Benguet is the gateway province of the Cordillera Region. It lies in the southern region of the Gran Cordillera Central, shares boundaries with Mountain Province on the north; Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya on the East; La Union and Ilocos Sur on the West; and Pangasinan on the South.
The province consists of 13 municipalities with a land area of 261,648 hectares and a population of 313,833 (1996 NCSO) or a popular density of 120 persons per square kilometers. The terrain is generally rugged and sloping. Its resources and industries are vegetable farming and commercial mining of copper and gold.
Benguet is generally peopled by two major ethnolinguistic groups, namely; Kankanan-ey and Ibaloy. The Kankanan-ey dominate the northwest and speaks the kakali, a dialect similar to the dialect of the Mountain Province and akin to Iloko.
Occupying the southeast are the Ibaloy who speaks the Nabaloy, a linguistic sound nearer to the Pangasinenses.
A group found along the peripheral areas of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya are the Kalanguya. An enclave group, called Karao, are found in Bokod, eastern part of Benguet.
Common to these ethnic groups are their belief system and rituals, though they are dissimilar in their language. Their respective rituals may differ in the way they are performed but they serve similar purposes.
The Benguet folks believe in the existence of unseen beings that emanate from the skyworld and underworld and that these unseen beings are thought to have power over man.
Although unseen, it is believed that these spirits cannot only be fatal to man but can also be manipulated by man to his advantage. With this, the people strive to befriend and win the favor of the spirits.
The ethnic group also believe that man has spirit and that when he dies, said spirit will join the spirits of his ancestors in the skyworld. However, spirits of wicked men will join the numerous spirits in the underworld, while spirits of good men will join the spirits of the skyworld and have more freedom.
Classification of Spirits
The people believe that they can charm and manipulate the spirits so that they classify the spirits as to:
Hierarchy - It is believed that the maker of the Universe is the highest and most powerful of the spirits. They call him Kabunyan, Nanpalangka, or Mengos-oschong, and realm is the skyworld. He can punish, admonish, and restrain the spirits that violate his will. He is ready for anyone that calls him for help. If there is no call then there is no response.
The next highest are the gods and godesses (kabunyan) numbering 24, namely: gods- Ballitoc, Kabigat, Lumawig, Gatan, Pati, Suyan, Amduyan, Kalan, Wigan, Lopis, Bentawan, and Maudi. The godesses are: Bangan-Bugan, Ubbang, Pe-ey, Angban, Yapeng, Lingan, Angtan, Apinan, Daungen, Tengnan, and Ibaga. This is followed by spirits of ancestors (ap-apo/paapuan) and spirits of people who have just died (kakading/kadaring).
It is believed that these spirits are privileged to move freely from skyworld to underworld and back as they wish. The last group of numerous spirits collectively called underworld spirits, are the anito or ikalutan, that live in the oceans, rivers, lakes, springs, caves, rocks, ravines, bushly trees, shrubs, abandoned buildings and tunnels, these spirits are not privileged to go to the skyworld.
Generosity, the spirits are believed to be benevolent and malevolent. The spirit that protects and provides for man is benevolent while the violent spirit is malevolent.
Winning the favor of the Spirit
Spiritual leaders, who are the age-old savants or native priests are consulted for their wisdom. These native priests, in keeping with the traditions entrusted to them by their ancestors, discern that spirits accept material gifts.
By communicating with the spirits through prayer, a gift is offered in the form of ritual to either gain their favor or appease the angry ones. As reciprocation for the gifts received, the spirits give fortune and good health to the celebrant and the appeased spirit will refrain from making people sick.
This is the basis of the rituals practiced by the community. The native priest is the consultant, the prescriber, performer and interpreter of all rituals. In times of sickness, death or misfortune, believed to have been caused by the malevolent spirits, the person afflicted would consult the priest. The priest discerns the cause and prescribes the corresponding ritual and material gifts needed, such as food, ricewine and animals to be offered as a healing ritual.
The person who has amassed some fortune, believed to have been given by the benevolent spirit, is advised to perform a big feast in thanksgiving for these blessing. This ritual is adopted as a common practice of the ethnic group as a fulfillment of their aspiration.
The strict compliance of rituals as prescribed, is regarded as a fulfillment of aspiration, a cure for illness, to ward off misfortune and a defense against curse.
All these beliefs, brought together and adopted by the ethnic group evolved as a belief system, that forms part of the lifeways of the people from which customs, traditions and taboos are established.
The Custom Law
Benguet folks, like any other ethnic groups, have no written law. Though unwritten, however, research reveal that laws are incorporated in the customs and traditions, which are observed with precepts, as rules and regulations.
Celebrating a thanksgiving, for instance, when a neighbor is mourning, is taboo. This is Customary law.
A couple who wish to divorce due to infertility of either one of the partners is allowed by the law. A husband who divorces a wife without any valid reason will have to leave all properties to the children and the wife, this is another law.
There are several other laws but they are overshadowed by present government laws.
This article was originally written by Wasing D. Sacla, a former vice governor of the Benguet Provincial Government (1995-1998). He was named Outstanding Civic Leader by the Concerned Media Inc. in 1998.