The B’laans are one of the 18 tribal groups in Mindanao. In the 19th century, the tribe inhabited the hilly region behind the west coast of Davao Gulf. As settlers from Visayas and Luzon lived in the area, they were pushed further to the interior. They were actively engaged in warfare. Along with the Manobo, Mandaya, Bagobo and Tagacaolo, they had at one time or another reduced their neighbours in southwestern Mindanao to the status of tribute-paying “colonies” (Casal 1986:55).
Before, houses were separated by long stretches, a visit in the research area of Lamlifew, Malunggon and Pula Bato, Tampakan shows that they now live near each other. Most of the B’laan observe their customary laws and exhibit mutual respect that enables them to live in harmony with each other.
In the past, marriages were arranged even when babies were still in the womb. The ritual is referred to as koswo libon where parents would exchange malongs to seal the deal and see to it that the marriage materializes when the time comes. If one baby was a boy and the other a girl, an agreement would be made as soon as possible through the exchange of cradles and blankets by the parents, otherwise known as ablobok aban. However, if both babies were male or both were female, the deal would be called off.
People married early in the B’laan community, for example, in Bong Mal. The practice was that if a man liked what he saw with just one look, he could ask the parents for the girl’s hand.
Child brides would be watched carefully. Her husband would not be permitted to make sexual contact until her menarche. It was believed that she would be sickly if she would be touched before her first period. So, sexual intercourse would not engaged in until she was technically a woman.
The dowry system is not as prevalent as before. The kasfala (dowry) is discussed by the parents of both sides. At the house of the girl, where the parents discuss wedding arrangements, the young groom sits besides his parents with his head bowed in submission. He is not allowed to take part in the discussion and is duty bound to obey whatever is decided upon. Through the saktad, a singsong manner of speaking, the two fathers agree on what one is prepared to give and what the other is willing to receive.
Governance and Conflict Resolution
The B’laan political structure is largely clan based, with fulongs holding the highest position in the community equivalent to the Datus or elders of other tribes. They are most respected in the area as they manage the peace among their people and ensure that conflicts are immediately resolved.
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Fulongs facilitate dialogue and negotiate between disputing parties to maintain harmony. They are identified through the consensus of the community, but mostly coming from clans that demonstrate leadership and strong political will.
Most of them belong to the admagan or those who are considered as economically sufficient which means that they own the most number of kamagi (gold necklaces) and ornaments, a large number of horses and carabaos, among other livestocks as well as musical instruments like agong which is plated with gold and silver.
These valuables are used to pay the fine of offenders or to facilitate marital disputes and even arrangements between the bride and the groom.
Most of the conflict stems from an animal that has been stolen or a wife who has been taken from a husband. The animal can be returned to the owner, and bygones are bygones as long as a fine is paid. The whistleblower—the person who tells the owner where his lost animal is and who claims the animal from the animal stealer—is rewarded for his help.
The wife, however, cannot be returned. She has to stay with the man who abducted her. And a fine has to be paid to the family of the aggrieved husband. The fine can consist of: animals, such as horses, agong, kamagi and other expensive things. The fine can be whatever the woman’s family demands. The delivery date of the demanded goods can be negotiated. The stalo is a tripartite negotiation among the parents of the husband, the parents of the abducted wife, and the parents of the abductor. Matters discussed include the fine and the custody of the children. Nowadays, stalo is not practiced frequently.
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The new couple—abductor and woman—stay in the forest until the negotiations are concluded. If the offender or malefactor is not able to produce what is demanded, the offender and the woman are killed. They are hacked, speared, or shot to death in the forest. This process is called afgat. But this rarely happens because there is always someone who helps.
The fulong pays the fine on behalf of the offender. He then gains an “employee” because the offender will need to render service to pay him back for the fine. The length of service is agreed upon by the fulong and the offender. Often referred to as lifan, they are made to work in the households, care for work animals or help out in the farm.
Usually, people have to go through a spot of trouble before a dyandi (peace pact) becomes necessary. The dyandi binds not only the parties directly involved but also their children and the other witnesses to the dyandi. Persons who have had done the dyandi are supposed to be closer than siblings (“sobra pa sa mag-utol, dili pwede maglibak”), which one cannot speak ill of.
The ritual is facilitated by the elders in the community and the fulong. Each party would need to prick one’s skin, and one’s droplets of blood would need to join those of others in a vessel from which all would drink.
One occasion would be if enemies wanted to be friends again (“magkabalikan ng loob”), they would drink water from a lues (dagger) to remove ill feelings and whatever curses might have been uttered (“para mawala ang sumpa”).
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Radzini Oledan is a freelance writer enthralled with life and by the snippet of stories in the everyday