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In indigenous ecology, votes of the unseen matter

/ 10:03 PM March 26, 2012

KAPANGAN, Benguet—In this upland town, as is common in other indigenous communities elsewhere, the villagers’ ecology and ecosystems do not only include plants, trees, rivers, rocks, soil, animals and insects, but also the unseen.

This explains why residents of Barangay Pudong had to perform recently two sacred rites to seek the blessings of the gods and spirits for an impending mini hydropower plant project.

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Although they are from Pudong themselves, the project proponents had to consult with the community and had to get what the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra) requires—the community’s free and prior informed consent (FPIC).

But the community’s FPIC was not enough. Community elders asserted that the “tumungaw” (spirits believed to inhabit the rivers and forests) and the spirits of ancestors must also give their approval.

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Alsado A-at, a “manbunong” (traditional priest), said the tumungaw used to live in the spirit world along with their mother, Bangan. But the tumungaw did not only disobey Bangan but also rebelled against her, even spitting at her face, he said.

As punishment, the tumungaw were sent to earth, especially confined to the rivers and forests.

Along with other spirits, the tumungaw have assumed the role of guardians, whose permission must be sought before community members embark on an activity, such as fishing, clearing forests for swidden farming (“kaingin”), and cutting trees for housing and firewood.

Seeking the tumungaw’s permission requires sacrificial animals to be offered in a ritual.

Since the tumungaw are believed to inhabit certain species of trees such as the balete, former Kapangan Mayor Rogelio Leon has encouraged the propagation of these trees.

Leon, now a board member of Benguet, said planting these trees were important in helping maintain watershed areas as community folk consider these homes of the tumungaw.

The Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization (Bito), a people’s organization in Bakun town, lists other spirits such as the “pinten” and “pinad-ing.”

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The pinten, which guard rivers and springs, are very particular about cleanliness so community members have been careful not to dirty or contaminate their waterways, Bito said.

Also found in burial caves and cemeteries are the “pinad-ing” or “kakading,” which are part of those spirits which guard the environment, it added.

So before community folk drink wine or liquor, they would pour a drop in a corner as they utter a prayer called “petik” as a show of respect for the pinad-ing or kakading.

“The uninitiated may dismiss this as simple superstition. But such belief is one of the cultural brake systems of the community in helping prevent the wanton destruction of their resources,” Bito said in its book, “Power from the Mountains,” which the International Labor Organization published in 2002.

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TAGS: Barangay Pudong, Ecology, ecosystems, indigenous communities, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra)
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