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Saturday, December 13, 2008


A visitor to this blog posted the following comment/question:
my grandfather is a mambunong. he is a witch or a wizard in the light of him being a man. but could he fall under the ones practicing the dark arts?

The answer to the query depends on what type of ideology (i.e. network of beliefs/ideas) informs one's value judgment. For instance, one who comes from a Christian Fundamentalist background  may contend that the native priest (mambunong) is a servant of Satan for engaging in occultic practices like rhabdomancy (i.e. foretelling based on readings of the lines and bumps of an animal's liver) and necromancy (i.e. communicating with the dead).  S/he may cite Biblical passages like  Lev 20, Deut 18.10-11, I Sam 28, among others in support of her/his assertion.¹

On the other hand, nominal Christians engaged in what some theologians call as "anitist" practices may take offense at the Christian Fundamentalist's branding of the native priest's works as "of the Devil."  They may point out that certain aspects of their indigenous religious practices work well where this adopted foreign religion has failed.

And an Indigenous Person armed with some form of Postcolonial Theory² may decry the Christian Fundamentalist's stock answer, insisting that traditional culture needs to be understood on its own terms and not judged using a borrowed religious standard.   S/he may also argue that Filipinos who are caught up in what Catholic priest Jaime Bulatao  termed as "Split-level Christianity"³ (adhering to a mix of Christian and pagan practices, for example) are actually evidencing a laudable subversion of  or resistance to a foreign religious juggernaut.


One of my concerns on this issue is the misguided zeal of many Christian missionaries who have such an  ignorance of and a prejudice against traditional culture that they think their approach to it must always be confrontational and that their missiological aim is to root out all vestiges of an ancient, "diabolic" system.  An offshoot of this misguided zeal is the destruction of cultural symbols.4

Perhaps, it would help these zealots' cause better if they undertake a serious study of  indigenous culture and help in the scholarly documentation of "paganistic" beliefs and practices.  Realistically though, too few a religious group would do such a task, given the fact that most of these sects  are more concerned about  how they can make their respective reports of evangelistic success attractive to their financial supporters  here and abroad, more than  how they can help preserve or enrich an endangered sub-culture.


1 Those who wish to explore this position should read Mona P. Bias' "Consulting the Medium of Endor: Parallels and Analogies," in Timoteo D. Gener & Adonis A.O. Gorospe, eds., Principalities and Powers: Reflections in the Asian Context (Manila: ATS/OMF Literature Inc., 2007), 100-118. Bias' paper focuses on some aspects of the Igorot traditional culture, specifically that of the people of Benguet. Her thesis is that the works of the three types of native priests -- the mansip-ok, mambunong, and the mankot-om -- find parallels in the occultic practices condemned in Scriptures, especially King Saul's dabbling with necromancy.

2 Recommended text: A.L. Macfie. Orientalism: A Reader. New York: NYU Press, 2000.

3 See Jaime Bulatao. Split-level Christianity. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 1966. cf. F. Landa Jocano. Folk Christianity: A Preliminary Study of Conversion and Patterning of Christian Experiences in the Philippines. Quezon City: Trinity Research Institue, 1981. A more recent study on "Folk Catholicism" in the Philippines was done by Reuel U. Almocera entitled, "Popular Filipino Spirit-World Beliefs with a Proposed Theological Response," in John Suk, ed., Doing Theology in the Philippines (Manila: ATS/OMF Literature, Inc., 2005), 78-98. Related post: "Doing Theology in the Philippines (Book Review)"

4 Related post: "Burning Cultural Artifacts"


Virgil J. Mayor Apostol said...

This brief Q&A on the practices of the mambunong, which would also include other shaman-priests and indigenous practices, goes straight to the matter. Thank you for posting this, and for including available links for those, as myself, who would like to delve deeper into this subject.

Virgil J. Mayor Apostol
Rumsua: Ancestral Traditions

scott saboy said...

thank you met manong. may your noble work continue to prosper! :)