Water of the Mountains


Water of the Mountains: Music, Divination, and Myth of the Obo and Manobo Dulangan in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao

Volume 3 of the NRCP video documentary series “Music Cultural Flows”

Researched by Jose S Buenconsejo


Like water that generates life and that heals, history of cultures does not flow in a neat and linear manner but adapts to gravitational pull and to the contours of its surroundings that, in return, physically shape it as it moves in the landscape. The Obo myth of creation is an allegory of archaic humans being swallowed by water –a singularity–after a needle, a technology of culture, punctured the body of earth. The mind who invented this fiction conveys a universal truth yet this myth is particular to the place that I visited in the mountains of Sultan Kudarat, which is dotted by numerous springs and traversed by streams. Bathing on this body of water that cleanses dirt and the kulintang kayu that accompanies celebratory dance as a form of human solidarity in the time of death is the theme of the Obo song duyoy as regards to their cultural hero Gamfey. The notion of magical birds on trees, some marking protection while other portending omens, image of the ring, the use of bow and arrow and the magical tube skirt malong are proofs of cultural flows from nearby cultures that had exchanges with the ancestors of these highlanders deep in Southeast Asian prehistory. But the study of this past, archeology, would be empty without being informed of local knowledges behind the science of measuring artefacts.

The study of music instruments from this place was the key to unravelling the mythic idea of centeredness, an “axis mundi” of a thing in the world, so to speak. The body, expecially the hand, which makes useful objects, is fundamentally important in hominin cultural adaptation for millions of years until the emergence of the human species some 200,000 BP. The aesthetic concept of referencing the bamboo holes and strings, and the volume of wooden blades is akin to the singularity of the water hole from which the other strings are tuned accordingly from the center. The myth is so durable that it withstood time, resonating with other domains in the indigenous cultures of the place. The flow of this myth to other parts of the Philippine archipelago remains to be studied in the future and this opens the possibility that the people from this place might have descended from a group in an unknown homeland in Sulawesi via present day Maitum, Sarangani. There is a likehood, for example, that the preserved hand stencils in caves in Sulawesi (dating 40,000 years ago) might be related to the art of divinatory ritual still in practice among modern T’boli, Obo, and Manobo Dulangan.

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