How I broke a ritual taboo in Batad

Categories Experiences, Places
batad3.jpg
The part of the Batad Rice Terraces that I crossed and broke a ritual taboo. A Frenchman followed me and met the same fate.

map_banaue.gif If I’ve stuck to my original schedule of going on a Friday, I would not have come into problems. Saturday, during the tailend of the cool month of February 2005, and I was doing the leisurely trek to Batad via the small village of Naggor and at the same time taking in the wonderful scenery before me. This is the trail that have been written in the Lonely Planet guide book as marvelous, which I wholeheartedly agree.

After more than two hours of walking, I came across an old lady and she was saying something to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a thing. She was gesticulating and mumbling but not a single action nor a single word was discernible. All I was able to do was just to shyly smile, tell her in Filipino that I didn’t understand her and went my way.

Best Single Post - Travel trophy
Best Single Post - Travel trophy

As I advanced through the trail, I came into a portion of rice terraces carved out from the mountainside. While it looked liked I have lost my way, the confusing trail just seem to lead to nowhere and a short cemented path bridging two portions of terraces just don’t connect until I found out that the series of jutting stones neatly descending at one part of the terrace wall were the steps I was looking for.

I continued my trek, crossing to the other side of the mountain until a man’s voice called from above. Looking up, he was frantically waving and at the same time shouting at me to come. I walked to his direction. Just as I was to arrive at the spot where he was standing on, the tall frame of a foreigner with a backpack, from the distance, followed my footsteps and he too was called.

batad4.jpg
A boy wearing a read shirt runs through the narrow and steep terrace walls of the famed Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue. This is a World Heritage Site.

You crossed the terraces!” The man, in a raised voice, admonished me. I was flabbergasted. He continued to rant that they had a ritual, a canao the day before. That it was there holiday for the entire Batad area and no one was allowed to cross or step on the terraces. That the elders would not be pleased and I might be penalized. PENALIZED. While trying to gather my wits, that word struck me! I was more than dumbfounded and stunned. And he continued to lecture me that I might be made to pay to the tune of ten thousand pesos! What? There and then, while still digesting and trying to understand the words that he was saying, I realized that I might be in deeper shit than I expected.

By this time, the foreigner with blond hair, blue eyes, quite tall and wearing eyeglasses arrived. When told about the infraction, he too was shocked. We followed the man to the group of houses and then I realized that I was already in Batad. The wonderful sight of the terraces down below made me forget for a moment the trouble we were in.

At the Hillside Inn, the lady barangay captain explained the problem. The elders of the village decided two days ago that that Saturday, from 0500H – 1800H, no one was to set foot on the terraces as they just performed a ritual, done only once every 4 or 5 years, the day before. This involved a group of men led by a mumbaki, a native priest, who went to the forest to find a particular plant and use its toxic properties as a natural pesticide. To make it effective, they have to perform this rite, slaughtering and offering chickens, rice wine and rice to the gods. Our transgression just rendered the efficacy of the plant’s pesticidal effects useless and has to be performed again, else, they will have a bad crop season. And in order to do it again, we will be the one to provide the resources.

batad2.jpg
Batad elders and barangay officials deciding our fate.

It was made clear to us that no one is spared this penalty and is imposed even on Batad residents who fail to observe it. A few years ago, an Israeli tourist suffered the same fate as ours. We also need to wait for nightfall to talk to the elders as they were in the village below, and were unable to come as they can’t also cross. We reasoned that nobody told us about the taboo.

Not at the Banaue Tourist Information Center where I went first to check on the area. Not at the Family Inn nor at the waiting shed at the start of the trail in Bangaan. Not even in Naggor where I passed by a few people and nothing was said about the prohibition. But it was just hopeless. Then I remembered the old lady who I met earlier at the trail.

To kill time, we ate at the restaurant, trying their Yemeni fried, flat bread malawach, went about the area sans crossing the terraces, taking photos at a promontory, having a dip at Tappiyah Falls, talking with some locals regarding the place and our predicament.

Night time came and we just waited. By about 2000H, two elders from the village below came accompanied by the barangay officials. While they don’t speak Filipino or English, the barangay officials interpreted and interceded for us. We explained and reasoned out but the elders just gave no option but to repeat the ritual. With no choice, I asked how much will it cost us. A quick accounting was done:

batad1.jpg
The ritual shopping list given to us so that the rite can be done again. I have kept this paper in between my Lonely Planet guide book as a souvenir.

WHEW! I was quite relieved when I saw that the cost was just P3,700.00 instead of the earlier quoted P10,000.00. If the elders sacrificed a pig, it would have jacked up the expenses. And I still have to divide it with Henri. While I didn’t have enough cash at hand, we agreed that I’ll go to Solano in Nueva Vizcaya the next day to be accompanied by one of the villagers. With everything settled, we called it a night.

batad5.jpg
The breathtaking amphitheater like Batad Rice Terraces that consoled us from our predicament.

Looking back, it was really a great experience. It’s not always that one can have this kind of incident; to think that the ritual is done only rarely. I was at the right place and at the right time. While it is something that I would not wish to happen again, it was also an eye opener. It made me more careful the next time I go to remote places. It made me respect the culture and heritage of these people. And it also made me realize that there’s still so much that I have to discover, many places to go to, countless people to meet and many adventures still to enjoy.

Strangely, this was really so much fun and exciting. Not even my Marinduque incident a few years back can top this wherein I was interrogated by the military, trying to make me admit that I’m a New Peoples Army rebel on a mission, during a solo trek. But that is another story.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

47 thoughts on “How I broke a ritual taboo in Batad

  1. Nina, I’m not really sure how but based on other tribal practices, the gin is part of the offering to the spirits and gods. Usually, it is laid out on the ceremonial table together with the food.

  2. Oh my goodness. Shouldn’t there be a way of informing hapless tourists about this practice? Maybe a bulletin can be issued to all inns or DOT information kiosks or sari sari stores.

    You should be thankful indeed that they didn’t decide to sacrifice a pig. But then again, that’s only for more special occassions. 🙂

    Merry Christmas, Estan!

  3. ang galing at ang sakit sa bulsa 😛

    happy new year, estan! more travels to come…sana magkita na tayo, lagi na lang within inches from each other hehe

  4. maayong pasko ug bulahang bag-ong tuig to all and thanx for the visit and comments.

    Superpasyal, I guess, the information took time to reach pero it was a good experience for me.

    Tutubi, sana nga, magkakita kita na, hehehe

  5. wow. i am just glad i never had that same fate. pero come to think of it, experiences like this really make a trip more memorable.

    yes, i trekked batad and went swimming in tappiyah falls. that has gotta be the longest trek i had so far and would not probably do that again in months.

  6. I would have been very scared too. But like Oman said, it’s experiences like this that make a trip unforgettable.

    Being travelers in a place we are bound to respect the local customs. I hate it when tourists don’t get it or when they act like the noisy, brash city-folks that they are in quiet places like Batad.

    I also spent a few days in Batad and did some hiking to Cambulo but I would never try it without a guide. Parang madaling mawala sa trail. Altho I did walk from batad junction to the village alone. Ang hirap for a chain-smoker like me hahahha.

    The photo of that meeting with the elders look familiar. Mukhang it’s the same house where I stayed. I believe the owner was the ex-kapitana so she must have been the village kapitana during your visit.

    I also have photos here: http://photography.jasperespejo.com/#id=album-3&num=26

  7. I didn’t have the kind of experience yet during my travels. But the interrogations by police and military happened to me in various places like Davao, Masbate, and Antique…

  8. Finally put a blog name to the question inside my head!

    I remembered reading this a few years back (during the time I was researching for a trip to Bakun most probably), and failed to take note of the blog URL. I only remembered that the poor fellow paid for the entire ritual fee, hahaha.

    Congrats.

  9. I love this story. Did not realize that we still had ritual in place that are strictly adhered to at this day and age!

  10. That is a total experience. It gave you freak but it also gave you lesson and unforgettable experience that one anyone may have during their trip. haha.. Good thing, walang pig talaga sa list nila..

  11. Hey great story! This is a sobering reminder for all of us, and something I will keep in mind when I explore this part of the Philippines.

Tell me what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.