International Review of Education

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 759–777 | Cite as

Oral traditions: An aid to implementation of mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Philippines’ basic education programme

  • Genevieve Jorolan-Quintero
Original Paper


English and Filipino (Tagalog) are the official languages of the Philippines. English is taught in schools and used as a medium of instruction as early as kindergarten. Because it was originally imposed by Western colonialism, its use in academia has been criticised as discriminatory to regional and indigenous languages other than Tagalog, which are not generally used in higher education and have therefore not been allowed to develop as academic languages. In 2012, the Filipino Department of Education issued Order No. 16, series of 2012, also known as the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) order. Following its recent adoption in public schools, the MTB-MLE policy has already run into some difficulties that challenge its output. Among these is a lack of instructional materials, as most available textbooks are written in English or Filipino. This article explores the potential of oral traditions as instructional tools in basic education. There have been extensive efforts by folklorists to collect, record and publish folk epics, myths, legends and tales. An essential aspect of this research is the recording and publication of materials in the original versions or languages used by native informants from indigenous communities. For the past ten years, the author has conducted field research with indigenous communities in the southern regions of Mindanao. This has yielded a collection of folk literature recorded in the languages of the indigenous communities studied. This collection has been translated into Bisaya, one of the major regional languages of the Philippines, and into English. These texts have considerable potential as classroom learning materials. The publication of these indigenous literature texts makes knowledge of indigenous language and culture available to basic education learners, as well as to the general public. The publication of mother tongue reading materials will also help promote knowledge of, appreciation for, and proficiency in the use of these languages.


folklore instructional materials mother tongue-based multi-lingual education (MTB-MLE) native language oral traditions 


La tradition orale, une aide à l’éducation multilingue fondée sur la langue maternelle dans l’enseignement de base aux Philippines – L’anglais et le filipino (tagalog) sont les langues officielles des Philippines. L’anglais est enseigné dans les écoles et sert de support d’instruction dès le jardin d’enfants. Imposé à l’origine par le colonialisme occidental, son usage dans le milieu universitaire est critiqué pour être discriminatoire envers les langues régionales et autochtones autres que le tagalog, qui ne sont pas couramment utilisées dans l’enseignement supérieur ni donc admises à devenir langues académiques. Le ministère philippin de l’éducation a émis en 2012 l’ordonnance n° 16, appelée également ordonnance sur l’éducation multilingue fondée sur la langue maternelle. Suite à sa récente adoption dans les écoles publiques, la démarche d’application de cette ordonnance rencontre d’ores et déjà plusieurs obstacles qui compromettent sa réussite. Parmi ces derniers figure un manque de matériels didactiques, puisque la majorité des manuels existants sont rédigés en anglais ou en filipino. Cet article explore le potentiel des traditions orales en tant qu’outils pédagogiques dans l’enseignement de base. Les spécialistes de la culture traditionnelle et populaire ont déployé d’importants efforts pour recueillir, documenter et publier les épopées, mythes, légendes et contes populaires. Un élément central de cette étude réside dans l’enregistrement et la publication de matériels conçus dans les versions ou langues d’origine utilisées par les informateurs natifs issus des communautés autochtones. Au cours des dix dernières années, l’auteure a mené une enquête de terrain avec ces communautés implantées au sud de Mindanao. Une collection de littérature populaire a ainsi été enregistrée dans les langues des communautés étudiées. Cette collection a été traduite en bisaya, l’une des principales langues régionales des Philippines, ainsi qu’en anglais. Les textes renferment un immense potentiel en tant que matériels didactiques pour enseignants. La diffusion de cette littérature autochtone met la connaissance des langues et cultures indigènes à la disposition des apprenants de base comme du grand public. La publication de matériels de lecture en langues maternelles contribuera en outre à développer le savoir, le plaisir et la maîtrise dans l’usage de ces langues.


It has always been an essential goal of education, at all levels, to help learners develop the ability to communicate effectively in a particular language. Second-language learning begins early in school, and in many basic educational institutions, it begins as early as kindergarten. The young learner’s first language (L1) generally determines his or her proficiency in acquiring and utilising the second language (L2). In some cases, the unique features of both languages can cause conflict in learning. It is thus imperative that the learner develops a strong grasp of the first language before learning a second one. As Manoj Kumar Yadav points out:

The L1 is a resource which learners use both consciously and subconsciously to help them arrange and re-arrange the L2 data in the input and to perform as best as they can. The cultural features connected with L1 use can be put to good effect when teaching L2 (Yadav 2014, p. 572).

Where L1 can intervene in the learning of L2, the structure and characteristics of L2 can be viewed as difficult and complex. Learners tend to learn more when lessons are taught in a language they are very familiar with. Hence the appeal of making the mother tongue the language of instruction, especially in basic education. In recent years, the mother tongue has been seen as a solution to tackle poor reading and comprehension skills among primary school pupils. A key concern, however, is the lack of instructional materials, and how these should be developed to address the needs of a mother-tongue learner.

Related literature

A few years ago, Steve Walter et al. conducted a study of the Lubuagan mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) programme in the Philippines. The study highlighted the significance of collaboration with the community:

The community can play an important role in the development of appropriate materials, written in the mother tongue using natural, age-appropriate language and reflecting cultural situations and practices that will be familiar to learners (Walter et al. 2010, p. 101).

This recommendation stresses the importance of coordination between academic institutions and the community, and emphasises the importance of authentic learning materials.

In the Philippines, there are “187 languages. Of these, 183 are living and 4 are extinct. Of the living languages, 175 are indigenous and 8 are non-indigenous” (Ethnologue 2018). In 1973, Tagalog, which is the language used in the country’s centre of government, the Luzon region, and Manila in particular, became one of the country’s official languages together with English. It was later renamed Filipino (Stevens 1999, p. 1). It is the first language in the region of Luzon, and the second language in the rest of the country. As an official language, Filipino is used and taught in schools alongside English. English, however, is the main language of government, business, academia and media (broadcast and print), including even local newspapers. Most literature is also written in English.

In a project conducted in Agusan del Sur, Yolanda Quijano and Ofelia Eustaquio found that

Whether or not pupils learn in the classroom depends not on teacher performance alone but also on the availability, quality and appropriateness of instructional materials to support the teaching-learning process. (Quijano and Eustaquio 2010, p. 63).

They further stressed the necessity of developing a “localized curriculum”, suggesting the benefit of complementing “textbooks in English and Filipino” by coordinating with “experts in IP [indigenous peoples’] education in this area at the national and local levels to help develop the materials” (Quijano and Eustaquio 2010, p. 60). Ekaterina Stavrou highlights the significance of folk literature as a “prime scientific area through which a child develops his identity”, and how educators can utilise this in order to “substantially and effectively guide children to find real truth and knowledge and … realize their true essence through tradition” (Stavrou 2015, p. 527).

In recent years, there has been growing criticism of the use of English in academia because it is identified as the language of Western colonialism.1 In 2012, the Department of Education issued DepEd Order No. 16, series of 2012 (DepEd 2012a), also known as the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) order, which aims to “improve the pupil’s language and cognitive development, as well as his/her socio-cultural awareness” (ibid.). This has been implemented in all public schools, specifically in kindergarten and Grades 1 to 3. It aims to complement the goal of “Every Child-A-Reader and A-Writer by Grade 1” (ibid., section 1). Under the MTB-MLE order, regions are clustered and assigned a lingua franca. Following its recent adoption in public schools, the MTB-MLE policy has already run into some difficulties in implementation. For instance, the lack of suitable textbooks is becoming a major concern for teachers. Although the Department of Education has provided some reading materials, these are either in English or Filipino, and require translation into the mother tongue, which teachers have to do themselves.


I have been conducting folkloric research for the past ten years, with the aim of helping to salvage what remains of the oral traditions of the Philippines’ indigenous communities. An essential aspect of my research has been the recording and publication of folklore in original versions and in the languages used by native informants from indigenous communities. The oral traditions carry with them indigenous knowledge and values that are highly significant to indigenous people. They reflect cultural traditions handed down from one generation to another by word of mouth. When written down and published, they become tangible and preserved for posterity, giving present and future generations the opportunity to learn, understand and appreciate their cultural legacy. This is the benefit that learners studying the MTB-MLE curriculum can derive from oral traditions. In this article, I report on my exploratory use of oral traditions as instructional tools in basic education to fill resource gaps for mother tongues in which no educational materials are available.

There is an urgent need to continue recording, translating and publishing what remains of indigenous oral folklore as the bards and storytellers grow older and fewer. Using the written texts of the oral traditions as instructional materials for learners who understand the language helps to stimulate appreciation of their own culture and language.


I have been inspired by the works of E. Arsenio Manuel on folk literature. I share his advocacy of recording and transcribing oral narratives from the various indigenous communities in the Philippines. Among the recognitions he has received is the lifetime achievement in cultural research granted by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts in 2000. His impact on Philippine folkloric research is attested by the wide use of his publication, Guide for the Study of Philippine Folklore (Manuel 1985). His guide has formed the basis of various research projects dealing with the archiving and preservation of oral narratives from indigenous communities. Manuel’s guide has provided a set of defining goals for Philippine folkloric research:
  1. (1)

    to collect and record systematically all oral traditions in the language of every ethnic group;

  2. (2)

    to preserve, archive and classify the materials gathered in one national centre and other provincial stations;

  3. (3)

    to translate these materials into one or more common languages for study purposes; and

  4. (4)

    to publish them for the use or enjoyment of the nation and the world.


These goals have posed a challenge for advocates of folklore scholarship in the country. The first goal, in particular, requires the concerted efforts of scholars and field researchers, given that the Philippines has approximately 110 ethno-linguistic groups (UNDP 2010). Furthermore, the bards and chanters who carry the repository of indigenous knowledge are growing older and fewer. There is therefore some urgency in the collection and recording of the oral traditions. The fourth goal, which is to publish the folk literature “for the use or enjoyment of the nation and the world”, implies that folk literature is a source from which scholars and learners can learn about the cultures and the people who developed it.

Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines, is home to more than 18 ethnic groups (Ulindang 2015). For the study I am presenting here, oral traditions were recorded, transcribed and translated from three indigenous communities. These are the Mandaya of Davao Oriental, the Mansaka of Compostela Valley, and the Blaan of North Cotabato. Three separate research projects were conducted in these areas. These communities were selected with the aim of including representations from the east (Davao Oriental), the centre (Compostela Valley), and the west (North Cotabato) of Mindanao.

To achieve the objectives of this study, I followed Manuel’s criteria for folkloric research. First,

The oral traditions must be recorded actually from the lips of the singers, riddlers, and storytellers … the record must [also] be in the language of the ethno linguistic groups whose oral traditions are being studied (Manuel 1967, p. 3).

Second, I carefully established specificity, subject coverage, documentation and folkloricity before actually recording the samples. Specificity refers to the ethno-linguistic group and the area of study. Subject coverage is based on Manuel’s categories or groupings of oral traditions:
  1. (A)

    myths, legends, folktales, jests, anecdotes,

  2. (B)

    folksongs and ballads,

  3. (C)


  4. (D)

    folk drama,

  5. (E)

    proverbs, riddles, folk poetry


Folkloricity is an essential criterion in the methodology. It means that the oral tradition must be recorded directly from the lips of the native bards, who are considered by their community to be repositories of their traditional indigenous knowledge. For me to establish this criterion, it was essential to seek the assistance and gain the permission of the Tribal Councils in identifying the bards and chanters who were available and able to share their stories. Getting the permission of the Tribal Council was a required protocol in all the research I conducted with indigenous communities.

Three ethno-linguistic groups from the Southern Philippines became sources of data for my research: the Mansaka of Compostela Valley Province, the Mandaya of Davao Oriental Province, and the Blaan of North Cotabato Province.

Compostela Valley was officially designated the 78th province in the Philippines in 1998 (RoP 1998), and is located on the southern island of Mindanao. It is composed of eleven municipalities. Its inhabitants came from the ethnic tribes of the Mansaka, Mandaya, Manobo, Mangguangan, Dibabawon, Aeta, Kamayo, Davaweño and Kalagan. Similar to the history of other Mindanao provinces, most of the present populations of the province are descendants of migrants who came from Luzon and Visayas islands before and after World War II (Compostela Valley n.d.) to start their lives anew, drawn by the prospect of land ownership on the country’s ”pioneer frontier”, the island of Mindanao, also known as the land of promise. The main ethno-linguistic group of the province are the Mansaka.

Davao Oriental Province is situated at the south-eastern tip of the Philippines. Composed of eleven municipalities, it officially became a province in 1965 (Davao Oriental n.d.). The dominant ethno-linguistic community in the province are the Mandaya.

The province of North Cotabato is located in the central part of the island of Mindanao. It is composed of seventeen municipalities (Province of Cotabato n.d.). It was renamed Cotabato in 1983. Although 80 per cent of the province’s population are migrants from Luzon island and the Central Philippines, North Cotabato’s original settlers were the Bagobo, the Manobo, the Blaan and the Maguindanaoan.

Selecting the informants

In documenting the folktales and the ethno-epic,2 I took note of and applied Manuel’s (1967) vertical and horizontal validation tests. The vertical test, also known as the three-generation test, requires that the informant/native resource person learned the stories from a grandparent who passed it down to the informant’s father, and then to the informant. The horizontal test establishes that the story is known to other members in the community, in the same or similar versions.

Among the Blaan and the Mandaya, the storytellers I recorded were women: Babu Sobel Surayon, who chanted the Mandaya ethno-epic Sadya, and Mandy Laman, who narrated the folktale B’taku na nga B’nai [The Night Creature and the Beautiful Maiden]. The Mansaka folktale Bakiwus was a shared narration by the male storytellers Datu Luciano Coche, Datu Antonio Matuco, Datu Constantino Ayonan and Datu Lorenzo Mata, who also shared other folktales now included in an unpublished compilation. All the native informants from these three communities are elders who are among the few who can still recall and are able to narrate the oral narratives.

It was imperative that, prior to the recording of the narratives in each of the three communities, I consulted with the Tribal Council and explained the objectives of my visits. After approving my request to conduct research in the community, the Council members themselves recommended informants. The stories were recorded from the lips of the storytellers, transcribed, translated into two languages (Bisaya and English), and written down for publication.

Of the three narratives, it was the ethno-epic Sadya that took longest to record, transcribe and translate. Its length is the main reason for this. The bard/chanter, or magdadawot, as she is known in the Mandaya community, is old and needed to pause once in a while and rest. Most ethno-epics take at least a whole night to chant. The transcription of the narrative from the voice recording was the most time-consuming task. It required keen ears and knowledge and mastery of the language used by the bard. In this instance, I needed the assistance of another magdadawot from the community, Balyan Desamparados Masinaring Alimbon, who can speak Bisaya. She worked on the transcription with my fellow researcher, Emmanuel Nabayra, who wrote down the words and read them back to her for confirmation since Balyan Desamparados can neither read nor write. She also helped in the translation of the transcribed texts into Bisaya. I then took on the task of translating the Bisaya version to English. Sadya is now among the three ethno-epics recently published by the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) (Quintero and Nabayra 2018).

This same task of transcribing recorded data and translating them to Bisaya was done by Morena Panta from the Blaan community where I recorded the folk tale B’taku na nga B’nai [The Night Creature and the Beautiful Maiden]. Morena is a community leader and a teacher. Together with her husband Paul Panta, she serves the Blaan community. Both have attended higher education and are very articulate in Bisaya and English. Morena easily transcribed the Blaan version of the folktale and translated into Bisaya herself. Her knowledge of the Blaan and the Bisaya languages aided her in the translation. I used the Bisaya translation of the folktale as the basis for my translation into English. B’taku na nga B’nai is among three folktales published as a children’s book by the NCCA (Quintero 2013).

The folktale Bakiwus from the Mansaka community was collaboratively shared by male storytellers who are also members of the Tribal Council. Like Morena Panta of the Blaan community, the Mansaka storytellers are also articulate in the Bisaya language. During the storytelling session, they took turns narrating the folktale in Mansaka, then verbally translating it to Bisaya. Their Tribal Affairs Coordinator, Teresita Marcial, a Mansaka herself, transcribed the Mansaka version. Since the Bisaya version was also on record, I wrote it down to aid me in the English translation. Unlike Sadya and B’taku na nga B’nai, Bakiwus and the other Mansaka folktales I collected have yet to be published.

To establish authenticity, it is essential to record each oral tradition from the lips of the bard or the storyteller. This gave me the opportunity to work closely with and get to know the native informants. I became closely acquainted with three Mandaya, two Blaan, and two Mansaka bards, who are referred to locally as “magdadawot”.

It was the Mandaya magdadawots who had the most significant impact on me, not only because I was able to visit the area more than once, but also because I was able to spend more time with them. Although I barely understand the language, I was able to communicate with them through a native guide. When I listened to their chanting of the ethno-epics, I could sense their enthusiasm, their passion, and their excitement to be able to share an aspect of their culture. I felt humbled and honoured at the same time. It was only later that I fully understood the trust and the task that was delegated to me.

The Mandaya language, as well as the Blaan and Mansaka languages, are not yet among the nineteen (19) major local languages included in the MTB-MLE programme of the Department of Education. Since the MTB-MLE curriculum highlights the importance of first languages in enabling and empowering learners to understand lessons and express their ideas proficiently in the language they are most familiar with, similar attention and recognition should be given to minor local languages.


The oral traditions of the Blaan, Mansaka and Mandaya

During my conversations with members of the communities, I learned that they rarely talked about or shared their stories, riddles and songs among themselves, except when they were requested to perform during festivals. “Madaegay da yang kanami yakalingawan, kay wa say manalinga …” [“We have forgotten many of our stories, since nobody listens”]. I sensed a hesitation in their tone when I began asking them about details of their narratives. Although they expressed delight over the fact that an outsider like me showed interest in their traditions, they were furtively scrutinising me. My native guide confided in me, saying “Mahuya pa yaan silan kay di pa kaw nilan kila …” [“They (referring to the potential resource persons) are shy since they don’t know you yet”]. I understood then that they were indirectly testing my intentions, and trying to gauge whether they could trust my presence in their community. They feigned forgetfulness and acted oblivious to my query. At first, it took a while for anyone, even the bards themselves, to loosen up and decide which narratives to share. “Yakalingawan da name …” [“We have forgotten”]. They would repeat this, but after consultations and affirmations with my native guide and members of the Tribal Councils, they began telling me their stories. It was a community effort. Details were provided by the native audience, who came to listen, and eventually became the storytellers themselves. There was much exhilarated banter and enthusiasm, and the stories took shape by virtue of the collective memory of the community.

The research projects I undertook in three indigenous communities in Mindanao (the Blaan, the Mansaka and the Mandaya) yielded a collection of folk literature ranging from legends and folktales to riddles and folksongs. Conversations with the Blaan resource persons revealed that they still have old stories and riddles and songs they are more than willing to share with anyone who cares to listen. Reminded of the challenge set by Manuel (in 1965), I took up the task of recording indigenous literary materials available in the village. The recording and preservation of folk literature is an important undertaking, since it embodies a significant portion of Filipino pre-colonial culture and heritage.

When I was at university, I took a course on Philippine folk literature as a requirement for my degree. I was then re-acquainted with my childhood fascination for stories of magic and the supernatural, of deities and spirits of nature. But this time, my reading was not for leisure, but an in-depth study of the literary texts: from myths, legends and folktales to the ethno-epics. My childhood interest in folk literature made it easier to appreciate the university texts. This single course in Philippine folk literature became my springboard to the research track I chose in graduate school. Philippine folklorist Damiana Eugenio has this to say about the importance of studying Philippine folk literature:

Rather than destroying folk literature, it is hoped that the greater familiarity of students and city dwellers with our folk literature, which printing is expected to achieve, will preserve its life and will stimulate the collection of more versions of the printed items (Eugenio 2007, p. xxv).

Inspired by the works of Emmanuel Nabayra, who recorded, collected and aimed to salvage what remains of the ethno-epic of an indigenous community back in the 1970s, I decided to retrace his footsteps and discover for myself the source of the oral traditions.

In 2013, the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) published my book of folktales, an output of my research with the Blaan community. The book (Quintero 2013) contains three folktales written in the Blaan dialect with translations into English. A Blaan resource person assisted me in transcribing and translating the Blaan versions of the folktales into Bisaya, one of the major regional languages in the country. Instead of Filipino, I decided to use Bisaya, the mother tongue of the central and southern regions of the country. One of the folktales is about a young maiden’s encounter with a night creature.

Here is an excerpt of a folktale from the Blaan community:

B’taku na nga Bnai

Satoo kifu dek tu-a libon yê ngâ-an libon b’nai. Afsalo-an, doo s’bi tua-libon. Glut kon libon b’nai amdâ s’malo, sawang ku abnalibadad ye-an b’laan kandon doo s’bi.

    Gafat libon b’nai ditu di lame-el sobeh ta beg mawag dalanan nan lande ti agwe-an fa manî tukay. Na tu-o sobeh fa kanen gafat ditu di lagad agsut di bong mabal alfiras. Kanto t’mayal flesan ta-en tobong sureng bay lahan,malnak sigalan na b’lian na mangel ku bukalan na se fa bawehan na tarag fâ wakan. Man fandam libon bna-i na ta akfati guni bong busaw akna-anan ago, sawang ku milâ lê lâ doo ta taenan. Kari aye sureng de-e na abtaku fles taloo b’taku manan libon bna-i ta non gwe-am. Talu sawang libon bna-i manan ande-an manî tukay lande ti agwe gu flayam man aye libon basul gu asmalo fie kuh fulong ago.

The Night Creature and the Beautiful Maiden

A folktale from the Blaan community, translated from Bisaya by the author of this article

One night, an old woman wanted her young daughter to look for edible frogs for their dinner. Though she was afraid of the dark, the maiden left the house to heed her mother’s request.

The maiden reached the river. When she reached the rocky part of the riverbed, something suddenly moved on top of the large stones. She jumped in fright when she saw a large, thin creature with bony hands and feet perched on a boulder. It looked so ugly with its hair standing on end.

The maiden realised that she was seeing an aswang, a night creature. Then the aswang spoke, “Have you found frogs for your mother?” The maiden replied, “I haven’t found any. Too bad, because I couldn’t bring food for dinner.” The aswang told the maiden “I feel sorry for you. You can give me your torch and I will be the one to look for frogs.” But the maiden told the aswang that she would be heading home even without any frogs. The aswang said that she should think of her mother. He then took the torch from the hands of the maiden and began searching for frogs. The maiden could do nothing but wait.

Some distance away, the aswang was able to catch several frogs. After doing so, he hurried back to where the maiden was waiting. He handed the catch to her and told her to take them to her mother. He told the girl not to be afraid of him, and that whenever she would come looking for food, she could always come back and he would willingly help her again.

The maiden then hurried home, and upon seeing her mother she burst into tears because of her frightful encounter with the aswang. She told her mother what happened and how frightened she had been that she would never return home if the aswang killed her.

The maiden hugged her mother and told her that she loved her so much that she had taken the risk of looking for food to bring to her. Then the mother took the frogs, cleaned them, and prepared them for dinner. After dinner, they got ready for bed. In the middle of the night, the maiden heard the aswang’s voice saying, “My wife, I want to chew betel nut.” Frightened, the girl rushed to her mother and told her that the aswang was in their house. The mother immediately told her daughter to prepare betel chew. The maiden hurriedly did so and gave it to her mother who brought it to the aswang.

Then the aswang addressed the maiden again, “My wife, let us go to bed now.” The maiden, shaking with fear, prepared the bed for the aswang. He climbed into bed but was careful to hide his face. Because of fear, the maiden couldn’t sleep. The next morning, when the sun was up, the girl got out of bed and with utmost disbelief, stared at the figure who had slept next to her during the night. In place of the aswang was the most handsome man she had ever seen. He looked as refreshed as if he had just stepped out of the rainclouds, and looked as handsome as the moon. He was no longer the fearful night creature, but he had transformed into his true form, Datu Ulo E-el, the king of the river. [End]

This folktale, along with two other folktales, Nga Bnai [the young girl] and D’lag [name of a place], are popular among the Blaan, and were thus selected to be included in the book (Quintero 2013). Copies of the book were given to the libraries of elementary schools in Mlang, North Cotabato, home to the Blaan, as well as to the community from which the literature originated. The pupils received the book with enthusiasm. In the Blaan community, both the children and the older members of the village excitedly browsed through the Blaan versions of the stories. The literate members read the texts for them. The English version was not completely ignored though. Some of the children who are currently enrolled in elementary and high schools in the town read them to one another. The book is now widely distributed in the country by the NCCA.

The collection of Mansaka oral traditions likewise yielded folktales, legends and riddles. While sharing these in a focus group discussion, the resource persons themselves found delight and excitement recounting what they still remember of their oral traditions. One even said that this focus group experience was the first occasion on which they had been able to listen to and talk about the old stories again as adults; the last time many of them had heard the stories was when they were children. The texts are presented in both their Mansaka and English versions as demonstrated by the tale of Bakiwus.

Here is an excerpt of a folktale from the Mansaka community:


Yaga saka si Bakiwus ng ba-i. Adoon aun mata bobay na magabulig garo magsaka wa papagbulig ni Bakiwus kay si Bakiwus tokgawon, yang atagan ni Bakiwus nadtong kanilan gimas kayan unaw nang mangayso yadtong kanilan gimas kayan aun yamaibaw na buyag sang pyagasakuwan ni Bakiwus. Kayan yag usip yang buyag kang Bakiwus, “Madaig da yang natuk mo kay Bakiwus?” Laung ni Bakiwus, “Unu-on pagka awon ng natuk na bosoron yaning bai na kanak syasaku. Laong ng buyag, “Uukayon ko kuno yang kanmo tamayok.” Pag-ukay ng boyag lyomabay disinyan kang Bakiwus. Kayan kyomadto sang mata bobay. Laong ng buyag, “Aun day natok mo kay itin.” Laong ng mangayso, “Uno-on pagka aron kay ompo na gyimas man yaning yaatag kanami.” Ukaya ng buyag yang tamayok ng mangayso. Laong ng buyag, “Pagpalipali kamo kay magakaat yang banwa. Paba kamo disine panaw adto kamo sang putokputokan ng butay.” Aw wa akadugay disaan yagkaat da yang banwa, yumagsak da, yagakilat, yagaliti, yagalaong yang batobato bul-lang baroya si Bakiwus. Kaimo danaw yang pyaga sakuwan ni Bakiwus. Si Bakiwus byabaroy yamaimo da buwaya.


A folktale from the Mansaka community, translated by from Bisaya by the author of this article.

Bakiwus was extracting flour from a ba-i or Caryota palm [The process is called sakol]. Now, there happened to be a woman who wanted to assist Bakiwus in doing the sakol, but he would not let her help because Bakiwus was selfish. Whenever Bakiwus gave anything at all to the children, he would spread a thin layer of unaw [palm tree flour] over squeezed palm pith in their container. So the old woman asked Bakiwus, “Do you already have much natœk [another term for unaw or palm tree flour], Bakiwus?”

    Bakiwus answered, “How can I have much natœk when this ba-i is so hard?”

    The old woman said, “Let me stir your tamayok [liquid from pressed pounded palm pith]. As she stirred the tamayok, she passed in front of Bakiwus. She looked at Bakiwus and said. “You already have natœk, young man.”

    The children said, “How can he have [natœk], Grandmother, when all he gave us were giamas [pressed pith of the palm tree].”

    The old woman stirred the tamayok of the children. Then she said, “Save yourselves, because the weather of the whole place will grow bad. Get out of this place, go to the top of the mountain.”

    It did not take long before the weather turned bad. It rained. There was lightning and thunder, the batobato [pigeon] said, “Bakiwus is being cursed.” The place where Bakiwus had been making sakol became a lake, and the cursed Bakiwus was turned into a crocodile. [End]

The research with the Mandaya community yielded ethno-epics. Unlike the popular Philippine epics (the Darangen, the Ulahingan, the Hinilawod, etc.), the Mandaya epic is yet to be recognised and given its rightful place among the recorded epics in Philippine folk literature. The general aim of this project was to put together the Mandaya dawot [ethno-epic] in order to promote appreciation for the oral traditions and cultural legacy of the Mandaya. Emmanuel Nabayra, a member of the research team, describes the Mandaya ethno-epic or dawot as

“an epic poem, or rather a collection of epic poems, narrating the customs, the ways of life, and the adventures of an ancient people. Of unknown origin and still extant after centuries, the dawot was handed down to the magdadawot (bard) by word of mouth, forming the bulk of Mandaya oral tradition. Unhampered by modern means of communication to distract her/him, the magdadawot has a sharp memory of the intricacies of the ancient art of chanting the panayday (verses) of the epic poem. The dawot has several hullubaton (episodes), each of which takes several nights to chant” (from my own notes taken during a lecture by Emmanuel Nabayra).

As defined by E. Arsenio Manuel (1962), Philippine folk epics
  1. (a)

    are a narrative of sustained length;

  2. (b)

    are based on oral tradition;

  3. (c)

    revolve around supernatural events or heroic deeds;

  4. (d)

    are structured in the form of verse;

  5. (e)

    are either chanted or sung; and

  6. (f)

    have a certain seriousness of purpose, for they embody or validate the beliefs customs, ideals, or life values of the people.

The transcription and translation processes for Mandaya epics took longer compared to those for the Blaan and Mansaka texts. In this project, three languages were used to document the ethno-epics: the original Mandaya version, the Bisaya version, and the English version. Bisaya, like Tagalog, is a major regional language spoken in the central and southern regions of the Philippines. Like the book of Blaan folktales, the collection of Mandaya ethno-epics was published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Quintero and Nabayra 2018). Table 1 shows a brief excerpt from the Mandaya epic entitled Sadya as the text appears in its publication layout.
Table 1

Brief excerpt from the epic Sadya in Mandaya, Bisaya and English

Mandaya version

Bisaya version

English version

Bān mo si Masadya

Ay, kini laging si Masadya

Oh, this maiden Masadya

Bān mo si Marakila

Ay, kini lagi si Malalison,

Oh, this Malalison [Stubborn]

Yakapanibangon da

Nakasuroy na sa kasilinganan

Roamed the neighbourhood

Yakapangliyugon da

Nanghinabi na sa mga silingan,

Talked with the neighbours

Yabiya-ot nang bura

Ngproblema siya kay tali-abot na ang kabulanan

She is worried about her scheduled month

Yadigyan nang bitu-on [sic]

Naglibog ang hunahuna

Her thoughts are confused

Dyu-ungan da tudtudan

Gi-abot na siya’g kalipong, (busa mo-uli na lang siya sa balay)

She is overcome by dizziness (thus she heads home)

Liwagan ng Makiling

Katilingban sa Makiling

Village of Makiling

Sabang na Burawanon

Lungsod nga Burawanon:

City of Burawanon;

“Dumayudop si Buton

“Nagsalig sa akong ka-ugalingon

“Confident I of myself

Symangkod da si Magrawas”

Lig-on na ang akong hunahuna.

My mind is set.

“Tumanay wa tudtuda

wala pa ako katuloga

But I’m not sleepy

Tugday wa dugaruma

Walâ pa gyud ako pilawa

Not yet drowsy

Sadingan da tudtudon”.

hapit na gayud katulugon.”

But almost sleepy.”


The research I conducted with the three indigenous communities in Mindanao (the Mandaya, the Mansaka and the Blaan) yielded recordings of their oral traditions. The book of Blaan folktales, which I published in 2013 with funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Quintero 2013), is now used as reference among mother-tongue learners. The ethno-epics from the Mandaya community qualified for funding by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and was published in February 2018 (Quintero and Nabayra 2018). Another proposal for publication of the collection yielded from the Mansaka will be drafted in 2018. These publications will not only promote appreciation of the oral tradition, but will ensure their preservation as a precious legacy and record of the past. Of greatest significance is how indigenous literature portrays the people or the culture that produced them. Oral literature is part of national heritage. These epics were invented by our ancestors to transmit to the younger generations what they understood about the meaning of life, who they believed they were, what they wanted themselves and their descendants to be.

My visits to these three indigenous communities were both a learning experience and a fulfilling interaction with the first peoples who have preserved aspects of their culture through their oral traditions, their folk literature. It was very heart-warming for me as researcher to be welcomed to their communities and entrusted with the responsibility of helping to preserve their traditions. Among the Blaan, I was greeted with the words “Fiteh la daleh kultura na satoo kafni kamdo …” [“We share our culture as an expression of gratitude”]. I am grateful for their welcome and trust. They are grateful to me and the research community for finding a way to preserve and share their culture, and most importantly to put the texts to use for the education of present and future generations.

The oral traditions as potential instructional materials in language classrooms

In 1974, the Department of Education implemented bilingual education in the Philippine Education system, mandating

the separate use of Filipino and English as media of instruction in specific subject areas from Grade 1 in all schools. Pilipino was allocated to Social Studies/Social Science, Work Education, Character Education, Music, Health and Physical Education. All other subjects were taught in English (Espiritu 2015).

Some years after these regulations were implemented, I entered primary school and was among the learners who had to learn two languages. It was difficult at first, since my first language is Bisaya. Because English and Filipino were the mandatory languages in our school, we developed equal proficiency in writing and reading in both languages. There have been efforts to integrate bits and pieces of vocabulary coming from the different regions in the country into the Filipino language, to give it more character as a national language, and to decentralise it.

As mentioned earlier, the Department of Education of the Philippines introduced mother tongue-based multi-lingual education (MTB-MLE) in 2012 (DepEd 2012a), to “improve the pupil’s language and cognitive development, as well as his/her socio-cultural awareness” (ibid.). This has been implemented in all public schools, specifically in kindergarten and Grades 1 to 3. To achieve these goals, schools require instructional materials written in the mother tongue. Yet there is currently a lack of such materials. This is one of the concerns that basic education teachers have to deal with. This shortage does not, however, negate the value of the MTB-MLE programme. Rather, it finally recognises the relevance of regional languages for basic education.

Growing up and attending a private school in the Philippines, my peers and I were trained to use the English language within the premises of the school. I remember how in the 3rd Grade penalties were imposed on those who intentionally spoke their mother tongue, either in deliberate defiance of the “English-only policy”, or unintentionally because they did not know what the English equivalent of a Bisaya word was. Penalties mostly took the form of extra tasks one had to perform, and at times having her or his name listed as a “top violator”. My first language, Bisaya, was thus reduced to a forbidden language. This practice is still common in many private schools in the Philippines despite the implementation of the MTB-MLE curriculum by the Department of Education. In government-run schools, however, there is now a noteworthy move to use Bisaya in the central and southern regions where it is the predominant language, and other languages in the regions where they predominate. There is, however, a need to conduct an assessment on how the policy is faring so far. At a minimum, it has established Bisaya as an essential language in basic education.

In her article “Silencing Indigenous Languages”, Gloria D. Baguingan makes the following observation:

Culture is openly talked about in school; however, the language of that specific culture is suppressed or muffled … there should be no separation of culture and language. The culture of a people is embedded in the language. Language must then be fastened in the curriculum to preserve its attendant culture … the mother tongue is a primary vehicle for the development of our sense of “self” within a socio-cultural community, if the first language is silenced, something of the self is choked deep within the person … (Baguingan 2010, p. 138)

As in many countries in the world, multiple languages are spoken in the Philippines, each language representing a distinct, unique culture. The language that one uses is an essential element in developing a “sense of self”, a sense of belonging to a culture. A multiplicity of languages, such as exists in the Philippines, is a signifier of cultural diversity. Each culture deserves to be acknowledged, and each language deserves recognition. However, not many are actually recognised or given the attention and appreciation they equally deserve. In the implementation of the MTB-MLE policy, the Department of Education has identified only 19 out of approximately 170 Philippine languages. These include Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chabacano, Ybanag, Ivatan, Sambal, Aklanon, Kinaray-a, Yakan and Surigaonon (DepEd 2012a). However, many indigenous communities, as in Mindanao, do not speak or understand any of these languages. The Blaan, Mansaka and Mandaya communities, for instance, have their own distinct languages. If instructional materials have to be developed to address their needs, then these should be written in the mother tongue. This is where texts inspired by oral tradition come in.

Aside from its end goal of making Filipino children “lifelong learners in their L1 (MT), L2 (Filipino, the national language), and L3 (English, the global language)”, the other essential goal of the MTB-MLE programme is “to preserve Philippine heritage, language, culture and traditions” (DepEd 2012b, p. 1).


Despite significant publications of folk literature in the Philippines, a lot more work remains to be done. Of the 175 indigenous languages spoken in the 18 regions of the Philippines, only three were the subject of the study presented in this article. A more pressing need that requires urgent attention is the archiving, recording and publication of what still remains of the indigenous people’s oral traditions. The native epic chanters, storytellers, riddlers and folk singers are growing older and fewer each year. When one passes away, a whole library of cultural knowledge disappears with him/her. In preserving oral traditions, we can assure the preservation of our cultural heritage. The academic world plays a major role in reaching out to indigenous communities and establishing stronger links with them to continue the urgent task of collecting, recording, preserving and publishing the oral traditions. Folkloric research should therefore be made an institutional priority to encourage more advocates and scholars in the field.

This article further yields the following conclusions:
  1. (1)

    The oral traditions are potential sources of learning tools for the further development of L1 skills for effective communication, and as a foundation in developing L2 skills.

  2. (2)

    Using the oral traditions helps to promote appreciation of cultural values and traditions.

  3. (3)

    The MTB-MLE programme can benefit from the development of educational materials inspired by oral traditions.

  4. (4)

    One major concern among teachers is the heterogeneous composition of their classes, which implies that no single lingua franca can be exclusively used. The teacher needs to be proficient in at least two linguae francae to effectively communicate with the pupils.


Bisaya (sometimes also referred to as Visayan) is one of the two most widely-spoken regional languages in the Philippines, the other being Filipino/Tagalog. Unlike Filipino, Bisaya is not taught in the basic education curriculum, nor is it required in tertiary education. It originated in central Visayan island and spread to the other regions of Mindanao through migration. The Mindanao regions adopted Bisaya vocabulary long before Filipino was taught in schools alongside English. Bisaya is therefore widely understood and spoken in the central and southern regions.

By using Bisaya instead of Filipino as a bridge in the translation of the indigenous languages (Blaan, Mandaya and Mansaka), I am consciously promoting acknowledgment of this language that is by all means on a par with Filipino and English. It was unfortunate and discriminatory that Bisaya was treated as a “forbidden” language when I was in primary school. Its consideration and treatment as equal to Filipino and English is long overdue. The medium of learning and instruction in schools should not be limited to one or two languages. It is imperative that the L1 of the learners be utilised as springboard to a more comprehensive delivery of knowledge. This article aims to establish the potential of three indigenous languages (Blaan, Mandaya and Mansaka), which are the L1 of learners from the southern regions of the Philippines, as an aid to instruction especially in reading and language classes.

As I continue to conduct research with indigenous communities, I am determined to do as much as possible to salvage what remains of the nearly extinct oral traditions of the ethno-linguistic groups in the country. In the course of my research, I have become acquainted with the cultures of the Mandaya, the Mansaka, the Blaan, the Bagobo and the Ata Manobo, all from the southern island of Mindanao, home to about 25 of the 112 Philippine ethno-linguistic groups.

I started out being fascinated by the old stories; driven by curiosity, I set out in search of the origins of these stories, and found more than I expected. I met exceptional people in the indigenous communities who shared with me their oral traditions and the beauty of their languages. I was drawn into the life and the experiences of indigenous communities, their passions, their conflicts, their struggles against natural and external social forces, their need to keep their traditions alive, their determination to keep their cultural identity, and their need to be heard. I hope I deserve their expression of gratitude – “Fiteh la daleh kultura na satoo kafni kamdo …” [“We share our culture as an expression of gratitude”] – for my being there with them and for them.


  1. 1.

    In a nutshell, the Philippines were colonised, albeit not extensively settled, by the Spanish in the second half of the 16th century. Thus Spanish was added, as the official language, to the existing multitude of indigenous languages. English was introduced as a second official language during the American occupation of the Philippines (1898–1912). By 1901, English was the designated language of instruction (LOI) in government-run schools, and shared the status of official language with Spanish in the 1935 Constitution (CoP 1935). The 1973 Constitution (RoP 1973) stipulated Filipino (formerly known as Tagalog or Pilipino) as the second official language alongside English. The current Constitution (RoP 1987) states “The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages. Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system … For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English. The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein. Spanish and Arabic shall be promoted on a voluntary and optional basis” (ibid., sections 6 and 7).

  2. 2.

    An “ethno-epic” is a Philippine phenomenon. The term is used to emphasise the origin and ownership of this genre of literature, namely regional or ethnic groups.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V., and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the PhilippinesMindanaoPhilippines

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