‘Kiling’ fest reminds Benguet town of old-age tradition

KABAYAN, Benguet – This town celebrates its 119th Foundation Day on Thursday, five days after its official day even as a tiny migratory bird will be its center of attention to jag the memory of its people, who proudly call their town the cradle of Ibaloy culture.

“Our Foundation Day is actually on November 23 but it is also the day the province celebrates its Foundation Day and the Adivay, so we moved the celebration to November 28,” Mayor Faustino Aquisan said

Aquisan said the town of more than 15,000 people, mostly of Ibaloy stock, will honor the tiny bird they call Kiling (Siberian Rubythroat) which nests in the warmer countries like the Philippines and the South East Asia region when winter comes in Northern Russia, the Siberian region.

“Its cry will remind Ibaloys of old that the new planting season begins and that rains end,” he said.

Ibaloys, called the quietest among the Cordillera people because they live so much apart in the olden times, dwell in the southern part of the province including Baguio.

With the coming of the Kiling, the Siberian winds or “amihan” (southwest winds) also come, bringing in the cold wind that will see the drop in temperature and drives away the monsoon rains or “habagat” (monsoon).

“Once they hear the birds calling, then our ancestors will start planting rice. But then that is a lost tradition as most of our farmers plant vegetables now because it brings in more money,” he said.

Kabayan was one of the original towns of the sub-province of Benguet when it was named as such in 1900 through Act No. 48 that was passed by the Philippine Commission.

“But then we have to be at the capital (La Trinidad) to join the province’s festivity during Nov. 23,” he said.

The third celebration of the bird will see Kabayan youth vying in the Kiling Dance competition.

He said six groups presented their version of the bird dance during celebrations at the town center (poblacion).

“It is through this that we can remind our youth of where they came from and our rich tradition,” said Aquisan, whose town sits majestically at the “lap” of Mount Pulag, the country’s third-highest mountain which they call the playground of the gods.

The town festivity will center also on the mystical side of Kabayan, which the gods blessed with their presence and where centuries-old mummies abound.

Lost tradition

Kiling (pronounced Ke-ling) traditionally signals the start of a new rice planting season for the Kabayan folks but has been abandoned in recent years as residents have shifted to vegetable farming because it is more economical in terms of labor, production, bigger yield and profitable.

Kabayan people plant the kintoman rice, which takes seven to eight months to grow. It is used for rice wine (tapey) making.

“Sadly, rice farming is virtually gone. Only a few of our more than 5,000 farm owners are into it,” admitted municipal agriculture officer Geofrey Baliwan.

Kabayan has virtually gone into vegetable planting turning the slope of its mountains including the famed Mount Pulag into vegetable gardens.

Rice fields had been turned into garden yielding cauliflowers, cabbages as well as potato and zucchini, making the town as the fourth biggest vegetable producer in Benguet led by neighbor Buguias.

While the national government, as well as the local government prod locals to go into producing heirloom rice as financial support, is provided, sadly, farmers think first of economics on what they can provide for their families.

Baliwan said only about 100 farmers are still into rice production who produce either dikket (sticky rice) or the tudtoy variety.

The rice needs of the town come from Nueva Vizcaya, which is just behind Mount Pulag.

Baliwan said there are about 5,200 farms in the whole town and 80 percent of the town’s population are one way or the other bent on producing Kabayan vegetables.

Because of this, the Kiling’s old “role” has become useless, Aquisan said.  Pigeon Lobien / PNA – northboundasia.com