The Way it Used to Be

Wagering the Land is a book on the town of Buguias, Benguet written by Martin Lewis. You can read an online version of the book here.

It is an interesting read on the history of the town and its people, traditional land management practices, the rise of the town’s vegetable industy, and many others.

The excerpt below is taken from the section on religion/spirituality. If we still have the fear of the timungao maybe we will have better governance in the Cordillera, no?

Spirits: Dangeous, Neutral, and Helpful
Buguias residents had to be wary of a variety of dangerous spirits. Imbag Bagisan, the underworld god of the hunt, provoked great fear. Accompanied by gruesome dogs, he prowled the earth, sating his hunger with human souls. Except on those occasions when his wife intervened on the victim’s behalf, he could only be appeased with two chickens, a pig, or a dog.

A variety of usually malicious spirits, generally called anitos, were capable of causing similar harm. The mante-es-bilig, denizens of thickets, caused lingering sickness, curable only through the sacrifice of a female chicken.

The sky-dwelling mante-ed-tongdo wielded potent curses that might require the offer of a water buffalo. The bet-tattew, visible as flickering evening lights, could carry away unwary human souls. More dangerous still were the te-tets, ghostly vampires that sucked life directly from the heart; little could be done to save their victims.

More commonly encountered were timungao , beings who could be either benign or vicious, depending on their individual temperaments. Timungao generally dwelled near boulders in clear-running streams, and as a rule they distanced themselves from raucous human activities.

Their society closely paralleled that of humans; they were born, grew up, married, bore children, aged, and accumulated property. Usually invisible to human beings, they commonly appeared only in dreams. Occasionally a female timungao would deign to wed a man during such an encounter. The bewitched groom might then abandon the human world, unless he were divorced, at some expense, from his nocturnal companion.

But for the most part, timungao were disgusted by human dirt, noise, and dietary habits. People disturbed them by trespassing in their clear streams, by fighting among themselves, and particularly by killing and eating their pet frogs (distinguishable by their unusual number of toes).

As the timungao’s revenge could be deadly, one had to be careful to eat only frogs with the normal configuration of digits. Timungao were also known to harm disrespectful trespassers, although most would tolerate a person who called out and apologized beforehand. Sometimes a timungao would intervene in strictly human affairs, dispensing swift punishment on those guilty of deceiving others.

Illness usually befell the delinquent party, although a mischievous timungao might be satisfied simply by urinating on the miserable offender. A good-natured sprite could even bring fortune to a deserving human, but in general these ubiquitous beings required continual appeasing since humans could not help but disturb them.

More influential than either gods or nature spirits were the souls of the dead. They usually helped the living, but they too required continual homage. By the late American period, ancestor worship formed the core of local religion, although it is not at all clear whether this was true in earlier times.

The souls of individuals who died horrible or premature deaths could become malicious in their unhappiness. The spirits of the drowned (nagalnad) tried to assuage their loneliness by drowning others. More dangerous were the awil, souls of those who had died particularly violent deaths. The awil of nineteenth-century Spanish soldiers killed in the vicinity caused untold harm in their never-ending quest for revenge.

To avert trouble, a person had to be on constant watch for signs from the spirits. Negative travel omens, such as the crossing of one’s path by an unliked or rare animal, delayed many journeys.

Even an impropitiously timed sneeze or an oddly behaving dog could ruin a business transaction. Neither did nightmares bode well, as all dreams were considered serious messages from the other realm. On waking, one would hope that by cleansing in clear water the vision could be washed away. If truly impressed, however, the dreamer would seek expert counsel, hoping that what seemed a fright was actually an encoded charm.

Again, you can read the book here.

INFO SOURCE: Wagering the Land.

6 thoughts on “The Way it Used to Be”

  1. wow! sounds like a book that I would like to read. 🙂 Thanks for the link to the e-copy.

    All those spirits and what they can do sounded very familiar. same spirits (except for their names) have been manipulated and appeased by the Kalanguyas not so long ago… and some are still doing it even to this age. If we as a people and a nation only fear God as much as our forefathers feared the Timungaos (that would be Bibiyaws in Kalanguya) in the past, Philippines would be a better place. 🙂

    One aspect I like about the animistic religion of our ancestors is its being pro-environment. It’s probably because most of the feared spirits are associated with nature itself. How we could translate that fear into respect and care for the environment in this age of spiritually-enlightened earth-dwellers is the key. That’s why bilib ako sa mga taga-Imugan, Sta. Fe, NV. They see to it that no one throws any garbage around. I remember my friend throwing a tiny candy wrapper along the way and our host acted like we cussed her. As in you’ll see garbage sacks hanging on trees (well, a foot above the ground) all the way to the forest so that people won’t have any choice but to throw their waste (esp. non-biodegradable ones) to these containers so they could be disposed properly.

    A different story can be seen while trudging the uphill climb to Baguio via Marcos Highway. You can see mounds of garbage on the sides of the road and down the cliffs as well. What a way to welcome visitors…

  2. Among all the sections in the book, I’m curious about your choice of excerpt.

    Thank you for pointing this book out.

  3. Hi Ganda,
    Yup, it is an interesting read. Pero mahirap basahin sa computer. Hope to find a hard copy somewhere.

    Hope we all learn from the taga Sta. Fe and do what they are doing. Let’s not wait for the bad spirits to spank us before we respect nature hehe.

    Hi Anon,
    The other sections are equally very interesting. Medyo nahirapan ako sa pagpili but I chose this part because medyo related sa All Sts/All Souls hehe.

    Hi Kayni,
    You’re welcome. It is an interesting read indeed 🙂

  4. The bet-tattew, visible as flickering evening lights, could carry away unwary human souls.

    Has anybody seen these?

  5. Is it possible to be Christian and yet practice the animistic belief of our ancestors.

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