The 7,000 Hanunóo (Bulalakao, Hampangan, Hanono-o, Mangyan) live in an area of 800 square kilometers at the southern end of Mindoro Island (12°30′ N, 121°10′ E), in the Philippines. They speak an Austronesian language, and most are literate, using an Indic-derived script that they write on bamboo. The Hanunóo were largely out of contact with schools and missions at least as late as the early 1950s. They trade with coastal Filipinos for metal, European-made glass beads, and salt, and they act as wholesalers for their interior neighbors, the Buhid, who supply the Hanunóo with clay pottery.

Hanunóo live in single-family dwellings of wood, bamboo, and thatched roofs. These structures are built on pilings, often in rows so that their verandas join end to end. Granaries resemble houses, but they are smaller and lack verandas. Settlements are semipermanent and autonomous, and have no more than fifty residents; they vary in size from two to twelve houses, with an average of between five and six. The Hanunóo choose as sites for their villages valley slopes overlooking streams, and they name them after the nearest geographic feature. The social group that lives in the village, however, goes by the name of one of the eldest members.

The Hanunóo rely primarily on swidden horticulture for their food. In a previously unused (primary) swidden they plant first corn and then rice. Shortly before the harvest, they plant corn, beans, and sugarcane among the rice. They plant sweet potatoes and other tubers in previously used (secondary) swiddens. Although the Hanunóo sometimes then plant bananas and papayas, they let most swiddens lie fallow after two years. The Hanunóo trade surplus crops with lowland peoples for the goods already mentioned. Fishing is an important source of food as well, though in the past hunting—done with poisoned arrows, spears, traps, dogs, and fire surrounds—was more important. The traditional game included wild pigs, deer, monkeys, and wild water buffalo. The Hanunóo eat the meat of domesticated pigs, chickens, and humped cattle on festive occasions.

The Hanunóo manufacture baskets. In addition, women pick, gin, and weave cotton into clothing and blankets; men import scrap iron and forge it into knives and other tools using bamboo double-piston bellows. Individuals can own trees, but they may have merely usufructory rights to land.

Hanunóo have bilateral descent, and kindreds are important. Their only corporate group is the nuclear family; it works together in legal, economic, and horticultural matters. In most cases, the named village group is an exogamous group composed of a man, his wife or wives, their unmarried children, and their married daughters and their families. Nuclear families may change residence but they always stay close to either the husband's or wife's kindred.

During the major panludan feasts, boys and girls court by exchanging love songs. Accompanied by fiddles, guitars, nose flutes, and Jew's harps, the boy first sings a verse appropriate to the circumstance, and then the girl answers in song; large numbers of love songs are preserved on bamboo. The marriage takes place with the agreement of both families. There is bride-service but no ceremony, bride-price, or gift exchange. Sometimes, however, couples simply elope. Most couples reside matrilocally. Although the Hanunóo believe that one should never marry a blood relative, in practice they are essentially endogamous within fairly small regions. Thus many people marry others they know to be kin, and this requires ritual cleansing. Inheritance is bilateral.

There is very little social stratification; what there is is based on age and skill at weaving or blacksmithing (though there are no full-time specialists). There is no significant accumulation or concentration of wealth.

The local village group is autonomous, and there are no chiefs. The eldest relatives of parties to a dispute adjudicate the dispute; most sanctions involve the payment of glass beads as a fine. Sometimes an ordeal by hot water is used to establish the truth injudicial proceedings. In cases of murder, the close kin of the victim avenge him or her. The Hanunóo do not practice warfare.

The Hanunóo have major named deities whom they associate with creation, but these hold little significance in daily life. Nevertheless there are numerous important spirits, including the ghosts of the dead and guardian spirits ( kalag ), as well as the spirits of nature who watch over mountains, rocks, forests, etc. The guardian spirits require propitiation, and they like to see that people follow adat (customary legal rules). The Hanunóo propitiate spirits through feasts and rituals, and they offer the spirits food (rice, pig blood, or betel quids) and especially strings of glass beads.

Should the people neglect either propitiation or the observance of adat, these kalag may become angry and allow evil spirits ( labang ) to harm humans. The labang may cause illness or death by attacking a human's soul. To treat illness, the Hanunóo have massage specialists, herbalists, and mediums ( balyanan ). The balyanan have control over spirits who live in stones, which they guard carefully; they send these spirits to attack the evil spirits that cause the illness.

Hanunóo bury their dead and then exhume their bones one year after death. The Hanunóo greatly fear the suffering that the ghosts of the dead (who are usually kalag) may cause the living, and so they treat the bones of the dead very well. The Hanunóo bundle them up, talk to them, feed them, consult them about the future, and dance with them at the elaborate and expensive panludan festival. For this festival, the Hanunóo erect special dance houses, bone houses, and offering houses. Following the ceremony, they put the bones in a niche in a cave.


Conklin, Harold C. (1954). "The Relation of Hanunóo Culture to the Plant World." Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University.

Conklin, Harold C. (1957). Hanunóo Agriculture: A Report on an Integral System of Shifting Cultivation in the Philippines. United Nations, FAO Forestry Development Paper no. 12.

LeBar, Frank M. (1975). "Hanunóo." In Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia, edited by Frank M. LeBar. Vol. 2, Philippines and Formosa, 74-76. New Haven: HRAF Press.

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