TIME was when the mountains of Kibungan town in Benguet would echo the beats and rhythm of gongs and solibaos (native drums) and the cries of pigs and carabaos being slaughtered and offered to the gods and spirits during traditional feasts called cañao or pedit.
Abundant farm harvest and good swine and cattle production would be enough reasons to hold the cañao.
In these feasts, members of the community would gather in the home of the host family to dine and wine, to dance the sadong (usually performed by girls and women) and the tayaw (usually done by men), and to sing the day-eng (an extemporaneous chanted poetry).
For the host family, the cañao was a way of sharing with the rest of the community blessings the gods and spirits bestowed or what may be considered the family's surplus. The cañao or pedit is thus a thanksgiving feast.
In thanking the heavens, a traditional priest would pray: ''O gods and spirits of the heavens, bless members of this family (referring to the cañao's host family). Let their cattle and livestock become more productive. Let their rice, peas, grains, camote (sweet potato) and other crops bear good harvest. Spare this family from ailments and bless the family members with long, healthy lives. O gods and spirits, we are asking all these so that tomorrow or one of these days, we can again celebrate your blessings for this family and have the chance again to honor you and pay our respects.''
As a community affair, the cañao or pedit had also served a social purpose. Through this affair, each member of the community, in the spirit of bin-nadang or cooperation, would help out in all activities.
The whole community would gather firewood, pound rice, fetch water, slaughter animals and cook, and would participate in religious rituals, such as dancing the sadong and the tayaw, playing the gongs and drums, and joining in the religious
chants. In the early days, the cañao had thus helped strengthen community spirit and unity.
Also through the cañao, families and clans were able to trace their blood lineage and family tree.
But in Benguet towns, such as in Kibungan, which used to hold traditional feasts at least twice or thrice a month until three to four decades ago, the cañao is now slowly vanishing.
The reasons are both economic and cultural. In Kibungan now, there just are not enough animals to butcher, unlike in the early days when, as Lakay (old man) Paguli recalls, there were more animals than people.
The mountain town, which is 67 kilometers northeast of Baguio City, also used to be self-sufficient in staples such as rice and camote.
These days, however, Kibungan folk have to buy their rice from Baguio because of a growing population and the lack of government support services, such as small irrigation systems, to improve farm production.
Populated by about 16,000 Kankana-ey folk, Kibungan has also been saturated by various Christian sects, some of which preach that the cañao tradition is ''unchristian,'' if not ''the work of the devil.''
But as more and more Kibungan folk are turning their backs on the cañao tradition, more and more are also looking for ways to restrengthen community spirit and family and clan ties. Clan reunions have thus emerged in recent years.
Like the cañao, clan reunions enable members to get to know one another better by tracing common ancestors.
Unlike the cañao, however, each family head of the clan contributes to the cost of holding a reunion.
In the recent grand reunion of the Gelwan-Dangsuyan clan, one of the biggest in Kibungan, for example, each family head chipped in P150 mainly to cover the cost of lunch and dinner.
Each one of the over 500 clan members gathered was excited and happy about the grand reunion held in the home of Ganaya Bay-an Bolislis, the only surviving elder of the Tamang sub-clan.
But the grand affair apparently lacks the festive mood of the cañao of yore. The affair was rather formal, complete with a program of activities, during which all sub-clans were presented on a stage installed with a sound system.
There was a spice, however, to all the formalities: each sub-clan presented ice breakers, such as country and folk songs and children's dances, which integrated traditional dance steps.
And the singers, mostly young men and women, were good at aping the late John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Joan Baez and other American country and folk singers.
Some elders did not want to be outdone. Gaerlan Wance and Celino Cayad-an, both World War II veterans, sang songs they learned from their American senior officers in the last war.
That American country and folk songs are tops in Kibungan and other Benguet towns is an interesting subject for sociocultural research. But that's another story.
What is clear is that cultural practices accompanying the cañao tradition are now on the way out.
The mambunong (a traditional priest), who leads the religious rituals in a cañao, no longer has a place in a clan reunion. In the recent Gelwan-Dangsuyan grand reunion, for example, a young Pentecostal pastor, who married a woman of the clan, led
members in a praise and worship rite.
Guitars and sound systems have replaced the beats of gongs and drums. Hawaiian dances performed to the tune of ''Pearly Shells'' and ''Tiny Bubbles'' and other dances, such as one played to some weird beat called ''Dayang-Dayang'' have replaced the traditional sadong and tayaw.
Hardly heard now is the day-eng, an extemporaneous poetry that is sung by elders as they pass around a common cup of tapuy or rice wine.
This poetry is also a form of discourse because one leads and opens up a topic, and another responds by agreeing or disagreeing through metaphors and lots of folk wisdom-laden philosophical thoughts.
Cultural artifacts, such as traditional dresses and heirlooms, can be preserved in museums. Not so with a cultural heritage such as the day-eng, which has to be continually practiced for it to continue to breathe life.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 May 2000