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The Anatomy of a Sagada Wedding

LA TRINIDAD-BENGUET- “Weddings are made in heaven,” repeated the priest officiating the church wedding of my cousin Grayle Bagano Lizardo.

My sweet cousin has just gained a new surname- Gonzalo, after falling in love with Jeffson, a shy-type fellow from Bauko, Mountain Province but was raised in Canada.

For the wedding, hundreds of Igorots from Mountain Province and the Cordillera Grande gathered inside the Lizardo compound in La Trinidad, Benguet.

Weeks before the big day, we were advised that the wedding will follow a Sagada nuptial format (sounded French!).

The 3-in-One Wedding

In Sagada, there are three political structures that embrace the zero-crime town. New 
couples accommodate the wedding procedures individually prescribed by these three structures.

We have the Dap-ay, which is the home of Sagada culture and traditions. The Dap-ay is literally a hut where Sagada Igorots in a geographical location gather during special celebrations and crises. The Dap-ay has its own set of colorful wedding rites that a new couple needs to observe (in their home not in the dap-ay that they belong).

The second political structure is the Anglican Church, which is the religion of most Sagada Igorots. We should not be confused with the spiritual position of Sagada. Sagada Igorots are both Pagans (who believe in spirits as set by the Dap-ay) and Christians (who believe in God as set by the Anglican Church). As publicized by the Royal Wedding in London, the Anglican Christian wedding is mainly a one-hour wedding mass event.

The third political structure is the local government unit (LGU), which is equated to the municipio. The state requires a new couple to be registered in the LGU, with a free family planning seminar from the state rural health unit. From the LGU, either a court judge or the town’s mayor can officiate in the declaration of the couple’s registration.

For my cousin’s wedding, they were blessed by a court judge in La Trinidad Regional Trial Court almost two years ago. The other two main rites were set this August.

The Big Labor Day

The big day (the main party event) was set on August 18, 2012. Everyone travelled to La Trinidad for the ceremony. Invitations were already sent to family members and friends. Facebook statuses were already giving discussions on what to expect during the Sagada wedding rite.

“Puta” refers to the day before the main celebration. Everyone came to help in the preparation to the big day. Women gathered around in circles to clean potatoes, string beans, carrots and other vegetables that will be dined in the next day. Men helped in putting up tents that will shelter all participants during the big celebration. This is proud camaraderie, which is innate among Igorots.

When the evening came, pigs were already butchered and all tasks were done. The main dish for the dinner should be “pinapaitan”, an exotic food made out of contents of small intestines of a water buffalo or cow.

Ilocanos call the eveneing “besperas”. Ilocano’s dance and sing during this special night. Unfortunately, we are not Ilocano’s. For my cousin’s wedding, a band was hired to perform acoustic music while everyone relaxed from the day-long preparation.

Palayog: the Church Wedding and the Party

In our local Kankanaey dialect, we call a wedding “pabbey”. “Bummey” refers to the new couple while “menpabbey” refers to the parents of the new couple who act as the sponsors of the wedding.

There are two kinds of pabbey: “kenta” and “babayas”. The only difference between the two is that in “kenta”, no gongs are allowed to be played.

During the “palayog”, we woke up early and headed to the venue of the church wedding. The bride walked down the aisle in her wedding dress while the violinist played the most romantic melody of all time- Pachelbel Cannon.

Women wore their native attire “gateng”. Primary sponsors came in to the church in their glamorous gowns. After an hour, the mass was over and we all headed to the reception where a big celebration was waiting for everybody.

Dap-ay Elders in Motion

A set of rituals offered to the Unseen and Kabunyan (Pagan’s equivalent of Jesus Christ who was a human God) were performed by the “dap-ay” elders. The elders came all the way from Sagada.

They offered “tapey” (rice wine) and crops for the bountiful future of the new couple. They performed chants to attract good vibes for the new family’s endeavors.

For lunch, we stood in line to receive a packed meal composed of a cup of rice, pancit (dried noodle dish), a piece of pork adobo and a juice drink in tetra pack. While eating, the August rain poured to join the feast.

Dancing All Night

An Igorot wedding cannot exist without the playing of gongs. Igorots play “gangsa” (gongs), “takik” (two metal bars) and “tambol” (a wooden cylinder drum with an animal coat covering an end) during special occasions like weddings and “begnas” (a sacred community feast).

Women gather in circle to dance the “pattong” (popularly identified as “community dance”) while men play the gongs. In “pattong”, only the women dance and only the men play the “gangsa”.

“Takik” is performed by a set of men playing the gangsa, takik and tambol, and a couple (usually a man and a woman). In “takik”, there should only be one man dancing. His moves represent a rooster chasing a hen (the woman dancer). There can be more than one woman dancer but the male dancer should always be one. (The rule sounds awful; it signifies that a man can marry or flirt with more than one woman but women cannot do the same).

“Bugi” (bogie) makes use of a pair (strictly a pair) of dancers- a man and a woman. The players of the “gangsa” sit on the ground to give the pair the entire limelight. The male dancer uses a handkerchief to invite a woman dancer. The moves again represent a rooster chasing his hen. The male dancer pursues the woman who comes from the audience. The woman always positions herself at the other edge of a circle (the pair moves in circle). When the woman is literarily tired of being chased, he meets the man at the center and holds the handkerchief with him. This is the end of the performance and signifies an “I do” response to the male dancer.

During the party of my cousin’s wedding, a man was tasked to manage the program. He introduced the groups that will perform. He called on men to play the gangsa. He was witty. He spoke in mixed Kankanaey and Ilocano to cater to everybody who came for the party.

Dancing was not the only element of the evening party. An older man came to give his “bulcha” or riddle. “Bulcha-bulcha, ayta dakayun iilan sak-en” went the riddle. Those who attempted but failed to answer the riddle correctly were demanded to pay P100 or around two US dollars. The answer was something scientific- because of the light. The crowd broke to laughter when the answer was finally revealed, leaving some minds still puzzled. There was a collection of P300 offered to the newly-wed couple.

Some folks from Besao came to the center for a New Yorker-style rite called “Balase-base”. A group of twenty people formed two parallel lines facing each other and stumping their feet while chanting. “Balase-base, o-i-nas, o-i-nas”, was the first line of the chant. A charming woman on her sixty’s led the group in chanting.

One hit part of the party was a role play. “Issan puuon di batang, wa‘san babassang, babassang ay men-gasang mengadgadangdag”, started the song which presented a lady waiting for suitors. One by one, the narrator presented men with their distinct characteristics. The rule of the skit was that the lady should not pick anyone from the men choices. The message - best bachelor was already taken (the bachelor is the groom).

When the sun rose in the east, the sound of the gangsa ceased. The party should (stop (that’s the rule). The community gathered for another meal before departing. Everyone took rest for the next day’s event.

Papa: A Day for Intestines

Two days after the big day, the community gathered again in the house of the new couples for the “papa”. The papa is the final day of a Sagada wedding. During special seasons, the papa is set three days after the big day. For my cousin’s nuptial, it was held two days after.

When pigs were butchered during the preparation for the wedding, intestines were salted and kept. These were brought out during the papa. The intestines were boiled, alongside chayote and other vegetables. We call this delicacy “bungsos”.

Supon: Gratitude

One day before the big day, relatives and friends stand in line to offer their harvests to the new couple. During my cousin’s time, it was held during the big day. Folks wore their native attires and put their offerings in to large woven baskets.

The gifts consist of jars of wine, bundles of rice hanging on the stalk and others. These signify a bountiful future for the new couple.

“Supon” is cash obligation for the new couple. Starting the big day, people came to eat and gave the new couple cash gifts. There was no minimum amount of cash gifts. Some gave P100; others from higher walks of life gave P1000.

In return of the “supon”, tokens or “receipts” were given. My cousin gave away canned meat, umbrellas and woven boxes. Usually, we give away pieces of meat called “watwat”. The collected bills are also commonly wrapped using a piece of cloth used to carry babies called “eban” and the cloth is hung on the neck of the new couples. This signifies a wealthy beginning for the new couple.

There is also a rule that only the married couples can give “supon”. Unmarried people who still want to give their share can convert their cash to products like kitchen utensils and home decorations.

A Sagada wedding is very expensive, others say. But that is wrong. A Sagada wedding is a community event. The community helps in preparing for the event, and the community brings in their harvest and resources that will be used for the celebration.

Christian is a Marketing Communications practitioner in Quezon City. He is an Igorot from Sagada, Mountain Province. To get in touch with him, please shoot an email to christianaligonow@gmail.com.


  1. Thank you! Now I know why my cousin-in-law-to-be asked my son to play Canon on their wedding on December. At least now we know what to expect...


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