Death and Life Rites of Passage in Obo Manuvu Culture

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Table of Contents

  • The Obo Manuvu People
  • Belief and Burial Rites of other Sub-Tribe
  • Beliefs and Practices Concerning Death

Included in this chapter is a review of related literature. This comprises information regarding Obo Manuvu ethnic group including some of their cultural practices and geographic location. Further, beliefs and practices on death across some countries are accounted. Moreover, this chapter presents interrelated perspectives on the analysis of narratives.

The Obo Manuvu People

Philippines is a country with archipelagic nature and a nation whose citizens are constituted by varied ethno-linguistic groups united together in a coined term “Filipino”. Among the ethnic groups in the country is the Manuvu people dwelling in different regions and provinces of Mindanao. With their respective cultural distinctions these groups live in the east and south of Mount Apo and the eastern side of Cotabato (

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According to Manobo simply means “people” or “person”. Some references call them Manuvu and Minuvu. There is a presumption as to where the term Manuvu originated. The word “Mansuba,” compounded from man (people) and suba (river). Manobos are geographically located in Agusan, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao, Misamis Oriental, and Surigao Del Sur.

The Ubo are a Manobo sub-tribe whose dwellings are found in a more isolated mountains of Southwest Cotabato in the area known as Datal Tabayong, as well as, more southerly Davao del Sur. They are known for their elaborate casting, the Ubo fashion fine weaponry and jewellery that they believe possess souls, making it harder for the maker to extricate himself or herself from them.

The Ubo Manobo believe in gods and goddesses ruled over by a dominant figure called Diwata (God); they believe in ancestral spirits and invisible beings thriving the living and the non-living objects in their environment. In civic matters, the political leader and Datu (Filipino chieftain) and is determined out of various considerations such as: wealth, eloquence and knowledge of customary law, known as fendan. Primarily he is obliged to settle disputes among members of a family, neighbours, and the community.

In the contemporary times, Manuvus have inextricably participated in in civil activities since a number of them have been exposed to other cultures through education. They have embraced some of the government introduced programs. For instance, some Manobos have already adopted the proper health practices such as tending the sick, sanitation, garbage disposal, delivery and child care and the immunization of their children (Gosadan and Rayan 2018). The seminars and trainings they health workers sent by any government and non- government health units made them become aware of the proper health practices. The presence of the barangay health centers gave the respondents the chance to see the doctors and health officials for check-up. Culturally, animism is the mainspring of the tribal religion and animal sacrifices are required to appease the offended spirit in times of illness (Peralta, 2013). Manobo cultural practices are still rich and authentic however, the interaction and observation of the Manobo regarding the practices of other migrant settlers in every community gradually replaced some of their cultural practices. As much as they want to preserve their culture, most of the Manobo have already accepted the fact that the future generations will be civilized by the posing migrants crashing to their system (Masendo, 2015). Equally important to them now, is the recording and documentation of their cultural practices for preservation.

Belief and Burial Rites of other Sub-Tribe

Mansendo (2015) explored some cultural practices of the Manobo people of Agusan, Philippines. His exploration revealed prevailing burial practices despite technological innovation in the adjacent dwellings. In burying the dead, Manobo tribe practiced that if a person dies, the body is washed and dressed in its best clothes. Burial takes place within a day, for decomposition is avoided. The body is laid in a coffin hollowed-out log, cut lengthwise in half for the main part of the lid. Each half is three faced so that the covered coffin is hexagonal.

According to Montillo-Burton (1985), the brief vigil begins with the baylan placing a betel-nut offering beside the coffin. The mourners address the dead, extending an invitation for both the deceased and all the inhabitants of Ibu, the after-world, to attend the death feast. As the coffin is carried into the forest to be buried, there is much wailing and shouting, partly in mourning, partly to keep evil spirits away. A thatched roof is set above the grave and a pot of rice with hole at the bottom is hung up under the roof. If the dead is male, he is buried facing the east, if woman, she is buried facing the west.

Moreover, before entering the house after the burial, the mourners purify themselves with a mixture of water and herbs contained in a coconut-shell cup set by the doorway. Then the baylan presides over the death feast. A winnow containing cooked rice and bananas is placed on the floor of the house. A banquet is laid around the winnow. The mourners sit in a circle and place their betel-nut offering on the winnow as they implore the deceased not to haunt the living. The head of the family takes the handful of rice and shapes it into a human figure. As this figure is passed from one person to the next each one takes a nip. Meanwhile, the spirits of the dead are invited to partake of the feast. After the meal, the contents of the rice winnow are tossed into the air and everyone hastily falls back to avoid being touched by the food offering. Then there is dancing to the sound of the drum, gong and chanting of the baylan.

Beliefs and Practices Concerning Death

World view on death are spotted across continents. Despite questions, Africa displays behaviour that maintains cultural connections and traditions (Ramose, 2002a, Grills, 2002, Nobles, 2013). To the extent that there is such an animal as an African, there is an African epistemology, ways in which Africans conceive and understand the world as well as the unique ways in which Africans use their knowledge systems to advance their development. While there is an assertion of an African philosophy, epistemology or worldview, differences still exist even between African communities in Africa and elsewhere in the world. People must refrain from making overgeneralizations as Amuleru-Marshall and Amuleru-Marshall (2013) warned by arguing that “Even when one presumes to be accessing deep cultural structure, it would not be found that African Caribbean culture is characterized by a common worldview that resembles that which is advanced by American Africentric psychologists” (p. 322). The African worldview refers to the way in which Africans perceive their world which, in turn, influences their ways of knowing and doing. There is no such thing as a value-free cultural system. All knowledge systems have philosophical underpinnings, are contextual and culture based and to some extent biased. African (Black) philosophy is rooted in the nature of Black culture which is based on particular indigenous philosophical assumptions (Nobles, 2006). Worldviews and cultural systems are by their very nature biased towards other cultural value systems. One of the cultural vale systems involves the inextricable reality of life—death.

Death is a natural transition from the visible to the invisible or spiritual ontology where the spirit, the essence of the person, is not destroyed but moves to live in the spirit ancestors’ realm. (King, 2013). The above meaning attached to death is therefore consistent with the African’s cultural, historical epistemological and methodological conceptions of being-in-world, and are premised on these dimensions. Perceptions and conceptions about death in any cultural system are based on certain philosophical presuppositions and worldviews. Similarly, conceptions of death particularly in indigenous Sub-Saharan Africa are understood on the above dimensions. Given that there are cultural differences in conceptions of the person, conceptions of humanness can vary across cultures as well (Park, Haslam, & Kashima, 2012). It is for this reason that we are careful not to assume that all Africans conceive death according to the above dimensions of being-in-the-world.

The Euro-American perspectives see life as consisting of discrete stages, starting with conception and ending with death. Death indeed is the end of life. On the contrary, an African worldview understands death as an integrated and continuous developmental life process which is inseparable from the interwoven connections between the visible and invisible ontologies. People do not cease to exist once they are physically dead, instead, they transcend to the spiritual world to live in the community of the living dead (Mbiti, 1990, Ramose, 2002a & Bujo, 1998). For indigenous African people, dying marks a further developmental milestone which is not separate from life developmental processes and stages. For the indigenous African people, dying is a transition to, or ‘growing’ to a different phase of being. The dead transcends to the state of collective immortality and exists in the company of the spirits (Nobles, 2006).

Like birth, death is characterised by a series of cultural rituals and rites of passage which at times continue for the duration of the mourning period, as long as the living dead is remembered and continues to influence the actions of the living. The mourning or grieving process cannot therefore be linked or limited to some time span in a discrete sense. It is for this reason that Africans take time off from work when their loved ones are dead, to perform rituals that eternally connect them to the deceased. Therefore from an indigenous African ontological viewpoint, death does not imply an end to life, instead, it marks the beginning of another phase of being (King, 2013). The process of reincarnation, in which Africans belief, allows life process. The meaning of reincarnation here should not be understood in the Western ancestors amongst others, to return to their families in their grandchildren Oluwole (1992), to maintain this never ending evolutionary sense of the dead coming back in a different form or spices. Instead, it emphases different forms of remembering and acknowledging the ever present spiritual beingness of the living dead. Dreams are also forms of communication which maintain these unbreakable connectedness. For traditional Africans, the living dead are an inseparable and influential part of their being. It is for this reason that when Africans perform rituals by the grave side for example, that they do not refer to connecting with the dead person’s spirit. They communicate with the living dead as, ‘I am talking to my father or mother or grandfather, not the spirit or body of my dead father or dead mother’. This is a clear illustration that the living dead are regarded as genuinely and authentically living with and among the living and having an influence on them.

Representation of cultural performances and rites of passage which mark a people’s life experience exemplify rituals. Properly construed, rituals are an expression of people’s thoughts, emotions, social organization and cultural identities. They are therefore regarded as viable scientific methods of connections and dialogue. Baloyi (2008) pointed out that rituals are forms of expressions and connections performed by individuals, groups of people or communities in communication with the living-dead and the Supreme Being. In traditional African thought of death, the grieving process is characterized by rituals such as the bereaved family members shaving their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal. Different rituals are performed depending on who is the deceased and how they have died. In South Africa some of the Bapedi tribe that originates from Limpopo province, believe that when a married man dies, his widow is forbidden from arriving home after sunset, visiting neighbours, attending family and community functions and wears black clothes. The black clothes symbolize the dark cloud, death which is associated with loss and pain (bohloko) in Sepedi. In case of the wife dying, the widower is also forbidden from having an intimate affair before a stipulated period, usually six months to one year depending on the cultural group concerned. He is also barred from arriving home after sun set. There are different practices which vary from different ethnic groups and they all have symbolic significance. The performance of these rituals is seen as important in maintaining balance and harmony between the living and the living dead. This is the basis on which the connection between the physical and spiritual ontologies is maintained and enhanced.

In some countries such as Korea and Taiwan, there is a considerable influence of Confucianism. Confucian philosophy puts emphasis on family values and respect for the oldest person. Confucian role ethics considers filial piety as a virtue which is exercised through respecting parents. In an end-of-life context, filial piety means to take care of the parents and do everything good for the parents. In Korea and Taiwan, dying and death is perceived not as a personal issue, but rather as a family issue. However, this is not the case in Japan.

Braun and Nichols (1996) found out from their cross-cultural study among the migrants of Hawaii from Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Philippines that responses to death and dying revealed similarities and differences among the five groups from respective country of origin. Willingness to respond, considering the subject “death” and the presumption of their reluctance for the discussion characterized the observed similarities. The differences among groups, however, were also apparent. Although the Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese groups share a Buddhist history, they varied in their views. For instance in Japanese Buddhist culture, personal karma is not discussed openly, nor are misfortunes attributed to a person’s past karma. In Vietnamese and Chinese cultures, accidents, illnesses, and premature death are often considered a result of a person’s misdeeds in a past life. Their observations also included the acculturation contributing to some changes in their beliefs. Their exposure to some other cultures such as in the U.S. led them to accepting some practices.

Elesterio (1989) noted that Christian religious beliefs play a key role in Filipino culture because most Filipinos adhere to the concept of heaven and hell. Unlike most Christian religious traditions that suggest that a person’s soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory (a spiritual realm that exists between heaven and hell) after death, Filipino spiritual beliefs provide three possible explanations as to what happens to one’s soul after death (Demetrio et al., 1991). In a case study, Shimabukuro, Daniels, D’Andrea (1999) noted that a combination of Christian and animistic spiritual beliefs is commonly manifested in Filipino funeral rituals. In the past, many Filipinos followed the Catholic tradition by holding a wake for the deceased loved one in their homes. In contemporary times, this ritual is more commonly held at a funeral parlor. Whether held in the family’s home or at a funeral parlor, the purpose of a wake in Filipino culture is to provide an opportunity for family members and friends to come together to pray for the deceased person to assist the individual’s soul on its journey to heaven (Demetrio et al., 1991).

Several characteristics exemplify death. As noted by Macabulos (2015) death is characterized by all-inclusiveness, unpredictability and inevitability. All-inclusiveness in a way that children believed death to signify that living things, particularly people, animals, and plants, will eventually die. Children are well aware that no living thing is exempt from death. Noticeably, the respondents actually thought of human death first before animal death or plant death based on their responses. It was revealed that the Filipino children believe that death happens to people, before a followed statement that suggests that it happens to animals and plants, too. For these children, all living things will eventually die because everything in this world is bound to end; it is the will of the Divine Creator; it is the ―right‖ time of the person (to die); somebody fails to take care of them; death is caused by sickness and untoward events. However, some participants believe that death does not apply to all groups of living things. These children believe death does not apply to plants because they continue to grow; death should not apply to all because it brings pain; it should be caused by someone (or something); they are loved (by other people); it brings pain to others; it is not needed; and that life makes the world beautiful.

In addition, death was viewed as unpredictable and that no one can ever understand the timing of death. Filipino children believe that only the Divine Creator knows when people die and people lack the power to predict neither death nor future. Further view on death includes inevitability. Children understand the inevitability of death, the necessity with which death applies to living things. They believe that people die, because they cannot escape aging and even accidents; and it is people’s fate and the will of the Divine Creator. They believe that death is part of the life cycle; we cannot escape aging; and people are created equally by the Divine Creator. Furthermore, they believe that death ends suffering and that (good) people will eventually go to heaven; people can never anticipate accidents (that cause death); death makes the soul leave its body; no one can tell when death will happen; the people (children) are helpless; and only the Divine Creator knows about death. On the notion of inevitability, that defines death as unavoidable; respondents are well aware that death is ultimately unavoidable for all living things, regardless of its specific cause.

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