I’ve seldom talked about how Sagada has changed throughout the years. Yes, the roads have been paved for better access, more tourist are coming in, internet connectivity is just about everywhere and more structures being built to accommodate them. Despite the developments, Sagada’s is still rooted to their traditional cultural practices. One of this significant rituals is the Begnas, a rice thanksgiving ritual that usually happens three times a year. We were lucky to be there to witness their pre-planting ritual. It was a three-day event and the 2nd day was the time when the “Indians March”.
I tried asking for details on where the Begnas would be held but there were no definite answers until the morning of the march. Kuya Oscar of Kanip-Aw Pines View Lodge informed me that morning that the host for this Begnas would be in Matuba, just behind the Indigenous Handicraft Inn. The Begnas has no definite dates but happens pre-planting season, when the first seedlings sprout and as thanksgiving for the rice harvested which is sometime in June. The one we witnessed was the pre-planting ritual which is the Begnas di Yabyab which happens sometime in between the end of October or start of November.
The Begnas is one of the rare times when people of Sagada would put on their traditional clothes as this is a formal and sacred occasion. Of course modernity has crept in as locals would also bring their digicams and smartphones with them and would take posterity shots of the event.
There are 12 Dap-ays (a smaller social community center) in the Demang Village of Sagada and each have their corresponding members. We were at Matuba that would be the host for this occasion’s Begnas. About past 7am, they have started the gongs play and their cañao ritual dance. People came in one by one. Kuya Oscar informed me of how sacred this ritual is observed and outsiders like us should respect and follow the rules. He told me that people should not block the way where the elders would pass and if we’re gonna take a photo, it should be done from afar. Once the dancing has started, that’s when we can get closer.
The Begnas begins with prayers and chants led by the Bishop (chief elder) and rest of the elders. Then they would start the “March of the Indians” as the locals call it. The host dap-ay would also bring the sacrificial pig. Shortly, other members of dap-ay would show up on the field doing their own rounds. First, each group would go to the Gedangan, a stream or river where they will wash-up and bathe, like a cleansing ritual. Then all the groups from different dap-ays would eventually converge in an area with a Sacred Tree they call Patpatayan. It is here where they would offer the pig they brought and the pieces of meat shared among the men who marched with them. Shouting and prayers could be heard, which I was told is to imbibe peace and prosperous harvest. In all this, us outsiders were looking afar, as we can’t approach the fields to see their activity and would wait by the host dap-ay.
Once done at the Patpatayan, they would all march to the host dap-ay with pieces of meat hanging by their spears. Another round of prayers and pig offering would be done. The women of Sagada would be waiting in line bearing their gift offerings from food to drinks and even matches. Once offered, they would be given pieces of meat as well. After the prayers and chants, it’s another round of gong playing and dance. The whole event would take up about 2–4 hours and after which people would celebrate at their own homes either with a Pinikpikan feast.
Age Old Tradition
It was fortunate that I have witnessed this festival. I’ve been going back and fort in Sagada for the past decade but it was timely that I was able to catch this Begnas which I’ve heard for so long. I’m glad that the people of Sagada still sincerely practice this ritual which keeps their culture and ethnic values intact. If you happen to be in Sagada and found that there’s a Begnas happening, it is worth the time to observe and even participate. Make sure to follow and respect the rules for outsiders though.
*All photos in this post was taken with a Nikon D7100.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.