Kulintang Music

The following material discusses the instruments that comprise the Palabunibuniyan.

The Palabunibuniyan is played in all types of celebrations. In mourning, death, calamity and the fasting month of Ramadan, they will be silent. ***


by Zonia Elvas Velasco
(all right reserved, Copyright 1997)

In Southeast Asia, there lies a tiny archipelago between the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea called the Philippines. The Philippines has 7,107 islands, and the second largest of these is the southern island called Mindanao.

Mindanao had always been considered the virgin land of jungles, volcanoes, waterfalls, monkey eating eagles, white and pink beaches, perfect sunsets, colorful vintas sailing in its blue seas and beautifully shaped pearlsfrom the depths of its oceans. It is the land where royalty, through the old Philippine Sultanate reigned.

In the south, there is Cotabato where on a clear night of the full moon, one could hear the music of the gongs, wafting through the thick humid breeze of the thick jungles. This was part of my childhood memories. I remember looking out of my window, staring at the moon, listening to the gongs played from a distance by the native Maguindanaon. The music would continue on through the night, and would create in my mind, images of rituals, festivities and dances.

North of Cotabato, there is Lanao – land of the Maranaos, their legends linking their land to Borneo…… their origins considered special because old stories speak of their holy beginnings through the intervention of one magical bird called the Sarimanok.

The island of Mindanao has many provinces, but these two on the western side are mentioned because most of the kulintang gongs are found here. The collection of kulintang gongs used in the collection, workshops and performances of the Filipino Folk Arts Theatre in Dallas come from these two areas: Cotabato and Lanao.

Here, in Mindanao, the Kulintang thrives and lives, witnessing the coming and going of life from birth to death, only to repeat the cycle again and again, from one generation to the next.

Here, the Kulintang master is regarded as someone very special. He is a celebrity. He has power. For only the Kulintang master could control people’s feelings through his music. He could make them cry with the sadness of his sinulog music. He could express anger, love and joy through his binalig pieces. He could impress everyone with his tidtu virtuosity as his playing sticks go faster and faster over the protruding bosses of the kulintang.

And for rituals of birth, coming of age, wedding, death, religious rites, there is the tagunggo music.

The gongs are a cherished instrument. Ownership of the Kulintang is a measure of wealth, and endows prestige and a higher standard of measure to the family. It is not uncommon for the Kulintang to be used as a wedding dowry gift.

General Definition of Terms:

Kulintang – referring to the musical instrument composed of 7-8 graduated gongs laid horizontally on a rack, played by a pair of soft wooden sticks.

Kulintangan – Sulu and Sabah term referring to the whole ensemble or orchestra, of which the kulintang instrument is only a part of.

Palabunibuniyan – Cotabato term used to describe the Kulintang orchestra above.

Gamelan – orchestra, common term used in Indonesia, and Malaysia.



  1. Palabunibunyan by Aga Mayo Budokan
  2. A Training Manual for the Workshop on Traditional Philippine Instruments by Kristina Benitez, Fe Prudente of the University of the Philippines College of Music and the Cultural Center of the Philippines
  3. Sounds Around Lake Lanao by Usopay Cadar, Philippine Heritage Volumes 6, pages 1677-1681.
  4. Maguindanaon Music by Helen Tejero, Training Manual for Workshop on Traditional Philippine Instruments.
  5. Sarimanok File by Nagasura T. Madale, Philippine Heritage Volume 6, pages 1576-1581.
  6. Pangalay: Traditional Dance and Related Folk Artistic Expression by Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa
  7. Journal of the Society for Asian Music, Vol XXVII, Number 2, Spring/Summer 1996
  8. The Muranao Kakolintang, An Approach to the Repertoire by Steven Walter Otto, 1976

Resource Persons: 

  • Aga Mayo Budokan, UP College of Music
  • Fe Prudente, UP College of Music
  • Kristina Benitez, UP College of Music
  • Edru Abraham, UP College of Music
  • Bayani de Leon, Ethno-musicologist based in New Jersey
  • Danongan Kalanduyan, MA in Ethnomusicology, 1995 National Heritage Fellow, Director Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, Artistic Co-Director Mindanao Kulintang Ensemble
  • Potenciano Badillo, Collector and Museum Exhibitor of Filipiniana Cultural Art and Antiques since 1920.
  • Ricardo Trimillos, PhD, University of Hawaii
  • Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr., University of the Philippines, Commissioner for the NCCA, Philippines
  • I also wish to thank my friend Titania Buchholdt of the Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble for her suggestions and help in getting more information and references for this article.


  1. I am reaching out to you because I would like your group to perform here in Pennsylvania on April 18,2015

    • Hello, Mary Lou! Thank you for the invite. Unfortunately, we are no longer active, and will not be able to help you. Hope you can find a great Filipino culture group in your area!

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