Young Chieftain Continues Father’s Legacy to Protect and Preserve Mandaya Culture

Sangab’s chief priestess reminds Tribal Chieftain Christine Banugan of her duties to the tribe as she performs a prayer ritual called “panawag-tawag”. 

CARAGA, DAVAO ORIENTAL – It has been almost a year since the brutal murder of Sangab’s tribal chieftain, Likid Copertino Banugan, but his young successor along with the entire community is determined to keep the Mandaya spirit alive by continuing to make their culture resilient and their peace preserved.

During the celebration of the 19th Kalindugan Festival in Sitio Sangab – one of the 13 sub-villages that comprise the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title-01 (CADT-01) in the village of Pichon in Caraga town, 26-year-old Christine Banugan, the community’s new tribal chieftain said she will do her best to fill her father’s shoes as a steward of their culture.

Christine Banugan joins the community dance at the Kalindugan Festival

Christine Banugan, the youngest daughter of the slain tribal chieftain, was chosen by the ‘mangkatadong’ or Council of Elders as the community’s new “trailblazing” leader. A promising Business Accounting graduate from Ateneo de Davao University, Banugan turned down job offers with attractive compensation packages to live and serve the community she holds dear.

“It is not easy to lead people, especially when you are younger than most of the people you lead. But with our community’s overwhelming support, the pressures and challenges become bearable.  We are united and we support each other because we share the same goals and aspirations,” she said.

Despite the tragic death of her father, Copertino Banugan, who died in the hands of Communist New People’s Army rebels, the young Banugan is resolved to continue her father’s legacy in preserving the Mandaya culture and their natural heritage while defending the peace within their ancestral lands– such huge responsibilities that even the most seasoned leaders admit to being arduous and challenging.

Home to more than 7,000 residents, the CADT-01 territory covers about 14,000 hectares of ancestral lands. Banugan said that among the most challenging part of her leadership here is in peace and order.

Students from a local elementary school show in their dance performance fight within the tribe.

Although Sitio Sangab has its own defense system that has been guarding their lands for decades from a wide-array of adversaries – from rebels to illegal loggers, this peace-loving Mandaya community welcomes the presence of the government’s military troops that have been helping them shield their community from threats. “We are happy because the Philippine Army has always been there behind us,” she said, citing the military’s role not just as stewards of peace but as a true partner in development, encouraging the indigenous people’s meaningful participation in building developments in their community.

Brigadier General Reuben Basiao arrives at Sitio Sangab. He is being welcomed by Tribal Chieftain Christine Banugan.

Brigadier General Reuben Basiao, Commander of the 701st Brigade of the Philippine Army, who graced the festivities on Saturday, October 28, said he is in awe of the tribe’s ‘culture of peace and security’. “This is the type of culture we hope to be replicated in other IP communities,” he said, as he encouraged the community to continue giving their support to the leadership and to continue to be proud of their customs and culture.

Brigadier General Basiao and Vice Governor Niño Uy stomp their feet to the beat of the music as they are urged by students of Sangab National High School to join them in performing the Mandaya dance.

Meanwhile, another major challenge for Banugan’s leadership is food security. She said that while they are happy with the government’s support, there is still a huge need for more government interventions to improve the quality of life of the people living in this remote community who mostly depend on farming abaca and corn for their livelihood.

She cited improving the road condition as among the most crucial need to help facilitate trade and provide easier means to transport crops, goods, and other commodities.

Military trucks trail the rickety road to Sitio Sangab.

Situated atop a mountain, Sitio Sangab is about 30 kilometers away from the town center of Caraga and can be reached after more than two grueling hours of trailing through a rickety road.

The long journey to Sitio Sangab starts by crossing the Lamiawan River.

To address their concerns, the Provincial Government is now looking at effective ways to reach out to indigenous people’s communities, not only in Sitio Sangab but also to the rest of ancestral domains of the province. Among these interventions is the road network development, being implemented through the support of the national government agencies, which aims to connect far-flung villages to the economic center.

Amidst the heavy downpour, students from the local schools, donning their traditional Mandaya garbs, passionately and proudly gave their all in a performance that portrays their culture during the Kalindugan Festival.

On the other hand, the Provincial Government has also been providing support to Mandaya natives with disabilities in Sitio Sangab who are making and selling high-quality handicrafts made from Mandaya indigenous materials. These handmade products which are being displayed at tourism exhibits around the country have been touted to have a strong market potential both locally and abroad.

The Provincial Government under Governor Nelson L. Dayanghirang emphasizes inclusive growth in its governance framework. In fact, it has included in its Provincial Development Physical Framework Plan (PDPFP) the Ancestral Domain Strategy to ensure that indigenous peoples in ancestral domain comprising of 67% of the province’s land will not be left behind in development. The Provincial Government believes that failure to address the needs in these areas would result in the unending cycle of poverty. Mostly located in the farthest barangays, IP communities are seldom reached by developments making them more susceptible to poverty and conflicts.


The Kalindugan is among the most celebrated remote-community festival in Davao Oriental. Organized by the late Tribal Chieftain Copertino Banugan, the festival has become a venue for the Mandaya community to proudly showcase their culture, their history, and their aspirations.

Now in its 19th year, the present leadership vows to continue to celebrate and observe the annual festival which serves a strong reminder of their identity. “It’s what my father would have wanted,” she said. “My father had always told us to be proud of our culture. He said we never know where our culture might take us,” recalled Banugan.

Just recently, Mandaya weavers and Sangab performers led by Christine flew to San Fransico, California in the United States to showcase the traditional Mandaya hand-woven “dagmay” textile to the Hinabi project Exhibit dubbed as “Weaving Peace and Dreams: Textiles arts of Mindanao”. The said exhibit was jointly organized by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Aside from bringing and introducing the “dagmay” to the international community, Banugan said the exhibit also served as a rare opportunity to showcase the Mandaya tribe’s traditions and customs, its history and its struggles to protect its rich heritage and its desire for peace.

She said that by celebrating the Kalindugan Festival, the community, especially the younger generation will boost their sense of pride and the value of self-determination. “Kalindugan Festival is not just a celebration but our community’s way to keep the Mandaya spirit alive,” says Christine Banugan. By Karen Lou Deloso/ Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan

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