On my previous articles about the B’laans Tribe of Lamlifew, Malunggon Sarangani Province, and Pula Bato in Tampakan, South Cotabato, I have detailed the arts, culture, and domestic life of the tribe.
As part of our fieldwork, I was fortunate to have learned also the religious belief systems of the tribe. I come to realize that this piece of knowledge is an important aspect of our being as one nation.
Rituals, Practices, and Beliefs
B’laans have strong belief on the supremacy of the great creator and the spirits around that rituals are conducted for everything they do. Fieldwork in Pula Bato and Lamlifew areas surfaced rituals and practices relating to agriculture, marriage, pregnancy as well as healing.
The B’laan agricultural ritual in Lamlifew is performed at the onset of the planting season. The mabah or offering to the deities requesting for omens to help them choose the best area for planting; the abmigo or clearing of the fields; the amlah or planting time and the kamto or rice harvest.
The community helps the B’laan farmer plant the rice. This community bayanihan spirit is called sahol in B’laan. Neither baylan nor dancing is involved. Just willing and helping hands.
The B’laan call upon their alamoos (healer) in times of illnesses. She is usually a middle aged woman who performs cleansing and healing through chanting, incantations and use of medicinal herbs. The use of several herbs, chicken and rice cooked in a bamboo are part of the ritual. These days, midwives also assist not only in the event of birth but also to refer local members to appropriate health care.
The asbulong depicts the healing ritual. It is officiated by the alamoos (female shaman) who dances around the sick person which occasionally striking the sick person’s forehead, arms, legs and feet. By chanting and incantations, she drives away the bad spirit which causes the sickness.
There are places held with deep respect by the B’laan called lagafradongamdono, which are watched over by a guardian entity or a spirit. Most mountains in the region are held sacred since these were all created by the deity, Almabet, and are considered the mountains of the ancestors. These include Bolo Afu (Mt. Apo), Male Bato (Mt. Parker/ Mt. Maughan), Amtutung (Mt. Matutum) and Bolol Lomot. The last two are particularly held in reverence because they are considered the navel of the earth.
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Rituals are performed on the mountainsides when making offerings. S’bak—a segment of bamboo with the top split into strips and woven into a receptacle, is erected. The offerings placed in the receptacle consist of varied things like a ring (tising), small bells, morsels of food or even coins. Sometimes a chicken is offered. All these are left behind after the recitation of some invocations or to request the supernaturals’ permission to allow them to clear a field for planting.
At times, spirits with a dual nature, such as those who are guardian and punisher at the same time, like the bosaw, are invoked when making the offering. Bolol Klutang, in particular, is considered the mountain inhabited by the bosaw. Most of the residents also pass by the s’bak to offer prayers and ask for guidance.
Malem or chants are preferably done at night. Malem is accompanied by a fuglung, a two-stringed lute. Some prayers are said in a gumne sabak, a modest roofed structure dominated by a bamboo surmounted by an offertory bowl called a s’bak.
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It was an interesting narrative and practice that has piqued the interest of cultural researcher, Donnabelle Celebrado who has immersed with indigenous communities in Mindanao, particularly the B’laan tribe and extensively done a study on the S’bak upon the request of the tribe’s Datu to preserve and hand down the practice.