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.
BY MONTAŇOSA RESEARCH
Northern Dispatch (Nordis)
Posted by Bulatlat
Part 1: Rice, Pests and Ifugao Gods
Pests plaguing the
rice terraces is a major concern in the Cordillera region. Since pesticide
spray is unfamiliar in the area, farmers rely on indigenous pest
management systems that their ancestors taught them. The most significant
techniques include synchronized transplanting, field sanitation and seed
The most complex and
exemplary pest control system is believed to be the holok in
Hingyon, Ifugao. Holok involves the collection and processing of a
variety of plants known only to selected members of the community. What
makes it more complicated is the ritual involved in its preparation, which
the farmers believe “transubstantiated” the plants into pesticides.
mixture is not sprayed on the rice plants. Instead, a handful of the
mixture is placed along strategic areas in the levees. Amazingly, as
testified by all the farmers in the locality, insects in the rice fields
fall to the ground and die a day or two after application.
holok’s known extraordinary feat in the Ifugao rice world, little
effort is exerted in seeking scientific basis even with the increase in
scientific knowledge and available government resources. Obviously,
scientific endeavors are biased towards modern agriculture that promotes
the use of chemical pesticides for pest control.
The holok region
The holok is
practiced in the barangays (villages) of O-ong, Cababuyan and Mompolia,
all in Hingyon, Ifugao. They are located roughly 12 to 20 kms northeast of
the capital town of Lagawe, Ifugao. Some of the boble (settlements)
could be reached by vehicular transport while others are accessible only
region has over a hundred sitios (sub-villages), some of which are a mere
few meters apart. Settlement areas are usually characterized by small
clusters of residences, granaries and occasional sari-sari
(variety) stores. These areas are mostly found on elevated ground and are
close to the rice fields. Villagers said settlement sites were chosen for
their proximity to trails and water sources, better passage of air and
sound (to make it easier to hear the village crier), and better defensive
positions. They also said settlements on higher grounds also facilitate
the easier flow of human and animal waste to fertilize the rice fields.
The main source of
livelihood in the area is tending the land: the rice fields (payoh),
swiddens (habal), and privately-owned forested areas (muyong).
All households in the community engage in farming, regardless of whether
these are of rich (kadangyan), middle (uduh-udol), or poor (nawotwot)
class backgrounds. Households are involved in the farming cycle as owner
cultivators, tenants (makiliyak), or wage laborers (bumuklah).
The produce from the swidden farms and the livestock and poultry are
mainly for home use. Occasionally, these are sold to generate cash to buy
basic consumer goods like salt, sugar, lard, coffee and kerosene, among
Rice terraces cover
most of the land. Almost all gently sloping hollows between hills have
been carved into rice terraces. The hollows are preferred for terracing
because they act as natural catchments for water, topsoil, and humus
run-off from the mountains.
The rice varieties
planted are classified into the “tinawon” (traditional variety) and the
exotic variety or “irik.” The “tinawon” varieties includes donaal,
hinglow, imbangor, imbu-ukan, Inguhad, inlammuhan, madduli, imbanig,
and the glutinous types such as ingumalingon, ulluy, ingiwih, binoggon,
and imbalikwadang (black rice). The “irik” variety includes
mantika, ihapoh, and oklad.
The rice cropping
pattern determines labor in the community. Time for other work is made
available only when tasks in the rice fields are relatively less
intensive. Most often, men leave the community to search for jobs in the
mines, vegetable farms, and town centers. This leaves the women, children
and elderly to deal with the labor required in the farms and homes.
perennially plague the rice crop in Hingyon. The most common pests are
army worms (Pseudaletia unipuncta Haworth) golden kuhol
(edible snail), and rats. Informants relayed that army worms are the most
damaging and they inflict severe losses on the rice crop even before they
are detected. The larvae feed on the parts of the plants which are above
the ground. Usually, they eat all parts of the leaves except the midribs.
The worms appear sporadically and suddenly in immense numbers. Frequently,
they also disappear suddenly.
Army worms figured
prominently in the discovery of the holok. The old generations of
farmers, through the use of traditional knowledge and power of traditional
prayer, used a pesticide created from the combined mass of more than 20
plants. The system has been proven effective by more than seven
generations. In recent years, few farmers have tried spraying pesticides
to kill army worms. The practice has not gained widespread support due to
cost and safety measures.
is a general Ifugao term for grass and other small vegetation. In Hingyon,
it also refers to a distinctive pest management system that uses the
various parts of more than 20 plants to produce a pesticide against army
worms and other rice pests. The system, as traditionally practiced, was
part of the hongan di pageh, the system of Ifugao rituals on rice
When exactly the
holok was discovered is unknown. However, villagers in Mompolia were
able to trace the holok back to the time of Nalidong, some seven
generations ago. By their estimates, that would have been around the
Based on oral
literature, Nalidong inherited the technology from his forebears. But he
is best known because he successfully used the holok on other crops
and without the benefit of the baki or rituals invoking the aid of
the spirits of dead ancestors and the gods. Due to his achievement, people
believed that Nalidong had certain gifts given to him by the gods.
There are three key
persons in the holok tradition.
first person is the Bumhat. The bumhat is a member of a
clan to which the gods have entrusted the technology. Only those of the
bloodline of Nalidong can become bumhat. Historically, it is only
the bumhat and some of his kin who know the names of the needed
plants. It is also a popular belief that only the plants cut by the
bumhat and his kin will be effective.
The second person is
the mombaki. The mombaki or traditional priest performs the
baki (ritual) for the holok. There are no lineage
requirements for mombaki. They learn their craft through
apprenticeship and maintain their integrity through the diligent
observation of vows.
The third person is
the Tumunak. The tumunak is believed to be chosen by the
gods to guide the people to bountiful rice harvests. He initiates the
various phases of the rice production cycle. People do not sow rice seed,
transplant rice seedlings, or harvest rice until the tumunak has
began to do so.
The holok is
usually performed during April and May when the rice crop begins to bear
fruit and is attacked by army worms. People who saw signs of an army worm
attack immediately inform the tumunak. The tumunak notifies
the rice field owners to prepare for a holok. The rice field owners
meet and agree upon a date for the holok. Each owner contributes a
chicken or even several chickens for the ritual. Owners of wider rice
fields usually give greater contribution.
activities for the holok take three days. The ritual is performed
furtively at night to prevent the attendance of cynics and to ensure that
the people are already confined in their homes. During the afternoon of
the first day, the bumhat, his kin, and several volunteers leave
the village surreptitiously to gather the needed plants. Their departure
is unannounced to avoid negative comments from cynics. There is a strong
belief, which remains to this day, that cynical comments lead to a failure
of the holok. Since the required plants grew in different areas of
the municipality, several gathering teams are formed. It is important that
each team has a member of the clan of the bumhat to cut the plants.
Other team members are not necessarily relative of the bumhat, just
volunteers to help carry the load.
A few hours after the
departure of the gathering teams, village criers announce a tongoh
or holiday for the next day. During the tongoh, no one is allowed
to work or even pass through the rice fields. It is believed that the
presence of people in the fields dissipate the power of the holok.
By about one o’clock
in the morning, the gathering teams return with their loads. They bring
the plants to the puntunakan (rice granary) of the tumunak
where the mombaki and other interested individuals wait. People
from other villages, especially from those that do not have the technology
of the holok, bring donations of chickens for a share of the
begins the ritual by calling upon and offering sacrifices to the spirits
of the dead bumhat and mombaki especially those who had
exemplary achievements. These spirits are considered appeased and able to
intercede with the gods only if a favorable sign is read from the bile sac
of the sacrificed chicken. The number of chickens to be sacrificed varies.
next calls upon and offers sacrifices to the various gods and earth
spirits. A chicken each is offered to: Liddom, a god in the
Skyworld; Yumogyog, a god in the Underworlds; Gah-idoh, a
red bird considered an omen; the pinading or spirits residing in
trees, terraces, rocks, and various bodies of water; Kidol, the god
of thunder; and Mana’haot, the sun.
The best chicken of
the lot is offered to Liddom. Only roosters could be offered to
Kidol. Except for the chicken offered to the Pinading, all
sacrificed chickers are not eaten. All carcasses are tied together by the
foot and hung from the kuling or beam of the alang until
they rotted away.
After the required
sacrifices and prayers, the people begin chopping the plants brought by
the gathering teams. Anybody is allowed to help in the task. There are no
special chopping tools required. The people use ordinary knives and
The chopped mixture
is placed in a mortar in preparation for pounding. The mombaki
performs another ritual, casts a pestle into the mortar and collapses to
the ground to symbolize the power of the holok. As the mombaki
feigns death, the people shout in unison that the bigeh or
worms have died. The people take turns pounding. The smell of the holok
is claimed to be so overpowering that no one could pound for more than a
few minutes. Aside from its smell, the mixture itself is not harmful to
humans or animals. Those who handled the pounded mass put betel nut into
their mouths with unwashed hands and yet suffered no ill effects.
At about two o’clock
in the morning, the meat of the chicken offered to the Pinading is
cooked and its broth is sprinkled by the mombaki over the pounded
holok. After the blessing, the mombaki and bumhat
pick volunteers to distribute the mixture. Each volunteer is prohibited
from working, eating or bathing for a day after he has helped in the
distribution. He is required to stay at home and is allowed occasional
sips of rice wine.
Distribution of the
holok is timed to end before daybreak. From daybreak to sunset is
time of the tongoh. Violators of the tongoh are fined the
estimated number of chickens required for a repeat of the ritual.
The holok is
distributed primarily in the infested areas. Prophylactic doses are also
put around uninfected rice fields to prevent the spread of the army worms.
A handful of the holok is put on a cut section of a banana trunk
and secured to the dike of the rice fields with stakes. Each handful of
the holok is enough to protect rice fields within a 100 meter
radius. The area of placement is often chosen because it affords free
passage of air in all directions. The heat of the sun allegedly increases
the power of the holok since it cause greater vaporization of the
mixture. On the other hand, water spoils the holok and causes it to
A day after the
tongoh, the volunteers visit the rice fields to assess the affectivity
of the holok. If the holok is successful, the army worms
either drop dead or creep to the tips of the rice leaves and shrivel. If
there were no observable signs of success, the tumunak is informed
of the situation for a repeat of the ritual. There are instances when the
holok fails, but these are always attributed to the presence or
comments of cynics.
holok is left in the rice fields until all the army worms die.
Nordis/ Posted by Bulatlat
Contemporary Holok Practice
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2004 Bulatlat
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.