My Father's Wake and Ibaloy Traditions I Experienced

Written by Gil Tiban Catimo on .

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I would like to dedicate this story to my father so I will start from his birth.

My father was born in the 1920s but no one knows exactly his date of birth. During the American rule, an officer came one day to register children in our locality along the Agno River. The officer asked my dad’s mother, named Monia, (Bitalga is her native name) the birthdate of my father. She hesitantly answered, “I don’t read and write so I have no idea of the days, weeks, months and year. What I know is my son was born during the driving of ‘beshing or rice birds’ of kintoman rice plantation.” The officer calculated it was the month of November. Kintoman rice is harvested in December. My grandmother Bitalga, added, “Three harvestings of kintoman already passed from the time my son, Kalning was born.” Kalning is the native name of my father. The officer concluded that he was born between 1920 and  1930 maybe November of 1924 or 1926. We in the family doubt these dates.

My Father’s Death

My father died on February 26, 2011. He was Cornelio Palano Catimo. In the 1960s to the late 1970s, he served three times as councilor and two times as vice-mayor in our home town of Bokod, Benguet. In 1975, he was given recognition as one of the ten outstanding vice-mayors of the Philippines. After leaving behind politics, he continued his fight for the rights of the people affected by the Ambuklao Dam, forming associations and spearheading the claims to the national government of the Philippines until the approval and release of compensation to all claimants in the early 2000.

My father had been a “manshiba or mariba.” In Ibaloy, it means he believes and highly respects old tradition and beliefs of the Ibaloy Igorots. I remember he always reminded us to respect old people not only because we can learn from them but offending them can hurt us by their “ebayos” or curse. He also taught us to be humble and accept other’s “damdamsis” or foolishness for we will be “mai-names” meaning, we will receive abundant blessings than the offenders. He was always summoned to cañaos and wakes, to give badiw or chant and was the source of information on what was to be done on occasions. Although he was manshiba of old traditional beliefs, he was a devoted Christian and he was baptized as Catholic. I remember when I was a kid, our house was used as a church. There’s still the heavy church bell kept under the house and the old altar used now as cup board. Our community in Liboong didn’t have a school and my father initiated the construction of an elementary school building in the 1970s. I remember he welcomed all kinds of religion that came to preach in the community.

I was impressed when moments before burial, the mayor of Bokod, Mr. Mauricio Makay, handed me a plaque of resolution signed all by the councilors and the mayor recognizing our father’s unselfish service to the community of Bokod. The mayor also handed me the Philippine flag that covered our father’s coffin during the wake which I handed together with the plaque to our mother.

The Wake

A week after my family informed me that my father was so ill, I have to go home abruptly alone for my family was not prepared to accompany me home.

I arrived in Liboong, Tickey, Bokod after a 30 minute boat from spillway Ambuklao in the evening of the bangon, the 2nd day of wake. With tears in my eyes, I embraced my mother, who was crying so hard, and my sisters too. I went near my father’s remains and softly speaking some words, I asked pardon for not being at his side when he passed away then gave him thanks in guiding me a safe travel.     

After making myself a bit relaxed, my brother, Melchor, led to me a man named Bondal, a distant relative. He is the native priest or manbunong. Other elders of the community and my aunt, Calixta, joined us. It was to explain to me as the eldest son but not the eldest of the family, the things we must acquire for the wake. It is a tradition in Ibaloy belief to consider the eldest son as the head of the family. First the manbunong, the elders and my aunt Calixta of more than 80 yrs old explained to me the importance and why we have to have a pair of cow, a pair of carabao, a pair of horse and several pigs. According to them, we must stand for our father’s status. I have to ask my brothers and sisters their availability on this that the elders want us to produce. My brother Melchor had one male horse, my aunt Calixta had one male cow and each of my five sisters bought one pig. So the rest needed will be shouldered by me. I asked my brother if he knows where we can buy the animals and he answered positive. In fact, we were quite prepared in case our father will pass away. Our father had been little by little explaining to us every time we had a family gathering his wishes, especially the blanket. He must use the shindi, an Ibaloy blanket specially woven with a combined color of black, purple, red and white design with a human feature used only by high status people to dance the tayaw and as blanket on their death.

My father’s remains lay on one side of the main door without a coffin and had a G-string. As the old Ibaloy traditional belief requires, the corpse must remain that way for three days before changing it with modern attire and putting in a coffin. My mother was isolated in one room and cannot get near my father’s remains. To go to the toilet, she has to go out through the back door made exclusively for her. An Ibaloy’s house usually has two doors and I don’t exactly know if it’s for this purpose. My mother must eat separate food prepared specially for her. She cannot taste the watwat or meat for the wake. According to the traditional belief, she must observe these as signs of mourning or else she will get sick. For us the children, we wore a “caring” bracelet made of a special tree bark during the wake to identify us as member of the bereaved family.

“Aremag” is the Ibaloy term of the wake period which may last for one day to nine days. It usually depends on the status or age of the deceased. A baby or young person can be buried immediately after death. In the aremag or wake of old age with high status, it is compared to the peshit or grand cañao in the number of animals butchered.

On the first day, they bathe my father’s remains. I was not around yet and was on the way for home. They started butchering pigs, at least a pair of female and male pigs a day.

On the second day called “bangon,” we have to put the deceased in a sitting position. Butchering of pigs continue. Crying and badiw are done. Badiw during aremag are cited asking for khasat or good blessings from the departed since the belief is that the departed person is already with Kabonniyan or Ka-apo-an. It is asked of the departed to leave his good fortune and long life to his bereaved family members. The succeeding days are called katdo, ka-pat, kalima, ka-nem, kapito, kawedo and kasiyam.

On the katdo, third day, we start butchering cows and carabao. On the kasiyam, ninth day before burial, we butcher a horse. It is believed that our dead father needs the horse on his travel to the nay- kayang or to heaven. It is also believed that the butchered animals will be his present to our Ka-apo-ans who have passed away. I observed during the aremag some relatives and neighbors brought pigs, rice or palay, camote (sweet potato) and aba or taro. Some people gave money called “opo.” All are listed down. It is also believed that all these listed donations will be carried up to the Ka-apo-ans of the donors, who in return will receive blessings from them. 

On the kapito, the seventh day, me and my two brothers have to do the “ba-et” which the old Lakay (man) told me will cleanse us and bring us good fortune. What we did was to go like hunters. Early in the dawn, we had to go up the hill, we got some firewood then we went down to the river. We must make a fire, catch some fish cook and eat them there. We brought with us a pot for cooking and rice. We were asked to take a bath and wash. While washing we have to face the north, south, east, west while invoking an oration the Apo Lakay (Old Man) taught us like, “May I be like this powerful water that surrounds the whole world, that it may cleanse my body and let me grow old with gray hair until my knees fold like a horn.” Then returning home we were asked to walk slowly to avoid any slight accident which is a sign of bad luck. At the entrance of the house, the Apo Lakay was waiting for us. He has to ask us, “What did you hunt?” Each of us must answer, “I hunted a long lizard or a snake.” According to the old folk’s beliefs, these animals represent a long life.

On the kawedo or eighth day, we were woken up early at dawn to eat or just taste the meat of a chicken and dog. It is a belief to butcher all animals that my father knew while he was living except cats.

The ka-siyam is the burial day. All big animals like carabaos and cow must be butchered. This is the day a horse is butchered. After the burial, a fire with strong smoke is prepared in the front yard for us to step over, first all the family members then to be followed by all visitors attending the burial. Then a meat is prepared mixed with ginger and “depeg” rice wine but without salt (preparation is called sabosab) to be tasted by everybody present. According to the Apo Lakay, he is not the native priest anyway, only he knows the processes of aremag, the ginger represents one big family and life since it has several fingers and even if you abandon it, it lives alone producing its buds. Meanwhile, salt can kill plants.

On the kasiyam, “9th” day of wake, after eating the sabosab, Manong Bondal, the manbunong (this can be performed by an elder) have to perform guasaguas where all of us the bereaved family members, including everybody present are asked to gather in front of the house. A pekong or basin of water is prepared and with the use of bundle of “sapsap” or runo (reed leaves) dipped in a basin of water then waved to everybody as strong as Manong Bondal the, “manbunong” could, to reach everyone for cleansing and at the same time, a blessing after days of mourning.      

The day after burial is called si-si ni uling, the day to clean the house and the yard. All the dirt accumulated like the rice straw left during pounding of palay, the charcoal used in cooking rice and watwat are cleaned with the help of the neighbors. The cleaning can last for a day so a pig is butchered for the people who stayed to help.

The next day after si-si ni uling is the kapi and is actually the closing part of the aremag. A large pig is butchered. Here, all the members of the bereaved family have to wash their hands, face and knees invoking the same oration we said in the river during the ba-et. This is the last moment to chant the badiw and the end of the aremag.

On the last day of wake, the kapi, I was talking to Manong Bondal, the manbunong, if we have complied correctly with the traditional beliefs that our father deserves. He said, “Yes,” I was glad. And of course even after incurring some expenses, I felt satisfied. Counting them all, we butchered more than 20 pigs.Aside from our contributions as family members, we also received opo from relatives and neighbors. I’m also satisfied as my siblings and relatives were telling me the wake ismaramal. In Ibaloy, maramal means “it was bright.” 

Then Manbunong Bondal said, “Gil but don’t forget that you and your siblings have four years to prepare for the ugkan.” It’s to dig from the grave our father’s remains, clean his bones and put on him new clothes, shindi blanket and move him to a permanent grave. Here, several animals will be butchered again which might last for two to three days including kapi, the closing ceremony. Our father’s name will be called offering him the tayaw which must be physically represented by one member of our family or another close relative. Tapey must be prepared and jolly chanting or badiw will also be done night and day. In general, this is called kesheng, particularly called batbat. We will be performing the ugkan in November 2014.  


About the Author

I am Gil Tiban Catimo, son of Cornelio Palano Catimo and Remedios Balao Tiban. I was born in December 1959 in Baguio city. I’m the 4th of 9 children and the 1st born boy of 4 boys and 5 girls. I finished my primary school at Bokod Central Elementary School in 1968-74 and studied secondary at Immaculate Conception School, Bokod, Benguet, as a working student in the parish as a convent boy. After high school in 1977, I went to the Mountain State Agricultural College now BSU until 1982 taking up Bachelor of Science in Forestry. In 1983, I worked as casual tax mapper employee at the Provincial Capitol, La Trinidad, Benguet. A few years later, I went to Barcelona, Spain to join my wife, Julia Erong Walang. We are blessed with 2 children, Maria Teresa and Mark-Gil, and live in Barcelona until the present. In May 2009, I was elected the first president of BIBAK BARCELONA association and one of our major accomplishments is hosting the 7th Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) Consultation.


Gil Tiban Catimo, 9 September 2014. 

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