by the late Luis M. Talastas
In olden times, Lias was referred to as Changyasan and/or Mangya –an, but the name Lias which is more popular among its neighbor and bodong (peace pact) tribal counterparts through Mountain Province, Kalinga and some northern communities of Ifugao province which practice bodong, became permanent and official. It was derived from the name of a nearby brook called Lias. It is one among those important brooks and streams, which have numerous extensive irrigation ditches dug by its first inhabitants.
Lias is a tribal community with compact houses situated along the east Canyon of Tanudan River. Its ancestral territorial boundaries as drawn by its forefathers was also embodied in its bodong agreements with its surrounding neighbors, it comprises the largest territory in the municipalities of Barlig and Balangao-Natonin, perhaps the largest in Mountain Province. This is not, however, accurately shown in the local municipal sketch map of Barlig due to the absence of an actual concrete survey of the territory.
The entire territory of Lias is bounded on the north by Ga –ang of Tanudan, Kalinga; on the northwest by Betwagan, Bontoc; on the west by barrio Lingoy; on the south by Barlig; on the east by Kadaclan; and on the northeast by Natonin municipality.
Lias territory is divided by the Tanudan River into east and west. Os that the rice terraces of the people were crurved on the side of Tanudan River which flows between these mountains facing each other. In 1972, acting on the petition of the people of Lias, the past government has approved the creation of the two barrios of Lias, namely, Kanluran Lias and Silangan Lias.
The inhabitants of Lias are called I –Lias, as it is common among the Cordillera people to prefix the letter “I” to the name of a place or tribe to mean “people from”. Thus, I –Lias means people from Lias.
The people trace their ancestry through a generally accepted story that has been narrated so many times from generation to generation, that a hunter named Somerfang from Lofoc –an ancient village north of Tocucan that was later abandoned long time ago due to migration –as the earliest man who led his people from Lofoc to settle on the present site if this tribal community of Lias which he had earlier discovered on one of his hunting trips. While the other Lofoc people migrated to some parts of Kalinga and Mountain Province. It is also believed that other people from Talifang, also an abandoned old village east of Betwagan, came to settle in Lias after generations of its settlement by the Lofoc people. Lofoc, however, predominates the Lias stock. Some late settlers also trace their ancestry from Samoki.
Proof of this story is the fact that Lias dialect is very similar to that of Samoki, Bontoc, Tocucan and Betwagan but very distinct from the dialect of its neighboring tribes like Barlig, Kadaclan and Balangao –Natonin. Although several clans in Kadaclan and in Balangao could easily trace their forefathers from Lias who, several generations ago have married and migrated in those places. Hence, so many distant and near kins in those communities could be found and maintain the links with their relations in Lias.
The present population of Lias, inside and outside Lias territory, is increasing in number. It is now almost two thousand. It is gaining and maybe surpassing its original number before the cholera epidemic in August to July 1902, ad the last epidemic of 1918, which nearly wiped – out the entire population. The last epidemic (known to old folks as tarangkaso), according to old survivors who witnessed this natural onslaught, saw members of an entire family dying one after the other almost everyday.
Majority of the people of Lias, despite their Christianization still actively practices old traditional customs and religious beliefs. They still have their indigenous social organizations like the ator or atos whose membership is composed of various clans. Their religious and council houses are low built stonewall one-room houses, roofed with cogon and with an adjoining stone – floored open court. In these courts gather all the members during the performance of all-important activities of the organization. While participants and attendance in religious prayers, rites and rituals are exclusively for the male members (females are not allowed to enter the ator), their female family members also have their tasks, which is supportive to the organization.
The ator system has a direct influence on the people in general, their social way of life, their politics, economics and cultural and religious beliefs. The bodong is one among its important political functions in relation with other tribes or communities because it resolves territorial disputes and other conflicts. It also prevents the commission of crimes against the people of both tribes having an existing bodong or peace pact, thus promoting relationship between the two tribes.
It is the usual practice of all the members of the Lias tribe that when a young man has reached the age puberty, he could become a member of his father’s ator. If he is fatherless, he could choose between his fathers’ ator or the ator of his mother’s clan. There are conditions and rituals to be done before becoming a member such as going to the forest with an old member to hear good or bad signs especially from a bird called ichiw. Good signs will make a person immediately a member of an ator. There are, of course, other instances, which could make a man an automatic member of an ator. That is when he has passed from an ordinary man to a warrior.
But at present, there are now only about ten active ators left. Several ators were already abandoned due to varied reasons. One cause is when the old leader acting as priest in the ator dies without being replaced by the next senior old member who does not want to hold such heavy responsibility, so that members were later assimilated to other ators would just cease functioning when these were vacated when all their active elders die and no one is interested or capable of maintaining it. But there were some ators whose few members left in Lias still maintain them. Despite the absence of majority of its members who were in some other places, and often times their pangayiw (co – members of an ator) in some especial activities held usually on summer time, binging with them their share for all the members to partake during their ator festivals. It is, however, important to mention that all Lias families living in other places including those who are not having their regular vacation in Lias maintain close links to their tribal organization based in Baguio City, which actively conducts coordination and cooperation among Lias families living outside the territory of Lias.
Other cause of disintegration of some ators were the proliferation of some Christian religious sects opposed to this culture which some families in those Catholic majority members of the tribe who practice their traditional customs while at the same time practicing their Catholic faith and activities. These people believe that here is only one God, called in different names by people of varied cultures.
Aside from the religious rituals, rites and native prayers performed in the ators led by its elder – leader acting like priest during important events, there are other rituals, rites and prayers being performed at home by old male and female members of a family, depending upon the kind of occasions which has its corresponding rites and prayers distinguishing the task to be performed by the male and female who will conduct the rites. This is being done on different occasions such as butchering of pigs (called sunga or canao in other trives), dressing chickesns native baptism, weddings, entering a newly built house, thanksgiving or corpi, just after the harvest time or sugnop, reunions, celebration of the bodong (during and after its accomplishment, victory celebrations or kag – aya, and others. All of these constitute offering to their gods and to the good spirits.
Except on burial days of a deceased man or woman who were already called grandfather or grandmother when still alive, whereby pig and chickens called saplet are allowed to be butchered and dressed, all of these occasions mentioned above are their usual rituals ad prayers corresponding to the occasion, before such activities begin. All sunga are always accompanied with traditional dance by people attending it to the tune of the gong being played by boys and men.
It is the belief of the people that al these traditional customs, rites and prayers, especially the functions of the ators were taught by Kafunyan (God) to their ancestor.
Old folks of today observe that the elimination of these traditional customs and belief would mean the disintegration of Lias a close – knit tribe. In which case, clans will no longer be supportive of each other, individual or families will soon become loyal only to their clans or families.
The people at present still enjoy equal status among its tribal members. Everybody can lead in all tribal affairs and activities. Anyone from rich and poor families alike can hold responsible position in all its tribal organizations. A poor family can afford to hold or host a bodong (peace pact) that requires big expenses and other materials through the help and contribution of all the tribal members of Lias.
Their cooperation is highly shown in time of need by any tribal family member. This is more illustrated, among others, when a tribal family member dies in a distant land by which they still follow their traditional custom of bringing home their dead to be buried in Lias and be afforded with the proper ad complete ceremonial rites and prayers. And this had happened several times in the past when they brought home their dead from far away places, such as Cebu, Bicol, Quezon Province, Manila, and Cabanatuan, and in some other places in the Country. However, this could not be possible without the collective effort of all tribal members who share their contribution and material support, especially when the surviving family could not afford.
But there were some instances when the surviving family decided to bury their dead in the place where the deceased had reside permanently. This happens, particularly, when the deceased was not a tribal member, since the survivors have the last say. Otherwise, even deceased non – tribal married to a Lias tribal member, who dies outside Lias must be bought home to be buried in Lias should the surviving family member decide. Here, again everybody is obliged to help.
It is dye to the increasing number of people and the need to send to school their children, which requires financial considerations that many of its people have gone to some other places attending to their jobs. Ye they still remain tied to the affairs of their tribal community. Hence, the almost yearly vacations of many of them to Lias. Several of these families send money to their relatives to be used in building larger houses for them and their growing children whom they send home every now and then when opportunity arises to attend traditional festivals, sunga or canao.
The Lias tribe is agricultural people as well as hunters and fishermen. Rice is their most important crop grown in their terraces, which were curved by their forefathers. It is watered by irrigation ditches coming from the mountains. They have more than fifteen original varieties of rice, which are now being dominated, by other varieties from other places. Next to rice in importance is the camote, which is being grown in kaingin or on the hillsides. Gabi, which was one of the important foods in the earlier period, is now becoming less. Other crops like beans and vegetables are also planted in Lias. Fruits like avocado, bananas and different varieties of lemons can be found in Lias. Also wild edible fruits abound in the forest. They have also their coffee trees, which are of the Arabic variety, planted within backyards.
Unlike in some other communities in the eastern municipalities of Mt. Province wherein people harvest their palay twice a year, the people of Lias harvest their palay only once a year. There is still the need to develop their farming methods and techniques with the help of the proper authorities of the government.
During hunting seasons, group of Lias hunters who spend many days and nights in the forest, depending on their supply will always bring their luck of wild hog or deer to be shared among the relatives who are invited to the house of the hunter, reserving one leg for the elders and member of the ator where the hunter belongs.
All forest and mountains within the territory of Lias is owned by clans or families. These are likewise divided among the members to be inherited by their children or next of kin in case the owner is childless. Nevertheless, all the people use their foes and mountains communally for hunting and other purposes such as gathering firewood, making lumber from the forest to use in building houses for their tribal members, and gathering rattan to augment their income by producing handicrafts or to be sold raw to their neighbors. All of these are allowed by owners provided these are not used for big commercial purposes wherein only few would be benefited. The people preserve their forest for themselves and for the next generation as well. That is why they don’t allow any outsider to intrude into their forest without permission from them.
The people strictly prohibits loggers to cut their time be which is the only source of their lumber when they construct additional house for they’re growing and increasing number of children. They also reserve their rivers, streams and brooks by prohibiting the use of chemicals or poison to fish.
Cogonals, agricultural lands, hills and even untitled fields owned by certain families can be used and developed by any member of the tribe with permission so long as he or she will not claim ownership.
When working on the rice fields owned by tribal members living outside Lias, the harvest produced is divided into seventy to eighty percent for the tiller and the rest for the owner. When the owner is present to help in the harvesting, the tiller will give more shares to the owner—almost equal to that of the tillers.
Though the people are clannish like some tribes, they are somewhat unified like one big family under one roof by being active and devoted to the same practices, beliefs, and traditional customs, which somehow evolved into some kind of a code of brotherhood making them move and act as one. Only the pressure of change and influence from the outside, which has infiltrated their traditional way of life, threatens their cultural identity. Without their distinct culture, they would gradually disintegrate. It is this unifying factor that sustain them would throughout their difficult periods. Most significant illustration of this was: first, their early struggle against the Spanish invaders accompanied by hundreds of natives from other tribes, which resulted in the first burning of Lias. In this forced the people to live in their make – shift evacuation camps scattered in the forest until the end of the war. It is only then that they returned to their community and rebuilt their homes that were razed to the ground and continued working in their rice fields peacefully.
In 1951, the people also experienced a minor encounter with the Huks under Commander Salcedo who intruded into their territory and was later driven towards Balangao – Natonin where finally routed by several groups of Balangao tribesmen by some Lias descendants. Prominent of these was Lakay Basibasen Rafael, who is half – Lias blood, the father of the present Mayor of Paracelis.
Thanks to the National Historical Institute, a marker commemorating the first two historical events now stands on the school site of Lias.
(thanks from JC Perez who took the picture of the marker. temporarily I will use this pic)
BODONG – one of the political functions of ator is maintained through generations by passing the responsibility of the bodong or peace pact holders in time of death of one of the original bodong holders to his son or next of kin when such holder happen to be childless. This goes on at all times, unless some serious event occurs which necessities the severing of the bodong or peace pact. In this case, it may lead into a tribal war. But if the aggrieved party in such problem agrees to peaceful negotiation, which, may result to amicable settlement then the bodong, may be renewed and another bodong holder shall be chosen to replace the original bodong holder.
Lias have old and new bodongs that still exist even up to this day (1988). Below is a list of their bodong including some of its known corresponding peace pact holders.
(Original post by his daughter, Liberty Talastas.)