Growing up in the Ili

Written by Ceasar Castro on .

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I was about to start 2nd grade in elementary school when my father sent me to Bantey, Tadian to stay with my grandparents. Though I missed growing up with my siblings who stayed with my parents in Lepanto, Benguet, staying in the ili for four years has done me a lot of good. I learned how to survive and be independent  from down-to-earth Igorot values of hard work, simple, sense of integrity and self-worth which guided me through my years in school up to where I  am in now.

I learned the rules of the Ili and the dap-ay. Young boys were required to sleep in the dap-ay because if not, other boys will serenade you at home during the night the “Mangobet song” of someone who still loves to stick around his mother's bum.

In the dap-ay, young boys had obligations. Every day, they have to mama-o (bring a bundle of dried sticks) to keep the fire burning or else receive a whipping. Every evening, a few of us young boys got it because we forgot or had no time to gather some firewood.

Another obligation is the routine of doing kolkolis (scratching feet with sticks), tad-tad-tad or getge-ta (back massage) to old men and doing other errands as commanded by elders with no arguments. Tadtadtad is massage done to someone lying face down from the feet up to the neck. The getge-ta is not common in the dap-ay as the older single guys get this from the olog or ibgan (sleeping quarters for girls). We dreaded an elder man with very thick bengas (callous feet) who demanded bangbanget (using the teeth to massage the feet).

Each kid usually had his own two sticks in his secret hiding place to be ready when called to perform.  It took about 20-30 minutes to do both feet from the heels to the toes. A lot of times, we prolonged the kolkolis because we got called to do other elders. We did kolkolis to at least 3-4 elders each night. As we grew older, we had our turn to ask the younger ones to do kolkolis to us.

One cultural event young boys looked forward to is the begnas, a two­day celebration observed after harvest. Other villages are invited to join the all­day feast and all night playing of the gongs. During this obaya (rest day from work), there is also day-eng from the women and liwliwa from the men, story telling in a chant form. This time is the chance for the young boys and girls to meet each other. Usually a night dance at the school or church hall is done with either an accordion or harmonica for the music with favorite tune, “You arc my sunshine”.

Growing up in the ili also meant daily obligations  to do like taking care of the carabao, bringing it to pasture, guiding it for a drink, and doing sakati (cutting grass for the carabao’s food). Four of my fingers got scarred which I have till now from the kompay (scythe).

Life in the ili also meant preparing food for the pigs and gathering the chicken before dark. On weekends was time to pound rice, help at times to arado (plow), mananom (irrigate the rice fields), menbantay (drive away maya birds from rice plants), harvest rice and cut wood.

When I was 12, I already learned to control a carabao weighing about a thousand pounds to pull a log up to 10 ft. long and 2 feet in diameter from the mountain to home. Wow! At a young age, I toppled a tree down with an axe and let the carabao pull it home!

I also planted avocadoes, pineapples and star apples  around Grandpa’s house, an advice I took from my father who told me to do something to keep me busy. By the time I was back from finishing school, the plants were bearing fruits.

Not everything is work though. As kids, we had fun swimming in the river and mangaling (catching mudfish called kaling or fanisfis) in the rice fields. There was also horsing around, dama (wrestling), sanggol (arm wrestling) and torsi (finger wrestling).

We looked forward to Christmas breaks and summer vacation because of the arrival of the older students from the city schools and colleges. Young people gathered for jam sessions with a harmonica and petromax during the night and organized games during the day. These were the times when puppy love developed between a young man and woman.

My puppy love

By Grade 5, I had a girl friend. One time, 1 found my grandpa and the grandpa of my girl friend talking serious business. They called me to join them. I was stunned to find out there was already a parental arrangement being made between the two  of them to have my girl friend and me get married unless “ay egay kadanuman nan losim” (aren't you old enough  to procreate).

I did not know how to react and stamped out scared. Later that day, I ask Grandpa, “What was that all about?” I told him our time will come if my girlfriend and I were meant for each other. He then told me his intentions.

Being the captain del barrio for a long time he thinks that me getting married to some one from a very large family will solidity even more his power in the community. To his dismay, I did not conform to his wishes. As to my girl friend then, we were not meant to be. I am happily married to some one and so is she.

Spiritual values

Living with my grandpa in Bantey is a spiritual experience. One of my younger sisters got very sick after coming from Lepanto one time. Grandpa took me with him to Ag -aging, the highest mountain peak above  Bantey, where one can see part of Lepanto. We butchered a chicken and cooked it. Grandpa did his prayers. He invited the spirits to join us eat, offered  to Kabunyan the chicken and asked Him to bring my sister’s spirit left in Lepanto. Amazing! After that ritual, my sister slowly got well.

One time, Grandpa was very sick and has been in bed for a while. Ili elders advised that we go to his rice field and butcher a pig there. Grandpa did the rituals and offerings to appease the spirits of the rice field. We stayed there for the day. From that time on, Grandpa  recovered gradually.

Grade 6 in Baguio

Unfortunately, the school in Bantey offered only up to Grade 5. For Grade 6, you have to go to Masla. I thought no way was I going to walk 10 miles back and  forth every school day.

So, that summer vacation, I went to Baguio City and stayed with my other grandparents in Guisad. I earned money by shining shoes and being a news boy. I made my shoe shine kit with two tooth brushes to apply the jobos (tinted water) for 2 colors, beton, shoe polish for 3 colors (black,  brown and natural), a bottle of water and a few pieces of soft cloth for polishing. I carried my kit with a shoulder strap and  peddled my service yelling “shoeshine”. Usually a pair of shoes is done in 20-30 minutes for 10 centavos. To make one peso a day was good enough. Minimum wage at that time for a laborer was 4 pesos a day.

As a news boy selling the Midland Courier every Sunday at 4 o'clock in the morning, my neighbour,  Ashley Salvador  and I walked up to the Midland Printing Press and bought our newspapers for 10 centavos a piece an d sold it at 15 centavos each. My quota was usually 20 pieces at 1 peso gain if all were sold.

We had our own “suki” (regular customers) from our regular route in Ferguson Road to Guisad. A few times that I had five copies left, my last hope was to walk for miles all the way from Baguio up to the gardeners in Pico to Buyagan, Trinidad and sold them the remaining copies at 5-10 centavos each. Jeepney ride was 10 cents that time which was too precious  to spend for transportation. By the end of summer, I enrolled myself in Grade 6 in Easter School with my hard earned money.

Grade 7 in Bontoc

For Grade 7, my dad brought me to All Saints Mission in Bontoc. I  stayed in the dorm under the guidance of Miss Ada Clarke. Our boy's dorm master then was Pr. Sicwaten. We had jam sessions almost every Friday night. During an evening dance, some jealous outsiders shot at the light  bulbs. Luckily, nobody got hurt.

On weekends, we were free either to go home or stayed and did laundry. A couple of times during long weekends, town mate Eugene Dal-is (may he rest in peace) and I walked from Bontoc to home, Eugene to Lubon and I to Bantey.

At times, we spent swimming the Chico River and played games “who is the king of the castle” over that big rock in Paling. One memorable day, I went swimming at the Chico River with Alex Biteng, a school mate enrolled in Grade 6. I met him in Tadian where his father, Fr Valentin Biteng was then stationed  at the Episcopal Church in Masla. I did not know Alex does not know how to swim. He just jumped into the river where I was, lodged unto me with his hands tight around my neck. Both of us went down till I knocked him off me and luckily we got swept towards the river bank.

That was my first close experience to near drowning. I could have been one of the so many casualties that the mighty Chico River took every year. My second experience was a picnic outing in Lake Danum when I was then in Saint Mary's School. The lake was wide and full then. I thought it was easy for me. I jumped right in to swim. When at the middle of the lake I got cramps on both my legs. I struggled to the other side and almost did not make it to shore.

Coming back

What I can remember of the old Bontoc town was the Cawed building, pretty massive at that time. The next time I was there after 46 years was a different place. I can’t figure out the old main street. There was a line of hardware stores on the main street when I came back in 2003 for a medical mission. Buildings were protruding, with vehicles and tricycles cluttering the street.

Nevertheless, my medical mission assessment was no surprise. Majority of the patients were children with common illnesses-throat  infections, eye infections and nose infections mainly due to the pollution caused by tricycles the kids ride in day in and day out. I really am very glad the township of Sagada went against bringing in tricycles. It is not healthy at all.

My high school days at Saint Mary's School in Sagada needs another time of writing./#


About the Author

Nurse by profession and lived in Vancouver, Canada since 1968. Now retired, he's enjoying life with his family. He is married to former Elisa Tuazon of Sabangan, Mountain Province. They have 2 children and 5 grandchildren. 




(Note:  The story above is initially meant to be printed as one among stories in lgorot  Episodes: Memories in Mountain Province, a Readers Digest type of  documenting stories about growing up in the Mountain Province. This article finds print in the Lang-ay Magazine pending other stories to be submitted. For interested writers, please submit your story to Dr. Caridad Fiar-od,  Executive  Assistant for  International and Cultural Affairs, Provincial Government Office, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to Joel Fagsao at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Igorot  Episodes is a project of the 11th Municipality.)

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