” I lift my eyes to the mountains, whence help comes to me“ Psalm 121
(The Creation Spirituality of Cordillera People)
Mountain spirituality is basically an experience of communion with the gift of creation. It develops the sense of equanimity on the part of the individual who exerts effort to see, to feel and to embrace the radiance of God’s grace in the environment of wilderness. Hiking, accompanied with meditation on the beauty of nature, provides such humbling but fulfilling sense of equanimity : the state of inner balance, a peace of mind.
Teng-Ab Retreat House offers opportunity for the retreatants to delve in the spiritual dynamics and challenges of hiking. We recommend several sites, with varying degrees of altitude and difficulties of terrain, for a group to explore. The breathtaking scenery at the summit of these sites would surely give an ambiance for contemplation, the immersion to the mystical presence of The Deity as experienced by of the mountain people of Cordillera : the people who are, literally and figuratively, living in oneness with mountains……..
Situated at the upper part of Teng-Ab is a rice terraces called MALIGKONG. The trail leads to a mountain ridge with an overlooking view of the awesome terraced agriculture. The wonder of how the Igorots of Bontoc built and sustained such huge structure without the help of technology is, in itself, an interesting subject of mountain contemplation.
Just like other rice terraces in the Cordillera, behind such powerful image of hardwork and engineering inguinity is an indigenous cosmic theology of intimacy with creation. Taking a closer look at the mythical background and cultural practices involved in their farming activities would reveal their state of belongingness to the “world of mountains”. Their being faithful to organic system and how they take care of the soil are not just farming techniques, they are concrete manifestations of their deep sense of respect and reverential fear to their ancestors who gifted them with such beautiful masterpiece of agricultural art. Sufficed it to say that rice terraces is not just a tourist spot for us to enjoy the scenery. It represents the Igorot’s worldview of being intimately attached to the mountains. They are not just residences of mountains, they are one with mountains. Unlike most of the the lowlanders, Igorots do not consider themselves as the lords of nature. The pride of rice terraces is the pride of nature reminding us that in this unprecedented period of environmental destructions, it is still possible to practice responsible stewardship of God’s creation. They are opening our eyes to the ecological reality that nature is for us to nurture rather then exploit and destroy….
In his letter of resistance against the ambitious plan of Former President Marcos to build a dam along the stretch of Chico River which could have displaced the Igorots community and destroyed the rice terraces, the late Bishop Francisco F. Claver, himself a native of Bontoc, emphatically emphasized : “…Ricefields among the Bontoc are heirlooms, more prized than any earthly goods, passed on from parents to children in a continuity that is like life itself. It is life, and to break the continuity means only one thing : death.” (“The Stones Will Cry Out” by Francisco F. Claver, SJ)
” Our fathers built all the ricefields you see. Now, they are marked for destruction – and we with them. We haven’t added anything to our patrimony. No new fields have been built within the memory of anyone alive here today. God created us with hands and feet. We have used these to work our fields even as our fathers before us used theirs to build them. Our strength comes from our own God-given powers. We cannot give up our heritage. It is something holy and we must hand it intact to our children.
We are planted here, rooted in sacred land. all our dead are buried here. They must be, for this is where they sprung from… The very soil we tread on —- this is the dust of our forefathers… What to the government looks like rank of superstition is to our people sacrosanct reality!” (From the book “The Stones Will Cry Out” by Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ
The Igorot has personified the forces of nature. The personification has become a single person, and this person is one god, Lu-ma′-wĭg. Over all, and eternal, so far as the Igorot understands, is Lu-ma′-wĭg—Lu-ma′-wĭg, who had a part in the beginning of all things; who came as a man to help the survivors and perpetuators of Bontoc; who later came as a man to teach the people whom he had befriended, and who still lives to care for them. Lu-ma′-wĭg is the greatest of spirits, dwelling above in chayya, the sky. All prayers for fruitage and increase—of men, of animals, and of crops—all prayers for deliverance from the fierce forces of the physical world are made to him; and once each month the pa′-tay ceremony, entreating Lu-ma′-wĭg for fruitage and health, is performed for the pueblo group by an hereditary class of men called “pa′-tay—a priesthood in process of development. Throughout the Bontoc culture area Lu-ma′-wĭg, otherwise known but less frequently spoken of as Fu′-ni and Kam-bun′-yan, is the supreme being. Scheerer says the Benguet Igorot call their “god” Ka-bu-ni′-an—the same road as Kam-bun′-yan.
In the beginning of all things Lu-ma′-wĭg had a part. The Igorot does not know how or why it is so, but he says that Lu-ma′-wĭg gave the earth with all its characteristics, the water in its various manifestations, the people, all animals, and all vegetation. To-day he is the force in all these things, as he always has been. (excerp from ethnographic research of Albert Ernest Jenks in 1914)
It must be noted here that all Bontoc agricultural labors, from the building of the sementera to the storing of the gathered harvest, are accompanied by religious ceremonials. They are often elaborate, and some occupy a week’s time.
There are two varieties of sementeras—garden patches, called “pay-yo′”—in the Bontoc area, the irrigated and the unirrigated. The irrigated sementeras grow two crops annually, one of rice by irrigation during the dry season and the other of camotes, “sweet potatoes,” grown in the rainy season without irrigation. The unirrigated sementera is of two kinds. One is the mountain or side-hill plat of earth, in which camotes, millet, beans, maize, etc., are planted, and the other is the horizontal plat (probably once an irrigated sementera), usually built with low terraces, sometimes lying in the pueblo among the houses, from which shoots are taken for transplanting in the distant sementeras and where camotes are grown for the pigs. Sometimes they are along old water courses which no longer flow during the dry season; such are often employed for rice during the rainy season.
The unirrigated mountain-side sementera, called “fo-ag′,” is built by simply clearing the trees and brush from a mountain plat. No effort is made to level it and no dike walls are built. Now and then one is hemmed in by a low boundary wall.
The irrigated sementeras are built with much care and labor. The earth is first cleared; the soil is carefully removed and placed in a page 90pile; the rocks are dug out; the ground shaped, being excavated and filled until a level results. This task for a man whose only tools are sticks is no slight one. A huge bowlder in the ground means hours—often days—of patient, animal-like digging and prying with hands and sticks before it is finally dislodged. When the ground is leveled the soil is put back over the plat, and very often is supplemented with other rich soil. These irrigated sementeras are built along water courses or in such places as can be reached by turning running water to them. Inasmuch as the water must flow from one to another, there are practically no two sementeras on the same level which are irrigated from the same water course. The result is that every plat is upheld on its lower side, and usually on one or both ends, by a terrace wall. Much of the mountain land is well supplied with bowlders and there is an endless water-worn supply in the beds of all streams. All terrace walls are built of these undressed stones piled together without cement or earth. These walls are called “fa-nĭng′.” They are from 1 to 20 and 30 feet high and from a foot to 18 inches wide at the top. The upper surface of the top layer of stones is quite flat and becomes the path among the sementeras. The toiler ascends and descends among the terraces on stone steps made by single rocks projecting from the outside of the wall at regular intervals and at an angle easy of ascent and descent.
These stone walls are usually weeded perfectly clean at least once each year, generally at the time the sementera is prepared for transplanting. This work falls to the women, who in the olden times, commonly perform it entirely nude. At times a scanty front-and-back apron of leaves is worn tucked under the girdle.
In the Banawi district, south of the Bontoc area, there are terrace walls certainly 75 feet in height, though many of these are not stoned, since the earth is of such a nature that it does not readily crumble. (excerp from ethnographic research of Albert Ernest Jenks in 1914)
” The people’s concern about the loss of their tradition was very real indeed. this tradition is equated with the life-principle of themselves as a people, a community. One can argue with their fears, rebut their claims, by pointing out that a tradition is something of a spiritual nature, something one can carry with him everywhere he goes. True enough., but tradition among Bontok is linked inextricably with land —- with their fields, their burial grounds, their sacred groves —– hence with the particular piece of land their villages are built on. Tradition to them is what gives them identity as a people…” (From the book “The Stones Will Cry Out” by Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ
2) MOUNT KALAWITAN (http://apacampsite.wordpress.com/)
Mount Kalawitan is located in Sabangan, a 30-minute drive from Bontoc. Hiking its summit, with an altitude of 2,714 masl, is a major climb. It therefore requires good physical condition and strong determination on the part of the individuals who are inspired to conquer and be enchanted by its mossy forest at the top.
Those who are not physically conditioned to climb the summit may settle at the based camp, the Apa Camp Site. The pine tree forest of Asoan is good for minor hiking. The group may also enjoy taking dip on the ice-cold water of the river.
Mount Kalawitan is a sacred mountain for the Igorots. It plays an important role in their creation narrative :
“The earth was flat, there were no differences in altitude on it, they say, then there were no children as yet, then they say the wild cock are meeting… then they say Kabunian says : I shall flood this and clean the earth”. He then closes up in the sea the aggregations of waters, then they say, he drops and make live two men, brother ans sister : he puts the man on land on the Kalawittan. he separates the woman whom he placed in Pulis; the man whom he put in land on the Kalawittan look towards the Pulis and sees the fire; then he said: “I shall go and see”. (excerps from the compilation “Prayers in Lepanto-Igorot or Kankanaey” by Fr. Morice Vanoverbergh, CICM ; 1914)
From Kalawitan, Lumawig descended to “Palikot Aso” and rested together with his dog and rooster. On this place, he spotted two sisters gathering native beans. Lumawig later on married the younger of the two, Bogan and bore a child.
“All right I shall let down my spear, Lumawig said. And it goes down vertically, they say, then he says, they say: come let us fetch your provision…” Then they say, He goes to Kalawitan and looks down on Pingad, they say, and they use the Pingad dialect: “I do not like these, he says” they say, he goes to data, he looks down they say, on Banaaw : “Here I shall go”… (excerps from the compilation “Prayers in Lepanto-Igorot or Kankanaey” by Fr. Morice Vanoverbergh, CICM ; 1914)
3) Mount Mugao
Looking more like a big hill than a mountain, Mt. Mugao’s height is around 1,250 MASL but with an altitude gain of only around 300 meters from its base. What makes the mountain really interesting is its geographical position (smack in the middle of a valley surrounded by much higher mountains) and its peculiar rock face features. It will just take forty-five minutes to climb the summit. But at the top is the most spectacular view of Mountain Province’s pastoral reality. It is a 360 degrees vintage view of rice terraces, vegetable garden terraces, lakes, and cascading falls of the sunny-side barangays. Facing such scenery is a mystical experience of being engulfed by the magnanimous presence of The Thou.
(an excerp form the poem of Catherine de Hueck Doherty)
It is a strange journey, across arid plains,
And verdant valleys, dried parchment-like deserts…
A journey of Twisting, narrow roads, now leadning upwards, now downwards…
A journey of many Crossroads and endless sharp turns…
That confuse and clamor for a rest…
But the hunger for God knows no rest….
So I go on, and on, and on…
Yes, it is a strange journey…
That slowly makes me shed all the bagage I took for it…
The bagage I took for it….
Before I know that it was too heavy a load….
For this kind of journey….
I don’t know where I left it…
Somewhere back there…
By some crossroads….
Now I am bagage-less….
But somehow still too heavily burdened….
My hunger drives me on…..
I hesitate. The narrow path upwards is so hard.
It has so many sharp stones. so many knife-edge pebbles.
But the hunger for God flames in me.
A furnace of fire unquenchable.
The fire of Love. Of Passionate utter love of God…
I must go on . On that journey…..
God meets the soul that starts on the journey inward.
4) Mount Amuyao – Cambulo-Battad Traverse
Mt. Amuyao is the country’s 10th highest mountain and an important physical and cultural landmark in Mountain Province. It is one of the great hiking trails of the Cordilleras : taking the hike from the mountainous town of Barlig, Mountain Province to the summit of Amuyao, then off to a lengthy but well-maintained trail to the scenic villages of Pat-yay and Cambulo and finally to Batad, home of the amphitheatre-like rice terraces that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The entire trip takes 3-4 days – a real challenge – but the cultural and natural wonders seen in the trek make it a worthwhile expedition. Highlights include the pine forests up from Barlig, the summit views of Mts. Pulag, Napulauan, and even the Kalinga mountains north, the enchanting flora on the traverse trail, and of course, the villages. Sidetrips to Tappiyah waterfallls, the viewpoint at Banaue, as well as the other wonders of Barlig and Batad, creates possibilities for an even deeper ‘immersion’ into the heartland of Ifugao culture.
Down From The Mountain
(by Goeffrey Young from his poetry book Present Moment Portry)
All around me
Coming down from the mountain
I feel too much
The walls come up
As my world shrinks
Holding my heart
I wait to go back home
Back up the mountain
to where I was born
Into this new life….