The Beliefs and Home Rituals of Benguet

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 by Severino Oblas

Reference: Treasury of Beliefs and Home Rituals of Benguet by W. Sacla, 1987

I.The Belief System

The two main ethnic tribes, ''kankana-ey'' and ''ibaloy'' are not far apart in their belief system, except that they are dissimilar in linguistics. Their belief system is common to both with little deviation in methods of performance but do not change the intent and purposes.

The Benguet people believe in the existence of unseen beings that emanate from the Skyworld and the underworld. That these unseen beings are called spirits thought to have power over man. It is further believed that these unseen beings (spirits) can be manipulated by man to his advantage. With this belief, the people strive to win the favor of the spirits using prayers and material offerings in a ritual.

This belief resulted to a belief system from which customs, traditions and taboos are establish. Through the centuries, the people had adopted this system as part of their life ways and thoughtways. Although this belief system is unwritten, it was preserved by the native priest in the form of ritual prayers, which was passed from one generation to another until this day.

* The pagan worship referred to the natives of Benguet by western writers does not find relevance in the belief system of both Kankana-ey and Ibaloy of Benguet. In fact, it has been a taboo for both tribes to have images in their homes for purposes of worship, except for the love of art. Hence, to understand Western concepts, the worship of idols, images, temples and sacred places are flatly paganism and the worshippers are called pagans. *

The belief system of both people shows that above all the gods and goddesses (Kabana) there is the ADI-KAILA or MENGO- SOSCHUNG, the most high. In this faith evolved a system of appeasing the malevolent unseen and appreciating the benevolent unseen. The malevolent unseen are the ones preying on the lives of men, women and children like robbers or kidnappers for ransom. And if not appeased, they harm their victims by inflicting sickness, injury or finish them to death. Parallel to the malevolent is the benevolent unseen who is thought to be the supreme one who gave man the power to counteract the malevolent in the form of rituals. The rituals are classified as to offensive, defensive and appreciative natures.

II.Knowing their attributes and whims is important as a basis to classify said spirits as to hierarchy and generosity.

A.Classification of the spirits according to Hierarchy

As to hierarchy, the maker of the universe, the ADIKA-ILA/ MENGOS-OSCHONG, is the highest and powerful of all the spirits and his realm is in the skyworld.

Next highest are the KABUNYAN/ KAVUNIAN also from the skyworld. Both skyworld spirits look over man for whatever calls them for help.

The next to the Kabunyan are the spirits of the ancestors, AP-APO/ KAAPUAN and the spirits of people who just died, KAKADING/ KEDARING. They are believed to move freely from the skyworld to the underworld and back as they wish.

> The spirits of folks long dead are called KAAPUAN. They live with the deities, kabunyan in the skyworld and are among the skyworld spirits called IKADAYAAN/CHINAYKAYNG. The kaapuan spirits can travel from the skyworld to the earth, to the underworld and back, a privilege the underworld spirits may not enjoy.

Composing the last group are numerous spirits collectively called underworld spirits. ANITO/IKALUTAAN, that live in the ocean, rivers, lakes, springs, caves, rocks, ravines, bushy trees and shrubs and abandoned buildings and in the many that the native priest identify them in groups according to their dwelling places and could be everywhere. These underworld spirits when offended, trespassed and brushed aside could be violent thereby inflicting illness, death and misfortune to man. The ''dilus/chilus'' ritual is offered.

> Most of these are violent spirits, consisting of groups of spirits. Each group has a collective name:

1.''tomongao''-''pinad-ing''--- for mountain spirits

2.''ampasit''--- that live in water source

3.''pinten/pinchen''--- spirits of people dead by accident, drowning and having committed suicide.

4.''tonoton/debek''--- spirits that live in swampy areas.

5.''kamil-ling/kamid-ding''--- spirits that cause sudden skin disease when offended.

6.''nante-es bilig/manla-os''--- mountain spirits that live in Mt. Pulag and other high mountains.

7.''pamakan/legado''(legion)--- the spirits of those who died in battle and in accident do not go to the skyworld but remain on this earth.

Others are ''amlag,'' tayab-ban, 'botatew'', ''mandoweng.''

***The tomongao also keeps the gold, silver and other minerals and controls the disposal of the same.

B.As to generosity, the spirits are classified as:

Benevolent - ''Maeya/Mapteng''

Malevolent - ''Makedse/Makedsel''

Generally, all spirits are regarded as good, however, the degree of goodness and badness of the spirits depends on their perception of man's actions. The degree of offense of man against the spirits is the measure of the degree of his punishment curable only by appeasing the spirits.

On the other hand, the spirits not being offended and trespassed remain to be benevolent as protectors and providers to man.

Both the favors and wrath of the spirits to the perception of man can be availed of and appeased. This is traced as the basis of ritual practices.

The benevolent spirit is offered a Thanksgiving ritual consisting of animals, food, ricewine and other materials as gift. The malevolent spirit who causes sickness could also be appeased by performing a healing ritual to restore the health of the afflicted by offering similar gifts.

III.Kankana-ey and Ibaloy
Perception on this Form of Beliefs and Its Effects on the Living

The longing for material wealth and good health by man makes him very ritual conscious. The Benguet people regard rituals and feasts as a fulfillment of their aspirations as well as a cure to their illness. They believe that the good spirit will give them favors in the form of good health and material wealth.

** What has been popularized as ''Kanyaw'' by our lowland brothers is neither a Kankana-ey nor Ibaloy term for the rituals. Whatever it is, the Kankana-ey call their ritual affairs as ''Sida'' or ''Dilus''. The Ibaloy call theirs as ''Kedot'', ''Chilus'' or ''Kecheng''. Our elders assert that Kanyaw as understood by outsiders has no meaning or relevance to our rituals, whatsoever***.


The native priests are the chosen spiritual leaders in the community well versed in the belief system (in every community there is always a ''Manbunong'').

They are consulted in healing the sick, in comforting the victims of misfortune and in the offering thanks to the deities for fortunes received. The priests are therefore counsels of the people in times of joy, sorrow and distress.

** However, no ''mambunong'' has ever written a book on rituals, this is so because oral ritual customs are both secret and sacred to both tribes. The ritual ministry can not be transferred by formal schooling neither seminar-workshop nor private sessions can make a manbunong;

>>> It is the ADIKAILA (unseen) who gave man the power of the ministry. The priests are chosen by the spirits through dreams. Their knowledge of their calling is enriched by the tutoring of older priests. All priests are considered equal, no one is higher or lower in rank.

* The native priests are not visible as monks of temples, they work for their livelihood like ordinary persons but must attend to his spiritual obligation when called upon.

As the spirits are classified, the priests are also categorized according to their calling:

> The MANSIP-OK /MANSI'BOK - having been given certain powers to determine the cause of illness, death and misfortune, and prescribes the appropriate ritual cure. Each man sip-ok uses his own devices in determining the cause of sufferings.

When a ritual is prescribed, it is given to the MANBUNONG/MAMBUNONG to administer. The manbunong in turn performs the desired ritual.

*** The MANBUNONG acts as a medium between the sick and the spirit. In this case when a manbunong is performing the ritual of healing, he is communicating with the spirits to relieve the affected person of his sufferings; After which the manbunong comforts the afflicted assuring him the cure because the ritual was done well according to the wishes of the spirits. The effectiveness of the ritual is in his hands.

* Since the pre-Christian times, the manbunong occupies an important place in the priestly ministry, who acknowledges and performs the desired ritual cure.

In rituals the MANKOTOM/MANCHIBA interprets omens and signs which the mansip-ok and the manbunong may not decide.

They are the wise men of the community, who oversee the observance of the traditional practices, keepers and guardians of the customs and tradition with high regards for the strict observance of rituals and taboos. They could assume the functions of the mansip-ok and the manbunong.

>>> Having the exercise of dual functions, the MANKOTOM does other functions judiciously, they have been usually the advocates of peace. In times of trouble, the people look up to them for advice and comfort.


1.Settling dispute---any dispute arising from misunderstanding, stealing, divorce, property ownership and other disorder within the community are brought before the Mankotom for peaceful settlement. Parties and witnesses are summoned to shed light as basis for a decision.

2.Counseling of persons disturbed of bad omen arising out of taboo, ''natomo''.

3.Counseling of persons disturbed of bad dreams, ''base''.

4.Counseling of families afraid of the appearance or passing of strange birds and animals in their home as bad omen, ''gibek''/''bohas''.

5.Counseling of individual or family who suddenly lost their material wealth.

6.Counseling of families who are beset by successive deaths, ''gupo''/''ebasel''.

*** In compliance to tradition, pigs are preferable butchered for this purpose as a reconciliatory ritual animal offered by the Manbunong to ADIKAILA.

> The purpose of this ritual is to seal the decision and to warn either party not to defy the decision, lest he shall be cursed by ADIKAILA.

Manbunong in his prayer the justice of ADIKAILA:

''Sik-a ay Adikaila ay nangamag ya nandowin sinan daga ya amin ay matmatago nay itangad con sik-a nan kap-ya nay ta tagoem di mamati si bilen mo''...translated as ...

To you unseen being who created this earth and all living creators, I look up to you offering this reconciliatory ritual that those who obey you be blessed.


This is the administering of prescribed rituals as a healing cure, protection, purification, sanity, normalize birth and good voyage/journey.

The spirits are called upon with offerings of animals, wine food and other desired/prescribed materials for favors received or restored health.

In any ritual rice wine, ''tapey''/''tafey'' is always used being the traditional ritual wine. The traditional ritual animal is the pig.

> Traditionally, a sick person who feels ill consults the native priest, ''mansip-ok. The mansip-ok gathers all information related to the illness then prescribes the ritual cure. However, the ritual observance is not only limited to healing the sick. The folks perform it for various purposes as follows:

1.To welcome an omen of good luck, with the belief that such omen will increase ones chances of becoming rich;

2.To counteract a bad omen so as to evade the ill effect;

3.To strengthen ones chances of winning a case, a contest, a conflict or a game of chance;

4.To ask the KABUNYAN and the spirits protection, guidance and good luck before going on a journey or in time of movement;

5.To ask the favor of the KABUNYAN and the ancestors to bless ones newly established project;

6.To ask the KABUNYAN to bless ones newly acquired property;

7.To reconcile a broken relation;

8.As a house warming in occupying a new home;

9.To ask the Almighty, ADIKAILA to bless the newly planted field for a bountiful harvest;


> KEDAW / KECHAW                                            > TANONG / TANONG

> SANGBO / SANGBO                                          > SOBSOBOT / SEBSEBOT


> LIYAW DIYAW                                                    > BEGNAS / BEGNAS

> DENET / BALAK                                                 > DANGTEY / DANGTEY

> PETED / PETTAD                                              > TOMO / TEMMO

> DAW-ES / CHAW-ES                                         > BOSALAN-BAWBAWI / SUKDUT

> POCPOCLEY / POKPOKLEY                            > ES-ESET / MANSINGPET

> SABOSAB / SABOSAB                                      > DAWDAWAK-ANAWANG-MAKSIL

> BASING / KE-SOG                                             > TOMONGAO: BAYANI-LEBEK /DEBEK

> LAWIT / DAWIT                                                  > KIAD / KIYAD — DIPAT

> PAKDE                                                                > LET-WAD

> PAMAKAN-LEGADO                                          > LOBON - KAFE – SAPNAK

> EPAS                                                                  > AN-ANITO / KESCHENG


***>BENDIYAN; CHUNGAS; KOSDEY; BATBAT; SEDPANG AND BANGKILAY are exceptions only for the Ibaloys.


***    Since there are classes of spirits, the rituals are performed to conform with the spirit's demands. Such spirits:

> Kabunyan/Kavunian

> Ap-apo/Kaapuan

> Kakading/Kedaring

...are offered thanksgiving rituals. These spirits receive the most ritual for being benevolent to man. It is believed these spirits can intercede for man for bountiful harvest, prolific animals and good health.

A progressive and successful businessman, a farmer of bountiful harvest, an elected public official, anyone who attained a high professional status and a man whose life was spared from an accident believe that the favors and protection are from the spirits. In appreciation to the favors granted, it is customary practice to celebrate thanksgiving feasts in honor of the Kabunyan and their Ap-apo/kaapuan. These thanksgiving feasts are proportionate to the economic status of the individual in accordance with traditional stages of thanksgiving rituals.

One who has bountiful harvest, herd of animals and has money gives bigger feast and performs the higher ritual stage. Others may start from a lower stage as a step to attaining the higher one. The biggest feast is called the ''pedit/pechit'', a celebration of which elevates the giver of feast to the wealthy class, ''baknang'', in the community.

Spirits invoked in these occasions are the KABUNYAN, known to be twelve, AP-APO/KAAPUAN and the ancestors of the celebrating family. The 12 gods, Kabunyan are: Pati, Kabigat, Lumawig, Gatan, Bal-litoc, Suyan, Amduyan, Kalan, Wigan, Lopis, Bentawan and Maudi. The 12 goddesses, Kabunyan are: Bangan, Bugan, Pe-ey, Yapeng Lingen, Ubang, Angban, Angtan, Apinan, Daungen, Tengnan and Ibaga.

The gods and goddesses, Kabunyan are honored in a song chanted by the elders as the main ritual prayer in big feasts. This song is called ''bay-yog /ba'jog or angba''. In the lower grade of feasts, only a few of the Kabunyan are mentioned in the song.

ON RITUALS: For example - A Thanksgiving Feast among the Kankana-ey called ''Pedit'' and its stages are discussed on a separate page.



A ritual prayer is the expression of the message of the celebrating family conveyed by the native priest, MANBUNONG, to a spirit or spirits who are the expected unseen recipients of material sacrifices in a ritual.

The ritual prayer may be expressed in various dialects spoken in the locality. It is believed however that spirits of the different races can be addressed to in the manbunong's native dialect. The chanting of the message states the names of the celebrating families, identifies the spirits whom it is addressed to and concludes by asking favors from the spirits.

In the ritual prayer, the manbunong acts as the medium between the celebrating family and the spirit; between the sick and the spirit, between the spirit and another spirit, when used as an offense or defense between persons. It is the manbunong who communicates the wishes of the celebrating family to the spirit or spirits, with the hope that in return the spirits will answer the prayer and reciprocate the offering by giving good health, protection and material favors.

The rituals are performed according to their specific purposes: Each ritual has a corresponding prayer, specific spirit addressed to persons involved, material offerings, sacrificial animals, and time of performance.

>< Among others are example of healing and thanksgiving prayer: (Amlag Prayer – Lobon Prayer) on a separate pages.


Noted from the native priest ritual prayer, the gods and goddesses, Kabunyan, came down from the skyworld to the earth bringing along with them animals, crops and precious metals as their gift to the earth people. The Kabunyan gave these gifts to people whom they favor. The person therefore, who by his industry is able to acquire material wealth, believes it as a blessing from the Kabunyan.

In appreciation and as a token of gratitude, the people offer some of their acquired material riches through rituals. The people believe that what Kabunyan had given to man be offered in turn as material offerings in ritual which are acceptable to the gods and goddesses. The ritual materials are the animals offered as living sacrifices, crops and precious metals.

The ritual animals are chicken, dog, pig, cow, carabao, horse and duck as required by the elders. The material offerings are the ritual blankets, clothes, coins, jars, tools, porcelain plates and bowls, beads, bronze armlets and anklets, tobacco, stone flint, necklace, earring and rings. The absence of any of these requisites render the ritual unacceptable to the spirits in whom it is offered. A ritual that is not accepted is ineffective.


Each ritual has its own specific material requirements. Each material offering is for a specific purpose in a specific ritual. The purpose of the ritual determines the material requirements to be offered.

> Ritual materials are therefore categorized according to ritual objectives as follows:

a.ritual materials for healing purposes, ''dilus / chilus''

b.ritual materials for thanksgiving feasts, ''pedit / sida''

ritual materials for death purposes, ''icoyog di natey; may-odop'';


Celebration of rituals follow or is dependent on lunar signs interpreted to conform with the ritual purposes in order to be effective. The performance of the ritual is dependent on two determining events:

the formation of the moon

the twelve seasons - ''mata-on/tinawen'' –12 months, calendar year

In the Gregorian calendar, the lunar month corresponds to a calendar month. Under the lunar month, the moon undergoes three marked changes disappearing from the sky totally on the fourth stage. The first emergence appearing as an arc on the first week is designated as the ''beska / beskal''- first quarter. When the moon gradually changes to look round it is called ''teke / pingil'' - full moon and ''manbakas / dened'' - last quarter. Starting from the fourth week the moon disappears called ''lened / nedned''- new moon.

The BESKA/BESKAL which is the first time that the moon emerges in a half circle is the best period to celebrate the ritual. It is believed that as the moon progresses to a next cycle which is the full moon, the celebrating family looks to a progressive and prosperous life. As the moon regresses from TEKE/PINGIL to the LENED/DENED, it is inappropriate time to celebrate the rituals on the belief that the celebrating family may lose their good luck and fortune.


In any ritual administered by the native priest, the elders insist that the taboo be strictly observed during celebration. It is believed that the effective healing process of any ritual lies in the firm observance of the taboo.

> There are instances in the performance of rituals that compel both the rich and the poor to observe ritual ethics. The taboo observed as do's and don'ts in performing the ritual forms part of the ritual ethics. For example:

> Open the jar of ''tapey'' when requested by the native priest.

> Don't just sip the tapey juice when it is not yet offered to the spirit(s).

A violation is considered unethical and the person who may have done it is censured

The playing of gongs, ''gangsa'' follows appropriate ritual patterns. The first to hold the gongs and other ritual instruments are the elders in the community. The celebrating family are the first to start the ritual dance, ''tayaw''. Succeeding dancers are the elder kin of the celebrating family. After which the community joins in.

The elder who holds the gangsa acts as the protocol officer, the blankets for dancing has to be given to elders as a gesture of respect.

During ritual feasts, pigs are offered as sacrifices. According to custom the catching and goring of the pig has to be done by selected persons. A widower or divorcee is not given these tasks. The belief behind is not to prematurely have the celebrant widowed or divorced. Slicing and distribution of meat has to be done and/or supervised by elders, possibly those who had been celebrating ritual feasts. In cases where there is excess of meat, it is shared to the neighbors who failed to attend the feast.

These ritual ethics were carried from generation to generation through the performance of the ritual.

Traditionally, the ritual performance itself reminds the people to conduct themselves in the observance of the taboo. The taboo involves the disciplinary aspect attendant to the

pursuance of a healing and favorable effect of the ritual.

**Terms used in observing the appropriate ethic in administering a particular ritual:

> ''abid'', ''diba'' and ''ngilin'' are Kankana-ey terms

> “shiva and ''ngilin'' are Ibaloy words.

H.Rituals Used To Inflict Harm On Other Persons

These rituals while carried by tradition are also tabooed by tradition. This is so because of its indiscriminate use by persons whose intention is to wish harm on innocent persons. Even just knowing the prayers for these sorcery rituals is prohibited by the elders. He who knows the prayers keep it for himself.

The performance of these rituals are strictly done in secluded places with only the mambunong and the performing person. Other members of the family or relatives are not allowed to witness the activities.

Among these rituals are as follows:






These rituals are performed to inflict harm to the enemy in the form of sickness, curse, accident, misfortune or death. When taken as a defense against the bad intention of a hostile foe, the performers of this ritual do it to defend themselves against the effects of the ritual performed against them or neutralize the tension. Believed as an effective deterrent against odds, this ritual as a defense has been applied in disputes and other cases where settlement is remote and where the wrong-doer is making any means to attain his purpose.

Used sparingly by both tribes except in cases where “paypay” is the best ritual deterrent to save one’s life against sorcery or witchcraft, “kulam” or “gamud”, inflicted by persons outside the Ibaloy or Kankana-ey tribes.

Historically and in modern sports competition attempts were made by some people in order to outwit the stronger. The same was made in the election of public officials. It is believed that by performing this ritual the opponent will experience fear and discouragement contributing to losing the contest.

I.The Malignant Touch of A Person

A.     Bengat– malignant touch of a person or a person believed to be possessed of a spirit that gets near him or who touch his belongings.

A person may suffer the bengat in the form of an allergy such as itchy skin, nose, ears, private skin and the skin itchiness may worsen to a skin disease if not healed immediately.

B.     Sigit– Strange pain by just talking or inhaling the warmth of a person believed to have been in touch with wild animals – under the care of the “tomongao”.

A victim of sigit may suffer headache, backache, stomachache usually accompanied by vomiting. However, the victim could immediately recover if the hunter who caused the pain touches the person at the same time saying a short prayer to the spirits.

Reference: Treasury of Beliefs and Home Rituals of Benguet by Wasing Sacla       1987


Note: We Igorots often come together again to share one’s own “Padas”, or experiences in life for better understanding of ourpractices and belief. Matago-tago tako am-in!

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