Indigenous Religious Beliefs and Practices in the Philippines
by Jennibeth Montejo Alojado
Though religion in the Philippines has been influenced by western religions, they still maintain a distinct Southeast Asian flavor in their spiritual beliefs and practices. The way religion is practiced in the country is very unique in comparison to the form it is practice in the west or other areas of the globe. Their religious beliefs were as varied as the languages of the country.
For example, among Kankanai Igorots, the dog was almost worshipped that some of whom even gave their dogs amulets to wear against sickness and danger. However, among some neighboring Igorot tribes, the dog is killed and eaten during sacrifices. This has been a source of some hostility even among these Igorot tribes who live close to one another. So, to understand how religion is practiced in the Philippines it is important to look at the unique ways Filipinos manifest their spirituality.
The ancient Filipinos believed that all objects had spirits or were inhabited by such. Even inanimate objects like rocks, mountains, lakes, etc., and natural phenomena like wind, thunder and fire were said to be inhabited by particular spirits, or to be governed by certain gods. The belief in a Supreme God seems to be the most natural and simplest beliefs of early Filipinos. The name of this god varied depending on what region. Among some of the names are: Bathala, Diwata, Kabunian, Mansilatan, Makaptan, Laon, Lamauig, Mamarsua, Tuhan etc.
Practically, all the early Filipinos had a belief in the afterlife. Generally, it was believed that the good went to heaven, while the evil went to hell. Sometimes, the good soul, rather than ascending to heaven, would take residence in a local tree or similar spot to watch over their loved ones, or take care of unfinished business.
Rituals were often performed by early Filipinos. Omens were constantly watched for, especially before long journeys or the start of important enterprises. While many Filipino tribes practices blood sacrifice, more common were bloodless offerings like vegetables, plants or palm leaf books with prayers, supplication or praises. Sometimes, small boats were made on which feasts were prepared for the deity, and the boat sent out to sea towards the horizon. Rituals for good health involves a sacred bath in the river were the people of the community would often sprinkle themselves with bundles of sacred herbs dipped in the river. The Filipinos often resorted to divination to ascertain the will of the gods, or the winds of fate. Mediums and oracle were consulted and women are usually playing this role.
This feature of Filipino society was carried on even with the presence of the Spaniards in the country. These practices about spirits were something Spanish priests tried to eradicate. The Spanish told the indigenous Filipinos that these practices were acts of the devil or witches in order to persuade them to give up these practices. In the end, however, it was the Filipinos who decided what their religion should be like.