The island of Mindanao in the Philippines is home to over fifty indigenous or non-Islamic groups collectively called Lumad. The largest of these groups is the Subanen (People of the River) from Lapuyan, Zamboanga Del Sur. 


Ritual—Daga-salangsang: The community gathers and places nipa leaves in a circle to ward off bad spirits. An offering of boiled egg, betel nut chew, and cooked rice are placed on a tapi. Chicken blood is placed in an antique bowl and the Balian taps on it to summon beneficial spirits. The sipping of pangasi, rice wine, ends the ceremony.

Sohten: A dance of male strength and stoicism, calling the deities with the sounds from dlasag (shields) adorned with balasi (small shells) and saliringan leaves. Gongs and drums sound. Women play syncopation on besalen or bowls representing Subanen’s trade with China. 

Dumadel: A dance of bountiful harvest.

Thalek: A celebration after a ritual or bountiful harvest, danced to establishgood will in the community and to invite and receive blessings: performed with saliringan leaves and taming scythes, clashing bamboo, and rhythmic agung. 

Shelayan & Khinlesung: The elderly Balian teaches the Shelayan rite to the younger generation: healing the sick under moonlight. The swinging sinalimba represents a mythic vessel used for journey; a dancer needs considerable skill to board it.

The traditional music includes the agung—a single brass gong, the durugan—a hollowed log drum; and a tambul or drum. 

Subanen was created in 2010 for the 33rd Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Eric Solano choreographed the ritual dance, Thalek, and the finale, Shelayan & Khinlesung. Sohten is by Philippine National Artist Ramon Obusan. Dumadel is by Noel Asiatico.

Photo: RJ Muna

Resource: Gauden Sireg