Baknaw: Bakun’s Traditional Way of Healing

A wife of a manbunong (above) along with other Cordilleran’s continuous practice on traditional healing like the bkanaw of Bakun, Benguet is another indication that the culture of the Igorots is indeed very rich. Image Source:

Some dubbed it as a black magic activity while others labeled it as an anti-Christian belief. However, despite what the others say, the effectiveness of traditional healing was proven more than a thousand times. Its special power of curing made our ancestors survive when psychiatrist, obstetricians, and pediatricians are not yet available. And the baknaw of Bakun, Benguet was no exception to this.

In an undergraduate  study titled “Pansigdan Di Padtu: Understanding Baknaw in Bakun, Benguet” which was conducted by Nadah A. Dada-an, a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Development Communication in Benguet State University, baknaw is defined as a traditional healing practice of Bakun. When a person’s sickness cannot be identified by medical personnel or cannot be cured by the prescribed medicine, baknaw is practiced.

Baknaw as a means of healing

The study of Dada-an discussed how baknaw as a traditional way of healing is being done. When someone is ill, he will first consult a mansip-ok, the person who will interpret the cause of the illness and will seek help from the unseen spirits.

When a mansip-ok is on work, he will need sweet flag grass, locally known as dengas which will be rubbed to the painful part of the patient. A pail of water is also needed for the mansip-ok to know what kind of animal will be offered. Other materials desired are sweet potato, yeast, padlock, rice wine, coconut, bottle, candle, and blood from the offered animal.

After the work of the mansip-ok, a manbunong , the person who will perform the prescribed healing ritual. The rituals to be done in baknaw differ as to what kind of illness the person has.

Such rituals are lawit which is performed by the manbunong to call back the soul/spirit of the living who may have wandered to another world. Bagol is prepared when a person become crazy so that the evil spirits will be driven away. However, when a person gets sick due to nature contact without asking permission to the deities, a tinmengaw is conducted.

Further, kedaw is a ritual done to satisfy the desire of one or two ancestors. For instance, when a relative of the patient appears in a dream naked, he is asking for blanket or clothes. Thus, animals prescribed by the manbunong such as ducks or dogs should be offered.

Meanwhile, when the patient is inflicted by a mengaja or sorcerer, topya should be performed for self-defense or to counteract the illness. When a woman suffers from pain during her labor, dawak should be done, wherein, chicken is butchered. As a result, the pain will ease and the baby will be safely delivered.

According to the respondents of the said study, prayers in baknaw are very important because this is a form of communication to the other world where the gods and goddesses are.

One significant process of any ritual like the one being practiced in baknaw, is the butchering of animals and offering a prayer to the unseen spirits. Image Source:

Valuing baknaw in the community

The primary goal of baknaw is to cure the sick people. Aside from curing, baknaw prevents or averts an impending misfortune to a person such as illness, accident, and death.

Additionally, based on the study, baknaw is an expression of the richness of the certain culture. The performance of the cultural practices like dances and chants are expected during the baknaw process. These will help sustain the reciprocal relationship among people, land, and the gods and goddesses.

“Many people say that traditional healing is a bad activity but for me, it is not. When I do my healing, I utter my prayers to God only, which made my connection with Him stronger,” expressed Shirley Lomong-ey, a traditional healer of La Trinidad, Benguet.

Even if science healed many sicknesses, there are still some that modern medicine cannot cure. If a patient is not receptive to commercial medicine or the sickness of the patient worsens, he is brought to traditional healers. Sometimes after a healing ritual, the patient gets well; if not, another ritual is performed. This can be seen that baknaw is an alternative way for healing.

Another significance of baknaw is on environment preservation. The natives believe that there are natural spirits that protect the land, water, and air. Thus, one should not interfere with the nature to avoid contact with the spirits, or else, you will find yourself bedridden.

According to the study, values such as respect to the elders who conduct the healing and helpfulness among the healers to the villagers are only some of the values communicated in the practice of baknaw.

Challenges in the face of baknaw

Majority of the respondents in the study of Dada-an admitted that performing baknaw is too expensive. This can be attributed to the ritual animals and materials to be used during the healing process.

Moreover, Akbaya-an Benites, a respondent of the study, stated that baknaw can be a medium for deceiving people. Accordingly, some of the mansip-ok fools people in order to have money or goods.

Another perceived challenge to baknaw is it is time consuming. Some rituals can take days for its completion. This made others to resort to modern healing.

Ever since Christianity spread in the region, some natives no longer embrace cultural practices because they claime it as a form of paganism and should be forgotten. To add, the mansip-ok and manbunong are becoming extinct. The chance of passing this power is low since no one wants to adopt such practice. The younger generations who are supposed to carry this practice move out from the community because of studies and work.

And, as the people become educated, they seek more help from health professionals in times of sickness. Others are even licensed to give people medical treatment. According to the respondents of the study, there are already outreach programs and free medical check-ups conducted in the community leading to lesser villagers seeing the traditional healers.

Indeed, everything today is answered by science, but, many of the olden beliefs were also altered such as referring baknaw as a witchcraft work or against the will of Christians. However, it still reflects how our forefathers resolve their suffering due to sickness. Undergoing baknaw does not assure full recovery, yet leaves assurance to everyone as to how wealthy our culture is.

Even with the spread of Christianity and with our belief to the living God, baknaw still needs to be passed down through documentation for the next generations to note that it is part of the rich culture. Maybe not for them to adopt the practice, but it is for them to know and have an additional understanding on their roots.// Sharmaine P. Chocowen

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