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Jesus is born into a Manobo tribe

January 05,2015 - 08:02 AM

by Fr. Emy Maningo
Redemptorist Missionary

 

In last year’s Misa de Gallo, I was assigned by the Redemptorist Missions to a Manobo tribe in barangay Nuing, Sarangani Province, South Cotabato.

I visited two chapels way up in the mountains where the temperature was 23 degrees Celsius.

The Catholics all belong to the Manobo Tribe; no Bisaya.

For the first time they had a priest to celebrate Misa de Gallo with them.

Since none of them could go down to our Mission Center in barangay Nuing for the Christmas Mass,  I decided to celebrate Misa de Gallo as also a Christmas Day Mass.

 

Expected to serve
I was faced with the question, “How should we celebrate the Christmas liturgy so that the Manobo tribe would really experience Jesus as born  among them?”

In Spain, Jesus is born as a white Spaniard.  In Africa, Jesus is born as a black African.  In China, Jesus is born as a chinky-eyed Chinese baby and so on.

I started by asking the Manobo Tribe what happens when a Manobo child is born. Then we incorporated the Manobo birthing process in the Christmas liturgy.

When a Manobo child is born, its umbilical cord is put into an empty coconut shell.

A coconut tree provides food, drink, roof, etc.  So this meant that the Manobo child is expected to serve the community in many ways.

 

Hammock
“Bingo!”  I said to myself.  Jesus declared, “I came to serve, not to be served.”

He served the sick, the hungry, the condemned adulteress, and  many others.

So, we celebrated the birth of Jesus as a Manobo by putting an umbilical cord into an empty coconut shell, as the umbilical cord of Jesus.

This was offered on the altar at the offertory procession.

As soon as a Manobo baby is ready, it is put into a “buwa,” the Manobo word for hammock or “duyan.”

 

Narrative
The Visayan term for  “duyan” is rocked horizontally or laterally.  The Manobo “buwa” is rocked vertically.

It is made of a “malong” or any large piece of cloth, hung from a bamboo pole that is split and shaped like a curved under-chassis spring of a car. It springs up and down when pulled up and down.

So, we dramatized the reading of the Gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus.

When St. Luke said, “And they put Him into a manger,” we changed that to “And they put Him into a ‘buwa,’ ”

Mary and Joseph (the parents of a live baby) were dressed as Manobo parents.

 

New Life
They started singing a traditional Manobo lullaby that simply goes, “Iya, iya, iya….” sung to a simple melody while the live baby Jesus was  rocked up and down.

All the people in the chapel joined the parents in singing the wordless lullaby.  Then, an old person put words.

The coconut shell where the umbilical cord is placed will be buried at the east side of the house where the baby was born.

The umbilical cord would be buried right under the spot where the rain from the roof would fall.

The baby’s umbilical cord is buried at the east side of the house, to signify a new day, a new life.  Jesus was born in the East, as the light in the world of darkness.

 

Part of the earth
That is why the Misa de Gallo starts while it is still dark and finished when the first light of dawn emerges from the east.

The Manobos also explained to me that the rain that falls on the buried umbilical cord would cool the head of the Manobo child.

He would grow up cool-headed.

At the end of the Mass, we went in silence and in solemn procession to the eastern side of the chapel, the House of God among the Manobo Tribe.  We buried the umbilical cord of Jesus in the ground.

He is now part of the earth, the farms, the world of the tribe.  The people told me that they would cover the spot with a slab of cement, and fence it; it is now holy ground.

Jesus is, in fact, born among them as a fellow Manobo. I could see many of them with tears of happiness.

Jesus, whose umbilical cord is buried in their land, will continue to provide them with corn, copra, vegetables, balanghoy, and camote.

 

Concrete aspect
Then, we went back into the chapel for our noche buena (Christmas feast).

The  people made a round casava cake (“puto balanghoy”) as the birthday cake of Jesus with an ordinary candle (“espirma”) on top.

Everybody made a wish, and the Manobo parents of our live baby Jesus blew the candle. We all sang “Happy birthday”and enjoyed a birthday Manobo meal of  puto balanghoy, bodbod (sweet sticky rice), “camote,” and native coffee.

For us Visayans, how is Jesus born into our own hearts, families, or communities?

How is this empowering us to change some concrete aspect of our lives every time we celebrate Christmas?

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