The Philippines is known for its festivals, and the region of Cordillera is no exception. One of them is the Punnuk Festival of Hungduan, an annual celebration that marks the end of the harvest. I learned about it through a friend who invited me to go. I was eager to learn more. And so I took a six-hour bus ride from Baguio city and found myself surrounded by the rice terraces of Ifugao.
Back in college, I was a student journalist. I'm now a freelance photographer, taking as many gigs as possible in order to earn a living. But I want to do more than just go from one gig to another. I want to connect with people who seek similar passions, people who want to tell meaningful stories. Luckily, I found comfort in a small community of artists in Baguio City. And together with them, I had the privilege to witness the Punnuk Festival this year. An experience that reminded me of who I wanted to become.
The festival starts with a march and a round of chantings within the terraces. The participants carry with them apparatuses needed for the ritual. This includes the pakid, a hooked shaped wood used for tug of war in lieu of rope. They also bring the kina-ag, stalks of rice bound neatly with vines. The rice is used to form a human-like figure. Three barangays are involved in the Punnuk Festival: Baang, Nunggulunan, and Hapao.
They march to the nunhipukana, or the convergence point of the waters of the Hapao River and its tributary. After the prayers, the kina-ag is thrown in the river, and the opposing teams strike and hook it with their pakid. Men, women, young or old, and even visitors are invited to join the tugging ritual. The group that pulls the kina-ag closer to its side wins the round. The day ends with a feast of boiled meat and broth.
The celebration was simple, yet enchanting. I had moments where I wanted to leave my camera and just soak it all in. But at the same time, I wanted to capture the moment. My latter desire won. As I stood there, submerged in cold water, armed with fogged-up lenses, I felt connected to everything.
This celebration was not only worth seeing, but it is also worth protecting. The Ifugao people call themselves i-pugao which roughly translates to "inhabitants of the known earth". They value kinship, family ties, and their cultural beliefs. I hope the next time you visit the Cordilleras you get to see it through the eyes of the people who call it home.
I've lived in the mountains for my whole life, yet, there is so much more to see, so much more to learn. I have a long way to go when it comes to storytelling, but everything starts with a step forward, and this was mine.