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Only in Sagada: A Modern Practice of Animism

Animism in the modern Igorot-landia is not recognized as a separate religion; rather, it is part of our custom and traditions.

Animism makes us believe that our dead forefathers are living with us invisibly as spirits. 

A myth has it that the dead were once visible, but they go home to burial caves. The dead became invisible after the living defeated them in a war. The living prepared balls of fire targeted at the dead, and the dead became rolls of camote stem upon contacting fire.

One of the favorite stories that my grandmother Dolores Baniaga Lizardo loved telling us was about an orphan. Because the orphan was abused by her relatives, she started to look for her parents' burial ground. She crossed many mountains and when she finally saw her parents, she received beans to plant for food. She was driven away to the land of the living because it was prohibited to have a living person in a burial place.

These stories are mere childhood tales. But they say something about our culture.

Nowadays, we still believe that we live with out dead ancestors. We believe that we get sick when our dead forefathers speak to us. We believe that the spirits around us can help us and can cause bad things to us, too.

When we butcher pigs or chicken during occasions, we spare a slice of meat for the dead. We assume that they are around us and they may consume whatever is placed on the plate set aside for them.

When orating, we talk to them. The elders call on their names during rituals.

When my brother got sick after playing soccer, a faith healer said one of our cousins cheered for my brother during the game. Upon learning about it, my mother offered my cousin a piece of meat and water. Afterwards, my brother got well.

In college when I started boarding a room, I grew a terrible flu that got me sick for weeks. A faith healer said my uncle complained over my expenses for renting out when I could stay with my cousins for free.

The practice of animism is being criticized by some Igorots who claim to have been enlightened with God’s word. Come to think of it, animism is another religion that collide with Christianity that arrived in Sagada in early 1900's. With our acceptance of God, we made animism part of our culture.

Some get irritated when they see us see a faith healer for a medical condition. They say it is medicine that will make a person well.

However in Sagada, the tension on animism against Christianity and Medicine is light. People practice Christianity and attend to rituals prescribed by animism. They go to the hospital as well as to the faith healer, a set up of modern animism that is a root of peace in this humble town of the Cordilleras.

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.


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