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Mount Makiling, a bundok (mountain) dambana, home to Maria Makiling, the anito sent by Bathala to aid mankind in the area. The site has been declared an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2013.
The rock wall where the Angono Petroglyphs can be found. The site is considered as a dambana due to the presence of ancient figures drawn on the rock walls for healing purposes. It was rediscovered only in 1965.
Mount Banahaw, a bundok (mountain) dambana home to good anitos. The dambana is unique as right beside it is Mount Cristobal, a bundok dambana for irate supernatural beings.
A sacred symbol of Bathala, depicting him in the middle with an anito guardian underneath him and a tigmamanukan omen bird behind him. The non-traditional image is influenced by modernity as the tigmamanukan is wrongfully portrayed as a sarimanok from Mindanao.
A modern larauan statue of Makiling, an anito sent by Bathala to Mount Makiling. The Spanish added "Maria" in her name to rebrand her as "Catholic".
The Philippine fairy-bluebird, the species associated as Bathala's tigmamanukan omen bird
Mount Macolod, a bundok dambana in Batangas, near Lake Taal, a lawa dambana

The dambana, in modern times, may refer to shrines of indigenous religions in the Philippines (mainly Tagalog areas), altar of Philippine churches, or monuments erected to remember Philippine history. However, before the introduction of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines, the dambana (Old Tagalog: lambana)[1] was used as the main term for a sacred place (banal na pook), which is a home to a single deity, various deities (gods and goddesses), ancestor spirits, and beings aside from ancestor spirits and deities. Additionally, these dambanas were also traditionally called as simbahan, however, the latter's meaning was fully transformed by the Spanish in the 16th century until it only referred to 'Catholic church' by the 17th century.[2] In traditional dambana beliefs, all deities, beings sent by Bathala, and ancestor spirits are collectively called anitos. Supernatural non-anito beings are called lamang-lupa (beings of the land) or lamang-dagat (beings of the sea or other water bodies). The dambana is usually taken cared of by the katalonan, the indigenous spiritual leader of the barangay (community), and to some extent, the datu (barangay political leader) and the lakan (barangay coalition political leader) as well. Initially unadorned and revered minimally,[3] damabanas later on were filled with adornments centering on religious practices towards larauan statues due to trade and religious influences from various independent and vassal states.[4] It is adorned with statues home to anitos traditionally-called larauan, statues reserved for future burial practices modernly-called likha, scrolls or documents with suyat baybayin calligraphy,[5] and other objects sacred to dambana practices such as lambanog (distilled coconut wine), tuba (undistilled coconut wine), bulaklak or flowers (like sampaguita, santan, gumamela, tayabak, and native orchids), palay (unhusked rice), bigas (husked rice), shells, pearls, jewels, beads, native crafts such as banga (pottery),[6] native swords and bladed weapons (such as kampilan, dahong palay, bolo, and panabas), bodily accessories (like singsing or rings, kwintas or necklaces, and hikaw or earrings), war shields (such as kalasag), enchanted masks,[7] battle weapons used in pananandata or kali, charms called agimat or anting-anting,[8] curse deflectors such as buntot pagi, native garments and embroideries, food, and gold in the form of adornments (gold belts, necklace, wrist rings, and feet rings) and barter money (piloncitos and gold rings).[9][10] Animal statues, notably native dogs, guard a dambana structure along with engravings and calligraphy portraying protections and the anitos.[11][12]

Man-made (Built) Dambanas[edit]

The dambana can be a sacred structure built with different materials, depending on the locality, but the usual dambana structure is made from indigenous wood with nipa roofs. No metal nails are used in its construction. The wood pieces are shaped in a way that each block would stick tightly to each other. At the same time, the wood bonds are strengthened by rattan strips. Majority of these man-made dambana structures (along with the materials assigned to dambana traditions such as statues home to anitos called larauan, statues reserved for burial practices in the future called likha, and documents with baybayin writings and calligraphy)[13] were unfortunately destroyed[14] by the Spanish in the 16th century, while transforming the land where the dambana structures were built upon into Catholic cemeteries or locations for Roman Catholic churches. The Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas of 1582 recorded the existence of ancient sacred structures that contained "one hundred or two hundred [idol statues]", which the Spanish all burned down and destroyed. These idols were the likha statues of departed loved ones, which the natives used to contact the spirits of their deceased ancestor or friend and the deities.[15] Additionally, Amoroso and Abinales (2005) wrote that the Spaniards also ordered native children by force to 'defecate' on the native people's idol statues, in a bid to further mock the natives and their indigenous religion.[16] The purge against dambana structures and all things related to indigenous religion was continued by the Spanish until the 19th century to destroy Anitism or the indigenous religion of the Tagalog people, leaving no dambana structures left throughout areas subjugated by the Spanish Crown.[17] H. Otley Beyer wrote in 1921 regarding the Spanish assault on indigenous religion, "It cannot be said that such [writings, etcetera] did not exist, since the early Filipinos [including Tagalogs] were even more literate than the Mexicans; they used syllabaries of Indian origin. One Spanish priest in southern Luzon boasted of having destroyed more than three hundred scrolls written in the native character." In present time, of the thousands of presumed likha and larauan statues, only two likha statues survived Spanish hostility. Both statues, made of coral stone, are housed in the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. Majority of statues destroyed during the Spanish era were presumably made from wood and packed grass.[18]

Natural and non-house Dambanas[edit]

In addition, not all dambanas are house structures. Some dambanas may be traditional non-Western cemeteries (libingan), ancient ruins or old places (sinaunang pook), rivers (ilog), mountains (bundok), mounds (burol), seas (karagatan), caves (yungib), lakes (lawa), forests (gubat) giant trees (malalaking puno) such as balete (one of the three most sacred trees for the Tagalogs, the other two being kawayan or bamboo and buko or coconut tree), and other places known to the natural and spiritual world, except for swamps, which are called buhay na tubig (living waters)[19] and are considered as sacred but dangerous to the Tagalog people in pre-colonial times due to the presence of life-threatening supernatural beings. The presence of these natural dambanas is one of the primary reasons why indigenous belief systems continued to exist despite the Spanish-imposed all-out destruction of dambana structures. The ethnic group that is usually associated with the dambana are the Tagalog people, although the majority of the Tagalogs have been converted into Christianity through forced religious Spanish rule between the 16th to 19th centuries. Due to this, majority of the indigenous Tagalog dambana practices have been lost, fragmented severely, or absorbed into Christian practices, such as the case in pilgrim devotion practices in Mount Makiling, which has Catholic and indigenous Tagalog practices involved. The unaltered dambana practices of the Tagalog people are similar to shrine practices in Asia, such as the shrine practices in Japan, Bali, and India.[20]


Dambana practices are performed through various means such as thanksgiving, wish prayers, or even memorializing an event. All deities, beings sent by Bathala, and ancestral spirits are collectively called anito. The deity who is most invoked in dambana practices is Bathala, the supreme god of the Tagalog people who controls non-deity anitos and the tigmamanukan omens. Bathala is among the five primordial deities in the Tagalog pantheon.[21] It is believed that he lives in an abode called Kaluwalhatian[22] with other deities such as Amanikable, god of hunters and turbulent waters,[23] Idiyanale, goddess of labor,[24] Dimangan—the god of good harvests, Lakapati—the goddess of fertility,[25] Ikapati—goddess of cultivated fields,[26] Mapulon—the god of seasons, Mayari- the goddess of the moon,[27] Tala—goddess of the stars, Hanan—the goddess of morning, Dumakulem—the god of mountains, Anitun Tabu—the goddess of wind and rain, Anagolay—the goddess of lost things, Apolaki—the god of the sun,[28] and Diyan Masalanta—the goddess of love. Minor deities who live in Kaluwalhatian include Liwayway—a dawn goddess, Tag-ani—a harvest goddess, Kidlat—a lightning god, and Hangin—a wind god.[29] The abode Kaluwalhatian, however, is not to be associated as a place where ancestral spirits go to. The place where good ancestral spirits go to is located below the earth and is called Maca, while the place where evil ancestral spirits go to is called Kasamaan (or Kasanaan),[30] which is also below the earth. Unlike Kasanaan, which is a 'village of grief and affliction', Maca is peaceful and filled with the joyous bounties good ancestral spirits deserve in the afterlife. Maca is ruled jointly by Bathala, who has the prowess to summon and order spirits from Maca (and Kasamaan) if he pleases, and Sitan while Kasamaan is ruled solely by a deity named Sitan, keeper of all souls and master of four evil deities, namely, Manggagaway, causer of diseases, Manisilat, destroyer of families, Mangkukulam, causer of fires, and Hukluban, causer of deaths.[31][32][33]

Deities living with humans, and not in Kaluwalhatian, Maca, or Kasamaan are also known in the Tagalog pantheon of anitos. These deities include Aman Sinaya—the god of oceans and one of the five primordial deities, Amihan—the deity of peace and one of the five primordial deities, Sinaya—the god of inventors and fisherfolks, Haik—the god of calm waters, Lakambakod—the god of protections, Lakambini—the god of purity, food, and festivities, Lingga—the god of medicine, Bibit—the god of illness, Uwinan Sana—the god of grasslands and forests, Meylupa—the crow god of the earth, Silagan—the god of proper burial practices, Mananangal—the goddess of fright, Lakang Balingasay—the god of insects, Bighari—the goddess of rainbows,[34] and Mankukutod—the god of the coconut and direct descendant of the ashes of Ulilang Kaluluwa and Galang Kaluluwa, two of the five primordial deities.[35][36]

Anitos sent by Bathala to aid mankind, aside from the deities, are also called as anitos. These include Makiling, anito of Mount Makiling, and other community-based anitos. Ancestral spirits are also referred as anitos. These ancestral spirit anitos can be called upon by his or her descendants, relatives, friends, or stern followers in aid of a task. However, the approval of Bathala is needed first so that the ancestral spirit may be allowed to leave Maca and aid a person through dreams or apparitions. Popular ancestral spirits that are called upon are katalonans, datus, lakans, expert craftsmen, and brave warriors who have passed away and are believed to have journeyed to Maca successfully.[37][38]

The highest beings in Anitism are always the primordial deities, which is led by Bathala. Of these five primordial deities, only Bathala, Amihan, and Aman Sinaya are living deities. The other two, Ulilang Kaluluwa and Galang Kaluluwa, have turned into ashes during the first centuries of the cosmic creation. The next in rank are the deity anitos, whether they live in Kaluwalhatian, Kasamaan, or in the middle world.[39] The third in rank are the anitos sent by Bathala to aid mankind. These anitos usually serve specific communities, and seldom spread their influence from their domain, such as the case of the anito, Makiling. Like mankind, these anitos are sometimes prone to misdeeds but are generally good.[40] The fourth in rank are mankind's anito ancestral spirits (known as kaluluwa,[41] the second and last form of the soul). The last rank includes tao (mankind) which houses the kakambal[42] (literally twin; the first form of soul known as the living soul who wanders when the body is asleep), mga hayop (animals, including dogs which are blessed by the deities to guide and become allies with mankind, tigmamanukans which are the messengers of Bathala, and crocodiles which are guardians of sacred swamps and believed to be psychopomps[43], forming the three most sacred animals), halaman at puno (plants and trees, including the three most sacred, namely, coconut palms which are the first vegetation, balete trees which are home to the supernaturals, and bamboos which is where mankind sprang from), lamang lupa (supernatural beings of the land), and lamang dagat (supernatural beings of the waters).[44][45][46]

A 2018 archaeological research found that Tagalog dogs were indeed held in high regard prior to colonization and were treated as equals, backing the oral knowledge stating that dogs are beings blessed by the deities. Dogs were buried, never as sacrificial offerings or when a master dies, but always "individually", having their own right to proper burial practices. A burial site in Santa Ana, Manila exhibited a dog which was first buried, and after a few years, the dog's human child companion who died was buried above the dog's burial, exemplifying the human prestige given to dogs in ancient Tagalog beliefs.[47][48]

The belief in trinity deities from Asian cultures is also found in the Tagalog religion. But unlike other religions, where the membership of the trinity of deities is retained from the beginning up to the end, the Tagalog trinity deities have made numerous changes in composition. The first trinity was composed of Bathala, Ulilang Kaluluwa, and Galang Kaluluwa. Ulilang Kaluluwa was later on killed by Bathala, while Galang Kaluluwa died from an illness. The second trinity comprised Bathala, Aman Sinaya, and Amihan. Aman Sinaya later on chose to dwell underneath the ocean while Amihan chose to travel the middleworld. The third trinity comprised Bathala, Lakapati, and Meylupa. Meylupa later on chose to become a hermit. The fourth trinity comprised Bathala, Lakapati, and Sitan. Bathala later on died (or went into a deep slumber according to other sources), while Lakapati continued to live as a major fertility deity. The final trinity comprised Mayari, Apolaki, and Sitan.[49] The number three is especially sacred to Anitism due to the trinity of deities. When Bathala and Ulilang Kaluluwa battled during the cosmic creation, the war lasted for three days and three nights. Additionally, Bathala had three divine daughters (Mayari, Tala, and Hanan) from a mortal women, and there are three divine abodes, namely, Maca, Kasamaan, and Kaluwalhatian. Also, there are three sacred faunas (dog, crocodile, tigmamanukan) and three sacred floras (coconut palm, bamboo, and balete tree).[50]

Notable Dambanas[edit]

Most of the remaining dambanas are natural, and not man-made, as majority of the man-made dambanas were completely destroyed by the Spanish during a 300-year Catholic-colonial period from the 16th century to the 19th century. However, remnants of man-made dambanas have been rediscovered since the middle of the 20th century, such as the Angono Petroglyphs in Rizal which was rediscovered in 1965 and the Limestone tombs of Kamhantik in Quezon province which was rediscovered in 2011. Other archaeological sites with traditional religious artifacts have been rediscovered in Calatagan, Batangas, Santa Ana, Manila, Bulacan,[51] Marinduque,[52] Cavite, and Laguna.[53] Prominent natural dambanas include Mount Makiling, Mount San Cristobal, Mount Banahaw, Laguna de Bay, Taal Volcano and lake, the Seven Lakes of San Pablo, the southern chain of the Sierra Madre mountains, the Bathala caves of Marinduque, the Lobo mountain chain, and various falls, rivers, and bays in the southern Tagalog region and certain areas in central Luzon.[54][55] Additionally, traditional Tagalogs also believe in a reappearing dambana called Mount Batala, which is Bathala's most sacred mountain and is filled with tigmamanukan omen birds. However, Bathala is said to disallow ordinary mortals from entering the realm.[56] Additionally, some tigmamanukan omen birds living within the realm are colored 'yellow', and considered extremely sacred.[57]

Restoration of Anitism[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, which is primarily governed by the Vatican, and other Christian churches are against the revitalization of Anitism since the 16th century as they view the indigenous Tagalog religion as 'less than European religions'. However, in recent years, a number of Tagalog people have reverted to Anitism, or the indigenous religion of pre-colonial Tagalogs, from colonially-imposed Roman Catholicism or other Christian religions.[58] Today's practices are notably influenced by modernity, same as all religions in the world, due to an array of inevitable religious dynamisms.[59] Although no expansive dambana structures have been built, natural dambanas such as Mount Makiling and Mount Banahaw are thoroughly used to preserve the ancient religion. There is no specific area in a room where the sacred larauan[60] was placed on during the classical era,[61] but in modern practices, the eastern areas within the house of Anitism adherents are used as dambanas through an altar form, while prayers are offered to Bathala and other Tagalog deities and anitos. One of the primary reasons for this is the influence from other Asian religions and the belief that the east represents a new morning or age (personified by Hanan), the sun (personified by Apolaki), and the moon (personified by Mayari), thus personifying Bathala, ruler of everything. Traditionally, the larauan and likha[62] statues placed on the dambana altar inside a house dambana or outside within a natural dambana are 4 to 12 inches tall, 2 to 8 inches wide, and are made of coral stone, limestone, volcanic stone, clay, packed nipa, packed cogon, or hardwood.[63][64] The larauan statues are always larger than the likha statues. Due to modern influences, some larauan statues have also been made in human sizes.[65][66][67][68]


Mayon, a volcano said to be the home of Gugurang, the god of fire for the Bicolano people

Many ethnic groups throughout the Philippines have similar indigenous places of worship. Notable ethnic groups are the Bicolano people, who worship at least 18 unique gods and goddesses, along with various community anitos, the Visayan people, who worship more than 30 gods and goddesses, the T'boli people who worship more than 20 deities, the Ilokano people who worship 6, and many other ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has their own form of dambana or indigenous shrine. Majority have a shared 'mountain worship' culture.[69][circular reference][70][71][72][73][74]

See also[edit]


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