Thursday, December 01, 2005

Glossary: Ritual and clan districts

The wet terrace rice agriculture of Bali offers an interesting study of ibdigenous Austronesian land organization.

The entire island including the areas of the Bali Aga, or indigenous peoples, and the traditional elite, is organized into one vast water management system. At the heart of this organization is the tempek a group of farmers who share the same rituals, rice planting times, etc.

All tempeks that share the same dam form a unit called a subak, which is generally organized around two temples. The subaks that center around a particular mountain as their source of water also cooperate and share rituals between temples on a regular basis. The ritual mountain becomes sacred to them and they consider themselves as the mountain's custodians or guardians.

The rice terraces of the Ifugao in the Philippines offer similar comparison. The Ifugao also divide the land into agricultural districts known as himpuntona'an. These districts tend to all be centered around a particular ritual plot where special ceremonies start the agricultural season. A priest known as the manu'ngaw "rice chief" tends to hold sway in these areas particularly in settling disputes over the indigenous law known as adat.

Among the Ifugao, the adat is the gift of the ancestors, but their cousins the Tinglayen Igorots maintain the tradition of the lawgiver known as a-amma manlilintog "the old man who gives the law." In some cases, the lawgiver also held the position of the priesthood. Either way he was in charge of the religious history of the region.

The position was hereditary but not passed through primogeniture. In other areas such clan-inherited positions were known as bansag. or pagbansag and usually formed a family title that in Spanish times were converted into surnames.

The new lawgiver, who acted as the supreme authority in any cases of dispute, was chosen according to his knowledge of the lintog or law, and also special supernatural signs that the people believed indicated the successor.

According to Miguel de Loarca, the people of the Bisayas to the South believed in an original lawgiver they called Panas. The Spanish sources state that in this area they had their own "Pope" (Papa) who ruled over local "bishops". The babailan or chief priest of Bohol in early times was said to be the most powerful person on the island, richly attired in gold, having possession over all the island's precious mineral mines, and having the sole right to bequeath priesthood and titles to others.

Among the pre-Hispanic Tagalogs, there were "bishops" known as sonat who ruled over large districts.

The Zambales had a chief priest known as Bayoc who ritually dressed in a tapis, or woman's skirt, although he was not described as effeminate as were the bayoguin and asog priests of other regions. In addition to a skirt, he was girded with a special sword.

The Bayoc again had the lone ability to grant priesthood to others, to "baptize" and to save souls. His oracles and prophecies were of great importance to the people. In some cases, the Bayoc was also specifically mentioned to be a datu.

Among the Ifugao, in addition to ritual districts, there were also clan districts based on cognate groups that traced descent bilaterally using both male and female lines. These clans were said to go back four generations and to recognize third cousins laterally.

The Ifugao region has an enormous water canal system used to irrigate the mountain rice terraces that could stretch around the globe if strung together. The management of this system of canals, dams, etc. depends on a widely-recognized system of communal organization and cooperation.

A study of the place and ethnic names around the Pinatubo region offers some interesting insights. Pinatubo itself can mean "that which grows" in reference to the active volcano's building dome. It can also refer to something that vents smoke like a furnace, oven, pipe, chimney or, of course, an erupting volcano.

The name indicates the locals were quite familiar with the mountain's nature despite many centuries of inactivity.

The people living around this area are known as Sambal and this might have also been a district name before. Sambal can mean "intersection or meeting of paths, ways, rivers; a confluence, etc." in reference maybe to the fact that the great rivers of Luzon originate at Pinatubo.

Sambal might also be related to the native word samba meaning "to worship or adore." The passive form simba or simbahan is the native word used in many languages to denote the indigenous "temple."

These temples were often the houses of chiefs, when such were large enough, again indicating the fuzzy line between the ruler and the priest. Or the simbahan was a temporary structure built and decorated for special monthly or annual feasts.

The Bagobo of the southern Philippines build a long house known as dakul bale "great house" for such feasts. They are said to also act as guest homes for visitors from other towns and are said to accomodate "a great number of visitors." The structures were built more solidly than the regular homes because of the belief that they had to keep out malefic spirits. The roof in particular was well-built.

The Abacan River which runs eastward from Pinatubo derives its name from abac "morning," and indeed runs toward the sunrise at Mt. Arayat (Alaya) in the East. The word "paralaya" in the local dialect means "East" or "towards Mt. Arayat."

The word for "West" is paroba meaning "towards the low flooded places (baba)" i.e. probably meaning to follow the swampy river valleys and marshes toward Pinatubo.

The people of this region were the Kapampangan, whose name implies 'those who dwell on the riverbanks.' Southward near Manila Bay, was Macabebe and its former barangay Bebe in the present town of Masantol. The name Bebe probably refers to this town's special position as the last major port for those heading toward the bay. The Datu of Macabebe was described as the "head of the Indians" who inhabited the region around Manila Bay during the Spanish conquest.

North of Macabebe were the towns of Lubao and Betis. Lubao was the trading center for the ancient Aytas of Porac, and the name of Betis might be derived from the native word bitis "feet." In this sense, Betis might have at one time been the last reliable port toward the North, the place where travelers and pilgrims disembarked to continue on foot. This was the largest population center in the Philippines when the Spanish arrived.

All of the readily-traversed regions surrounding Pinatubo were controlled by Kapampangan speakers. The thick, mountainous rain forest of the south, north and west served as domain for the Aytas and Sambals. The Aytas were known to the Kapampangans as Baluga which means "mestizo" or "mixed person" in their language, since the Kapampangan and Ayta nobility intermarried at locations like Porac. The Sambal were known by a similar term -- Balud.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Folkmar, Daniel. Social institutions of the Tinglayan Igorot, Sagada, Philippines : Sagada Social Studies, 1962.

Reuter, Thomas Anton. Custodians of the sacred mountains culture and society in the highlands of Bali, Honolulu : University of Hawai‘i Press, ©2002.