Igorot elders perform rituals to aid search for missing Cordi activist

BAGUIO CITY — Elders from different Cordillera provinces participated in a series of rituals condemning the perpetrators of James Balao’s disappearance, in time for the 60th year of the UN declaration of human rights, Wednesday here.

SEARCH RITUAL. Invoking ancient spirits, Igorot elders plead that missing activist James Moy Balao be kept safe and alive as they condemn his abductors. Photo by Cye Reyes

Some elders representing all Cordillera provinces, who joined in the march-rally during the International Human Rights Day commemoration in the city, did a specific ritual just in front of Camp Allen where Balao was reported to have been taken before his alleged transfer to a different safe-house.

Camp Allen houses the headquarters of the Military Intelligence Group (MIG), which is alleged to have abducted Balao.

According to Ama Julio Longan from Kalinga, the prayer they aired was for the abductors, captors and whoever has knowledge of his disappearance, “for them to experience what they have done to Balao.”

Each elder from the different provinces prayed over a chicken before it was sacrificed and buried in a small hole in front of the military camp.

“Nalawag ti kayat a sawen ti inyaramid a ritwal: isubli da a sibibiag ni James iti kabiitan. Nu saan ket marikna ti agtengtengngel kenkuana ti rigat a sinagrap ni James.” (The message of our prayer during the ritual is clear, surface James alive as soon as possible and if they do not do that the same thing would happen to whoever abducted and has him now) said Longan.

Longan also said they even called the spirits of their ancestors and martyrs like Macliing Dulag, Ama Ngayaan and Markus Bangit to help in the search for Balao.

The elders along with some members of the Balao family and the Oclupan clan did another round of rituals separately Wednesday and Thursday, calling on the spirits of their ancestors to help in the search of Balao.

Xavier Akien of the Cordillera Elders Alliance (CEA) said the rituals are based on an Igorot tradition done whenever an grave injustice is done to a member of the community.

“These rituals are usually done in extreme cases and the elders must be really convinced that an injustice has been done to a member of the community before it is cast,” said Akien adding that this tradition has different forms according to the practice of the different tribes among the Igorots but the processes are basically the same.

“These series of rituals were made more powerful compared to other rituals already done before to bother the conscience of the perpetrators and based on the powerful prayers of the elders it would create disturbance to whoever knows any information of his whereabouts,” added Akien.

This is a very traditional way of the Igorots that is very unique to them and cannot be found in any other culture here in the country.

“We are in an emergency situation that needs the help of the spirits for the emergency search, and we are one in doing so to immediately search for James,” said Akien.

The rituals done were part of the Mabtad Kaigorotan call of the Balao family and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in the search for James. Mabtad is a call for all communities to participate in the search of someone who is missing. It is a Kankanaey practice and has proven community unity.

The Mabtad Kaigorotan was also launched in Manila Tuesday. # Cye Reyes(NorDis)

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