Interpreting Sigkil, A Dulanan Manobo woman leg adornment

September 18, 2009


I. Introduction

Recollecting connection

Keytodac is a small barrio often failed to be noticed by the mainstream civilization even the government owing to its remote location, it is situated some 32 kms. East of Lebak town in the province of Sultan Kudarat. The barrio has no electricity (until today), thank God for the people who operates the Tacurong Express busses for now traversing Davao to Lebak route, but only if there’s no severe rain, as the dusty road is slippery and yield off mud stocks, such condition will disrupt drive schedules and travelers will wait until the sun will shine to dry off the mud.

Transportation now is more accessible than in the 80’s, now you can easily hire “skylab” (single motorcycle used for public transport). Back then, you have to schedule your trip at least a week before going to the town, talk to the driver of the jeepney that you will be riding his vehicle on a particular day or animal transportation like horses and carabaos were always a ready option. You would truly value water most if you live in this part of the world, as you have to fetch water from the foot of a hill and carry the container back ascending the mound of about 70 degrees.

The 80s

Part of the time I was there, were spent seeing logging trucks passing by the dusty and pebbly road in front of the house where I stayed, we called them “Piterbilt”, [later I realized it’s the truck’s brand.] Everyday at least five logging trucks clutching four to five humungous logs passed by the road fronting our house. Everytime the driver would stop to eat; adult and children alike came rushing under the truck to “mang-ak-ak”, – to remove the log’s barks for firewood.

My aunt used to have a store, as it was the biggest, sort of, variety store in the barrio, people from hinterland sitios would come and buy just about anything they need, including Manobos and Tirurays. But exchange did not end in the store, we used to go to nearby barangays to “bulante” to sell our goods, hiking some 5 to 7 kilometers, back then even “skylab” was practically not a thing yet. Every Sunday in Salumping, another barrio some 7 kilometers east of Keytodac, (Salumping is the endmost barangay bordering Ezperanza and Lebak towns in Sultan Kudarat Province) was always like a fiesta, Christians, Manobos, Tirurays coming from the inner sitios bringing agongs and other musical instruments gather in the “bulantehan” bringing and selling their bounties or sometimes barter their produce to what they liked from our display like “caggal”, (Manobo women top clothing) malong, sardines, bihon or just about anything instant not manufactured and grown in the mountain. Horsefighting and cockfighting always end up the day’s merrymaking.

It was on these occasions that wives of tribal datus, their children would come and join other tribal groups in the “bulantehan”. It was on these occasions too that I saw Manobo women with lots of body adornments, one particular trinket I was stunned of was the “sigkil” these are rings tiered around a Manobo woman’s ankle, at least 10 or more rings. It made me wonder then, why were these women subject themselves into such an agony bearing all these heavy metals day and night. Not until taking this course and doing this project made me realize, well, maybe I don’t have anthropologic makeup during that time that made me so disapproving about them.

IFMA Altered Native Community

There were about 2 to 4,000 Manobo and Tiruray families used to inhabit the 24 sitios of barangay Salumping. (Per Iyok Kapitan’s estimate, a respected Manobo in the Barangay) There were enough rice, corn and rootcrops for everyone, and a lot to hunt too since we used to bring home “usa” or venison meat after the “bulante”.

In 1990, the M & S Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) had taken away the natives’ land of Salumping. Now, only about 200 families left still making a living in the area mostly employed by the company. The rest of the natives moved elsewhere which I had a hard time locating them for this project. Those who chose to stay now take the cudgels in reasserting their rights over a vanishing land. There are a lot of stories to tell about this ordeal as I was one of those who had an eye account of the deprivations to these natives during those fateful days, but then again this is another long story to tell.

Nevertheless, my point is, those Manobo women who used to be our friends, who wore the Sigkils, were now very hard to find since they and their families were forced to move to other location given that they were displaced when the M&S IFMA was implemented.

Through months of tracking them down, finally I was able to locate one of them to carry out this project. It’s been years since I haven’t gone back to Keytodac since I settled here in Davao. This project brought me back to realizing that I have rich connection to these people. It is also in this premise that I hope to put across, interpret and understand this aspect of Manobo culture, and how this object, the Sigkil, be understood as a representation of their culture.

II. Cultural Representation

To me, the aspect of interpreting meaning is what makes anthropology exciting, but the aspect of interpreting meaning with much objectivity and dignity is what also makes me apprehensive of anthropology.

Yet, this paper will try to convey in words and pictures the experiences of Manobo women in relation to this object, sigkil. My challenge is to interpret and locate meaning by involving people from the community where the object came from. My point is, by letting these Manobo women be part in the interpretation and representation of this object, somehow the true thought of social inclusion will be well understood.

Various issues abound cultural representations like when material objects displayed in museums or exhibits convey conflicting representational messages to the different audiences, the meanings and descriptions ascribed were not really what the creator of the objects have in mind. Most often, what we know of a certain culture is only from the labels which barely embrace a context of a particular culture exhibited, at times when curators give pleasure to their audiences not to be bored reading lengthy descriptions, most often than not, the context of the culture represented by the object was lost. No one could ever conceive the victory won by the ‘bolo’, no one could ever conceive the love affair made around a ‘stone grinder’, nor no one could ever conceive the pain of having blisters brought by wearing the ‘sigkil’.

A museum serves to fulfill the constant human need for pleasure of understanding and widening of experience and will act toward the wise, harmonious development in the given environment (Cruikshank, 1992). While we depend on museums to give us the understanding we need to function in today’s growing international environment, they often fall short of this grand mission: “The fact is that …. Museums seldom take part in real life activities, nor do they try to influence the life or destiny of their respective community” (1992).

The notion of context continue to be troublesome in anthropology, it is no longer sufficient to be sensitive to the setting and situation in which an object is collected or a story is heard. We have also to understand its continuing life. And to do that, we have to develop ways of retaining the setting……….Likewise, the idea that objects are unique, discrete entities raises questions about what constitutes an object in different cultural settings. In many non-western cultures they are understood to be not inert things, but to have life histories that do not stop when they enter museums (1992).

Clifford Geertz in his ‘Interpretation of Cultures’ posit that culture could be understood objectively by studying the public symbols which members of society use to communicate worldview and values. The meanings of those symbols are embedded in social relations and the project of anthropology is to explicate the balance between locally understood meanings of social worlds and the independent existence of social relations (1973). More often than not, meanings are contested. Loretta Fowler, for example, discusses how in one Native American community, people from different age groups have different interpretations of which objects are ‘sacred’ and which ‘profane’, with younger people often giving greater latitude to those boundaries than do their elders (1987).

On the other hand, objects can make powerful statements about legitimacy. Curators may display and describe objects thoughtfully in terms of their aesthetic, ceremonial or historical importance. Those same objects may be experienced simultaneously as symbols of family heritage by some members of indigenous communities and as symbols of cultural oppression by those who are critical of their location in institutions seen to have participated in colonial encounters. Still others may see material culture as a strategic resource which can be used to communicate an ideology of cultural identity in negotiations with governments who deny their existence as autonomous cultural groups (1992). In this premise, I trust that I could give justice and rightfulness in the interpretation of this object, sigkil, as one aspect of representation of Dulangan Manobo women.

III. Visualizing Culture

According to Elizabeth Edwards, there is an obvious relationship between the supposition that culture is objectively observable and the popular belief in the neutrality, transparency, and objectivity of audiovisual technologies. From a positivist perspective, reality can be captured on film without the limitations of human consciousness Pictures provide an unimpeachable witness and source of highly reliable data. Given those assumptions, it is logical that as soon as the technologies were available, anthropologists attempted to produce with the camera the sort of objective research data that can be stored in archives and made available for study by future generations (1992).

Consequently, in 1984, the Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA) was formed as a constituent section of the American Anthropological Association. The SVA produced a regular newsletter Visual Anthropology Review out of which a select group of articles were recently published. SVA’s scope is as follows:
The use of images for the description, analysis, communication and interpretation of human (and sometimes nonhuman) behavior-kinesics, proxemics and related forms of body motion communication (e.g., gesture, emotion, dance, sign language) as well as visual aspects of culture, including architecture and material artifacts. It also includes the use of image and auditory media, including still photography, film, video and noncamera generated images, in the recording of ethnographic, archeological and other anthropological genres-how aspects of culture can be pictorially a source of ethnographic data, expanding our horizons beyond the reach of memory culture. It is the study of how indigenous, professional; and amateur forms of pictorial/auditory materials are grounded in personal, social, cultural, and ideological contexts. (El Guindi, 2004).

Another visual anthropologist Jay Ruby, explained that visual anthropology logically proceeds from the belief that culture is manifested through visible symbols embedded in gestures, ceremonies, rituals, and artifacts situated in constructed and natural environments. Culture is conceived of as manifesting itself in scripts with plots involving actors and actresses with lines, costumes, props, and settings. The cultural self is the sum of the scenarios in which one participates. So that ………. If one can see culture, then researchers should be able to employ audiovisual technologies to record it as data amenable to analysis and presentation (1996). Apart from that, Visual Anthropology is also concerned with the whole process of anthropology from the recording of data, through its analysis to the dissemination of the results of research. Anthropology as a discipline is itself a representational process, engaged in an activity of cultural translation or interpretation. It involves the representation of one culture or segment of society to an anthropological audience which itself include people with different cultural backgrounds who operate on varying premises (Banks & Morphy, 1997).

From this point I now advance my study to discuss the method or the technique that I will employ in collecting my data [in the absence of the physical object] having presented the countless possibilities of using visuals in interpreting culture.

IV. Photography as Method of Gathering Data

Visual Anthropology is a broad section of Anthropological discipline, this study will undertake only still photography as the method in collecting my data, at this point, I lay my bent in supporting my position in taking on this medium.

I will start by citing Smith Schuneman, a noted photojournalist of his time; he said that in understanding what happens around him man depends primarily on his sight, secondarily on his hearing. Visual forms – lines, colors, proportions, etc. –are just as capable of articulation of complex combination, as words. But the laws that govern this sort of articulation are altogether different from the laws of syntax that govern language. The most radical difference is that visual forms are not discursive. They do not present their constituents successively, but simultaneously, so the relations determining a visual structure are grasped in one act of vision. He further noted that in photograph, as in a memory image, emotion can be felt and, at the same time, seen dispassionately. An emotion presented in a photograph may not affect the observer with so much force as that which occurs in real life, but it projects itself more distinctly and with greater clarity into the consciousness (1972).

Susan Sontag, in an undated article, explained that a key element of photography that differentiates it from both earlier forms such as the sketch or the painting and more modern forms such as film and video is the bond that exists between a photograph and a precise instant in time. Photographs, in other words, radically rupture time. Expanding on this point she notes that photography appeared at a time, ‘when the human landscape started to undergo a vertiginous rate of change’. As this change caused disappearance, photography provided the solace of possession at the level of image. ‘A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs – especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past – are incitements to reverie’. “Photographic images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it”. In this sense, these pieces serve as pieces of evidence. Evidence, of course, is what every one is looking for.

Methodologically, the use of photography, film and video to document areas of social and cultural life would appear to be straightforward and unproblematic. In the late 19th century [and later] photography was used by anthropologists and para-anthropologists to record and document supposed ‘racial types’ as part of the discipline’s project to provide a scientific study of humankind. Photography was also employed as a ‘visual notebook’ by anthropologists to document aspects of material culture produced by a particular society. After the invention in 1895 of the portable motion picture camera, film was employed to the same ends (Banks, 1997).

Sol Worth further discussed that photography, as a record about culture, spans the distance from the casual snapshot, which reminds one of what a house or an informant looked like, to the systematic work of a Mead, a Bateson, or a Birdwhistell. And here I must emphasize that it is not their photography that is important, but their analysis of it. The reason their photographs and films are records is that they were taken in ways which allowed them to be analyzed so as to illustrate patterns observed by scientists who knew what they were looking for. In this kind of anthropology, we want to consider both how the photograph and the film can be used as evidence by the scientist and how people actually have used them, as evidence, as documents, as entertainment, and as art. Understanding that photographs and films are statements, rather than copies or reflections, enables us to look explicitly, as some of us are now doing, at the various ways we have developed of picturing the world (1981).

The scope is broader as Banks and Morphy described it, it includes the production and analysis of still photos, the study of art and material culture, and the investigation of gesture, facial expression and spatial aspects of behavior and interaction. In fact many anthropologists have been doing visual anthropology without realizing it (1997). The photographing of social actions leads us into a rich area of nonverbal research. A considerable variety of reliable evidence can be read from photographs of social scenes, for we find in them the complex dimensions of social structure, cultural identity, and psychological expression. (Collier, 1967).

While I back on the objectivity of using visuals as a manner of assembling information, it is also imperative to exhibit the photographer’s positionality [or rather my position] to justify predisposition. Citing again Schuneman, he said that photographers, human as they are, has the capacity to look also at the aesthetic aspect of the moment the photographer establishes a vantage point from which to take the picture, s/he abandons the objective point of view. In choosing a stance s/he performs a mental act of discrimination with reference to external reality as anyone might see it, and thereby he makes her/his first move toward interpretation. The moment s/he decides on the composition, lighting and determines the most meaningful moment at which to trip the shutter, s/he further exercise her/his faculty of selection (1972). If I may look at this as the interference of this technique, I am on the contrary ensuring the balance and steadiness of the interpretation and the objective meanings of my taken images as representations of the subject.

This would claim the purposive elucidation and assignment of meaning to objects and events Sol Worth and Larry Gross hypothesized by which they observed that there is a learning process by which we come to know how to interpret symbolic events such as films. At the simplest level, we merely recognize the existence of persons, objects, and events in the film and make attributions about them based on our stereotypic knowledge of such things in real life. With somewhat more sophistication, we can see relationships between objects and events that are contiguous in time or space: they go together. The crucial step, next, is to see this contiguity as the result of an intention to tell us something- to see it as a sequence or pattern that is ordered for the purpose of implying meaning rather than contiguity to more than one sign-event and having the property of conveying meaning through the order itself as well as through elements in that order (1983). But the true meaning of any photography can only be determined by an examination of the relationship between the photograph and the context. Context offers an insight into historical aspects, social influences, propaganda issues and permits a greater understanding of the photograph (Elliott, 2004).

V. Material Culture Defined/Theory

The phrase “material culture” is a broad one, defined in different ways by various scholars. Henry Glassie stated that, “A method based on the document is prejudiced; fated to neglect the majority of people, for they were nonliterate and, within the boundaries of literacy, to neglect the majority of people, for they did not write. Even today in societies of almost universal literacy, it is a rare soul who bequeaths to future historians a written account of his thought (1975). Another scholar Jules David Prown said that material culture is the study through artifacts of the beliefs, values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions of a particular community or society at a given time (1998). Whereas, “Material culture ……… is not culture but its product, culture is socially transmitted rules for behavior, ways of thinking about and doing things. Material culture is…that sector of our physical environment that we modify through culturally determined behavior,” as James Deetz (1977) hypothesize it. Furthermore, defined cultural artifact as a man-made object which gives information about the culture of its creator and users. The artifact may change over time in what it represents, how it appears and how and why it is used as the culture changes over time.

My thinking leads me to realizing that perhaps, the simplest way to define the term is that material culture represents the “things” or the “stuff” which we create and use on a daily basis, the “material” products of a culture. These “things” could range from the clothes in [y]our closet to the dishes in [y]our kitchen, large and often-costly items such as our cars and homes to less-expensive mundane artifacts like mirrors, combs, Tupperware, Corning wares or even the contents of our kitchen trash cans. Some artifacts might be stylish, and others much less so. Some might be readily available and mass-produced, while others might be heirlooms or hand-crafted items. Some artifacts denote our class and social status, while others simply help us accomplish an explicit goal or even just to have fun. Most importantly, material culture tells us about a place and a time, about the people who created or used the artifacts, or about the change over time. Just as we create the materials that somehow sustain us, so too we are shaped by the materials that surrounds us.

Gaynor Kavanagh, on the other hand, values objects as metonyms which indicate social structures and ideologies. This is particularly relevant to the current study of fabric samples. Much work on personal objects focuses on the choice of the individual to self-express. This silences the material experiences of marginalised groups who suffer imposed material conditions caused by poverty and coercion. Kavanagh addresses this, claiming material culture can offer evidence of the ‘means through which people were able or obliged to express themselves, their views, and their experiences’. He continued: ‘This is especially so when access to literacy, authority or power was prevented or denied. Objects (or their absence) can thus be physical indicators of ideological forces and social conditions’ (1989). Material culture studies can provide a unique perspective on history: focusing on objects is like ‘walking though the back door of history, you don’t necessarily end up at the front door of the same house’ (Falconer, 1999).

As David Hutchison suggested, ‘there may be questions about the past which historians have not asked because they may not be answerable from written and oral sources only’. While the power of objects to inspire research is undeniable, the role the ‘object as impetus’ should have in directing the subsequent inquiry is more contentious (1983).

Furthermore, Kavanagh shows that objects might best indicate, rather than determine, the direction of inquiry. Comparing the use as evidence of objects and documents, Kavanagh argues ‘it is not the form and content of a source but its location and relationships’ that are important. The ‘object in contexts, both as content and symbol’ needs to be studied (1989).

VI. Background of the Object for Analysis

Name of the Artifact: Sigkil
Genre: Ankle Adornment
Worn by: Dulanan Manobo women
Location: Sitio Bungo-Bungo, Brgy. Salumping, Esperanza town, Province of Sultan Kudarat

VII. Artifact Analysis Model

The analysis will take on E. McClung Fleming’s (1982) model for the study of artifacts, which addresses the history, material, construction, design and function of an object, and performs identification, evaluation, cultural analysis and interpretation of the object.

VIII. Analysis



It took some twelve hours of dusty and bumpy travel by an-oversized jeepney from Davao City to reach Brgy. Keytodac, after an hour of resting, I then proceeded to Sitio Bungo-Bungo, with my interpreter Nenet Castro, via a “skylab”. Seems like people in authority has already forgotten these people living in this part of the country, the road was doubly terrible than the last time I visited this place. I was just thankful to the expertise of our driver in maneuvering the motorcycle over the road with fist-like sizes of stones.

Finally, we reached Legodon, a sitio before Bungo-Bungo, I found myself having a conversation with Iyok Kapitan, more or less in his 70s, and he is a respected Manobo in the area. According to him, they have not kept any exact record as to the history of Sigkil, records were only based on the memories of the old Manobos, stories about when their ancestors started using it were not clear. Younger generation relied solely by oral tradition, and stories about sigkil were handed down from generation to generation.

Ambay Apang (pic.1, p. 30) is one of the last Manobo women in the area who had been keeping and occasionally wearing sigkil, unluckily, she doesn’t know her age, she got her sigkils as dowry (tamok) to her when she got married, she also do not have any kept stories as to where her husband’s family got it.

On the same day, Gil Molina, he was 66, finally I got one who knew exactly how old he was, a Christian migrant in the area who had taken a Manobo wife of about 34 years now, he was quite dogmatic explaining that these sigkils, just like gold jewelry worn by Christians, were a show of wealth in their community, a symbol of distinctiveness, a symbol of power and authority. A Manobo woman, who has these adornments, is renowned to be a wife of a Datu, a daughter of a Datu or someone who belong to the upper strata of the Manobo community.

Although, there was no noted exclusivity of who are supposed to wear sigkils among Manobo women, Gil Molina made it clear that so long as the family or any Manobo woman can afford to buy the sigkils, she can wear it.

Iyok Kapitan, further narrated that some of these sigkils worm by other Manobo women were made by their great, great grand parents, sad to say that the way of making this material, like the art blacksmithing, was not handed down to them and until today, there were no one in their community who had knowledge on how to make these adornments, besides, he said why bother make one when their young ones no longer want to wear them.


This particular set of ankle sigkil, (Figures 3 & 4, pp.16-17) were made from solid iron. When I ask Iyok Kapitan where did their olds get the material? He excitingly narrated that, “long before migrant Christians settled in the area, we [Manobos] already have pieces of brass agongs, brass pots and pans, iron bolos and ‘tabas’ (a long curved sharp edged weapon), our ancestors got them [brass and iron pieces] from the lowlands through barter trading of their produce with Chinese and Muslim merchants.”

Iyok furthered saying that some of these pieces were left to their ancestors by small, white people with ‘chinito eyes’ during the war. Stories from their olds, like gold bars left in the caves by retreating Japanese soldiers during the war were also very legendary. But it was not clear as to whether these gold bars were also fashioned to create jewelry for their women. He continued saying that long time ago when migrant Christians in the lowlands offered to acquire their lands, they would took on the deal to avoid conflict, and move up to the mountain carrying their belongings including these metal pieces. Eventually some of the bronze, brass and iron pieces would worn out and they would melt these metals and fashioned to produce sigkil, earrings, bracelets and other jewelry to adorn their women.


Though it was not clear as to when this sigkils were made, seems like construction was hand-made and custom-made. Iyok Kapitan, further explained that some of his ancestors had knowledge in blacksmithing, although, he seemed not so interested in the craft he confirmed though, that indeed this particular set of sigkils were done by a blacksmith.

My effort to reach old Manobo blacksmith in some 5 neighboring barangays in the area to dig up some pertinent information relating to this process was totally abortive, since those old Manobos who had knowledge of this procedure were either dead or had move up to the mountains of Palimbang town. This set of sigkils was sturdy, well-built, not mass produced and resistant to cracks and ruptures.


The Primary Ring (Figure 1)
Figure 1

This is the biggest ring and is placed at the center of the tier, (Figure 3, p.16) it is hallow in the middle which houses at least 10 small iron balls of about 1 cm in diameter, it has an incessant opening at the outer part of the loop, allowing the entry of the small orb. Soon after the orbs are placed inside, it is being bended to close so as not to disperse the iron balls, which further reinforce the sound being produced. A rowed-zig-zag embossed design is a prominent feature both at the top and at the bottom of the ring.

The Secondary Ring (Figure 2)
Figure 2

This is a single (Figure 2) exhibit of the 8 secondary rings that comprise the tier.
(Figures 3 & 4, pp. 16-17) It has grooves at the outer part of the loop, but the numbers of canals were not consistent with that of the other secondary rings.

Figure 3
The tier view of the rings. (Figure 3)

Figure 4
Dispersed view of the rings. (Figure 4)


According to all the natives I came across in the course of this project, the sigkils were made intentionally as a determining factor of a Manobo woman’s status in the community, it is a show of wealth, other Manobo women believed that these sigkils bring luck and has force to protect them from harm and other dangerous elements, to others an amulet, and some believe that it even made them healthier improved their vigor and stamina while in the field farming.

In the early days, when the mountains were still thick with grass and forests, sigkils play a very vital role, sigkils being made of metal produces tickly sounds when they smash-up with each other, when Manobos are traversing thick grasses under the forests, insects and some harmful animals like snakes and etc. were being threatened by the strange sound produced, as a result these animals and insects get out of their way, not harming them.

Other Manobos in the early days let their youngs wore sigkils, so that when they wander and lost in the forest, it is easy for them locate their youngs just following the sound produced by the sigkils.

Stories like when a Manobo woman is being harassed by other Manobo men or strangers in isolated areas in the community, it is easy for woman to seek help by just shaking her legs so as to produce sound and help is on the way.



Base on Function: Anklet
Base on Material: Iron
Base on Construction: Hand-made, custom-made


The narratives of the old Manobo folks in at least five barangays in the hinterlands of Lebak and Ezperanza towns supported my claim of authenticity and that they all knew what sigkils were and what this object take part of in their culture. While there were no exact records as to its origin and the estimated age of this object as all narratives were orally passed on when their women started using it, and when this particular object was made, I take it that the material is unadulterated and actual.


Secondary Ankle Ring. (Figure 2)
Circumference: 34 cms.
Weight: 164 grams
Lateral Thickness: 5 cms.

Primary Ankle Ring. (Figure 1)
Circumference: 34 cms.
Weight: 205 grams.
Tube diameter: about 1 inch

The whole set (Figures 3) weighs about 3 kilos and 2 grams. The 9 rings assigned to one foot weigh about 1,408 grams. To wear the sigkils is just to slip the rings from the toes up to the ankles.


This set of sigkil is visually pleasing, it has intriguing blend of pattern. Given that these sigkils were hand-made and custom-made, it is quite obvious that consistency in the number of ribs in the secondary rings and number of v-shaped engravings in the primary ring were not steadily observed. Even the weight of each ring did not display the same figure. Visually, it can be observed that texture of the material has been consistently observed.

Comparison with other specimen

Since this object was not mass and machine produced, comparison with other same genre as to material and design will likely enhance the body of knowledge about this particular item. The rarity of design, material (other Manobos had sigkils made of brass) and size will vary too much. Analyzing this material in conjunction with counterparts from earlier century would probably yield surprising results, especially how the decoration, construction and popularity of these items changed over time. According to old Manobo folks in Bungo-Bungo the general form which is circular has not changed much, but their decoration and iconography have definitely changed considerably given that these were hand-made and custom-made. Tracking traits can lead us to theorize the etiology of these changes. Although, I look at this angle as a limitation of this analysis, this would probably be another fertile area for future study.


Structural Study

Miller pointed out that structuralism in anthropology has made the ordering of things central to its understanding of human culture. Although more often, non-material culture, such as kinship system & myths are significant to this paradigm, structuralist studies of the internal logic of symbolic system of the relations between symbols and their external referents were also of prominence (1994). I will try to elucidate how sigkil, to borrow Strathern’s phrase– in terms of its ability can change or elicit into another object (1988).

Miller further explained that meaning of objects come from the orders into which they are incorporated (1994), then, sigkil in the same manner derived its meaning from the order [from the time and space] it was then included ….. If sigkil was supposed to send off insects and animals along the way due to its sound, it was because woods made-up Manobo’s environment, it was because forest, which was sacred to them in which they get most of their resource, was physically a thing during those early times.

Clearly at one time sigkils were then new ….. A technology made to answer the order or their environment, and for a long period sigkils were simply ordinary objects doing its function ……… then if objects have the ability to transform or elicit to another object (1988), subsequently same artifact may change its implications simply by being introduced to another new order (1994). Sigkil for this matter, has reached a point where it does not serve its purpose anymore, the environment which was the significant factor during the time it was supposed to be new, now has radically changed, the forest that was sacred to them which play a major part in carrying-out the function of the sigkil now excludes them, roads became wider and harmful animal-free …….. then, today as the introduced new order, and another space and time, sigkil gained an impression of being traditional, of being not a trend anymore, has reached a point of being a collector’s item, an item suitable to be cased in museums, as Miller said it …. A new type of change (1994).

Claude Lévi-Strauss in Moore (1997) stated that “one very important feature of this ordering process is that we cut up the continua of space and time with which we are surrounded into segments so that we are predisposed to think of the environment as consisting of vast numbers of separate things belonging to named classes, and to think of the passage of time as consisting of sequences of separate events. Correspondingly, when, as men, we construct artificial things (artifacts of all kinds), or devise ceremonials, or write histories of the past, we imitate our apprehension of Nature: the products of our culture are segmented and ordered in the same way as we suppose the products of Nature to be segmented and ordered.

It seem so fascinating how humans has been ordering things (cf. Miller 1994) all these time, and it is much more intriguing how humans are also being ordered by things (1994)

Miller presented two steps in how to study ideology using material culture. First, is that certain interest groups in a society have more influence to create the world of artifacts in such a manner that they embody the ordering principles established by those same interests? Second, is that people who are brought up surrounded by artifacts which embody such ordering principles will tend to understand the world in accordance with this order.

In some societies [such as the Manobo community] such ordering principles appear to be all-encompassing. All object and material classifications evoke social distinctions, [such that sigkils are seen as more suitable for higher-caste use]. It is a common conception that to be brought up in such an environment, in which all things declare the ubiquity of a particular ordering principle, will result in a perception of the world close to the concept of habit, an order accepted without any conscious thought or consideration as to the way things might otherwise be, or perceive on the material culture in socialization have tended to emphasize the way in which any ordinary objects can have this effect without appearing to do so (1994).

Haines, for this matter, posit that much of the meaning of life relates directly to the bodies that we inhabit, the places in which we live and through which we move, the objects that we create and use, and the actual events of our lives. We react to these but also use them as repositories for established meanings and as opportunities to create new meanings (2005). Anthropologists have always been concerned with the interaction of what we are capable of; the environment which facilitates and constrains what we do, and our culture which through its tools, social arrangements, and beliefs serves as a buffer between us and the environment. (2005).

In addition, the development of a particular architectural style and the selection of a special material from among an indefinite number of possible styles and materials in the surroundings are what characterize a given culture (1939). To behavioral archeologists, material culture is the best source of cross-cultural data because it most clearly represents the intellectual achievement of any given society. The boundary of a behavior does not lie at the edge of the moving organism but extends beyond it to include the materials involved in activities (Walker et. al., 1995).

Functional Study

The desire to enhance one’s personal appearance is a phenomenon as old as the world. Ramon Villegas noted some properties to mark the distinction of an adornment; he looked at beauty, labor, durability, the skill, rarity, symbolism and the significance of a particular adornment (1997).

Symbolism and significance are the most cultural or laden with meaning, sigkil for this matter is of no exemption, a status symbol and on the side an animal/insect thrower, though according to the old Manobo folks the sigkil was not really made as an adornment to drive away evil spirit, some though believe that it has magical powers that protect wearers from mischief and diseases.

As a wearer myself of commercially accessible stones and crystals, I also assume benefits and believe that these materials have amuletic properties and energies that heal diseases [natural and psychological] and drive badluck away, but my further inquiry lead me to knowing that these three metals [brass, iron, copper] which Manobos usually fashioned to make personal adornments offered also medicinal benefits, considered helpful to cure arthritis, heart and liver conditions, this assertion made by Tibetan Medical System somehow has apparent effect in the physicality of the Manobos base on their experience and narratives.

As with so many art forms, there is a demonstrably close connection between primitive body ornamentation and magicoreligious beliefs. Many primitive ornaments are actually talismans and charms designed to ward away evil forces and attract beneficial spirits to the aid of the wearer. However, with the development of social stratification, body adornments may also come to reflect status, dramatically indicating the rank or wealth of the wearer. (Pearson, 1974). It’s pretty obvious though that sigkil was designed to give justice to this claim.

Although the first body ornaments were magicoreligous or status symbols, it could not have been long before man’s aesthetic susceptibilities converted them also into art objects, reflecting the artists’ skills. Rare and prized objects in particular are likely to attract the art workers’ attention following the emergence of societies sufficiently prosperous to support full-time professional craftsmen and artists (1974). Despite the fact that I haven’t came to meet any of the blacksmith’s who had knowledge in making sigkil, this object somehow depicted the prowess of the artist.

In a sense, lumping all these up, artifacts have certain ‘humility’ in that they are reticent about revealing their power to determine what is socially conceivable. Curiously, it is precisely, their physicality which makes them at once so concrete and evident, but at the same time causes them to be assimilated into unconscious and unquestioned knowledge.

Artifacts are manufactured objects which may reveal in their form the technology used, but may equally seek to hide it. Items such as craft products maybe conspicuously hand-made to highlight the contrast with industrial goods, alternatively, the stoneworker may seek to emulate the prestige of the blacksmith by using techniques which are inefficient when applied to stone but create a similar style, which in that particular context underwrites status. Again, the instrumental function of an object may be exploited symbolically, or buried under decorative ornament. The vast symbolic potential to be drawn from exploiting the attributes of things is limited only by the ingenuity of a particular social group (1994).


Gender, Identity and Material Culture

The body is a popular site for investigating social practices and for rethinking gender constraints. Other than looking at the functionality and structure of this material, this paper will also examine the relationship between person and things, particularly the product these natives create which they assign meanings and in turn influence their lives and as Janet Hoskins inscribed it, how these things tell stories about their lives (1998). Sigkil in the same manner can also be studied how it can mediate a Manobo woman who put it on, and how this object can be a vehicle to define personal identity and sexual identity (1998).

Personally, I’m not really an ornament buff, nearly all of my collection are hand-me-down items from my mother and my mother-in-law, I even started using fashion jewelry [necklaces, bracelets, etc.] already late that is when I started working in my early 20’s. My intent of using was purely of ‘personal choice’, other than me not looking so bare in my workplace, to me using body ornaments is ‘just for kicks’. Doing this project made me realized that if I look at this area of my life as ‘just for kicks’, and put not much of a meaning in any ornament I adorn my body, others may look at it otherwise.

One of the persons I came across in the course of this project was Diona Banog. The travel to her house in Sitio Dano, in Barrio Keytodac was also dusty and bumpy, she lived at the side of a hill, with her granddaughter and great grandson, in a small cogon-roofed hut, she was recommended to me by other old Manobos I met in the area, for she, for the longest time has been keeping set of traditional Manobo ornaments. She received me quite well in her humble house, but it was time for her to go to her farm, so I have to walk with her. On the way, I noticed her wrist sigkil [bracelet] already too small for her wrist it even left a mark on her skin when she twisted it. I asked her if she tried removing the bracelet from her arm. And here’s how our conversation went;

Diona : (looking sadly, holding her wrist) I used to have 34 bracelets, they [sigkil] were up to my elbow, but now only 3 were left.
VL : So where are they [sigkil] now?
Diona: (Sigh) I sold some to buy rice and food, some I gave to relatives who are dear to me.
VL : So, why is the one left already too tight? When did you have that?
Diona : (Smiling) I had this when I was still a small [disok] girl, I did not remove this ever since. My father used to tell me, I should always wear this, so I’ll always look attractive [mafi-un] to other men.
VL : Aren’t you attractive without bracelets? Why?
Diona : (already laughing) Because, the more you have body ornaments, the more you are attractive and more men will like you, and my parents can choose the richest among those men so they can ask the most expensive dowry (tamok). I even have ankle sigkils then, but I took them off, and I cannot remember anymore where they are now, they were lost [natalas] one by one.
VL : Why did you take them off?
Diona : I don’t think it’s necessary to wear them, you see the road is wide; you can immediately see what’s ahead of you, besides I’m too old to attract men. (Laughing).

What transpired during our conversation made me consider what Ruth Barnes & Joanne Eicher put together that through decorative ornamentation, a cultural identity is thus expressed, and visual communication is established before verbal interaction even transmits whether such a verbal exchange is possible or desirable (1992).

As a means also of visual communication, the body is not merely a natural object, but is socially and historically constituted. Culture is the interpretant of body symbolism. Since the signs of self, the details of visual appearance, are historical and social constructions (Bourdieu, 1977), the body should be viewed as a cultural “moment” rather than as the embodiment of personality and character (Finkelstein, 1991). Meanings of the time affect self-presentation (Douglas, 1970). “Rather, our reading of the body is subject to the influences of circumstances; thus the body itself is a contingency which can be made aesthetic or fashioned in accord with prevailing customs” (1991). Our conversation went on and I continued asking her;

VL : Did you ever think not to wear the sigkils when you were younger?
Diona : No, because all of my contemporaries wear them [sigkil], and we should follow our father, besides, it’s our culture; it did not come to my mind during that time to go against the will of my father.

Diona’s statement has corroborated the claim of Linda Singer, that over the past decades, feminist studies have repeatedly revealed the way in which women’s bodies serve as a site of masculine control. “Given women’s subordinate position within a patriarchal social order, discipline has always been a technique used to marshall women’s energies and bodies in pursuit of utilities not of their own making (1993). The way women’s bodies are socially-constructed has helped perfect social control strategies for all bodies.

If the Manobos give much importance to their women, it is because they nurse for their youngs, they help in the farm, but above all it is for the reason that through their women the family can get much when their women marry. In spite of the fact that Manobos are one of the poorest tribal groups in the country (Kerr 1988 as cited in Casiňo 2000), parents of the bride still demand expensive bridewealth (tamok). My analysis is that, by way of letting their women wear the sigkils, they are consequently protecting their women from harassment and aggravation, [that if the function of the material is fully exploited], that will somehow depreciate the value of their women, in turn receive a lower amount, or its animal equivalent, or dowry [tamok].

The material world that surrounds us is one in which we use our living bodies to give substance to the social distinctions and differences that underpin social relations, symbolic systems, forms of labor and quotidian intimacies. Even the world is divided into gender specific domains and spaces, and into gender specific tasks, and both domains and tasks are associated with particular material items (Moore, 1994).

The relationship between gender and material culture remains unproblematic as Moore writes it, because the material world somehow reflects the appropriate cultural ideas about gender, and also demonstrates in a concrete and practical way the nature of relations between sexes (1994).

Pierre Bourdieu as cited in Moore (1994) conveyed that praxis is not simply about learning cultural rules by rote; it is about coming to an understanding of social distinctions through your body, and recognizing that your orientation in the world, your intellectual rationalizations, will always be based on that incorporated knowledge. Bourdieu’s work contains a method for understanding the pervasive power of symbols and of the social distinctions on which they are based because he reminds us that whether we are actors or analysts we know that symbols are powerful because they do something to our bodies.


Why sigkil tradition is feared to be passed by time?

According to Naylor, the natural environment serves as a major source of change – produces constant pressure for change in a number of significant ways; climatic change, catastrophic events…etc. and in the case of the Manobos in Salumping, alteration of their learned ways due to development-induced displacement which slowly depletes their economic resource, development of roads that change their routes, and the wide-ranging, which touches all spheres of life, consequence of modernization. Such dramatic events in the environment require humans to alter some of their learned ways, ideas, behaviors …. This produces the basis for a voluntary acceptance of change (1996) to these Manobos.

I would like to cite some factors which made major contributions as to why this sigkil practice is now feared to vanish. What I noticed so frequently mentioned among my informants in the pattern of their narratives was the word ‘road,’ it made me wonder why they kept citing up the ‘road’ every time I ask them about sigkil, or maybe the ‘road’ has some attachment to sigkil.

As early as 1950’s, (Casino, 2000) pilot roads were already being constructed in the peripheries of Sultan Kudarat province by the early operators of logging concessionaires, it even intensified when M & S Logging Company went full blast in the implementation of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) in the early 80’s. The road connecting Kulaman-Lebak-Kalamansig towns cut through the IFMA plantation, any private or government vehicles who would pass through should secure a conduct pass from the plantation office.

Public land transportation during the 80’s passing this route was a ‘once in a blue moon’ thing until in 2000 seeing the potential of the area to draw capital, Tacurong Express Bus Company, over-sized jeepneys, motorcycles ventured into this route, the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat in cooperation of course with M & S Company had somehow put some attention in grading the road, [but maintenance is very poor] and the loosening of IFMA policy about vehicles coming to and fro pave the way for the intensification of trade and commerce in the vicinity. Along with the IFMA implementation was also the setting up of primary schools sponsored by M & S where other Manobo settled after the displacement.

But long before these busses, over-sized jeepneys and motorcycles came dusting the side roads, Manobos and other tribal groups used to just walk along trails, doing some short cuts of their routes to reach the barrio to sell their produce and buy in return what they need, and this is where the sigkils have been useful to them, seeing its function to disperse harmful animals along the way when hearing the tingly sound. Another area I am looking at is the vanishing of the forest, the M & S IFMA is not bad after all if looked at in this particular lens, because the only densely forested part when you take this route was the IFMA covered area, the next 5-hour travel from Sitio Dapulan, which the IFMA ended up to Lebak town will be a disappointing scene, as mountains if not burned, were abandoned ‘kaingin’ (slash and burn) farms.

Recognizably though, much of modernization has gotten into the consciousness of Manobos in the area as they are now cognizant of what’s around them, especially education, my informant Iyok Kapitan sent all his children to school, and so with other Manobos like the grand daughter of Diona Banog, the grandsons of Ambay Apang and many others. They come to realize that reading and writing is important for this new generation to help them later in life. I remember what Iyok said, “time now is so different from before, we should keep up, you’ll be sorry if you don’t know how to read and write, even our fellow Manobo who had gone to school will come back and cheat us.”

With this development, Manobo children are now studying in the barrio, but felt embarrassment when teased by their schoolmates seeing them wearing the sigkils. They would rather forget about the sigkils, than listen to the humiliations they receive from their Christian classmates, and rather buy commercially manufactured [Korean-Chinese trinkets which has been a fad everywhere, that even to the remotest place had somehow find its way] fashion accessories.

After my conversation with Diona Banog, my informant in Sitio Dano, we went down of the hill to wait for empty ‘skylab’ at the side of the road. It was so timely, there were other young female Manobos waiting also for empty ‘skylab’, I ask them about sigkil, but the their answers were all the same, they felt awkward wearing them, one Manobo young man even interrupted, “di na uso na karon” (it’s not a trend anymore now), my attention went to him, asking him back, why? He replied saying, “it’s just a disturb, no young Manobo man now will marry young Manobo women with sigkils on, if she will just keep it at least, then, maybe it can be negotiated.” I was supposed to take the first motorcycle that came, but I offered the chance to them, being bowled over by the turn of the story.

As it was already getting dark, Raquel, my buddy told me to walk until the next sitio, as there were waiting motorcycles to transport us back to Keytodac, we happen to walk along with Melod Tanjay, a Christian primary school teacher who has been teaching Manobo children in Sitio Dano for quite sometime, along the way I opened my purpose to her why I was there? hearing what I wanted to know, she confidently said …… “It’s hard to see young Manobo women with sigkils now, only their elders are wearing them, I remember that old Manobo woman at the other side of the hill, she had a lot of sigkils, she even had tattoos, but when she died her relatives did not remove the sigkils from her legs, they bury her with the sigkils on.” I furthered asking, can you remember how many old Manobo women already have died with sigkils in this area? ……..“A lot, I cannot count them anymore” was her reply.

Thinking of what Melod Tanjay had said, should all of these elder Manobo women would die and not removing these sigkils to bequeath to the next generation of their family, and having a young breed of Manobo women who are not willing at least, but because they felt embarrassed wearing them, it is safe to assume that eventually, this tradition would really pass away.

Another factor seen is the intermarriages between Manobo and Christians, their everyday negotiation would entail some forgoes, and at the most Manobo women discount wearing sigkil as her way of espousing to Christian tradition.

In a conversation with Venancio Apang, a Manobo resident of Sitio Dano, and now working as a Community Organizer of PAFID based in Davao …. He looked at economic facet as one major factor of the vanishing tradition. In the early days, Manobos used to have abundant harvest due to fertile land, used to hunt a lot, due to thick forest, used to exercise rituals to reaffirm their beliefs as everyone is within reach in the community, used to hold merrymaking to celebrate abundance, and women used to wear sigkil to show off affluence so the community be reminded of her assigned position during these events.

Today, only abundance of memories left of their bountiful harvests, only spears in their hearts left of their displacement from their land, gone were the days where they reaffirm their tradition together as a community, others have moved so far away, hurting as it maybe, their children now had ridden the bandwagon of modernization and had somehow, if not completely forgotten this [sigkil] tradition.

Yet, despite displacement from their hallowed land, despite reaffirming their beliefs only in their hearts and despite their slow passage to “the other side” of the society, these Manobos manage to live as dignified human beings, living in a working cultural environment, theirs is a tribal society which despite years of pressures from economic and political struggles of claiming their ancestral land which until today elusive of them, these people are held together by traditions [other than sigkil] distinctively theirs that help preserve their integrity and peculiarity.

IX. Conclusion

On representing culture through things

I stand on the notion that museums offer both social and economic significance. Their economic importance derives principally from their role as an attraction for tourism, which across the world is a driver of economic growth (Keene 2000) they serve economic purposes in other ways too: through the goods and services they purchase and through the high standards they set for design and construction. They also provide a market for creative industries such as arts and crafts as part of their exhibitions and displays and also through adding to their collections, and they may also provide, in some instances, a marketplace for creative arts through their retail activities.

Socially, museums also serve significant purposes; they are an expression of community and civic pride (2002). Museums also provide education and learning, help people who feel excluded from society develop a sense of self worth and pride, they can play a part in preserving and nourishing the continuance of local memories and knowledge, and most importantly, they provide entertainment and enjoyment.

But, other than these obvious reasons, museums also face controversies that until today, still a struggle to be won. Most often, Curators/Conservators are very good at collecting objects, treating objects for further decay, aesthetic display which will bring about impact to its audience, but less inclined or spent little time in analyzing the contexts of the objects. The idea that it is impossible though to represent the culture adequately through such a constrained part [objects] of a particular culture, at least the researcher [or myself for this matter] should do [or has done] as utterly as possible.

While I’m aware of the politics of representation, I take this aspect as an area where we could at least exercise the diversity of our creativity in interpreting culture with objectivity, for the researcher – the power to exercise subjectivity of construction of anthropological knowledge, and our ability to present a particular culture in any varied audiences and in any varied medium [exhibitions, multimedia, digital media, etc.] with dignity, respect and outmost impartiality and sensitivity.

I situate myself to argue that objects in museums portray only part of the history or context of a particular culture, thus, it is important to involve the people in the community where the object came from in interpreting the context of the material, that even if it is only a window of a particular culture, somehow it would provide a detached avenue to understand the workings of the true characteristic of the culture.

I would also propose that other than the minimal label attached to cased objects; the context should be supplied in educational materials [leaflets, booklets …. Etc.], thus when the audience leave the exhibit area or the museum, they can go over the whole story, and not just dwell on the short description, which will provide them information beyond the physical object itself and understand better the culture which the object represents.

On Photography in Anthropology

Clifford Geertz in his Interpretation of Cultures outlined culture as one that can be understood objectively by studying the public symbols which members of society use to communicate worldview and values (1973). Thus, if culture can be understood and evident in its symbols – and is rooted in culture’s gestures – seen through its rituals, ceremonies, dances, art, costumes and even the materials that they produce, then maybe the researcher can employ film technology to capture such symbols. And so, visual anthropology logically advance to provide avenue to validate this area.

As there were countless success stories of anthropologists employing photographic film in their works, there are also issues raised by the likes of Jay Ruby akin to visual anthropology that it has never been completely incorporated into the mainstream of anthropology as it is trivialized by some anthropologists as being mainly concerned with audiovisual aids for teaching, — because the anthropological establishment has yet to acknowledge the centrality of the mass media in the formation of cultural identity.

However, I support the position of David MacDougall that in the absence of the person, it strengthened that importance of the visual, which through photographs, films and museums artifacts began to replace it. But the problem remained that there was something disquieting about visual images. They appeared to show everything, and yet, like the physical body, remained annoying mute (1997), as a result, interpretation is the strategy to address this concern. My stance towards usual anthropology is that, it’s a word-powered discipline, and with the advent of visuals it has paved the way for reflexivity, that it might provide an alternative way of perceiving culture-perception constructed through lens.


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