The Mangyan Mission


Since I first saw the film in high school, “The Mission” has been my all-time favorite film. The faith of the Jesuits, humility and kindness of the Guarini tribe and the bravery in the face of death captivated my romantic heart. But I won’t spoil it for you! Watch it for yourself!

The Mission

I mentioned “The Mission” because last October, I had an opportunity to imitate these inspirational missionaries. But it was not as a missionary. In fact, they (Mangyan – Indigenous People) were the missionaries to me! The Mangyans! And it was so very humbling.

I spent almost a week with the Mangyans in Mindoro, Visayas, (the middle island group of the Philippines). My partner, Marie and I lived with them in the mountains. The generous family of Kuya Aimang warmly opened their home to us. We lived in an old farmhouse. (For those who may not be familiar, most Filipino farmhouses are built on stilts above the ground. The post on each corner of the house raises it above the ground providing a space between the ground and the actual dwelling. This space is where chickens, ducks, goats, dogs and all sorts of farm animals live.) They generously shared what little they had and we were never hungry in the course of our stay. But I am getting ahead of myself.

On the Way

The first day of our immersion we took a long winding tricycle ride from the main highway and up mountainous dirt roads. We arrived early in the afternoon. Arrangements had been made by the Holy Spirit Sisters and they were expecting us. They had prepared a Mangyan hut for us to live in, but when they found out that we were both girls, Kuya Aimang generously offered the old farmhouse where they stayed as caretakers for Konsehal (Councilor).

Rural Mindoro

We had to trek across a river up a muddy mountain path to get to their house. There were steep climbs and small gorges we had to leap across to reach the house. Not an easy feat for city slickers whose ideas of commuting home consisted of metro rail transits, taxis, buses, jeepneys, tricycles and paved sidewalks. And every few yards we had to play hop-scotch with poisonous fire-ants! Heavy backpack in tow, I struggled up the trail. Yet we could see Junior, their 4-year old son, dash up the slopes ahead of us.

Acclimbatizing to Mangyan Life

Although it was merely a 4-room house, they gave us the bedroom of their eldest daughter, Divina. They also lent us a blanket and mat to sleep on. Upon arrival, they gave an afternoon snack of saba bananas. This was just the start of their gracious hospitality. That night, we had dinner of vegetables in clear soup and rice. It was warm and homey, eating dinner by glow of small kerosene lamps. The kerosene lamps were improvised out of old glass jars and some cloth. It was a lovely sight to see Junior nestled asleep in his father’s arms. It reminded me of how God cradles us in His tender embrace.

It was a cold night, and we soon learned to wear jackets under our blankets. But sockless, our feet turned into toe-cicles.

We woke up to the rooster crowing below the wooden slats beneath our mats as the sun’s first rays penetrated the horizon. Each morning, they gave hot mugs of coffee–much appreciated after a shivering night! Our daily breakfast was simple–tuyo (small dried fish) and rice. But their rice was probably the most fragrant I have ever tasted!

The Mangyans grow their own rice and vegetables higher up the mountains. They harvest palay (rice grains). And then they mill them into bigas (raw rice) with a huge mortar and pestle. They remove the rice husks by tossing them in a bilao (a very shallow wide woven basket).


Milling Rice

While eating breakfast, Marie and I saw schoolchildren walking down the mountain. There was a public school a kilometer or so from their home. We also saw carabaos (water buffalos) carrying carts of bananas down the slopes for sale in the public market.

After our first breakfast, Kuya Aimang, Divina and Junior guided us up to the heart of the Mangyan village.  Fortunately, it had not rained recently and so the normally mucky road was fairly dry and passable. But we still needed their help because of muddy patches that could suck your feet into the sludge. They were so very patient with us. They surely could have gone up to the village four times less the time it took us! Yet, holding out their hands they showed us the safest paths to take. Walking in someone’s footsteps is a common expression. But it was only as we sallied forth that I truly understood what this meant. We did not know the route to the village. Neither could we recognize a sludgy patch from a drier one. It was only by obeying their directions or walking in their footsteps, stepping almost exactly where they stepped that we could safely make the ascent.

Mangyan House

When we arrived at the top, we saw two rows of Mangyan nipa huts. Bigas (harvested  raw rice) was spread over sheets and old sacks to dry in heat of the sun. We entered a hut where a mother was nursing her baby in a makeshift hammock. It was a one-room hut with a thick straw roof, wooden planked floor and rattan woven walls.  The room was a few square meters in length. It was little bigger than my bedroom. Yet a hut like that housed an average family of seven or more. The hut we entered was the home of Divina’s cousin. She had just given birth and was a mother to three other children.

Mangyan Home

My time with the Mangyans was truly blessed. There were so many more wonderful things that happened there. But I will leave the rest of that for next time.  🙂


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