Kalanguya Culture


  1. Marriage
  2. Kalanguya Tribe
  3. A 'No Sorry, No Thank You' Culture

A Comparative Study of the Bontoc,Kalanguya and Biblical Culture of Marriage by Margie Lumawan


Marriage is one practice common to every culture. It is the foundation of one basic institution of the society which is the family. Though marriage is a given, ceremonies, functions, and meanings attached to it vary significantly from culture to culture. This study will look at three particular cultures, two of which are tribal groups in the northern part of Luzon Island, Philippines. We will peep at the marriage practices of the Bontocs of Mountain Province, the Kalanguyas of Nueva Vizcaya, as well as the practices and functions of marriage in the Bible comparing and contrasting them with one another.

There are remarkable similarities between the three cultures which are as follows: First is the respect in the sanctity of marriage. Though Kalanguya and Bontoc tribes did not have the concept of holiness of marriage, they do have a supra-cultural sense of its inviolability. Secondly, in the marriage arrangement; all three cultures practice parental arrangement though among the Kalanguyas and Bontocs, this pre-arranged betrothal can be broken depending on the decisions of the man and woman involved. There is no mention of broken arrangement in the Bible except for Joseph’s plan to secretly leave Mary when he found out that she was pregnant. Thirdly, marriage relations to immediate family members are prohibited (Lev. 18:6-18; 20:14, 17, 19-21; Mark 6:18). Lastly, one of the primary functions which marriage serves is the same in all three cultures and that is procreation; romantic attachments are also common to each culture though the cases are mostly that a person does not marry the one he loves but he loves the person he married; plus a wedding celebration is definitely a feast and a happy occasion for the couple, the families and the invited guests in all three cultures.

Contrastive practices were also noted between the three cultures. In Exodus 22:16-17 is a written law implying that in the Hebrew culture, there is a bride price that a man has to pay for his bride. This is one difference in the three cultures because the Kalanguyas and the Bontocs do not require a bride price for their women only that they be married properly according to the standard ceremony of the tribe. The Kalanguyas have their own ceremony of courtship and engagement as the Bontocs also have their own; and both practices are dissimilar to Biblical accounts. The procedure of the wedding ceremony and the meanings and goals attached to these processes are absolutely poles apart in each culture.

To the Kalanguya tribe, it is taboo to marry a blood relative no matter how far in the lineage he or she may be. For as long as it is established that two people are somehow related to each other by blood, marriage is definitely out of the picture. To marry someone knowing that he or she is related to you by blood is strongly discouraged and prohibited in the culture. Relative means anyone who the mabaki (shaman) can trace back to the nth degree. Marrying a blood relative is believed to anger the spirits. Married couples who have been found out later to be relatives will have to perform a series of Cañao to appease the spirits especially the ancestral spirits. Nowadays, marriages between fourth cousins downwards is tolerated but not without sour comments and derisive stares from the community. On the other hand, Abraham married her half-sister; Isaac and Jacob married their cousins. The Bontocs also permit marriage between first cousins.

In the Biblical culture, Jesus frequently used figures drawn from marriage to illustrate His teaching concerning the coming of the kingdom, as Paul did concerning Christ and the church. There is no suggestion of reflection upon the Old Testament teaching about marriage in His teaching except at one point, the modification of it so as to allow polygamy and divorce (Mat. 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-12; Matt 19:2-9; Luke 16:18). Everywhere He accepts and deals with marriage as sacred and of Divine origin (Mt 19:9, etc.), but He treats it as transient, that is of the "flesh" and for this life only.[1]

A. Selection of Husband or Wife


There is a room called olog where unmarried young ladies use as sleeping quarters. The ladies would sleep along side each other across the room. They usually have an unmarried older woman sleep with them; she’s like their matron. In this quarter, young men usually visit the ladies at night. A man can court the woman he fancies there. On one hand, it is not always the young man who takes the first step in contacting a girl. A girl can also show her love to a man. My mother told me that in their time, the girls often make their feelings known by taking something that belongs to the man. At times, the matron will accompany the girl to the house of the man to know if the man loves and accepts her and if the man’s parents approve of her. A man shows his love to a girl by bringing home firewood at the girl’s house. When the parents of the girl do not approve of the man, they would tell him not to bring firewood (sa-eng) any more. As for the characteristics that women look for in a man, women in the higher class look at the properties that a man has. But now that kachangyans don’t matter, usually they look at his job. Beauty is determined usually by the parents of a man. A woman is said to be beautiful if she has properties and is industrious.

  • Kalanguya

Majority of the marriages in the 1970s and the years before that were pre-arranged by village elders if not by the parents of both parties. There are two types of arrangement: The first is called “kalon.” If a young man wants to marry a young woman, he would go to the village elders (usually, the grandparents who have raised their own families and have a good standing and are being respected in the community) who in turn will tell the young man and his parents what needs to be prepared; usually, a chicken and a liter of tapey (homemade rice wine). Also, they will schedule a day on which they would accompany the young man to the house of the parents of the young woman. When the day comes, the elders, the young man and his parents will go to the girl’s house taking with them the chicken and the rice wine. Second type of arrangement is between the parents. They can have an agreement as early as pregnancy to marry off their children if one comes out as a boy and the other, a girl. In these two types of arrangements, the woman has the prerogative to refuse if she wants to. The woman is not expected to say anything during a ‘kalon.’ But once she speaks, it is a signal that she is saying no to the man who is proposing. Kalanguyas are not verbally expressive so much so that the emotional aspects of love between young men and women are seldom expressed or demonstrated visibly but that does not mean that it does not exist.

In the past, physical appearance does not seem to matter. The one qualification is if the man has a means to feed his family (usually, parents should give him his own rice field or a piece of land to till). During the Kalon, the elders will tell the woman all the good qualities of the man proposing. Usually this includes industry, self-reliance, helpfulness, community-mindedness, not a drunkard, not a gambler, educated, etc. A woman never makes the first move. She will be ridiculed if she does that. The respectability of a single woman is in her ability to stay pure until a man proposes marriage to her. Another reason and function of the Kalon practice is to ensure that no one is marrying within his or her blood relatives.

  • Biblical Culture

It was a common practice in the Old Testament times for parents to choose and contract for their children. Hagar selects a wife for Ishmael in Gen. 21:21; Abraham through his servant chose Rebecca for Isaac (Gen. 24); Laban arranges for his daughters' marriage in Gen. 29; Samson asks his parents to procure him a wife in Judges 14:2. There is a law In Exodus 22:16-17 which implies that in the Hebrew culture, the man has to pay a bride price for his bride. Jacob paid a bride price which was in the form of service to his father-in-law for Rachel and Leah.

There are also instances when the brother was required to marry a brother's widow. Gen. 38:8 says, “Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." Ruth 4:5 also indicates the practice of levirate. The verse says, “Then Boaz said, "On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man's widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property."

A law that applies to a man who refuses to marry his brother’s widow is written in Deut 25:5-10. “Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," 9 his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.” In this kind of arrangement the circumstances is what makes the choice for a man and a widow.

B. Engagement

  • Bontoc

In the upper class that is called kachangyan, children are betrothed even in infancy usually to keep the land. Marriage among cousins is permitted even to the first degree. There are also parental engagements among the lower class but mostly arranged by grandfathers for friendship sake. When a man and a woman are betrothed, neither a relative in each side can drink or eat together until such time that the “sokat si lokmog” is done. However, in cases where the man or the woman wants to break the engagement for some reason, they can do so by mutual consent and then they would tell their parents about it. Reasons for breaking up engagement range from illness, disability or a third party.

  • Kalanguya

The Kalanguya version of engagement is Pudong (lit. a leaf of the reed plant tied into a knot signifying ownership or that touching the thing or going to a place with this tied reed leaf is prohibited by the owner). The Pudong period commences right after the kalon. This period runs from a week to a month, intentionally shortened for fear that the woman might change her mind. The man and his family will prepare a pig not younger than 8 months and butcher it on the pudong ceremony usually the second day after the woman nods to the proposal. Relatives of both sides as well as elders of the village will be especially invited but any person who drops by during this family affair will not be turned away. The family of the woman will prepare basketsful of camote or sacs of rice to be boiled and eaten during this affair. The woman’s mother or grandmother will also prepare pots of rice wine beforehand so that the elders and the man will have something to drink together in this occasion.

There are prohibitions during engagement period: The woman is expected to stay close to the house for fear that she might attract naughty spirits that might make her barren knowing that she is going to be married soon. She can go to the fields if they have a field near the house but her basket should only be full up to its rim to attract good luck; basically to make an impression to the invisibles that she is not greedy and so they will bless her and her husband’s labor or field later on in the marriage. The man should not get firewood more than he can carry without much discomfort, basically for the same reason as the woman; though the man is not prohibited to venture out to a distant field. The engaged couple should be careful to not be in the same house or place at any time after the pudong.

C. Marriage Ceremony/Wedding Feast

  • Bontoc

The ceremony is called “Sokat si Lokmog.” This phrase which literally means “exchange of cooked camote” is the first stage of the marriage. Each party will bring uncooked rice, sticky rice, tapey or rice wine and meat to be cooked at the house of the woman with only the immediate family members invited to partake. The women will then get the rice from both parties and put them together to be cooked. Likewise, the men get the meat and cook them. The relatives gathered will be socializing while waiting for the cooking to be done. When it’s done everyone will gather around and an elder will perform the Khaeb is Makedse which is as follows: – In the making of the makedse, the host will prepare the following items: one winnower made of rattan (lig-o), two plates made of rattan (khiyag), a plant with yellow flowers termed in Bontoc as papaksew/ sis-ilew, tapey placed in a container made of coconut shell (ongot), rice stalk (ollot). When these have been prepared, a portion of meat is placed in the two khiyag together with rice. The rest of the meat is placed on the lig-o, which will be distributed after the kapya. When all is ready, the person who will perform the ritual then holds the plant and the ongot with tapey and starts reciting the creed which relates to the two grandson from Ikhawa going to Matekem, then to Palutan, to Patyayan, to Kamen-a , to Amteytey, to Lamahkan, to Ngalab, to Foyayeng, to Kechegkhay ( all these mentioned names of places are places in Bontoc) then enters the house of the person where the ritual is being made thereby bringing blessings to the household, that all domestic animals belonging to the household will multiply abundantly to include their harvest that it be productive, that they be spared of all kinds of sickness and that they continue to live their life free of misfortunes. After this has been recited, the performer then pours a drop of tapey to the ground stating that the tapey poured is for the ones who have gone ahead. After taking a sip of the tapey, the doer then signals for the distribution of the cooked meat, while the two khiyag with rice and meat is set aside for the ancestral spirits. Then the meal begins. After this ceremony, the couples are considered man and wife and the taboo of eating with each other was broken. The marriage ceremony may continue at a church wedding or a Cañao as the couple see fit and is now a public affair.

  • Kalanguya

The Pudong period is a time for the family of the man to prepare what they have to provide for the coming wedding feast. They are obliged to provide 1 big water buffalo or 1 cow, 1 pair of 2-year-old pig or more, and fire woods. The woman’s family will shoulder the camote or rice and rice wine but the women in the man’s family can also provide rice and camote. The wedding celebration always takes place at the house of the bride’s family.

Primarily, the morning of the wedding day is for cooking all the food. The elders will be seated together in a circle and talk to each other about anything for the most part as the younger men and women are busy cooking the food. Usually, everything is just boiled then served in a makeshift long table built solely for that occasion. The children will be served in a different table and then the adults will line up on the table, eat and leave, then others will come and take their places. This is repeated until everybody has eaten. The cooked meat is cut into regular pieces and two men (one will hold the container, the other will distribute the meat) will give a piece of meat to each one of the people eating at the table.

After everybody has eaten, while the women and young people are cleaning up, the elders will start the ceremony. They will begin with a ba-liw. This is a series of chants that pronounces blessings to the couple and invokes the spirits, the ancestors, and higher gods to bring good luck and pour blessings to the couple. Anybody can participate in this chanting. After the ba-liw, they will call the couple, have them seat in the center of the gathering and anybody who wants to say something will be given the opportunity to say a piece of advise to the couple. Some sing a song, and some make a speech. After this, the mabaki (Shaman) will fill a coconut shell with water and have the couple drink from it. The left-over of the water will be poured to the knees of the couple while the mabaki pronounces a madmad (A chant which is like a wish). Usually, it goes something like this: “Onod yo et i danom aya, angketit; andokey i dillan to.” (Follow this water, it is cold; it flowed from a long way.) This is an idiom expressing a wish for long life to the couple. This particular mention of the coldness of the water is an advice to be coolheaded during fights between the couple within the marriage. The fact that water in the river flows freely and comes from and goes a long way symbolizes the wish for the marriage to last.

After this, the couple will be locked up in a room for three days while the people continue eating and drinking until all the food is used up. If a bottle, pot or any breakable thing was broken during the ceremony, the Wedding Feast has to be repeated because this is a bad omen, meaning, the spirits were not satisfied. For three days, the newly wed will not be allowed to go out of the room and should be cautious not to see anything that moves (i.e. leaf of a tree swaying because of wind) because this is also a bad omen and it is believed to surely bring bad luck to the new family.

  • Biblical Culture

New Testament references confirm the original and sacred ordinance of marriage. The original appointment of monogamy is confirmed in Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:6-8. Christ’s as well as other NT authors’ (1 Tim. 4:3; 5:14; Heb. 13:4) view of marriage is that of respect in the sanctity of the marriage relationship as exemplified when Jesus attended the wedding in Cana. Paul’s answer to the queries of the believers in Corinth gives both a panoramic and close-up picture of what God thinks about marriage and how he guards the marriage relationship. Paul even advised those who are married to unbelievers to not leave the relationship for any other reason except for mutual agreement between the husband and wife. Christ also affirmed the divine origin and sacredness of marriage. “It is more than filial duty; it is unifying. The husband and wife become one through the purity and intensity of mutual love; common interests are necessitated by common affection (Matt. 19:5-6; Eph. 5:31). According to the principles thus laid down, marriage is not merely a civil contract; the Scriptures make it the most sacred relation of life; and nothing can be imagined more contrary to their spirit than the notion that a personal agreement, ratified in a human court, satisfies the obligation of this ordinance."[2]


In light of the information and procedures stated previously, it became apparent that most of the common denominators among Bontoc and Kalanguya are the same as those that are upheld by the Biblical culture. The purity and importance of the marriage institution is illustrated by the care taken in the choosing, preparation and performance of the marriage and all the ceremonies and meanings attached to them as well as the functions that it serves to the particular culture. But still, there are dissimilarities that stood out in the practice of this institution especially in the two local cultures of Kalanguya and Bontoc.

The spiritual implications and significance of the rituals as believed by the older or earlier members of these two cultures definitely are not in agreement with what the Bible teaches regarding marriage. Although the Bible does not have a divinely-prescribed ceremony, the references which were given are enough to inform us that the thing is not in following a step-by-step procedure to ensure a good marriage relationship but rather in keeping the essence of the union which is as old as Genesis. “The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.“(Gen 2:23-24) Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Heb 13:4)

God also used marriage metaphorically in conveying His message of judgment, forgiveness and restoration to the disobedient and unfaithful Israel. The Lord Jesus also used marriage and the family most characteristically in His description of the kingdom of God as a social order in which the relationship of men to God is like that of sons to a father, and their relation to each other like that between brothers. This social ideal, which is summed up in this phrase, "Kingdom of God," occurs more than a hundred times in the Gospels. The passages in which it occurs form the interior climax of His message to men which is the Redeeming Love of God in the Finished Work of His Son in the Cross.

Sources: Bontoc Culture: Mrs. Ester Changat
Kalanguya: Mr. & Mrs. Liborio Pido

[1] International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996 by Biblesoft.

[2] New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.

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A 'No Sorry, No Thank You' Culture by Margie Lumawan

There are two very important vocabularies in the English language that is not present in the Kalanguya language: Thank You and Sorry. We had to borrow from the national language so we could have a word to express these concepts: Halamat (Salamat) and Pahinhiya (Pasensiya).

I logged on to my friendster this morning and there waiting for me was a new testimonial. It was another one from my sister. She took my pseudonym Ironheart and came up with an acrostic of some kind. It was nice; all the words she said there was very touching and sincere. When I read it, a question came to me: Why can't Sarah say it to me up front? We are very close and she tells me everything (at least that's what I think, but who knows?] :) but why can't she tell me verbally all the things she writes in her testimonials. This question and a few more that I have asked myself over the years seemed to boil down to one thing: the Kalanguya Culture.

Tell a Westerner or a lowlander Filipino that her loved one has died and you will see the appropriate emotional response--she will cry and will need someone (or something) to embrace (typically even stereotypically). But try telling a Kalanguya and she will look down at the ground batting her eyelashes, and trying to keep the tears from falling (men even manage not to cry) even if they love the dead person very dearly. WHY SUCH AN UNRESPONSIVENESS OR IS IT?

I was born in a village deep in the forests of Nansiakan, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, in Northern Philippines. During that time, American missionaries were in the village teaching the Kalanguya people about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But not only that because they also taught us some western culture. I remember during a school break when I was in third grade, I was taking care of my two younger siblings (in most of the Filipino culture, it's automatic, that if you are older, then the burden of taking care of the younger ones when the parents go to the fields will fall on your incompetent young shoulder) and we went to play near the house of the western missionary. After a few hours, the missionary came and gave each one of us a cookie. All the older children in the house knows the drill. When they gave you something, say 'Thank you' so that's what we did. Unfortunately, my barely three year old youngest sister failed to say her thanks so the missionary snatched her cookie and took it back. My baby sister got upset and started to go wild. She begun howling and scratching my face so in desperation, I gave my half-eaten cookie to her. To the surprise of everybody, the missionary came back and took the cookie too. (I don't know why I still remember this so vividly. I can still feel the pity I felt for my baby sister at that moment.) To make the story short, we left the house and went home with me crying with my sister, out of pity and probably embarrassment too or even anger. Since then, to the best that I can remember, I never failed to say thank you for any favor that is offered or given to me, until such time that I was becoming very analytical about the culture of my people, then everytime a favor is done on my behalf, I feel a twinge of embarrassment and sometimes I can't bring myself to say thank you.

A year after the cookie incident, my dad took the whole family to live in a new village, and would you believe that during the first few months I suffered from a culture shock of some kind? See, this is a Kalanguya village, pretty much the same as the one we left but in this new village, there were no western missionaries. One time I went to my cousin's house. They gave us a basketful of sweet potatoes, a pound or two of sticky rice and lots of bananas. They had given us too much more than we can carry so I just told my cousin that we'll take what we can carry. Before I and my siblings went home, I said, "Halamat, Manang." (Thank you, (+ a polite address to an older sister.) To my big surprise, my cousin's face turned crimson. At first I was afraid that I offended her for returning some of the things that I can't carry. In a way, I did offend her but with a different reason than what I thought. She took offense when she heard me say thank you. She said, "Halamat ali ngod man ni! Hapa matey kan kabwahan!" (Lit. Why are you saying thank you? Are you dying tomorrow?) This rhetorical questions implies the meaning: "Do not say thank you because I might be the one in need next time and you will be the one doing me a favor!" Something like that.) At that early age (I was 9), many cultural questions (well, of course at that time, I still don't know that these things are cultural issues) have sprouted in my head: Why, on one hand, to a westerner, is it that not saying thank you is bad manners? On the other hand, why would a Kalanguya take offense when thanked? Is this just a matter of uneducated or uncivilized versus educated or civilized way of looking at things or behaving?

The Kalanguya people, like most Filipinos are helpful people. When a person needs help planting or harvesting rice, or building his house, his neighbours will come and help him. There is an unwritten code that you will help your neighbour when he needs help so what usually happens is that favors done are favors returned and so there is no need to say a word. For the unwesternized Kalanguya, Thank-You is too easy to say to repay a favor. The Kalanguya does not have the western concept of appreciation that a thank-you usually implies. But the opposite is surprisingly untrue because if you ask a Kalanguya if the reason he opts not to be thanked is because he is expecting a payback, he would be offended. Again, there is an unwritten code that acts of goodness should not be counted or even mentioned. (Usually, you will only hear some kind of appreciation for someone when one is talking about a dead person--eulogies, gagiks!)

What about sorry? The nearest thing that can express the idea of sorry in Kalanguya is the interjection, "Ahah!" One says this when he accidentaly inflicted pain on someone (like indeliberately bumping with someone.) As for thank you,the nearest word would be 'haballi'. Nowadays, more and more Kalanguyas are using this instead of the loan word Halamat but primarily, the meaning of 'Haballi' does not go beyond merely being delighted about whatever happened or is happening or that which someone has done for someone.

Even to this day, when you did something wrong and you say sorry to a Kalanguya, he would say something like (even if jokingly), "Andi ngoy agah ni sorry!" (There is no medicine for sorry!) This means that merely saying sorry is not enough because sorry cannot accomplish anything. It cannot undo whatever is the wrong that was committed. It seems to me that to them, 'sorry is a dead end,' a helpless nonsense. I am not saying that the Kalanguya does not say sorry even to this day! Believe me, my generation even overuse it! :( All I am saying here is that, like the "Thank You," sorry is considered to be too easy to say, like a cop out when you wrong your fellow. It is given in the culture that when you do something wrong, there must be something you can do to undo it or change it or pay it if it cannot be undone.

Well, what did I write all that for? Simple. So that you will know and you will not be shocked or get mad at me if I am an Ironheart, emotionless at times, if I do not say Thank You or Sorry often enough when I should. So that you will not think what an ice witch I mean ice queen I am. Hehehehe (kidding!) (To all the other readers, I wrote this for my husband who is from the south so pardon me for these asides.)

Seriously, I am just at a point in my life where I would really like to see all Igorots be proud of who they are.... etcetera etcetera.

What I think is that it is good that the Kalanguya people has learned to say thank you and sorry. The best thing about us Kalanguya is that we are very teachable and we learn and adapt very easily (sometimes too easily). We have learned to be sweet, to show our emotions so that people will be able to relate and open up to us, so that people will feel welcome. We have learned to embrace people we respect and love. We have learned to hug and kiss our friends. We have learned and adapted so many good and even 'not so good' things....

...... but now I am thinking that maybe the young generation could use some reminding of the no-sorry, no-thank you culture of the older generation because that culture inculcates responsible and accountable living--an excellent way of life that saddeningly, is falling through the crags of modernism.

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