Lessons from the spiritual world of the Higanonons vs. the secular
By Jong Jong Ladaga in
Claveria, Misamis Oriental
Posted 26 September 2006
in Sitio Impadiding.
FOR US WHO were schooled and
products of the logical and scientific thinking, we could hardly
comprehend anything related to the spirits. It is out of the realm
of science and logic. However, there is a growing movement towards
the recognition of their presence. While mainstream society has just
begun to realize it, for the Higaonons, it has already been part of
their everyday lives for centuries.
We were invited to attend a
Dumalondong ritual last August 21-24, 2006. It was a high ritual and
a big cultural event for the Higaonons. The Dumalondong is the
spirit that oversees all things. I have reasons for going there.
First, travelling deep into the mountains has always been an
adventure; there is more life in the forest than in the buildings
and structures in the city. Second is to learn to live another
lifestyle, away from the consumerism and into a more collective one,
the Higaonon way of life. As much as I was excited, the community
was also delighted because it was the first time that a Dumalondong
was to be held at Barangay Minalwang in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.
Specifically, at Sitio Impadiding.
Going there, via Impasug-ong,
is a ride atop the mountains. Most of the time it is an uphill ride.
The rocky and bumpy road just could not discourage me from going
because of the breathtaking view. It is fascinating to see the
beautiful mountain curves, realizing how many centuries it took
Mother Earth to shape them.
While you feel exalted up
there, you will also see how much man has done to destroy the
forest, which seems to continually move uphill as man encroaches its
nest. Almost bald, the mountains try to heal itself from the wounds
that man has inflicted. As you go deeper and deeper into the
mountains, the forest gets thicker, too, as if finally able to find
The motorcycle we were riding
on was going through footpaths, as if it’s a horse, amidst the
thick forest with old mossy trees. The Higaonon community is also
thick there. As the forest moves uphill, so do the Higaonons. As we
got closer and closer to Impadiding, we passed by Higaonons with big
smiles on their faces, which show their excitement over the event.
They were also going to the Dumalondong.
It felt strange when we
arrived. I was not used to the calm in the place. It was like time
was frozen there, it was profoundly simple. Before you could enter
the tribal hall, there are instructions that you have to follow. It
was for the visitors. For us not to dilute the solemnity of the
ceremony. We brought with us betel nut, the favorite chewing
substance among the Higaonons, especially among the elders.
Before guests like us are
admitted, there is a Pangagda ritual that took away the bad luck we
were carrying. The Datu performs it himself as he asks permission
from the spirits present for us to be accepted in the community.
Everything seems connected to the spirits. Our minds trained in the
secular view of the world may question the Higaonon view, but at the
same time wonder. Our education is almost purely science and logic.
The experience challenges it, and I realized it was time to unlearn
our view of the world.
pigs for sacrifice.
The ritual started with the
killing of pigs and chickens as offering. Their prayer was
simultaneous, every Datu praying spontaneously and simultaneously
with the others. It was more like a chant that created a religious
symphony, a music with lyrics you do not understand but touches you
in a way that could only be interpreted spiritually. When the
offerings were killed, their spleens or “kondilas” were taken,
then the Higaonons read the message of the spirits that they called.
It said something about the wrongs done before, that there is
something lacking in the ritual, there was also good news. The
messages were then taken up in the high ritual of Dumalondong. It
seemed and felt like the spirits and men and women were all there at
the ritual. Everything seemed connected to the spirits.
Aside from witnessing the
ritual, we also wanted to explore the place. A colleague called it
“resource scanning.” Four of us planned to go to the dam which
they say is almost non-functional. As we thought we got nearer the
supposed location, we realized we were lost. As thick grasses and
bushes surrounded us, we planned to go back using route. But it
seemed we were just circling and circling. We can’t see no
footpaths anymore, so we had to make our new route. Finally, we
decided to follow the river which led us back to the track we have
taken. We thought we were okay, but later that night our legs seemed
heavy. One with weak legs had difficulty bending them, and could
hardly climb up the stairs. People suggested that we be given a
ritual abiding with their cultural practices. We obliged. The ritual
asked the spirits to forgive us for disturbing their place. The
morning after, our legs felt fine, their strength back. You could
conjure up many scientific and logical explanations, or you could
call it coincidence. But only one fact remains -- our legs were
healed after the ritual. Again, I reminded myself it was time for us
The event was also a time for
the proclamation of new datus, which was as solemn as the ordination
of new Catholic priests. The Molin-olin spirit was the one tasked to
choose the new datus. You could see how meaningful it is for the
proclaimed ones through their teary eyes and bowed heads. It was
also very significant for the people in the community. I wish I
could be in their shoes and feel what they felt at that moment so I
could describe it fully in words. In that dumalondong, it was the
first time that three women went up the bangkaso. The bangkaso
is the altar. It was the recognition of the role of the women in the
tribe. One of them -- Nita Pinaandil, wife of the tribal chieftain of minalwang, Datu
Maagsob, and who is the entrusted head of the women weavers of
Kamuyot in Minalwang-- was proclaimed “bae” at that time.
Mantangkilan, wife of Datu Mantangkilan, goes up the bangkaso.
The Higaonons have a distinct
culture. They have their own way of spiritual expression,
administration of justice (which is restorative justice) and their
own way of life. It is still debatable whether being isolated from
mainstream society is an advantage or a disadvantage. Their
isolation has allowed them to preserve their cultural ways and
practices, untarnished by western culture. But this is only true in
that part of the area. Most of the Higaonons are already assimilated
in mainstream society, their cultural values diluted with western
ones. Some say that culture must also adjust to the development of
the times in order for it to survive. Isolation versus assimilation.
But ultimately, it is the Higaonon community, with the guidance of
the datus, who will decide what form of development to take. They
will have to find it out by themselves, and not be dictated by