Arts Corner

[Arts Corner] The Vanishing Journey of Mandaya Poetry and Music



Mandaya poetry is relatively unknown in Philippine literature. And before it could be known or studied in the academe, this unique form of poetry with its native Mandaya language is already vanishing. Being the only literary writer of Davao Oriental with major influences from the Mandaya poetry, artist–writer-musician Danny Castillones Sillada writes and shares a brief essay on the different types of Mandaya poetry and his own poems (text and video) written in modern Mandaya/Kamayo language with English translations. 

The Vanishing Journey of Mandaya Poetry and Music

(Bayok, Dawot and Oyog-Oyog)

by Danny Castillones Sillada

“Kung ikit-an mo da yang kanmo bāy, lang-a sa ako daw hain mosubay.”

(If you already found your home, please, tell me what trail to follow!) ~ from the song “Hain Yang Kanak Bāy”

Mandaya Lass with mamâ between her lips (Old prints)
Mandaya Lass with mamâ between her lips (Old prints)

The Mandaya language, culture, and traditions are vanishing!

The younger generations of Mandaya prefer to study, work, and live in the major cities of the country and abroad, thus leaving behind their language and traditional practices, drifting farther and farther away from their roots. And, perhaps, in a decade or two, nothing will be left of their identity and culture, but a tragic historical vestige of the past.

Mandaya, from the root word daya, which literally means “upstream” or “upland,” is the ethnic tribe of Davao Oriental (and in some parts of Surigao Del Sur), the southeastern part of the Philippines. The Mandaya people are known for their hand-woven dagmay and colorful costumes, rituals, mana’og sculptures, dance, music, and poetry. They believe on the twofold gods, the good gods (Mansilatan and Badla) and the evil gods (Pudaugnon and Malimbung), the polarity of positive and negative forces of nature.

As one of the oldest ethnic tribes in the Philippines, the Mandaya people are proud of their tribal heritage, polite, and peace-loving, but they can be fierce like a Bagani or Mandaya warrior if mistreated or insulted. They have the natural proclivity for art, music, dance, and poetry with profound acumen and deep respect for nature and environment.

When the Spaniards established their missionary destination in Mindanao during the 1600s, the Mandaya tribe was resistant to change and influences by the Western culture. It has survived during the colonial invasion from the Spaniards to the Japanese and the Americans. Until recently, at the turn of the 21st century amid the inevitable influx of technology and consumer products in the remote mountains of Davao Oriental, the Mandaya tribe is gradually losing not only its language and culture, but also its people.

One of the unique vanishing Mandaya traditions is the performative poetry, i.e., bayok, dawot, and oyog-oyog. Bayok is a narrative

One of the last Mandaya Magbabayok (poet-performer) of Davao Oriental , photo by Danny C. Sillada
One of the last Mandaya Magbabayok (poet-performer) of Davao Oriental , photo by Danny C. Sillada

poetry about life, death, and sacrifice, sung or chanted by one or two people. Dawot is antiphonic love poetry similar to harana or serenade sung between two wooing lovers. Oyog-oyog is lullaby poetry about love and filial connection between parents and children, or between the villagers and Mother Nature.

These three different types of poetry (or music) were never written nor were they intended to be written, but are handed down orally from one generation to the other. They are meant to be performed (either sung or chanted) during ritual, festivity, and other tribal gatherings. Unlike the mainstream Western- influenced Filipino poetry, the Mandaya poetry and music are integral part of the community life—the soul of tribal existence, dreams, and longings.

The bayok, for instance, as an epic and narrative poetry, is performed during festivities and rituals. The magbabayok or poet-performer plays a very important role in the community parallel to a teacher, philosopher, or historian. Every Mandaya, however, is required to perform bayok or dawot during merriment or the arrival of guests from other villages, while the oyog-oyog is both a domestic and communal poetry to be sung by any family member.

Bayok tells stories about journey and struggle in life, the devotion toward family and community, religious rituals, and social and environmental awareness within and outside the tribal villages. Human existence, according to a Mandaya Ompô (elder), is a tale of bayok, an unfinished historical journey to be told and heard by the whole community until it is completed in ‘eternal dream’ or death.

As a performative and spontaneous poetry, bayok is not concerned with grammatical or syntactic rules, but within the natural flow of language, which mimics the sound of nature, e.g., the repetitive hoots of limocon (bird of omen) or the garrulous sound of streams and rivers. In fact, the syllabic cadence of the original Mandaya language has its rhythmic and calming effect in the human senses. A stranger, for example, who listens to the metrical sound of the language can relax or fall asleep in between, figuratively speaking.

When a bayok is sung or chanted amid bonfire, the whole villagers listen with awe and fervor as though the Mandaya gods had spoken in their midst. Hence, every bayok is intrinsically revelatory by nature, a dialogic encounter between the poet- performer and the entire tribal community. It has a sense of urgency to be performed and listened to, as a communal and participatory event in the community.

Today, the Mandaya poetry is on the verge of extinction. The oral performative act has been delegated to the female elders in their 70s and 80s, and after them, the practice will dissolve permanently. Equally lamentable, the younger generations have already abjured the tradition: they are more at home with Tablet, Facebook, and Android phones. Consequently, the popular cultures and languages across the globe slowly guzzle up the Mandaya language, customs, and traditional practices.

As a Mindanaoan from the province of Davao Oriental, and as the only literary writer in modern Mandaya language, poetry, and music, it is my deepest regret that I could no longer hear and capture the spontaneity and the melodic voice of magbabayok (poet-performer). I could only evoke, with tears in my heart, the nostalgic memories of the Mandaya people and their sentiments, and percolate the remnant of the tradition in my own perspective.

And as a reluctant poet treading on this lonely path, it is my fervent hope that my poetic journey will rouse and inspire the younger generations of Mandaya and the people of my beloved province to look back and cherish the opulence of our language and culture. Because no matter how far we drifted into the distant corners of the world, there is always a remote part of ourselves that is left behind, constantly waiting to be remembered or visited back home.

Below are three of my poems written in modern Mandaya/Kamayo language with English version under the category of bayok, dawot, and oyog-oyog. These are poetic narrative of an existential journey about losing a loved one, falling in love and being broken, and that haunting feeling of homelessness despite the physical presence of a home in the temporal world.

(1) “Yang Puerta Ng Biniya’àn Na Bāy” (The Door of an Abandoned Old House) is a trilingual poem in Mandaya/Kamayo, Filipino, and English under the category of bayok, published in the Philippines Free Press on March 26, 2011, and was translated from its English version into Italian and German languages by Ivano Reiver, Imelda and Detlef Leisterer, and Bobbie Röckelein respectively.

The author’s poetry-film, shown at the 2012 6th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, Germany
The author’s poetry-film, shown at the 2012 6th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, Germany

In 2011, “The Door of an Abandoned Old House” was part of the Ghost People traveling exhibition and performances in Italy and Spain curated and organized by Marika Famà. The Ghost People is a group composed of international poets, writers, painters, musicians, and performance artists, advocating for the human rights of the political victims of “desaparecidos” or involuntary disappearances around the world.

In 2012, the same poem made into a short poetry-film became an entry to the 6th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, Germany.

Yang Puerta Ng Biniya’àn Na Bāy

Bayok ni Danny Castillones Sillada

Unàn sà yang mgá panghitabô

na kanaàn ikit-àn, sàng pag-abré

haw pagserá, pag-abòt haw pagpanaw,

sàng kaduŏm o ka-adlaw,

sàng kalipayon o kamasulob-òn?


Unàn sa yáng hinungdàn

o misteryoso na mgá rasón sàng kanaàn

makahahadlòk na kahungáy,

yaàgnas haw yahugnô hináy-hináy

sàng mahayab na pag-inusara?


Pagkàmingaway sa tanawón—

yang malipayon na puerta sàng- awŏn

doón sarado italìkdan intawon

sin-o mán yang mgá gahuyâ ngànsin-i:

yapanaw silán, wâ dà gayod ulií.

The Door of an Abandoned Old House

(A Poetry Film in English Version)

(2) Unó-unó Tà Káw Sà Panggaòn (How Shall I Love You) is a trilingual love poem in Mandaya/Kamayo, Filipino, and English under the category of dawot. This is also part of my forthcoming music album “Mga Hagas Ng Kudlong” (Whispers of Kudlong), a compendium of 12 solo instrumental tracks in Mandaya instrument called kudlong, a two-stringed guitar.

Iza, pen & ink on paper by Danny C. Sillada
Iza, pen & ink on paper by Danny C. Sillada

Unó-unó Tà Káw Sà Panggaòn

Dawot ni Danny Castillones Sillada

Unó-unó ko kapùg’ngan yáng kagul-anón sin-ìng kallàg

gikán sáng wáy kasìguradohán na paghigugmá—

dáw unó-unó ngini gàmasulob-òn sáng kahidláw

para matàg-iyá háw mahàngkop yáng kanaàn pinanggâ.


Unó-unó tâ kâw panggaòn kúng yâng paghigugmá

kinàhanglán kasayudân ng kanmó kasìng-kasìng,

para batìon yáng kahayág ng pagpàkisayód,

yáng pagkalipáy háw pagkalumós sáng ibawosán na


Unó-unó ta káw panggaòn kúng wâ pa káw kasayód

na ako kadî kanmó yahigugmá! Oo, ihigugmá ta káw,

peró unó-unó mo sà kasayudán sáng kanàk pag-inusará

kúng màs gustó ko pa itagô yáng masìpgànon ko na gugmá. 

“How Shall I Love You”

(A Poetry Film in English Version)

(3) “Pánghìmatuŏg Ng Inâ” (Mother’s Lullaby) is a bilingual poem in Mandaya/Kamayo and English under the category of oyog-oyog with German translation by Bobbie Röckelein. This poem is part of a 2013 calendar with other poems by local and international poets under the Axlepin Publishing. It is also one of the Filipino representative poems to the ‘World Poetry Peace Festival’ in Canada on April 4-30, 2013 at the Ike’s Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

The vanising Limocon (Bird of Omen) of Davao Oriental inside a rattan cage, photo by Danny C. Sillada
The vanising Limocon (Bird of Omen) of Davao Oriental inside a rattan cage, photo by Danny C. Sillada

Pánghìmatuŏg Ng Inâ

Oyog-oyog ni Danny Castillones Sillada

Si’àng adlaó inâ na lang-gám yadakòp

Sang uwáy na hawla yasikòp,—

“Mga anàk di’ ak’ magadugáy,”

Yang canta ng lang-gám na mamingawáy.


Adlaó duŏm inâ na lang-gám gà’hunì

Gaagàs yang mga luhâ sang pisngì,

Galaúm yaàn na mga impís magatagàd

Hangtód yangkamatáy silan sang pugád.


Mother’s Lullaby

English translation by Danny Castillones Sillada

One day a mother bird was caught

And placed inside a rattan cage,—

“My little ones, I won’t be long,”

It cried with comforting song.

Day and night, the mother bird

Continued singing to a distant nest,

As if telling the little ones to wait

Until they died in peaceful sleep!

© Danny Castillones Sillada 2013

LISTEN to Danny Castillones Sillada performing his dawot or love poem “Canta Para Kanmo” (A Song for You) in his own language with English translation.

Official Website: Danny Castillones Sillada & His Aesthetics
Music: Danny Castillones Sillada, The Mangayaw
YouTube Channel: The Gathering of Aesthetics
Facebook Page: Danny Castillones Sillada, The Mangayaw
Blog: CuadroFilipino

13 comments on “[Arts Corner] The Vanishing Journey of Mandaya Poetry and Music

  1. Pingback: [Monday Reading] Strange Little Girls in Picture Books: Matilda, Eloise, and Phoebe |

  2. cerina hinautan tagra

    good to know that u take the initiative to have this site. Yalipay ako na yakakita o yakabasa ng kanmo mga write-ups. I agree with u that Mandaya is a vanishing tribe already, I learn the language as I grew up in Baganga, Davoa Oriental. Thanks a lot


  3. Bernardo Monday Marcos Jr.

    My late father Mr. Bernardo Miguel Marcos Sr. hailed from Laoag City, Ilocos Norte the first Teacher assigned in Sunlon, an upland sitio of San Isidro, Baganga in the 50’s. He loved the Mandayans because of their hospitality as well as the Mandayans to his dedication to civilized them, building a Primary School until it came to reality. He spent his nights with some mandayans volunteered to finish building the said school. I am very proud of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bernardo Monday Marcos Jr.

    “wain da magsikon ing mga mandaya duon na panawon”


  5. sang pagkakita ko san.e na mga videos haw pagpakabasa ng mga poems ni Mr. Danny Castillones Sillada kalit ko lang yarealize na vanishing tribes da gaud kadi agaw yang mandaya. medyo frustrating pero that`s the reality. yang mga otaw na broad yang knowledge amo yang mas concern sang kanato tribe while yang mga otaw na less yang pagsabot they just deny that they are “MANDAYA” . thank you Mr. Danny Casstillones Sillada for this wonderful videos and poems. I really appreciate it. ^_^


  6. Emmanuel S. Nabayra

    Yang yaprinted na mga poems sin-i na article, dili Mandaya na archaic o kara-an. Mandaya ngini na saksaksinagol – Davawenyo aw Kinamayo da. Maynini yang Minandaya na sulit kiko sang dawot ng Gambong::
    Babay sabud ing bal-long
    Bay sabullak ing dyumayan
    Dyumayan dumuboy kaw
    Bal-long lumantuwag kay
    Tumalipag ni Lawdan
    Bumatas ni Tawilan

    We must study real Mandaya folk literature, we must be honest and humble in our publications. Si Manny Nabayra ngini.


  7. Dear Manny Nabayra

    I highly appreciate your comment, and I agree with you: “We must study real Mandaya folk literature, we must be honest and humble in our publications.” That’s exactly what I did in this “personal account” about my Mandaya culture and literature in Davao Oriental, particularly in Cateel.

    As I stated clearly:

    “Below are three of my poems written in modern Mandaya/Kamayo language with English version under the category of bayok, dawot, and oyog-oyog. These are poetic narrative of an existential journey about losing a loved one, falling in love and being broken, and that haunting feeling of homelessness despite the physical presence of a home in the temporal world.”

    First, there is a modifier “modern” referring to the Mandaya language, not the original language. Second, I used the words “under the category,” not the bayok or dawot itself.

    Arguably, as performative poetry (either sung or chanted), bayok and dawot are meant to be performed in the community, not written because they are supposed to be spontaneously spoken. To record bayok or dawot in written form outside the community is almost a taboo. One must ask the permission of the magbabayok or the Kaugpongan Ng Mga Mangkatadong (council of elders), because for them, these performed poems are exclusive, almost sacred between the poet-performer and his or her community. Perhaps, there are hundreds or thousands of bayok and dawot that were performed by different Mandaya communities in Davao Oriental, and they were not recorded.

    Hence, what I have written here is about my perception and personal experience of Mandaya poetry, and how it has influenced my own poetry and music.

    Thank you so much, I’d love to talk to you one day and, perhaps, share each other’s understanding or writings about the Mandaya culture and history.



  8. difference mandaya and kamayo SIR DANNY?


    • Hi Gimer,

      The Mandaya is a tribal group in Davao Oriental, and in some parts of Surigao and Compostela Valley. The current language spoken in these regions is also called Mandaya or Kamayo.

      According to the National Commission for Indigenous People and the Tribal Chieftains in Davao Oriental, the language, even though it is mixed with Visayan and Spanish and majority of Mandaya, is still called Mandaya language, not Dabawenyo.

      Kamayo, as a language, is a lingual term by the natives of Mandaya descent in some parts of Surigao. Hence, Mandaya or Kamayo is a language spoken by the majority in these areas. The original Mandaya language, as a vanishing lingua franca, is still spoken by the Mandaya in the mountains, who still cling to their culture and traditions.



  9. sir danny?? is there any allophonic variations in all the mandaya vowels??
    I think there are only 3 mandaya vowels. A, I, U.


  10. I really appreciate your passion in preserving the Mandaya culture. I came from Surigao del Sur, a Kamayo 🙂 and I am always proud of that! Diri gayud ako familiar kadayaw sa kanami kultura, pero ganahan sab gayud ako na ma preserve iyan. Right now, ga enjoy ako sa paghinang ng mga poems gamit ang kamayo na dialect. Tana, magpadayun pa kaw ng pag promote sa pag preserve sa kanato heritage.
    God bless!


  11. allan crave diputado, rsw

    lipay ako kay… isa ako sa mga clan sa manay dvo. or. , as mandaya … salamat kanmo sa pag shared nang katigam mo sa tanan utaw na kaparehas nato 🙂


  12. Elena Liwantang

    Proud Mandaya here. 🙂


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