BUKIDNON VIEWS:  Re-discovering the “Kulaman tribe” in Bukidnon

By Loreta Sol L. Dinlayan

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/19 February 2017) –  In 2014, Bukidnon State University launched a coffee table book featuring 64 Bukidnon artifacts from among the hundreds collected by Fay-Cooper Cole, an American anthropologist who came to the Philippines in 1910.

One of the items, indicated as coming from Kulaman, is a container called Kalambuagi  which is used to contain tobacco or lime by the Bukidnons. I had the chance to see for myself this item in the Field Museum of Chicago last October 3, 2016. It is made of dried gourd with estimated 3 inches width and 4 inches height. The diameter of its mouth or opening is close to 1 inch just enough to slip through the tobacco or lime.

Culture identifies a group of people. Photo by Loreta Sol L. Dinlayan

I was surprised upon seeing more than 15 artifacts (maybe there are more) indicated as coming from Kulaman. The designs particularly in clothings are of the Manobo: fine lines and smaller geometric shapes are combined to form a design or an image of man, plant or animal.

My first thought of those artifacts’ origin was Barangay Kulaman, one of the 46 barangays of Malaybalay City. But, that barangay is dominantly Higaonon. Another possible origin, I thought, was another barangay named White Kulaman located in the Municipality of Kitaotao where Manobo-Matigsalug comprises mostly the population. I thought of assigning those artifacts as taken from Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon based on the ethnic tribe indicated in the items.

However, I think that preference for Kulaman, Kitaotao requires more researches including the Kulaman river in Maluko, Manolo Fortich. There’s another Kulaman river right there in the base of Mount Palaopao in Impasugong. There are many Kulaman in the entire province of Bukidnon. These places and rivers named Kulaman could have a unifying course of local history. Those artifacts in the Field Museum could help restore a portion of history and culture of Bukidnons.

After my three-day visit in the Field Museum, I could not stop thinking about my personal encounter with the more than century-old artifacts collected from Mindanao, Philippines especially those many items marked with Kulaman. The notes of Fay-Cooper Cole linked the Kulaman with the Manobo and that gave favor to the Kulaman, Kitaotao as the possible origin of the artifacts.

The Field Museum of Chicago.
Photo by Loreta Sol L. Dinlayan

A week after that visit in the Field Museum, I came across the 1918 census of tribes in Mindanao from W. Cameron Forbes’ THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS published in 1928. Among those tribes included in the census are Bilaans, Bagobos, Manobos, Mandayas, Isamals, Atas and Tagacaolos who were located in Eastern Mindanao. The Subanons are indicated in Western Mindanao and in Southern Mindanao, two tribes were named: the Tirurays and the Kulamans.

Thus, Kulaman is a group of people and not as a place as indicated today. Fay-Cooper Cole’s time of collecting artifacts and indicating places and people in 1910 is not far from 1918 census. From his notes, Cole suggests that Kulaman and Manobo are one. This statement could mean that one, though distinct, is a subgroup of the other. The 1918 census could have identified the differences of the tribes’ identities and Kulaman tribe could have possessed distinct characteristics. Those artifacts must have come from Kulaman tribe in Southern Mindanao.

Where are those people now? Are the Kulamans (places) in Bukidnon product of population movement? Do the Kulaman rivers in Bukidnon signify the existence of Kulaman tribe as with the Matigsalug in Salug river or the Umayamnon tribe in Umayam river? Where are those people now? Their small population could have been dominated by the Manobo tribe.

This domination occurred, I believe, not because of their limited population but because of a high degree of cultural similarities with the Manobos. The Kulaman tribe is not lost. The name is no longer there but the cultural identity thrives through their material culture. Manobo tribe is Kulaman tribe or Kulaman tribe is Manobo tribe, it doesn’t matter. In cultural context, what matters is a rich culture that proves the existence of a tribe. Answers are yet to come.

Another coffee table book featuring 60 Southern Mindanao artifacts will be launched by Bukidnon State University in August 2017. Most items will be from the “Kulaman (tribe)”.

(BUKIDNON VIEWS is the opinion section of Bukidnon News.Net. Loreta Sol Dinlayan is a social science instructor at Bukidnon State University, where she also works as in-charge of the university’s museum. A version of this piece first appeared on the author’s blog “Balugto”, Binukid for “rainbow”).