How Our Alal-apos Outwitted Headhunters

Author’s Note: The recent ‘panag-aapoy/panag-dedenet’ (literally translated to lighting of fires) to warm the gravestones of our dearly departed made me reminiscent of a couple of Lola Banayan’s stories. She recounted mini-tales of how some early village folks escaped the blades of imminent deaths from the unscrupulous hunts of ruthless headhunters (referred to as ‘buso’ in the common lingo) by either using their wits or with the uncanny help of nature itself. As yet another disclaimer, I can only rely on the hyper-imaginative brain of a story-hungry toddler in retelling these so forgive the embellishments and the nuances that are sure to be inevitable.

The Warrior by James Gabriel Wandag


The Old Man in the Hut

A man who spent a long day toiling in his fields made the decision to spend the night in a little hut to wait until daybreak before he makes his way back home. The hut was by no means the most comfortable but it had a roof, four walls and a door–enough to pass the night in. Soon after he settled in, he heard some scuffling outside the hut. He carefully peered through one of the holes and saw two unfamiliar men who appeared to be headhunters. He knew right away that he had no chance against two men unless he does something quick.

He thought of running through the fields as he was sure he knew the area more than these non-villagers but he also realized that it was too dark outside and that made this option riskier. He checked his little knapsack for any content that he could use and saw that he only had kindlewood, a couple of matchsticks, and his ‘abilao’ (musical instrument made of bamboo reeds which is played by putting it between the lips while you strum one end with your finger as you blow it).

He lit one of the matchsticks and very soon, he had a little fire ablaze inside the hut. He went to one corner and in a deep voice said, “My friend, the night is cold. Why don’t you throw more wood into that fire you built.” He then went to the opposite corner and said in his normal voice, “Yes mister, it’s lucky I gathered a lot of wood earlier today.” He put some of the kindlewood on the fire then went to another corner. Then in a slightly higher tone, he said, “Brother, I believe you brought with you that abilao of yours. Would you indulge us with a tune or two.” Slowly he crept to a different side of the hut, pulled his little instrument and played a lively jig.

The two headhunters outside had been listening all the while to the conversations inside the hut. If their count was right, there were four men inside! Who knew if there were more? And so realizing that the two of them had no chance against four or so men, they quietly crept away from the hut.

Who knows how long this quick-witted man kept the pretense of not being alone inside the hut. But morning came and he was safe and alive!


The Girl Against Nine

Houses long ago did not have the comforts of indoor toilets. One needs to go outside to the backyard to do his or her business. So it was for a girl who had to go out to pee in the black pitch of the night.

She never suspected that there was a handful of ‘buso’ who were ready to go on a midnight hunt. They were prowling just nearby when this unsuspecting girl positioned herself to pee in front of them like it was no one’s business, as it should be. The headhunters were caught off guard and stood immobile on their spots while this girl proceeded to pee. The girl must had so much ‘tapey’ (rice wine) or water to drink during dinner that her pee noisily gushed. It made this distinctive sound that unmistakably said “Sham, sham, sham, sham!”. Lo! When the headhunters counted themselves, there were exactly nine of them! ‘Sham/siyam’ in the local dialect means nine.

It was the age of strong superstition so the ‘buso’ took this as a bad omen for headhunting. So they went away as silently as they came. The unsuspecting girl finished her business, still very clueless that she just escaped possible throes of danger and went back to sleep soundly.


The Old Woman and Her Flowers

An old woman was busy digging for camotes when a swarm of flies buzzed around her. She hastily swatted them away but they persistently flew around her, landing on her arms, her face, her legs, while noisily buzzing.

She stopped and wondered as she realized that the flies were singling her out. They weren’t flying anywhere else but on the spot where she stood. She took it as a sign that something foreboding was about to happen. She climbed the little hill that partially blocked her view from the other fields yonder and that’s when she saw three sinister men headed towards her way. Suspecting that they were headhunters, she immediately devised a plan and prayed to the gods that her little play will scare the men away. What’s a poor, frail woman against three sturdy men?

She cast off all her clothes and quickly gathered the brightly-colored flowers that were growing aplenty nearby. The flowers were in orange, yellow, but mostly red. She tied as much as she can to all the hair she has on her body–the hairs on her head, on her arms, her legs. She twisted her form in such a way that made her body ugly and crooked, then she walked towards the men.

In a shrill but unafraid voice, she chanted and hummed. Walking directly to where the headhunters were. The men seeing and hearing her got so scared out of their wits! They had no doubt it was a witch of sorts that was heading towards them. One can only imagine the powers this ghastly-looking, crooked woman in all her naked glory and seemingly ablaze with those blood red flowers has! They rapidly took off back to where they came from before the ‘witch’ even got close.

When the men fled, the old woman carefully plucked away the flowers from her body, put back her clothes on, and headed to her home safely where she cooked her freshly-dug sweet potatoes.


These are just three of the many headhunter-related stories that I could at least recall with a certain level of vividness. I really pray another inspiration will strike me to remember the rest real soon before I forget. Here’s to always keeping your memory alive, alapo!

Sagada Folk Tales: Si Sal-salak-en

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It’s that dreaded time of the year when the sun will never take a peep out from the ominous dark skies and you have to wet-proof yourself from the non-stop downpours. Such weather dampened an already gruesome Monday morning as I find myself stuck at the bus stop for a ride that will seemingly never come. I had no one but these crows to keep me company. Foreboding.

In one of Lola’s many stories, there was this character, Sal-salak-en. Not much is known about her other than the fact that she was kind and hardworking. A certain bird then brought a life-changing fortune to her one day. Leading to the moral that if you are good, you will be rewarded. Well I always envisioned that bird in the story as a crow. And seeing all these crows cawing noisily without a care for this weather made me remember this exasperating little bird that meant nothing but good though. Now I will attempt to re-tell the story in our native Kankana-ey so as not to lose its novelty.

Id kasin wada nan kangadan si Sal-salak-en. Nagaget ya naanus ay ipogaw. Inagew ay umey lumukso ta wada ipakana sinan ad-ado ay anan-ak na.

Madanagan sha esa’y agew usto ay tukabana nan bagasan tay maid sinkagemgem si nabay-an. Danat kanan en ta umey mangubi ta ilaok na sinan ati-atik ay bagas ta wada umanayana si kanen da.

Magedwa et nan um-a ay kaykaykayen Sal-salak-en dapay maid makubkubana si ubi. Ngem ipapati na kayet ta bareng wada’y ulay tulo si sa makidkidan. Madama sisha’y mangubkubkob dat wada nan dedengena ay menkalkali sinan igid di um-a.

Sal-salak-en, depapem saken. Sal-salak-en, depapem sak-en.”

Ikakamon Sal-salak-en ay umey mang-anap nu sino menkalkali danat maila nan te-e-te-en ay kuyat. “Ineh dakan dumungaw. Ala man lang ta depapek sika ta isaak sika ta wada balbalay san kimmot ko.”

Isunga danat depapen san kuyat et ippey na sinan atubang na. Maid lima’y minutos dat kasin manakali san kuyat. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en. Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en.”

Kanan Sal-salak-en en tutuwengena ngem adi sumalsaldeng ay menpukpuka-at san kuyat. Isunga danat isaldeng nan ik-ikkana danat umey et utowena ta guminekana. Danat taynan san banga ay nautowana et umey na kasin ituloy ay mangubi. Maawni pay ya sana kasin di menkalkali. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en. Salsalak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en.”

Nakibtot si Salsalak-en tay dan nauto lang garuden nan kuyat ya daan ay menkalkali. Ngem danat ikakamo et menkakana bareng tay dey dadlo nakan et maid et mangdungdungaw ken sisha. Egay sha nabsug tay te-e-te-en ay kuyat nan insibo na ngem mengasing sha tay dey dadlo maid distorbo sinan mangubi-ana.

Aye di kibtot na ustoy kanakali san kuyat sinan eges na! “Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en. Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en!”

“Ayta ka pay si kuyat ay dakan nakan dakapay daan ay menkalkali!” Makaliget si Sal-salak-en ay mangwani ngem dat umey sisha sinan igid di um-a na et itakki na san kinan na. Danat kasin umey ituloy san ubla na.

Namasdem et dapay pulos nu wada nadas-ana si ubi. Madanagan sisha nu ngan di sana ipakan sinan anan-ak na. Dat bigla wada manakali sinan igid di um-a. “Sal-salak-en, ilam pud sak-en!” Menligos pay si Sal-salak-en dat deey di batang di luban ay tinmubo san nangipabal-ana san kuyat. Dadakel ay ninkabubulin san begas san luban. Ado nan naum ya ado gedan nan egay.

Mengasing si Salsak-en ay mangbulas sinan luban. Inuma sisha si naum ya egay. “Naay dadlo’y sami kanen si malabi.” Kanana sinan nemnem na. Adi pay dat sumaa et sisha. Mid ubi ay kalgan san laba na ngem wada nan kaluba-luban.

Sumaa pay sisha danat tukaban nan esang ay naum ay luban dat bagas nan kalga na! Tukabana nan esang ay egay kaum dat du-om abes nan mentete-e! Aye di gasing Sal-salak-en.

Manipud sidi, egay et kasin kau-uwat nan anan-ak na. Bubumgas kanayun san luban. Basta umey menbulas sisha et kaneg na mamadnge kayet nan kalin di kuyat ay kega menselsat mangmangwani en “Sal-salak-en!”

Writer’s Note: Narrative is based solely on recollections from an evening storytelling beside the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’. For any deviations that may in one way or another alter or debase the original, apologies in advance. Inputs are welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm. 🙂

Sagada Folk Tales: “An-ananga”

A long time ago in a quaint town by the mountains, lived a young couple named An-ananga and his wife whom he called his Princess. Such was the beauty of the woman that An-ananga was lovesick and could not bear to leave her for even just a second. 

He would gaze at her all day long. He would marvel at every detail of her face. He was so infatuated with his radiant wife that he chooses to just sit by her side and feed on her looks.

The wife, being more pragmatic than the lovesick An-ananga implored, “My love, I welcome your affection but what will happen if we both stay at home all day long? Our pantry will not refill itself with rice and crops if you just sit beside me idly through the long summer days and rainy ones too.”

With hesitation, An-ananga agreed to go back to the fields to work. Heavy-hearted, he plowed the fields and was barely done with ten meters when he decided to go right back home to his Princess wife.

Surprised but very patient, the wife said, “Dear husband, maybe you can try again tomorrow. This time, bring my photo with you. Two of them. Nail one to one post and one to the opposite post. That way when you plow the fields back and forth, you will see my face and perhaps you will miss me less.” Seeing how the idea might possibly work, An-ananga agreed and thus he set forth the next morning with the two photos in hand.

True enough, he was more energized. He felt stronger and he was fast as he repeatedly made the back and forth trip from one end of the field to the other. The smiling face of his Princess on both sides of the field encouraged him.

Lo! The strong winds of the north came and tore a photo of the Princess from one post and blew it across the hills. It flew and fluttered until it reached the camp of weary but formidable soldiers and settled on the feet of no other than their fierce captain. He picked the photo and was instantly lovestruck.

He summoned his guards and commanded them to search for the face on the photo with the order to bring her and make her his bride.

Far and wide, the soldiers sought. They turned all the villages upside down till they reached the small town where An-ananga and his Princess lived. When they found the woman on the photo and learned she already belonged to another man, they were aghast. They believed it was not right to take a married woman to have her wed another man but at the same time they were scared of their fiery captain.

They bargained and reasoned with An-ananga until he at last agreed with the condition that he go with them, at least to join his Princess on her trip to see the Captain.

When they reached the camp, the Captain was in a hurry to get rid of An-ananga. But An-ananga was cunning. “If you want to take my wife, at least give me something in return.”

The captain, undisturbed said,”Anything you want, just say it so you can be on your way.”

An-ananga said,” Give me a bag of gold.” The captain laughed and willingly made the arrangements for wads of money and gold to be bagged.

“Take off your uniform and your medals. Give them to me.” Though puzzled, the captain did.

“Now with his uniform comes his title, I command you obedient soldiers to shoot this captain who is so vile as to take a woman who is already wed to another man, ” goes on An-ananga. Unhesitatingly, the soldiers obliged. They know their captain was in the wrong.

So with a bag of money and gold, a captain’s uniform and a woman of unparalleled beauty on his arms, An-ananga started his trek back home to his small town. With the bounty he unwittingly earned, An-ananga could afford not to work and he could just spend his days gazing at his wife’s beauty.

Writer’s Note: Narrative is based solely on recollections from an evening storytelling beside the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’. For any deviations that may in one way or another alter or debase the original, apologies in advance. Inputs are welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm. 🙂