Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity

By Jacob K. Olupona | Go to book overview

Chapter 18

Mandaya myth, memory, and the heroic religious tradition

Between Islam and Christianity

Aram A. Yengoyan

Poised between two prophets (Christian and Muslim), the Mandaya of south-east Mindanao have dealt selectively with matters of religious conversion and cultural hegemony as a means of maintaining a way of life, a portion of which has no counterpart in the world religions that they are encountering. Conversion to Christianity is understood primarily as a means of entering a dominant socio-linguistic group (Cebuano/Bisayan), thus opening new avenues of commercial activity and partial social acceptance. On the other hand, Islam, through its teachers, wandering missionaries, and traders, argues that all features of Mandaya religious action, structure, and thought exist within Islamic religious perspectives, which not only embrace local Mandaya beliefs but are also more powerful. Both world religions operate globally, yet they are limited in terms of the oratory, mnemonics, and genealogical depth that link Mandaya mythical and historical heroes and heroines, and which project the living past onto the present.


The context

Eastern Mindanao is occupied by a number of “tribal” groups who are markedly different from the Islamic populations of southern and central Mindanao, although close similarities with other non-Islamic groups in central and western Mindanao, such as the Bukidnon and the Subanun, do exist. One of the major groups of eastern Mindanao is the Mandaya, who occupy the foothills and mountain areas of eastern Davao province and Surigao del Sur. Interior settlements are generally located up to an elevation of 4,000 feet. In some cases, the Mandaya have moved beyond this elevation, though the effects of swiddening in this ecological zone are highly negative. The push higher into the interior is a result of the extensive nature of Mandaya slash-and-burn cultivation. Although early accounts indicate that the Mandaya were one of the most powerful warring groups in eastern Mindanao, with the decline and disappearance of the bagani (warrior) complex during the 1920s, the Mandaya today are scattered throughout their ancestral areas subsisting on rice, corn, and tuber cultivation, and, occasionally, the commercial production of abaca (hemp).

Like many other non-Christian, non-Islamic groups practicing upland rice swidden cultivation, the Mandaya have only recently become involved in a market economy. Abaca production in swiddens that are no longer useful for upland rice is now found scattered throughout the foothills, from the Mati-Tarragona area north to Cateel. Most of these small-scale abaca farms are still maintained by the Mandaya, but in certain localities Cebuano farmers have taken land from the upland Mandaya. The Visayans are also

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