Ifugao Rituals: Their Features and Significance

Written by Anastacia T. Lannaon, Ph.D., Nancy Ann P. Gonzales, Ph.D., Caridad B. Fiar-od, Ph.D. on .

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Introduction/Rationale 

The Ifugao province is known for its unique and striking culture and tradition aside from being considered a historical spot as the “Tiger of Malaya” marked with the Yamashita Shrine in Kiangan. Likewise, Ifugao is popular worldwide and attracts a global concern with its magnificent ‘Stairway to the Sky’ ancient rice terraces at Banaue (Batad and Bangaan), Nagacadan, Kiangan, and Mayaoyao Central, which UNESCO recognized as among the classified World Heritage Sites to be preserved and protected. This is to preserve and safeguard the innate indigenous engineering skills of our forefathers as legacy to the people, especially the Ifugaos. Likewise, considered to be the ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage’ of Humanity is the ‘Hudhud of the Ifugaos.’ This led to the establishment of the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office.

Ifugao is culturally rich in various rituals adhered to, especially in relation to the life stages of man as affected by his health condition, economics, politics and agriculture - referred to as tangible and intangible heritage. Rituals play a significant role in Ifugao culture as a means to communicate with the Supreme Being and other spirits or goddesses named. Such rituals are performed among the older generation for their general and specific purposes. Each ritual has specific features and significance in terms of materials used, animal sacrifices, as well as the event, time, or season that it is to be performed. The shunning of rituals by the younger generation at present is sometimes to avoid embarrassment from being considered a pagan as preached by some ministers.

As ritualistic people, the Ifugao culture became subject of research by anthropologists and other foreign writers. Later, local researchers realized the necessity to document their indigenous knowledge (IK) especially on rice farming with all the rituals and indigenous technologies (IT) like garment weaving and woodcraft, of which the Ifugaos are famous for. The series of rituals are part of the peoples’ way of life as evidently observed, though the changing cultural norm of the Ifugaos is attributed to many factors such as the influx of tourists, Christianity, and government programs as said by Governor Teodoro B. Baguilat during the 7th Igorot International Conference (IIC-7) held in Banaue, Ifugao on April 12-14, 2008. 

With the leadership of the Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry’s (ISCAF) faculty,  specifically the Research and Development unit, some researchers are keen on documenting their culture. These researchers are in a better position compared to foreigners. Local researchers, like Dr. Anastacia Lannaon and Dr. Nancy Ann P. Gonzales, are from Ifugao and are participant-observers so they could fully understand the meaning and significance of the actual rituals performed thus, resulting in accurate research data. This research may in a way strengthen the School of Living Tradition (SLT) established in 19 Hudhud schools in Asipulo, Kiangan, Hingyon, Hungduan and Lagawe. To a certain extent, the SLTs may also contribute in the implementation of the indigenous knowledge pilot school at ISCAF.

This research was conducted in selected municipalities considered sufficient to represent the whole populace of Ifugao. While these municipalities belong to Ifugao province, the performance of rituals slightly differs from each other, some simple and some elaborate. The  difference could have probably been affected by influx of tourists, establishment of churches, migration or urbanization. The selected municipalities were Banaue, Hingyon, Hungduan, Kiangan Mayaoyao and Tinoc. The other municipalities not covered in the research but generally represented were Aguinaldo, Alfonso Lista, Asipulo, Lagawe and Lamut.

The features and significance of the rituals performed before and after a baby is born are presented. Then a general analysis is made, as well as the proposed application of rituals among Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) and Igorot International Consultation (IIC) participants. 

Ifugao Rituals: Their Features and Significance 

(Extract from research of Dr. Lannaon and Dr. Gonzales)

Of the various Ifugao rituals researched on, the agriculture-related rituals would perhaps be the most interesting. However, considering its applicability to the ICBE participants, the rituals related to birth would be as interesting and relevant. This is considering that the birth of a baby is a concern not only among the family, but also the extended family as well. The birth-related rituals are considered as the subject of this presentation, for their doability, simplicity and practicality, as analyzed. Such rituals are characterized by a series of prayers that could be done by any migrant wherever he is. ISCAF President, Dr. Serafin Ngohayon, and Mrs. Emily Alberto’s research on “The Bulul in the Social Life of the Ifugao People” could perhaps be done in a separate presentation.

Birth-related Rituals

Their Purposes, Materials Used and other Peculiarities

A. Rituals performed before the baby is born

A.1. Purposes

The rituals have different terms in the six municipalities under study but have the same purpose and follow similar procedures. 

These rituals with different names in various municipalities are:

* Banaue – Pahang di habi

* Hingyon – Gulud, Ul-ulibag

* Hungduan – Hongan di Tagu, Inagumo or Konong, Kulibag

* Kiangan – Konong

* Tinoc – Inagumo, Dawdawak

* Mayaoyao – Fala-ong

As to the rituals’ purposes before the baby’s birth, the pahang di habi, gulud or ul-ulibag, inagumo or konong, dawdawak, and fala-ong are means of communicating to the Supreme Being, deities or spirits in the underworld or skyworld. As implied in the prayers recited by a ritualist, it accounts for miracles performed by Kabunyan’s journey in coming down to earth and then the request is pronounced and addressed to the Supreme Being and the spirits to: 

> grant good health and ease the labor pains of a pregnant woman,

> help in the smooth delivery of the baby with a sound mind,

> be guardians or protectors from evil spirits and

> grant blessings for prosperity and abundance in the family.

The performance of a ritual involves the “mumbaki/mambaki,” who recites the purposive prayer addressed to Kabunyan. To the iHingyon, the Unseen deity called for his blessings and protection is “maknongan” or “mabaybayang” to the iTinoc. 

The ritual that is performed when the woman is on her 8th or 9th month of pregnancy is the pahang di habi among the iBanaue, “gulud” among the iHingyon and so on. The ul-ulibag or kintib ritual by the iHingyon or kulibag by the iHungduan is performed when the woman is in labor. The inagumo by the iTinoc or fala-ong by the iMayaoyao is performed when the woman is three to four months pregnant of which it is still at the conception stage. The fala-ong is performed again at the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy.

In the prayers in general, Kabunyan is addressed as well as the spirits of their dead ancestors as protectors. On the contrary, precautions or some sort of conditions are expressed. The spirits of ancestors are warned not to relate in any way nor talk to the newly born baby lest the baby gets sick since they (spirits) belong to another world. This is true in the konong ritual by the iKiangan of which it is too specific such that the spirits of dead ancestors are called, in recognition of their being the unseen protectors.

A.2. Animal Sacrifices and Other Materials Needed in Rituals

The Ifugaos believe in the power of the gods to hasten normal and short labor pains. They further believe that there are spirits who respond to such purpose of the ritual when appeased with animal sacrifices with the accompanying symbols and materials.

To make the ritual binding, chickens or pigs are butchered or both animals are offered to the gods or to appease the unseen spirits, as they join in the common meal among the family members and all others partaking of the food. A medium-sized and not so old chicken is butchered in the ul-ulibag or kintib ritual. In the inagumo or konong, a pig plus two or three chickens and rice wine are offered to the deities, with displayed woven blanket and betel nut to represent nature. The richer the pregnant woman’s family, the more animals are butchered, and the ritual is to be performed once more or twice before the baby’s expected birth. In the dadawak, the piglet or chicken, rice wine, betel nut leaf is designated as a symbolic accompaniment in relating to God through prayers. 

The most elaborate ritual is the hongan di tagu ritual in Hungduan. It requires the baya-ong or native woven blanket, binuhlan/wanno or g-string, tolge/anipuyo or tapis, ginutto/attake or indigenous necklace of gold beads, rice wine and pambongan or dried pig’s skin that has been well dried and preserved. All these materials are given meaning to welcome the baby’s arrival - the tapis in case the baby is a girl, the g-string in case the baby is a boy. The rice wine is a Kabunyan-inspired drink needed in rituals for prosperity and the betel nut leaf as a symbol of the people’s connection with nature. Likewise, numbers are symbolic in rituals. The fala-ong among the iMayaoyao requires four hens and four roosters for the first child then it decreases in number in the next births. The four and four represents the lineage of parentage, four maternal grandparents and four paternal grandparents, as explained by an elder Dulnuan. Similarly, numbers in days or months before or after birth have significance as affected by the health of baby and mother. This necessitates the performance of the ritual with a series of prayers.

A.3. Conditions Set or Taboos in Relation to the Rituals

A.3.1. In the case of an unwed pregnant woman, the acceptance of the baby by the parents of the man, who fathered the incoming baby out of wedlock, is the giving of “oban.” The oban is a woven material for the mother-to-be to carry her baby by strapping the baby at her front. 

A.3.2. During the day of the ritual, the immediate family of the incoming baby to be born, should not eat fish lest the spirits be offended by the fishy smell. Likewise, they should not eat food from climbing plants, lest the baby and family continue to climb up difficulties in life.

A.3.3. In respect to the Supreme Being, deities and spirits, during the day of ritual, the family members should observe ‘ngilin’ by not going to the fields to work or doing any other kind of work. As a show of respect and discipline, everybody should keep quiet while the mumbaki is saying  a prayer.

A.3.4. The use of pudong is a symbol to communicate with the bad spirits or bibiyaw for them not to enter the house where the baby was just born. The pudong is made of bundled leaves tied to a piece of round wood, stuck in front of the house and could be vividly noticed near the door.

B. Rituals After the Birth of a Baby

B.1. Purposes

The rituals expressed in different terms but of the same meaning are:

* Banaue – Tihlop, Bagor (baby shower)

* Hingyon – Gamugamun, Tikom

* Hungduan – Paad di makan ya liting or Tikom, Amung, Lahun,Hapat di Laya, Inlawit (Minukkong), Kolot

* Kiangan – Amung

* Tinoc - Tikleb

* Mayaoyao – Folay, Tumungaw

Of the six municipalities where the research was conducted, some municipalities perform more rituals than others, like Hungduan and Hingyon that have a series of rituals after birth. Tinoc and Mayaoyao have rituals that are not as elaborate. No animals are butchered.

In general, rituals after birth are performed with a series of prayers addressed to Kabunyan to grant the baby and mother good health, and for the baby to grow as an asset to the community. Specifically, the purposes of the rituals are:

> to thank God for the safe delivery of the baby, 

> to welcome the baby, and

> to mark the giving of a material gift to the baby and mother.

B.2. Rituals as to Schedule

On the 3rd day after birth, the rituals performed are the tihlop in Banaue, gamugamun in Hingyon, amung in Hungduan after the tikon, tikon in Hingyon, amung in Kiangan and the tikleb in Tinoc. The lahun in Hungduan is performed on the 6th day after birth. The bagor is a baby shower with gift-giving from other people. Gifts could be money or in kind, like a chicken. This is similar to the linayaan of the Besao people, the gobgobbaw in Sagada and the aw-awil in Sabangan, Mountain Province. Bagor is performed on the 7th day, if the baby is a girl and on the 8th day, if a boy.

B.3. Rituals and their Peculiarities

Rituals performed in series are sequentially arranged to complete a cycle. The rituals with animal sacrifice are usually with chanting. A declaratory ritual three to six days after birth ends a specific taboo of eating snails or fish and allows eating fish and different fruits and vegetables. In the gamugamun in Hingyon, different fruits and vegetables are displayed in a winnower and three or more chickens are butchered. During the ritual the baby’s attitude is accounted for. 

The mother should make her baby comfortable so he does not to cry or urinate when the ritual is being performed, as manifestation of the baby’s anticipated discipline when he grows up. If the baby sneezes during the ritual, the mumbaki right away gives a positive interpretation meant to be power of the word. The mumbaki would say, “batakana ta haot di maphod ya kindangyan indatong mo I da mi.” (May the bad spirits be sneezed out so that the best in the baby prevails.)

The lahun ritual in Hungduan called ‘hap-od di apol’ is done in just a few seconds making use of lime blown from an elder’s palm to the east direction then to the west, saying a brief prayer or wish for the baby’s eyes to be always clear and healthy. 

The hapol di laya ritual in Hungduan is food-related. It declares the end of taboo to eat fish, crabs, snails and spices. It declares the open bringing of ginger, onions and garlic to the house. When the baby is one year old, this ritual is followed by the inlawit to spiritually empower him or her to be prepared for any future travel or journey and to always return home. Then the kolot or baltung is performed in the evening when the child is 7 to 14 years old. The baltung is characterized by stamping the feet, and chanting of liwliwa, uya-uy and ap-apnga. The kolot or bumalihung is also identified with the iKiangan.

In Tinoc, the tikleb ritual is performed to acknowledge God’s creation of the environment. A pudong made of bundled leaves tied to a rod is stuck at the front door of the house to warn any bad spirit not to go inside where the baby and mother are.

The tikom ritual is practiced in Hungduan as a thanksgiving ritual. The mumbaki says a prayer to acknowledge specific symbolic plants like the leaves of spirit-inhabited tikom tree, the haggakat indigenous plants and camolit-tilit vines. He prays that the sturdiness of the tree, robustness of the plants and survival ability of the vines may be likened to the baby’s future life.

Rituals are also performed to thank any big or small thing as in the folay ritual among the iMayaoyao, which is to thank the safe cutting of the umbilical cord. The ritual is performed with the butchering of a chicken that is cooked and shared by everybody present. In respect for all good things, the tumungaw as a ceremonial rest day is observed in Mayaoyao.

Summarized Concepts on Features and Significance of Rituals Before and After the Baby’s Birth 

1. Rituals differ in terms but have similar general purposes like the good health of a pregnant woman and her baby to be born; sound and safe delivery with less pain and bleeding and so on.

2. Of animal sacrifices, pigs and chickens are significant for the expected message as reflected in the position of the bile sac interpreted by the ritualist or officiant. The position of the bile sac prophesies the future.

3. To be effective, water and rice wine are the accompanying materials in most rituals that are significant in communing with the Supreme Being. 

4. Observance of taboos may be unscientific. On the other hand, such beliefs develop the value of discipline. The custom of respecting the spirits may also develop responsible parenthood.

5. In the performance of rituals, social stratification of long ago is still carried over. Whether rich or poor though, the birth of a baby in the family is everybody’s concern.  

6. The rituals are procedural and the prayers follow certain patterns such as introduction of the event, account of the journey of Kabunyan or any deity, linking statements to give relevance to the event and then the pronouncement of request from God.

7. Material things used in rituals are given meaning as a strategy to attain the purpose of the ritual. For example, the g-string, tapis, gold necklace, blanket and so on, are symbols to welcome the baby’s arrival to the world; the g-string to welcome a baby boy, the tapis to welcome a baby girl.

8. Rituals are sequentially performed. The events reflect that there is time for everything as punctuated by rituals. There is time to eat certain foods and not to. There is specific time, either day or evening, to perform a ritual. There is time to chant, time to give, time to rest and so on. 

9. The Ifugaos as futuristic people are manifested in rituals. Rituals are believed to be effective strategies in preparing a baby for the future as implied in the prayers to God wishing for the baby’s good health, to be sturdy, fit for a journey (lawit), and to have clear eyesight (lahun ritual).

10. In general, the power of prayer as the main channel to communicate with God or Kabunyan and other spirits is what matters so much among the Ifugaos.

Applicability to ICBE Participants of the Ifugao Rituals Performed before and after a Baby is Born 

For the ICBE Consultation not to be just an exercise in futility, the rituals presented may in some ways be applicable to them. While for certain reasons, the rituals may not be performed in their originality as these may go against the laws in European countries, they may be performed with some innovations but the concepts retained.

The following suggestions are given:

1. Concerted prayers for anybody pregnant (married or unmarried) for a healthy baby to be born, and for the pregnant woman to be in her happy mood as she values the new life in her and welcomes the innocent baby arriving to live a full life.

2. Strengthen the social responsibility of gift-giving to a newborn baby, and praying or giving words of wisdom to give strength to the new mother.

3. The practicality of adapting the use of pudong to announce to the community that an Igorot baby is born seems amusing to try. This means that if a pudong is seen near the door of any home, it means, “An Igorot baby has just been born.”

4. The hair cutting ceremony (kolot, baltung, bumalihung) could be adapted too. To give meaning to it, liwliwa, uya-uy or ap-apnga could be chanted. This ritual could be done as part of any BIBAK chapter activity. 

5. The concept of hair-cutting ceremony may be applied in ribbon-cutting ceremonies with chanting to open a program.

6. ICBE and IIC participants, especially those from Ifugao, could pool their resources and produce print and non-print informative materials and other documentation on the Hudhud chants, before they get adulterated or disappear. 

About the Authors

Anastacia T. Lannaon

Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry (ISCAF)

Lamut, Ifugao, Philippines

Professor IV

Degrees Obtained: 

Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Master of Science in Agriculture; Master in Agricultural Technical Education; Ph.D. in Educational Management. 

Designations: 

Program Leader, Rice Terraces, Cordillera Administrative Region Association of State Colleges and Universities (CARASUC) Research and Development Consortium.

Chairman for DAT-BAT, BSA, BSF & BSAF.

Publications:

1. Intercropping Sweet Potato with different Legume Crops in Cogonal area

2. Duration of Weed control in sweet Potato

3. Growth and Yield of Sweet Potato as Influenced by Tillage or weed Control

4. Documentation of Cultural and Management Practices of Vegetable Farmers in Ifugao

5. Documentation of Characterization of Indigenous Vegetable Plants in Ifugao

6. Ex situ Characterization of Native Rice Varieties in Ifugao

Nancy Ann P. Gonzales, R.N, Ph.D. 

Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry 

Associate Professor V

Degrees Obtained:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Education, MAED (Administration and Supervision), MA in Nursing (Ongoing), Ph.D. in Education (Educational Management)

Designations:

Director, Research and Development, ISCAF; Executive Director, Cordillera Administrative Region Association of State Colleges and Universities (CARASUC) Research and Development Consortium

Publications: 

1. Indigenous Postpartum Beliefs and Practices of Mothers with Home Deliveries in Lagawe, Ifugao   

2. Laboratory Evaluations of Botanicals against  Giant Earthworms (Pheretima elongata) Infesting the Ifugao Rice Terraces (IRT) 

3. Managing the Giant earthworms (Pheretima elongata) of the Ifugao Rice Terraces with Melanoides granifera and Freshwater Bivalve Shell Limes 

4. Laboratory Evaluations of Melanoides granifera Shell Lime and Marigold (Tagetes Erecta) Mixture against Giant Earthworms (Pheretima elongata) Infesting the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

Caridad B. Fiar-od, Ph.D.

Please refer to her biodata in other articles of “Cordillera Rituals as a Way of Life.” (Editor, 17-04-2021)   

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