IN earlier times, the Ifugaos in the Cordillera did not celebrate the coming of the New Year.
They do so now.
The Christian religion, particularly Catholicism, has flourished in the Philippines since the Spanish colonialists arrived in 1521.
But in Northern Luzon, particularly in what is now Ifugao province, where they say the sky almost meets the Banaue rice terraces, which are about 1,500 meters above sea level, the Ifugao tribe has lived uninterrupted by outsiders for at least 2,000 years.
Victor Pinkihan, an Ifugao academician, said the Ifugao tribe of Banaue has defied the Spanish conquistadores who ruled the Philippines for more than 300 years until 1898.
He cited the natives in the village of Batad, declared a Unesco-protected site in 1995, who have painstakingly guarded most of their traditions, despite the steady influence of modernization in the rest of the country.
“This can be attributed to their remote location so that the Ifugaos have managed to hold off the influence of Christian lowlanders for centuries, along with their ways,” Pinkihan said.
He added that over the years, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) – along with the onset of modern trappings such as metal or tin roofs, television, radio and fuel-driven transportation – has crossed the hills and mountains while the younger generation has left for the lowlands in search of formal education and better jobs.
“But despite modernization, our traditional beliefs and practices continue to prevail and for many years, the Ifugaos continued to believe in the ancient God of Harvest,” Pinkihan said.
He added that agricultural practices remain guided by the phases of the moon, organic planting is still the norm and an extensive irrigation system comparable to that of the ancient Egyptian and Persian engineering is still in use.
“I saw progress while growing up in Ifugao and the strong influence of the Christian faith reshaped our community and our young people. Many have converted to Christianity but alongside this, pagan customs still thrive. Some even practice the sacrifice of a number of cows and pigs to the gods at wedding celebrations,” Pinkihan said.
Today, the younger Ifugaos have even embraced lowlanders’ traditions that they also believe would bring them good luck and prosperity.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are just two of these occasions, and for so many years now, they have religiously welcomed the coming year with more optimism and hope for prosperity and happiness.
Like the lowlanders, ridiculous as these beliefs may sound, the Ifugaos claim that there is no harm in believing and that it just might work this year.
According to Pinkihan, these New Year superstitions are what the young Ifugaos say they would practice:
Don’t clean your house on New Year’s Day in order not to sweep away the good fortune that came in during New Year’s Eve.
Make loud noises to welcome the year with firecrackers and fireworks to bring a colorful start to the year and to scare and drive away evil spirits. Turn on all the lights at home for a better and brighter year ahead;
Keep the doors and the windows open on New Year’s Eve so the bad energy and the bad luck will leave, and the good energy will come an in and flow into the house;
Wear polka dot clothes for good luck as this would bring money and good fortune to whoever wears them; keep coins in your pockets or scatter them in the house to attract good fortune;
Jump to grow taller;
Every dinner table must have 12 round fruits for good luck and good fortune for all 12 months of the year; no chicken or fish should be served for the Media Noche or the New Year’s Eve banquet, which might bring scarcity and bad luck; sticky rice is a must-have in every feast to maintain the “stickiness” or unity of the family;
Eat pancit or stir-fried noodles for long life, the reason why this dish has always been a staple in almost all celebrations.
“Now that I am older, I have realized how important it is to hold on to our past, our customs and traditions,” Pinkihan said.