Of Cordillera tradition, Watwat and IKSP

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By Art Tibaldo

Consumer Atbp.

Monday, October 29, 2012


YOU cannot claim to know the Cordillera Region more than anyone else if you haven’t been to the upland villages, partook in a cañao, danced with the tribal folks and drank their wines. Well, one can explore from Google or Wikipedia and absorb every data that are posted or written about the Cordillera but chances are, browsers might only get to digest stories of virtual tourists, bloggers or pseudo journalists who may have worn a G-string once and spent few days or a week hereabouts.

Tradition suggests that in almost everything that we do in the Cordillera, we have to implore or ask permission from the unseen, the spirits of the departed or to the almighty called Kabunyan, which is considered the supreme almighty at least among the mountain dwellers. It is for these reasons too that even the lowlanders pay tribute, observe and respect the spirit world that when they pee behind bushes or under the trees, they say “kayo kayo umad addayo kayo” to ward off possible spirits or enchanted entities supposedly staying in the area.

Having said all these, I would like to share some of the indigenous knowledge systems and practices that I have known as an insider and as a person who got scarred and almost lost a limb or even dear life in these mountainous place I call home.

Most menfolk that I knew from this region are best heard from when they are somewhat “spirited” because they speak from the heart with spontaneity, especially when they perform their Uggayam or Ullalim chants between drinks of Tapuey, Baya or Basi, an organic drink from fermented rice and sugar cane of the highlands.

I have attended community gatherings and feasts and one interesting sight to behold is the manner of which an animal is butchered and prepared for food. The selection of animals to be butchered to the rituals performed by elders during cold early morning is something that a tourist or journalist would not normally catch on film. The wi-ik or bleeding of the animal to death is not for the faint hearted to see and do not be surprised if the cut tail is given to the youngest boy as it is his trophy for waking up early. The extra meat given during feasts called Watwat is meant to be taken home and shared with family members who were not able to attend the village gathering.

Back in 1983, when I first set foot in Banaue, Ifugao for the 2nd staging of the Imbayah Festival with co-organizer John Chua, I knew that I had to include in my backpack a bottle of 4x4 gin as a ready offering to anything that my companion and I might encounter. As I expected, the bottle from San Miguel Corporation provided the necessary body elixir during a cold rainy night. Wet from the unexpected mountain rain, we unpegged our tent, sought refuge and we were accommodated in a nearby shanty where some locals make metal crafts and brassware. The warmth of the fire, the gin and chats with the artisans completed the night of course with a little pitik or few drops of gin for the unseen spirits that were present with us.

I have witnessed the return of the centuries old Mummy Anno and I learned many customary practices of the Kankanay and Kalanguya tribe, particularly of the Northern Benguet part, when rituals after rituals were performed as a matter of tradition. The return of Apo Anno was a big event in Nabalikong, Buguias and Curator Izikias Picpikan of SLU Museum did a great task by researching on ancient culture that dates back to the time of the legendary mummy. We were told by Picpikan not to do anything unlikely like sneezing when we are close to the mummy. Likewise, we need to ask permission from Apo Anno if we take photos or video of him or his tattoos. Just like in a wake, village folks partook in saying something about Apo Anno’s homecoming and I remember saying a piece in a mixed Kanakanay and Ilocano which I presume was understood by those present.

As I mull over some of Cordilleras IKSPs, there seems to be a felt need to conduct researches on indigenous practices and make these available to the public. The Committee on Indigenous People’s Concern (CIPC) of the Regional Development Center (RDC) is considering the establishment of a Cordillera Indigenous Culture and Knowledge Center to consolidate, share research, and advocate the use of indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP) in the region. The proposed program aims to inventory existing researches conducted by the academe, scholars, NGOs and other institutions that can help contribute materials for a physical and e-library on Cordillera indigenous practices that will be made available to the public.

Now that many of the region’s ritual priests, priestesses or shamans are facing extinction, I hope that more mature minded individuals will heed the wisdom of these elders and continue the age old tradition.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 30, 2012.

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