearing, placating the spirits of the surroundings, providing magical charms for hunters and fishers, and curing all kinds of ailments. While any adult can invoke the spirits of the dead in other Tagbanua rituals, only the babaylan can summon them in the pagdiwata.
The bilang ceremony is the all-important ritual for the dead. It takes place after the rice harvest, a time when tabad becomes plentiful. Every family is expected to host one or more bilang rituals. The bilang rituals begin with the rite of divination, to determine which among the spirit relatives has caused a person's illness. This makes use of the babaylan who performs the brief rite of panawag near the grave of the dead relative by making offerings of the betel quids and ceremonial cigarettes, and promises tabad should the ill become well. The celebrants together with the offerings prepare a jar of tabad with sipping reeds. The bilang ceremony involves the paurut (invocation) of as many spirit relatives as possible through incantation, and the burning of the parina (incense) whose pleasant smells attract the deities and spirits of the dead. The gongs are played as the paurut is being performed, and their music is an added incentive for the spirit to descend on the gathering. After the ritual offering of the articles have been laid out on the mat, the food is distributed to the children first, and then to the guests; then the bilang mat is removed. The communal drinking of tabad through the reed straws follows, a very festive social event that lasts through the night.        

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Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Tagbanua's relationship with the spirit world is the basis for their rituals, celebration, and dances. The many ceremonial feasts punctuating Tagbanua life are based on a firm belief in a natural interaction between the world of the living the world of the dead. These ceremonies and rituals takes place on all levels, ranging from rituals perform within the family, to those which are led by the community's leader on behalf of the people. Such celebrations call for special structures to be built, such as ceremonial platforms and rafts. Rituals offering include rice, chicken and betel nut.
The focal point of Tagbanua life is the period immediately following the harvest, when there is much singing, dancing, courting, and conclusion of blood compacts.
The Tagbanua recognize the existence of a supreme being called Mangindusa who sits up in the sky and lets his feet dangle below, above the earth. Other spirits inhabit the forests and environment, and belief in their existence necessitates rituals to placate them or gain their favors. The babaylan performs rituals of life, from birth to death. It is believed that there is a deity who accompanies the soul of the dead to its final destination. Hunters invoke the assistance of the spirits of the dead relatives in asking the owners of the wild pigs to allow their hunting dogs to locate the prey. A mutya (charm) is commonly used to help its possesor succeed in the hunt.  
The Tagbanua cosmology includes the sky called langit, " an infinitely high canopy" which encompasses the visible celestial region. A being called Tungkuyanin sits on the edge of this celestial region, his feet dangling in the vastness of the cosmos, his eyes always cast down toward the earth. Rain is a gift of Mangindusa, the highest-ranking deity. The sky is held up in place by immense tree trunks. One maybe found in Babatan, the east; the other is in Sidpan the west. In Babatan lives a deity known as diwata kat libatan, while in Sidpan is the deity known as diwata kat sidpan. Both of them control the rain. A being called Tumangkuyun is tasked with washing the trunks of the trees with blood of Tagbanua who died in epidemics.
Below the langit is the sky world, which includes the clouds. This region is called dibuwat, meaning "high". In the dibuwat live the bangkay, the spirits of the Tagbanua who died violently or were poisoned, as well as spirits of women who died while giving birth. Beneath the dibuwat reside the bulalakaw or diwata kat dibuwat, flying deites who roam the region of the clouds, ready to come to the aid of any Tagbanua needing their help.
Mangindusa dwells in a sacred area called Awan-awan. It lies beyond the langut, in a region between the sky world and the earth. He lives with his wife Bugawasin, his messengers, and other celestial beings.
While Mangindusa is considered the highest-ranking deity, there is no traditional ascription to him as the sole "creator" of the world, although Christian mythology has had some influence in imbuing Mangindusa with more powers than he used to possess. In fact the creation of the world and of human beings is said to have been the handiwork of the diwata. Mangindusa has always been traditionally considered as the punisher of dusa (crime). In Tagbanua society, the only recognized public dusa is sumbang (incest). In this case, Mangindusa holds the society responsible for the sumbang. Mangindusa's punishment of the society may take the form of withholding the rains. In the past, society punished the offenders by drowning them in the sea. In present society, a huge fine is imposed and in top of this a special lumbay ritual must given in honor of Mangindusa.
A Tagbanua is believed to have six souls in all. A "true soul" called kiyarulwa, and five secondary souls called the payu. The kiyarulwa is a gift of Mangindusa to a child emerging from the mother's womb, while the other souls appear only during the lambay ritual for the child upon reaching one month or two. Lambay is any ceremony, which is directly addressed to Mangindusa. These other souls are found at the extremities of the hands and feet, and on top of the head. When a person dies the kiyarulwa wanders to four possible destinations. If the cause of death is epidemic sickness, then the soul will go to the kiyabusan. If a person from poisoning or violence the souls goes to inhabit the "high regions". Those who died because their souls were caught by the environmental or evil spirits - their soul will transform into biyaladbad and will inhabit the environment. If a person dies of natural death, the souls travels to basad, the underworld.

The underworld of the Tagbanua has clearer outlines than the blurred and indeterminate sky world. When a Tagbanua dies, his or her soul remains on earth for seven days, until the kapupusan or rites for the dead are finished. For seven days, the soul lingers on in the grave at daytime, but returns to its former house at night to observe the behavior of those left behind. In it journey to the underworld, the soul encounters several places and characters. There is the sacred river, kalabagang, where soul meets taliyakad, the watcher who guards the vine bridge called balugu. Later it meets Anggugru, "keeper of the fire," who welcomes the soul to the underworld and gives it fire.
In basad, the spirits of the dead become known as tiladmanin, and live a life, which mirrors exactly that of the living. But the structure of basad is interesting: everything is the reverse of what happens in the world of living. As the sun rises on earth, it goes down in basad or planting time on earth is harvest time in basad.
The lambay is held two times a year. It is observed first in January, and involves ritual appears to the deities for days of sunshine and winds that sufficiently dry the forests and prepare them for clearing and planting. A second one is held in May, when the people ask for moderate rains that will make their upland rice grows.
There are two rituals, which seeks protection for all Tagbanua wherever they may be, from the feared salakap, the spirits of epidemic sickness and death. These two rituals are the pagbuyis and the runsay. The pagbuyis is performed three times a year. The first is in November, and second in December. The third is when the moon can be seen during the daytime, called magkaaldawan. The runsay is described as the most dramatic of all Tagbanua rituals. It is observed only once a year, at nighttime, on the fourth day after the full moon of December. It takes place on the beach near the mouth of the Aborlan River. The runsay , like the pagbuyis, is held to ask for protection against epidemic. The ritual begins at dusk and ends at dawn.               
There are five distinct phases in the runsay. The first phase consists of building of the bangkaran or banglay, a 3.6m ceremonial raft. This is followed by the panawag, invocation to the spirits of the dead and the nine deities who rode the kawa on the sea. The third phase is consists of the burning of incense on the kadiyang atop the bangkaran, and prayers by the rituals leader; lighting of the candle and offering of ritual foods to the deities; the second call to the deities to partake of the food, which the signal for the children to dive into the mound of food on the raft, and eat as much as they can; and the cleaning up and repair of the raft. The fourth phase begins with third invocation to the nine deities, followed by the individual family offerings represented by a woman; the tying of the chicken to the platform and the lighting of candles beside it; the hoisting of the raft towards the sea; the re lighting of candles blown out by the wind; the throwing of a pinch of rice to the sea; and the voyage seaward of the bankaran. A group sings and dances after the raft has disappeared.
Two other important Tagbanua rituals are the pagdiwata or diwata and the bilang, which features a babaylan who is possessed by the deities. These rituals comprise the most important form of theater among the Tagbanua.                

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