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Preserving the Ibaloy culture through School of Living Traditions
by Rosella Camte–Bahni

PIONEERS -- Graduating members of the Loakan School of Living Traditions on Ibaloy performing arts pose with their coordinators and cultural masters after completing the preparatory phase of the program. -- RCB

I was awed by the Ibaloy children from the Summer Capital’s Loakan village as they played their indigenous instruments on Sept. 1, 2009. Wearing their kuval and divet, they skillfully tapped the kimbal and solibao and beat the kalsa and pinsak as they led the parade during the centennial celebration of Baguio City’s founding anniversary. Children who know how to play the Ibaloy instruments and perform it in public was unthinkable had it happened decades earlier.

Ibaloy culture in Loakan before

Ibaloys in Loakan were steeped in their indigenous culture. They were bound by a strong sense of community, which they expressed and nurtured through community activities, such as kamal and adoyun. They maintained a deep connection with their ancestors through their various rituals, which serve as key events for socialization among and between members inside and outside the community.  The ties among relatives were strengthened by attending the rituals and distributing gwat-gwat (pork) meat to relatives coming from various communities.

One of the rituals, sedpang or taidew, aims to propitiate ancestral spirits in need of new clothing, food, drinks, or burial site. Ibaloys believe that unexplained health problems afflicting relatives are means to convey such needs. The tayao dance is the center of the sedpang ritual, which requires the playing of instruments to invite the spirits into the home of their host relatives. Without the playing of instruments and dancing of tayao, no sedpang ritual could be held.

In the olden times, anybody can play the instruments, except the children. Elders prohibited children from touching, much less playing the instruments, to prevent any harm that might befall them due to improper handling of the instruments. The sacred purpose prevents even adults from playing the instruments except during appropriate rituals.

Vicky Macay, an Ibaloy elder, shared that playing the instruments after concluding the ritual signals a continuing invitation to the spirits. Seeing no offerings awaiting them might result in adverse consequences that necessitate the repetition of the rituals, requiring additional expenses.

Ibaloy culture in Loakan today

The Ibaloys in Baguio City today are no longer the same as their ancestors more than a hundred years ago. Some no longer resort to healing rituals since they have access to medical services. Different religious beliefs had prohibited the performance of kedot. Thus, the kedot or rituals no longer serve as the common religious and socialization activity of the community.

However, some Ibaloys continue to practice the healing rituals passed through generations despite the effects of urbanization or Christian religion. Increased financial capability allowed some Ibaloys to revive these practices. Primarily, when unexplained health problems persist despite medical interventions, families consult the mansi-bok, who recommends the corresponding healing rituals. Neither education nor religion prevents sick family members from resorting to their indigenous healing practices. Furthermore, other Ibaloys practice the rituals to ensure eternal peace for their departed relatives.

The growing appreciation for indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices highlights the roles of indigenous culture. Human survival necessitates the observance of indigenous practices to preserve the environment. Potentials for peace making are created when people appreciate and respect other people’s culture because they see their commonalities and develop tolerance of other people’s differences. Present issues caused by climate change are bearable because of indigenous practices and systems that make people resilient. People resort to their indigenous practices to revive social bonds that had been weakened or broken through distance, crimes, or different religious beliefs.

Indigenous rituals, language, and practices are identity markers that point to a person’s roots or origin and the community where one belongs. Humans are social beings who seek connection with others, especially their relatives, deriving the feelings of belongingness from being part of a community.

In a multi-cultural setting, one’s heritage sustains a person’s unique identity. Indigenous arts can provide different expressions of one’s identity. Indigenous people possess an inherent creativity as shown by their rich music, dance, song, architecture, myths, and legends. Their rituals provide the venue for the arts to flourish because indigenous stories, songs, dances, and instruments form integral parts of rituals. These art forms serve vital objectives to maintain society. Arts can strengthen the links between generations since the youth can easily relate with arts. Therefore, arts are means of introducing indigenous culture where the youth can appreciate their uniqueness, learn about their commonality with other cultures, and respect diversity among people.

Aware of the importance of their rituals and arts, Ibaloys in Baguio are taking action to sustain their culture. But one major concern confronting them is the decreasing number of Ibaloys who could play the instruments. Most adults today, either male or female, lack the skill to play the Ibaloy instruments. Available skilled players are getting older and could not withstand long hours of playing, which the rituals require to be effective.

The birth of the “Loakan, Baguio City School of Living Traditions on Ibaloy performing arts”

The elders felt something needed to be done about the decreasing number of instrument players.

This has convinced the elders to give their blessings when an opportunity came through the National Commission on Cultural and the Arts (NCCA) to train children to play their instruments.

NCCA has accredited CHIVA ni Doakan (Center for Ibaloi Heritage and Loakan History) in 2008 as a partner organization and granted its proposed project entitled “Loakan, Baguio City School of Living Traditions on Ibaloi Performing Arts,” the first in Baguio City.

It was implemented in three phases from 2009 until 2011 by Ibaloy cultural masters Sang-it Banes, Albert Shontogan, Vicenta Lamsis, Rebecca Tagle-Mataba, Kawani Batiyeg, Angelina Catao, and Kim Vizcaya, all from Loakan.

The preparatory phase trained 15 students for 36 days. During the program on March 31, 2009 to launch the project, Ibaloy elder Calixto Batiyeg invoked the spirits of Loakan ancestors to permit the children who want to learn and practice the instruments. The prayer was a precaution intended to prevent any harm that spirits may cause when attracted by the sounds of instruments being played and they would find no offering awaiting them.

The youngest trainee of the preparatory phase was 11 years old while the oldest was 21. The daily training was held in the covered court of Loakan Elementary School. The graduation ceremony for the preparatory phase was held on June 12, 2009 where trainees performed in front of their parents and guests.

After the preparatory phase, CHIVA proposed for the first phase, which commenced in April 2010. Aside from the instruments and the tayao, the children also learned the bah’diw, the Ibaloy sung prayer, and the bendian.

The provincial government of Benguet through then governor Nestor Fongwan and Provincial Tourism Officer Claire Prudencio donated musical instruments to the group. The graduates numbered 32, of which 19 were elementary pupils with the youngest at 10 years old.

The second phase was held from April 11 to Nov. 6, 2011. The trainees were much younger, with the youngest at eight years old while the oldest was 18. Graduates from the preparatory phase helped the cultural masters as trainors.

The NCCA-funded SLT has produced 64 graduates from Loakan. Throughout their trainings, they participated in events in and outside Loakan. They first joined the Ibaloy Day at Burnham Park on Feb. 23, 2010 and represented the Ibaloys of Baguio and Benguet during the NCCA-sponsored Dayaw Festival in Manila in October 2010. The three-day annual national gathering of cultural workers and artists provided the trainees several venues to perform before different groups in Metro Manila. 

One of the trainees, Jeric Palispis, joined the three de-legates who represented the Philippines in the ASEAN Youth Cultural Youth Camp in Indonesia from Nov. 20 to 27, 2011.  The SLT graduates played a key role during the First Ibaloy Festival in 2014 not only as performers, but also as trainors and facilitators in the sahob and singkalong workshops.

Ibaloy heritage as a source of confidence and inspiration

CHIVA ni Doakan aims to provide a wholistic training for Ibaloy youth based on their heritage. It believes that when the youth learn about their heritage, they would realize its value. And because they appreciate the worth of their own heritage, it could help raise their self-confidence.

The SLT helped CHIVA achieve its objectives.

Asked about the influence of SLT to their lives, Dexter Realubin said the SLT “helped (him) preserve the culture and traditions of Ibaloys in Baguio City.”

Another graduate, Rona Milanes, said, “When I was younger, the SLT trainings and practices helped me to observe, gain knowledge, deeply understand, and appreciate the culture and tradition of the Ibaloys, such as their dances, rituals, and beliefs.”

Another graduate consi-ders the SLT as life-changing.  John Paul Pagnas said, “The SLT helped me a lot. In fact, it changed my life. Had I not joined the SLT and CHIVA, my life would not have turned out the way it is. SLT helped build my confidence to perform in front of many people. Previously, I do not want to perform or speak in front of many people because I was shy even inside the classroom. CHIVA has helped me to know my culture well and I became friendlier. Now, I also teach other students about our culture.”

Ruby Rose Desot also expressed gratitude for attending the SLT. “The SLT taught me a lot and helped me improve in different aspects of my life. SLT helped me engage in the community. It boosted my confidence to participate in different activities, especially in formal programs. It also helped improve my leadership skills.”

“SLT also helped me gain confidence for I have learned to believe in myself and the tribe which I belong. Amtak met paylang e mangalsa despite the years,” said Kenneth Galiste, o is now based in New Zealand.

From “shy mango” to proud Ibaloys

The SLT graduates transformed the stereotype of Ibaloys as shy people. Bisque Mataba said, “People called Ibaloys as the ‘shy mango’ ethnic group, but we proved them wrong. The SLT enhanced my confidence to perform and share our traditions and culture. We are no longer the so-called ‘shy mango’ group. We are proud to be Ibaloys, the original settlers of Baguio City.”

Bisque was among the children who played the instruments and danced the sarong and tayao during the parade on Sept. 1, 2009. The Centennial charter anniversary of Baguio City made it more poig-nant because of the profound message: Ibaloy children playing indigenous instruments signified their assertion of the Ibaloy identity in Baguio City.

The multi-cultural character, which Baguio City had become after more than a hundred years makes it imperative that Ibaloys stand tall as the Ibaloy children from Loakan had demonstrated.

CULTURE BEARERS -- Ibaloy children who were taught of their traditional dances and other performances including the beating of their traditional instruments are also allowed to perform in big gatherings such as the Ibaloy Day held annually in Baguio. -- HFP

Impact on the community

CHIVAaims not only for the Ibaloy youth to value and gain confidence from their heritage, but also to develop a sense of responsibility. The children were taught not only in Ibaloy performing arts but also the value of excelling in school, to finish their studies, and serve their communities.

By attending rituals in and outside the community, the SLT students were exposed to the role of the Ibaloy music and dance. When playing the instruments during the rituals, nobody admonished them. Instead, the people admired and thanked the children because they helped attain the purpose of the rituals by playing the instruments continuously.

The learnings through the community exposures inspired Jeric Palispis to continue sharing his skills to others in the community. He said, “Nowadays with the diminishing number of Ibaloys who can play traditional instruments, the SLT students had been actively participating in different occasions and offering their skills. As a proud Ibaloy, I will continue to practice what I learned from the SLT so that the next generation will also gain actual experiences of our culture and tradition.”

Being a graduate of SLT had opened other opportunities for Shadrock Asan. He said, “When I was in the elementary, I never imagined the benefits of taking part in the SLT, but when I entered high school and college later on, I observed that the skills I acquired from SLT gave me an additional advantage in scho-larship opportunities, such as the Special Program in the Arts-Dance of Baguio City National High School, which accepted me after auditioning.”

Some SLT graduates who migrated to other countries continued to play the Ibaloy instruments, such as Shayanne Galiste who said, “The SLT helped me know my culture so I can use my skills and knowledge to perform in Igorot gatherings in New Zealand.”

The graduates see themselves as models children can emulate. “As an Ibaloy who loves and upholds my culture, I serve as an inspiration for others so they can also do their part. Together we continue the living traditions of the Ibaloys,” Asan said.

The SLT in Loakan today

After NCCA gave its last financial support in 2011, CHIVA looked for other donors and continued the SLT, which produced new set of trainees, who graduated in 2015. Through Mil-an National High School’s indigenous education program and Indigenous Peoples Education or IPED coordinator Emil L. Noveno, SLT classes are held in the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays where SLT graduates serve as trainors.

Like others before them, the SLT students under the guidance of the Noveno are invited during indigenous rituals in the community and other important occasions. In the ongoing SLT in the avhong, which Onjon ni Ivadoy implements with funding from NCCA, Ibaloy children from Loakan are participating to learn about their Ibaloy heritage and history.


The project “Loakan, Baguio City School of Living Traditions on Ibaloi Performing Arts” was a trailblazer. It produced the first generation of Ibaloy children who were taught by cultural masters how to play their instruments and perform the tayao.

But much more needs to be done. The SLT should continue and expand its lessons to include the Ibaloy language and other cultural forms. The different instruments are difficult to learn and require lots of practice. To assure continuous learning of Ibaloy heritage, it should form part of the school curriculum.

Another SLT, Kiwas Elementary School, in Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet was also sponsored by the NCCA under the coordination of Monica Fernando.

Besides NCCA-funded SLTs, no other SLTs were set up in the city. Therefore, a fund should be in place to sustain the SLT on Ibaloy culture, including other indigenous culture in Baguio. A legislation providing funds for SLT in the barangays should be passed in the city with counterpart funds from the barangays to institutionalize the SLT as a regular program in the barangays.

Young Ibaloys as culture bearers

The Ibaloy youth can sustain the Ibaloy culture. We believe that we have just done that through the SLT on Ibaloy Performing Arts. One of the graduates said, “We all know that preserving our culture is more like preserving ourselves, our identity.”

That a young Ibaloy could say these testify to the impact of the SLT in sustaining the great Ibaloy culture.

Aljon Chiday (left) dances the tayao, while Jeric Palispis (second from right) plays the kalsa and Dexter Realubin plays the pinsak during their graduation from the preparatory phase of the Loakan SLT on Ibaloy performing arts. -- RCB

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