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Daw-es: Igorots’ cleansing ritual for dead, living

ANCIENT RITUAL. A ‘mambunong’ or a native priest (seated, left) offers prayers in the native language in front of a pig that will be butchered as an offering to ‘Kabunyan’ (mountain god) in an ancient Igorot ritual called ‘Daw-es’ after the landslide that took the lives of at least 80 people in Itogon town amid Typhoon Ompong onslaught in mid-September. (Photo by Redgie Melvic Cawis/PIA-CAR)

BAGUIO CITY — In the mountains of Cordillera, up in northern Philippines, the indigenous tribes of Igorots still practice the “Daw-es,” an ancient ritual passed on from generation to generation, even in this age of the worldwide web.

Many of today’s Igorots are also Christians. But unlike the rest of Christendom, they practice the Daw-es, not only in this season of all hallows and souls, but whenever someone died unexpectedly, or was murdered, or met an accident, especially in a massive scale like the Itogon landslide and just recently, the crumbling of the multi-story building that was still being constructed, ironically, for the country’s state builders in Natonin town in Mountain Province.

About a week before Typhoon Rosita battered the Cordillera and sent the mountains’ soil rolling down and engulfed some parts of the region with mud and rainwater on Tuesday afternoon of Oct. 30, the Daw-es ritual was done in Itogon town in Benguet.

The ritual was for another massive landslide induced by another typhoon (Ompong) that claimed the lives of at least 80 people, mostly small-scale miners and laborers in the mining town about a month and a half ago.

“It’s all about prayers to ask ‘Kabunyan’ (God) to cleanse the place of evil spirit, clear the people’s mind of the images of death and to thank God for the gift of life for those who were spared,” said Father Francisco Dao-ey, a native of Mountain Province, a retired priest of the Anglican church and who also facilitates the conduct of cultural practices like the Daw-es.

The ritual in Itogon was organized by the local government of Itogon town and the Department of the Interior and Local Government. It was done at Sitio Keystone, Ucab, where recovered bodies in the mid-September landslide were being identified by forensic experts.

The Daw-es is practiced by the Igorots in all parts of the Cordillera, with some variations, depending on the place. The primary purpose of the ritual is to “cleanse” the mind of the survivors, especially the rescuers, in case of massive death like in landslides or deluge.
It is also done to rid a place of evil spirits that cause tragedies for those living.

Daw-es involves the butchering of a dog as offering to “Kabunyan,” primarily to remove the images of death in the minds of those still living and to dispel evil spirits.

Pigs or chickens are also butchered and prayed over for everyone around to partake. This serves as the thanksgiving for the survivors’ gift of life.

The “mambunong” (native priest), who facilitates the ritual, asks for Kabunyan’s guidance to free the minds of those “who handle the dead” of evil spirits, so they won’t be hounded. It is also to pray for guidance to prevent the same disaster from happening in town.

Dao-ey said the cleansing ritual is done in various occasions and in different situations.

“It is done when somebody dies due to an extraordinary cause, when someone kills somebody, when a person is hospitalized, or after an incarceration of a person due to whatever reasons. It is a ritual that cleanses the mind of persons who handled dead bodies from seeing images of death, from having the same unfortunate incident, and to thank ‘Kabunyan’ for the gift of life for those spared,” he explained.

As for the Itogon tragedy, Dao-ey said he was asked by some Igorot firemen, who were directly involved in the search, rescue, and retrieval of bodies from the landslide area, as they were hounded by creepy thoughts.

Makitkita da ken saan nga maikkat ti panunut da (They kept on thinking and could not rid their minds of the images of the dead people),” he said.

Dao-ey said two chickens, aside from the pigs, were also served to the firemen.

Naaramid diay ritual tapnu sumaysayaat panunut da, maikkatan da ti fear of evil, fear of death (The ritual was done to rid their minds of the fear of the evil, fear of death),” he said.

The native priest said the Daw-es is usually done in groups, as a reminder that they are united in believing in such ritual as a cultural tradition.


Media, rescuers also do the ritual

In 2010, media men in Baguio who covered the tragic bus accident in Banangan, Sablan, where 42 people died, also performed the Daw-es. They kept thinking of the dead bodies being brought up from the ravine, where the bus had fallen.

The accident traumatized not only the families of the victims, but also members of the media and rescue groups, who responded to the call for help.

Nel Marilla, a member of the volunteer rescue group in Baguio-Benguet area, said the group’s members were unable to sleep for days after the accident while some kept remembering the grim incident.

Daw-es was conducted at the accident site in Banangan, Sablan to drive away the evil spirits and the fear that had engulfed those who were at the site of the incident. It was also done to call on the spirits of those who died for them to “go home” to where they should be and rest in peace.

Dao-ey said there might be evil spirits at the site and it is only God who could keep them away, so they prayed.

He explained that Igorots pray even during rituals, which nobody taught them. It was done even in the early centuries, prior to the arrival of religion and Christianity in the mountains on this part of the country.

The native priest said Daw-es has been the Igorots’ practice since ancient times.

“The sacrifice is a way for the prayers to be lifted and for God to grant the petition we are asking him,” he said.

“God listens even to ancient prayers and rituals. That is why we say prayers in his name even to this day.”

On Feb. 7, 2014, a Florida Bus figured in an accident in Bontoc town in Mountain Province, killing 14 people and injuring 32 others, including comedian Arvin “Tado” Jimenez.

The residents at Talubin, where the accident happened, also did the Daw-es, for the same purpose of “cleansing” the place and to prevent the same from happening.

Why the dog is used

The animal used in doing the cleansing ritual is a dog.

Michael “Pacsay” Tauli, a believer of the ritual, said the nature of the dog as a guardian is the primary reason for its use in the “cleansing” ritual.

Agtaul ti aso nga mangipaadayu ti dakes nga tao ken ispiritu, nauyung, agkagat ken mangbanbantay ti aso isu nga aso iti mausar (The dog’s bark shoos away the bad spirit. It bites, and it is a guardian. That is why it is used in the ritual),” he said.

Tauli believes that dogs are both guardians and harbingers of death. They are portrayed as such in different cultures, places, and era, he said.

In mythologies and in ethnic cultures of some indigenous tribes, the dog is portrayed as a symbol of death and portrayed as a symbol of protection, he continued.

In Greek and Roman mythologies, Cerberus, a multi-headed dog, guarded the gates of Hades to prevent those who had crossed the river Styx from escaping and guarded the entrance to the afterworld.

Hounds, in Celtic cultures, have been known for seeing into the “other world” and perceived as guardians of the world people are now in.

In Chinese mythology, the part lion and dragon Fu dogs are meant to guard homes and businesses. (Liza Agoot/PNA)

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