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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
imperical to protect the holok plants from biopiracy through
legislative and appropriate actions. Nordis / Posted by Bulatlat
Part 1: Rice,
Pests and Ifugao Gods
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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