The God's of the Igorots
By Marny Balisong
The Igorots inhibit the mountainous area of the northern Philippines, which is called the “Cordillera.” The inhabitants of this region are generally called Igorots and they consist of eight major sub-tribal groups according to linguistic and cultural traits (Reyes 1987: xi). They engage in gold mining, slash-and burn farming, and planting vegetables as their primary sources of living. They are keepers of their own distinct cultural and sub-cultural heritage. The Igorots are primarily animistic in practice and ancestral worshippers by heritage.
During the invasion of the Spanish in the Philippines, Igorot tribes were preserved from the Spaniard’s religious, political and cultural influences. They retain and remained in their cultural traits. But when American colonial rule came, that’s the time the Igorots exposed themselves; their headhunting practice gradually stoped. Cordillera province is composed of many tribes like Ibaloi, Kalangoya, Ifugao, Benguet Kankanaey and kankanaey of Mountain province. But I want to present the generally beliefs and practices of the Kaankana-eys tribes:
The Gods of the Igorot tribe. According W.D Sacla, which is now the present vice governor of Benguet, there are categories of the gods of the igorots (A) Dios Adi kaila, the god which we can not see. The creator is the highest god; (B) Kabunyan-which is the son- he’s the one who execute the plan of god Adi kaila; canao are offered to him; (C) Anitos or the ancestral spirit - which means the spirit of those relative who pass away or malevolent ancestral spirits; they are often called Ap-apo under superior deities by Kabunyan. There is a tribe in the Cordillera that includes Lumaweg as one of their gods. But what I know lumaweg is the name of the god of Ifugao’s Tribe.
The Tribal Leader of the Igorot. Manbunong is considered as a tribal leader as well as priest who performed rituals. Leader are not elected but they emerge; the influence of this traditional leadership is immeasurable. There is no administrative structure; the elected government officials exist, but the influence of the manbunong is more powerful or influential than the elected officials. In small communities, this leader settle disputes, judge cases, determine punishment and compensation, officiate marriages, handle separation and bury their dead, they have the final authority in matters which affect the entire community. Their role is not limited in social matters; they also perform religious functions. He preside over various religious rites and rituals, interpret dreams, diagnose sickness, and determine the cause of misfortune through divination and prescribe appropriate rituals to correct situation.
The rituals: (a) Canao is a highlight of religious celebration. It is offered for various purposes: to celebrate as a religious and as part of funeral rite and to secure healing . In some part of Cordillera, Canao is also celebrated to be blessed by the anitos or Kabunyan. According to Encarnation, the Canao fulfill two social functions; it brings prestige to the family, it also affirms and strengthens the existing social structure and the extended family ties. In his survey, all five leaders fulfilled the ritual requirements by offering thirteen native pigs with white and black nails. This prestige celebration begins with three pigs, then second rituals require five, then seven and so on. The Canao plays a vital role in reaffirming the existing order and status which has been determined in the spiritual world. It is also regarded as a means of influencing the gods and spirits to maintain the existing order. In addition, the Igorots believe that fame, material blessings, and good health are granted by Kabunyan and the Ancestral spirits. Therefore, it is natural for them to view present wealth as reward for their religious piety expressed through many canao sacrifices; today’s canao ensure tomorrow’s blessing.
(b) Begnas- After planting and before harvest there is one week of celebration, the community contributes any kinds of food and animals for the rituals. The purpose for this are: the deities will bless their crops and protect it from plagues or insects. Normally, Igorots killed the animals to offer to the spirits or Anitos and later the meat will be distributed to the entire community. During these event, there is one day declare as rest day or "Tengao" in Igorot; nobody went out of the house, then the elders make the cooked-rice like ball to be distributed also to every families in the community
Their Concept about Blessing: It is known, ‘The Igorots believe in spirit beings but also in these beings’ intimate involvement in the daily activities of the Igorot life, the deities thus function in role which are significant for people. The most relevant and tangible expression of divine power is felt in the forms of blessing and curses endowed or inflict by the deities’ The Igorot tribe believe their gods are the ultimate source of blessing. That’s why they try to perform rituals in order to receive blessing. They believe that the deities have the power either bring fortune or misfortune to them. And even the assumption that the ancestors grow the crops, help to raise their animals. Traditional Igorot believe that Kabunyan intervene in every things that they do especially in their crops--from preparation of the seed through the sowing of the seeds and the actual storing of their crops in the storehouse. The Igorots accompany their works with rituals to secure flourishing and abundant blessing from Anitos but when the harvest is not bountiful, they try to evaluate what they did during the rituals and if there were things that are not in line to the tradition then they will make another rituals. There are common rituals they make even today:
Senga/ Sambo. This feast or ritual is where they speak blessing of prosperity of the family. 1. Senga for be-ey (House blessing) after building the house, the family expected to perform ritual to express their thanksgiving to secure more blessing from the deities. Their common prayer is that the family would offer more rituals to honor their gods, especially if the owner of the house becomes rich. As they perform this ritual, they should butcher 2-5 pigs, and they distributed the meat to the relatives of both husband and wife, then at the night time, all the night old folks gather at the newly built house to speak blessing (gasat or swerte) upon the family but they tell it in day-eng or Igorot chant. At the might night they eat the remaining meat (head and feet of the pigs); they offer prayer of blessing to the ancestral spirits (anito) after that they will go home at 1-2 o’clock in the morning.
2. Senga for the newly wed couple- (blessing for the newly wed couple) – a newly married couple is encouraged to perform a ritual for two days following the wedding festival. The ritual prescribed by the manbunong, as the rituals performed, they anticipate that Kabunyan will bless them and bring them good luck. After they butcher the animals, (chicken, pig, cow or carabao) they distribute the meat to their relatives who are present and even those who did not attend.
When they perform these rituals, the manbunong always look the liver of the animals (pedis) for luck of the family by predicting the future if they will become rich or not, (swerte or malas) if the river is little, the manbunong tells to the family to butcher another pig again until they found bigger liver.
This system continues to function today, ‘the return of the meat’ by those who received before will expected to do the same when they were perform rituals mentioned above. ‘The manbunong received extra amount of meat or choice portions, they enjoy special parts of the animal, such as the liver, which are generally regarded as sacred’
These things must be observed properly in order to experience blessing of the Anitos. In addition, ‘The Igorots trust that their wishes and blessing will be realized through the community priest’s ( manbunong) proper appeal to the gods along with the proper performance of ritual… every activity of the Igorots complete only insofar as the deities are invoke intervene’. The prayer is achieved through appropriate means of ritual performance. It provides a meaningful celebration by which the people have their felt needs met.
Igorot Concept of Cursing. When the Igorots experience sickness, calamities, difficulties or disaster, they always attribute it to the anitos’ activities. ‘The acts of the gods are considered either as curse or judgment. Calamity occurs, according to their understanding, when they offend any of the gods or spirits’ they hold a notion that the spirits bring curses or unlucky fortune when the ritual is properly administered or offered. The offended and angered anitos bring sickness as a kind of a curse, causing poor harvest, sleepiness, headaches, illness and etc. The only way to counter such affliction is to appease the anger of the deities sacrificing animals to them. This is not voluntary but an attempt to appease the anger of the spirits.
Mr. Sacla gives a belief behind the ritual. “During the ritual the manbunong carefully observeds the bile of the sacrificial animal’s liver, the organ most commonly inspected for signs or omens. If the bile is partly covered by the liver, this is interpreted as a sign that a spirit, called Tomongao, does not wish to release the afflicted person. The manbunong orders to offer more chickens or pigs until the desired bile is finally obtained. The curse normally comes from the offended Adikaila, the highest god and god of justice and fairness, according to Sacla. The traditional Igorots believe the god has the power to bring curses. That’s why it is crucial for them to avoid offending the spirits in any form. Appropriate avoidance and appeasement will protect them from unfavorable occurrences and will secure favor. Butchering animals for the gods restore normal states of life.
Their concept of healing. Healing is one of the prominent in the Igorots life. According to Mrs. Sabong, when a part of the family sick, normally they did not go to the doctor but seek counsel of the munbunong. Mansip-ok, who is gifted in discernment. This mansip-ok analyzees the information about what the person did, and say at the past, and the mansip-ok tries to determine the cause of the illness mostly the spirit of the relatives can cause the sickness, the spirit of the relatives need food, animal, t-shirt, blanket or he is hungry or etc. The mansip-ok also prescribes the cure or specific animals to be butchered in the ritual for the sick people to be cured. As they perform the ritual, the mansip-ok persuades the anito or spirit to leave the person. As the mansip-ok prays, the sick person simultaneously plucks wing feathers out of the chicken and put them inside the small hut for the spirit to follow. After this procedure, the chicken is singed, sliced, cooked and eaten.
According traditional believed of the Igorots, the spirits of the deceased are not totally separated from visible world, since the spirits have no direct means of communication with kin; they employ dreams, signs, omen or sickness to tell their family what they want; ‘it is believed that although the spirits are out of body, the spirits still need for their use items such as, blankets clothes, garments, food and animals. To obtain power to heal from the spirits, the family complies with their demands. The spirits posses power to release when living people approach the presence of the deities through mediums in the worship of ritual’
Conclusion. This worldview of the Igorots still exists today, most of the old folks are the ones who insist it to be followed, but in my observation the young ones have no interest regarding these practices. Probably this is the effect of secular and religious education because most of the places in Mountain Province are already penetrated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as a typical Igorot Christian like me, I will continue to share Christ as much as possible to my tribesmen because it’s the only way for them to be freed from bondage of animism beliefs.
(Edited: G. Plastina)