How I broke a ritual taboo in Batad
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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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