61st Courier Anniversary Issue
Beautiful Baguio: Relax, enjoy, and have fun
Being a minority across time
Exotic and mystical Abra
Home of the Isnag Tribe
Benguet has it all
Ifugao, home to bountiful heritage
The Pride of Kalinga
The land called Mountain Province
Benguet farmers'
woes over vegetable prices
Festivals for peace and progress
in Mountain Province
Kalinga: A roadmap to progress
A Napulawan experience
Displaced binga folks:
Pesky footnote in Napoco's legacy?
A peek into Cordillera’s last nature frontier
A taste of Abra
Atty. Federico Muñoz Mandapat Sr.:
A story of a war and sports hero
61st Anniversary Cartoon
A taste of Abra
by: Dazzelyn Zapata

Political violence. Private armies. Gun for hire. Conflict area of the north.
Countless insurgency infested areas. This is what most people would associate the province of Abra with. Most people from outside the Cordilleras will be hesitant to visit Abra as they would the southernmost parts of Mindanao. The stories of violence are sure turn-offs.

But that is just one side of the coin. Like most areas in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Abra has many interesting stories to tell. And this is just one of them.

For most people outside the Cordillera, Abra is just one province, the first in the list that you need to memorize for social studies in elementary. Majority of the inhabitants of Abra are either Ilocanos from nearby provinces who have settled there during the Spanish era and/or the native settlers, Tingguians.

I lived in a Tingguian community for one year as a volunteer teacher of the University of the Philippines’ Gurong Pahinungod (GP) Program. GPP is a joint project of the Department of Education and UP, sending fresh graduates to communities as part of their teachers to the barrios program. There I was able to get to know a culture different from my own, having been raised in Manila.

One of my many interesting acquaintances was Samuel Komtan Dapapa, a member of one of the many surviving Tingguian council of elders and founding member of GIMPONG, an NCIP-recognized organization of Tingguians. He told me that Tingguian came from the word tinggi, which means upland. It is a collective name for the native people of the upland Cordillera and elsewhere. He added that this is the reason why there are Tingguians in some areas of Mindanao. The same way that he is a Tingguian from Balbalasang, Kalinga who married a Binongan lass from Baay, Abra. He added that this is the reason why some indigenous people in the borders of Mountain Province, Kalinga, and Ilocos refer to themselves as Tingguians and not Igorot, Kalinga, or Ilocano.

Mr. Dapapa informed me that there are 10 sub-tribes of the Tingguians in Abra, classified according to their geographic location, variation in dialect and practices, and leadership. Two of these 10 sub-tribes are said to be a strain of two other larger tribes. They are the Adasseng, Aplay, Balato, Banao, Binongan, Inlaud (said to be a strain of Binongan), Gubbang (strain of Banao), Ma-eng, Masadiit, and Uyyadan.

The Tingguians were not recognized when the Spaniards established the government. Tingguians were never given the chance to govern themselves. The Christianized Ilocanos were the ones who have governed the area. They have never asserted themselves to search for their roots. It is only     recently that there are major efforts to rekindle and document their old cultural traditions.

Living with my Tingguian foster family
It was by sheer fate that my volunteer partner, Rodgessa Apas, and I ended up with our foster family in Abra. We were assigned in the municipality of Danglas in 2000 to teach science in the newly established Western Abra National High School. When UP was scouting for a foster family for me and my partner, then mayor Jojo Borbon asked his aunt Julieta Talingdan if her family could take us in. She said yes, three weeks later we moved in and the rest, as they say, is history.

Contrary to the orientation given to us that the community where we will be assigned in may be unaccommodating to us, we had the luxury of  being with a family that eventually accepted us as their own. We ate with them, celebrated with them, mourned with them. We call our foster mother ummang (nanay) and our foster father uppang (tatay), their children who are older than us, we call manang or manong, and the younger ones we call ading. We go with them in the fields to plant and harvest rice and we join them in picnics by the river. It was, simply put, home away from home. They are family.

Most adults now may recall being told bedtime stories to put them to sleep when they were kids. I don’t remember having any problems with sleep as a child and it’s probably why I do not have too many bedtime stories in my head. My most memorable bedtime stories were in Abra, I was no longer a child then but I did enjoy my nightly conversations with my foster mother.

“Apay makaugipen kayun?”
(Itneg dialect which translates Are you sleepy?) This was how Ummang Colita would usually end our nightly conversations. Ummang used to tell me and my partner Roj her many stories as a child growing up in Abra. There was less violence then and conflicts were usually resolved by the elders.

Ummang Colita or Julieta Borbon-Talingdan was born to a farming family on Dec. 17, 1943. Born to a pure Inlaud (Tingguians from the West Abra) family, she was exposed early to the many traditions and practices that her elders went to. As a little girl she learned early practices of dancing tadek and singing their salidummays and she would dance and sing during weddings, before and after burials of loved ones, and during lay-og (first death anniversary), among many other events. She was fascinated by the elders’ chants and songs called sang-sang-it during wakes and uggayam during lay-og. Ummang has an enchanting voice and many times we would hear her hum lullabies to her grandchildren. She was, and still is, always invited to sing during celebrations and community dances.

She told us a story about parental love, which is no longer practiced: Tani (or tampa in Ilocano), a marriage pre-arranged by their parents. She said that this tradition probably died because of monetary concerns, since there are many palalian (dues to be paid). What persisted, however, is the bodda or pakalon, or the traditional wedding conducted by the elders. This was honored before the Marcos regime back in the 1960s. The community agrees upon the terms of the marriage, the husband and the wife agrees to uphold all that is written in the paper of marriage. This is sanctified by the lallakay and babbaket (old men and women).

In the old days, Tingguians were not and did not want to be baptized. Ummang Colita’s elders have always told her that there is no such thing as Christianized Itnegs. That used to be tantamount to blasphemy especially during the Spanish regime. Being Christianized symbolizes submission to the colonizers and treason to the mother land. This is basically the reason why many Tingguian communities can be found in the mountains and outskirts of Abra. Ummang Colita herself was not baptized.

This was corroborated by Vicenta Gumpad-Manzano, or Nana Intang, also a respected Inlaud elder whom Ummang always bumps into in every Tingguian affair. The young Nana Intang was not Christened herself until she reached fourth year high school (without her mother knowing, of course). She was pressured by Ilocano peers in school, telling her that in order for her sins to be purged, she must be baptized. She eventually taught Catechism for many years after graduating from high school but this did not stop her from celebrating the traditions of her culture.

The younger Tingguian generation is a different story. All of Ummang’s eight children have been baptized and all, save for the two youngest boys, studied in Catholic high schools where a certification of baptism is required before one is accepted.

Ummang told us how much old ways have been overtaken by new ones. The mobile and online courtship has overturned the old practice of the courtship, tadek, during community dances. This form of tadek is still being danced during ceremonies but not for its original purpose of a man asking a woman to be his wife.

Golgol: Final respects to the departed
Most of the traditions are still being celebrated but are usually combined with modern practices like during weddings and burials.

During the day, teachers and church groups say their prayers and songs for the departed and at night the lallakay and babbaket chant their sang-sang-it, either mouthing the hopes of the departed or wishing him/her well in the afterlife, asking the departed to take away whatever bad luck and suffering from his loved ones. The next morning after the burial, the entire family goes to the nearby river for a cleansing ritual called golgol. They wash themselves to symbolically wash the grief and avoid the bad luck that death may bring to their family. To do this, they get a bundle of arutang (Inlaud term for rice stalk) and divide it among the bathers. Once in the river, they burn the arutang using fire with burnt meat and vinegar beside the river. They then throw these above their heads far behind them. They should and must not look at the place where they threw the rice stalk. They go under the river together and each one gets a piece of pebble. Once afloat, they remove all their clothing and allow the river to carry them away. They go back home using a different route and must never look back towards the river. When they get home, they throw the pebbles on the roof of their homes so that the ghost of the departed will not haunt them.

Bodda: A Tingguian wedding
The grandest of Tingguian events I have witnessed are their weddings.

Traditional Tingguian weddings are extravagant, grand, and expensive.
They cost more than the average wedding in the cities. They last for two days, three or more for the richer Tingguians. This even excludes the bumaag (pamamanhikan) where the man asks for the hand of his wife-to-be. During the bumaag, the groom prepares for the feast and brings it to the place of the bride.

Another practice is the pangpangilin, another feast done in the place of the groom when he brings his wife to live there. If it is the first time of the bride to go there, she is also required to dance the tadek.

Last December 2006, I was able to witness this firsthand when my older foster sister, Manang Chaty, got married. Her husband to be, Manong Marnel, is of Masadiit descent, the Tingguian subgroup from Lagangilang, Abra. Manang Chaty told me that for their bumaagin February (10 months before their wedding), Manong Marnel butchered a pig and a goat and served basi (sugarcane wine) before asking her hand from Ummang and Uppang. The period between the bumaag and the actual wedding was spent raising animals to be butchered for the feast. All in all, for the actual wedding, they butchered 10 pigs, two cows, and used around four sacks of rice. This can be fewer if both bride and groom are from the same community, but since they are from two different Tingguian communities, the number of guests was doubled.

Their wedding was a combination of both traditional and modern practices. Manang Chaty is a policewoman and Manong Marnel, a seafarer —  both grew up to traditional practices but are also very much attuned to the modern ways. The wedding lasted for two days.
During the eve of their wedding, there was a community dance, well-attended    both by the young and the young-at-heart. Modern music is alternately being played with the gongs of the elders. I noticed how the younger generation danced to the modern tunes and left the dancing of the tadek to the older men and women.

When the gong players are already tired and the old ones still want to dance the tadek, the disc jockey will play the dayang-dayang, a popular novelty song that is very close to the beat of the Tingguian gongs. This song merges the two generations because the younger ones are confident to groove to this song unlike in the traditional tadek.

There were two ceremonies set in the morning. The bride and groom, godparents, and other guests went to the Church for the Christian ceremony while most of the elders were left to their gongs for the traditional wedding ritual called bodda. After the Church wedding, the couple immediately went back to the bride’s house to participate in the traditional ceremony and after it, the modern wedding reception.

Intertwined with the modern cake eating and wine drinking is                the bitor, the Tingguian equivalent for money dance where the guests give seed money to the new couple.

Now, more than a year after their bodda, Manang Chaty and Manong Marnel already has a son, Xymon. Although they are Tingguians of a new order, so to speak, they still strongly believe that it is important that their son learns all the ways taught by the   elders before them.

Ritual process and terminology credits to Charity Loida Talingdan-Guzman and Cresencia Ton-Balmaceda

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