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What’s on the menu? Cañao with watwat and pinuneg
by Lorma Tumilang

What’s on the menu? Tapey and dinawis as appetizers, watwat with pinuneg as the main dish, and camote for snack. Interested? Why not share a meal with me in my story?

Benguet is blessed with rich human and natural resources and a unique climate, making it famous to inhabitants in and outside the country. It has 13 municipalities and 140 barangays that are inhabited by three major tribes – the Kankanaeys, the Ibalois, and the Kalanguyas. Although these groups differ in language, they share common traditions, beliefs, and rituals. One of the notable practices is cañao or kanyao.

Cañao is defined as a "festival" or ceremony or liturgy, or service or rite/ritual of offering. But what really is cañao?

I must say that I’m lucky to have been born to a family whose practice of the cañao is still intact. My grandfather is a native priest or a mambunong/manbunong. When I was a child, I remember we often went to different places because my grandfather was invited for his services. On every occasion, he gathered his grandchildren and we all would race to his box-type, gasoline-engined car. From there, we travelled to places to attend festivities.

My memories of cañao during those years were only locked up to the excitement of visiting places and playing with children while waiting for the meat cooked in gigantic pots to be served. I remember my grandfather seated in front of a black pig with old folks seated nearby. He seemed to murmur words. I didn’t exactly know to whom he was addressing those words to. The butchering of the pig would follow after where every child would aim for the tail.
As I aged, I started to appreciate the practice more and learned that cañao has more to offer than just the observance of the festival.

Cañao, as I understand is observed in two occasions, one is for dilus which is done to offer pigs to the departed, to restore the health of a sick person while the other is for sida or pidit/peshet which serves as thanksgiving for good luck. Both occasions start with the preparation stage. Men, who are relatives, neighbors, or friends gather firewood for cooking and apay or grasses where the butchered meat will be placed. Bayanihan is still observed in this activity. A formal invitation is not needed during these situations as people offer their time and help without expecting a fee or anything in return.

On the day of the ritual, the hosts together with other relatives, wake up early to prepare for the festivity. As the men prepare the pots, knives, and musical instruments such as the gongs and solibao, women cook rice. The quantity of rice to be cooked is measured by sacks. Camote would also be prepared as this would be offered to guests upon their arrival. No coordinator is needed in such a big event. Everyone involves himself in the performance of tasks out of his initiative – an attitude which is facing extinction.

The arrival of the mambunong would signal the start of the ceremony. My grandfather would ask for the rice wine or tapey; blankets such as the bayaong, bandala, and dilli; native clothes consisting of the kuba, penet, eten, and bakget; and the palata or the old coins. All would be fixed in wino baskets. When everything is set, the kading or the first pig to be butchered is placed in front of him. This is where he voices the lines as "Oh sik-a ay Kabunyan, ilam pay nan iyat ko ay mankararag tan sik-ay Namarswa si ipugaw sinan lubong iso nga sik-ay pandawatak si bendisyon Mo." After the prayer, the pig is butchered and cooked. When the meat is ready, it is sliced and a part is placed in plates as an offering to the departed loved ones to whom he afterwards call in his prayer to help heal a sick member of the family and that the food partaken in the ceremony will serve as nourishment to strengthen the body.

From these events, I could account a lot of virtues shown, not only on the part of the mambunong but also on the people participating. One is the respect shown to the mambunong. This native priest, although he does not possess high academic excellence, is believed and respected. Once he starts his service, the people keep quiet and listen intently.

The mambunong is not actually the only person given high regard during this time, but all the old folks who participate in the event. Both children and adults pay attention to what the ceremony is about. Respect, which is slowly diminishing nowadays, is observed in this ceremony. Another value I appreciate is unity. During cañao, support comes from relatives starting from the preparation up to the closing.

Another highlight in a cañao is of course what most await – eating time. Each will be served a plate filled with rice where they wait for the men to serve them with slices of meat called watwat. The elderly are also served with the internal organs such as liver, heart, etc. In every cañao, one thing I’m really looking forward to is the pinuneg or blood sausage. This simple sausage is prepared with the savor of the prayer from the ceremony together with the helping hands of those who prepared it making everyone crave for a piece. This satisfaction can’t be replaced by the best menu in fancy restaurants.

After eating, the musical instruments are then set for dancing. The old folks, the family, and the host also share the privilege of dancing the tayaw. Another pig is butchered at this time. This they regard as the an-anito. Prayer is again offered and the pig is cooked to be served to the people.

Butchering of the third pig which is the sunini, ends the ritual. This is where the old ancestors from the past who are believed to be with Kabun-yan now are called to help heal a sick member of the family.

Cañao is also a form of thanksgiving. It serves as a reunion for relatives, friends, and neighbors. Issues or problems are then resolved through this tradition. This means that the importance of preserving said practice would affirm, unify, and open gates for possibilities of resolution of conflicts.

I am very grateful to belong to a tribe whose culture is still considered alive, although not as much, at present. I’m proud to have a grandfather like the one I have now, the reason why the flame of tradition within me is so rich.

As stated under Article 11 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual, and performing arts and literature.

The problem now is on how we can preserve it. According to George Mclean, we are now living in the modern period where there is a cultural diversity and although some say that our culture still remains and cannot be easily removed, he believes that if we don’t make a move to preserve it, it will be gone in time.

The performance of rituals should then be a part of our lives. I for one is proud to say Igorotak, I-Benguet ak, each one should take responsibility to share, practice, and fill one’s self with the richness of his/her culture.

So if you ask me, "What’s on the menu?" I’d proudly say, cañao, containing all the ingredients from physical attributes to the totality of the helping hands, stories shared, and experiences, which make this practice priceless.

Cañao is a good practice, not just because it instills the native culture among us Igorots, but the virtues that it embodies.
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