This all-occasion ritual has calming effect on IPs | Inquirer News
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This all-occasion ritual has calming effect on IPs

/ 07:43 PM October 29, 2013

Occasions are never a private affair in the tourist town of Sagada in Mt. Province, because the community is always involved. When Lakay Lino Capuyan, elder and council figurehead of dap-ay (community gathering place) Akikis at Demang in central Sagada, died on Feb. 2, his death was a signal that the community needed to perform some obligatory rituals, one of which was the senga.

Death is one of life’s phases where a senga is performed. University of Kentucky anthropology professor Albert Bacdayan described this as “a ritual for all occasions.”


Bacdayan, who hails from the village of Tanulong in northern Sagada, said senga is also performed during weddings or upon the completion of house construction.

“It is a ritual that takes care of all contingencies—in good times and in bad,” he said in a recent lecture at the University of the Philippines Baguio. If senga is required during joyous occasions, such as weddings, it is just as necessary when there is sudden onset of ailments or deaths in the community.


However, attending this might quickly deflate an outsider’s expectation of an exotic visual treat. “It is not as highlighted as the begnas or the dangtey,” Bacdayan said, describing menfolk in full indigenous garments complete with weapons as doing a “mock headhunting expedition.”

Begnas, a ritual of invocation to keep the community welfare thriving, and dangtey, performed once every 10 years to stake the ancient boundaries of Sagada, differ from senga, which is low key and appears as ordinary as having guests gathered in a house and fed.

But as with the senga for Lakay Lino—held 15 days after his death—the essence of the ritual lies in the intrinsic cultural sensibilities of the community. After his death, the community believes that Lakay Lino is now a part of a genealogy of ancestors that went before him.

The ancestors’ presence and blessings are invoked in prayers (sabusab) whenever rituals are performed. In the instance of the senga, Bacdayan said, elders leading in prayers may intone from “spirits remembered and unremembered, to guard and protect the living.”

Prayers may also be as whimsical as “asking” Lakay Lino not to show himself to children as this might frighten them.

In these rituals, sacrificial animals are always important. At least three pigs of varying sizes are required for the three-day ritual along with two chickens. More than the practical purpose of feeding the community, ritual animals are essential in the part of the senga called the gidó, or the act of “waking up” the ancestors.

A strict rule of the ritual has it that on the first day, the family who sought to perform the senga is not allowed to take part in meals derived from ritual animals because these are offered to the “unseen” and the spirits must take precedence over the living.


“This demonstrates an apparent interrelationship between the living and the dead in the community,” Bacdayan said. “Usually, the relationship is not onerous or burdensome, and life goes on at its usual pace.”

He said only when this relationship has been breached that it becomes necessary for rituals to be performed. According to him, the ancestors manifest this breach through a person’s dream, in the onset of misfortune or in “unusual experiences.” This is when rituals are performed “to take care of all contingencies.”

Because Bacdayan is a Tanulong resident, he described his investigation as “auto-ethnography where, due to [my] residency, findings can be viewed as either subjective or authoritative.” He admitted to have been skeptical on the efficacy of the ritual for the last 60 years, describing it as “excessive.”

“Looking back, I now appreciate that the rituals provide the Igorot with a strong identity that integrates with the entire Philippine body politic,” he said.

Tensions between indigenous practices and Christianity have taken place since Western missionaries tried to convert the Igorot, whose practices were described as “animist,” he said. This is because Christianity has the tendency to seek assimilation rather than integration, he added.

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