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Mayoyao's thanksgiving festival: Beyond a hundred years
by Kat Acupanda

Yesterday, April 25, the municipality of Mayoyao in Ifugao began the annual celebration of its Igkhumtad ad Majawjaw—a festival of thanksgiving for the work done in the rice fields.

A museum account says that the festival is now exactly 100 years old. But Ifugao’s rice culture began more than 2,000 years ago, so it is safe to say that this festival had been in existence longer—before anyone even thought of giving it a name.

The festival
On May 23, 1925 Gov. Gen. Leonard Wood signed executive order 27 creating the municipal district of Mayoyao effective on June 1, 1925.
Mayoyao is one of Ifugao’s 11 municipalities and has an almost 16,000 population scattered among its 27 barangays.

Every April 25 – 27, the municipality comes alive with its Igkhumtad ad Majawjaw in which locals actively participate, and which even residents from other Ifugao municipalities attend. According to municipal planning and development officer Florence Ponchilan, the festival name was changed into Tikhaw ad Majawjaw a few years ago but because the word “tikhaw” is associated with headhunting, Mayoyao officials decided to change back the name into Igkhumtad.

Mayor Romeo Chulana said that they inserted other activities into this year’s Igkhumtad so that the younger ones will be more enticed to join the festivities. They also extended the celebration to five days instead of the usual three.

The main events of the festival are the rice rituals, ethnic games, song contests, tajaw or native dance contest per district, Search for Ms. Igkhumtad, and the parade of barangay residents wearing their native attire.

Ethnic games include iinat (tug of war), hawwit (foot wrestling), khubpfu (foot strength and bone pain contest), hanggor (arm wrestling), hurhurtin (royal rumble), manglon (wood splitting), akkad (wood stilt walking), and chinnupapan hi tilapia (fish catching).

There is also a contest called utim/torpah wherein the fastest contestant to manually separate rice bran from the grain wins.

What it used to be
“If we believe in gods and goddesses, we respect everything,” Mayoyao tourism officer Robert Pinalgan said. But the spread of Christianity admittedly affected some ancient beliefs about indige-nous gods.

This being true, however, the Ifugaos and Cordillerans as a whole continued to steadfastly observe their age-old traditions as the Spanish tried, but failed, to fully impose Christianity in the northern highlands.

Phunphuni is known as the deity of agriculture in Mayoyao. This deity was believed to control the growth and harvest of palay and other crops, and played a major role in the rice culture cycle.

Mayoyao’s rice agriculture calendar started with the pangngah or seedtime sowing sacrifice. Religious sacrifices of chickens and pigs were done to ensure full growth of the palay seedlings.

Drinking rice wine was also part of pangngah. Groups of men and young boys went from house to house and as they drank, they started singing the ergwad—which told of their ancestors’ exploits in deer hunting and human head taking.

Simultaneously done with the ergwad was mon ah-hujan wherein speakers outwit each other in an argument while boys listen purposely to learn more about their customs and traditions.

Next was the orpi sacrifice done after the transplanting of rice seedlings. There were additional rites and animal sacrifices performed by wealthy families in this sacrifice. Rituals and prayers were also much longer than those in the pangngah. Part of the Orpi ceremony was taking a sacrificed chicken to a designated rice paddy where a shaman performed rituals.

The lopeng religious rite with chicken sacrifice was next, done when the palay blooms are almost ripe. This involves driving away rice birds, rats, and other pests from the palay to ensure a bountiful harvest. A strict observance of a rest and prohibition day or ngilin was a must—no one was allowed to work on the rice fields or the kaingin.

The harvest season or pfoto came next wherein usual animal sacrifices of chicken or pigs were performed by every family.

In every barrio, a family starts a harvest called chupag while a shaman performs an animal sacrifice before men, women, and boys go to the fields to harvest. The following day is considered a holy day or ngilin. Harvest goes in full swing the next day.

When harvest is almost over, the most solemn celebration in Mayoyao’s rice calendar called tungngaw is observed. It is a one-day ngilinpracticed mostly in eastern and central Mayoyao. All man-made noise are avoided from dawn to six in the afternoon.

During tungngaw, people flock to the rivers to bathe. This day is also for young boys to train for adulthood and to learn about their customs and traditions. A shaman teaches the boys about religious rituals such as the chanting of the phartong which is part of the rice ritual.

Saving a culture
“These rituals of planting and harvest are not observed that much anymore,” Pinalgan said, adding that this is the greatest threat to the rice terraces.

Indigenous know-ledge (IK) holder Gloria Likiyan agrees, “The biggest threat aside from nature (erosion) is that indigenous knowledge is endangered, younger ones are looking for other jobs.”

Because rice planting and production is not deemed a viable livelihood in Ifugao as of now, residents look for other jobs in Quirino, Isabela, or Baguio, and then just return on harvest season.

“Christianity destroyed our culture,” Pinalgan said. He jokingly adds that the song “I have two hands” may have something to do with the Ifugao youth’s apparent indifference to planting rice. “‘Clean little hands are good to see’, it says, so ang itinuturo nito sa bata e mali na madumihan ang kamay.”

Likiyan said that they are hoping to someday build a School of Living Traditions (SLT) in Mayoyao where songs and dances and the rice culture will be taught to children. The IK holders will get the kids to participate in the rice cycle activities so that they will know more about their history and their roles in safeguarding it for the future.

“Maybe if they learn it, they will do it,” she said.

Tourist guide Leandro Elahe said that they are only awaiting the availability of an area where they can do sit-ins and teach children about Mayoyao culture—a sort of SLT for the meantime. He added that restoration of rice terraces walls are also in progress.

Ifugao representative Solomon Chungalao, who is a Mayoyao native, said that eco-tourism or responsible tourism, and acculturation by visitors may help in preserving the fading rice culture.

“Modern times have set in, but still we have to preserve the basis of this culture,” he said.

He is now knee-deep in having primary irrigation channels to support the old irrigation canals built especially from Mayoyao’s Barangay Chaya to adjacent town Aguinaldo.

He also envisions new rice terraces to be built towards Isabela.

The Pochon Group, a youth organization formed in 2005 and a member of the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, arranges eco-tours in Mayoyao with the ultimate aim of saving its rice culture. They also engage in trainings to provide the less-fortunate opportunities for employment. One of Pochon Group’s tours is the Pfoto ad Majawjaw wherein lowlanders are encouraged to participate in Mayoyao local’s rice harvest rituals and practices.

A civilization rooted in the terraces
“Ifugaos were moving mountains long before they knew they could,” a municipal account of the Igkhumtad stated.
The creation of the terraces is an epic wonder in itself. But nowadays the inexplicable thing is how numerous descendants of a proud people that succeeded in
resisting foreign conquest are nearly oblivious of the threat to their culture.

Until the 29th, the beating of the gongs will be heard in Mayoyao’s centro, they say these gongs are sounded for “receiving blessings of confidence from ancestors, regaining faith in ourselves.” Locals will participate in the activities set for the festival—observed with the goal of keeping the Mayoyao traditions alive—but after the fiesta, what then?

The same sentiment has been said over and over. Eventually the hardworking and knowledgeable elders will be the only ones left toiling in the fields as most of
the youth are too influenced by the modern world.

This may be good for their personal growth, but dreadful for Ifugao’s fading cultural practices as a whole. For when there is no indigenous culture to safeguard anymore—and this is a question for every one of us—who are we letting ourselves become?

Efforts in preserving the rice terraces by well-meaning groups and individuals may hopefully pave the way for a more concerted attempt at reversing the destruction of these glorious living monuments of Filipino ingenuity.

Main reference: “Mayoyao cultural and political history” by Rev. Matias Angiwan Sr.

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