Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

Dumalondong: A Higaunon Celebration

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 its refuge.

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.

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 to unlearn.

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.

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 outsiders.