Photo essay: Divine intervention sought to stop privatization of sacred lands

Photos by Jun Leprozo for

Posted at Apr 01 2014 03:57 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2016 05:15 PM

The sacred grounds of Kiltepan.

During times of need, like when a member of the village falls ill, the Kankanaeys of Mountain Province perform rituals to seek divine intervention from the gods. Last week, council of elders of the Dap-ay –  the group that decides spiritual, social, judicial processes among the villages –  invoked sacred ancient laws of the Kankanaeys.  They sought divine intervention to stop the privatization of certain areas in Kiltepan, a village in Sagada.

One of three animals sacrificed for the ritual.

The ancestors of the place consider Barangay Kiltepan sacred grounds. It is a place for healing, cleansing rituals and prayer to their god, Kabunyan.
The people of Sagada practice a fusion of Christianity and pagan rituals.
The cleansing ritual of Daw-es was performed. The object of the Daw-es was to support the petition addressed to President Aquino and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to intervene and stop the development of the said lands.

Village folks gather for the Daw-es.

The council of elders, including Sagada’s Sanggunian Bayan, wants Kiltepan to be left to the communities for use in sacred purposes and to remain open to the public as a recreation area.
Kiltepan is also a favorite recreation area for village folks around Sagada because of its majestic views of Kiltepan, Dantay, Titepaan and the vast eastern ranges of the Mountain Province.

The village council of elders.

At the heart of the conflict is the Capuyan family who wants to develop the place for commercial purposes. The Capuyans claim that the family of the late Mountain Province Governor Alfredo Lam-en sold the property to them. The elders insist that only around four hectares were actually sold to the family.

A view of the village from above.

Wilson Capuyan disputes these claims saying he and Lam-em executed a deed of sale dated January 22, 1962 and April 1976 covering a land area of five hectares.
The Sagada local government insisted that the Capuyans were claiming a total of 22 hectares.
"They can do everything they like as I have the papers to prove my ownership and I will let the courts decide," Capuyan reiterated.

Part of the sacred grounds of Kiltepan.

Since 2009, some developments have been made in an area of approximately 32 hectares within barangays Kiltepan, Kilong, Amtadao and Titepaan. Developers erected a building and a fence around the area and tried to put up a gate.  Villagers intervened and tore down the fence built by the Capuyans around the claimed property.
The Capuyans filed a case of malicious mischief against 92 respondents from barangays Kiltepan Sur and Norte, Titepaan, Amtadao and Kilong.  This is still pending in the court.

Burning one of the animals as part of the ritual.

In the meantime, a new gate has been set up and construction of the building is ongoing.
The Daw-es involved the ritual sacrifice of three animals. A pig and a chicken were offered for good health and bounties from nature.  A dog, was sacrificed for security and courage.

Following the Daw-es, food is prepared from the sacrificed animals.

In front of elders from several villages, Salio Bilog, an elder from Kiltepan Sur, read the signs from the deities or pidis as manifested on the bile of the three animals. The pidis indicated that the sacrifices were accepted.

The food is served to the whole community.

As part of the ritual, the animals were slaughtered, prepared, cooked and shared equally among the community and guests.

Elderly women villagers participate in the Daw-es.

After the meal, the petition for President Aquino and the NCIP was read and signed by members of the community.

The chicken as a medium is used as a sacrifice.