The Concept and Customary Practice of Sala

Vol.9 No. 4, Fourth Quarter 2007

Sala is a customary way of resolving conflicts and disagreements among the Bukidnon, a practice handed down by their ancestors so that they may live peacefully in their territory. The balaghusay (arbitrator), either a datu or a bae who is knowledgeable of the tribal justice system, acts as the mediator between contending parties. The outcome of a sala may be in the form of penalty (excluding execution and imprisonment), admonition, or agreement, depending on the crime or conflict being resolved. All forms of agreements and penalties are treated as sacred and binding; failure to comply will make the mediator sick, curse the offender for life and bring misfortune to the tribe.

Sala is synonymous to repairing a damaged part of a house. It is necessary to restore it whenever possible. Otherwise, its damaged state would adversely affect its occupants and then its surroundings. It may take place at home, like simply reprimanding mischievous children who talk back to their parents. The children will have to ask forgiveness through a ritual.

At the community level, sala is invoked for the settlement of such crimes as theft. In this case the balaghusay investigates the suspect before the community through a prescribed ritual. In a sala ritual process, the suspect is questioned and if the alleged crime is proved, he is asked to pay twice the value of the stolen item. If the culprit is unable to pay, his/her parents must compensate for it and they may punish their child by lashing and making him/her swear not to do the offense again.

The ritual is necessary to protect the accused person from prejudice especially if the allegations are not true. The batasan knows who has sinned and who has not. If the offender refuses to subject himself to the sala process the curse would be on him. If the person is wrongly accused or has not committed the crime alleged, then the accuser would receive the appropriate punishment which may come in the form of sickness or a curse.

Another simple case of sala is the pamalaye during which a man presents his marriage proposal to a woman. Tradition dictates the man to place several pieces of coins wrapped in a white cloth on a kagon (plate) along with the manggad (bride price). If the woman rejects the marriage proposal, she would return the kagon and the coins still wrapped in a white cloth but whose value has now doubled. The man may insist on two more chances or up to the value of twenty pesos for the coins. If the answer remains the same, he should stop pursuing the woman, as his action would be deemed improper.

Sala processes likewise make use of materials inherited from ancestors: gantangan and tibud.

Gantangan is a cubic box ordinarily used as a volume scale for grains. In sala, however, the box is used as scale in determining the nature and gravity of a crime, and subsequently, the name of the ritual and the course it must follow. A gantangan uses a stake in leveling its content so that it is only filled up to its brim. This ensures that any excess would be avoided, as it is used to measure the traditions of sharing among persons and other customary practices. Everyone who observes these practices in Kitanglad would live peacefully.

Tibud, a jar, is the only tayung hu haguran (most important offering) a bride may receive from the groom. It is offered to its spirit keeper so that the groom’s party could enter the bride’s house. The absence of a tibud on wedding occasions would induce illness on the concerned couple because the spirit entrusted with it will keep looking for it. In cases of adultery the penalty is in the form of giving a tibud together with a horse (stallion for husband and mare for wife) and a white cloth. The ancestors of the tribe had taken good care of this thing. The one left is inherited from Man Panglaw, Man Binang, Man Doceno, Pio Docenos and finally, Datu Makaatul Anecito Docenos. Today this is being taken care of by Bae Inatlawan, Datu Dumapal, Datu Pagalungan, Datu Antukan, Bae Malugdang, Bae Mananawal, and other descendants of Datu Makaatul.

The customary terms, titles and processes of sala that are measured with these materials vary, depending on the crimes being committed.

Either applied at home or in the community, going through a sala benefits both subjects. It is in no way construed as infringing on one’s dignity. The members must follow the leaders, but they may suggest whether an issue is worth elevating into a sala trial. Only leaders, however, who are knowledgeable of the customary laws, particularly the balaghusay, could implement the sala.

Datu Makaatul, a balaghusay, used to raise cattle, horses and carabaos because he used them in helping members of the tribe, like when someone would be penalized and asked to pay a carabao as a traditional bill of punishment based on customary laws. He would offer his own properties just to settle conflicts among his members. He also helped some persons who wanted to marry but could not produce the required offerings.

These are the practices the tribe inherited from their ancestors and which are meant to free one another from troubles. Violations merit some penalties, which, however, exclude execution or imprisonment. Members of the tribe are still observing these practices.

Traditional farming practices


This article looks like just a collection of the practical aspects of Bukidnon life, as it speaks about the tribe’s economic system and structures. There is a deeper significance, however, to be observed in many of these practices. They, too, are part of their culture, connected to it through construction of meanings that incorporate them into the greater whole. These traditional system and structures make use of the resources that spring from the land. Practicing them allows the cultural meanings attached to them to deepen the tribe’s connection to their ancestral domain.

Signs and omens to observe in farming

Basically, the duty of the tribe’s economist (malagbasok) is to divine from the signs in nature so that s/he may be able to predict how life will go. The signs may come from the sun, stars, and moon, water in the rivers and creeks, and other phenomena like the things that may happen on the way to the farm.

For instance, a farmer who plans to start preparing the land to be tilled would first observe things at home. First, he would sharpen his bolo or tools, and if ever he gets wounded he would interpret it as a bad omen. In this case, he may postpone his schedule but he will still observe the same procedure.

Second, in going to the farm site it is considered a bad omen if he or someone else sneezes once. He should go back inside the house for a few minutes before proceeding to the farm. If he or another person sneezes twice, it means he should go fast toward his destination. Three or more sneezes are not a bad omen. It simply means he or another person has cold.

Third, any of these are believed to be bad omens: any snake that shows up along the way or trail, and the sound of a bird called limukun (forest dove). Upon encountering any of these signs, the farmer must do some ritual if he decides to go on or he may postpone his activities.

Fourth, upon his arrival at the proposed farm site and he is about to begin working on one end but hears the sound of a limukun, he should transfer to the other end where he may start. The very first grass he cuts with his bolo should be thrown at his back. If it is a tree, he should do the same with the first piece he cuts. This is to counter all the bad omens.

If the farmer observes none of these omens, he may begin working at once. If he has already countered the bad omens, he may then perform a ritual by offering three chickens to the spirits inhabiting the place, like Talabugta or spirit of the land, Bulalakaw or spirit of the water, and the spirits of the salsalan or blacksmith, the spirits of the trees and many others. He would ask these spirits to watch over the crops and give strength and good health to anybody working on it. He would also promise to give them a share of the harvest.

Farming or ibabasuk invokes the help of the spirits of the salsalan to give strength to the farmer and his tools, and of the talabugta to make the planted crops healthy. The consent of all spirits who have significance to farming would be asked for a successful harvest. Hence the farmer would perform the following customary rituals and practices:

Panalabugta – ritual for the spirit guardian of the land or soil

Pangibabasuk – ritual for the spirit guardian of plants

Talutambu hu Salangsang – ritual for the spirit guardian of food

Kagsad-ang – ritual for the spirit of the place where preserved corn is hanged

Kagbugawan – ritual for the spirit of the container with abundant food

Kagbungkad – ritual asking permission to get food from the container or bugawan

Kagbahin hu mangangalawat – sharing food to others who are needy


Before harvesting, a farmer would perform a ritual of sharing called lagti together with the spirits of the place. Crops should never be taken or harvested without this sharing rite. The share for the spirits is designated during planting time, and this is usually the crops planted on the sides of the lot.

Lagti or lagon is a thanksgiving for a harvest where the farmer, together with a baylan or shaman, shares his produce with the community and the spirits. It is part of the cultural practices of kagbasukan or agriculture.

The preparations include seven chickens and seven eggs, although in most cases the palagbasuk (farmer) could only afford three chickens, which is acceptable, if only for the purpose of sharing.

The seven chickens and seven eggs are offered to the following:

· Pangawan, to cleanse everyone of all sins before Magbabaya (Supreme Being) and the spirits;

· Spirit of the salsalan (blacksmith) where working tools are made;

· Pamulahon hu Kagbasukan or the plants in the farm;

· Talabugta (spirit of the land);

· Taghipanaw (traveling spirits or spirits who happen to pass by during the ritual

· Ginugud ha ma-iling hu kalag (souls of dead ancestors); and

· Tumanod, Alambitun, Tagulambong daw mga Abyan ha tagsandigan (helper spirits).

The farmer also offers pieces of white, black and red cloths, assorted coins, biscuits, candies, drinks and other items.

The farmer will then go to his cornfield. He will select seven hills of corn and put these outside of the cornfield, at least 1.5 meters away from the last row of plants, while communing with the spirits through a prayer. The uprooted plants are a share given to the agka-ayat or envious spirits so that they will not harm the crops.

Afterwards the farmer will bring home enough aglagunan (farm produce to be offered in the ritual) and seven pieces of salusad-ang which he will hang for future use as igtugpali.

Salusad-ang is a corn ear which is harvested with its stalk and cover/skin intact. Its grains eventually serve as igtugpali, or the first seeds buried in the ground in the next planting season.

Once the young corn reaches home it will be grated while chicken blood is spilled on the salusad-ang before it is hanged. The person grating the corn is not allowed to talk until he finishes scraping seven corncobs. These seven pieces are then cooked into baki (or binaki) and offered outside to spirits who may want to partake of it together with a little of the uncooked grated corn and chicken blood.

Moreover, one chicken egg and a little baki are cooked directly on the embers and offered to spirits called bata ha tagbaya hu kagnas or children who guard the plants against infestations. If time, however, permits, seven pieces of baki and two chicken eggs are cooked in the ash and are offered instead to the same spirits. But one of these seven pieces of baki and one of the two eggs should be cooked until they become charred. Three pieces of baki are kept above the kitchen and the remaining three pieces and one egg are to be eaten by the children in the family or the adults if there are no children.

The rest of the grated corn is then cooked without an accompanying ritual except for a prayer which is uttered before those who attend the thanksgiving may eat together in a panampulot (partaking of food together with the spirits).

There are instances wherein spirits will ask for a share or are promised to be given it during a lagti. Their share is offered separately, but it is usually a baki. Sometimes, though, spirits will ask for a separate offering of one chicken.

Making of tools and farm implements

Salsalan enables the tribe to make tools for their farm work. Bolos are used for weeding, planting and other activities. The blacksmith shop is sacred since it has guardian spirits from whom we ask assistance but who may punish erring humans through illness. There are many of these spirits. Considered by the tribe as their brothers, they dwell in the forests and mountains, and one of them holds the lamp of life of every person. The tribe takes care not to violate the omens of salsalan based on customs and traditions.

The skills needed for working in the salsalan have been passed on from generation to generation, from Datu Mapanglaw to Datu Manbinang, Datu Man Docenos, Datu Pio Docenos, Datu Makaatul, and now Datu Dumapal, the eldest of Datu Makaatul, as well as to Bai Malugdang, Datu Pagalungan, Bai Inatlawan, Datu Makaantuk, Bai Mananawal, Bai Makabat-aw, the youngest, and her son Vicente Docenos who is also a good blacksmith as a datu.

Food Preparations

  1. Sugar milling – The tribe extracts juice from sugar cane through the traditional method of crushing the plant under the weight of a log.
  2. Stone corn mill – The stone mill or grinder is used for corn and other kinds of food grains. Guided by spirits, the tribe’s ancestors who used to hammer or strike grains like kamais (corn) and aglay with hard objects later on invented this type of grinder. They also invented a wooden roller to press corn and peel aglay grains.
  3. Together with this grinder, the tribe has accessories for preparing grains into food such as nigo or winnower, bakag/ambong or dry food container made of rattan and of bamboo, ikam or a mat made of local materials called sedsed, balabek and baloy.
  4. The tribe has bamboo water containers for cooking called sakuru.

e. Wooden mortar and pestle or pounder for peeling off grains before cooking like dawa, aglay and coffee beans – Like the stone mill, these also make use of nigo, ambong or bukag and ikam in preparing food for cooking. Until now these things can be seen in the houses of the Bukidnons.

  1. Kalagmanis is a traditional health wine made from tubu or sugar cane juice and agkud ha tinapayan or preserved cassava.

Different Kinds of Crops

Among the crops of the tribe are camote or sweet potato, gabi, binggala or cassava, kamais, patad and arurut. They regularly plant these crops throughout all seasons in Kitanglad. Since rice would not bear grains in the forest due to the cool climate, they have to rely on these foods for their sustenance.

The tribe would eat edible grasses like paku and hagpa, wild animals like pig and deer, and other indigenous foodstuffs found in the forest. This explains why the tribe takes good care of the domain because it supplies their need.

Money comes from weaving mats, bags, winnowers, and other crafts out of sudsud and rattan. Coffee beans and abaca fiber used to be sold in Kagay-an (Cagayan de Oro City), formerly called Lambaguhan. But since it is far they rarely had money.

Arts, Music and Dances

A. Musical Instruments

a. Agong – a gong made of bronze and used to call people. Every kind of sound produced by the agong carries a meaning such as if an ordinary or emergency meeting will be held or if there is a call for help. The instrument is used in prayers when calling the spirits. In dances, it is used not just to produce music but also to call the spirits who will watch over the dancers.

b. Kulong-kulong – small ringing instruments made of bronze and placed on a spear to drive away malevolent spirits. They are also used in music to make the melody sound more beautiful.

c. Singgil – small ringing instruments made of bronze and placed around the legs to give strength to the dancers.

d. Saliyaw –small ringing instruments used with the kulong-kulong and singgil. Aside from being musical instruments, these are also used to prevent vomiting.

e. Pulala – made of bamboo. It gives melody to music. It was used in olden times in meditation and in narrating the past.

f. Tumpoy – made of bamboo. This refers to the singing of birds and the breeze in the forest.

g. Mouth Harp – a little instrument made of bamboo. It requires synchronizing the movement of the fingers with that of the tongue and opening of the mouth to produce fine tunes.

h. Tambol – made of wood and skin of animals. Legend says that after the Great Deluge the birds, in their joy, made music by pecking on a dead tree. This led to the first dance called tinambol.

i. Dayuday – looks like a guitar. It produces a melody akin to the sound of crying which people used then in their solitude.

j. Tangkul/takumbu – made of bamboo. Melody played in olden times to drive away worms that destroyed the crops.

k. Piyapi – looks like a guitar. It is played by a man to a woman to convey his love for her.

l. Kuglong – a favorite melody which is used to call the birds. It is said that birds would awaken whenever they hear it.

m. Bantula – Made of bamboo, it has a sound similar to tambol’s and is used with it.

B. Dances

a. Saut – a dance using a spear and shield and shows how a warrior fights. It is used to express one’s courage or measure another person’s.

b. Kalasag – This shield is used in tribal warrior dance. It shows how the warrior acts offensively and defensively against the opponents’ arrows and spears.

c. Inagong – dance using a gong that expresses gratitude owing to satisfaction of wants.

d. Binanog – a dance patterned after the movements of a hawk or eagle in flight.

e. Binaylan – a dance used in rituals to entertain the spirits.

f. Binakbak – dance of the guardians of water which are only performed during rituals to ask food from water. It is patterned from the movement of a frog.

g. Inamu – A dance patterned after the behavior of monkeys, it shows strong movements of the arms and legs.

h. Tinambul – the first dance expressing joy over the end of the Great Deluge.

i. Inagaw – a dance showing two women vying for a man’s attention or two men simultaneously trying to win the heart of a woman. This is performed in order to entertain a person who lost his/her love to somebody else so that s/he may think that it is just a game.

j. Tagsala – a dance performed together with a song.

k. Kag-anahaw – a dance to drive away weariness and illnesses.

l. Maninikup – a dance for fishers showing that food from the water is good for one’s health.

C. Chants and songs

a. Limbay – a soft-voice chant used to appease a crying baby or an angry person or to ask something from a person or the spirits.

b. Sal’la – a chant used as a way of conversation by datus and baes. It is used to express sincere intentions. Suitors use it to express love to women, to which the latter listen and answer in the same medium the acceptance or rejection of the love being offered.

c. Dindinay – a chant used to communicate a gesture of excitement or the happiness to share what has been seen and experienced.

d. Idangdang – a song of sadness for one’s self to express past anxieties and sad experiences rather than cry in tears. Being a datu or a bae who serves the community is an injunction on showing anger publicly. One has to keep all the troubles in his/her heart to him/herself. Idangdang is meant to relieve him/herself from the pain of recollecting sad moments.

e. Ulaging – a song sung with a hard, loud and brave voice because it tells the story of a war, a tribal war relating the life of Apu Agyu. He was the undefeated warrior of the tribe due to an inherited power called “dayagang dig pananting, kusog dig panyuka’ka” from which he derived all his strength, energy and bravery.

f. Dasang – a chant that tells the story of an ongoing activity to amuse the listeners or participants. It is usually done during weddings where a datu or a bae from the sides of both the bride and groom and other participants communicate to each other their gladness.

Traditional Marriage Practices

Courtship and marriage among the Bukidnon require the observance of cultural prescriptions in keeping with their belief in spirit presence. These include the symbolic way of proposing marriage, betrothal, bride price, gifts for the bride’s parents, and the prominent role played by datus and baes throughout the whole process. As in any arranged marriage, it must obtain the blessing and consent of the families of both the man and woman.

The man’s kin propose marriage by giving the woman’s family pangpanahum or things with which she can make herself beautiful. These include oil for the hair, comb, necklace and bracelet. If her family accepts the offer, it means she is already betrothed and may no longer marry somebody else. But if their marriage does not materialize, a ritual called panluntay should be performed to avoid tunglo or a curse of death against the woman.

To signify his intent to marry the man would wrap five coins in white cloth and place them in an old plate called kagun. Datus or baes would bring the kagun to the woman and hang it on the eaves of her house.

From the time they go out of the man’s house until they reach the woman’s house and hang the kagun, the datus or baes incessantly pray to the spirits. While walking, they have to watch out for omens such as if one of them trips over or if a bird appears on the path ahead. Upon arriving at the woman’s house, they should not sit down and stay long but should leave immediately after hanging the kagun.

If her family likes the man, they will leave the kagun hanging and wait for his family to come on the scheduled day of the wedding. Otherwise, the woman will remove the kagun, place ten coins in it and bring it back to the man’s house.

Like the datus or baes who send the kagun, the woman should also not sit down or stay long. If she tarries or sits down she may be prevented from going out not by closing the door but through a batasan –a piece of cloth or any token – which binds her to submit to the wish of the giver. She would be obliged to marry the man except if the whole matter is settled by the datus or baes.

If the proposal is accepted, the date of the wedding is set along with the bride price. However, the bride and groom should make sure they are not relatives and their ancestors were not enemies in the past to avoid misfortune.

On the wedding day (asawahay), the man’s party will bring the bride price and the things for the ritual prepared by a datu or bae, such as chickens and a pig to be offered to the spirits. While walking to the woman’s house they should see to it that nobody stumbles or gets hurt and not one of the things they are bringing falls to the ground to ensure good fortune for the new couple.

The things for the ritual are laid down upon arriving at the yard of the woman’s house. Preparations for the eventual entry of the man to the woman’s house are then made prior to a ceremony intended to avoid bad luck to the couple. The man walks across the things the datu or bae places along his path.

During the wedding the groom should bring a handkerchief. The bride should have her hair dry and well combed before the datus and baes from both parties pray and invoke the spirits together to signal the start of the ceremony.

After invoking the spirits the sacrificial animals will be slaughtered. The bride then comes down and walks around the pig without turning her head before sitting on a mat where the marriage will be discussed. The groom will also walk across the pig and enter the house and sit on the mat. The kagun will then be removed. As a token of gratitude for taking care of their daughter since she was a child, the groom’s party will give a blanket to the parents of the bride.

A chicken will be killed and cooked once both parties have agreed on the bride price. The groom and bride will then partake of its meat as a way of sealing the union.

The groom’s parents can only leave the day after the wedding, as a ritual and a meeting will be held the next morning. They have to agree on when the couple shall visit the man’s parents during which the latter will give a kettle and kitchen utensils to the bride as a symbol of her obligation to attend to kitchen chores. Similarly, the man will receive a bolo from his parents-in-law to remind him to really work for his family.