Before I get all preachy and self-righteous on the subject (of which I have no right to be), I’m coming clean on something. In all of my three climbs in Bukidnon (Dulang-Dulang, Dulang-Dulang – Kitanglad traverse and Kalatungan), I’ve never attended a pre-climb tribal ritual.
The indigenous tribes in the province require mountaineers to participate in a ritual before commencing a climb. In Lantapan, the jump-off of the D2 climb, the Talaandig tribe conducts it. For the Kalatungan climb, it’s the Manobo in Pangantucan.
The tribes believe that the ritual is necessary for safe passage into the mountains. It is a way of appeasing the spirits and declaring the mountaineers’ harmless intentions in entering what is believed to be sacred space. All I knew about it was it entailed slaughtering a chicken and dipping a few coins in chicken blood.
I was able to get away with skipping it because I usually climb with just two to three people. The datu (tribal leader) tends to be more lenient with small groups. We often arrive in the jump-off on a delayed schedule, either late at night or on the day of the climb itself. Thus, we don’t have any more time to attend the ritual. This is a lousy excuse, of course.
Ms. Easter Canoy, head of the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, said it best: When you remove the ritual from the climb, you’re just introducing the mountain without the people. The mountain ranges of Bukidnon are integral to the daily lives and identity of the indigenous tribes. The mountain is their hunting ground, their source of food and medicine. It is their place of worship, their ancestral domain and their life base.
I first met Ma’am Chy during my D2K climb last March. In the few days that I stayed in her house, breakfast and dinner conversations were about issues of indigenous peoples’ rights and tribal culture. When I went back last month, she invited me to spend a couple of days with the Bukidnon tribe (same name as the province) in the Daraghuyan ancestral domain in Barangay Dalwangan, a village in the outskirts of Malaybalay City. This is where I had my first tribal ritual.
I was asked to bring a live chicken, red and white cloth, a bottle each of Tanduay (local rum) and Fighter (local Chinese wine), a pack of cigarettes, biscuits and a few candies. Nay Pangging, an elder of the tribe and older sister of the tribal leader, led the ritual. The cloths were laid on the floor, white on top of red, and all the items were placed on them including my camera and phone and a few coins. The white cloth was said to be for the good spirits; it signified our clean motives and intentions. The red cloth was for the bad or aggressive spirits; it showed that we were also brave and would not be cowed.
Nay Pangging started with chanting a prayer in Binukid, their native language. The chicken’s throat was slit and its blood was collected on a plate. She then took a couple of feathers, dipped them in blood and brushed them on the coins, my gadgets and my hands.
There was a short break as the chicken was taken away and cooked. We resumed with the bird coming back on a plate, now dressed and boiled. The rum and Chinese wine were poured into glasses and a glass of water was also placed on the ritual area. Nay Pangging prayed again. After the chant, she unwrapped the biscuits and candies, lit a stick of cigarette, and poured the water on the ground.
She took a few pieces of chicken, candies and a cigarette and put them on a separate plate, which was brought outside. This was intended for the spirits which were roaming around and wouldn’t come in. She then invited all of us to gather around and have small bites of the food. This act is called the panampulot, which marked the end of the ritual.
I’ll be honest. The whole thing did not entirely make sense to me. I can understand the symbolism of animal sacrifice. Ritual killing is present in a lot of religions including the Judeo-Christian tradition. Everything else, the offering of cigarettes and candies and alcohol to please spirits, seemed strange. I found it weird that the apparent preference of these powerful unseen beings is similar to that of a neighborhood drunkard and a five-year-old.
Then again, I was baptized in a religious tradition that believes in a man/God who got mangled and died by crucifixion, walked out of his grave
after three days on the third day, and floated up to heaven. To a clueless outsider, that sounds just as (if not more) bizarre as spirits who like nicotine and sweets. We all have our version of the sacred, which to others could be nothing more than another brand of the ridiculous.
Taking part in the ritual isn’t meant to make me understand the indigenous people and their way of life. I can’t possibly make sense of an entire culture just by sitting around for an hour and watching a chicken get killed. That would be a disservice to the tribe and a gross overestimation of my intellect.
By participating in the ritual, I’m admitting that I know little about their beliefs and as such, I submit myself to their ways. I’m an outsider who wants to barge in on their community and climb their mountain. If they believe that I should be marked with chicken blood in order to be worthy of reaching their summit, then so be it. I may not completely comprehend their version of the sacred but it is my duty to respect it. I’m aspiring to stand on their holy ground; the least I could do is take off my shoes.