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Three ‘enduring’ S. Cordillera Practices
by Morr Pungayan

Despite the ‘exculturating’ pressures of Today’s education, religion, media, neo-isms, and the ‘Contemporary’-in-general, as aptly expressed by the Pulsating phrase: "keeping abreast’ with the Times" – three ‘cultural’ practices in the Cordillera have so far ‘endured’ the test of Time: The Prestige Feasts, the Dongba ni Kabajo (Horseracing, native-style), and the Curative rituals – lumped under the general classification of early Writers as Cañao.

The Prestige Feast is pan-Cordillera, and thus ‘versified’ by many names or terms, to wit: Bayas in Mt. Province; Uya-uya or Ulpi in Ifugao, Pedit in the Kankana-ey areas; and Peshit in the Ibaloi (and Iowak!) towns.

The Dongba ni Kabajo is definitely Southern Cordillera, particularly among Nabaloi-speaking who still relish the Sport and always include it as ‘Part of the Programme’ during their municipal, barangay, and provincial (!) fiestas – yearly held.

In earlier times, when it was a pan-Ibaloi Event – especially circa the time of Mayor Lopez i.e. 1933 and before, the Horseracing ground (Dongbaan) was good, old Burnham Park itself, according to older Informants and former Sinetes (Ibaloi riders), I’ve talked with
Likewise, the Sinetes recall the special inclusion or participation of Cataoan-speaking Ikapangans, as well as the Kankana-ey or Kalanguya-Mandekey speaking Ibuguias ‘gagaets’ (i.e. kin or relatives).

The Cañao – as general in –application it is (Supra.) – is real Cordilleran entirement – the Nabalois say: interamintin Igudut; – but of course, with ‘slight’ variations from one Šcultural area’ to the other.

The Cañao is officiated by a [native] ‘Priest&rsq; (or Priestess) – trained and commissioned in the ways of the Ancestors; bearers and repositories of the inherited Customs and Traditions; respective; of each of the cordilleran’ tribes’ or [better] ‘peoples’.

The title Munchachawak they bear in Kalinga, Mombaki, they bear in Ifugao; Mambunong, in the other Provinces. These priests or priestesses hold one in Esteem – according to their traditional Ordre of Succession; but often, the ‘rank’ is not easily divulged in Public. So far, it is only in Ifugao where the "Mastery" of officiating is clearly designated by the terms of Mombaki, "he who says the baki or prayer"; and Mombagol [‘higher’-rank] Prayerleader.

* * * * * * * * * *

So if these three practices are still done these days – no matter how ‘decreased’-in-quantity of adherents these number to, what primary or foremost reasons lend credence to their endurance or continuity in Present time; notwithstanding their juxtaposed ‘antidotes’ or alternates?

Dear readers: bear with me, but when asked to encapsulate the reasons, I assign at least two basic deep justifications, viz. 1) ‘Delivery’ from the humdrum of being just-a-part of a ‘wider’ identity called Globalization, and 2) Re-unity with Kasikhuran (natural, original way) itself. Kasikhuran is almost equated with the undiluted State of [Cordi] Be-ing, in whichever way it is rendered in the Cordi tongues: Kahiguran, Kasikhussan, Kasikhuran, and so on.

From the onlooker or ‘outsider’s’ vantage points, three other reasons obtain, to wit: 1) for ‘Renewal of Kinship ‘bonds’; 2) for self-update of news locale; and 3) for [overall] Harmony – with the adi kaila (unseen ones), with the surroundings, with Kin and neighbourdom itself.

Ultimately, Khawis (good-to-excellent) relationship with these three – i.e. kin, neighbours, and [physical] environment, shall please the gods and deities in the <godhood abodes’ who, in turn, shall make mention – ihkala-bit sha – of such Khawis deeds to Kabunian, the ‘sole’, most-powerful one-God of all!

* * * * * * * * * *

For: all Cordis– – of whatever ‘tribe’, or sub- of that tribe, dedicate their Khawis deeds, prayers, even longings, to their most Exalted Kabunian – either through their intermediaries: their ancestral spirits, their defined [culture] heroes, their named gods of the ‘godhood abodes’; or, directly to Him, via the compelling, mighty Sun – Apo Kabunian’s own ‘Supreme Manifestation’!

For ages and generations, this has been the often-observed (and described!) way – until the coming or ‘Introduction’ of the ‘Other [influencing] Factors’ aforecited.

But on the overall Tally board, Factors influencing as they are, these have exacted immense toll on our three ‘cultural practices’ of discussion, so we can always ‘generalize’ such toll in reference to Contemporary times: the great decline of Prestige Feast Celebrations among the Cordis since Post-Edsa (or early ‘90’s), the near-demise of the Dongba ni Kabajo, the thinning incidences of the Cañao.

The Decline of the Prestige Feasts is often explained as ‘logical’ – in simple parlance for the reasons, to wit: only a few now can afford; Cordis of this Generation and the upcoming (i.e. some young people( deduce them from family-history cases, the necessity of totally-abandoning the Practice (of those feasts) e.g. "for economic reasons"; a number of Prestige-feast traditional, namnamdit, descendants feel or express a rather ‘impracticality’ of the feasts in present time – more so, because the appreciation and prestige (itself!) of those feasts are waning, at slowbut-steady gaits!

For the Dongba, said ‘near-demise; was due to the submersion of the two great racing grounds: the Debcow-Binga dongbaan, by the Binga Dam in 1960; and the Ambokdow dongbaan, by the Ambuklao Dam in 1954.

The Burnham-Kafagway dongbaan of c. 1930s had to give way to a Park for ‘greater Public use’: now, it is a sight of machine-horses of the latest and oldest models, vehicleured by other Filipinos- well, of course, also by a majority few perhaps of ‘enlightened’ Ibalois or Cordis; so further
The Ashawai (Kabayan) dongbaan is still the area it has been since, but over the decades it too has given way to other uses: residences, farm squares, garden lots, name it.

Now, the thinning, ratifying incidences of the Cañao among Cordis is often perceived to be the direct consequences of more ‘economically-practical’ – and concomitant as well – substitutes or options, for example: hospital care or ‘Western’ approach, folk medicine or herbolario wonders, physio-spiritual healing.

And so, more and more Cordis abandon – or preach to abandon what CaÑao legacy they have ‘inherited’ or have heard of, from those who have come before them; many even use without prudence the enthnodescriptive labels, that they are: [now] ‘modernized’, ‘instructed’, why not – even ‘highly-cultured’! [So, "forget about" the old, binnajag, ways?].

But are these for real, and permanent; and for the ‘nowadays’ Present time? Who can truly predict about the Future; we can’t. But our premise Supra was enduring, how about that? So Even if in stride –for clarity and fairness, we have to deal as well with the survival , persistence, or ‘return’; and cite support as well for our positions: on the direction of the three cultural practices viz. the Prestige Feasts, the Dongba ni Kabajo, and the Cañao as indeed and yet, presently ‘enduring’.

Do we still have Prestige Feasts of late recency or even in the offing? Answer is yes! or better: "why, yes!" And you don’t need to move a hundred square of acres to ask or verify; use your phone modern and find out who (or what family) just performed the Bayas, or Pedit; or, who has announced a "to-be-held" feast of most recent? I can begin, for instance, in my area of Birth in Eastern Itogon, the most recent was almost two months ago – February of this Year. It was a Peshit ni Teddo or "P-Feast, grade of three".

And still, one hears of another family’s plan of their "own [feast], in the next few months!"

And the Dongba? Why do we claim it yet ‘enduring’ despite the submersion of the Binga and Ambukalo dongbaans more than a half century ago? The reason is: we may have no more Burnham, Adaoay, Ambuklao, Binga Debkow Dongbaans; but yearly – even Benguet Day – all Ibaloi horseriders and Sinetes converge at Wangal, La Trinidad, to compete in the Provincial Horseraces, courtesy of the Benguet government!

And what about the Cañao? How has it too ‘endured’ among the Ifengets and other Cordis? Why do we still hear these days of somebody who (or a family which) has just "performed" the Babat, or a Sida, a Sengnga, or a Chuno? For example, of most recent was a Batbat 2nd ranked to Peshit) held at Sitio Riverside, Tinongshan, Itogon, last March 24-26, 2012, by a sub-clan of Ibaloi-Iowak ‘mixed’ ancestry.

The dire and ‘short=cut’ reasons for the continuance inspite of aforestated Cañaos are varied, but the foremosts, we can cite thus: 1) the presence still of adherents to ‘the Traditional’; 2)those who are not totally-convinced of a one [Modern} choice stay middle-ground (or ‘Split-level’); thus at times, they use the Cañao, and at times, they do not use; and finally, 3) the emergence of Present-day re-naissance per se Mambunongs or Mombakis: No ‘officiators; no Cañaos. We agree and we savvy?

* * * * * * * * * *

Finally, let us not forget the efforts of well-meaning individuals – juridicial or natural; organizations – GO or PVO; and ‘other’ entities: the Onjon ni Ivadoi; the Aspulan ni Ibaloi; the Nesperia, California-based Benguet 13;the Sarong of Pico, La Trinidad; the Los Caballeros of LT and Itogon 13; the Weavers of Kabayan Organization; the Binga-Banao-Bagajao (BBB) of Bokod-Itogon; the Maksil ni Ibaloi (Makniba), to name a few; are all recognized and observed to have been dedicatedly working for the "raised awareness" towards our threatened, but yet enduring cultural treasures.

If we go North farther, we have too the Gotad ad Ifugao, the Imbayyah, the Kalinga festivals; of course the then Governor, now Congressman Maximo Dalog’s brain-child: the Lang-ay of the Mt. Province and Karatig pook? Of course abroad, we do not want to forget the ever-lustrious Igorot Global Organization and the budding Adivai of Canada.

We acknowledge them all: their deeds and their sincerities of Purpose; Matagu-tago tako, Ombila-bilay kiton ehmin!
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