I’m ashamed to say that when they said we’ll be meeting one of the smallest minority group in Isabela, I was thinking they were some remote tribes still wearing their traditional garbs similar to the Dumagats. The Yogad tribe in Echague, Isabela is quite different. They were wearing old Spanish style costumes in bright blue and red colors. They have small mirrors attached strategically at the front and back. They have swords and seem to be ready for battle. They did not come from deep into the mountains nor live by the sea. They sailed all the way from Mindanao many decades ago but today are facing extinction as an indigenous group.
Yoga for the Yogad Tribe
It’s funny that I came to know of the Yogad tribe through the International Yoga Event celebration in Echague, Isabela. However synonymous they sound, they are not related. They are not a tribe who do Yoga. The Yogad history roots back even before Echague was used to called Camarag, named after a tree common in the area.
According to one of the Yogads I spoke, they originally came from Mindanao which is evident by their colorful garbs similar to the Sama people of Tawi-tawi and Sulu. The Yogad have physical features similar to Indonesians, brown-colored skin with deep set eyes, males are usually stocky and well-built due to being natural hunters. They are also warriors which the Spaniards had trouble conquering before so they made them the elites of the society. They have a proud demeanor and always insist on being “right”.
Yogad Tribe Traditions and Beliefs
Our visit to Echague Isabela also coincides with Isabela’s Tilamsikan Festival. An art event where performers from various countries share the stage with local artist to perform in key locations in Isabela. The humble, unfinished amphitheater of Echague was one of the stages. While I was awed by the mesmerizing performance from the Indonesian guest, our showcase of Yogad tribe piqued my interest.
The Yoga Warrior dance, Bayle de Bakal showcased their fighting moves. It was like a coordinated sparring and gave me answers on why they have mirrors on their garbs. It was for the warriors to see enemies from different directions when fighting as a group. The performance was raw and unpolished but the cast was enthusiastic on showing the dance sequence which is also a dying tradition among the Yogads since there is no formal lessons to pass this art to the youngsters.
Ritual of the Boat
The Yogads are animist by nature, only recently that some of them converted to Christianity. They still practice some of the traditions until now. Nanay Melba Mangadap Flores, a Yogad healer, demonstrated one of their healing traditions called the Ritwal ng Banca (Ritual of the Boat). It is synonymous to the Yogads journey by boat to where they live now. The banca ritual takes two days. The first day is when Nanay Melba makes a miniature boat which they call dakit. She said no one is allowed to create the boat than a healer. They can copy it but the Oracion (prayer) is necessary while doing the boat. Nanay Melba told me that someone tried to copy the boat but end up being crazy after. The dakit is colorful to make it attractive to the roaming spirits.
There were offerings laid out as well which she calls Panyaman. It contains a mix of items from yellow rice topped with an egg, nganga (betel nut), tobacco and suman (sticky rice). The healer would do a dance with the boat while singing a sacred song, passing it on to the one with the ailment. During the ritual, the healer would fall into a state of trance. It is believed that a spirit invaded the healer’s body to diagnose the sick, heal and catches the spirit causing the disease. This spirit would then be trapped into the boat. The next day, the dakit would be sent-off to the river along with the spirit causing the disease which would eventually heal the person with the ailment.
The Yogad tribe played a significant role in Echague’s history and also their transition to Christianity. The old Spanish convent now renovated stands one of the landmarks of Christianity. It displays the vintage Spanish Bells dating as far back as 1879. I think there is still more to delve deep on the culture and traditions of the Yogad Tribe. Echague would benefit on documenting and preserving their traditions to keep them alive. It could also be one of the cultural attractions of the province.
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.