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The Charmed Circle: Mobility, Identity and Memory around Mount Mayon (Philippines) and Gunung Awu (Indonesia) Volcanoes


Volcanoes are surrounded by villages, towns, and polities that are constantly shifting location to benefit from the rich soils generated in the aftermath of eruptions, while, at the same time, avoiding the worst of their destructive potential. We explore the attraction of volcanoes in a Southeast Asian context through a comparative examination of the communities surrounding Mount Mayon in the Bicol peninsula of the Philippines and Gunung Awu on the island of Sangihe Besar in Indonesia. These volcanoes influence the location of settlements, forms of community identity, and the expression of cultural memories. We argue that risk awareness programmes that disregard the extent to which a volcano is embedded within the physical and mental fabric of a society and fail to connect to local historical cultural memory are likely to have little lasting effect on reducing people’s vulnerability.

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  1. Since 1900, nearly 5 million people have been affected by volcanic events and over 91,000 people have died (Doocy et al. 2013). At a minimum, more than 500 million people currently live within the potential exposure range of the 550+ active volcanoes that have erupted within the last 10,000 years (Small and Naumann 2001).

  2. The island of Sangihe Besar is shaped in a figure-eight with Gunung Awu at the centre of the northern ‘circle’. The island is approximately 45 km in length and has a diameter of 15 km at its widest. Recent publications suggest a higher overall casualty figure for Awu of 11,048 persons on the assumption there was an eruption in 1822 causing around 3000 fatalities (Christian et al. 2020: 19). The Dutch official A.J. van Delden who visited the island in 1825, however, makes no mention of an eruption in 1822 (Delden 1825).

  3. The sense of identity represented by Mayon has even taken on national form in that the volcano is depicted on the reverse side of the current ₱100 note.

  4. This number may have been inflated by Fr. Aragoneses as it suggests 20% of the local population died in the eruption (Aragoneses 1815).

  5. Fieldwork for the research on Awu was carried out with the aid of Dr. Ariel Lopez from the University of the Philippines Diliman, Nono Stevano Agustinus Sumampouw from Universitas Sam Ratulangi, Manado, and Hendra Birahm from Naha.

  6. Baru and lama are Indonesian words and are now used on official maps but the Sangirese words for old and new, tebe and buhu, are also used locally.

  7. Information provided by the inhabitants and village chief of Kendahe, January 2018.

  8. Two versions of the story of the giant Bankeng (Bio pa ansuang, areng-e I Bake) are reproduced and translated. For the most recent recorded version see Mangamba et al. (1995: 217–219).

  9. Francois Valentijn also records a copy (1726).

  10. Although Lopez does not attribute conversion to these disasters, the missionaries themselves did make the link (Valeton 1897: 1–55).

  11. This detailed file includes letters from Kendahe written by one of his ancestors during the period of disaster relief in 1856.

  12. Private communication, resident of Santo Domingo, Albay, 13 January 2021.


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Funding for this research was provided by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant No. LP150100649.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by Greg Bankoff, Chris Newhall and Alicia Schrikker. The first draft of each section of the manuscript was written by individual authors and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Greg Bankoff.

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Bankoff, G., Newhall, C. & Schrikker, A. The Charmed Circle: Mobility, Identity and Memory around Mount Mayon (Philippines) and Gunung Awu (Indonesia) Volcanoes. Hum Ecol 49, 147–158 (2021).

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  • Social volcanology
  • Adaptation
  • Identity
  • Memory
  • Mount Mayon
  • Philippines
  • Gunung Awu
  • Sangihe Besar island
  • Indonesia
  • Southeast Asia