The Holok: An Indigenous Pest Control System in Ifugao

Pest management in the Cordillera came from extensive practical and traditional knowledge developed over years of observing natural processes. Called Holok, it entails comprehensive understanding of the entire rice production system and makes use of more than 20 indigenous plants.

Northern Dispatch (Nordis)
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Part 2: Contemporary Holok Practice

Religion has greatly contributed to the deterioration of traditional rituals and practices associated to agricultural production. When Christianity first entered the holok region, some mombaki were still able to perform the indigenous rites. But during a sudden growth of Christian faith in the area, indigenous religion became associated with evil. Some bulol or Ifugao rice god icons were gathered and burned.

Even the holok was not spared. In 1987, Umanhan, then bumhat and a mombaki, performed the traditional holok. The catechists urged the people not to use the holok because it was created through a system that called upon more than one God. Umanhan used the holok and was one of the few who harvested rice during that year. Unfortunately, Umanhan died shortly thereafter.

During the same period, members of a fundamentalist religious sect based in Cababuyan challenged the traditional farmers that the holok could be effective even without the accompanying ritual. To prove their point, they collected the same species of plants, processed it the traditional way, and applied it to the rice crop. To their great disappointment, the holok did not kill the pests. Nevertheless, they argued that the holok ritual remains a part of an evil system that must be stopped at all cost. Through the use of kinship influence, they persuaded the lone mumbaki left in Cababuyan not to perform or teach the holok ritual to interested parties lest his soul will burn in the fires of hell.

The holok still persists with major changes. One significant development is the growing involvement of women in the system. Traditionally, women had no role in the holok and the various roles vital to local culture, such as leadership and technological knowledge, were always transmitted through men.

Today, a woman is one of the more active guardians of the holok. During his last years, Umanhan was too weak to go to the forest and search for plants. He sent his niece Ginnamay to cut the plants for him. After Umanhan passed away, Ginnamay began taking on a more active role in the holok. She helped the bumhat gather plants whenever a holok was needed. She memorized the location of the rarer plants. She also memorized new places where other plants grew. Ginnamay is probably the first of the line of Nalidong to establish a garden for some of the plants for the holok.

Plants for the Holok

The plants needed for the holok include trees, lianas, shrubs, tubers, cacti, ferns, sedges, and grasses. These plants grow at elevations of about 800 to 900 meters above sea level. Almost all of the plants for the holok can be found in the communities and woodlands of Hingyon. The rarest plant is the hanakteh, a liana which was last seen in Nuntungod, a settlement in Banawe.

Almost all holok plants exude odor which, when combined together, was so intolerably overpowering. Although this was considered the primary basis for selection, some plants were included because of their medicinal, toxic and extra-ordinary properties.

For example, the bungoh was included because it was proven through experience that it could ward off snakes. It was the same with the bolwang which is used to kill fleas and lice. Other plants were chosen because of a special function they perform. For instance, the ferns and cacti excrete a sticky sap which acts as a binder that prevents the holok from being scattered by wind.

The number of plants used varies according to availability. Sometimes the bumhat would innovate and include a new kind of plant which he believes will be helpful. A bumhat has included the palawel, a flowering ornamental plant found in some houses in the region.

There will be problems with the availability of the plants due to the lack of a system for preservation. A bumhat have just realized the need to raise some of the plants after the natural habitat of many of these plants is being threatened by agricultural expansion and logging. For example, the hanakteh which increases the potency of the holok, was seen in 1993 in the forests close to Halong, Mompolia. The site has since been cleared to make way for a sports comples.

The effects of the growing unavailability of the plants are becoming felt. A bumhat in Hingyon Poblacion, which has jurisdiction over the site where the Billidan grows is beginning to prohibit bumhat from other villages from cutting the plant. It is generally accepted that the billidan, a liana, is the most active ingredient of the holok.


The major hindering factor in the performance of the holok is the attached ritual which faces enormous challenge and condemnation from church leaders and members. Although improbable, its practice demands reverence just like any other religion around.

Meanwhile, scientific endeavors today are geared towards modernizing pest management through the use of chemical pesticides. There is a need to study the holok system (sans ritual) to prove its scientific basis as an alternative low-cost approach.

The plants are known to thrive in many Cordillera areas and proving their pesticidal properties would promote the holok system, maybe not as complicated and spiritual as the original practice, but in the simplest and most effective manner that is open for innovations by adaptors.

Moreover, forested areas are rapidly thinning due to over cutting for shelter and agricultural purposes. Some of the more potent ingredients of the holok are now endangered due to destruction of habitat. It is vital to preserve the remaining forest, not only for the holok plants, but to maintain the diverse flora.

There is also a need to study the possibility of domesticating the wild plants for easier accessibility. However, it is also necessary to include in the study the structure of the soil and the environment where the plants grow. It was related by a bumhat that the pagge-pagge, which only thrived in a certain area, lost its potency when transplanted in the vicinity of O-ong.

Lastly, it is empirical to protect the holok plants from biopiracy through legislative and appropriate actions. Nordis / Posted by ( Bulatlat

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