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A Benguet Legend: The Igorot woman who came alive

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A long time ago there lived in Kafagway, which is Baguio today, a rich Igorot couple. Their story inspired the Benguet culture.

via igorotage.com

A long time ago there lived in Kafagway, which is Baguio today, a rich Igorot couple. The husband was a trader. He would go down to the lowlands to barter gold for salt, pigs, clothes, and tobacco. He sold these to the miners in Acupan, accepting their gold in return.

The man was called Balong, and the wife, Kasia. Balong dearly loved Kasia, and they were happy together. Kasia was beautiful and fair of complexion. She had lovely, shining eyes and her raven hair glistened. By the stream, when they went to bathe, Balong loved to smooth and finger the flowing tresses drying in the sun.

Ibaloy Woman From Benguet Province Ca. 1920's
Ibaloy Woman From Benguet Province Ca. 1920's

On the hills they had cattle and carabaos. Along the hill-sides, they owned a number of rice terraces. Moreover, they had secretly buried jars of silver money. Balong and Kasia had grown so rich that the people began to ask why they did not hold a peshit, a lavish feast by which the people know when a couple have acquired great wealth.

So one night, the husband asked the wife, "My Kasia, we are grown rich. The people demand that we give a peshit. What shall we do ?"

"The people are right. Let us obey their wish. We shall spend much, but the spirits will be pleased, and more wealth will be given us", Kasia wisely made answer.

"Then, I must go at once to the land of the Ilocos. I will have to trade much gold for the pigs to feed the people at the great feast", said Balong. "Indeed, you must. We can't do otherwise", agreed the wife.

"Meanwhile, you make tafei (rice wine)", the husband added. "It takes time for it to ferment well. Make a dozen jars of it".

"I will", Kasia assented.

In the morning, Balong set out on his journey. Before he left he instructed his wife: "Take good care of the children. Don't allow them to play too near the side of the cliff".

Balong was fond of his three girls. They were all fair, like their mother. Men delighted in gazing at them, so light were their skins and so adorable their eyes.

"I shall not be gone long", Balong called as he marched off.

At home, Kasia prepared much tafei. Some of the neighbors discovered this and the news went abroad that Balong was making ready for the great feast.

Tapey, tapuey, tafei
Tapey, tapuey, tafei

Away from home in the lowlands, Balong stayed more than three weeks. He found it a slow business bartering for the swine and salt. Yet in three days more he expected to be able to start for home.

But alas, sad tidings reached him before that time, and he hastened to the hills, leaving his purchases with a good Ilocano friend, saying he would come for them some time, he did not know when.

A hillsman brought the report. Kasia had died seven days before, suddenly! It would take Balong three days for the journey back. And by the time he arrived home, the corpse of his wife would be dried and tanned over the glowing fire, according to the custom of his people. Already, he was told by the news-bearer, the jars of tafei had been consumed by the people at the funeral rites.

Balong bade his tribesman to run ahead. He wanted to be alone in his grief. It pained him so that his wife should have died while he was away! He complained to the spirits: "Wherefore should one die inopportunely ?" He wept and then he vowed that, if he could, he would bring his wife back to life. "I have been cheated", he thought bitterly.

Balong was nearing home. He knew his hut to be just over the hill. It was twilight, and loneliness and despair crept into his heart as he thought of viewing only the body of his beloved wife.

Suddenly, he saw a figure coming towards him. He peered forward and discerned the ghost of his wife, in the apparel in which he had last seen her, yet thin as air.

The figure drew nearer and nearer, as though with sightless eyes, for it seemed not to see him. Balong, on the other hand, saw clearly. He saw the gold bracelet which he had given Kasia loosely wound about her thin wrist.

Quickly Balong caught her, slipped his hand through the wristlet, and grasped it tightly. "Now", he said, "I won't let you go anymore. Why did you die when I was absent ?"

Kasia seemed to awaken. She smiled indulgently at her spouse. "You forget, Balong, that I am dead now. I am not flesh anymore. And if I died, it was not of my will".

"Notwithstanding, I won't let you go," Balong insisted. "I can not part from you again, Kasia. I love you. It grieves me that we should not be together, die together".

"It is useless. Even if I should live again, you would not like me in my new self", said Kasia sadly.

"But I will", said Balong. "You must come to life once more" .

"If life be given me anew, I will be ugly. I will be dark, the lids of my eyes upturned, and my sight crossed. Would you rather not keep the memory of my old loveliness ?"

"However ugly, I want you alive and my companion. I can not bear the thought that you are dead", Balong replied.

Kasia was moved with pity for her husband. "Then, if that is what you say, I must live", she said at last."But you must do as I tell you, to bring me back to life. And the people must not know that I have returned. Let them think I am another being".

Balong was only too willing to do whatever had to be done.

Kasia continued: "So, when you arrive home, you will find my body seated on a chair over the hearthfire. Take my corpse out on a foggy morning when the mists are thick. Lay me on the dewy grass and cover me with a techong, (a sort of coat for shedding rain made of leaves worn by women in the camote fields.) Then, when the mists have been dispersed by the sun, uncover me, and I shall have come to life".

Balong was happy. He hurried home. He could hardly wait till the following morning. He did not sleep at all that night.

Before dawn, he arose. He watched the east. A dense fog veiled the gray light.

Balong brought out the cadaver of his wife. Over it, he placed the techong. For an hour he waited for the fog to lift. Gradually the sunbeams pierced the gloom and the mists melted away. Then, Balong raised the techong. Kasia was indeed revived!

He evinced but a mild surprise as he saw the transformation in the countenance of his wife. Every detail which she had foretold came true. Kasia had become unsightly.

Yet Balong did not regret. He was only grateful, for though her outward looks had changed, Kasia at heart was the same.

Weeks later the postponed festival was carried through. There was great rejoicing. The peshit exceeded the people's expectations. With the blessing of the mambunong, the married life of Balong and Kasia went as smoothly as ever. They had six more children. But all these took after their transformed mother. They were ungainly, dark-skinned, and cross-eyed. They stood in great contrast with the first handsome children.

Igorot Woman Carrying Her Child In A Basket, Baguio, Philippine Islands
Igorot Woman Carrying Her Child In A Basket, Baguio, Philippine Islands

Long after Kasia and Balong had passed on, their children begot children. And the fair ones had fair offspring; the uncouth children, uncouth progeny. And this, they say, is the reason there are dark and lightskinned Igorots. To this day, whenever someone dies, the old crones recount this story during the funeral ceremonies.

Source: Philippine Magazize, Volumne XXIX, Number 2, July 1932, pages 61, 90-91, Philippine Education Company, Manila

License: "The woman who came alive - A Benguet Legend" by The Kahimyang Project is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0


Benguet legend Igorot

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