Thursday, December 4, 2014

Story: Igorots Used To Offer Human Heads As Burnt Offerings For Kabunyan

[This piece which you are about to read is a contribution from one of our readers, John Tamale. John recounts some of the stories he had heard from his late mother who hailed from the town of Sabangan in Mt. Province.]

By John Tamale - Recently, I was searching for images, stories and things concerning the Igorot tribe in the internet. I felt frustrated finding out that nothing really wrote on the activities that Igorots had been engaged with before pen and paper came. This gave me the idea to write the stories told by my mother who hailed from Sabangan, Mt. Province. Her name was Giyeb and she died on her old age last 2002.

During the days before we sleep at night, it was fun for me to ask my mother on how her old folks lived their life in their olden days: What were their food and how did they produce it, how was their living condition, how did they travel, how was their house made of, what were their utensils, instruments and tools, how did they hunt and what usually were their catch, how did they celebrate marriages and where did they got their animals…etc.

According to my mother, her parents migrated from Gonogon, Bontoc to Sabangan proper because they wanted to avoid being attacked by “Buso” (which means men from other Igorot village coming to get human head for ritual purposes). Apparently, Sabangan is a bigger, better and safer place than Gonogon. She said that in earlier time, when “Buso” tries to enter the town of Sabangan, all passages seemed to be impassable. The normal path turned to steep precipice or the night becomes very dark that the “buso” can’t find the passageway to enter the village.

This mysterious thing happens because every full moon, Sabangan people butchered four pigs and make the head as burnt offering to “Kabunyan” (their God who created heaven and earth), asking “Kabunyan” to protect and cover them from enemies. During this occasion, the village leaders pray while the people feasted on the pig’s meat. They needed four pigs because there were four passages going into their place. On those events, everybody is obliged to go to “At-atowan” (village’s center) and join the feast so no one is allowed to go to the fields.
Image credit: Tanya Umawing via Flickr
They had seasons to observe; (1) “Tengaw” before planting season. Tengaw means no one is allowed to go for work. Everybody in the village has to attend the feast in the At-atowan or Dap-ay a day prior to the start of planting season. They do the announcement by “Bugaw” (shouting around the town’s vicinity) done by the appointed shouter early in the morning when almost all people starts to do their daily chores.

Along the days in preparation for the tengaw day, brave men secretly and villainy enters other village to get a human head. Other men go to hunt for wild pig. When they had gathered human head and “laman” (wild pigs), it signals that they are ready for the “tengaw”. On the feast day, the older men offer the human head as burnt offering to “Kabunyan”.

While burning the human head, the young men butcher the “laman” for the people to feast. They do this in order to please “Kabunyan” who in turn will stop pests in attacking their plants, cover them from disastrous typhoon and blinds the “buso” or hides the entrances so no “buso” could enter their place. They do this from the start of the day until sun set. The very day after the “tengaw”, they then start the planting season.

(2) “Tengaw” after harvest season. When all the rice was harvested, they end it with a tengaw. This time they feast together to thank “Kabunyan” for the peace and bountiful provision. They offer a human head for thanksgiving, eats laman then dances for joy with their gongs until sun set. This is merrier than the pre-planting tengaw. Here, they include “Kadungyasan” where boys and girls grouped together and piled facing each gender.

The girls had a swing where a maiden rode and at the boys‘swing is her suitor. The play was when the boys pushes the swing, the suitor sings telling his love-promises to the maiden while everybody is listening. After that, he pauses to listen to the maiden. The girls push the swing and the lady sings also trying to combat the flaw she heard from the man’s song. This usually ends up into marriage celebration when the demand of the lady’s clan is modestly performed by the man’s clan.
Library of Congress
Hunting was their major food source to pair the rice. Every time before they go hunting, they have to kill a lady chicken to see if its bile shows a good sign of catch. If the chicken bile shows a good sign, the hunting is approved but if the bile shows a bad sign, no hunting will be done. They also believed that there were spirits in the forest guarding the wild animals. This spirits are invincible but their presence is acknowledged by the villagers so they have to avoid offending the spirits. This belief is sealed true by the experience of an early hunter. The tale was told and was mouth to mouth preserved that even up to now is still being told.

Accordingly, one hunter was presumed killed by wild animal in the forest so the relatives mourned for his death. After plenty morning cock crows gone from the day of mourning, the missing hunter appeared unexpectedly. He was very frail. When the hunter ate and slept, he regained his strength and he related his experience in the forest. He said that when he was following a fat good deer, it went into a very thick bush and he can’t make his way to follow. He went on circling the bush and assuring that the deer was hiding there; he hid and prepared himself to wait. As he peeps, the bush moves as the deer moves.

Guarding the place for a long time, the hunter felt hungry so he ate his baon. Feeling that he is falling asleep after eating, he gathered vines and laid it surrounding the bush. He tied the vine’s tip on his arm then he fixed himself on his hiding place. When the deer goes out, the vine would strangle it and if it struggles, the vine would move his arm and wakes him. After enough nap, he felt disemboweling so he went under a tree and released his bowel there.

When he went back to his watch place, he noticed that the sun is going down. He decided to shoo the deer so he could catch. He pulled the vine and formed it as a whip. He whipped the bush and the deer sprang out and run as fast as it goes and the hunter lost it. Dismayed, the hunter has to go home and decided to try his luck in the morrow.

When he threaded his way home, he was amazed and puzzled for he reached the same place where his bowel was. He left and made sure that he will follow the exact path home but after a long walk, he ended up again to where he left his bowel. He tried another route, but again he went back to the same place. He then slept there where he made a watch for he was caught up by the dark.

The next day, he kept on trying walking home but always ended up on the place where he comforted himself. This took him days trying to leave the place but never had he succeeded in going home. He fills his stomach with whatever he found edible and drunk on the stream flow he passes by. It came to pass that all edible ones were consumed on all the routes he kept on passing through. He was only fed by the water flow until he fainted for starvation.

On his sleep, a spirit appeared on his dream. He asked the angry spirit how he could be able to go home. The Spirit harshly replied saying “you foolish human, I always let you go back to your bowel thinking that you are wise enough to take your smelly thing with you, but you never do it. Now you carry that away so you can find your path home.” When the spirit disappeared, the hunter woke up. He then took leaves and wrapped his smelly drying bowel, carried it and forcefully inched to the spring and drunk a lot of water then rested for a while.

As he gained little strength, he rose and went on homeward and finally he reached the path homeward. He struggled on one resting cogon hut and found a shovel and there he buried his thing. He was so weak that he kept on resting until a man on the field saw him and helped him reached his home. This story gave warning to the villagers not to make the forest dirty and that was carried on from generations.

The headhunting activity ceased little by little when Christian Priests penetrated the Mt. Province. My mother on her tender years witnessed Tengaw activities, but no more human head burnt offerings. She only heard rumors that some members of her village working in the far field were found dead and decapitated. That is why when they go to the rice fields, their “Apongs” brought with them “bagsay” and “kasag” and dogs. These strong men just roam around watching and guarding the women, young girls and boys working in the field.

The continual Christian teachings by the Missionaries modified their way of living and big change took place when the Japanese came and took control of their place. Americans came after and chased the Japanese. Planes came bombarding every community. The Igorots fled to the mountains to hide. No one was allowed to make fire because once the planes saw a smoke; they come and bomb the place. They called that certain period as “blackout”.

When the war ended, the villagers went back and built their houses with modified structures already.... Most of the men then went to work as miners at Lepanto Mines, Balatoc Mines, Antamok Mines, Philex Mines and other small mines. Others went to Baguio City and worked as “cabiteros” or stone excavators. That gave way for great changes in the culture of the igorots. They bought clothings and sent it to the villages until the “Tapis” and the “g-strings” were left behind.

In 1966, I remember that year, because Ferdinand Marcos won as President that time, when I went as grade one in Saint Joseph Elementary School at Sabangan. President Marcos came by giving thanks. He let us formed a line and gave ration to each of us. Few men still wore g-string those times but when I finished elementary, I can’t see any more men in g-string in Sabangan. There were only about few houses already that were left made out of cogon grass. Changes came very fast as modernization crept along the Mt. Province.

*That was a story on head and hunting. Being a fifty-niner, the only evidences I saw during my younger days were the human jaws used in the handles of Gongs. There was also a cave above the sitio Sao, where we used to gather firewood. This cave was filled with wooden coffins along with many skulls. 

Old folks told me that after the burning of the head in the Dap-ay, only the flesh were burned and the skull were carried by the shouting men chanting and banging their gongs paraded to pile the skull in that cave. One day, I remembered that a strong typhoon eroded the cave during my elementary and the skulls were carried by landslide to the river crashing the center of Sao. They claimed that plenty people died at that incident. Now the cave was gone. - John Tamale








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