For non-locals not familiar with the local semiotics and languages, signs in English have been posted along roads as reminders.

In some Mountain Province towns, physical barriers have been placed on roads to enforce the curfew. Officials in the town of Natonin erected a makeshift wooden gate across their section of the national highway bordering Paracelis, which is locked during the curfew hours. In the town of Tadian, officials blocked the road with rocks, while in Guinzadan village in Bauko, they used tires and mounds of soil.

Violators face penalties, and if anyone inadvertently enters a community under tengao, they must remain until the declaration is lifted.

Mountain Province councilor Federico Onsat, who is also a lawyer, says cultural practices that generally promote the welfare of the public such as lockdowns do not conflict with local policies. “In fact, they confirm the government’s pronouncements just like the need for the people to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of the virus,” Onsat says.

Protective rituals

Apart from imposing the lockdowns, the elders in Mountain Province also performed rituals meant to ward off disease and disaster and seek protection.

On March 21, elders in the tourist town of Sagada performed the sedey, a ritual invoking the supreme being Lumawig, to cleanse and protect the town from an epidemic.

Indigenous groups like the Gaddang people (above) in the Mountain Province invoke lockdowns after festivals and harvesting and planting seasons. Image by Karlston Lapniten

In Bontoc, revered ama (elder) Changat Fakat performed the manengtey on March 30, a ritual that involved divining omens from the internal organs of a sacrificial chicken. In this case, Changat interpreted the organs, particularly the bile ducts and liver, as presenting signs of protection, which the elders had requested against COVID-19. A fire has been kept burning for several days or until put out by elders in the hearth of dap-ay as a protective charm against the virus.

On April 1, Changat performed a similar ritual again, this time to cover the entire province and its people who are currently in other areas. Both times, local officials such as the mayor and the governor were present, lending official backing to the rituals.

In Malibcong, in Cordillera’s Abra province, the indigenous Itneg people performed the sagubay, a similar ritual to ward off disease and pestilence, on March 17. The ritual involves placing warning signs, usually knotted grass or arched bamboo shoots, along pathways to keep people from entering the town.

Cordillerans have high regard for advice or rituals prescribed by the elders of the dap-ay or ato, the indigenous government system, because of the belief in inayan, a concept akin to karma. “Our culture and traditions existed long before hospitals were put up in communities and they are critical key to why have survived this far,” Governor Lacwasan says.

Predominantly populated by indigenous groups, among them the Balangao tribe (above), the region requires a quota for indigenous representation in municipal councils. Image by Karlston Lapniten

Those traditions have been passed on to the present day because of the fear attached to inayan, says Penelope Domogo, a longtime rural physician who champions indigenous health care systems in Mountain province. Domogo says elders invoke the inayan to prevent the use of soap at water sources to not dry them up.

“This is not superstition. It is a rule crafted by the wisdom of our ancestors meant for our survival [because] clean water is survival,” she says. “Now, we see the rationale and value of these traditions, so common sense dictates we continue these rituals. These are not superstitious beliefs … they are mechanisms for survival, peace, and order.”

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Banner image of an upland field in the Mountain Province. Image by Karlston Lapniten.

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