Pagdiwata Ritual

ICH Domain Social practices, rituals, festive events
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Summary This ritual is the most famous of the celebrations of the Tagbanwa. It is extolled by media and sought after by tourists, not due to its magnitude as a spectacle, but because of its indigenous religiousity. The pagdiwata is performed three times each year by a babalyan, a ritual practitioner, to thank Mangindusa for good harvest and general well-being
THE PAGBUY’IS ritual is concerned with
protection of all Tagbanwa from the dreaded
salakap. The pagbuy’is is a two-part ceremony
performed by a ritual specialist (mabuy’is).
Preparation of the paraphernalia
A large permanent ceremonial platform
or piyanggaw is built in front of the house of
the mabuy’is. The most striking feature is a
pole (tarindak), erected next to the piyanggaw.
This pole is at least 35 feet high and made of
large bamboo. It has a single cross arm at the
top. Long strips of leaves of the palm balasbas
(Licuala spinosa Wurmb.) are stuck at the upper
end of the pole and at the ends of the cross
arm. A red and white flag (bandira) is hung on
one side of the cross arm. The name of the
“captain” of the boat, Sumurutun, is written in
large syllabaric characters (an ancient script)
near the top of the pole. The tarindak indicates
to the deities (in this case, a diwata and her
helpers) that a ritual is being held. Six smaller
tarindaks are tied to the piyanggaw. Twigs of
katumbal (Capsicum frutescens Linn.) with fruits
are inserted with strips of balasbas at the ends
of these smaller ceremonial poles (red peppers
were the proper food of the “datu” of the
While the piyanggaw is being prepared and
the pole erected, the wife of the mabuy’is and
other women prepare other paraphernalia:
a. two native beeswax candles with a piece
of rolled cloth for a wick (the light is said
to attract the deities);
b. eight red peppers impaled on two slivers
of bamboo (during the ritual, these sticks
of pepper are stuck in the pile of white
c. two slivers of bamboo split to form
pinchers and each holding eight
ceremonial cigarettes, also to be stuck in
the white rice pile. The cigarette wrappers
are made from the split leaves of buri
palm. The fillers of local tobacco are
preferably native;
d. sixteen rolled betel leaves;
e. two stalks of native ginger and native
f. two cakes of beeswax; and
g. two bowls, one holding the ingredients
for betel chewing and the other, eight red
Just before dusk, the mabuy’is places a mat
on the piyanggaw and arranges the offerings
around the three piles of white rice.
Actual ceremony
As darkness falls, the mabuy’is covers his
head with a bright red kerchief and stands
directly in front of the ceremonial platform.
He begins to pray. He heats the incense on a
firebrand and censes the front of the mat and
the bottom of the bowl holding the peppers. Praying softly, he takes a pinch of the red
rice and throws it into the air. He lights both
candles and fastens them to the center tarindak
on the left and right sides of the stand. Still
praying, he takes a pinch of the betel mix, two
peppers and white rice and throws these into
the air. Following is a longer period of prayer
where he stands in front of the piyanggaw.
He takes his head covering off to end the
The mabuy’is carries the ginger, onions and
the two bowls holding the betel mix and red
peppers into the house. Later, someone gathers
the other offerings. The two candles are left
to burn down. The mabuy’is then prepares a
“prophylactic” from the offerings, chopping
these up with a little water in a bowl. He goes
about the room rubbing the foreheads of
everyone with it. The children are treated first.
There is a sizable crowd.
Building of the bankaran or banglay
A three- and-a-half meter ceremonial raft is
constructed from fourteen poles of a kind of
bamboo (lawas). Its sail is made from the atap
palm and a mat-like kadiyang is set for the food
The panawag, an invocation to the spirits of
the dead and the nine deities who ride the kawa
on the sea, follows.
Next, the burning of incense on the kadiyang
is done and the prayers by the ritual leader. Then
these follow: lighting of the candles and offering
of ritual food to the deities; the second call to
the nine deities, signaling the children to dive in
and eat; and the cleaning up and repairing of the
raft which may have been damaged by the mad
scramble for food.
The third invocation to the nine deities
is performed, followed by individual family
offerings represented by a woman. This is
followed by the tying of a small chicken on the
platform, lighting of candles, launching of the
raft toward the sea, relighting of blown-out
candles and throwing a pinch of rice to the sea.
Finally, singing and dancing through the night
caps the ritual. The pagdiwata proper starts in the early afternoon of late December. The followers of the officiating babalyans gather. Some begin to prepare the needed ritual paraphernalia. The ceremonial plants are gathered from the forest. One or more gongs are constantly beaten to inform the supernaturals about the ritual. No permanent objects are made since new things are made for every pagdiwata. The impermanent objects are made of bamboo (Bambusa sp.). Attractive design may be carved or incised on the epidermis of the fresh green bamboo.
Among the permanent wooden objects used are the pa’wan, a wooden bench carved from a log and incised with curvilinear designs. This is used as a stand for the jars; the sakayan, a wooden boat for the lumalayag; the wooden stand (butukan); small wooden turtles, shields, spears, birds and others. The ritual paraphernalia are piled on a raised sleeping platform next to jars of rice wine. At dusk, the people crowd into the room and the first phase of the pagdiwata begins. The ritual instruments include: a guimbal (drum), at least one agung (gong), many smaller gongs and the babandil. The drummer sets the heart-pounding beat.
With the rhythmic gongs as background music, a man censes a ceremonial staff (tarindak) with parina, rushes from the house and climbs to the south peak of the roof where the tarindak is placed. This is considered an additional center of ceremonial activities. The diwata dibuwatanin (messenger of the highest ranking deity) cannot stand on flooring and participates in the pagdiwata from the ceremonial staff on the roof. After the tarindak is placed, the man shouts loudly, notifying the supernaturals that the ritual has started.
While the people finish their evening meal, the paraphernalia are removed from around the jars. The rattan holding the jars to the floor are taken off. A swing (basically a short plank suspended from both ends and secured from the main ridge pole of the house) with wavy designs called kuling-kuling carved on the side and geometric motifs on the surface, is set in the center of the room, two feet from the floor. When the people finish their meal, the gongs sound again.
A young man puts on a red sash over his shoulder and leaves the house. Two men carry the large jars (a basingan and a smaller patinggi) to the center of the room and place these in front of the swing, lashed to the floor with rattan strips. They place a third jar, a small, green glazed container called malu’naw on the butukan – a wooden stand aligned with the large jars. The young man returns carrying the ‘urbay or infructescence of the areca palm (Areca cartechu L.), shouting as he comes up the house ladder. The‘urbay is suspended in front of the swing. When suspended, it is now called mandarirung.
The three jars are then prepared for drinking; the leaves of the areca palm (or coconut) are used to stuff the jars in the diwata rituals. While the leaves are being stuffed and the straws installed, another tarindak is incensed, held by a young man. It is carried outside the house and placed in a bamboo tube permanently buried in the ground beside the biyanyas or ceremonial platform used formerly in a pagbuy’is ritual. Meanwhile, the two decorated straws for the supernaturals are smeared with coconut oil (two hours are spent in the preparation of the paraphernalia). The gongs resound again and helpers erect the siyarangsang (ritual stand) and another tarindak. A piece of brightly colored cloth is placed on the platform of the siyarangsang and a heap of white rice is placed in the center. A newly woven mat is laid in front of the wine jars on which are placed: a stack of small porcelain bowls, two piles of new white rice, some ginger, onions, a bowl of betel quids, a kris (weapon with a wavy blade), a bowl of red peppers and a “pop gun”. The gongs stop playing.
The first of the formal phases of the pagdiwata begins. This phase is celebrated for the highest ranking deity, Mangindusa, and is called the lambay. The babalyan sits on the swing smudging all she could reach. She holds the incense on her right hand and a small chick and a string of beads (bali’ag) on her left. Someone comes forward and covers her head with the alidungan or ceremonial hood. The gongs are played (a tune called tambul) while the babalyan seizes the infructescence with one hand and waves the chick lightly against the side of a jar six times. On the seventh, she kills it. She ties the dead chick to the side of the siyarangsang, removes her hood and leaves the center of the room.
The principal helper (tiga’iring) of the babalyan comes forward and prepares to dance. She puts on a brightly colored wrap-around skirt, ties a sash on her waist and sticks a kris in it. She then places the ceremonial hood over her head and holds the ugsang in each hand. She dances to the gong accompaniment holding the tuga’tak around the paraphernalia five times. At the end of the fifth circle, she seizes the infructescence, jerks it violently and shouts. The gongs stop. This signifies the end of the communion with Mangindusa and the termination of the lambay phase of the pagdiwata ritual. Mangindusa does not actually attend the ceremonies, minor deities carry the offerings to the middle regions where these are relayed by the dibuwatanin or messengers to Mangindusa.
While the lambay is being performed, the babalyan dons her ceremonial dress: a wrap- around skirt (panunurun), a dark long-sleeved jacket (bugtu’) and a narrow cloth waist sash (sambut), for supporting the kris and dagger (a male babalyan may perform with a wrap-around skirt, waist sash and nothing from waist up except for another red sash thrown over his shoulder). Coming forward, she sits on the swing with another “helper”. She covers her head with the hood, while the other babalyan censes the lower margins of the hood. The second helper takes two bowls from the mat, one containing the betel quids and the other the peppers, and sits quietly beside the babalyan.
The major phase of the ritual begins when she invokes a series of spirits of the dead and deities, one after the other, to partake of the wine and the offerings. The supernaturals act through the babalyan – when the babalyan sings, eats, smokes, chews betel, etc. these are taken as the actions of the particular supernatural. The babalyan is in a state of pagsuldan (trance). The babalyan is only wakened when a helper plunges his hands into the rice wine or splashes wine on her face. It is bad luck to look upon the face of the babalyan when under a trance – hence, the hood. In this particular case, eleven supernaturals were called and six tiladmanin (spirit-relatives), an unusually small number.
This sample case illustrates how the supernatural appears:
Led by the gongs, the babalyan takes the bowl of betel quids and places it on top of the four straws of the basinganin jar. She holds the bowl with her left hand and shakes the ugsang of the jar with her right – an inducement for the supernatural to appear. A helper rocks the swing on which the other babalyan and helper sit. The gong playing stops as the babalyan removes the bowl from the top of the straws. This routine is repeated twice. Then the gong playing begins and increases in intensity and tempo while the babalyan strikes the sides of the large jar with the ugsang many times. At this point, the first supernatural appears. Pulut, the sister of the babalyan’s mother, begins to drink from the jar. The gongs cease and the sister (through the babalyan) starts to sing the refrains of the turun (the diwata song). The women in the crowd follow suit with a brief chorus.
The singing stops and the gongs begin again. A second babalyan approaches the jar and scoops water into it five times using the small bowl (suwit) to replace the amount drank by the celebrant. The celebrant’s ten drinking partners come forward to drink as a “ritual payment” or the tangdan received by the women for helping out during the ritual. Wine drank after a supernatural is believed to make one strong.
The gongs stop and the babalyan begins to sing the turun again followed by the chorus of women. After a few verses, the singing stops. The babalyan asks for a glass of “orange gin,” a non-traditional item and drinks it. She also asks for the cigarette which has been placed on the mat of the other babalyan.
The gong playing begins again. The celebrant bends over and drinks from the other large jar – the patinggi. Then rising suddenly, she seizes a large pack of native cigarettes and rushes about giving one to each person present. Everyone begins to smoke – it is compulsory when given by a supernatural. The assisting babalyan scoops water into the patinggi again to replace the amount drank by the celebrant.
The spirit-relative of the babalyan sings with the women chorus again but this lasts only for a few minutes. The singing stops. The helper lights a cigarette and hands it to the celebrant. Finally, the babalyan swishes the ugsang violently together, signaling that the spirit-relative has “departed” – nagli’id.
The routine is repeated for each appearance of a supernatural, with varying actions of each supernatural as interpreted by the babalyan:
1. A lumalayag (sailor) may pour oil on the hair (baraybun) of the helper and other women present;
2. The bamboo pop gun or timbak-timbak symbolizes the attack of the lumalayag on evil spirits and illness, and a new song, the karatung is sung.
3. Gongs, songs and beats are associated with each supernatural:
a. tambul – for Mangindusa and the spirits of the dead;
b. tugatak – for dibuwatanin;
c. karatung and magkukulintab for the various types of sailors.
Then an assistant babalyan takes over and performs a brief ‘alap (also called bibilang) during which he calls all the other deities and spirit relatives of his bilateral kindred to eat, chew betel and smoke, so that the supernaturals not specifically called will not feel slighted. He prays briefly over the two jars and scoops water into each. Then, with the exception of the wine jars, the ritual paraphernalia in the room are removed. The room is then readied for the drink fest which ends the pagdiwata ritual.
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