Volume 63 1954 > Volume 63, No. 3-4 > An ethnographic excursion to the mountain province of Luzon, Philippines, by Roger Duff, p 234-242
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 234

(Mourning rites for an Ifugao mountaineer.)

NOTE: Dr. Roger Duff, Canterbury Museum, who, with Dr. H. D. Skinner, Otago Museum, was a delegate to the anthropological proceedings of the Manila Science Congresses in November, 1953, contributes this illustrated account of a post-Congress excursion to the territory of the pagan Igorot and Ifugao of the mountain province of Luzon.

MORE than half the delegates participated in post-Congress tours to the mountain province of Northern Luzon, the terrain of the still pagan Igorot and Ifugao. Here the visitors were impressed with the isolating effects of the high mountain barriers in preserving so much of the native culture. To a New Zealander, accustomed to Polynesian standards, mountains were seen to be as effective a barrier as insular isolation, and the mountaineers seemed much less marked by over three centuries of Spanish occupation and an intensive fifty years of American, than any native community within Polynesia. For instance, with a few miles of Banaue, on December 1st, two car loads of anthropologists were able to witness the final mourning and vengeance rites for an Ifugao who had been killed by violence, a ceremony differing from the traditional form only to the extent that it was not followed by a punitive expedition seeking vengeance. To Oceanic delegates proper it was a revelation to realize that the mountains and forests of the great islands of Indonesia preserve well rooted tribal communities who have persistently resisted European, Christian and Mohammedan acculturation.

The twenty participants in the Anthropology Excursion, organized by Professor John de Young of the University of the Philippines, left Manila at 9 a.m. on November 29, to reach the mountain resort of Baguio (150 miles) about 3 p.m. The major part of the journey was across the marshy, fertile rice plains of central Luzon, providing for me a first impression of the open countryside. Vast green fields of rice stretched on each side of the main highway, with farmers and peasants toiling under a hot Sunday sun. - 235 Where villages straggled along the roadside, the monotonous landscape was relieved by groves of coconut palms, bananas, bamboo, mango, papaya and other shelter trees. The dwellings were the typical lowland Filipino huts on stilts, packed cheek to jowl, and by comparison with the orderly appearance given to Polynesian villages by the open assembly green (marae), the villages lacked character.

The approach of the foothills rapidly transformed the landscape to steep forest covered ranges, with clear mountain streams tumbling over boulders, where except for bamboo and occasional bananas, the vegetation was quite reminiscent of New Zealand rain forest. Baguio was approached through an impressive winding gorge, where, as we gained elevation we had our first surprising sight of the native pine (Pinus insularis—a true conifer, with nearest relatives in the mountains of Burma and ?Indo-China). Baguio lies at 5,000 feet, and was surprisingly cool (average temperature 65 degrees Fahrenheit). With its open parks and fringing pines it looked quite unbelievable for latitude 16 degrees north. Planned by the Americans in the early nineteen hundreds, Baguio has come to stay as a mountain resort. The presence of the new city has inevitably involved the Benguet Igorot whose native costume is rarely seen there. A brief taxi ride before evening to the headwaters of the Agno river, provided a glimpse of high ranges swathed in mist, with tiny distant huts and dry terraces for sweet potato (camote), etc.; here it is too high and cold for rice. The fertile Trinidad Valley flat surrounding Baguio was laid out with excellently kept market gardens, growing such temperate vegetables as cabbages and lettuce, and worked in many cases by Chinese.

Monday morning broke with heavy rain and mist, and was quite cold, particularly for the scantily clad Igorot encountered along the sides of the road to Mount Data and the headwaters of the Chico river, which flows down to Bontoc. Much of the route ran from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, winding along steep pine covered ridges looking as unlike the tropical Lupzon lowlands as one could imagine. From the start of the route, there was evidence of the surprising adaptability of the Igorot garden culture to mountain conditions. At the highest elevation we noticed only slight terraces growing sweet potato, and cabbage. When the valley - 236 of the upper Chico opened out, the pines gave way to grass or mountain savannah, and we saw the first impressive sight of the wet rice terraces, until at Bontoc they are quite extensive. From the subjective impression of a traveller (driving through rain) the mountain people contrasted markedly with the lowland Filipinos, appearing shorter and more muscular, with features more reminiscent of the Dyaks, and chocolate brown skins.

With its one street lined with weatherboarded frame stores, Bontoc had a frontier town appearance, heightened by the presence of the older Bontoc men in traditional dress (breech clout and small basket pouch worn as a hat). The women's costume, with blouse worn over the traditional skirt (tapis) was less distinctive.

Formerly the apotheosis of the pagan mountaineers, the Bontoc were noted for their prowess in tribal warfare.

However, our stay at Bontoc was limited to two hours, and soon after 4 p.m. our two cars moved on for the arduous climb to Banaue, where we arrived after 8, in the heavy rain brought on by a typhoon off the Philippines, which was to mar photography through the next two days. The steep sided Banaue valley is the centre of the most impressive series of flooded cultivation rice terraces in the Philippines, and, as report has it, in the world (Plate 1A), but their presence was conveyed only by ear, by the gurgling of innumerable cascades where one terrace overflowed into another, to aid the roaring of the rain swollen stream. The policeman on duty who met our cars and conducted us on foot to our quarters, was an Ifugao, incongruously clad in American GI helmet and shirt, over breech clout and bare legs, and carrying a slung carbine. From our host, Mr. Bill Beyer, we learned that on Saturday, November 28th, policeman Kandipan of nearby Kabonglahan village, had fallen or been pushed over a cliff. Preferring to believe the latter, his fellow villagers would end their three days' mourning on the following morning by invoking the traditional vengeance ceremony and burying Kandipan about noon.

This is the munhimung ceremony, so well described by H. O. Beyer and R. F. Barton (1911) from witnessing the impressively organized rituals in the central Ifugao region in 1908. It is not to be expected that our tourist incursion into a munhimung ceremony of 1953 can add anything to the - 237 earlier accounts. I offer it for publication, to demonstrate the tenacious retention of ancient ritual by the Ifugao, and in the belief that readers may be able to compare it with Oceanic mourning ceremonies. I am indebted to fellow delegate Bernard P. Groslier of Hanoi for the accompanying photographs, expertly taken against severe handicaps of light and weather. A graphic account of these ceremonies by Groslier has appeared under title of “Le Mort Assis” in the illustrated magazine Indochine, of April, 1954.

To reach Kabonglahan village we had to travel up valley along the main highway to Kiangan for about four miles, and then scramble for about two miles along winding mud trails through dense forest. The bare savannah of the Igorot habitat of the upper Chico river, topped with pine clad mountains, had here given place to a lower and warmer zone with a dense covering of sub-tropical rain forest. From the air the terrain appears as steep forested hills and ridges emerging like islands from the flooded terraces into which the original vallays had been transformed. To the shoe clad delegates floundering along mud tracks of unsurpassed slipperiness and perpetually falling behind the mobile bare-footed Ifugao, the impression was of threading a vast forest. The occasional glimpse of a rice terrace or an Ifugao hamlet, appearing as a bamboo wattled clearing with its group of brown thatched houses set on piles, reminded one that the forest was inhabited. The wet terraces grew only a few taro (gabi), the rice planting not yet begun, and the vines of sweet potato (camote) showed in trenched dry beds adjoining. From the distance in all directions the rhythmic beating of wooden gongs revealed the trails of small parties of warriors converging on the scene. The first such contingent burst suddenly on us at Amganad, the last village before Kabonglahan. The ceremonial entry of this small contingent is shown in Plate 2, A and B. They shuffled in with a sideways dance step, challenging in unison every point of the compass, holding the particular posture or attitude for quite a pause, and tapping with a hard wood stick on light wooden percussion gongs (patong 1) held in the left hand. The most striking feature of the costume was the ceremonial head- - 238 dress, a broad fillet of the white leaf petiole of the Areca palm, set with the blood-red broad flaring leaves of the dwarf Cordyline palm known to the Ifugao as dongla 2 (as a sacred plant it is frequently to be seen growing on the walls of the rice terraces, where the distant blobs of crimson effectively set off the ascending staircase of terrace levels). Like the head fillet, the bracelets and garters of white Areca bark served as emblems of mourning. Otherwise the dancers were naked but for the breech-clout (binolan), a handsome ceremonial variety of loom-woven cotton, dyed red, with fringed ends and bobbins of wool, and a cotton blanket draped as a bandolier under the left armpit and over the right shoulder. Conspicuous on the left hip was the machete-like head-knife (bolo), its naked blade secured in an open sheath, its straight back and convex cutting edge reminiscent of the Dyak parang. Under the bolo was secured a hip bag (butong), conspicuous for its brass handles, and trailing fringes, the fabric loom woven cotton (Plate 3, A). Some of the older men wore shaggy rain capes (Plate 2, B), strongly reminiscent of the Maori pake, black or tow coloured, of what appeared to be vegetable fibre. Tattooing was again confined to the older men (I recollect seeing only one example, on the outer margins of the breast and the curve of the corresponding upper arm). The needs of gong beating had apparently caused the warriors to dispense with the iron-bladed socket-barbed spears, which were quite common among the spectators, and only a few carried shields (a five to six feet rectangle of soft wood, with rounded ends, but without the sophisticated shape of the Igorot shield, and with a conventionalized human stick figure painted on in white).

Moving on from Amganad, we were made aware of our approach to Kabonglahan, by the high pitched cries and exhortations of the women mourners addressing the body of Kandipan. Although the cries conveyed something of the same effect, this was not ritual wailing or keening as in the Polynesian tangi. From Beyer's description the burden of the exhortations would be blended appeals to Kandipan to come back, to open his eyes and wake up, but, if he would not

- i
Plate 1A and B.
- ii
Plate 2A and B.
- iii
Plate 3A and B.
- iv
Plate 4A and B.
- v
Plate 5A and B.

- vi Page is blank

- 239

return, let his spirit harry the spirits and the living of the murderer's clan.

Our first realization of the corpse, as we gazed down a steep bank into the dug-out site of Kandipan's house, was the sight of one seated figure who never moved among the thronging mourners. Kandipan was seated on a roughly improvised seat against the right front house post, dressed in his fringed breech clout but without the finery of the mourners, hands resting on his thighs, his iron bladed spear and bamboo tipped javelin (tukab) resting point downwards between his legs (Plate 4A). Across his throat rested the fretted sliver of wood which Beyer calls kinillo, to indicate “that he was lohop, that is, a brave warrior who has taken heads in his lifetime.” Three days after death the corpse was livid grey-blue, with dark blood streaks congealed on the swollen chest, distinctly bloated, and with a strong smell of decomposition. Grouped round it, on the vigil they had maintained since Kandipan was brought in, was a cluster of women, calling him at intervals in high voices, occasionally prodding him with slender spindle-shaped sticks of hard wood, or shaking him violently to ensure his attention.

I could not find out the relationship of the mourners to Kandipan, but one pretty girl, dressed, unlike the older women, in a long frock, was alleged to be a sister-in-law. The older women wore blouses above the short ungraceful cotton waist cloth (tapis) horizontally striped like a butcher's apron.

Before following the warriors on their spectacular dance across the rice terraces to the assembly ground for the ceremonial feast (canao) I might refer in passing to the Ifugao house. The house of the lowland Filipino, is lightly constructed, to a rectangular plan in which the length considerably exceeds the width, and stands on a number of slender piles. The open walls provide ventilation and windows let in ample light; it is exceptional for its sides to be weather boarded and plaited bamboo is the norm. By contrast the square solidly built Ifugao house stands, like a Maori pataka on four massive posts (in some cases actual tree trunks with a boss cut out of the solid to prevent rates climbing up). In the Banaue area the piles were capped with flat wooden discs (see Plate 4, A) on which in turn rested the framework of massive adzed beams, wooden floor, and sides of broad adzed - 240 planks inclining outwards and upwards to the steep pitched palm thatched roof. The resemblance to the pataka is emphasized by the absence of window openings. The plate (1, B.) also conveys the extent of the overlap of the floor, and the extensive overhang of the roof eaves. Utensils and food can be safely housed in the dry soil under the overhang, under which in turn hang the separate wicker cages in which each Ifugao chicken is bedded for the night. As I was sheltering under such a roof, my attention was drawn to a compact cloth wrapped bundle resting on a floor beam, the exhumed bones of an immediate ancestor. I further understood that this “bone washing” ceremony would not be applied to those who, like Kandipan, died of violence.

Meanwhile we must return to Kandipan, and join the crowd thronged the steep bank below his house site, which served the open area of the flooded rice terraces in the capacity of a grandstand. To the regular beat of the gongs, often slowly posturing on one leg, the warrior contingents were dancing, each in their own group, along the narrow slippery walls of the terraces, towards a promontory on the far side, where the glint of red head-dresses denoted the assembly ground for the cañao (Plate 3, B). As the dancing lines drew further away from the spectators, and distance gave the impression of unbroken lines, the brilliant red head-dresses lined up like a giant writhing centipede, whose multitudinous legs were the gesticulating limbs of the dancers. Through all the gongs tapped out their measured beat.

At this stage three of the visitors (Allan Smith, Guy Moréchand and myself) decided to make our way across to the cañao. Unable to negotiate the slippery mud walls of the terraces, we waded through the flooded ponds, to reach the far bank where we advanced somewhat cautiously and made our way among the assembled warriors, who gave us a friendly reception. Our arrival coincided with the final and closing phase of the ceremony, invoking the gods to send an omen (idu). The chief actor was an elder, who held up a cup of rice wine, the cup cut from a coconut, but with a curiously scalloped edge, its name, as I learned, taug. Previously a pig had been sacrificed, cut up, the portions scorched over an open fire and ceremonially eaten. From this ceremony only the severed head remained, resting in a blackened wooden - 241 bowl, like a squared version of the Polynesian kumete, with protruding hand grips at each end shaped in the form of a conventionalized pig's head. I was given pung-gam-ngan as the name of the bowl. From Beyer's published account, it can be assumed that chickens had been sacrificed and cooked with rice. The elder assembled the warriors in a great circle, poured a libation from the cup, and with one accord all looked skywards, uttering shrill OO-OO-OO's. An English speaking participant (who had served under American command in the Philippine army) explained that the idu, representing the soul of the slayer of Kandipan, should appear in the form of a flying insect or butterfly. Perhaps because of the rain, or the presence of strangers, no idu appeared. From the published account we learn that the idu could also be a bird, and that the direction of its flight with relation to the position of the murderer's village, decided the timing and fortune of the punitive expedition, which, since 1908, has no longer taken place. In the circumstances the ceremony would be repeated on successive mornings until the omens were favourable.

Following custom, the ceremony must end at 12 noon, to enable Kandipan to be buried on the third day. Returning across the terraces in swaying red lines, the dancers made a brilliant sight, in spite of the lowering light which heralded another rain squall.

Held up by the need not to impede the dancers, and the difficulty of negotiating the steep banks, our return was just in time to witness the last act. The final act was brief, a section of the dancers encircled the house (Plate 4, B) and the corpse. A litter was brought up and the burial shroud placed on it, a blanket differing from the normal red or dark blue, in the presence of broad white stripes running its length. At the last moment this was snatched up by a close relative—a cousin—who motioned fiercely to his attendant warriors to place Kandipan on his shoulders, and with bowed shoulders draped with the death shroud, stooped there to receive him (Plate 5, A). Straightening up, he supported the burden by seizing the wrists and trotted rapidly out of the house clearing. The corpse swayed there gruesome, arms stiffly outstretched, and head lolling, as they receded (Plate 5, B.).

I did not follow to the burial which was witnessed by - 242 Seiichi Mizuno. From his account the body was dragged with some difficulty through the narrow opening of an artificial cave cut out of a clay bank closely adjoining Kabonglahan village.

  • 1, A.—Wet rice terraces at Banaue.
  • 1, B.—Typical Ifugao village, Amganad, showing house on four piles.
  • 2, A.—Mourning contingent arriving at Amganad.
  • 2, B.—Ditto, showing rain capes.
  • 3, A.—Back view of warriors, to show bolo and fringed hip bag.
  • 3, B.—Dancing across the rice terraces to the canao.
  • 4, A.—The murdered Kandipan with women mourners.
  • 4, B.—Warriors encircling Kandipan's house.
  • 5, A.—Lifting Kandipan onto shoulders of relative; note rejected stretcher.
  • 5, B.—Carrying off Kandipan to burial.
  • BEYER, H. Otley and BARTON, Roy Franklin. 1911. “An Ifugao Burial Ceremony.” The Philippine Journal of Science. Vol. VI, No. 5, Section D.
  • GROSLIER, B. P. 1954. “Le Mort Assis.” Indochine (revue Mensuelle Illustreé), Saigon. No. 28, April, 1954, pp. 27-30.
1   I record patong as the name given to me, although Beyer and Barton use bangibang.
2   Designated by Beyer as Cordyline terminalis Kunth and transscribed as dangla.