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Friday, February 1, 2013

Manobo Exotic Food: The Untold Story of Bibang (Varanus cumingi)





Living with the Manobos in  Sitio Inadan in San Miguel Surigao del Sur is an experience that I will treasure forever and a worthy story I am proud sharing to everyone. This is the moment in my life where I have encountered overwhelming  discoveries about cultural diversity and the true meaning of the word simplicity and  humility. I would say , working and living  in this part of Mindanao have totally altered my view in life upon experiencing first hand the difficulty of living conditions of our brothers in the mountainside.


Working in the mountains covered under the ancestral domain of the Manobos, I rely mostly on the survival strategies and advises of my local companions, from trail directions, avoiding traps, rerouting against unwanted encounters, knowing the mountain dwellers and most importantly, sourcing out for food and water.

There are just too many stories on things I have learned being with the locals  especially when it comes to food sourcing and  survival . One of which was with my very first unfortunate encounter with  an endemic yellow monitor lizard.

One time I had this troubling experience when we were caught under a heavy rain  somewhere in the middle of the forest of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur. We were all wet and tired walking for hours in the forest doing the usual routine to have my job done. We decide to take a rest and take refuge under the giant buttresses of century old trees.

Short with food supply my  assistants initiated to look for food around to stir our limited and usual  monotonous meal . I did not contest on their suggestion as I am tired as well of the usual treat for my stomach. So I rested for awhile underneath a huge Gubas tree and waited for their return. 

Lunch is ready Sir!

After an hour, one Manobo woke me up and asked me the kind of meat preparation I'd like for lunch, referring to either adobo or sugba  (roasted meat) .. I thought it was just some kind of a common wild bird or forest frogs that shall be served on  banana leaf. So I happily  replied- "Sugba!" 

When they revealed the source of meat from its cover, I was shocked to my dismay to see two lifeless yellow spotted lizards lying down on a dead Apitong trunk. It wasn't a happy first wild encounter with this unfortunate offering coming from my IP assistants. My emotion was struggling to burst out but I tried to maintain my composure as I knew by law that indigenous people have the right to silvi-cultural practices in their ancestral domain.

Foot prints of Bibang
Hunting for forest products that includes plants and animals have been part of Manobo’s culture and tradition. Forcefully changing their means of living is equivalent to dissolving their identity. 

I was simply amazed with their hunting skills that they were able to track down the elusive reptile through a set of footprints on mud we've seen along the muddy trail .

The reptile is a Mindanao endemic yellow monitor lizard (Varanus cumingi)  and is locally known as BIBANG .This lizard species survive the wild feeding carnivorously on dead frogs, chicken and other smaller animals.

I watched them skin and roast the poor reptile and served to me the meatiest part of the meal. Since saying no to their generosity is a form of disrespect, so took a bite on the poor cooked lizard . Though I was having a hard time swallowing the meat, i couldn't deny that the meat was way even better than an ordinary pork or chicken. 



After finishing our remarkable lunch I informed my assistants with firm conviction  that serving me this kind of meal would be the last. They were surprised with my request, as they thought that I was the usual lowland visitors that would always instruct and ask for something exotic from their land.  I told them that as much as possible I will protect such beauty and conserve it for the future generation. 


According to IUCN, Varanus cumingi  is endemic to the Philippines and can be found in the islands of Mindanao and provinces of eastern Visayas. Though it is listed as” Least Concern “but the population has been rapidly declining due to its continuous illegal poaching.

46 comments :

  1. bush meat. same problems in africa and a number of other place. fortunately it is least concern (at least for now). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow-headed_Water_Monitor
    i wonder if it is related to the big black monitor lizard i saw in samboan, cebu and which i think causes the chickens to nest in the trees.

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    1. Oh it's you Chris Hind....thanks for checking my blog.. ill add you up on my list. anyway i think V. cumingi has been established as a separate species from V. salvator...the black monitor lizard is the common type that is wildy distributed .. for this particular species, it is endemic to a particular place, Mindanao and eastern Visayas... they are smaller in size...I wonder if the habit of the chicken you observed is an acquired adaptation? hahaha tell me more.

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    2. it was funny because across from my friend's house in samboan he was shining a bright flashlight up into the trees to see the flying fox bats and one flew across the beam and made the batman sign as a shadow on the tree so we got a laugh out of it. but we were trying to see the flying foxes sitting in the tree and kept coming across chickens that were sleeping up there and i can only imagine they stay up there to stay safe from predators or things that would go after their eggs.

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  2. If there's anything I won't eat at will, it's exotic food. Well, maybe I'm saying this because I am not in a dire situation yet. Oh dear, sana 'wag naman.

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  3. In Davao called it Halu (correct me the spelling)lol, I eat a meat once when I was a kid out of curiosity, and it taste good. But that was like some 20 years ago when every creek in our farm had this reptile. Probably this will on endangered list if not protected.

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  4. Poor lizards. Though I also heard that it's meat is way better than chicken. I hope something would be done to protect their species.

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  5. yes in cebuano it is Halu, here in San Miguel Surigao del Sur it is known as Bibang...they are many before .. but due to loss of habitat , this species is now dwindling in numbers .:(

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  6. It was also good you voiced out your displeasure on eating the Bibang as it would let them be aware that there are still some people concerned with these creatures.

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  7. thanks mcgym .... hope we can still see these wandering around the forest ...

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  8. whew...not much into eating exotic foods...if these creatures fall to endangered species, I hope these will be protected and it should start now...

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  9. i haven't eaten exotic food yet and when people say "tastes like chicken / better than chicken", what comes to my mind is that it "tastes like chicken meat but with more flavor". i wonder if i'm correct or what.


    it's good to know you're not up to eating this poor reptile again though. :o

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  10. Sometimes you cannot easily change the culture of people living in certain areas. To them it might be hospitality but to us it was against our convictions. What is important was you communicated want you want and your personal conviction to them.

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  11. eow...I hate reptiles. Hehehe. Buti ka pa may guts na makalapit sa mga yan.

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  12. They just need to be nformed and educated about caring of these creatures issue. For sure they will learn to spare the lives of more other reptiles if they know.

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  13. wow! that is very different i would say! haha but seeing any kinds of animals makes me feel so sad though, but i can kiil cockroaches and mosquitoes too! hhaa xx

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  14. Are those the same as bayawak? When I was a kid, the older men in our compound would hunt those too or trap them since they come by the chicken coop :D I never tried eating it. I commend your stand...it certainly is worth preserving them...

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  15. Hi Marie this species is of the same family together with the Ibid or the bayawak ...

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  16. true ricky ... change cant happen over night ... maybe time will come all of us will be able to understand and appreciate things that are no longer existing in the wild .. i hope it wont come to that scenario anymore ...

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  17. i certainly need to or else no one will ... :(

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  18. First of all, you mentioned "Avoiding traps". Did you ever experience being caught in one? Hahaha.. Anyway, that? No, no, thanks. I may not eat that. LOL

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  19. fortunately not yet ... and praying not to find myself on it .. those traps are for wild boars..

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  20. Just like you I also have tasted exotic foods, but the thing is it was given to me without knowing where it came form until I swallowed it. I don't think I can eat it if I knew where it came from.

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  21. oh..poor reptiles :< It's true that it would be disrespect to them if you didn't taste it...and if I were in your shoes, I think I'll give it a try too...

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  22. There's nothing wrong when you eat exotic food, pero hopefully controlled ang hunting sa species na to. I have eaten crocodile meat... mas matigas siya compared to mammalian meat. Hehe

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  23. bayawak are common even in our place... some are even keeping them as pets... their survival depends really on the place where they propagate... destroying it may lessen them or make them extinct along with other animals. Yahweh bless.

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  24. Eating exotic food can be fun at times especially when you're out of options. ^_^

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  25. woooaahhh.. i have tasted it before and it is bony hahahha.. well I hope those great bibang would not be put on the priority list of endangered.. I think whether it is a priority or the least one.. shelters must be provided for the survival of these great creatures up to thousands of generations to go

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  26. Fresh, simple, and exotic! Just the kind of dish I'd love to try out. Hopefully, when I head over down there to Mindanao next month.

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  27. Bibang...hehehe, I have a friend whom we call Bebang. No wonder she got mad with this nickname. wehehehe!

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  28. Oh my, those footprints look like they're from a dinosaur! :) Well, Bibang is clearly a descendant. I don't think I can eat it. I'm no fan of exotic food as well, not only because endangered species are killed for it, but more so because they look scary. And to think they eat DEAD frogs! They must harbor some bacteria!

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  29. I have a very uneducated palate...and so I think I will stick to pork and beans. Although I do not like lizards, I feel for these poor things.

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  30. The Yellow-Head Water Monitor can only be found in Mindanao, we should protect them.

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  31. Ding | The Pinoy ExplorerSeptember 21, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I could empathize with you with this one. Perhaps, it would be better, next time, if you set the "rules" with the locals when it comes to this matter before you go on field. I hope they will take it positively.

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  32. how i wish I could Ding .. it's their "kingdom" ... I am only a visiting stranger... powerless when it is the tradition that rule the land. But I think they have absorbed the request I made in the end....or di na lang nila pinakikita sa akin ...

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  33. "Bibang" is what I called the "electric fan" when I was abou 2-3 years old, my parents told me.

    Oh grabe, I would not have the guts to eat that exotic food!

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  34. Poor reptile. I hope they start a conservation program for the Bibang.

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  35. Such poor creature! I would gladly decline to eat that lizard. I can't take it!

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  36. I've had monitor lizard; in Malaysia we call them 'biawak' and they're much fatter and meatier than the ones above. Pretty expensive too, as hunters are only allowed to catch a certain number per year (which is good to know!)

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  37. Thank you. Im happy to see that you enjoy it and at the same time stand firm that it will be the last. I hope it was also an eye opener for the locals there.

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  38. Wow! here in our province there are some who also eat that.. we call it here bayawak..

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  39. Mark Joseph GesiteFebruary 7, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    For the locals, specially they don't have any other source of food nor money to buy any...this is totally fine (with limitations though), but kudos to you for swearing not to eat this kind of food anymore.

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  40. You should've taken pictures of the final product!! I'm pretty adventurous with food, and I'd try that, too. If you're still squeamish...just think that it's 100% organic meat! :)

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  41. I think this one is juicy. I would loved to taste and get a bite of this one.

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  42. Your adventures are so "delicious"...ha..ha...just making it more enjoyable...been following your blog and i love your topics and focus...thinking how i could visit those places and experience what you have experienced. Good.

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  43. As much as I love trying exotic foods, I think I'll have to cross "bibang" off my must-try-exotic-foods-list since their population had been rapidly declining.

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