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Tiger bells in South East Asia


All tiger bells are of the A type, in sizes varying from about 1,5 to 4 cm. Tiger bells are used by ethnic groups in parts of Palawan, Mindoro and Mindanao. There are no reports from Luzon.







Group: Bagobo

Two tiger bells, the large one well preserved, the small one on a necklace of small brass chains. Bought in Davao in 1974.

Dimensions: wide 3,7 cm., high 3,3 cm., side 3,2 cm., hoop 1 cm. rectangular

Dimensions: 2,6 cm., high 2,3 cm., side 1,4 cm., hoop 0,5 cm trapezium shaped

Group: Tagakaolu
Several tiger bells together with ordinary bells on a girdle used for dances accompanied by a log drum, similar to the B'laan dance mentioned below.
Photographed in 1974.

Group: B'laan

Nine tiger bells together with five ordinary bells, on a dance girdle (see Tagakaolu, the B'laan's neighbors). When asked about the age of the bells the reaction was 'more than fifty years! which was probably more an indication of an extremely long time than a realistic estimate.

Four of the nine bells, on a dance girdle, B'laan

The performers, photographed in 1975

Group: Mansaka
One tiger bell together with many ordinary bells, on a girdle. Photographed in 1974 by the late Cor van Haasteren.

Two tiger bells, well worn, on a girdle of a Mansaka woman, Photographed in 1974

Mansaka girdle

Detail of the two tiger bells, well worn but the eyes are distinguishable

Group: Bagobo

Two small tiger bells, on a pubic shield, worn by small girls. Illustration in 'Wild tribes of Davao district' by Fay Cooper Cole (fig. 7, page 61, published in 1913, the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History).
Drawing copied by the author from the original drawing in the publication Wild tribes of Davao District (see above)

Two tiger bells, on a hemp belt together with one large ordinary bell.
Collection: Field Museum, Chicago.

Four tiger bells, in a bundle that was tied to a woman's belt. In Power and gold, picture 249, published by Prestel Verlag, Switzerland, 1985.
Belt ornament, in the collection of the
Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva

Group: Mandaya

Two belts, one with tiger bells of various sizes, and one with one small tiger bell. On display in a Mandaya handicraft shop in Manila, in 1987


Group: unknown
One small tiger bell, in the National Museum in Manila. No further data.


Group: Manggyan

In the book 'Album of Filipino types Volume III' (no year of publication but probably beginning of the century).

Caption: Manguianes from Mindoro. Front view of a woman(...) Attached to the rosary a small globular bell, such as are worn on swords and elsewhere near the Sea of Celebes.

Illustration: from the book Album of Filipino types Volume III, no further details.

Hans Brandeis, ethnomusicologist in Berlin reports:

...I visited the Bukidnon groups and the Tigwa Manobo. I hardly saw any bells there at all, all of the ordinary small kind. I was also able to purchase some bells in antique shops but they don't seem to be tiger bells. But what might be most interesting for you are two bells from the Mangyan of Mindoro which were given to me as a gift by my late brother-in-law, Pepito Bosch in Manila. They were given to him by a French woman-anthropologist who is married to a Mangyan.

These two bells are indeed tiger bells. They have virtually the same proportions and design like the bell on your homepage below the heading "Have you seen this bell?" which, as I understood, comes from SE-Mindanao. They have two different sizes: the bigger one 43 mm, the smaller one 35 mm at the widest points (approximately from one end of the slit to the other). On the bigger one, the design can be seen very well, on the smaller one, the design is rubbed off on most of the surface, and there is only a plain shiny surface left; but still, the eyes and mouth of the tiger as well as parts of the surrounding design can be seen very well. At first sight, I realized already that these two bells must be of considerable age, and I also thought immediately that they might be of Chinese origin.

Reported in January 1997

16 years later, in March 2013, I received an e-mail from Ms Elisabeth Luquin, the anthropologist mentioned by Mr. Brandeis in the above report (see below).

Photographs: courtesy Hans Brandeis

In March 2013 Ms Elisabeth Luquin, anthropologist and senior lecturer in Paris, France, sends me the following mail:

The Mangyan Patag (south east of Mindoro, Philippines) - also known as Hanunoo-Mangyan - had "tiger-bells" (called gurung-gurung in minangyan language). Today if they still have some, they are carefully hidden. They were used to inform of one's presence and to drive away malevolent spirits (like for the Chinese).

In the 90's I was able to see 3 type A specimens like the ones on Hans' (Brandeis; see report above) pictures. And I was able to get a different one which is rounder with the eyes much more protuberant and which may belong to the type C?

I received several photographs of the C type tiger bell:


The bell is indeed a tiger bell of the C type. As far as I know these bells are only used in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. I have not seen this type of bells in other places in Asia. It is possible that the bell has been brought to Mindoro by a tourist or a visitor. Ms Luquin however states:

I do not think that a tourist or a visitor brought the bell there but rather merchants (or tradesmen) did in the past.

That is of course also very well possible. Anyway, the presence of the type C tiger bell is most likely not in the local tradition.

Reported in March 2013 by Ms Elisabeth Luquin.

West Mindanao and Sulu Muslim groups
Group: Lanun

Two tiger bells on a kampilan (sword). Photograph in 'Schwerter von Celebes' by Foy, published in 1899. Of the larger bell of the two both sides are shown.
The Lanun (or Ilanun), live in the western part of Mindanao and were seafaring traders.

Collection Ethnographic Museum, Dresden

A report by Mr. Jeno Takacs on Philippine musical instruments in 1932-34:
'Pum Piand (local name): bell imported from China, feast and war instrument; also used as money (probably by the Moros of the South)'.
No picture so this reference is uncertain.

Group: Maranao?

On the site Gavin Nugent from Brisbane, (Australia) gives a description of a kampilan (sword) from the Muslim part of Mindanao, given to or taken by US general J.J. Pershing in 1901u. The description:

A unique example of a massive Moro Kampilan of high status, attributed to the late US general of Armies, J.J.Pershing.
Measured out of the finely carved scabbard this piece is 116 cm. long with a very nicely laminated and inlayed blade of 87 cm. blade. This overall length places this piece at approx. 20 cm longer than the typical known Kampilan.
The massive and superbly carved hilt and guard remain in outstanding condition, workmanship that can be most appreciated in the viewing of the images rather than written descriptions.
Two most uncommon aspects seen on the hilt area is that of the double iron guard where a single guard is normally seen and also that of 2 Tiger Bells type A and 2 Tiger Bells type unknown hanging from the guards.

The two bells identified as 'tiger bells type A' are indeed tiger bells type A, the other two are not tiger bells.


The wooden handle with okiran style carvings, typical for wood carvings
by ethnic Muslim groups in the south of the Philippines

One tiger bell and one bell with other decorations

One of the tiger bells (right) and a common bell

The other tiger bell (left), and a common bell

The kampilan in total view
The label that came with the kampilan, stating that
the weapon was taken by Captain Pershing
in the year 1901

Ching Dumanhug from Samal Island reports:

Hi, I have got same bells from our ancestors...they are the warriors and medicine wondering where it comes in the philippines...samal island sama tribe..

Samal Island lies in the Davao Gulf, in South East Mindanao. We are waiting for more information.

Reported in April 2012

NB: Not all ethnic groups in the Philippines have tiger bells. No tiger bells are reported among the ethnic groups in North Luzon. In Mindanao no tiger bells are present among the Subanon, Tiruray, Tagabili (T'boli) and their neighhbouring B'laan; and some Manobo groups. Among the Muslim groups they are rare.

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