A Fascinating Ingenuous Concept of our Igorot Forebears
By Ric Cuyob
I. The ingenuity of our ancestors
This ab-abiik or kadkadwa is one idea that manifests how ingenious our forebears were. Could it have been that our Igorot forebears went into a series of debate after debate before they produced this idea, or was it simply revealed to them by the unseen Deity? I cannot deal here with the question as to how and when did our Igorot ancestors conceptualize this idea of ab-abiik or kadkadwa, but I could imagine that this concept must have been a result of their existential experience. Thereby, it must have undergone a lengthy process of experience after experience before they could come to a point when they finally concluded that a living being, especially a person has an ab-abiik or kadkadwa. Such an inquiry is interesting, but it is not what this reflection aims to bring about.
Before proceeding further, ab-abiik or kadkadwa are two terms or names to refer to one and the same thing. That is the invisible self or companion of the visible self, the physical body. In this reflection, if I will only make use of the word “ab-abiik”, I also mean “kadkadwa”.
II. Ab-abiik or kadkadwa as heard from the old folks
As per my personal experience, I can recall very well what my grandmother often narrated to me during my childhood days about this ab-abiik. She used to say, “your ab-abiik roams around during the night when you are asleep and rejoins you in the morning when you wake up”. So I heard, accepted and believed without asking further, “where is that ab-abiik?”. If I tell the same thing to the children of today, they will naturally scorn me and say, “You are not very scientific, are you? It is just a fable, plain and simple!” It is said that this ab-abiik wanders around when the person is asleep. In the morning, this ab-abiik comes back to be with the person. If the person goes to other places and passes a night or two for example, that person must call this ab-abiik and go home with it. It is told to us that if we leave our ab-abiik behind, we may get sick or have the feeling of something missing and thereby we cannot get a good sleep.
This ab-abiik is held to be the invisible self of the physical person. So, ab-abiik is the unseen/invisible self of a person whereas the visible self of a person is the flesh and bones.
Being the invisible self, the ab-abiik is only thought to be sensed and felt but it is believed that it follows the physical, visible self all the time. This is a clear demonstration that the ab-abiik is always with the person but not to be understood as being in the body of the person. It has full freedom of movement and independence but believed to be very obedient to the physical and visible self. Thus, in the words of our ancestors, “itakin yo din ab-abiik yo” (literally means, “bring with you your ab-abiik”) or “ayagan yo din ab-abiik yo”' (literally means, “call to be with you your ab-abiik”), it clearly shows that the ab-abiik listens and obeys the visible self. So when the visible self pronounces, “inta ay ab-abiik, adikan mataytaynan sina” (come with me, my dear ab-abiik, don’t stay behind), this pronouncement or prayer is enough assurance and certainty because the ab-abiik is believed to always faithfully heed and follow the visible self.
III. Does this concept of ab-abiik have any practical, actionable wisdom that we can readily apply to enrich our daily life?
In this age of fast changing technology, advanced technologies have modified human behavior, frame of thinking and mode of living. Such conditions force the awareness of the concept of ab-abiik to be slowly fading if not hastily perishing.
When our ancestors talked about this ab-abiik, was it already there at conception, at the birth or after the birth of the baby/person? As it appears to me, they seem to infer that the ab-abiik comes and dwells with the baby at birth. Thus, it is not the person who chooses the ab-abiik but it is the ab-abiik who chooses to be the invisible self to the individual’s physical self. This ab-abiik concept is in a way reaffirming the belief that children are blessings from the “Adikaila” (the unseen Being). Now it is up to that person to form a bond with his/her ab-abiik and strengthen that bond along the way and in the various stages of his/her life.
All throughout the person’s life, this ab-abiik is considered as the unseen accompanying self of the person. This ab-abiik is there to accompany and to draw the attention of the person to what needs to be recognized or addressed, as well as skills that can be used or developed further. Thereby, as we mature and gain wisdom, our awareness and bond with the ab-abiik becomes stronger and that should make our thoughts, words and actions in harmony.
Awareness of the ab-abiik provides self-composure. But for one to arrive at calmness and self-possession, it requires the visible self (the individual) to take the time, allow emptiness of mind and listen to silence which is probably the voice of the ab-abiik. Our world today is full of modern technologies, gadgets, and preoccupations, where every individual is continuously bombarded by events, information, and work as well as the daily urban routines that make the globe turn doubly faster than normal. So, it is imperative to take a retreat from such daily routines into a quiet place to be with oneself. Only then can the ab-abiik (the invisible self) and visible self get attuned to one another and be with nature. Only then can one be able to become aware and feel deeply in touch within himself/herself and the surroundings to get into the experience of being whole or complete. I am sure everyone of us must have experienced, at least once or more times in life, the need to be in solitude of which we may not be able to explain but the desire to be alone is there. Who knows if such desire or longing to be alone is the call of the ab-abiik? Yet, we ignore and refuse to listen. Is it because we are so scientific nowadays with many pressing preoccupations?
It could be that not even a century ago, our grandparents must have lived and experienced their belief in this ab-abiik concept in a much easier and natural way. They could be much aware of the ab-abiik because they have a different milieu. They were living in a quieter time. They went to their farm often alone and quietly. They tended to their animals so intimately to the point that they knew their herd as their herd knew them too. They collected wood, wild fruits and other forest products with care and respect. They fished on the rivers and gathered shells without abuse. Their socialization and educational activities happened within the family and within the village or nearby communities. In such a historical situation, they were much freer and undisturbed to be regularly in dialogue with their ab-abiik.
Being conscious of his/her ab-abiik, especially when traveling or being new to a place or leaving a place, is important because it reminds the person to be prudent and make sure to leave the place in a good order at least. Besides, this is a good reminder for the person as a sort of double check to make sure that that person did not leave anything behind. It helps make the individual aware and careful.
Is the ab-abiik a spiritual guide? A protector? The concept does not say so in such a direction or idea. But since humans have weaknesses and strengths, the ab-abiik concept has valuable and effective utility. It could be best seen in this manner. An individual doing virtuous deeds keeps inflating his/her ab-abiik. An inflated ab-abiik strengthens that person’s link to the spiritual, the intangible reality, the essential. Besides, a person with inflated ab-abiik is radiating positivity that can be easily felt and/or noticed. Thus, the people around that person would intuitively sense in him or her that he/she has agasiyas (sensibility), a natural ability to regard inayan, and the warmth of manangaasi (compassionate). On the other hand, a person said to be doing evil things or wicked deeds depletes the ab-ibiik. So, the attachment to the material aspects strengthens and weakens the person’s link to the spiritual. Thereby, the person with a depleted ab-abiik is naturally so selfish, and worst of all egoistic. That person has almost set aside or even totally disregarded the concepts of agasiyas*, inayan* and kaasina.* And that is why a person with depleted ab-abiik is seen as “magai agasiyas na” (someone who doesn’t care), as someone who is “naagum” (so deeply attached and possessive to material things) and someone who is “saan nga manangaasi” (non-compassionate). That person only radiates coldness.
In the face of adversities or troubles as well as in times of feeling left alone or deserted, bear in mind that the ab-abiik is the sole invisible companion.
In the event of homesickness, the ab-abiik is the one so close and is the immediate unseen self-comforter.
The ab-abiik is the unseen self that reconnects the person to the Unseen (Adikaila), and whispers to the person his/her link to the Imagined Universe that no one ever touched yet.
IV. For us Igorot immigrants, migrants or in the diaspora: What value could this kadkadwa/ab-abiik have for us?
Taking the belief that is passed to us by our ancestors, the ab-abiik is the unseen or invisible companion. If we hold on to this belief, ab-abiik is our sole comforter, a self to lean on, to talk to and therefore could be a strength provider. It is this ab-abiik concept that reminds us to be mindful of the invisible side of ourselves. For practicality wise, this ab-abiik concept guides us to leave every place behind us in good order with the prospect and peace of mind that we will arrive at our next destination complete and whole.
Though the majority of us or all of us are converted and are believing Christians, this concept of ab-abiik has emanated from the historical experience of our Igorot ancestors. It is our root. Likewise, the Christian belief came from a historical experience of another community. Yet converts as we are now, we tend to embrace more such faith though from another root. Thereby if we honestly look at it, we are standing on two roots – that of our Igorot ancestors and of the Judeo-Christian traditions or Christianity. Thus, what must indeed be best for us is to stand on both roots without favoring one and disregarding the other.
V. Make your own personal conclusion
As it may appear, the idea seems to be unfounded but let us go back and imagine the early time when our ancestors’ lives were basically confined in their villages. The time when their world revolved around their farm – the home – the mountains and forests – the community.
If the idea of soul was brought to us by Christianity, we must take pride in our ancestors. They were so ingenious by already living and being fully aware of the presence of this ab-abiik in the life of every person. Ab-abiik as the unseen accompanying self to the individual is a concept at par with the Christian concept of soul. If the Christianity’s belief says that the soul will be reunited with the Creator after the death of a person, our ancestors also have the belief in life after death because they held that the ab-abiik rejoins the previous ancestors in the dwelling place of Kabunyan. Like Christianity, they were also aware of eternal damnation for those who had been living a sinful life without reforming. An ab-abiik that is so depleted renders itself irrecuperable. To say it in Kankanaey, “magaykakwekwenta na” (It is worthless). Therefore, it is so right to be thrown to eternal damnation because how can a so depleted ab-abiik be recovered to the dwelling place of the ancestors?
You are invited to formulate your own personal conclusion.
*Agasiyas may signify the following: the thought, mind, consciousness, common sense, aptitude, wisdom or simply right sense. To the Igorot ancestors, the agasiyas is associated with the intimate relation of breathing and/or existence and thinking. So, when they say, “wadai agasiyas na” they mean “the person is existing and therefore a thinking being.” When they say, “magai agasiyas mo,” that means, “you are not a thinking being and implies annihilation of your existence.” In a way, a person regarded as having agasiyas is not only appreciated in having a high intellectual capacity neither possessing the most practical common sense but on top of them is the person’s ability to demonstrate a well-balanced emotional sensitivity. It therefore pertains to the whole being and/or existence of a person. Admittedly, every person is born and grows with agasiyas. And since time immemorial, our ancestors have been espousing agasiyas in their existence. Nowadays, we have all the luxury of living in a world where new scientific disciplines are easily available like psychology, anthropology, history, sociology and the like, to guide us to understand the complex reality of human existence. And admittedly while we do so, the more we are enlightened to appreciate better why agasiyas is so important.
*Inayan may be understood in the following: taboo, the sense of avoiding negative actions or not doing bad deeds. It is also the push factor to do positive things or virtuous deeds. It may also be an ordinary expression for one who did not fulfill what s/he planned to do and so on. Above all, inayan is not only a simple concept, but also a commandment in one word – to be honest, righteous and just.
*Kaasina may be interpreted as follows: blessings, unwavering hope, confidence or faith, mercy, reliance. This entails perseverance, patience, honesty and diligence. In times of difficulties, or calamities as well as in good health and in sickness, it is necessary to keep anchored with kaasina.
(*These are lifted from the article, “Three Pillars that Constitute the Core Being of the Kankanaeys and Igorots in General” by Ric Cuyob.)