The first thing I learned when I began my field work in the Province of Ifugao was that my time was not my own. Time belonged to the gods and spirits that would unexpectedly appear in dreams and give omens compelling the people to seek their mumbaki (ritual specialist) for guidance.
Because every aspect of Ifugao life must be favorable to the gods it is the mumbaki, considered a central figure in Ifugao religion, who carries out the appropriate baki (ritual). He recites from memory, invokes, and offers sacrifices to the deities and spirits for the one seeking blessing or atonement.
One of the Ifugao rituals is the rite for the dead called the bogwa. While both subgroups of the Ifugao, the Tuwali and the Ayangan, have their own version of the ritual, the practice is mainly attributed to the Tuwali. Except in extraordinary circumstances like murder or accident, the mumbaki will not invoke any of the deities except the linnawa (soul of the dead), rendering the bogwa a minor ritual. Its importance arises only when there is a sickness to be cured, believed to have been caused by an offended soul. Bogwa is usually performed one or two years after a death for varied reasons: if a person has persistent dreams of a family member or kin, to cure a sickness after ascertaining its cause through divination, to pay tribute or fulfill the last will of a parent, or if the widow or widower of the deceased wants to remarry.
The bukahon is the bogwa for those who have met unnatural death. It is held only once, and the wake lasts for two and a half days. Only a munpohophod, a mumbaki who specializes in the bukahon can invoke the soul of the deceased along with Manahhaut (the Deceiver) and perform the corresponding cursing ritual.
In contrast, the bogwa for ordinary deaths may last for three to twelve days and may be repeated several times for the same person. The number of animals to be sacrificed and the death blanket that will be used to wrap the bones would depend on the social status of the family. Paniyo (taboos) are strictly observed during the bogwa by the family, their relatives, the mumbaki and, in some cases, their neighbors. Only old men and women are entitled to this ritual and not children who are deemed incapable of causing sickness because of their innocence and lack of malice.
The bogwa officially starts after the punhukutan (the day the bones are brought out of the tomb, grave or house) to be prepared for the wake. During the punhukutan, one or two munhukut (the one in charge of handling the bones during the bogwa) remove the bones from its original shroud to be cleaned, arranged and rewrapped in a new uloh (hand-woven blanket) held together by a wano (g-string) for the male and a tolge (wrap around skirt) tied with a balko (belt) for the female. The shroud is then placed on a table for public viewing. Before the day is over, an elderly relative or someone close to the deceased will offer a baki (prayer) followed with a iyo (dirge) to recount the good deeds done by the person while still alive.
On certain days during the bogwa, offerings are made by the mumbaki while invoking the linnawa of the dead person, his deceased father, mother, or siblings through mungkontad (spiritual messengers) who are sent to inform the souls that they are being summoned to earth. On the last day of the bogwa, after the bones have been returned to its grave or to the, house, the mumbaki performs the final rite called kahiw. It is meant to remove the food prohibitions observed by the family and their relatives during the bogwa.
The celebration of bogwa is not exclusive to one family but involves an entire village as demonstrated in the meat-sharing system called bolwa. A distinct practice in Ifugao ritual, the meat of the sacrificed animal is shared with the people who helped in the bogwa. It promotes reciprocity and strengthens relationships between kin and within the community.
Although the people ascribe their fate and general well-being to their gods, the bogwa is an example of a ritual founded on a shared belief. It reaffirms the Ifugao’s fidelity to long-established traditions which sustain the bond of community while amid modernity and change. If bogwa is a microcosm of the Ifugao belief system, it is undergoing constant transformation and adapting to present social conditions. However, its function remains the same: to honor and remember the departed, maintain personal and community ties, and observe the rites handed down from generation to generation, making it an important element of intangible cultural heritage integral to the life of the Ifugao.