Region 9

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  • Topic: Mindanao, Regions of the Philippines, Zamboanga Peninsula
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  • Published : January 12, 2013
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The Subanon, also called “Subanu,” “Subano,” “Subanen,” are the biggest group of

lumad or non-Muslim indigenous cultural community on the island of Mindanao. The

word is derived from the word soba or suba, a word common in Sulu, Visayas, and

Mindanao, which means “river,” and the suffix “-nun” or -non” which indicates a

locality or place of origin. Thus “Subanon” means “a person or people of the river”;

more specifically, “from up the river,” since they are usually differentiated from the

coastal and plains inhabitants of Zamboanga peninsula. Blumentritt mentioned the

“Subanos” in his accounts, referring to them as “a heathen people of Malay extraction

who occupy the entire peninsula of Sibuguey (west Mindanao) with the exception of

a single strip on the south coast” (Finley 1913:2). Finley, recording his impressions

of the Subanon at the beginning of American occupation of southern Philippines in the

1900s, cited published records of early Spanish chroniclers, notably the writings of

Father Francisco Combes in 1667, to argue that the Subanon were the aborigines of

western Mindanao.

The language of this group is generally referred to as Subanon. However, there are

dialectal variations, depending on the locality in which the people live. The Subanon

groups are dispersed over a wide area of the Zamboanga peninsula. The major

localities they inhabit—many of which are valleys nestled among the rugged

mountains—are Dapitan, Dipolog, Manukan, Sindangan Bay, Panganuran-Coronado,

Siocon, Quipit, Malayal-Patalun, Bolong, Tupilak, Bakalay, Lei-Batu, Dumankilas

Bay, Dinas, Lubukan, Labangan, and Mipangi. In certain places, the Subanon language

has some Visayan and Moro words mixed in, as a result of centuries of trading

activities between Cebu and the northern coast of Mindanao (Finley 1913:11). The

Kalibugan or the Subanon who were converted to Islam speak a language which is a

mixture of Kalibugan and Moro.

In 1912, the Subanon were officially estimated to number 47,164. By 1988, their

population had grown to about 300,000. The Zamboanga peninsula, more than 200

kilometers long, shaped like a giant crooked finger that extends westward to the Sulu

Sea, is joined to the Mindanao mainland by a narrow strip of land, the isthmus of

Tukuran, which separates the bays of Iligan and Illana. Beyond this, and to the east,

is the main region of Muslim Mindanao which is made up of Lanao del Sur, Lanao del

Norte, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and North and South Cotabato. The peninsula

itself is divided into three provinces: Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and

Misamis Occidental. Some communities of Subanon also live in the last province,

particularly along the mountainous provincial boundary.

While practically the whole of Zamboanga has always been the ancestral domain of

the Subanon, some areas of the peninsula are occupied by Muslims, and a few others

by Christian settlers. The entire southern coastal region of Zamboanga del Sur, from

the Basilan Strait to Pagadian near Lanao, is populated by mixed Muslim groups.

Major urban concentrations—such as Zamboanga City, Pagadian, and Dipolog—have

sizeable numbers of Christians. Towards the tip of the peninsula, in an area

straddling the boundary between the two Zamboangas, live the Kalibugan, who

number some 15,000.

History

The evidence of old stone tools in Zamboanga del Norte may indicate a late Neolithic

presence. Burial jars, both earthen and glazed, as well as Chinese celadons, have been

found in caves, together with shell bracelets, beads, and gold ornaments. Many of the

ceramic wares are from the Yuan and Ming periods. Evidently, there was a long

history of trade between the Subanon and the Chinese long before the latter’s contact

with Islam.

For some...
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