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Sapata: An Igorot Lie Detector

One the most unique culture of the Igorot is a justice system called the "Sapata". Such practice varies from one ethnic group to the other.

Kankanaey-Igorots playing the gangsas around a large bonfire. | sweetpapermedia_pol_sena
Kankanaey-Igorots playing the gangsas around a large bonfire. sweetpapermedia_pol_sena

Telling lies has always been deemed as a grave sin by almost all race, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. It is considered as morally wrong as it may result to further problems or unlikable effects.

Nowadays, scientists and technology was able to provide ways on how to detect if someone is lying. One example is the polygraph which had helped in identifying criminals.

However, have you ever wondered how the people before knew if someone is lying?

In the Cordilleras, a northern region in the Philippines, some, if not most parts of its provinces practice a certain justice system called "Sapata".

The "Sapata" is a ceremonial oath which is done if a certain suspect denies any allegations thrown on him. Most often, "Sapata" is being done in cases of stealing, murder and the like.

"Sapata" goes through a process by which an elder of a community leads a ceremony. It is done in sunrise, when the sun perfectly starts to show its rays. Before starting, the elder has to offer an "Etag"(smoked meat), followed by the accused person drinking "Tapey"(rice wine). The elder then says a prayer which goes "Agew ya Buwan ay mang uusdong kendakami, ilam ta nan nakabasol et siya nan mendusa ta adin kadusa nan maid basol na" which in non-verbatim may translate to "The sun and moon shining down upon us, see into it that the person who committed the crime suffers and the innocent may be spared". The prayers though, may vary from an ethnic group to another.

The elder and the accused have to agree on a certain "Sakem"(Punishment) where the most typical examples are death, blindness and body deformities, including the time the punishment becomes effective be it a week, a month or so. If the suspect and the elder comes to an agreement, blindness for example, the accused would then have to say " Nu saken nan nakabasol et mabulding nan matak,ngem nu baken et asi-asian" which means "If I committed the crime, I will be blind, if not, then spare me".

The people would then have to wait for the time to see who committed the crime. If someone goes blind, he would then be considered as the one who did the wrongdoing and has to suffer the consequences of being blind for a lifetime. "Sapata" has been very effective in the earlier days as stories of people who had undergone the ceremony and did not accept his/her wrongdoings, went blind, limp and worst, resulted to death.

As unusually interesting it could be, "Sapata" is considered "Inayan"( a no-no act) or unrecommendable by most elders. They advise all those accused to just stand forward if he or she committed the crime.

Another ill-effect is that, the family(including the succeeding generations) of both the suspect and the victim should never cross paths, to the extent of no one from both families should enter each other's abode or no one from all of their generations should marry each other.

The "Sapata", though at some point, provides an unusual justice system, it is still being bound by the most supreme Igorot law which is the "Inayan".This unseen tradition might be a bit scary and astounding at the same time but it only means one thing, lying is not a good thing.


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