The Mangyan Tribe of Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro

Mansalay Hanunuo Women wearing traditional woven cloth and woven bags
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The Hanunuo-Mangyans in Panaytayan, Mansalay

Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines — Immersing in a different province or region in the Philippines is the best way to discover our origin and to have further knowledge on tradition, practices, and beliefs of our indigenous tribes. We might be all familiar with Puerto Galera when we talk about Mindoro, but there’s a town in Oriental Mindoro we visited, that wowed me in so many ways – the town of Mansalay.

Mansalay Hanunuo Women wearing traditional woven cloth and woven bags
Mansalay Hanunuo Women wearing traditional woven cloth and woven bags

During our Oriental Mindoro Fam Trip organized by the Department of Tourism MIMAROPA, one of the places we visited is the town of Mansalay, a name derived from the Mangyan word “UN MAN MAY MALAY” which means “I don’t know” or “Anong Malay ko” in Tagalog.

About the town of Mansalay

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Melsar Mountain Resort in Mansalay Oriental Mindoro
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Map of Mansalay by Mike Gonzalez via Wikipedia CC
Map of Mansalay by Mike Gonzalez via Wikipedia CC

Mansalay is a 2nd class municipality in the province of Oriental Mindoro and is notable for its indigenous Mangyan population. It is touted as the Ammonite Capital of the Philippines because thousands of ammonite fossils have been discovered in the town in the 1940s. The town is known for its Buktot Beach which means hunchback” in Hiligaynon. It boasts cream-colored sand, greenish-blue sea, surrounding grasslands, jagged rocks, and a few cottages available for rent. Locals suggest bringing your own food and drinks, as there are no stores nearby if you want to visit for a picnic.

Other attractions in Mansalay include the Palaypay Sanctuary, the Melzar’s zipline and the 12 stations of the cross, and the Casabangan beach.

The Mangyans of Mansalay: Their Lives and Beliefs

The town is home to 13,000 to 15,000 Hanunuo Mangyans which makes it the largest among the groups of Mangyans considered as one of the highly cultured, civilized, best known among the 8 Mangyan groups of tribes in the Province. Historians say that the Mangyans were entirely isolated from modern civilization in 1950, but today they have begun to develop relationships with other peoples and cultures.

Hanunuo-Mangyan Tribe of Mansalay Oriental Mindoro
Hanunuo-Mangyan Tribe of Mansalay Oriental Mindoro

The majority of Mangyans grow their own food and use a method of farming called “slash-and-burn” agriculture. Aside from fishing as the locals’ source of income, the Mangyans are famous for its weaving industry (ramit) and ancient burial grounds.

Hanunuo Mangyan Musical Instruments
Hanunuo Mangyan Musical Instruments

The Hanunuo / Buhid Mangyans are known to be good in weaving baskets like bayong and balulang, beadworks, and mats. One of the most impressive things about their weaving process is that most of the Mangyan women use indigenous improvised looms made of banana or bamboo trunks, and their weave designs are based on their ethnic origin.

Hanunuo Tribe of Mansalay
Hanunuo-Mangyan Tribe of Mansalay

And during our visit, we’ve learned that the Mangyans of Mansalay speak their dialect, create their ethnic musical instruments, and follow an ancient system of writing that is passed on to the younger generations including their songs and folklore.

When it comes to their beliefs, Hanunoo’s are said to be animists – which means that they believe animals and aspects of nature have spirits, including their belief in their guardian spirits called kalag. The Hanunoo sacrifice food and glass bead to gain the favor and goodwill of the said spirit.

Hanunuo Mangyan Script
Hanunuo Mangyan Script

During their feast and courting, young men and women exchange love songs. Just like the usual harana, a man will be accompanied by guitars, nose flutes, and harps, as he sings a song, while the woman answers with a song of her own. When they finally decided to marry, the husband then goes to live with his wife’s family to repay the debt he has incurred by marrying their daughter.

Hanunuo Script

According to statistics, there are about 13,000 Hanunuo speakers recorded in the year 2000. It is one of the indigenous suyat scripts of the Philippines and is used by the Mangyan peoples of southern Mindoro to write the Hanunó’o language.

Writing Hanunuo Script on a bamboo
Writing Hanunuo Script on a bamboo
My Name in Hanunuo Mangyan Script
My Name in Hanunuo Mangyan Script

It’s basically a pre-Spanish writing system, thought to have descended from the Kawi script of Java, Bali, and Sumatra, with characters expressing the open syllables of the language which is closely related to Baybayin. Their syllabic writing system, Surat Mangyan is being taught in several Mangyan schools in Mansalay and Bulalacao. It’s written in vertical columns from bottom to top and left to right, and is usually read from left to right in horizontal lines.

Hanunuo Clothing

Mansalay Hanunuo Mangyan Women wearing beaded accessories
Mansalay Hanunuo Mangyan Women wearing beaded accessories

According to our guide, in the olden days, a local Hanunuo have ways of deciphering whether you’re a true Mangyan or a non-Mangyan. The first criteria would be wearing clothing called rutay. For the male, they are usually long-haired and then tied in one spot at the back of the head using a panyo, while for their attire, they wear a loincloth (ba-ag) and a shirt (balukas) while the female wears an indigo-dyed short skirt (ramit) and a blouse (lambung.) Both sexes wear necklaces and bracelets.

How to get there

Although there’s no flight from Manila to Mansalay, here are easy ways to reach this town.
Take a bus going to Batangas Port which are available in Buendia Avenue Makati and EDSA Cubao. The bus ride takes about 1 hour and a half.

From there, ride a FastCraft or Ro-ro bound to Calapan Port (1.5 to 2 hours). Once you arrive from Calapan Port, you need to take a van going to Mansalay (2 hours and 30 minutes).

Searching for the best hotels and affordable flights? Check out our complete list of affordable hotels and resorts via Agoda or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.

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