Pagdaloy, Flow of Life

picture of Subanon


A Sound for the Spirits

The Buklog of the Subanons

The Subanon or Subanun people of the upstream may be found on the western Peninsula. The population core areas are in Katipunan. The known subgroups parallel the linguistic variations and micro-adaptations to social and physical environment and comprise: (1) Misamis, (2) Lapuyan, (3) Sindangan, (4) Tuboy, and (5) Salug.

The cultural and technological adaptation is upland riverine. They practice swidden cultivation on mountain slopes. The traditional settlement pattern is highly dispersed with a few residential structures on top of ridges near potable water sources. The houses are placed adjacent to cultivated fields. They favor locations near springs where water gushes out of rocks over contiguous to streams.

Rice is the preferred food crop, but fields are also rotated and intercropped, planted with corn, sweet potato, and cassava. Land problems and soil degradation have forced some of the people to recourse to wet rice agriculture where the topography allows. Metal craft and backstrap weaving are practiced. They have maintained trade with coastal peoples for centuries, as indicated by the presence of Asian stone and ceramic trade wares. Present-day Subanon are usually nonaggressive. There are indications that in the past, the people were required to provide a “soul companion” for an important deceased relative.

Unique to the Subanon is their set of rituals, the buklog, the main feature of which is a huge dancing platform (buklogan). This structure is raised some 10 to 18 feet high and consists of a highly resilient platform supported at the corners by upright posts. A long pole is passed through the middle of the platform and extends upwards like a maypole. Below it is a short thick hollowed log that lies above a trench filled with empty jars functioning as resonating chambers. The pole rises and falls when dancers rhythmically bounce on the platform. The booming sound invites people to come and join in the ritual and festival. There is feasting, wining, and dancing lasting for days, with as many as two hundred people dancing on the buklogan continuously, day and night.

The ritual consists of a complex set of rites performed before the culminating event, usually near waterways, and which serve to propitiate spirits. The buklog is a prestige ritual that has a multitude of functions, such as celebrating well- being and a good harvest, and giving thanks to appease spirits after an illness. It may also honor personalities, welcome back homecomers, or praise a new timuay (leader). Finally, it is held to pay respects to the spirits of the dead, for the final sending of the spirit of the ancestor and the death anniversary of a grandparent.

The Subanen form a subgroup and are related to the Subanon but are concentrated in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

▶ Play Video 4. A Sound for the Spirits The Buklog of the Subanons

This is a shortened version of the Travel Time episode “A Subanon Celebration,” which was first aired on Filipino television on March 21, 1996. This episode has been modified from its original format.

Animals were offered in the context of the Subanon cultural ritual.