John Paul ‘Lakan’ Olivares: The Chant

The crowd of people cluster about in uneasy restlessness, flitting eyes scan the congregation of people waiting. They speak to each other in reverent soft hushed tones, as the faith beating of a drum is heard in the distance. Then, through the light murmurs of the people pierces what seems to be a wail. The people and the drums are silenced, as the voice shifts to a monotonous sing-song chant. . . The ritual has begun. . .
The chant moves through the air without the beat of the drums. The chant flows with the pulse that permeates within and throughout. Man feels the vibration of the words flow through his core and the spirit moves. The doorway opens and the vision is revealed . . .

Diwa ng Luhol
1999
Pen & Ink

 

In the world of the Bailan (shaman), the spirits’ tidings are intoned to a cosmic rhythm. The words of ritual and healing are sung to a reverberant timbre that echoes to the soul of man and community. The epics of the people are voiced to a haunting pitch that unites past and present.
The Bailan is an Enchantré; one who intones the words of the spirit and community, a chanter; ones who intones the spells that enthrall man, nature and spirit, an enchanter.
In these chants, of ritual or tale, the thought and word are embodied in song. In these chants the words are intoned to reverberate through body and soul and expand to the environment and change the atomic frequency of the ritual ground to open a to communicate with the divine.

Entering into an altered state, the Pekilukesen of the Manobo starts the trance chant, Panangansangan, to speak to the spirits, in a pact that will ensure the welfare of the whole community.

Words of Ritual
The Chant of Ritual call upon the spiritual entities that guide the Bailan and the community in their daily lives; chants that call for specific needs of the people. The chant is the most basic yet important element of the ritual, where as chants recreate the frequency of the ritual for bonding the with spiritual world (Pagbubukas), evokes the entity (Pagtatawag), communicates the intention of the ritual to the entity (Paglalayad), consecrates the covenant with the entity (Pagbanal), which is usually a sacrifice (Pag-Alay), and closes to end the ritual and return normal life (Pagtatapos).

One sample of the Pagtatapos is the closing line “ Naan” (it has been said) as spoken by the Mandaya of the Mindanao island.
To the Agusan Manobo of the , the Gudgud (chant) is key to their rituals’ success; such as the healing tones of the Binuya, the harvest blessing of the Taephag, and the wakening sound of the Suyad Buya in a bayalan initiation. These rituals have three stages of which the chants are used: Inapogan or Panawagtawag is the invocation to the spirit to partake of the ritual; the giving of a sacrifice for the spirit; the Hakyad is the closing of the rite with an invitation to the spirit to accept the sacrifice.
To the Ifugao in the Northern Mountains, in the baki (ritual) the Gonod is an invocation to the of the deities or ancestral spirits by name; followed by the Dayum or prayer to the deities invoked; then the aiyag or invitation for the ancestors to possess the mumbaki (shaman); or the Tobal or calling to the possessing spirit by another participant (usually the one who asked for the ritual).
To the Palawan of the west, they call the Sagina or invocation of the spirit and the Ungsud or the final invocation with offerings to end the ritual.

The basic purposes of these chants can be categorized into four ritual types:

Consecration
Celebration
Healing
Other Spells

Consecration chants calls for the blessings of a deity for an endeavor the Bailan or any member of the community wishes to take or for good fortune in a situation that the Bailan or any other person may be at. This includes the request for a blessing of bountiful harvest, a good safe voyage, passage to the afterlife, or even material gain. Such requests are also a covenant between the Bailan, the deity and person/people requesting such a favor for the deity. A promise is given to the deity during the request and after it is fulfilled, and the Bailan must ensure that all parties must live up to their part of the agreement. This comes with a sacrifice and even fealty to the deity.

To the Badjao and Tausug, of the Southwestern islands, the Lugu is a solemn chant used in many occasions especially in consecration of a wedding chant, while the Panulkin is vigil chant.
To the Bontoc, of the Northern Cordilleras, the Manayeng is a sung plea for rain from the god Lumawig, the Al-layo is a plea of blessing of the cañao (ritual feast) by the god Lumawig, the Annako is a funeral vigil song, and the Pagpaguy is a wake song that calls the appeasement of the spirit of the dead.
To the Northern Ibaloy the Angba is an invocation song in the Bindayan (general) ceremony.
To the Manobo, of the Southern island of Mindanao, a Panaad is a vow of service to a diwata (deity) who has blessed their requests, and the Minudar or Mauley are funeral songs for the safe journey of the departed to the after life, and the Bityara is a benediction song.
To the Maranao, of the Mindano highlands, a Dikir is a funeral song blessing and the Kandikir is a chant in praise of Allah or the spirits of the dead.
To the upland Kankanay, the Daing are songs of ritual sacrifice such as the Dayyakus or headhunter’ song and the Ayugga.
To the Tiriray, the Siasid is a sung prayer of blessing from the god Lagey Lengkuwos.

Celebration or thanksgiving chants are to appease the deity who has given favor to the Bailan and the community. These include the celebrations of a bountiful harvest, the birth of a child, a successful battle, and much more. The chants of celebration are also songs of praise to the deity who had allowed such good fortune come to the Bailan and the community. These chants and rituals are part of the covenant made by the Bailan during the rite of Consecration.

Some songs of celebration are the Bontoc’s Fal-lukay that is sung as a celebration of a headhunting victory and the Kalinga’s Appros that is vocalized as a celebration of a child’s birth.

Chants of healing, whether is in a natural illness or that brought upon by entities, differs from a consecration chant as it asks the deity to enter the body of the patient. In this ritual, the Bailan has to keep the frequency of the ritual at a constant or the entities may posses the patient and further injure the person.

Some healing chants are the Agusan Manobo’s Binuya and the Batak’s Sukilan or Wawaen / Runduman.

Spell chants that are not covered by the first three categories may include curses, binding of spirits, and even divination.
Words of Tale
The stories of the people a sung by both the Bailan and the community members are part of a variety of rituals. These songs not only tell the history of the people, but speak of prophesies and ancient knowledge as part of a praise to the deities that guide the community’s daily lives. This also serves as a reiteration of their covenant with the deities and their unity as a people and culture.

Throughout the archipelago, epics are sung by whole communities to commemorate their lineage (to a god of great ancestor) and the myths and beliefs to the next generation. Among these are the Ifugao epic Hudhud, the Bontoc’s Og-good, the Manobo’s Ulahingan and Olaging, the Subanon’s Guman, the Maranao’s Darangen, the Mansaka’s Diawot, the Mandaya’s Hullobation, and the Kalinga’s Ullalim.

The Language of the Chant
The languages used by the Bailan in their chants have a powerful effect of the very ritual that they conduct. There are four categories of languages used in the chants and these vary in relation to the nature of the ritual or deity that is evoked. These chants use either the language of the living (Diwa ng Tao), the language of nature (Diwa ng Lupa), the language of the spirit (Diwa ng Diwata) and the language of the cosmos (Diwa ng Kalangitan).

The Language of the Living / Diwa ng Tao

Often what is heard in most rituals is the known language of the people; hence the community is readily aware of what the Bailan is evoking. This may be the native tongue, or a language of foreign influence, such as the use of Arabic by the Islamic ethnic groups. Some tribes (with their own dialect) have even borrowed words from the Tagalog language, which is basis for the National language.
Many folk healers have also adopted a form of pidgin Latin in their spells and chants, as an effect of the more than 300 years of Spanish Catholic colonization.

The Language of Nature / Diwa ng Lupa

The use of sounds that mimic things that occur in nature is quite rare in the Philippines setting. However there have been documented cases such as the bird-like song of the Palawan chanters and the crocodile-like bellowing of some Aeta shaman.
These chants reflect the people’s recognition of the divinity of nature and their connection to it.

The Language of the Spirit / Diwa ng Diwata

The spiritual chant is often an unrecognized language that the Bailan vocalizes in the trance state. More often, the Bailan has been possessed by a spirit and the entity is communicating in its own language. Usually another Bailan present is the one who translates what the spirit medium has said.

The Language of the Cosmos / Diwa ng Kalangitan

The trance chant, intoned in syllables bereft of any language, is sung to invoke and affect the other dimensions by changing the very frequency of the ritual site. Often such actions may lead to a possession of the chanter by a deity, to act as a medium for the deity to communicate with the people present. Another use of such a chant is to consecrate the very ritual ground and leave it as a hallowed ground and portal to the spirit world.
It has been often said that the Filipino people, no matter what ethnic group they belong to, are a known for their deep spirituality and love for song. This has been evolved in contemporary society with the resurgence of Christian doctrine and fervor, as epitomized by the almost manic congregation of thousands of people in the yearly Feast of the Nazarene in Quiapo; yet it is also countered by the blooming music industry with thousands of wanna-bes clamoring for the spotlight in the many TV reality talent shows, the exploding Karaoke industry, an expanding Youtube talent videos with people trying to follow the footsteps of Arnel Pineda and Charice Pempengco, and a influx of many budding bands playing in hole-in-the-wall bars. Yet in this dichotomy of cultural traits, we look back to the ancient chants of the Bailan, where spirit and song are eternally bound in ritual, for the very survival of the community and this nation as a whole.

Ohm (The Sacred Breath)
Metallic Gel Pen on Illustration Board

2010
A new chapter to the "Bayanihan Bailan" essays