Mountain Province BEGNAS Ceremony: Its Meaning and Significance

Written by Pamela B. Fiar-od on .

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I. Description

Begnas is a community rite in Mountain Province with series of rituals performed in accordance with certain indigenous beliefs anchored on the existence of the Almighty generally referred as Kabunyan. In essence, Begnas is performed among the Applai tribe of Mountain Province (Besao, Sagada, Tadian, Sabangan, Bauko) and termed Fhegnas in Sadanga as part of their socio-economic way of life. Similarly, it is performed to give meaning and significance to their life. Begnas takes place in an ato or dap-ay, a neutral indigenous institution where the indigenous local governance takes place.

Begnas is a community feast that lasts for two to three (2-3) days following certain procedures. To most observers, Begnas is viewed as the playing of gongs, dancing and chanting, sharing of food and wine. However, Begnas in its entirety has pre-requisite rituals and post-rituals with prescribed sacrificial animals which are usually chickens or pigs. The hosting of the Begnas is alternately done by any of the dap-ay or ato in the community. In a village there can be two or more dap-ays.

The performances of Begnas are for certain purposes such as: 

(1) Spiritual healing of an individual who is mentally imbalanced. Through the Begnas, the bad spirits are exorcized or cast away;  

(2) Community cleansing from any community dilemma or catastrophe; and 

(3) Thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. 

II. Steps and Procedures: Its Meaning and Significance

(1)Conference of the Council of Elders to determine the purpose of the Begnas, which dap-ay to host the Begnas, appropriateness of day or date in accordance with the convenience of the community people, agricultural cycle, natural phenomenon, unexpected events. This reflects participatory decision-making following group consensus. 

(2)Announcement of the event to all dap-ay elders to enough time for the community people to prepare rice wine, food and for them to reschedule any other family activity. This shows community solidarity and support.

(3)Begnas proper where there is gong playing, dancing, chanting, eating and drinking rice wine (tapey).

(4)Pakde. As a closing rite, this ritual is performed at the foot  of the patpatayan (sacred tree). Either a pig or chicken is offered to Kabunyan and the spirits to thank God. The butchered pig is cut into small pieces and pricked with bamboo sticks (tebek or pasing or watwat) for distribution to every household. This symbolizes the sharing of every blessing from Kabunyan.

Likewise, the animal sacrifice is significant for the message it conveys as revealed in the appearance of the bile. When it is delway (bile is totally exposed), it predicts that something good will happen and it is good day for specific family rituals. When it is simlit (bile is partly hidden), it warns the elders to be more cautious and when it is kopis (bile is totally hidden), the elders make a decision whether to butcher another one. Or by the power of the word, an elder may make an optimistic pronouncement like “Let the bad be hidden from us.” In such case, no chicken is butchered and the prayer is recited that they (elders) acknowledge the power of the Almighty as they say, “Kasiyana,” a comforting word that means everything is left in the hands of the Almighty. 

The Day of the Begnas: How it is performed

(1) Giyaw or Khayew

This is a ritual to invoke the blessings and guidance of Kabunyan and other ancestral spirits on the day’s activity. Specifically, series of prayers are recited to request Kabunyan to grant to the community people a bountiful harvest, good health, long life and lasting peace.


1.1. At dawn, an elder starts to beat the wooden shield in a rhythmic striking sound. The young men with elders leading them in every dap-ay prepare for the procession. They put on their g-string, turbans and hold their own spear. Once they are gathered in their respective dap-ay, an elder strikes the shield leading them to a sacred place about 300 to 500 kilometers away from the community where usually, there is the main trail entry to the community.

1.2. At the sacred place, they build a fire and have a brief silence to observe any sign of good or bad omen. They leave an ember and a smoking bundled rice straw as symbols that an event is on-going. Prayers are recited for any specific request or for bountiful harvest, for healthy people free from epidemic or for a peaceful community.

1.3. Procession back to the dap-ay. In returning, as the elders walk in procession with a single formation, they acclaim the good signs (labeg) they observed by shouting. The lead-elder starts shouting, “aye..ahh hayy!!” and continued by the next elder behind and the shout is echoed to the last then back to the lead-elder. The shouting continues until the elders reach the dap-ay.

1.4. Breakfast at the dap-ay. The men who went for the khayew and all others who prepared dine together for breakfast. Usually, the viand for breakfast like sardines is given by generous people including women who may bring anything to be shared referred to as tambo. Other forms of sharing or tambo could be tobacco, matches or bottles of juice or other beverages.

(2)  Ritual at the Patpatayan

2.1. After a quick breakfast in the dap-ay, they leave their spears in the dap-ay and go to the patpatayan, a sacred place with a sacred tree. A pig is butchered as an offering to Kabunyan. The pig meat is divided into pieces with about three to four (3-4) pieces pricked in bamboo strip for distribution to all households. Series of prayers are recited. The pig is paid from contributions of every household.

2.2 Giving of tambo. As the ceremony goes on, rice wine, hard drinks, juice or any kind of drink are given as tambo for the elders to drink as they perform the ritual at the patpatayan. Tambo is given by women and those who arrive from other villages to join the Begnas. The giving of tambo is anchored on the spiritual belief that “All things come of thee, Oh! Lord and to you we offer back.” Series of prayers are recited then the elders go back to the dap-ay as the venue of the joyful celebration.

(3) Rituals before the gongs are played

3.1. Daw-es. A cleansing ritual is performed in the dap-ay to give thanks to Kabunyan, to appease spirits of elders who died earlier and to request for a peaceful celebration. A chicken is butchered for this purpose.

3.2. Luweb (not always). In instances where there are youth or pre-school children, they can be subjects of a ritual to empower such children to become disciplined. It is done with a series of prayers with some indigenous gadgets like boar necklace, pine needles, bolo, etc. In the series of prayers, the ‘call’ is for Kabunyan to grant the children the strength of the boar, the long life of pine needles, the sharpness of a bolo, etc.

(4) Begnas Celebration Proper by all Community People

Gong playing and dancing through and through for the day.

Meanings and Significance:

Circular Formation in the dancing: It manifests unity and solidarity. 

Ethnic attire (G-string for men and tapis for the women): It symbolizes that the event is significant to be valued by preparing for it in terms of attire to be worn, food to share.

Drinking of tapey: It symbolizes sharing and as a way of acknowledging the rice from Kabunyan that is made into wine.

Sound of gongs: It echoes the power of sound to invite all people and the spirits in the celebration.

Rooster feathers tucked in the turban of ritualist-elders: It symbolizes certain socio-cultural hierarchy of ranks of having children and grandchildren.

Baliwat (Shout in between the dancing): It is a wishful prayer or words of appreciation shouted. It is usually a wish shouted by a credible elder that God grants peace, prosperity and abundance.

(5) Closing Ritual

This is for a few elders, who perform a closing ritual in the dap-ay that hosted the community Begnas.

A chicken is butchered with a series of prayers of thanks for the sound celebration and that the community be spared from upcoming sad events. This closing ritual also declares the next event in the agricultural calendar or it declares that the next socio-economic activity may commence.

III. Analysis

As analyzed, Begnas as an indigenous community activity performed in a dap-ay is not only being done for the sake of dancing and chanting, but also to give more weight on the series of rituals related to agricultural productivity, spiritual healing, sound conduct of socio-economic activities and as a cultural closing and/or opening ceremony from one activity to the other.

Likewise, the governance and leadership capabilities among the competent and value-laden leaders are manifested. Such practices are worth emulating considering that the elders have not gone to formal schooling but they are knowledgeable of organizational structures. The prayers are addressed to Kabunyan as the Almighty, the Unseen and the All-Powerful.

In essence, the cultural practices are meaningful and significant in the life of the Igorots. Moreover, the Igorot culture is anchored on agriculture.

IV. Begnas: Its application in the international scene.

The concept drawn from the Begnas ceremony such as single line procession, sharing of meat,  series of prayers can probably be adopted except for the butchering of animals.

Hence, as usually practiced, the grand march entry with participants in full Igorot attire can give impact at any opening or closing program in international conferences. In a Begnas, it is only the men involved in the khayew. An innovation in today’s programs can be with the participation of women and the stage can be set to appear like a dap-ay where there is the tree, stones to sit on, horns of carabao and a sleeping quarter for men. 

In terms of sharing of meat in Begnas, the meat could perhaps be in the form of other food. As to the chanting of prayers, this could be learned such that the melody be retained. 


About the Author

Pamela Fiar-od Dungala was born on June 24, 1985 in Besao, Mountain Province and graduated Associate in Computer Engineering at BETI, Baguio City in 2006. She has a two-year old daughter, Raven, born in September 2006 with her late husband, Ruy John Bansi Dungala. 

Pamela is the private secretary to Governor Maximo B. Dalog, Mountain Province since September 2007. Her stock knowledge as Editor In-Chief of a school paper is of full use in her present job. She is the last child (8th) with older siblings Ray, Rommel, Joy, Lilydale, Phillip, Xaverine, Betsy, of Caridad and the late Teresde Fiar-od from Barlig, Mountain Province.   


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