Monday, November 14, 2005

Birdcatching in Sagada Part I

Boys will be boys but if you were born in Sagada, life is a little more exciting. Among Sagada boys running thirty or more, they remember spending nights in the dap-ay or sleeping quarters for men massaging the toes of their elders with bamboo sticks. They played traditional games and learn rituals. Then in the cold months, they go to mangkik.
Mangkik or ikik means catching migratory birds with a net. The way it was practiced, the mangiikik or bird catchers would look for signs about the approaching migratory birds. Sometimes it is a series of feathery clouds. They would then make the one-and-a-half hour climb to Mt. Ampacao and wait with their kerosene lamps. When the flocks would approach, they would raise their lanterns and then throw their huge nets at the precise moment. They then trampled the birds and bring them home for food.
No one would say that ikik is a tradition or a ritual but it had been going on for decades. The late William Henry Scott cited the mangkik in the Sagada Postboy , the organ of the St. Mary's School, in the July 11, 1953 issue.
"Sagada is not only admired for its natural beauty but also has abundant forest resources. On the mountain called Ampacao which bounds Sagada and the West is the place where men go to mangkik (catching birds at night with a net)," Scott wrote.
Mt. Ampacao has changed since 1953. Now at night, you will see an eerie orange glow similar to a V-shaped flare on top of Ampacao.
Alarmed, I told my friends, there are mangiikiks in Ampacao.
They laughed and said that it is just the Smart telecommunications tower.
Ikik has been on the headlines the past years because of suspicion that wild migratory birds carry the pathogenic strain of H5N1 or the bird flu or avian influenza. Once skeptical scientists doubted that the migratory wild birds carry the virus until the death of 100 or so ducks, gulls, geese and swans at a remote lake in Inner Mongolia which can't be explained by human activities.
In the local front, Mountain Province Governor Maximo Dalog called for the ban of ikik in Mountain Province and nearby provinces. He cited Sagada's Mt. Ampacao and called for Sagada officials to guard the path leading to the mountain and bar anyone going up there at night.
Sagada had already issued a resolution banning ikik starting August 2005 up- to May 2006 and indefinitely extended it because of the bird flu threat.
Dalog also cited Sinipsip in Buguias, Benguet and Hungduan in Ifugao as the other areas where the migratory birds pass and where ikik is also practiced.
"But at least, these areas are only the path and not their dwelling places. Our people only catch them," Dalog said.
The migratory birds came from Siberia down to China and ultimately the Philippines.
"In the past, we tell the mangiikik not to kill the birds tagged by scientists. Now we tell them to just avoid the place," Dalog said.
In Ilocos, the Department of Agriculture cited Bani in Pangasinan and Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte as the sanctuaries of these migratory birds. DA installed footbaths or mats wet with antiseptics in local airports or areas near the two sanctuaries supposedly to stop the spread of H5N1.
But back in Sagada, the threat of bird flu is hardly given attention by the mangiikiks and the Sagada boys.
Eduardo Umaming, a church worker here, said that last year when Sagada council banned ikik, there were still many who went up and trampled some birds. He said that his nephew and three of his friends went to Mt. Ampacao and bagged only 12 fowls.
"Every Sagada boy wanted to experience ikik," Umaming said.
He remembered going up there in 1980 when he was in high school.
"We got drunk waiting for the birds and I bagged only seven. It's not worth it," he said.
Back then (probably in 1953), the mangiikiks would harvest sacks and sacks of birds, he said.
"Then people would go to mangkik for food. Now young ones do it for the thrill. I've been saying to the council and the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) that should be their basis. If it is for thrill and not for food, then ikik should be stopped," Umaming said.
He also said that mere banning ikik would not deter the residents.
"They should penalize or fine them," he said.
Another Sagada boy interjected that if the birds are indeed infected with bird flu, they should have dropped dead even before they reach Sagada.
Ornithologists around the world also flirted with the idea but still called for worldwide surveillance of migratory birds until the specific species of wild bird could be found to have been carrying the dreaded disease for long distances.
Until then Sagada boys would have to settle for bird watching rather than for bird catching.

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