Apayao was once a sub-province of the old Mountain Province created in 1908. It was merged with Kalinga in 1966 creating the province of Kalinga-Apayao. However, by virtue of Republic Act 7878 signed into law by President Fidel Ramos, Apayao became a separate province on the 14th day of February in 1995.
It has been believed that Apayao got its name from its river, the Apayao River that serves in many aspects of the life of its people — the Isnags. According to Laurence Lee Wilson, he has traced the term ‘Apayao’ to the old battlecry of the people, “Ma-ap-ay-ao,” which is shouted with the hand rapidly clapping over the mouth.
The people of Apayao were called in various names like Isnags, Iyapayao, los Mandayas, los Apayaos, and Wild Tingguians. At present, however, they are referred to as Isnags. But whatever they are called, the people of Apayao are known for their hospitality and respect to each other, and even to strangers.
Bearers of new thinking
Apayao is a province endowed with so many gifts: natural resources so diverse, enabling it to provide for its people; a very colorful and rich cultural heritage which, even in these modern times, determine the life and directions of its people; and a diverse group of people living in harmony amidst differences in culture and belief.
The introduction of different modalities in the modern world has always been a threat to the persistence of traditional culture. The establishment of a new form of government, the influx of migrants, the introduction of public and private schools, and the missions of the church are largely considered the bearers of new thinking and consequently new lifestyle and practices among Isnags. It is important to note though that the traditional cultural practices still prevail among the Isnags. Life stages are still celebrated through the various native practices and rituals.
Among the Isnag practices that have been handed down through generations is the respect for the tribal leader locally known as mengal.
In order for a person to be declared a mengal, he must be wealthy, courageous, and well-versed in the local lore. This mengal, along with the other mengals, composes a council called pangmaruwan. The kamenglan, who is the bravest among them, is the council’s head. In settling disputes, only the relatively old mengal would be allowed to speak, although all are brave, this indicates the respect of the Isnags to the elders. The council is also responsible for maintaining peace and order, defending the tribe, and in training the youth for warfare. They also maintain the balance of economy by ensuring that the people had enough food. At present, there are no longer mengals but respect for the elders prevails up to these modern times so much so that their opinions and their advices are solicited for major decisions like marriage, settlement of disputes, and the like.
Rituals that bind the people
Two important ceremonies performed by the Isnags are the say-am and the pildap. The say-am is the most important of all religious ceremonies of Isnags. It is attended by a large crowd coming from distant villages and neighboring areas. During the feast, there is much dancing, singing, eating, and drinking of wine. The say-am is held after a mourning period, during a special celebration, or when a wealthy person wishes to hold one. When this is performed during the abobat or the end of the mourning period, the trees and anything marked as taboo can be harvested from. The say-am promotes camaraderie among the people and it highlights the essence of sharing a practice, which should not be forgotten by young Isnags like me.
The pildap is also a public ceremony sometimes called ‘say-am of the poor’. This is usually done when a family moves into a new house, when a person has his first haircut as an adult, or when one member of the household is afflicted with a severe illness. Unlike say-am, the host of the pildap may only butcher a chicken or a dog. Food is then packed in banana leaves and is given to the people. Pildap is more often used to bring healing to the sick. In these modern times, many Isnags still practice this to the point that they request seriously ill patients to be brought out of hospitals for such ceremony, in a way compromising the health and life of the patient.
The Isnags also have a communal interaction which is called abuyog, this is the Isnag term for bayanihan. Here, people work in a systemof reciprocity. Farmers help each other by working in each other’s fields according to schedule. During such activities, there is a feast conducted also known as pildap. This feast is a very significant interaction that maintains community development, working together for the sake of companions. This promotes the diplomacy of each member of the society. If such practice shall prevail through times, transcending not only the farm works, then it shall be expected that the Isnags of the modern times will be able to respond to the challenges of survival. More importantly, the community interaction during said activity will foster a closer relationship in a community disrupted by modern technology and external opportunities.
Peace among themselves
There is also this so-called ariglo, which means an amicable settlement of disputes and misunderstanding between or among different kinship groups and family units. During this settlement, the victims find justice over the misdeed or violation of custom laws committed by the suspect.
This might be settled through the awat or blood money depending on the violation committed like stealing, coveting someone else’s wife, telling false stories about others, and creating trouble especially during feasts and celebrations.
One of the advantages of the ariglo is that there is immediate healing of relationships once the victim’s demands are met. Secondly, both parties are free from the burden of a tedious and expensive processing of the case through the formal justice system. Most important is that both the victim and the respondent will learn to trace their blood roots as this is an important aspect of the ariglo — for relatives to be called to help, and common blood ties traced to both the victim and the respondent just to emphasize that there should be no bad blood between the two parties.
Ariglo, though good, is not without its negative side. It is one of the most abused Isnag practices. Some people repeatedly commit violations because of their family’s capacity to pay the awat.
Furthermore, it is in a way punishing the entire clan for one person’s faults since most of the awat is a collection of financial help from members of a clan.
Changes as challenges
Another important tradition of the Isnags is the lapat or taboo. This is done after the death of a family member as an expression of a family’s grief. Certain parts of the field, forest, and river are declared to be off-limits for harvesting of any produce. These areas are to be opened for harvest or gathering of any products only after the first death anniversary of the dead.
The opening of any lapat is usually celebrated through a feast. Violators of said prohibitions are to give an awat or are required to finance the feast to open the lapat. The lapat is actually a local initiative to preserve the natural richness of an area; it actually promotes the rehabilitation of a certain area that is fished or farmed. One modification that can be introduced is a lifetime declaration of lapat, which will actually convert areas to forest or water reserves thus, propagating indigenous life forms.
Changes have taken place in the Isnag culture as a result of influences from the outside world. A large percentage of the people regard themselves as Christians. Community leadership shifted the mengal’s position to the members of the younger educated generations. Several cultures have been mixed with the Isnags’ culture due to the migrants and traders. These changes are inevitable. I believe that it is important that the elders of our community pass on the precious practices before technology and modernity drown them. Most of all, it is upon the young blood like me, to see to it that the culture that determines my being will persist and not die.
The author was born in Mandaluyong City and is now based in Karagawan, Kabugao, Apayao. He graduated salutatorian from the Apayao Community Learning Center, and was also best in Math and best in Computer.