January 29, 2023

HUNGDUAN, Ifugao  – As night falls, young and old people from the villages of Hapao, Baang, and Nangulunan were prepared for tomorrow’s “punnuk”, a tugging event called “guyyod” which is part of the three post-harvest rituals collectively known as “huowah” practiced by their great ancestors and passed on through generations up to this modern-day period.

Earlier, two post-harvest rituals – “baki” and “inum” – were performed by the “mumbaki”, or native shaman.

At the break of dawn, the old villagers were already up to monitor the villagers from three barangays gather at a common place donned with their g-strings and traditional woven skirts while the older men brought the “kina-ag”, a human figure made of dried rice straw and vine, and the “pakid”, a long hooked sapling, which are important items during the tugging event.

All post-harvest traditional games during the punnuk were performed by villagers by the Hapao River that goes down to the great Ibulao River.

When all are accounted for, villagers from three barangays in their red-colored traditional attires started to march from the east for Hapao, southwest for Baang, and northwest for Nungulunan in a single file towards the “nunhipukana” where the Hungduan River and its tributaries meet. 

The pre-punnuk game came even more intense as villagers taunted each other, as the playful jeering echoed throughout the terraces that give them abundant harvest for decades now.

With them as they marched down were the pakid and kina-ag adored with “dongla” (Cordyline fructicosa) leaves. The first two groups that arrived at the nunhipukana were the first to face each other in the tugging game. 

The participants likewise recited the “munggopah”, prayers imploring the gods’ blessing for a successful performance of the rite and for the community’s health and well-being.

Aside from the guyyod, other traditional games held were the “bultong” (traditional wresting), and who could hold his breath by the river longest.

After the matches and a winner is declared, the three kina-ag are thrown into the river to be swept away by the currents so that when it seen by the communities living downstream, they will know that the harvest in Hapao, Baang, and Nungulunan has been completed.

The Hungduan Information Office reported the group that won the most rounds was declared the victor not only in punnuk but also of the entire harvest season. 

According to traditional beliefs, the victors’ rice granaries will be full for the rest of the year while those who did not win are challenged to fend off a lean year.

This year’s punnuk was also a reunion of sort for people of Hungduan town who are in various parts of the country after failing to visit their kin the past two years due to travel restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Practiced by their great ancestors since time immemorial, the punnuk was stopped for years for reasons not known yet to the Courier, but it was revived in 1997 by select community leaders and elders. 

Earlier reports have it that community elders Lopez Nauyac, Elena Uyami, and Victor Melong were among those who inspired their village mates to sustain the tradition. National Artist for Film, Kidlat Tahimik, an adopted son of Hapao, is also actively supporting the punnuk since its revival 25 years ago.

Practiced for decades in one of the sites of the world famous Ifugao Rice Terraces, the punnuk celebration has been inscribed in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 2015.

Hapao is part of the whole Hungduan Rice Terraces, which is among the heritage clusters of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

The other clusters of the Ifugao Rice Terraces inscribed in the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites in 1995 for their “Outstanding Universal Value” are the Bangaan and Battad Rice Terraces in Banaue, the Nagacadan terrace cluster in Kiangan, and central Mayoyao.  – Harley F. Palangchao