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“Hope springs eternal,” after all, for human beings, who often run afoul with the ways of Mother Nature, as indigenous inhabitants in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) have proven that mortals and wildlife can co-exist peacefully.
Where towering mountains rear their majestic heads skywards in muted salute to the All- Maker, so is cradled in these craggy Cordillera mountains a place where birds from the four corners of the earth can migrate, find peaceful retreat, lay their eggs, brood over their chicks to fly away with them when Time orders them to spread their wings aloft again.
The place is called Sagada in Mountain Province, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
But it was not the case before.
Once a popular past time or hobby among Sagada boys and men, to hunt for birds or “mang-ikik,” or “ikik,” is not practiced presently anymore, but stories about it abound, becoming a reference to Sagada’s humble and honored history.
Bird hunting in Sagada before, was usually done during the cold months of the year when birds from other countries fly away from their roost when the call of the wild to start their migration exodus kicks in.
Tucked deep in the Cordillera mountains and blessed in mist and fog, Sagada, about 5,000 feet above sea level is famous for its cool climate ranging from 17 to 20 degrees Celsius that lure both domestic and forcing tourists to the town.
Sagada’s climate also happens to lure all kinds of birds worldwide to migrate in said place because of its low flying clouds and high elevation.
Unfortunately, the low flying clouds and high elevation, while offering respite for the birds, often turned out to be their apocalypse.
Sagada’s mountains are known as temporary refuge of birds outside of the country whenever their habitat places are subjected to severe winter seasons, making these areas unfit for the birds to stay. Instinct prompts them to flee to warmer climes.
Herald Express’s Daily Laborer recalls the stories of the late Fruto Likigan, who hailed from Sagada, married the late and former Rosa Velasco of Sabangan, Mountain Province.
Likigan, who later became mayor of Sabangan (from 1980 -1986), Mountain Province, told how he, then a strapping young man, joined other men to hunt birds for food.
Likigan, when he was still living, emphatically told Daily Laborer, “Hunting for birds was simply hunting for food. We never hunted for the sports of it. If you don’t eat it, don’t kill it.”
“Inayan di basta mang-patey sinan tumat-ayaw nu adim met laeng isibu. Ket nu waday inanop mi, dawaten mi ken Ama Kabunian esnan panakaawat na.” Likigan explained then. (It’s not fortuitous to just slay the birds if you don’t use it for food. And when we’ve hunted for our share of birds, we ask Father Kabunian for his understanding).
“Inayan,” to the Sagada people and other tribes in Cordillera borders on preventing anybody from unpleasant action that could bring the wrath of the gods.
Likigan told how they did ikik during his time. He said from barangay Ambasing (a place in Sagada) he and others often trekked towards Mount Ampucao, blessed with low flying clouds, about 1,889 meters above sea level and rising above the highland town of Sagada.
In Mount Ampucao, they then employed an old but effective way of catching birds.
They constructed makeshift structures and when night descended, kerosene lanterns placed in front of the structures were lit; it lured the birds to descend.
Darkness confuses birds and they seek any light to guide them. In fact, it is the fog that confuses them and they discern the light through the fog.
Birds flying low, attracted by the lanterns are then caught by hunters who throw nets over the birds. Nets may measure one meter by one meter and a half and can enclose twenty or more birds in one fling.
Likigan said they often set free small birds caught, getting only those fit for food. Sometimes, Likigan said, there were those who went home empty-handed.
Hunting for birds in Sagada was usually done between October and December since those were the times of cold months the birds were plentiful, and lasts even until May, Likigan retold.
Likigan also recounted that the Pilaw Ridge, or Pilaw-Ampacao Ridge to others, and which is between the boundary of Sagada and Besao, was a popular hunting grounds for hunters as it’s known as zone of birds migrating from Europe particularly during the rainy months of August to October.
“Those were the days,” Likigan said, “when hunting, to some Sagada folks, was simply a way of life.”
How did Ikik in Sagada start? Well, according to Likigan, there was a story of a time when an old woman tended her fields until darkness. When she walked back home, she lit a “saleng,” to light her way.
As she held the burning saleng, birds started gathering around her. She recounted her experience to her community members who tried it and experienced the same incident.
From that time then, when birds arrived in Sagada, particularly during the months of August to December, people went up the mountains, lit torches for the birds to home into and then were caught.
Likigan, who is a firm believer of inayan, said environment conservationists can learn much from the Sagada ikik indigenous knowledge since the inhabitants in Sagada are well versed by the patterns of the arrival of the birds and alterations in these patterns.
Such type of information can help generate data for understanding bird movement and fluctuations in their population which are important considering increasing habitat loss and climate change.
However, in November, 2010, the municipal government of Sagada totally banned mang-ikik, finally putting a death knell to the practice. This was the time when Edwardo Latawan was mayor of Sagada. The halt to bird hunting was a precaution against the deadly bird flu virus.
Patrick Pooten, deacon of the Anglican Church and who is presently stationed in Sagada informed Daily Laborer last week that from that time it was banned, no incident of bird hunting was noted by Sagada authorities.
Deacon Pooten also hinted of the environment concern of the Sagada people, in like manner that Likigan was aware off, when he talked about ikik. Pooten, on the other hand, when Daily laborer asked about ikik matters, likewise raised the present generation’s awareness regarding their environment.
Was it a coincidence then that both Likigan and Deacon Pooten were talking on the same level regarding proper conservation and utilization of Sagada’s environmental resources? For Pooten said, “We have an elevated concern regarding the young about our environment.”
For a fact remains that both Likigan and Pooten were concerned on the ethno-biology and bio-cultural conservation as part of Sagada’s biodiversity, none the less that biodiversity includes migratory birds that stay in their municipality for a while, fly off and come again another time.
Conversely, Many, if not, most, Sagadans see themselves as part of nature and not separate from it, the very reason Likigan said, “Someday, the time of ikik will pass, and it will be for the best.”
Unfortunately, Likigan didn’t live to see the day that his prediction came true. But certainly, he’s grinning from ear to ear in the happy bird hunting ground in the sky seeing his prediction, come true. -Bony A. Bengwayan