Don’t Skip the Chicken Blood: The Importance of a Pre-Climb Tribal Ritual

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.

Kitanglad mountain range: The rightmost peak is Mt. Kitanglad and next to it is Mt. Dulang-Dulang.


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.

Mushroom from the base of a giant tree in Mt. Kalatungan. Our guide said it is used for treating stomachache.

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.

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Skip the Chicken Blood: The Importance of a Pre-Climb Tribal Ritual

  1. jebuzinjamonk

    Quite interesting… 🙂
    It’s different of the Manobo’s area in the Agusan Marsh or in the river towns of Agusan Del Sur, instead of the visitor offering a Tanduay or Kulafo to the Datu, The tribe will offer you to drink a glass of locally made wine called “Hidjup”, a white wine made from Nipa extract, and will entertain the visitors with it’s tribal dances and music. This is to appease the spirits of the “Kinaiyahan” and to welcome the visitors.

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      I’ve heard about the hidjup. It would be interesting to document the rituals of the different tribes in the country before commencing a climb. Mapapakita ang cultural and sociological aspects sa pag-akyat ng bundok, mas magiging multi-faceted ang mountaineering. Or pwede ring umeepal at nagmamarunong lang ako na naman. Hehe.

      Reply
  2. worddruid

    gawa tayo ng paper at ipresent sa next UGAT convention! (feeling ako? hahaha) I did once pero college paper lang tungkol sa pasalubong, this would be more interesting di ba? Lagi namang may call for papers dun eh hahaha Bi-annually siya I think

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Pwede. Magandang angle nga yon. We could explore how a climb ritual is not just a religious expression but could also be a form of empowerment for the IPs, their way of staking ownership of their ancestral domain. Pwede rin tingnan kung may correlation ba ang pagkakaroon ng ritual sa level of involvement ng IPs sa preservation ng bundok, how the concept of sacred space could translate to environmental protection.

      So far ang alam ko lang na may required na ritual sa climb ay mga areas in northern Mindanao. Meron din ba sa ibang areas like Benguet? Ayan, na-excite na bigla. Haha!

      Reply
  3. Janna

    At the risk of sounding preachy and self-righteous, let me ask these:

    What is sacred apart from the Holy One?

    What is faith without truth?

    What is baptism without proclaiming Christ?

    Unlike in the other religions where man attempts to reach a god or gods or a goal, in Christianity, God reached down to puny man to make peace with him.

    I know you already know all these and more. I also think you mean on the third day, not after three days.

    Peace.

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      I understand where you’re coming from. The point I’m trying to make is it may be worthwhile to take a step back from the religious orthodoxy we’ve been used to (and which we believe is superior to others) and try to understand other people’s culture and beliefs on their own terms.

      As an outsider in the community, I thought it more prudent to seek to understand them rather than launch into a sermon a la Evangelism Explosion style or lecture them on the Nicene creed. If my baptism was somehow compromised because of that, then I submit.

      Thanks for pointing out the mistake. I’ve made the necessary edit.

      Reply
      1. Janna

        I’m sorry if I sound haughty. You’re right that we’re not supposed to proclaim doom everywhere we go. Respecting beliefs without compromising one’s own is a challenge indeed. At some point, a line must be drawn, but where?

        Reply
        1. Tintin Post author

          Compassion, empathy and humility might be good guideposts. These are lofty values and I’m going to sound like a pretentious jerk if I claim that I could actually practice them perfectly. So to simplify, I usually just tell myself this: Try your best not to be an asshole.

          Reply
  4. Pingback: Bukidnon News » FEATURE: Getting to Know the People of the Mountain: A Manila-based mountain climber’s diary on the Bukidnon Daraghuyan Tribe

  5. judy

    i am a bible believer. i, too hold my own beliefs and convictions sacred and not wanting to be compromised for the sake of climbing a mountain…but then again i have second thoughts…how can i show my respect to their own beliefs- and thus be able to climb their mountain without turning my back from my own convictions. hay!

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Having spent a good amount of time immersed in evangelical Christian culture, I also had those hang-ups about “compromise” and sticking to my so-called convictions. I remember going to the Rizalista communities in Mt. Banahaw and acting like a total nutcase because I was so concerned about not compromising my faith. I thought I was being a good Christian then by sticking to my guns when I was actually being a complete jackass.

      What I’ve realized since then is there are far more serious compromises I should be concerned about. For instance, Jesus talked a lot about social justice and caring for the poor. If I don’t have the fervent dedication to these things as he did, am I not compromising the faith I claim to profess? Shouldn’t I be more scandalized about that? Shouldn’t I be more disturbed that I am often apathetic and reactionary to the causes he is passionate about?

      We often become so involved in our own church rituals and religious activities that we think that’s what being a Christian is all about. So when we’re in a culture that’s different from what we’re used to, we think it’s a threat to the integrity of our beliefs. But really, is this bible-based belief system so cheap, silly and fragile that it would be seriously compromised by a mere chicken ritual?

      If faith is important enough to be sacred, then it shouldn’t be tucked away in a glass case, separate from the grimy reality. It should be out there in action, being constantly explored and challenged and contending with the chaos and madness of humanity. And sometimes, that means being smeared with chicken blood.

      Reply

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