As I used to hear from my mother, I was born on the dark (panget) first day of August which is significant in the agricultural cycle among the people of Besao Proper. Every August first marks the first day of the agricultural calendar known as the lakat. On this day of lakat, an agricultural ritual is performed with the symbolic sowing of seeds in a simulated wet rice field of carved stone (baliw-a) by a designated qualified planter. The designated planter should not be in mourning and healthy enough to abstain from eating for one day. Lakat is performed with series of prayers addressed to the Unseen powerful Kabunyan to grant to the community, prosperity and abundance in terms of agricultural harvest. More significantly important on the specific day on August 1, 1946 was the absence of moon and stars (lemeng). It is believed that on such days, agricultural pest like rice birds and rats would be blinded to see their prey of agricultural crops so that those born on these dark nights are more effective in keeping their farms free from infestation of pest. What I always heard from my mother as regards the agricultural relevance of my birth date was taken in passing that I did not dare to understand or gave significance to it not until I experienced what I thought was social discrimination or being the least wanted among my sisters. I never understood why I was always the choice to go with my parents to the farm to situate scarecrows (eg-egyat), rat traps (saltok) after the setting of the sun or early evenings, or fill in rat holes in the farm during the day. Thinking I was treated unfairly, one time I got rebellious und disobeyed my parents’ call to get me with them to the farm. This ignited Ina to explain that it is because I was born on the ‘no moon’ night of August 1, which in most cases anyone born on those dates when he or she situates scarecrows are effective in scaring rice eating birds. This is especially true when done in the late so that the birds will not see the eg-egyat as make-believe objects. In late afternoon the birds already settled in their nest. After the explanation, I must be fortunate to have been born on August 1, I thought, but too bad I had to be the most wanted to go and deal with the rats and rice birds and sometimes get deprived from playing with other children during play times.
In hindsight, one late afternoon, at age 10, we were playing two-base softball at the ground of Saint Anne’s church a few meters above our house. My playmates were our neighbors, Mathias Bawayan, Lourdes Bagano, Beatrice Longdayan. As the last inning was almost to end, Ina shouted to call me. I thought it was dinnertime as it was already getting dark so I did not heed to the call but when Ama called me, I went out of fear. I was surprised that I was to go with Ama to the rice field in Bekes. The rice plants were already on their boating stage (babalaan di pagey). Boating stage is when the panicle of rice is about to bear developed grains. Walking up the hill for about 20 minutes, it was getting dark when we reached Bekes. Ama made some reprimand on me as he said, “If only you listened to your mother’s call at first, we should have arrived not this dark.” In the dialect, “No pinatem koma ayag inam assan damo waay adita en maabutan asnan nai bumulingetana.” At the location of the rice fields, all I did was to follow my father as he instructed me to just hold on to the scarecrows (balbaliw or eg-egyat). He put them up one after the other in designated places along the rice fields supposedly to keep the rice bearing plants protected from rice bird infestation. All I did was to hold on to every balbaliw be hoisted. These scarecrows were standing man-like figures and the rice field fenced with rope with suspended tin cans and other sounding or shining objects to scare away the birds that may swarm to feed on the bearing rice plants. After the imposition of the scarecrows, before we descended down to our home, there was the ritual performed. Before the ritual commenced, my father instructed me to lean on a piled dried grass and that I should pretend to be sleeping. That, I did follow as instructed. In few seconds of silence, pretending to be sleeping, I heard my father mumbling words then he came to wake me up saying, “Wake up, it’s already day time.” Then as I sat down, my father said a wishful prayer addressed to the rats and birds, “May you be scared away and be blinded, then fly away upon seeing this objects. May all the days be dark for you without the sun, moon, stars and that you will keep still and stay away from feasting on the rice in the field.” In the dialect, “Dakayo ay menkadap (referring to the rats that crawl) ya dakayo ay mentayaw (referring to the birds that fly), omegyat kayo dangkayo pay mabulag ta adiyo maila nan naisama.” My father continued to mumble other phrases in the dark and then he carried me on his back as we descended silently back home with dim light. Back home before we opened the door, we sat down for few seconds. Only Estrella was there. Rosaria went to play with Leonarda Olat and Paning Wanget. At that time my brother left to join other boys in the dap-ay (an indigenous institution that serve as gathering place for boys and men) while Rita was in La Trinidad supposedly to go to school.
On another instance, one Saturday, my sisters and I went to weed a rice field down the village in Baknad. Just after lunch, my mother told me to do the searching of rat holes in the stone walls of rice paddies and block them with grasses as tight as I can and strong enough not to be pushed by rats. She followed me to check if the grass blockers were securely placed not to be pushed by rats. While I felt bad that I seem the most abused, I just obeyed. In my mind, I wish I were not born on August 1.
Many years later as I recalled those experiences with my mother I started to wonder what was the relation between birth dates to any farming activity. It remained unanswered until I came across Zodiac signs in horoscopes. Incidentally, at one time in the horoscope section of a newspaper, the zodiac sign Leo for those born in August stated that it was a day they can be very productive in the farm with no pest infestation. This is in sync with my parents’ belief and all others in the community who must have adhered to such belief. Such nature relationship in the niche of plants and animals became interesting to me as I tried to find basis of another belief of my mother that preferably we should not plant camote cuttings when it is full moon as it had the tendency to be invaded by cows or carabaos or they will be put in disarray by chickens. This, to me was superstitious belief but when I was taking Agriculture in high school, I related to Mr. Moresto the premise of the belief and asked him of his comment. To my surprise, his answer was, “That’s scientific and not superstitious. The time of planting is affected by phases of the moon just as the senses of animals are affected by the phases of the moon.” Then sometime in the 1980s when I was already a teacher in Besao with Mr. James Pooten as our supervisor, I heard him say, jokingly or not, to Mrs. Macaria Palangeo, “You expect your plants to be scratched by the chicken because you must have planted it on full moon.” This provided me an increasing percentage of truth on the element of scientific basis of the traditional local knowledge related to agriculture as adhered to by my mother and the Besao people. Though my mother was illiterate and unschooled, at least she was a learned individual. She was competent in astrological interpretations in relation to indigenous farming activities. An antidote or alternatives was provided too. As my mother said, “Should there be no choice but to plant during full moon considering other factors beyond one’s control, then the words of hope for the best is said. Before planting, make a wish like this, ‘As I plant this camote cuttings, may it also bear round fruits as big as the moon’.”
Similarly, I learned from my mother that in some instances though not absolute, when someone is born with extraordinary look as in the case of Lingwan Mestito, who is our second cousin, with attached small finger in her thumb, it is a sign that she was gifted by the powerful Unseen. The late Lingwan had a green thumb and can do healing massage. My mother further said that signs may be bad or good. In such case, to be normal is always hoped for.
About the Author
Caridad Bomas-ang Fiar-od is a retired Vice-President and College Professor at the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College in Bontoc Poblacion, Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines.
After retirement, she was hired on job order by the former Governor Maximo B. Dalog (now Congressman) as Executive Assistant on Cultural and International Affairs from October 2008 to June 30, 2010. Then on March 2011, she was hired by Governor Leonard G. Mayaen as Executive Assistant to coordinate and facilitate external affairs (Medical Missions, scholarships, donations overseas, etc.) and research-related activities. She was Chairperson of the Scholarship Program of the Igorot Global Organization (IGO) and Chairperson of the Association of Retired Mentors of Bontoc.
Prior to her passing away due to a lingering illness on November 17, 2013, Caridad worked as an insurance agent for Philippine American Life Insurance (PhilAm Life) for about two years. Due to the numerous persons she insured, she received a gift, which was a trip to the US in July 2013.
Caridad was born in Besao, Mountain Province on August 1, 1946. She finished her secondary education at the Mountain National Agricultural School (MNAS that later became MSAC and then BSU). For her college course, she studied at Mountain State Agricultural College (MSAC now BSU-Benguet State University) and graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Homemaking.
She taught for a year at the All Saints Mission Elementary School in Bontoc Poblacion, Bontoc, Mountain Province and transferred to Banguitan Elementary School in Besao, Mountain Province. While teaching in Banguitan, she pursued a Masters course at BSU and finished in 1981. She also graduated from BSU with a degree in Doctor of Philosophy, Major in Educational Management with minors in Rural Development and Agricultural Education.
She is a staunch advocate of the Igorot culture. As such, she has been invited as guest speaker to conferences of the Igorot Global Organization (IGO) in the US and Europe.
As a seminar lecturer, she had several opportunities to lecture in various conferences, symposia, trainings and seminars related to Agricultural Education, Human Resource Development, Professional Ethics, Leadership and Management and Teaching Strategies.
As a writer, she wrote 14 books from 1999 until 2011. Her first book is “Besao Traditional Knowledge on Spiritual Beliefs: Its Contribution to Sustainable Development.” One of her last books is a memoir, “Living the Igorot Culture: A Legacy.”
She got married to Teresde (Terry) Forawan Fiar-od, a native of Barlig, Mountain Province. Terry died on December 14, 1999 and left Caridad with eight children to support. With six children-in-law, she is a grandmother of nine grandchildren.
Caridad is an Igorot, and belongs to the Galeled clan of Besao and Manengba clan of Sagada and Besao, Mountain Province, Philippines.
Note: The article is taken from Caridad B. Fiar-od’s self-published memoir, “Living the Igorot Culture: A Legacy” published in the Philippines in 2010. The book was edited by Gina P. Dizon. Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) would like to thank Dr. Joy Fiar-od Dicdican, Xaverine Fiar-od and their siblings for providing their mother’s biography and for granting permission to post the article in the ICBE website. (Y.Belen,27July2014)