By DESIREE CALUZA
BAGUIO City — When Joseph Estrada campaigned here in 2010, Igorot elders slaughtered a pig in a ritual predicting his victory.
But Estrada lost, trailing behind Benigno Aquino III. It was confounding to those who performed the ritual or cañao, as the pig’s bile was in good condition, which supposedly assured of a win.
After the race, some Igorotsasked themselves, Does the advent of modern-day politics, which uses indigenous rituals—deemed as dirty and violent in Philippine society—constitutes a violation of culture and tradition sacred to the indigenous people?
Using culture and tradition for election is part of “culture change,” but whether the traditional culture was bastardized because it was used for elections is subject to debate, Cordillera anthropologist Geraldine Fiag-oy said.
“The downside of using indigenous rituals for election purposes is that it gives false hopes to the candidates because it does not work all the time. If they lose the election, then they will look for a reason why they lost, in this case some candidates might blame the ritual,” she said.
Fiag-oyadded that if rituals were used for fortune-telling, they would not work all the time.
“One of the good points of using these rituals, aside from being able to feed people, is that you are able to share your culture in practice,” she said. “But if you think you will win just because you performed the ritual, this should not push you to cheat just to win at all cost, this is not a good practice, and in this instance, we can say that the rituals have been bastardized.”
Belief in signs
In the 2007 election, 47-year-old Santos Berato badly wanted to know the signs if he would win the seat as a barangay councilor in Lebeng, Bokod, Benguet.
He conducted a ritual with the aid of elders and a mambunong, Ibaloi tribe’s native priest, by butchering a black native pig or kape to detect its bile.
In local belief, the condition of the bile—good or bad—would determine a person’s fate in his or her undertakings.
Berato said he was not sure if he violated a traditional ritual by using it in the elections, but all he wanted to do was to know his fate as a candidate.
“The bile did not appear good, but I still insisted on running so I filed my candidacy though I could not really say if I would win. I lost. But I could not really tell why I lost.Was it because I did not follow the reading of the bile?Or was it because it was only the elders and it was not the mambunongwho conducted the ritual?” he said.
Other candidates in 2010 did the same.Mayoral and municipal councilor candidates also held rituals to determine their fate and to ask blessings from the spirits, a resident of Lebeng said.
“Some even had to buy the black pig in the slaughterhouses in Baguio because we ran out of black pigs here. Of course, they would want to know the signs from the ritual whether they would want to win or not. But of course, not all who underwent the ritual and saw the good condition of the bile would win,” the resident said.
In 2004, a vicemayoralcandidate who came from a prominent business clan in Baguio ran for the first time and gathered the support of some Igorot communities in the city.
Sources said the elders held a cañao and butchered black pig. It was a good bile, and she was told that she was going to win. She lost.
“That is why it is very important to note that culture and traditions should be dealt with carefully when using it for elections because it might give false hopes to candidates whether they belong to indigenous culture or not. If you are going to use ritual to determine winnability, it’s a way of bastardizing the culture, and rituals should not be used for political campaigns,” Mary Carling, a Kankanaey cultural worker and playwright, said.
Aside from rituals, modern-day politicians in the Cordillera see the staging of festivals, which feature traditions, as a vehicle to court votes.
Festivals usually happen during election period and are usually organized by politicians.
“There are politicians who want to maintain their prominence to remind people of his leadership. During festivals, political candidates take advantage of the occasion by wearing traditional costumes to affirm their unity with the people,” she added.
In the old days, rituals such ascañao were conducted during weddings, courtship, thanksgiving and agricultural activities. The cañao is celebrated by sacrificing pigs, chicken, carabaos and even dogs in other instances.
In Kankanaey culture in Mt. Province, tribes would perform daw-es, a cleansing ritual which drives away bad luck from tribesmen during the days of tribal war. The ritual,which is done by butchering a dog, is now being conducted by Igorot political rivals to drive away the bad luck from each other, Carling said.
“Using traditions for events such as elections is all part of culture change; people will look for ways to do the rituals. You cannot say that these rituals would disappear although most of the Igorots have been Christianized,” Fiag-oy said.
In the Igorot Global Organization, a biennial conference which gathers Igorots around the world, the use of rituals for other purposes have always been a subject of debate, Fiag-oy said.
In the Cordillera, he said Igorot culture has been used for commercialization purposes to boost the tourism industry.
In 1980s, more than a hundred Igorot students protested the Philippine Tourism Authority’s staging of Grand Cañao, which was meant to attract tourists by showcasing the various traditional rituals.
The students trooped to Burnham Park to protest the bastardization of their culture because the rituals were conducted not for traditional purposes but were being used for the commercialization of the Igorot culture to boost the tourism industry of Baguio, Fiag-oy said.
The functions of tradition have evolved today especially during elections.
“Whether it is valid or not to use traditional rituals for elections, we cannot say. Modern-day politics has also transformed tradition and has also given new meaning to its function to accommodate the needs of the politicians,” Carling said.