Cañao In Brief

Written by Igorot Austria - Cordillera.

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We are honoured and delighted to have you all join us in a sacred time and space as we celebrate our first Cañao here in Vienna.

Our culture in the Cordilleras is rich in tradition and ritual. It has primarily been through our festivals and rituals like the Cañao that our characteristic world view and attitudes and values have been transmitted from generation to generation.

And so it has come to be that we share a deep appreciation of the divinity and power of the universe and nature and a sense of gratitude, respect and love for life.

Pelmoka observed, “There is the apprehension or conviction of the existence of the supernatural beings.” We do not have a homogenous religion in the Cordilleras but we basically recognize a heirarchy of deities.

As documented by Bimmolog Sallong, & Montemayor, our polytheistic religion is anchored on a number of "major deities who are distant to humans and the minor deities who are near and have contact with humans. All of these dieties have control over the daily affairs of people. Basically, everything that happens is attributed to [the intervention or actions of the deities." (

We consider all spirits to be good, but liable to get offended by our human frailities and errors. In a Cañao led by a mambunong or spiritual leader, we invoke the spirits, in an attempt to win their favor and/or appease them with sacrifices of food and animal blood.

According to Masferré:

"To sponsor Cañao, wealthy people accumulated food stocks and sacrificial animals. Thus, the Cañao served as a food redistribution system. The poor benefited immediately, especially as Cañao often occured during the lean months; the wealthy benefited later, when the poor labored in their fields.

Animal sacrifices were an important part of all major rites. Carabao, being the largest and costliest, were sacrificed only at the biggest feasts. Prior to the 20th century, carabao were not used as work animals, but roamed loose or were purchased from the lowlands. Pigs were the most important sacrificial animals, chickens were used most often, and for lesser rites.

The meat of sacrificial animals was divided among the participants in the ritual. Choice bits were reserved for the most important people. During large Cañao meat was distributed in a free-for-all (gin-nat). Sacrificing a chicken and reading its entrails was part of many ceremonies , from a simple house-blessing done by one person to village welfare rites attended by the whole community. For larger or longer-lasting rituals, days of sacrice and feasting were interspersed with days of required rest and abstinence." (

The Cañao integrates folk arts such as dancing, singing, and the playing of indigenous instruments (drums - solibao and the kimbal; brass gongs - kalsa and the pinsak; tiketik - two iron rods producing a thin high-pitched sound):

"There is this two-person dance of a man and a woman. The man hangs blankets woven in an indigenous pattern or design over each shoulder while the woman wraps a single similar blanket around her waist. The man leads the woman and they dance in a circular motion with a hop-skip tempo to the beat of sticks and gongs. The dancing continues until a member of the audience decides to honor the dancers with a shout, “Ooo wag, Hoy! Hoy,” ending the dancing.

Bindiyan is another traditional dance. It is a group dance in two lines, separating men from the women, which start from opposite directions towards each other. Once they meet, the women dance in an inner-circle in one direction while the men dance in an outer circle on the opposite direction.

The leader yelling, “Bi-nukawan,” means that the dancers would stretch out their arms sideward and do the motion of a flying hawk, flipping their hands away. When the leader shouts, “Kinitangan,” all the dancers will put their hands on their hips, still dancing the circular motion. Finally, when the leader proclaims, “Kinedjangan,” the dancers will make the motion of striking a spear. If the leader feels that they had performed all the movements, the two groups will exit in opposite directions.

The elders and other respected members of the community are expected to join in the dancing. As a spectator, to be invited to dance with the group is a great honor."


Indeed, the Cañao as a sacred ritual remains to be current and relevant. It belongs to our beliefs and practices that form an integral and seamless part of our very being.

We celebrate today’s Cañao to reinforce and, if need be, redefine bonds – bonds that connect us to yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let us reflect upon what it means to be an Igorot today. Let us ask ourselves how we can better live up to the cherised ideals of our forefathers.