In terms of religion, Ifugao remained relatively closed until the arrival of American missionaries who brought with them the Christian religion. Today, there are multiple religions in Ifugao, which may be broadly categorized as traditional Ifugao religion and introduced religions. While almost everyone is Christian, the traditional religious rituals, the mumbakis (traditional Ifugao religion priests), still play some role in Ifugao social life, especially in agricultural production and curing sickness.
While the purpose here is not to make a detailed documentation of these religions, for unfamiliar readers, it may be necessary to roughly describe the scene of activities of the two major religions in Ifugao. A ritual of the traditional Ifugao religion usually takes place under or in the house or rice granary. The mumbaki dressed in traditional Ifugao clothes says the prayers and drinks fermented rice wine (Figure 16). After finishing the prayers, he butchers a chicken. The outcome of the ritual, whether successful or not is shown by the position, color, and form of the gallbladder and the liver of the chicken. If the ritual is big or important, more animals will be butchered and the meat will be shared with the relatives and neighbors. In Christianity, the most routine activity is the weekly Mass, when believers in the village or town gather together in the local church to sing and pray together.
Figure 16: A mumbaki before performing the ritual (Credit: interviewee KE9)
The traditional Ifugao religion used to be reflected by the constant rituals done by the Ifugaos. According to Conklin’s account, there were 191 days in a year on which a ritual occurred (Conklin, 1980). These rituals relate to almost every aspect of the Ifugao life.
1.1.1 Practices of the traditional religion
Conklin categorized the rituals into 37 types and among them, 17 had to do with rice production and consumption. These rituals fall at different stages in the agricultural cycle, from the beginning to the end. One interviewee said, “after planting, there is a ritual and until the harvest time, there are rituals done by the mumbaki” (GW8). Take pest control as an example: “the pesticides of the ancient people, our fore parents, were the rituals. Because when they see something wrong in their rice field they perform the ritual to drive the pest [away]. They asked the Gods, the Gods of all those [natural creatures] to improve the products” (KE10). What made Ifugaos believed in such rituals were experiences when they were effective. “And you know I witnessed one. After the typhoon, the rice plants were weak from the rain, and the mumbaki saw that, and he offered chicken and prayed. The following day, I saw that the rice plants were standing again. I was surprised being a Christian, I had said I did not so much believe in the mumbaki. I was surprised” (KE10).
Another major type of the rituals has to do with people’s health. Ifugaos believe that what is visible is only an individual’s body, but the individual also has a soul or spirit which remained attached to the family members after the death of the individual. When a person in the family gets sick, a possible reason is that a deceased relative’s spirit is not pleased. What needs to be done is to perform a ritual to find out who the spirit is, and pray and butcher sacrificial animals to him or her, and then check and clean the bones of the person from the tomb. If you ask Ifugaos about these rituals, likely they can tell many personal experiences they had when the mumbakis cured some unknown diseases. One example was “my son was sick and I went to the hospital, but they said he was normal. So we had a doctor mumbaki, then he said my grandfather held my son. So we went to clean the tomb of my grandfather…and after a day, my son was good” (KE2). Such connections between the deceased and living do not break even when a member of the family move out from the community. One interviewee shared an experience, “just like my nephew, who stays in the States, when [his family] came for a visit, their son got sick. They were in Manila, but they could not find out the reason. So they went to the mumbaki, and the mumbaki said it was because on an occasion here you forgot to mention your brother. And so they went to clean and pray and offered some animals. And immediately after they cleaned, the son’s fever disappeared” (GW2).
Other than agricultural production and curing sickness, Ifugao religion also plays a part in Ifugaos’ life in terms of personal events, from birth to cutting hair, and social events such as engagements and funerals. A traditional Ifugao engagement is often arranged by elders in the family. When the elders of the male’s family meet the female’s family, “usually they bring 3 pigs of different sizes, or sometimes they will bring a buffalo” (GW2). In the engagement I experienced, the groom’s family arrived at the bride’s house with a pig tied on a big bamboo pole carried by a number of men (Figure 17). One woman brought sticky rice cooked with sweet coconut milk in a rattan box. Neighbors of the bride’s family came out to get a share of the pastry and try to find as many coins hidden in the pastry as possible. At the engagement, there were about 100 elders in the families and the town. They interacted telling stories of the couple and their families and mocking the young and old by singing songs until lunchtime. Pork from the pig and beans and vegetables were put separately in huge stainless steel basins and a line of people scooped the dish on a paper plate and passed it to the participants. Approximately 200 more people from the town shared the lunch.
At weddings, more animals are butchered. Typically for a rich family, a skeleton of the carabao, or water buffalo, is put up in the family house as decoration (Figure 18). One interviewee shared her experience, telling me that “my children brought animals when they got married. Usually, we use that to decorate our home. So they have to bring that” (KE3).
Figure 18: A carabao skull in memory of the wedding of the grandparents of an elderly interviewee
Before a funeral, there is a wake service. An interviewee told me briefly about the procedure. “Usually here it is three days. The first day is when they put the body in the coffin, and during that night, one pig has to be butchered, not any kind of pig but a female pig that has given birth to baby pigs. And the second day, another pig has to be butchered. The third day is the most important day. During that day the married children will have to give their contribution. In the morning, the families will come with a pig, a bottle of gin [liquor] and the blanket for the dead. Then that is complete” (GW2). At the wake service that I attended (Figure 19), the deceased was placed in a coffin under a newly built concrete house. Relatives and neighbor, about 100 people ate the pork and rice lunch together. Donations to the family were collected and a woman was noting the amount of money collected from each individual (Figure 20). Some people, relatives of the family held bags of pork they shared.
Figure 19: A wake ceremony attended by about 100 people
Figure 20: At wake ceremony, bags of pork are shared and notes of donations are kept
The last kind of practice of the Ifugao religion may be the settlement of a crime or a dispute. When someone is murdered, the family of the killed would perform him-ong, a vengeance ritual. In this case, “you don’t put the body in the coffin. You just let it sit down. They don’t preserve it” (BW10). And all the male relatives come from trails and edges along the terraces, banging wood shields and clappers to the burial site. They danced into a circle to decide which would be responsible for revenge. A chicken with the head cut off is released in the center and whoever is near where it falls down is selected (Bulilan, 2007; Conklin, 2003). A lighter example of the ritual for a dispute was experienced by Bruce Conklin, the other son of Harold Conklin. In his diary on June 15, 1969, he wrote of the boiling water ordeal. While playing slingshots with his friends, he hit a girl in the forehead. Although he was accused, he refused to admit and decided on a “play as usual” strategy. His father Harold Conklin decided to settle this with the boiling water test where each suspect would have to reach for an egg in a pot of boiling water and only the guilty one would be burned. The test was effective. Bruce confessed with a “whole body sweating just thinking about it” (Conklin, 2003).
1.1.2 Dying mumbaki
As readers unfamiliar with Ifugao may find these religious practices unfit to the present time, these traditional rituals are under dramatic changes. Today, the traditional religion is being followed by fewer Ifugaos.
Mumbaki is a role inherited from the father in a family. In 1960’s when Conklin did his research, there were still many mumbakis. The sons or grandsons of the mumbakis normally learn to perform rituals after assisting their father or grandfather, but usually, it is on a special occasion or time in their life they decide to officially engage in being a mumbaki. The mumbakis I interviewed shared the stories of how they became mumbaki, “we had no house at that time, a snake went inside where we were boarding. That was a bad sign. I went to look for mumbaki but no one was available. And when I realized I need to learn, I went to one mumbaki to ask how I could learn. And he said it was good my grandfather was a mumbaki and I was interested. He asked me to go to find six chickens for me to be accepted. When we did the ritual and butchered the little chicken, the vein was not protruding. So it could not be. They did not allow me. And after three days, I dreamed of one other shaman. I saw in my dream that he and I perform[ed] a ritual. So the next morning I told the mumbaki the dream I dreamed of and he said I could become a real shaman. I told him my first attempt and he said that mumbaki’s level was not high enough. Then that night we came to our house and when we butchered the little chicken and saw the vein, the vein was out. That was an acceptance. So I continued praying to God to grant me as a mumbaki and then all the chickens were good” (KE2).
However, his experience is becoming rare. The mumbakis in Ifugao now are mostly above the age of 60 and there are few young mumbakis. In every municipality I researched, interviewees told me things like “for now old mumbakis are dying” (RF8) and “most of the mumbakis died and they don’t teach it to their children” (GW1). The more fundamental trend in religion in Ifugao, repeatedly mentioned in all interviews, was Christianization.
If one of the reasons for believing in mumbaki is the effecttiveness of the rituals, this reason is failing. One farmer interviewee told me, “when I was a child and everything was done in the baki way [the prayers of the mumbakis], I have been seeing our field being infested by pests and one time [it] was even infected by some virus at the fruit of the rice. We harvested just a little and some of those harvested had no grain in spite of all the ritual we were doing so I don’t see any different whether there is baki or not. That is why I don’t believe in those superstitious things because I saw it personally [that] there was no difference. When our father died we cultivated our rice field in [our hometown, and] there is no rice ritual and nothing, [but] we harvested plenty” (BW12). Following the logic that a religion is worth believing provided its prayers work, Christianity found its foundation as well. An interviewee told me her story. When she was young, she returned home every weekend and helped her parents work on the field, but she also needed to attend the Mass at the church. She said, “I planned so that I can work as long as I would not miss my Sunday Mass because that is my responsibility as a Christian. So I did that, but you know the temptation is very strong.” After a season long of this mental struggle, “during harvest when I came home I went to see. I said ‘beautiful’. Nothing was attacked by the pest, so thank you Lord. It was the blessing you had given me because I always defeated the devil, my temptation” (KE10).
Perhaps such experiences of the interviewees can at least partly explain why during my time in Ifugao, signs of Christianity could be seen everywhere, from as big as a church, posters in people’s houses, t-shirts to as small as a sticker on a tricycle (Figure 21). I did not meet anyone in Ifugao who did not believe in Christianity at all.
Figure 21: Signs of Christianity inside a local jeepney
Although many people still take mumbaki as their last option in human disease treatment, apart from the effect of praying in the Christian way, there are many aspects of the traditional religion influencing why Ifugaos are not following it now.
1.2.1 Expenses in performing rituals
As can be shown by the above examples of traditional religious practices, animals are required as the sacrifice. Even without the sacrifice of large animals like pigs or carabaos, on the smallest scale, a chicken is needed. One interviewee said, “the mumbaki believes that without killing, there is no effect of his or her prayer, because once you see an animal, you will see the vein to see if your prayer is accepted” (GW8). Many interviewees complained that “in our culture if you want to pray, you always butcher and butcher and buy and buy” (BW3) and “it is good that you are rich so you can spend but how about if you are poor? It is a big sacrifice to the family. Because in my observation some cultural practices are being done because the children [and] the grandchildren can afford so they go, but how about if they are poor, you can not do it” (BW12). The traditional belief for offering sacrifice is collapsing as one interviewee elaborated that “in the stories of mumbaki, the Gods give people chickens, pigs, and rice, but the people have to give every now and then, so you are paying more than the Gods give” (BW12). Therefore, in some cases, the religious practices become a burden, as one said, “in my opinion that is an improvement because they will not be burdened with all the cultural practices. Actually, I see some cultural practices as a burden” (BW12).
Compared with that, “the Christian way is easier” (KE7). One interviewee told me “if you pray, you just pray in the day and no more. It is so quick. You are happy” (BW10).
1.2.2 Confusion in Gods
Traditional Ifugao religion can be described as pantheistic. Even those who are knowledgeable of culture may not be able to explain all the spirits, deities, and Gods. One cultural worker told me “it is really hard to understand because we have more than two thousand Gods, so it is better to adopt Christianity, just one God” (KE8). This not only poses an obstacle to understanding the religion, when faced with a more “user-friendly”one, but the difficulty can also be a reason for Ifugaos to give up the traditional religion. One interviewee shared his experience, “as time goes by I realized there is no truth in baki because they are offering to different Gods. They have different Gods and if you look, those are just superstitious beliefs” (BW12).
1.2.3 Revenge practices
Compared with Christianity, the traditional Ifugao religion may appear more aggressive. As shown in the above example of vengeance ritual, revenge against a crime is allowed and may even be encouraged in the traditional religion. Rather than perceived as a precautionary warning against crime, it is viewed as a source of consequential crime. One interviewee told me, “when someone kills a member of the family, the family will also kill [someone in] the killer’s family or at least do something. So there is a sense of killing and killing. That is why we have the practice of head hunting and that is why some books call Ifugaos head hunters because of the practice of revenge” (KE7). In Bulilan’s account of this ritual, the researcher mentioned objections from the community such as “that should not be done anymore, we are Christians today. It’s a shame” (Bulilan, 2007).
Apart from revenge, Ifugao religion allows believers to put a curse against unfavorable people. One interviewee described a sample case, where “if you do not like your neighbor, you have to do all the practices with chickens in order that the person will suffer and die because the prayer calls the bad spirits” (RF5). And with Christianization, this practice is today viewed as “one of the bad sides of the baki is they can beg to the devil to do bad things to a person” (BW12).
The reason this may happen is that in Ifugao religion, there are certain spirits or deities that are evil. A son of a late mumbaki introduced, “one personality of God is buluhan, meaning snake and one of the personalities of God is the dayaban, meaning the flying fire during the night. Those are dangerous devils. According to the belief, they can eat a person. If they chant upon you, you die” (BW12). And it is believed that some diseases can be caused by these devils. Therefore, the rituals of curing people “according to them [believers] it is a good thing because the sick person will get well. But they don’t understand the evil spirit will make somebody sick and if you offer something to the evil spirit, then the evil spirit can have the power to remove the sickness” (BW12).
With such perceived risks from traditional religion, the Christian response was that, “if the person has a weak belief it can happen. But in Christian life there is a big belief that if you pray to God, God is higher than these evil spirits so even [if] they will do something bad to you, they will not succeed because your prayer is stronger than the prayers of the mumbaki” (BW12).
1.2.4 Mumbakis’ personal sacrifices
Another part of the reasons why traditional religion is not being followed falls on the mumbakis. There are fewer and fewer mumbaki because there are multiple rules and restrictions on them, which may be very difficult to comply with. Being a mumbaki is somewhat like a lifetime volunteer job, from the beginning of which performing rituals is the highest priority in his life, but with no payment. A mumbaki told me “as a shaman, it is a sacrifice, but you need to endure. A shaman is not only a shaman, it is a sacrifice. Being a shaman must be a priority. So if someone comes and asks me to perform, I will make a leave and ask my boss to allow me to leave. It will affect my [work] hours and my income” (KE2). The way he endures is through the thinking that “the mumbaki is sacrificing. So the God will provide for him because as a mumbaki, he follows the God. So you sacrifice for the people and the people are created by the God. So you as a mumbaki chosen by the God need to protect the community” (KE2).
However, for a child of the mumbaki, this is not the case. One interviewee whose father was a mumbaki told me that working is more important because “you are producing money if you are working” (YP4). As a child of the mumbaki, it is also worrying because “sometimes the spirits can harm the body of my father because he can be thrown here and there” (YP4).
Apart from the voluntary nature and possible risks of being a mumbaki, there are also taboos he needs to follow based on the rituals he performs. One taboo is that “when you do baki and butcher a pig, you have to consume the meat of the pig that is used without adding vegetables or spices, especially vine vegetables and also fish and other shellfish” (KE6). And according to another interviewee, for some rituals “there is the taboo of taking a bath for three days” (GW5) and for some other rituals “until a new moon you can not take a bath, have sex, eat vegetables or fish” (GW5). Therefore, “the taboos are very hard to undergo especially for the young people” (GW5).
1.2.5 Relations between the traditional religion and Christianity
Although there seems to be some controversy about the two religions, most Ifugaos I interacted with did not see this as bothersome as I would think (Figure 22). From their daily interactions, it seemed that there was a collective agreement that it is acceptable to go to church during Sunday and pray to the Christian God, but also invite mumbakis to perform rituals when a family member is sick or when there is some special event. Even religious workers from both religions seemed to agree that there is no direct conflict between the two religions. Yet still, some intricacies may be seen from the interviews. One mumbaki said, “our ancestors told me that there is no harm in doing the Mass and reading the Bible because when they read the description of God, it is similar to what they have known as our Ifugao God” (GW5). One Christian priest told me that “we do not necessarily ignore or object to the mumbaki. There are things we do not follow and we try to purify it” (KE7).
Figure 22: The tinawon rice from the Skyworld with a Christian T-shirt
What lies underneath the surface, however, may more controversial opinions. Opinions and emotions toward the change are very different. Some of those who still believe in the traditional religion were sad. They shared with me their feeling that “most of the leaders of Christianity are considering our practices as evil practices and I don’t like that. And I don’t think so. In my opinion, they still have to respect it” (KE6) and “I prefer the older times because there was no religious intervention. It is no longer our freedom which is to follow but has to confer to what the church said” (KE9). Some of them felt upset. They said Christian priests “demonized the old religion, introducing Christianity as the only religion that can save their souls from internal determination” (KE8). But for some Ifugaos, they are indifferent. “For me, from now on I say it is ok. It depends on what you like. If you lose our tradition, it is also good. No problem. From now on no one is praying baki” (RF7). And on the other hand, there were people who prefer Christianity. They said, “I think it is a very good change and we are thankful for the missionaries that they introduce us to faith and education” (KE7). Some of them have strong opinions against the old religion, claiming that the mumbaki believers “have been fooled by their Gods. Because in the story of the baki the God will always say that you need to do this and that, and good things will happen. That is their belief so they offer offerings, which is the instruction of their Gods so they follow. It is just superstitious belief” (BW12).
What happens to Ifugaos when the soul of their culture is at conflict? What do they think the future will be like?
1.3.1 Unity in action
In the past when “everyone here believed in mumbaki, it was strong” (BW9). They were united in action as they were in religion. One example is the ritual when a mumbaki “prays the baki before the day when nobody should go to the rice field. Then they would not really go. They would all stay at home. Maybe they would go to the gardens, the men would gather fuel, but not to the rice field” (KE10). According to an interviewee, what happens to this ritual is that “nobody is actually following this now. In the old time it was actually community effort in following the ritual but now it seems like each one only minds his own business and there is no way to control” (KE9).
It may be arguable but when “they are not united in terms of faith” (GW5), they may not be as united in the community. This is because for the clan, the rituals and other events “are binding like a reunion. When they clean the bones, all family members will come, so there are the fellowship, the binding, and the reunion, and of course the storytelling of the past” (GW2). What interviewees argued was that “we do family reunions. And it is there when all the family members will be introduced and the relationship explained. So it is not that the mumbaki dies, we no longer remember our loved ones. This time we have different ways” (KE7).
With the disappearing religion from which Ifugao social unity developed, will practices of united actions by Ifugaos change as well? This question is analyzed in more detail in Chapter 7.
1.3.2 Future of the traditional Ifugao religion
No matter how Ifugaos think of the traditional religion, the apparent fact is that the number of mumbaki is decreasing and fewer people are following the rituals and practices. It seems to me that Ifugaos are quietly waiting for time. One interviewee mentioned his farther who was a mumbaki. “He told us when they die, never mind, forget about the mumbaki because no one can perform already. And we also do not know that” (BW1). However, the interviewees were not really feeling secure about the future. This uncertainty originates from the ideas of diseases caused by the evil sprits. Some hoped that “maybe the spirits will be dead if there is no mumbaki” (YP3), while some feared “all Ifugao will die from traditional illness because [there are] no more mumbaki” (GW8). Therefore, Ifugaos now “don’t expect we need many mumbakis, but at least we need some people to be mumbakis. Let the others be tricycle drivers or do other business” (GW8).
1.3.3 A threat to both religions
After all, as said by some religious workers, there are perhaps some common threats to all religions in Ifugao, whether it is the traditional or the Christian ones. Religion “is challenged by technologies and [the] modern world” (KE7). The sacrifice animals in the traditional religion became less valuable because, “nowadays you raise pigs in pig farms, you are not offering anything to the God and pigs grow fast because of feeds” (BW12). It was also said “our world offers us to process many things, but in the Christian way, we should live a simple life and entrust our life to God.” He continued, “because of what they see in TV and around them. Somehow these things also change their mind. For example, they say in TV that you need to wear this kind of pants and use this brand of shampoo or whatsoever. People already forget the old way of simple living” (KE7).
These are what Ifugaos are faced with today, an implicit religious struggle between traditional religion and the new Christian religions, and at the same time a dilemma between the religious beliefs and the temptations of the modern world.
 The description here may not be accurate at it is based on the observation and introduction from a limited number of interviewees.
 It was noted that this sharing of meat was a mechanism for equal distribution of family wealth (Guthrie, 1964).
 The revenge of killing involves, but not necessarily, killing.