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Igorot Traditions

Dog-eating and my culture

by Bing A Dawang

JUST before World Animal Day, which coincides with the feast of St. Francis d'Assisi, the patron saint of animals, a local (USA) newspaper defended the dog meat trade in the Philippines, in particular in Baguio City and the Cordilleras, by claiming that dog eating is a part of the Igorot indigenous culture. As a full-blooded Igorot, I take offence.


The newspaper quoted Isikias Isican, said to be curator of the St. Louis University museum, as saying that there is a clear cultural basis for butchering dogs because they were "butchered by Igorot tribes before going to war, or to cure certain afflictions."


Isican generalized that dog-eating is a part of Igorot tradition by recalling that in 1904 a few Igorot men and women were displayed at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition ("world's fair") in St Louis, Missouri. Described as heathen Pagans, they butchered a dog as part of the show.


In the same article Hanzen Binay, formerly defence counsel for several dog meat traders and now a Benguet prosecutor, questioned the wisdom of the Philippine Animal Welfare Act. Stating that the law was supported by British animal advocates, Binay asked rhetorically why Britain does not respect the Igorot culture.

As an Igorot, I vehemently do not accept dog eating as my culture. I was not raised to eat dogs. Dog meat is not a part of my diet, nor has it ever been. I find it insulting that Igorots are branded as dog-eaters, not only in the Philippines but abroad. It is a shame, and because Igorots are Filipinos, dog-eating is a Philippine national shame.

It is true that in ancient times some Igorot tribes butchered their dogs before going to war. It was the belief of the then Pagan Igorot that the spirits of the sacrificed dogs would guard them in battle. In times of tragedy, the family dog might also have been sacrificed to appease the spirits, and to assign the soul of the dog to guard the spirits of the living family members.


Dog sacrifice always connoted bad luck, tragedy, or death. When a family butchered a dog, which had to be the family dog, not just any dog bought from nowhere, the family was not feasting but was either mourning, in extreme pain, or involved in some other activity connected with death.


Dogs were not butchered as drunkards' fare, nor as a daily or regular part of the Igorot diet. Igorot families much preferred to avoid the circumstances which might lead them to sacrifice their dog. Dog sacrifice for religious purposes is allowed under the Philippine Animal Welfare Act. But the act also requires that dog sacrifices must be recorded and reported. Five years after the law was passed, the Bureau of Animal Industry has yet to receive any such reports from the Igorot elders.


Igorot culture has greatly changed since 1904. Headhunting, for example, was also part of the Igorot culture and way of life 100 years ago. We now recognise and reject that practice as murder (would Isikias Isican expect this 'tradition' also to be 'respected'?). This is adaptation. This is cultural evolution. We discard bad customs and traditions, and adopt good ones from other cultures and as an Igorot, a Filipino, a law-abiding citizen, and a lover of dogs, if I see anyone butchering and selling dogs for meat, I will not hesitate to bring criminal charges.


Incidentally, anyone who believes that the Philippine Animal Welfare Act was passed chiefly through the lobbying of British citizens, or Americans, or members of any nationality other than Filipino is misinformed. Foreigners helped, but most of the work was done by Filippinos, represented by Philippine groups, including the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, reorganized in 1986 by Nita Hontiveros-Lichauco, and the Philippine SPCA, formed on December 13, 1904 (the year of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), now headed by Edgardo Aldaba.


We have in common, besides our cause, one hero: the dog Dagul, an askal, whose kind are commonly captured and butchered. Dagul, however, was adopted by Wilmar Castillo and family. Dagul rewarded their compassion in May 2003 when he alerted Wilmar Castillo to an avalanche of mud just in time to save the young man's life.


Honoured with the Lewyt Award for Compassionate and Heroic Animals, as described in the September 2003 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE, Dagul and Wilmar Castillo demonstrated the relationship that we believe should exist among humans and dogs. Kindness toward dogs and other creatures is fundamental to my culture.


Bing A Dawang is editor of The Junction regional newspaper and is a founding officer of Linis Gobyerno Inc, Baguio City, Philippines.


The Art of Cañao

Written by Lucky Face   


In general terminology, the feast or ritual is called Cañao. In particular, the tribes Kankana-ey call their ceremonial affairs: Sida, The Ibaloi: Peshet; and the Kalanguya: Kecheng.  Cañao may be performed within the family or involving the whole Community as in the Grand Cañao. Depending on the purpose of the Cañao, it is generally celebrated with prayers of the elders (Mambunong) performing the traditional dances called Tayao and Bendian, food offering, eating and rounds of traditional wine (Tapey) drinking among the males in the community. Some Cañaos may last for two to three days, depending on the occasion. The funeral of known and rich personalities may last for as long as five months.


The spirits responsible for bestowing favors are offered rice wine. Pigs, being the traditional animal, are burned and butchered on spitfire before cooking in boiling water with little salt. The Mambunong delivers the simplest ritual of Sedey of the Ibalois, which purposely for healing of a community member is administering water while prayer of healing. The rites are performed for different reasons. The Tchungas, a strong purification ritual, is said to bring about healing to the spirit of the ancestors who had been killed and whose heads had been cut off and brought home by enemies. Change of social status is celebrated with a ritual called Pedit (Kankana-ey) or Pechit (Ibaloi), which marks the elevation of the status of the feast giver to the wealthy class. Kosdey, a rite performed at dusk just as the moon rises over a blooming rice field, is to invoke for fertility of soil. It is held during the Month of May. The supreme god Kabunyan is offered the most number of rituals of praise or benevolence. The spirits of forebears called as Ap-apo/ Kaapuan or dead kin are invoked for various reasons, in belief that they can be intercessors for the living. Underworld spirits called Anito are believed to be the most vulnerable and sensitive to offense and carelessness, which a person said to offend the Anito, will be inflicted with misfortune, illness or even death.



However, the more benevolent spirit spirits are offered with food, butchered animal, rice wine or other material gifts to invoke their generosity and blessings. The spirits believed to have wicked nature are alleged to cause illness, however the misfortune can be overturned by performing healing rites, as well as of appeasement called Dilus / Chilus. The key person in the ritual is the Mambunong, chosen as spiritual leader and counsel for members of the community. There are different types of Mambunong performing specific functions. The Mansip-ok/ Mansi’bok determine the cost of afflictions such as illnesses, death of misfortune, using his own implements. He thereby prescribes the appropriate rite for the affliction. The mambunong administers the prescribed rites. The Mankotom/ Manchiba perform the function of either the Mansip-ok or the Mambunong, and likewise have the power to interpret dreams and omen.

Full Blodded Igorots