Rainmaking in Bontoc

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by Augustus Ulat Saboy, 07 May 1966

When it comes to rainmaking, you can depend upon the antic of the natives of Bontoc, capital town of Mt. Province.

The Bontoc system of rainmaking is not backed by science, unlike the process used by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to induce rains over the Manila area. However, the mountain folk get rains they like, not in drizzles but in downpours, and this is more important than anything else during the time of the year when the cry and hue is water.

Bontoc town is practically surrounded by bald or barren mountains. By operation of the science of forestry, water is scarce, although the western fringe of the town is traversed by the Chico River with the Samoki village yonder on the foothills. By force of necessity, however, dictated by the will to survive the unlearned mountain folk have evolved an “effective” system of rainmaking, which works independently from science or anything that the books say on how to induce rains.

No doubt, the system is queer or quack. It is primitive too. But the Bontocs cling to it, because time and again, it has given them rains (including lightning and thunder) when they needed it most to slake their parched-dry rice fields.

They have coined a native term for the system: manerwap. Even the name itself is queer. In the olden days, someone merely dubbed it manerwap, and the cognomen has been carried over to the present.

Here is how the primitive rainmaking operates:

The old folk of the town designate a day to start the rainmaking rites by selecting men from each of the ato (men’s dormitory) in a chosen village. These selected members converge in a secluded mountain just above the town where a huge boulder stands like a mute sentinel. This rain-making mountain is called manongolo.

These male rainmakers should reach the boulder at twilight when the ceremonials would start. The eerie sound of the gongs to which the men dance is heard in the town proper at night, including the chants and prayers addressed to the spirits, imploring for the rains to come.

A bonfire near the “sacred” mountain provides the lighting while the ceremonials wears on through the whole night. The men selected for the rainmaking rituals go on fasting, as a requisite of sacrifice in order for the prayers to be heard and rewarded.

The rain-making group breaks up at dawn and descends to the town (ili) in single file, still shouting and chanting for the rains to come. This is the cue for their women-counterparts to perform their task.

The women, bearing on their heads baskets heavily laden with all sorts of food, troop towards the mountainside where the men are descending, and upon joining the men’s group, unload their baskets, and the men break their fasting by eating the food as they continue their descent with the women.

Then at the outskirts of the town where the at-ato are located, the men and women continue their dancing – this time, not to the sound of gongs but to the piercing din of spears struck hard on shields.

Later, the team breaks up, and the members repair to their respective ato, where a pig or chicken is butchered for continuation of the feast, which broke the all-night fasting. The natives recite more prayers as more pigs and chickens are feasted upon.

The process is repeated days and nights until finally dark clouds gather in the sky, and rains come in a downpour, accompanied by lightning and thunder.

But the coming of the rains does not end the rituals. In thanksgiving, the people hold the final grand canao, and this time, carabaos are butchered. This occasion of thanksgiving and joy also provided a propitious opportunity for the elders of the different sitios and barrios to sit down together to renew their pechen (“peace pacts”).

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