Meet Ginaw Bilog, the Pride of Mindoro

Who is Ginaw Bilog?
Ginaw Bilog is a Hanunoo Mangyan poet from Mansalay, Oriental
Mindoro. He is considered as a master of the Ambahan poetry. This wisdom is his key to the understanding of the Mangyan soul. In 1993, he was given the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan award.

He grew up in such a cultural environment. Already steeped in the wisdom that the ambahan is a key to the understanding of the Mangyan soul, Ginaw took it upon himself to continually keep scores of ambahan poetry recorded, not only on bamboo tubes but on old, dog-eared notebooks passed on to him by friends.

Most treasured of his collection are those inherited from his father and grandfather, sources of inspiration and guidance for his creative endeavors.

The Ambahan Poets

As mentioned earlier, Ginaw had won an award because of his dedication to preserve the ambahan poetry. But in the first place, what is ambahan?

Ambahan is a poetic literary form composed of seven-syllable lines used to convey messages through metaphors and images. The ambahan is sung and its messages range from courtship, giving advice to the young, asking for a place to stay, saying goodbye to a dear friend and so on. Such an oral tradition is common place among indigenous cultural groups but the ambahan has remained in existence today chiefly because it is etched on bamboo tubes using ancient Southeast Asian, pre-colonial script called surat Mangyan. The ambahan is just one of those evidences that even before the arrival of the Spaniards, Filipinos already have a system of writing. One important thing to remember about the ambahan texts inscribed on bamboos is that they are left along forest trails to greet strangers or guide travelers. And Bilog, in essence, has been consistent with this aspect of ambahan tradition.


The GAMABA Awardee

In 1993, Ginaw Bilog received the ‘Manlilikha ng Bayan’ Award by the GAMABA or the National Living Treasure Awards. The term ‘Manlilikha ng Bayan’ refers to a (Filipino) citizen or group of citizens engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence.

When Bilog received his award in 1993, he was dressed in typical Mangyan garb of loincloth and a blue type of jacket, wearing as well an easy smile. This same image of him was seen at Luneta by students and other visitors at the Dayaw: Philippine Cultural Communities Arts Festival held at Rizal Park, Manila from December 3 to 9 in 2001. He was among the estimated 400 traditional artists, craftsmen, scholars, and cultural practitioners from 38 cultural communities, including the Aeta, Aklanon, Bagobo, Bicolano, Cebuano, Gaddang, Ilocano, Ivatan, Maguindanao, Tagalog, T’boli, and the Yakan brought together for the festival, freely interacting with visitors, showing them how engraving the “ambahan” onto the skin of bamboos was done.



On June 3, 2003, Ginaw died at the age of 50 because of a lingering illness. Before he died, he had established the School of Living Traditions (SLT). An SLT is one where a living master/culture bearer or culture specialist, in this case, Bilog, imparts to a group of young people (from the same ethno-linguistic community) the skills and techniques of doing a traditional art or craft. The establishment of the SLT is in response to the UNESCO declaration that there should be two approaches to the preservation of cultural heritage: one is to record it in a tangible form and conserve it in archives; the other is to preserve it in a living form by ensuring its transmission to the next generations. The SLT addresses the second approach.

The Filipinos are grateful to the Hanunoo Mangyan for having preserved a distinctive heritage form our ancient civilization that colonial rule had nearly succeeded in destroying. The nation is justifiably proud of Ginaw Bilog for vigorously promoting the elegantly poetic art of the surat Mangyan and the ambahan.





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