Manobo of the Philippines

There is an ancient Manobo legend which tells of how a god created man to be immortal. The legend says that immortality was lost when a bird exchanged man's "life breath" for a mere peice of kemp string. For generations the Manobo have learned from childhood that no one has been raised to heaven. Still they hope to leave this world of poverty, sickness, hunger and death for the bliss of heaven. Today some villages are experiencing the joy of knowing Jesus who was raised to heaven by the power of the true and living God.


There are about 25 tribal groups, linguistically grouped under the "Manobo" family.


The Manobo have 24 main dialects. The following six groups are more closely related than others since their dialects are related. They include the Ata or Langilan Manobo, Talaingod, Matig-Salug, Tigwa, Dibabawon and Umayamnon.


The population of the combined groups totals over 100,000.


The island of Mindanao is the second largest of the Philippines archipelago with a land area of 36,505 square miles and the most recent of the major islands to be developed. It is often referred to as the "Land of Promise." The majority of the Manobo are located in the Central Mountains of the island and are seldom found in lowland towns except for going there to trade. Recently, however, many young people have made their way to the urban centers in search of work.


For hundreds of years these tribes roamed the valleys and mountains, doing slash-and-burn agriculture and having little or no contact with the outside world. From birth they have heard the oral traditions, myths and ballads, and have practiced the ways that made them distinctly Manobo - different from the lowland Filipino and neighboring tribal groups. Perhaps the strongest of their beliefs is that a person cannto leave the traditional spirits and ways and still be a true Manobo.


Physically, the lives of Manobos have been catastrophically altered by the rape of the environment by logging companies. Since the 1960s almost all of the native rain forest has been destroyed. This has rendered the Manobo slash-and-burn agriculture ineffective and no longer viable. Also many Manobo found pleasure in the new way the lowlanders brought, not realizing that the urge for materialism has made them poorer because of their unique lifestyle. Up to 90% of the land that belonged to Manobo has been sold - and is still being sold - to lowlanders. Up to this point in time many Manobo remain subsistence farmers and food gatherers instead of producers but this lifestyle has become increasingly hard without a good rain forest.


Generally speaking, the tribes have been left to govern themselves because the economy is too poor for a tax base. Sadly many Manobo have left the once effective self-governing lifestyle and have become workers for the lowlanders. From the 1970s until the present, the national government has formed agencies to remedy wrongs and upgrade the lives of these minority people. For the most part, these projects have not yet been completed.


Animism, the fear of evil spirits, is the mainspring of tribal religion. Every village will have at least one spirit priest, usually a man. Animal sacrifices are required to appease the offended spirit in times of illness. All of the tribal groups believe in one great spirit who created everything but then left and turned over the daily affairs of running the world to the spirits.

Openness to Christianity

There is usually a welcome for foreign missionaries although travel may be restricted in some areas. Most of Mindanao tends to be "sensitive" but many people are open to change - especially where their old values and faith are disintegrating under the clash of cultures and the secularizing influence of the cities. Initially, the Manobo are receptive, especially among the developing tribes. Among the more traditional groups, it is more difficult. Many tribal leaders are keen to invite people to come and teach them the Bible for varying reasons, usually because of the resources the outsider brings.


Over the years various missions and churches have played a part in evangelism among the tribes. This has usually been an offshoot of their main work - church planting among lowlanders. In recent years, however, some larger denominational groups have focused on tribal work and at least one mission besides OMF is working exclusively with four tribal groups (the Tigwa, Langilan, Talaingod and Dibabawon).

OMF Involvement

Since 1978 there have been 36 churches (and 18 outreaches on the way to becoming churches) planted among them belonging to the Manobo Bible Church Association of Mindanao. Most churches are closer to the lowlands, while the more remote villages remain without churches. Ministries: Pioneer evangelism, assistance in church planting, medical work, Bible teaching/training of church leaders, agriculture, adult literacy/education, video and radio ministry and mobilizing and training Filipino Christians for cross-cultural ministry.

OMF is working among the Langilan, Talaingod, Tigwa, Dibabawon, Umayamnon and Pulangion Manobo with the MABCAM being the church association of these churches. OMF is also involved with the video ministry among the Manguangan, Kamayo and Teduray. There we work together with already existing church organizations.

Two other tribes that OMF is hoping to start work in soon, are the Rajah Kabunsuwan and Cinamiguin tribes.