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Subanen People

 Subanen People and History

Subanen Government Hierarchy

Subanen people settled Mindanao Islands since more than 4,200 B.C. as it is proven by the archeologist through artifacts unearthed within the Ancient Subanen territory as shown in the map. 

Subanen people are among the now 20 lumads (Indegenous people IPs) that first settled of the islands in Mindanao and were the majority of all the lumads in the Island. According to the generation to generation narrated history, Subanen was the mother tribe of the Higaonon, Bukidnon, kamiging, Manobo, Matigsalug, Talaandig, Tigwahanon, and Umayamnon tribes but were separated into different tribal group specially the tribes that settled in the areas near the Odiongan and Gahub rivers in Gingoog and the people that lives near the Pulangi river of Bukidnon to North Cotabato where the Pulangi river flows.

As the Subanen people encountered with the other exploring group of tribes that outnumbered them even inside their vast areas of control, they would easily blend with the other friendly tribes and intermarriages often occurred and forming a new community of tribe resulting to the evolution of the other tribal group in the surrounding and neighboring  areas. 

The people would always prefer to live near the water (river) for easy access of the basic necessity of living and originally lived in the low lying areas. However, due to disturbances from other aggressive migrant groups such as the Tausug, Yakan tribes and and migrations of Cebuanos to the coastal areas in the Subanen territory it caused further pushed the Subanen people into the interior.

Subanen are peaceful people but characterized by two flexible natures; if their number is in the majority position then they will dominate and control the areas but if they are outnumbered then they would either move or migrate to the other places to avoid any conflict or tend to blend and even acclimatized with the majority settlers. Subanen people are willing to share their land or territory and allow migrants to settled in because of the belief that "Land is owned by all not by just only one" which should be shared to all.  Having visitors or having new migrants to settled the territory does not constitute as "invasion" in Subanen law but forcibly coercing the belief and culture are equivalent to war.  

The continuous migration of different tribes and different migrants from different directions to the Subanen territory had severely destroyed the Subanen culture as people’s nature to either migrate to other places to avoid the new incoming migrants or assimilate that even tried to hide their identity to merge and blend with the majority that following generations would not be familiar anymore with the culture and could no longer speak the Subanen language.

War and weapons 

Like the other tribes, Subanen are sometimes aggressive and skilled warriors who are willing to fight in any battles or wars when they saw the high chances of winning or otherwise they would avoid fighting face to face and leave the enemies around but slowly infiltrating them using the soft weapon. 

There are two types of weapons which are mastered by the Subanen people; the hard and soft weapons. The hard weapons refers to the weapons often used by men in fighting with their enemies such as the steel spears and bamboo spears, single edge swords or kampilan, scythe, and bolos while soft weapons are mostly mastered by women fighters but sometimes warriors would use hard and soft weapons altogether in fighting. 

Soft weapons are often referred to the called magical poison. It is called magical because it work like a magic which could not be seen by the naked eyes because it is done with full of concealment. The called magical weapon or magical poison are extracted from the very toxic plants that could only be found in the forest of southeast Asian region particularly in Mindanao Island. The poison of those plants are proven by the experts that it could really weaken or even kill the enemies when inhaled, eaten, or even if it touches the skin or if it entered in the very tiny pores of the skin. The soft weapon are very tiny or pulverized skimmed toxins extracted from the very poisonous plants that could be transmitted and be carried by just light and wind and attacks is done in a very concealed or hidden way that the enemy could not even notice it. It is done through just seeing them in the eyes, touching them, through wind direction or directly added to the food or drinks of any enemy. However, Subanen people are generally peaceful in nature and would always value peace and talks over war and battles.

Continuous migration of different tribes from different direction to the Subanen territory severely destroyed the Subanen culture as people’s nature to either migrate to other places to avoid conflicts with the new majority migrants or acclimate and blend with them that even try to hide their identity to merge with the majority that following generations could no  longer be familiar with the culture that would not able to speak the Subanen language.

Ancient times Subanen territory 

The names of the ancient places in the ancient Subanen territory.

History of Mindanao and the Subanen Rulers

Subanen people settled Zamboanga Peninsula during 4,200 B.C. The couple Datu M'ndanao and Bai M'lindang was the rich and powerful ruler that settled Zamboanga Peninsula during 4,000 B.C. They  have 7 children; 5 sons and 2 daughters that ruled with them. Along with Datu M'ndanao, his younger brother Datu M'guindanao was also living with him during his younger aged but later left  heading to Southeast to find his wife and settled in the now called Maguindanao then establish his rule in the area. 

Datu M'ndanao and Bai M'lindang was blessed with successful sons that ruled several areas of the Island now called Mindanao Island.

Datu Labangan the 3rd son of Datu M'ndanao and Bai M'lindang ruled the Southern part of Samboangan the now called Zamboanga Peninsula. He ruled the Areas of Zamboanga Del Sur and married to Bai S'bugay then ruled the entire areas now called Zamboanga Del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay. Datu Labangan was  the ancestor of  Gomotan San'gira and Bai Sibugay which later were blessed with three sons and a daughter; the twin Palaga'nding, Ra'inding, Gomeed and a daughter Binukot (Princess) Bulaw that ruled the territory during pre-spanish colonialization. 

Datu N'wang (Nawang) was the fourth son who was described as skinny and slender brilliant minded  Datu and a trading minded person. He ruled Samboangan now called Zamboanga. He developed the area into a trading and barter capital of the Island. During his rule, his youngest brother Basilan was with him in his rule then later also grown to be a Datu that ruled Basilan Island.

Datu T'ngkilan (Tangkilan) was the second son of Datu M'ndanao and Bai M'lindang. He ruled the Northeastern part of Samboangan now called Zamboanga del Norte and married to Bai Indangan then he settled and grow the territory of his wife now called Sindangan.

The eldest and the most brave and powerful in the family was Datu Mis'samis. He ruled the areas in Malindang, Lanao, Iligan,  Cagayan de Oro (Himologan) Camiguin and Gingoog (Gingoyon). According to the history, Bai M'lindang the mother of Datu Mis'samis was buried in the feet of the mountain now called Mount Malindang.

Since the ancient times, Subanen people are occupying the following 7 territories that symbolizes the 7 rays of sun;

  1. Basilan Island
  2. Camiguin Island
  3. Lanao del Norte
  4. Misamis Occidental
  5. Misamis Oriental
  6. Zamboanga del Norte
  7. Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay (del Sur and Sibugay united as 1 governorate)
Around 4,000 BC Subanen people in Zamboanga further expanded its occupancy to the uninhabited  Basilan and were the first inhabitant in the island. Due to its proximity to the ancient barter trading center in Zamboanga, and the fertile land of the island, they doubled their effort in their farming production to produce more agricultural products as their main goods for trading but was suddenly stopped when the Yakan tribe from south Borneo arrived to the island in a very huge number then overturned their rule.  

One of the most un-notable incidents of migration was happened in Basilan on 300 to 200 BCE or 4000 years of occupancy of the Subanen people in Basilan when the Yakan people from south Borneo migrated to the island in big groups and outnumbered the Subanen people who settled in the island then overturned their control. Such infamous incidence had extremely destroyed the Subanen culture and peaceful occupancy in the Island of Basilan resulting for them to either migrate to Zamboanga or forced to marry the migrants and adapt the new culture. 

Livelihood, Seasons and Meteorology 

Subanen people are into trading business as influenced by the Chinese traders who often visited the territory for trading most particularly In O'samis, Indangan and  Samboangan barter and trading centers of the territory since the ancient times but majority of the people are producing their own goods for trading from farming activities. 

The people have mastered the relationship between natural phenomena and the agricultural cycle is well established in the folk knowledge of the Subanen Sindangan group. They study wind patterns, looking out for tell-tale signs of imminent weather changes. Based on the native methods of meteorology, the Subanen identify three distinct seasons within the agricultural cycle: pendupi, from June to September, characterized by winds blowing from the southwest; miyan, from December to January, a time of winds and northeast monsoon rains; and pemeres, from March to April, the hot and dry season. 

The Subanen also reckon agricultural time by the stars, notably the constellation Orion. The appearance of this star group signals the time for the clearing of a new swidden. The monthly rotation of the stars is a guide for the swidden cycle during the first months of the year. 

People also studied the relationship between the pet cat to the movement of the moon and when to know if it is high tide or low tide. For the people who settled in the inner land, they use the pet cat as an indicator of when to go down to go fishing during low tide. The eyes of the pet cat is also used as indicator when is the right time to do planting variety of crops. For leafy vegetables, they are planted during high tide while root crops such as casava, sweert potato or camote, gabi, ubi, bisol or taro are planted during low tide. When the eyes of the cat showed bigger dark color then it indicates low tide and it's time to plant root crops but when the eyes of the cat shows smaller dark color then it means high tide and its time to plant leafy vegetables.

The ancestors practiced dry agriculture, and knowledge of pottery making. The Subanen are mainly agriculturists for goods as trading and consumption who practice three types of cultivation. Along the coastal area, wet agriculture with plow and carabao is the method of producing their staple rice. Beyond the coasts, both wet and dry agriculture are also practiced. Swidden farming is the norm in the interior, particularly the uplands. Along the coasts, coconuts are raised aside from rice. Further inland, corn becomes an additional crop aside from the first two. Apart from the principal crops raised—which are mountain rice and corn—the root crops camote, cassava, pastilan, bisol, gabi (taro), and ubi (yam) are also grown. These are roasted, boiled, or made into preserves and sweets. In some places, tobacco is planted. The people supplement their income and their food supply by fishing, hunting, and gathering of forest products. The extra rice they can produce, plus the wax, resin, and rattan they can gather from the forest are brought to the coastal stores and traded for cloth, blades, axes, betel boxes, ornaments, Chinese jars, porcelain, and gongs.

Political System

Subanen Government Hierarchy
Adapting the ruling National Government; the Subanen Political Structure headed by Datu as the highest ruler, also in accordance to RA 8371

Subanen people practice the peaceful un-contesting monarchy system with ruler is not appointed or voted to rule but based on his willingness to rule, his wisdom, education and experiences, his leadership and capability to govern, to finance and to manage his people under his government. Datu is the highest ruler of the Subanen tribe who's role is to organize and unite the Datu's and Tim'uays in the entire territory.

Subanen society is patriarchal, with the family as the basic governmental unit but a village is headed by Tim'uay, while the bigger areas is headed by Datu that ruled several Tim'uays under is leadership and the people recognized "Datu" as the territory leader or the Supreme ruler, the center of leadership that united the people.

An elder Tim'uay who grown and trained many new young Tim'uays as new leaders and successors to rule their respective villages could level up to the rank as "Datu" through a process of enthronement done by his followers and his ruled Tim'uays. However, his rank to level up as "Datu" would depend also on his willingness to accept higher title as it would also rely on his status in life and his capability to manage the financial needs and to govern for his ruled Tim'uays and villages otherwise he could retain his ranks as the elder Tim'uay holding the authority same as the Datu and rule as the highest council of elders in his ruled villages. Young and trained Tim'uays would also become a member of the council as Gukom members. 

Datu was the highest ruler of the ancient Subanen People's Kingdom (SPK) but because of the influence of the Indian empire, the ruler name Rajah or Raja was adapted then become the highest leader that ruled  the Subanen People. There are several Rajahs of the Subanen people who rose to power from different areas during pre-colonial era particularly in the following notable places:
  • Gomotan Labangan, the Ruler of Zamboanga Del Sur and Sibugay 
  • Datu  N'wang (Nawang) ruled Samboangan, now called or Zamboanga
  • Datu  of Mis'samis, the warrior and skilled Rajah that ruled the people in the area of M'lanao, Iligan to Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog and Camiguin.
  • Datu T'ngkilan(Tangkilan) of Sindangan ruled of Dip'ag now called Dipolog
  • Datu Basilan the ruler of Basilan Island
In spite of having several ruling Rajahs in different areas of Subanen territory they do not have history of severe conflict as they believed in equality, mutual and power respect,  no interference,  and no contesting of power. Subanen believe that all and each and every Subanen are relatives and family that should live with equality. Subanen believe of "Commonwealth" that no one should own the land or territory but all the people within so people could roam anywhere inside the controlled land of Subanen people and farm or earn a living and establish or build their own community to rule. 

With all those ruling Datu, all were ended into perished due to the invasion of the Spaniards that tried to kill the language, the culture and beliefs that forced the people to move to the middle of the Jungle to survive for many centuries though some Subanen merged and blended with the Spaniards. One of the successors from the Datu Tangkilan of Sindangan whom ancestors from several generations were able to blend with the Spaniards' foreign culture and continue practicing the Subanen culture discretely handling  their history to generations to generations and were able to slowly re-established the untold history of the rule of the Subanen People in its land. 

The descendant of the Datu Tangkilan in Sindangan who carried the history of their rule slowly re-established the Subanen People's Kingdom (SPK) and rose to rule from his family as Datu G'ndao (Gendao) that aimed to re-organized, re-structure and re-unite all the people of the Subanen Territory.