Sadanga Chronicles

A man from the Municipality of Sadanga wearing an "okrong" or "sokrong" (wicker headgear) with his pipe stuck on it.

A man from the Municipality of Sadanga wearing an “okrong” or “sokrong” (wicker headgear) with his pipe stuck on it.

By: Glo R. Abaeo

I was standing above a ridge one time, my feet were grounded but I feel the skies. It was like freedom in an unexplainable way. Complete abandon of self that makes me want to dive from where I was to embrace the expanse of reddish land below. The valley and villages in miniature cupped in the enclave of my palms, and if only I could pluck them to keep, press them like flowers between book pages and preserve them like they are now to look at in the future, then I would. So I watch the valley and the villages instead, allowing the view to sink in and root itself in my thoughts. It may not be the same the next time around, yet I wish it will stay this way. With the trees hugging the rocks and the mountain facades, sweeping down to a village with terraced farms, a few dirty kitchen smokes evident from the distance reminding me of warm dinner with the village folks.

The wind running through my hair reminded me of another thing though. That encapsulating freedom I got from communing with the lowly beaten earth and the great powers of the illuminating sunset skies, that spells pride for me. Pride in the most unconventional way, uncommon with city folks like me. Pride to come back to a land that was once my Daddy’s play grounds. Pride to set foot and embrace a culture that stood the changes, pride to be part of a tribe that ate out of the sodden earth that they have fought for in history to protect. Here I was, in a land that I trace my roots from.
Sadanga is a place not so often visited. It sits on high ground above the mountains surrounded by other municipalities. The path to take was once a dirt road, the fine, dry dust following your trails when you go driving or walking by. Up, up you go to that lonely path and suddenly stop midway to a diversion road. One goes up to Sacasacan and the other downhill to Poblacion. Before choosing your way is an interesting spot right there, this place called Opucan, where a lone memorial stands. This is where Mother Basil Gekiere lies, the Belgian ICM sister who came and chose to stay and helped educate Sadanga with other CICM missionaries such as the great Fr. Leon Quintelier. The people laid her to rest here, on a knoll to overlook the people she came to love. So like a checkpoint this place stands to watch everybody who happens to come by. Another few minutes going downhill will get people to Sadanga Poblacion, the Municipal Hall sitting smack in the middle where it is most accessible to everybody. Right below on another adjacent village fronting the Municipal Hall is Barangay Demang. Accentuated by a river below the rice paddies, you could view the provencal scene in its simplest and most natural essence. The Catholic Church sits a few paces away from the Municipal Hall and the Police Station, and it is a busy place. The church is one place where they gather and commune and gladly some of the most important events and gatherings in Sadanga are church based. Proof that Mother Basil and all the other people who started Christianity here are successful, and the present parish priests of the Vicariate are doing well continuing it. This has helped dispel the conflicts that used to mar the rivaling tribes. Most people has opted for peace these days so Sadanga is a very much quiet and safe place to travel to.

Opting to take the diversion road uphill on the other hand would take you to my Dad’s hometown, a place called Sacasacan. This barangay overlooks most of Sadanga in its entirety, with Bekigan and Belwang to the extreme left, Poblacion and Demang below. Sacasacan is the oldest seat of government in this municipality. This place is so strategic that the American once built a garrison here and a watch house. Over across a ledge is a magnificent view of the rice terraces. The “ators” still exist, preserved the way they were, of kugon roofs and stone walling. Life here is still so rural that one can enjoy it to the simplest. You work and play and you survive.

Lads from Betwagan, Sadanga pose with old wooden shields and spears after reenacting the old traditions.

Lads from Betwagan, Sadanga pose with old wooden shields and spears after reenacting the old traditions.

What is pretty striking here, is the fact that most old men and women still don the traditional “wanes” (g-string or loincloth) and “tapis” (wrap-around woven skirt) as an everyday clothing, not only as a garb during occasions. In the early mornings you can chance upon them sunning themselves out on their yards or gathering with others and smoking their pipes, something they stick on their “okrong” (headgear made of wicker) when not in use. They would be squatting there speaking of old times or their crops and anything under the sun. Then each would go his own way, and as old as they are most would still consider doing chores of pounding rice, or making “fvayash” (rum from sugarcane) when in season, or weaving baskets or feeding the livestocks. Age is nothing to make them want to idle their time, perhaps the very reason that their body age are much younger than their actual age.

Who would have thought that these old, wrinkled men were once gallant warriors? In the days of old when their optimum security depends on themselves, the menfolk are united to stand against the odds of war. There are still some relics to relive those days, “kalasag(s)” or wooden shields that were actually used as well as the “tubay(s)” (spears) that are now being passed on to descendants as heirlooms. The coming of the 70’s and 80’s saw most of the fierce fighting of the Municipality of Sadanga with other clans within itself and some as far as other Provinces. And along with the trophies of “sangi(s)” (jawbones) and or upper part of the skulls taken from the Japanese war time, the more recent ones were added. These were usually used as handles for the musical instruments called “gangsa” or gongs. These olden tradition has long been abandoned and the people are now bound by peace and the longing for it to be maintained forever. The younger generations, to count myself in, have been doing our shares of making this possible, often acting as peacekeepers.

3 sets of old jawbones (sangi) were threaded and used as handles for this gong, a symbol of triumph and glory durin

3 sets of old jawbones (sangi) were threaded and used as handles for this gong, a symbol of triumph and glory during times of war.

So many traditions here that are so ancient it does not stop to fascinate me. Every little thing screams of life, as in for every man a scar has a story to tell.


All photos By: Glo R. Abaeo

Natonin Re-Discovered



Road improvements have made a significant contribution to Natonin. The green municipality is now greatly accessible.

After fifteen long years, I was back in Natonin.  The last time I visited the place, I was in my prime and enjoyed the day long walk to Poblacion after an overnight stay in Kadaclan, Barlig.  There was already a road at that time but you would need a front drive vehicle with winch to get you through.  If you talk with the locals, they would tell of the hardships when roads were not yet in place and you had to literally walk in the forest and hopefully avoid the leeches.


Things have changed.  You can now hop on a mini bus or a charged up Ford Fiera for a five hour ride (64 kilometers) from Bontoc to Poblacion, Natonin.  The ride is an adventure in itself.  The view is just awesome.  Everything is green!


I was in Natonin as part of my commitment to share what I had learned on entrepreneurial development in India.  In Poblacion, Natonin, the few establishments that we have seen before have increased and the town center now has its own public market.  Funny, I recall during our trek, a bottle of soda (never mind the price) was a godsend and seemingly our only connection to the outside world.  Now, the products of the world have come to the town.  Mobile phones and accessories courtesy of our Muslim brother merchants, DVD you have it!  Visit a general store and a sign is posted- longaniza, hotdog and bangus (milk fish)-part of a changing diet for the locals.  The presence of tricycles also has contributed to a changing landscape. A bakery, several karaoke cum general store joints are there, mobile phone load anyone?


We stopped by the market to look for local products; alas this is an area that needs improvement.  I asked the local vendor where vegetables come from and she said “Bontoc, Isabela.”  The only local produce we could find is the large variety cucumbers and some squash.


Our final destination was Saliok, the barrio nearest to Paracelis so we have to stay for the night in Poblacion.  You can have a comfortable stay at a quaint lodging house managed by the local Arang Cooperative and I liked it that Bertha was there to take care of the cooking.


The next day, we took a Mitsubishi (front drive) van that covers the Natonin to Paracelis route.  A mere twelve kilometers from Poblacion to Saliok sets you off by seventy pesos. The 45 minutes trip to Saliok provides a showcase of what cemented roads could do to community development.  There still are some road-portions that make your heart skip faster but generally, the rest of the road portions are A-Ok.  We reached Saliok, a hilly barrio with large swathes of flat land.  Things have changed too in this place.  A “jumbo” bridge has replaced the rickety wooden bridge of old.  The muddy road was no more and the atmosphere and look of barrio Saliok has similarities of a community in the Ilocos region.

Saliok is warm and humid but the water and forest resources provide an abundance of natural food at its best.  The ‘paco’ (fern) salad served us is just perfect.  This is a big change from the usual over-processed food fare that we have in the growing urban areas that we come from.


The three day stay in Saliok made me realize the impact of development in a community.  But there is more than meets the eye.  Yes we want development in our communities but there could also be a price to pay.  Influences from a foreign culture could have an impact on the values of the locals.  A karaoke joint in a barrio may be a good place for a visitor to relax but who gets to stay in this places when the visitor leaves?  Roads could also make it easier now to transport illegally cut Nara and other forest products.  This is quite a challenge to the DENR and the community leaders who are tasked to protect the forests.  Natonin will need a master plan on sustainable development.  By sustainable development, it will need to work on economic programs that will meet the needs of its residents today and also be able to provide for the succeeding generations.


The rich natural forest resources that the municipality has are its crown jewel.  The municipality needs to work on a conservation program on its resources.  Natonin and Barlig are the only remaining truly ‘green’ municipalities of the province of Mountain Province.

by Joel T. Fagsao