MANILA, January 13, 2006 (STAR) TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag - A recent lunch with the Mangyan Heritage Group made it clear to me why Filipinos find it hard to agree on anything. We are a nation of 84 million people speaking more than 120 languages and dialects scattered over 7,107 islands. Within this 84 million population, we have 110 indigenous people (IP) groups. Four of these groups still use their original scripts, which are similar to Indonesian and Indian writing modes. The other languages and dialects, of course, do still exist, but are all written in the Roman alphabet of the colonizers.

One of the original 16th-century scripts is the Hanunuo Mangyan script. It is still much in practice and taught in Hanunuo Mangyan schools. But the 100,000 Mangyans in the country have eight different languages and cultural traditions. (If you want to learn more about them, visit the ongoing Mangyan Heritage Exhibit at the Ayala Museum.)

When one says Mangyan, he refers to the eight IP groups found mainly in the mountainous regions of Mindoro Island. These include the Alangan, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunuo, Iraya, Ratagnon, Tadywan, and Tau-buid, who comprise 10 percent of the total population of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro. The scripts of the Hanunuo and Northern Buhid Mangyans from Mindoro, and of the Tagbanua and Palaw’an tribes from Palawan have been declared as national cultural treasures in 1997, and inscribed in the Memory of the World Registers of UNESCO in 1999.

The Mangyans possess a rich and distinctive cultural and literary heritage. They play the guitar, violin, flute, gong, and Jew’s harp. They have what they call the ambahans, which are written with rhyming ending syllables and recited in poetic language or chant without a musical instrument. Ambahans are inscribed on bamboo trees or on bamboo slats with the use of a pointed knife.

As in any society, one can easily spot a Mangyan from a non-Mangyan through his clothing. One can even tell from what tribe the Mangyan belongs. The Alangan and Tau-Buid use materials from local trees and plants for their clothing. The Alangan tribe wears lingeb skirts from woven rattan, while the men wear g-strings made of bark. The male and female Tau-Buids use bark cloth for clothing and blanket. The standard dress for both sexes is the loincloth. The Hanunuo men wear the ba-ag (loincloth) and shirt while the women wear short indigo-dyed skirts and embroidered blouses. The Buhid women wear black and white skirts called abol and the men wear g-strings. One thing is certain. All the different Mangyan tribes love to wear beaded accessories.

Today, one of the Mangyans’ main sources of livelihood is their handicraft made of forest vines, beads and cotton. They also plant upland rice, corn, beans, bananas, and root crops with reverence for the environment. However, their way of life is threatened by the destruction of forests by illegal loggers. Some Mangyans also work as hired laborers of lowlanders on a seasonal basis.

The following are some interesting myths and facts I gathered from the Mangyan Heritage Group brochure.

• Some say the Mangyans have tails. This is most derogatory. It is believed that the one who observed this and wrote about it was referring to the g-string, or bahag, worn by the men and wrapped around the waist, with the remainder hanging loosely at the back.

• Some say the Mangyans are beggars. Only some villages in one community are known to beg. Mangyans are a proud people. It is considered morally and socially inappropriate for them to beg. They pride themselves on the independence of their community and their self-sufficiency. Mangyans center their lives on the principle of co-existence: They do not live off the environment; they live with it.

A typical Mangyan family lives in a thatched roof hut with bamboo floors. Some Mangyan communities, particularly the Alangan Mangyan, live in communal houses called balay-lakoy (big house), where three to 20 nuclear families of three or more generations reside.

Crime, theft or violence among the Mangyan communities rarely occur. Each tribe has its own customary laws, which serve as a guide for the elders when resolving disputes. Illicit drug and alcohol use have been introduced to Mangyan communities, but are extremely rare. Their traditional diet includes root crops, wild yam, wild fruits, banana, corn, and rice.

The Mangyan Heritage Group brings to our awareness its beautiful culture, hopefully to dispel prejudices and correct misleading myths. Through its efforts, there is hope in understanding and appreciating the Mangyans, our indigenous brothers and sisters in Mindoro.

Now going back to our lunch, chef Sau Del Rosario of M Café at the Ayala Museum prepared a menu of simple dishes that he presented in a stylized and creative way. He took inspiration from ingredients found in the everyday Mangyan kitchen or forest. For starters, there were sardine cakes with kaffir aioli (much like the Spanish croquetas), kabatse espresso soup (lima beans or patani) served with fried kamote sticks, and poached chicken with upo salad and ube ravioli. The dessert was chocolate banana cashew tart.

With chef Sau’s manner of cooking, I wonder if a Mangyan will recognize or even taste the ingredients he is familiar with. But I found one thing puzzling. Why is there sardine (the canned variety) on the menu? I asked around and apparently, canned sardines is considered a luxury, a dish served to a distinguished guest, a Sunday or a birthday treat, because up in the mountains they consider this can of ordinary and inexpensive sardines as "imported" and precious.

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Know more about the Mangyans, their culture, music, poetry, and crafts in "Myth and Meaning" at the Glass Wing of the Museum Space, at the second floor of the Ayala Museum. Taste Chef Sau del Rosario’s transformation of M Café into Mangyan Café until January 23. MM Café is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For details on the Mangyan Heritage Center, call 757-7117 to 21, and 0918-733-7927; e-mail or visit

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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