The Hulpon festival and value of pagtutulungan in Brgy. Malico

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Text and photos by Michelle Anne P. Soliman

A six-hour drive away from Makati, through the sharp curves of Dalton pass in between Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan, and 1,300 feet above sea level is Brgy. Malico, a small community of about 500 people. There is no mobile signal there. The dirt roads are barely illuminated at night. According to locals, the temperature does not rise above 20°C even in the summer month of April.

Early in the morning after we arrived there, we heard chanting and singing from a short distance away — the celebration of the Kalanguya tribe’s third Hulpon festival had started.

Once headhunters in the Caraballo Mountains, the Kalanguya tribe derives its name from the phrase “keley ngo iya,” which literally translates to “what in the world is this?,” according to an article written by Gaspar C. Cayat, the president of the Kalanguya Tribe Organization, Inc.

Governed by a council of elders, the tribe is scattered in mountain villages in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, and Pangasinan. Located in an area designated as their ancestral domain, Brgy. Malico in Nueva Vizcaya is considered the Kalanguya tribe’s biggest settlement. There the members of the tribe — distinguished by the red, black, and white vertical stripes of their traditional dress — plant sayote (chayote) and weave walis tambo (tiger grass brooms) as a source of livelihood.

“The first time I went to [Brgy.] Malico was in 1995,” said Edgardo C. Amistad, president of the United Coconut Planters Bank-Coconut Industry Investment Fund (UCPB-CIIF) Foundation Inc. “In my first visit, I met the chieftain, Taynan Omallio. From then on, I wanted to return and have a place of my own here,” he told BusinessWorld during the Hulpon festival weekend in April.

In 2001, a forester at a reforestation project UCPB-CIIF had in Antipolo gave Mr. Amistad the opportunity to return to Brgy. Malico. “My forester is from Malico and is a Kalanguya. I asked him to accompany me, so I could talk to the chieftain who happens to be his uncle. From then on, I’ve been visiting the place, and I became close to Taynan and his family. I even had a room in his house,” he said.

“So, since I became close to him, he invited me to become an adopted son of the tribe since I’ve been trying to help them out. One of the requirements is that I had to buy pigs to feed the community,” Mr. Amistad said of his responsibility as an adopted son of the tribe. “When you’re adopted, they are not only adopting you, they’re adopting your whole family.”

Specializing in business strategy and sustainability and program management, Mr. Amistad, along with the late chieftain and other local government officials, participated in an initiative to preserve the culture of the Kalanguya tribe and promote eco-tourism in Brgy. Malico.

The first idea in 2015 was celebrating a sayote festival which was aimed at promoting the plant as a source of livelihood and the community’s major vegetable crop. However, it veered away from the goal of cultural preservation. Mr. Amistad and the others then considered what where the important characteristics of the tribe and focused on hulpon, the tribe’s core value of sharing and helping. A vision-mission statement of the initiative was approved, which led to launch of the first Hulpon festival in 2016.

“Because of the festival, you attract visitors, because of that, people would see the place,” Mr. Amistad said.

The concept of hulpon is commonly practiced amongst the tribe during weddings, funerals, and when a tribe member is recovering from illness. The sharing may be in kind or services.

The first Hulpon Festival in April 2016 highlighted the Kalanguya wedding play. The main event in the second festival, in February 2017, was a pageant where knowledge of the tribe’s culture was the basis for winning the title of Mr. and Ms. Hulpon.

The third Hulpon Festival was held on April 21 to 22 this year, outside the late chieftain Omallio’s house, which is rented out as visitors’ lodging.

The festival began with the traditional pig slaughter at 6 a.m. The other festivities that morning included a traditional dance performed by the Malico elementary school students, followed by the hulpon play which centered on the tribe’s practice of pagtutulungan (helpfulness) when the young son of a Kalanguya family fell ill.

The morning’s festivities ended with visitors and members of the tribe dancing in a circle to traditional music — the women’s forearms raised and palms open, the men’s arms outstretched. Two chants from a chanter outside the circle signaled that a participant was allowed to exit from the dance. The dances and the play are aimed at the young tribe members, for their education and appreciation.

In the evening, the pageant participants — four teenage boys and four girls — performed their tribe’s native dance in the talent segment and took part in the question and answer portion on how to promote the Kalanguya culture in modern society. The representatives from Centro village won Mr. Hulpon and Ms. Hulpon.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 currently protects Brgy. Malico as an ancestral domain despite disputes to ownership among two provinces.

“It’s an area that’s being contested by both Pangasinan and Nueva Vizcaya. Some of the officials in [Brgy.] Malico are from San Nicolas, Pangasinan. Some are from Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya,” Mr. Amistad said.

Mr. Amistad expressed warriness about overdevelopment: “We’re trying to balance the goal for the place to be known but not overexpose it.”

“If you study the area, the wealth of the place is found in the climate, history and culture. We want the tourism to be different from other areas. It should be low-impact so that the environment can be maintained. It will help the community, but, at the same time, preserve the beauty of the place,” Mr. Amistad added.

As an adopted son of the tribe, Mr. Amistad was given a piece of land which he developed into a 300-sq.m. lodging house called the Malico Country Inn. The inn includes a chapel, a main house, traditional houses as additional lodgings, and an museum where he keeps a collection of antiques. A short distance from the inn one finds the remains of an abandoned American tank — Brgy. Malico, it turns out, was the site of a Word War 2 battle.

“At present the local tourism office recommended the improvement in the tourist sites like a peace memorial shrine and the road in the barangay. Seminars on [tourist] homestay are being scheduled. They also plan to conduct seminars on how to be a good tourist guide and how to do massage for the visitors,” Mr. Amistad told BusinessWorld in a text message about development plans in the community.

The plans are needed since Brgy. Malico is now more accessible to the outside world — the road from Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya was recently paved, and another from Pangasinan is currently being developed.

For inquiries on Malico Country Inn, call 0908-863-2982 or visit