The World of Agusan Manobo Music

     I have put up an online exhibit of Agusan Manobo traditional music at It explores Agusan Manobo musical expressions as multimedia, with links to the voices and objects of their natural and social worlds that teem with life. Agusan Manobos live in a faraway place in Caraga region, Mindanao Island, Philippines.

      Agusan Manobo instrumental musics imitate sounds of nature, propel dance movements, and act as surrogate speech. Unaccompanied solo song tud-om performs the central cultural value of personhood that spirit-possession rituals dramatize as a form of healing. Imagined to be located at the border of nature/spirit and human worlds, Manobo voice in song points to a local knowledge of what it means to be a person in society.  It conveys the always too human act of compassion and hence song is understood as a gesture imbued with a profound meaning. Sung to an Other, Manobo song presences a self to a social world, a way of engaging it.

    As an index to self-related-other relationship in time and space, song parallels the kindness of offering the ingredients of betel chew to an interlocutor during face to face meetings in everyday life. Elaborated upon and transposed into the diverse forms of Manobo ritual performances, Manobo respect for other beings is also evident in the display of ritual objects. These bear witness to Manobo presences, i.e., signs of their activities in the worlds of nature and society that Manobos themselves make and culturally imagine. Manobo presences in those worlds are physical, though they cannot be separated from social meanings as in the medium’s dance in ritual, which remakes the cosmos (as magical spells have the capacity to do) and which performs the desired social order.

    Thus–in Manobo music–voice, body (gesture), and objects interweave a complex multimedia, multisensorial experience.


José S. Buenconsejo

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