Echoes from the forest: The alluring beauty of Hanunuo’s Ambahan

By Anna Liza M. Teves

Ako nangos babayan
Saludan bansanayan
Hog banhiwan man di wan
Sis gubay-gubay lingban
Hog linong was baaynan

(In my hammock, rests my love
My wife, my sweet, so tender
Quietly we lay, side by side
In this yard, a tranquil den
Our home, O calming delight!)

Deep in the lush forests of Mindoro, a poetic tradition has thrived for centuries among the Hanunuo Mangyan people, the Ambahan.

But unlike the digital age of today, where words are stored in cold, electronic storage devices, the Ambahan lives on in a more organic way. It is passed down through generations by word of mouth and etched onto bamboo tubes using the ancient script Surat Mangyan.

As the country celebrates National Literature Month, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts encourages Filipinos to embark on a journey to explore the heart of Hanunuo Mangyan culture and discover the Ambahan.

Ambahan is a literary expression that is sung. Its messages range from courtship to giving advice to the young, asking for a place to stay, saying goodbye to a dear friend, and more.

It is a seven-syllable poetic form unique to the Hanuno, one of the eight ethnolinguistic groups comprising the Mangyans of Mindoro.

Ambahan is presented as a chant without musical accompaniment and uses allegory to express certain situations or characteristics. Although the first part may exceed seven syllables and some lines may have fewer syllables, these exceptions are rare.

This unique and beautiful tradition is an important part of the Mangyan culture and a key to understanding their soul.

At the forefront of preserving this poetic form was Manlilikha ng Bayan Ginaw Bilog, a Hanunuo Mangyan from Mansalay. Ginaw grew up immersed in the cultural environment of the Ambahan.

He recognized the importance of preserving this tradition and took it upon himself to record scores of Ambahan poetry not only on bamboo tubes, but also in old notebooks passed down to him by friends.

Ginaw’s collection of Ambahan poetry was treasured, particularly those inherited from his father and grandfather.

His dedication to the Ambahan and the Surat Mangyan has helped keep this unique tradition alive.

Ginaw was honored on December 17, 1993 by then-President Fidel V. Ramos, who bestowed upon him the prestigious National Living Treasure Award.

In 2003, Ginaw passed away at the age of 50. However, his legacy lives on.

Ginaw’s passion and commitment to preserving the Ambahan has ignited a flame that will not be extinguished.

His spirit lives on in every note sung, every word etched on bamboo, and every heart touched by this unique and beautiful tradition.

[Note: The Ambahan featured above is just one example from the vast collection of Hanunuo literature by the Mangyan Heritage Center.]

Manlilikha ng Bayan Ginaw Bilog (Photo courtesy of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s