Cañao: Heart of the Cordilleran Culture

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Cañao is a socio-religious ritual where chickens, pigs, and/or carabaos are butchered or feasted on. 

Though cañao is slowly fading because some Cordillerans have finally embraced the Christian faith, it is still practiced in occasions such as marriage, feast, and death.

Different authors of the book Tanggawan (Igorot Studies Center Publication Series) researched that cañao before 1900 is divided into three: for illness, for good harvest, and for progress. These may take place on sacred mountains, in a field, or in a house depending on the purpose and that mass participation is required. The bile sac or apdo of the animals butchered during the cañao is the crux of the ceremonies. The rituals in the cañao are perceived to heal because these have been performed to appease spirits that cause sickness to a person.

The following are the different types of cañao related to illness:

Sepadakan. The purpose of this is to cure those who get sick because of sapiloy, a spell cast on plants to guard them from being stolen. A chicken is usually butchered but if there is none, then pasterns (kuku) of the pig are roasted instead.

Nabao-it. This is done to cure a sickness caused by the timmengao (ghost inhabiting the mountains). The sickness exhibits the symptoms of malaria and asthma. To cure this, the relatives of the sick person have to collect all the things wanted by the timmengao as told by the mensip-ok (priest or priestess who is endowed with the power to speak to and for the anitos, the spirit of the dead) and take them to the edge of the barrio. Upon reaching the edge of the barrio, they will get ashes to drive away the anito saying that everything asked for is already given.

Sakup. As believed, the trees, stones, mountains, and hills have spirits capable of making a person sick. To appease the spirits, a relative of the sick person holds a cañao opposite the tree, the mountains or stones that made the person sick.

Aklup and Paypay. One’s spirit may be left in another place causing him some sickness. To call for his spirit back, an immediate member of the family has to get rice and pieces of meat or chicken, and then proceed to the place where the spirit has been supposedly left. This ritual is called aklup. After calling for the spirit, they return home to butcher a chicken.

Paypay, on the other hand, is used to call for a spirit left in a far place or in another barrio. A chicken is brought to the barrio or place where the spirit was left for butchering.

Awil. It is believed that the spirits of dead soldiers and other well-known persons from other places are capable of making a person sick. Giving of clothes, money, and food is done to appease these spirits

Denet. This ritual is done when the sick person dreamed of the spirits of a certain field or if a mensip-ok or mansip-ok finds out that the sick person’s illness was caused by the spirits of a certain field. This cañao is held in dikes. If it is revealed in dreams, a chicken is butchered depending on the request of the spirit of the field. In the case of the latter, the animals usually butchered are two chickens and one pig. The pig and one of the chickens are butchered in the field while the other chicken is returned home. On the third day, the chicken is taken again to the field to be butchered. This second cañao in the field is called topya. After the topya, other pig or chicken is butchered at the house of the owner. This is now called as the dawat.

Epas/Tongakala. This is performed only when the mensip-ok or mansip-ok finds out from his contact with the ancestral spirits that the epas [cañao] is necessary in order to cure sickness. One pig is butchered and if its gall bladder is interpreted by the mensip-ok or mansip-ok as “good,” a chicken is butchered. However, if there is any bad omen within the duration of the epas or tongakala, a sow is butchered instead.

Sakup di baey. It is believed that a house just like other objects has spirit. If any part of the house is taken from a tree hit by lightning or if anything unlikely happens around the house, its spirit can make any member of the house sick. In order to cure the illness, a rooster is butchered. However, in the absence of a rooster, a hen is instead butchered.

Saok. In this type of cañao, the family of the sick person performs the wedwed, a ceremony transferring the illness temporarily into a jar of tapey (rice wine). In saok, there are seven pigs to be butchered. There is much merry-making and the neighboring barrio are invited. Aside from the pigs, one to seven carabaos and three cows are butchered for the people. The playing of gongs and singing of native ballads like the daing and day-eng  are done the whole day. This is the time when the young men and women put on their best and join the merry-making.

Tubag. This is similar to the saok in elements but is held only during the night. This is usually performed by the people who desire to fulfill the request of the anito (spirits) but cannot afford it. Thus, only one pig is butchered.

Uno-on. This ceremony is used to scare the anito to take back his words and relieve the sick person from his sufferings. This is performed by burning a piece of cloth. The smoke of the burning cloth is believed to scare away the anito.

Sagawsaw. This is a cañao performed to cleanse one’s self from bad luck acquired from battles, dangerous ventures, and sexual relations outside marriage. A dog is butchered because of its natural characteristics of biting and barking. Sometimes, it is believed that the spirits of ancestors killed by enemies cause certain sicknesses.

Dantey. This is a cañao performed to drive away epidemic worms and pests. A dog is butchered in all paths leading to the village.

Meanwhile, the following are the cañao for good crops/products:

Kenta. This is done to appeal for blessings after each of the following activities is done: padog (first sowing of the grains), a ceremony held to appeal for good growth and sprouting of the seeds and protection from rodents and pests; tuned (planting), appeal for the protection and robust growing of the plants; todag, the bringing up of the palay from the floor to the attic of the house to be stored; and nakiamnan, which is for the birth of the piglets, hatching of the chicks, etc.

Lepas. This is the cañao held at the end of working season. It is also an appeal by the people to the great Kabunian and the anito to protect and take care of their products.

Bun-ong. This is done after all the harvest. This is sort of thanksgiving for the good harvest.

Begnas and Pacde. Begnas is done to implore for a progressive life and better harvest or drive away famine, epidemic, and bad luck. The pacde, on the other hand, is the ceremony to share one’s blessing to the other members of the community. Nobody is allowed to go out of the village during the pacde.

Finally, there are also cañao for progress. These are the following:

Baskang. This is the most important cañao for progress. This lasts for more than ten days. As many as seven to ten pigs are butchered. Chickens are also butchered depending on the suggestion of the native priest (mambunong or manbunong).

Emegan. On this day, all the members of the family stay home to rest after the baskang. After this, the members of the family can go out of the house.

These cañao offer opportunities for relatives, friends, neighbors, and other people to gather, talk, sing, and dance. Relatives get to know each other more. In bigger performances of cañao, gongs are played and day-eng fill the village atmosphere.

These and more make the cañao play very important roles in the social life of Cordillerans.


*Reprinted with permission of Dr. Grace T. Bengwayan, Adviser, The Mountain Collegian/Culture Magazine.  The Mountain Collegian is the official student publication of Benguet State University in La Trinidad, Benguet, Philippines.



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