The Manobo of The Philippines
A cluster profile covering 8 Manobo tribes.

[IMAGE] The Manobo are several people groups who inhabit the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. They speak one of the languages belonging to the Manobo language family. Their origins can be traced back to the early Malay peoples, who came from the surrounding islands of Southeast Asia. Today, their common cultural language and Malay heritage help to keep them connected.

The Manobo cluster includes eight groups: the Cotabato Manobo, Agusan Manobo, Dibabawon Manobo, Matig Salug Manobo, Sarangani Manobo, Manobo of Western Bukidnon, Obo Manobo, and Tagabawa Manobo. Their populations range from less than 15,000 to more than 50,000. The groups are often connected by name with either political divisions or landforms. The Bukidnons, for example, are located in a province of the same name. The Agusans, who live near the Agusan River Valley, are named according to their location.

The eight Manobo groups are all very similar, differing only in dialect and in some aspects of culture. The distinctions have resulted from their separation.

What are their lives like?
The most common lifestyle of the Manobo is one of rural agriculture. Unfortunately, their farming methods are very primitive. For example, the Bukidnon grow maize and rice as their principal crops. Some of the farmers have incorporated plowing techniques, while others have continued to use the "slash-and-burn" method. The Cotabato use a farming system called kaingin. This is a procedure in which fields are allowed to remain fallow for certain periods of time so that areas of cultivation may be shifted from place to place. This is very inefficient since many plots of land are not being used at one time.

Social life for the Manobo is patriarchal, or male-dominated. The head of the family is the husband. Polygyny (having more than one wife at a time) is common, and is allowed according to a man's wealth. However, among the Bukidnon, most marriages are monogamous. The only exception is that of the powerful datus, or headmen.

The political structures of the Manobo groups are all quite similar. A ruler, called a sultan, is the head of the group. Beneath him are the royal and non-royal classes. Only those people belonging to the royal classes can aspire to the throne. Those belonging to the non-royal classes are under the power and authority of the royal classes. Each class is interdependent on the others.

The political aspects of life are often integrated with the social aspects. For example, many social events, such as weddings, require political leaders. Whenever there is a negotiation for marriage, both the bride and the groom must use the local datu (headman) to make all of the arrangements.

There is a wide range in the populations of the eight Manobo groups. Many of the groups are struggling with a changing world. Outside pressures have greatly affected their respective cultures.

What are their beliefs?
The religious beliefs of the Manobo are revolved around the concept that there are many unseen spirits who interfere in the lives of humans. They believe that these spirits can intrude on human activities to accomplish their desires. The spirits are also believed to have human characteristics. They are both good and evil in nature and can be evoked to both anger and pleasure.

While the religious practices of the Manobo vary slightly, there seems to be at least one common thread linking them together. Each culture believes in one "great spirit." This "great spirit" is usually viewed as the creator figure.

As the various Manobo groups have been separated, the religious beliefs of other peoples have influenced them somewhat. However, the Manobo have often incorporated these new practices into their belief system, rather than abandoning their practices and being converted to new religions.

What are their needs?
The farming techniques used by many of the Manobo groups are very primitive. Inefficiency of labor hinders economic growth in their communities. There is a great need for agricultural development projects to educate them on such things as crop rotation and use of chemical fertilizers. Such training would not only enhance their efforts, but also provide open doors through which missionaries may enter.

Another need of the Manobo lies within the area of their culture. These groups speak many different languages and dialects. This has made learning to speak and write their languages very difficult for outsiders. The smaller cultures are being pressed upon by larger groups that surround them. Because of this, they fear losing their original languages and cultural idiosyncrasies. An effort must be made to preserve their original culture so that these fears will be calmed.

Spiritually, the Manobo need a Savior! They must be told that there is a loving God who longs to make them a part of His family. Who will tell them that the "great creator spirit" is really a Father who cares for them? Prayer alone has the power to break through the strongholds of spirit worship. Intercessors are needed to daily stand in the gap and pray for the salvation of these precious people.

Prayer Points

  • Pray against the powers of darkness that are blinding the Manobo from the Truth.
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to the Philippines and share Christ with the Manobo.
  • Pray that God will raise up Christian workers to live among them and teach them agricultural skills.
  • Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Manobo Christians, and equip them to minister the Gospel to their own people.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the each of their various dialects.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will give missions agencies strategies for effectively reaching them.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among each of the Manobo groups by the year 2000.

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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