Ethnic dances in the different municipalities of Mountain Province have differences and commonalities in terms of steps, attire or costumes, purposes. These dances are part of the people’s customs and traditions that have become part of the Igorots’s identity.
In any festive gathering among Igorots, be it a ritual, barrio or town fiesta, wedding celebrations, people’s assembly, the gongs are played according to its rhythm appropriate to the specific purpose of the occasion. Such purpose could be for entertainment, socialization, or in more serious cases, as part of an Igorot ritual.
Ethnic dances as part of most Igorot rituals or ceremonies include begnas, manerwap, chono, tebyag. For one, dances are done as supplication to Kabunyan to divert existing environmental phenomenon such as control of plant pests, fields/farms not to be eroded, increased food production, control of diseases during epidemics. Ethnic dances are also done in thanksgiving, after rice planting, after harvest, or for spiritual healing.
Specifically, in Sagada and Besao, the playing of gongs in wedding celebrations commence with the tebyag, a specific beating of gongs with the woman dancer sprinkling little rice grains at a time in all directions with the strong belief that Kabunyan would grant prosperity and abundance.
As to the appropriateness of each dance, the original purpose of the specific dance is traced. The handkerchief or courtship dance (pinanyowan) for one, depicts the undying love of a man to a woman so it is appropriate during wedding celebrations.
The gentle clicking of bamboos to produce music in the pakawkaw dance or the tebyag is appropriate in times of opening a ritual because of its solemnity.
Pattong is done to drive evil spirits so it could be played during wakes as practiced in some tribes in the eastern municipalities. The pattong or tallibeng could also be played during a ritual called sagawsaw for it has psychological healing effects to someone who is mentally disturbed.
Igorot ethnic dances are performed with either gongs, bamboo musical instruments, or without any instrument. Similar to any other musical arrangement, the bass sound, tenor and soprano also is noted in the playing of gongs.
Most dances for entertainment is done in semi-circle where dancers move in a circular direction following the concept of “follow the leader” while synchronizing with the steps of the lead player or dancer. The lead musical player is then crucial to lead in the rhythm and tempo of the gongs and the dance.
In the different ethnic dances, the steps, body movements, hand or arm position are done in accordance with the rhythm of the music and in coordination with the other players or dancers. There are no definite number of steps or definite prescribed movement but are performed to the tune of the beating of the gongs with individual styles to accommodate one’s grace.
The steps vary from the combinations of any of the following steps: walking step, slide step, slight jumping step, hop step, creeping toe step, ball bouncing step, jumping step, fast-walking step, and running step. These steps go with, body movements such as a combination of the bending of knees, body bending forward and backward, body bending sideward left and right and body tilting.
The arms and hand movements are done with arms stretched sideward, closed fist and thumbs up, arms stretched sideward on shoulder level, palms facing down flipping from wrist, both arms obliquely upward, or arms downward behind buttocks, arms in front of the chest, thumbs pointing towards self, hands on waist, and arms in reverse T-position.
Ballangbang or Tallibeng
The most common of all the dances, ballangbang requires the participation of many to beat the gongs and many women dancers. This originated from the western municipalities of Mountain Province (Besao, Sagada, Tadian, Bauko, Sabangan) but performed anywhere. Its version in eastern Mountain Province is the pattong.
The male gong players could be five or more and the female dancers could range from a single dancer to more than 10. It is a dance appropriate for mass participation. The male gong players move in a circular direction as they synchronize their artistic graceful steps and body swaying. The women dancers follow as they dance with the appropriate step, body swaying and arm position depending on the art and style of the music players.
Bontoc War Dance or Pattong
Among the Bontocs, playing the gongs is termed pattong. Steps in the Bontoc war dance is similar to the tallibeng but a little faster. What makes the war dance peculiar is the presence of two warrior dancers depicting a headhunter fighting his enemy.
The intended winner warrior dancer is armed with a spear and shield and the intended loser warrior dancer is armed with a head axe and shield too. Without the warrior dancers, it is called pattong. Other variations of the pattong are the tachek, mamakar or parpag.
Takik is a wedding dance identified with the Aplais of western Mountain Province. There are six players to complete the set, each producing a certain beating to produce harmony. The striking of the solibao (ethnic drum) is the guide of the players. The drummer squats and strikes the solibao alternately with his left and right hand.
A male dancer starts and one or more ladies dance to pair the male dancer moving in a circular motion. Next to the dancer is the sunub. The sound of the sunub is so distinct that it responds to the solibao, the first gong (pingsan), then the iron clasping to produce the harmonized music. The complete set for a good takik music is composed of at least five or seven instruments: solibao, sunub, pingsan, pindua, and the takik.
Palakis is a variation of the takik. However, the beating of the gongs in palakis is faster and louder so the dancers dance with faster steps and body movements.
Most common and popular dance among the Balangaos and Baliwons of Barlig, Natonin and Paracelis is the eagle dance. Three gong players can complete the set in an eagle dance. The male and female dancers dance eagle-like with their arms swaying in a circular direction. Peculiar in this dance is fast entry of the dancer, the bending of the body and knees and movements of buttocks as well.
A variation of the western boogie dance, the Bontoc boogie dance is performed with the fast beating of the gongs. A pair of male and female dancers moves with the fast pacing and raising of feet in opposite directions. At some time, the dancing pair meets with hands holding each other and perform other steps either going forward or sideward. The music players are in kneeling positions.
This dance is similar to the boogie dance among the Bontocs. Its movement is faster than the pinanyowan. The male dancer stands and performs with at least three steps before the female dancer goes to pair him. It can be with a rolled scarf held by two hands or without scarf. The male and female dancers meet each other then separate with fast steps. This dance is another courtship dance common among the Kinali people in western Besao near Anggaki, Ilocos Sur.
A courtship dance with the use of a handkerchief or scarf, both male and female dancers do fast mincing steps as the men beat the gongs in stationary kneeling positions.
This is a dance that reflects the search of a lost soul. Performed during rituals, it is done with slow and jerking body movement along with the slow peculiar striking of the gongs. However, today, it is performed by young men also for entertainment without the preliminary prayers for the specific ritual.
Tebyag is symbolically done once only during the start of the playing of gongs in a wedding ceremony. This dance is part of a ritual where gongs are slowly struck interspersed by prayers.
The prayer is for Kabunyan to grant peace during the celebration, for the new couple to have many children, and for the couple to prosper. Peculiar to this dance is the sprinkling of grains of rice by a woman dancer in all direction as a symbol of showers of blessings from God who brought grains of rice for any wedding celebration.
A dance with music produced by the rhythmic licking of the sticks, sakuting is similar to calisthenics. Dancers have to be in pairs and participate in clicking the sticks. It needs practice and mastery to avoid any mis-coordination that light result in injury.
The pakawkaw dance makes use of bamboo tubes and bamboo flips to produce music. It was first danced in the olden days when people journeyed in search for wild animals in the woods. The dancers follow one another to form a single line. Later, the pakawkaw is performed to start a ritual to call for good spirits and then performed after a ritual to rive bad spirits.
It is played by striking the pakawkaw in one’s hand to produce music. In some municipalities like Paracelis, the pakawkaw is now made by sets to complete tenor, bass and soprano. In Paracelis, it is referred as papiw, abiw or balimbing. In other places is termed liplipak.
This could be a dance with any combination of varied ethnic steps with bamboo musical instruments such as gabil (labil, labin), abistong (aberraw), paiw, kolisteng, tabbatab, dongadong, diw-as, ilaleng, or tongali.
Men and women debate on an issue while doing grapevine steps and chanting. It could also be an alternate expression of their feelings of love to entertain others and at the same time enjoy dancing. Here, males knit their hands together on their shoulders to form a semi-circle. Another semi-circle behind the males is formed by the female dancers but their hands knit together at their backs.
A lead man starts the chant then chorused by the rest as they move in grapevine steps and bodies bending in a circular direction. The lead woman responds through a chant and chorused by the others as they also do the grapevine steps, moving in a circular direction.
Dallok is also another way of debating while dancing. The female dancers hold hands to form a line facing the male dancers. Males chant together led by one. While chanting, they all meet at the middle executing the hop-bend-raise steps. Chanting all together, they walk backward uniformly to their former positions. Mastery of the chanting is important to have uniformity in executing the steps.
This is similar to the dallok as to position and purpose. It only varies a little in the steps as it all depends upon the chanted phrases. The chanting always start with the words, “Digdigwi, digdigwi ...”
This is a dance common among the tribes in the western parts of Besao (Kinali) who claim the dance originated from the ethnic tribes of Abra. The male dancers with their hands knit together at their backs face the women dancers with their hands knit together at their backs, too. As they all chant, they grapevine to the right then to the left to their original position. As the chorus is chanted, the two groups meet forward to meet at center then back with the chorus. “Hey, donglas di donglalaan dayta, ehem.”
The dancers follow the same position with that of the digdigwi with similar steps. In this dance, the uniformity of the steps is dependent on the mastery and force in chanting the lines for the debate and the chorus which goes. “Innas balalaginnas, o innas, o innas; Balasibasem, o innas, o innas”. Originally, this dance puts ladies and gentlemen together to make wise pairing among them while chanting.
Author is the College Vice President of the MPSPC and chair of the Igorot Global Organization-Philippines Education Committee. The article above was presented during the 5th IGO consultation at St. Louis, Missouri, USA, July 1-4, 2004.
N.B. The above article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Lang-ay Magazine published by the provincial government of Mountain Province in cooperation with the association of Provincial Executives (APEX). On 17 November 2013, Dr. Caridad Bomas-ang Fiar-od passed away due to a lingering illness. Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) would like to thank Dr. Joy Fiar-od Dicdican, Xaverine Fiar-od and their other siblings for granting permission to post their mother’s article in the ICBE website. (25 June 2014, Y. Belen)