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UNDERSTANDING UVAYA IN THE LIGHT OF LEVINAS’ “RESPONSIBILITY FOR

THE OTHER”
By
Vince Dave A. Bernardino

ABSTRACT
Culture is that which gives birth to firm beliefs, values, the definition of who people are,

and how people see the reality of life. Culture and traditions give a sense of unity amongst certain

groups of people living together. The traditional rite of Uvaya, a rite practiced by the Masadiit

Tribe in the Province of Abra, is one example of a tradition that brings forth the sense of care and

unity among people. In this world where many grow indifferent to one another, people fill their

lives with selfish ambitions and the keeps comfort only for themselves. In this sense, the rite of

Uvaya, often seen as a quarantine, can be a reflection that men have the sense of responsibility for

others. This research then is aimed at understanding Uvaya not only in the context of a quarantine,

but also in the context of Levinas’ “Ethics of Care” and to bring out the values of a typical

Masadiit. Interviews would be given to the elders of the Masadiit, particularly Bucloc, Abra, to be

able to understand whether Uvaya is seen only as a quarantine or a practice that would bring out

the sense of care to people.

1
INTRODUCTION

People often think and ask themselves what really unites them. Is it the relationship with

each other that keeps them united? Is it the lifestyle they have in common? It is culture. Culture

unites people. It is in culture where stories are well preserved and there is nothing better in this

world than a good story. Culture is that which unites people in a way that it gives them a sense of

identity and uniqueness of what they have. It provides a sense of purpose and belongingness and

has to be preserved for it is the only thing that people have that keeps them from becoming

someone they are not. Culture keeps the memories of the past, told in present for the betterment of

the future.

The Philippines is one of the countries rich in terms of culture and traditions that are well

known in the world today; ati-atihan in the Visayas, the traditional Flores de Mayo, and many

more. The north also has its own cultures that are unique in sorts of ways and one of them is the

province of Abra. It is a landlocked area in the northwestern part of the Philippines and is a home

to many cultures, traditions and different tribes. There are specifically 11 tribes in the province:

Masadiit, Binongan, Muyadan, Inlaud, Maeng, Iloco, Banao, Balatok, Belwang, Mabaca, and

Adasen. Abra is a home to many groups of people and is inhabited by, mostly, the Tingguians

(upland people).

The Masadiit tribe inhabits the municipalities of Bucloc, Daguioman, Boliney, and

Sallapadan. The Masadiit tribe is not any different from any other tribes. They also have certain

practices on courtship, marriages, justice system, and burials. 1

1
Cf. Digna Jocelyn L. Abaya et al, Dialects, Beliefs and Practices of the Tingguians of
Abra, (JPAIR Multidisciplinary Journal, 2011), 80.
2
Most of the Masadiit, also with Muyadan, respect the cultures of old especially the cultures

on courtship, justice system, burials. Yes, people from the Masadiit tribe value certain practices

and is well respected in various occasions. But unfortunately, some people tend to forget the

cultures of old that shaped them and made them who they are. This present generation is now

living in a world of the New Society and the youth tend to forget the cultures that they were born

in. The Masadiit tribe elders still value the various cultures and traditions of old. Tugtugaw is still

valued as a way of courtship, Danun in the realm of marriage, Dung-aw and uggayam are often

seen in the practices of burial2. But the Masadiit, especially those that live in the modern world, is

in the brink of losing and misinterpreting the often-forgotten facet of their culture: the traditional

practice and ritual of Uvaya.

This research then is aimed at understanding the concept of Uvaya, with the help of the

philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, as practiced by, unfortunately, only a few. The researcher also

hopes that as this research paper is presented it gives a sense of understanding to the younger

generations of the Masadiit to give them the strength in preserving and valuing certain cultures

that make them who they are.

2
Cf. Ibid., 82-86.
3
CHAPTER 1

THE RITE OF UVAYA

Uvaya

It is quite inevitable that in every place of the town there will be that time wherein disasters

and other calamities come and there is no chance of stopping it. People tend to just get on with the

flow and let it be as if only like a passing shadow. But there are instances where certain calamities

or disasters come unexpectedly and shatter the lifestyle and daily routine of everyone living in that

area. There will be floods, famine, earthquake and other natural disasters that are out of control

and when this happens people tend to pray.

The rite of Uvaya is very much likely a kind of prayer. It is a kind of ritual wherein the

people ask for blessings and offer up something to Apo Kabunian.3 Since time immemorial, the

ritual has been done annually and is led by the elders. The rite of Uvaya is originally an agricultural

ritual. When the sowing is done and the crops are planted then the ritual is initiated in the hopes

of having a well-deserved rain and a good harvest. Uvaya is that ritual where people offer up

sacrifices to the gods and ask for benefits and good harvest when the time comes. This has been

practiced by the inhabitants of Amtuagan, Tubo, Abra, people belonging to the Maeng tribe. But

as time passed, the ritual of Uvaya is not only used during the time when crops are planted but

3
Apo Kabunian is the god of the poor and the oppressed and is often seen as an inhabitant
of a small hut in the highest mountain of the Province. He is to be known as the healer of the people
by driving out demons and other evil spirits in the area.
Cf. Fay-Cooper Cole, Traditions of the Tingguian: A Study In Philippine Folklore,
(Chicago IL, 1915), 25.
4
Uvaya is also done not just an agricultural ritual but they used it as a ritual to ask for protection

and to offer the gods thanksgiving. Uvaya has evolved in time.

The Rite of Uvaya as an Appeal for Protection

Uvaya has evolved into different kinds of prayers. It is not only used for agricultural

purposes but Uvaya became also a ritual done to prevent bad things and omens that come in the

barangay. The latest ritual of Uvaya done in the province is in the year 2017 wherein there were

people dying every single day and there seemed to be no halt or a bit of rest on it. Thus, Uvaya has

been decided by the elders to be performed. The rite of Uvaya is done by the inhabitants of the

whole barangay to be led by the baglan4, the person who is able to talk to the spirits of the

kabagaang.5

The baglan prepares the materials needed for the ritual. First, he invites his fellow elders

and every townspeople to place a rope around the whole barangay with the feathers of chickens.

The rope that is tied around the whole barangay symbolizes a barricade that shields them from the

incoming dangers, disasters, and calamities to the barangay. The baglan also prepares the pig to

be placed in front of the kabagaang and forms an altar wherein he places other offerings such as

boa, tabaco, and lulluot (grasses.) The baglan then speaks to Apo Kabunian asking that he may

save them from impending dangers that come along the way. After which he would then apply

4
Baglan is often believed to be the mediator of the gods and the inhabitants of the
Barangay. Often known as an elder of the barangay. (Valera, Bello. Personal Interview. Pob.
Gangal, Sallapadan, Abra. May 27, 2019.)
5
The Kabagaang is a set of stones formed like the shape of man which are believed to be
objects wherein the gods speak. (Bernal, Nomer. Personal Interview. Pob. Gangal, Sallapadan,
Abra. May 27, 2019.)
5
tangali6 to the offerings and to the pig as well. He then slits the throat of the pig, offers the blood

to the kabagaang and continues to pray.

After the ritual the townspeople held together hand in hand and sing traditional songs and

perform uggayam7 and would also perform tadtadek (a traditional Tingguian dance). After a day

of songs and dances to please Apo Kabunian the barangay then closes its doors to all visitors from

any other places. Thus, when Uvaya is taking place the townsfolk are no longer allowed to go out

of town and visitors are not permitted to go inside the barangay. This is strictly followed for three

days.

In the ritual of Uvaya, the baglan sets the barangay in a state of quarantine for the very

reason that he tends to protect the townsfolk from all the dangers and calamities that come along

their barangay. Thus, this ritual serves as a quarantine. This ritual serves as an appeal for protection

from all the evil realities that tend to happen inside the barangay. They tie ropes to show that it is

not safe yet to enter the barangay until the whole three days are consumed by the ritual.

The Rite of Uvaya as a Ritual for Thanksgiving

Uvaya can also be used in times of great comfort when the people got what they asked for.

As it has been originally an agricultural ritual, the rite of Uvaya as thanksgiving can be seen after

the reaping season. The same steps are done by the baglan. He also needs pig and other offerings

to Apo Kabunian. They would still place ropes around the whole barangay, sing songs of praise

and dance tadek. But this time the baglan would no longer ask for favors or blessings, this time he

6
Tangali is a traditional oil used by the Tingguians for healing and ritual purposes. (Valera,
Bello.)
7
Uggayam is a greeting in the form of song. (Valera, Bello.)
6
would offer up prayers of thanksgiving and talk to the gods just how grateful the townsfolk are.

But, in general, it is not only used after harvest season but it is used when they have seen the

improvement and the maintenance of balance that their place has. They would perform Uvaya as

a thanksgiving for the many blessings they have received from Apo Kabunian.

The rite of Uvaya has been done by the elders of old since time immemorial originally as

a ritual done for the betterment and welfare of agriculture especially after the time of crop planting

and sowing. As time passed by, the ritual has evolved into two major facets namely Uvaya as an

Appeal for Protection and as a ritual for Thanksgiving.

Uvaya is usually done whenever bad things and disasters happen in the barangay and there

seems to be no manifestation of stopping. Thus, it is done in the hopes of stopping and preventing

disasters that come in the barangay. Uvaya is also done as Thanksgiving when the people feel that

Apo Kabunian has granted their request and prayers and the lifestyle and routine inside the

barangay is again well-balanced.

In our modern world today, especially within the Tingguians, Uvaya is seen as a quarantine

in the form of a religious ritual. But is there a deeper meaning and implication of the rite of Uvaya?

Is Uvaya merely to be seen as a quarantine?

7
CHAPTER TWO

LEVINAS’ PHILOSOPHY ON THE “RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE OTHER”

Most of the philosophers often rise during times of crisis and instability in their certain

places. Their ideas are born in this situation. Plato and Aristotle rose when the city-state they once

knew is in danger of disappearing. Hobbes’ appeal for strong sovereign power was a response to

a state of civil war that threatens institutions and security.8 Levinas’ ideas were born in the years

of one of the greatest tragedies that has happened in this world: The Second World War. Levinas

was a Jew and he has experienced such many difficulties as his family were the victims of

deportation and his countrymen suffered during the Holocaust. 9 Thus, seeing so much sufferings,

his idea and philosophy on the Ethics of Care and the Responsibility for the Other was born.

The I and the L'epiphanie du Visage

One must clearly know that it is somehow inevitable for someone that he does not have

any wants or desires in this life. Most people often tend to look for something they want and tries

to reflect on what they really need to sustain this life and enjoy every kind of luxury they would

want. Thus, one of the most common expressions in this world today is YOLO or You Only Live

Once. People tend to enjoy life for themselves and acquires all that they want. This, for Levinas is

egoism.

8
Cf. Michael Curtis, The Great Political Theories: From Greeks to the Enlightenment, Vol.
1, (New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008), 13.

9
Cf. Adriaan Peperzak, To The Other: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Emmanuel
Levinas, (West Lafayette, IND: Purdue University Press, 1993) 8.
8
Levinas contrast desires with need. Needs, as a common notion, do not only encompass a

home, food, and rest. Levinas believes that needs also encompass many other wants or drives that

makes us do certain things and activities.10 A need is a representation of man’s egoistic attitude.

The I means all the egoistic attitude one has. It means that one creates his own world with the

benefits he has for himself. It is of individual independence.11 But this world can also be shattered

when someone enters one’s world and everything changes.

Suppose one is having a good time, a good life with all the benefits and comforts of luxury

that has been attained by these. One has a home, with a lot of equipment and things that would

make up to his daily life. If in a very cold dusk one eats at one of the most expensive restaurants

in town and as he savors the food with every single bite, he looks at the window and sees a kid

with lots of bruises and dog bites on his leg. His clothes were torn and his hair seems to be that he

hasn’t been able to take a bath. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t give sign languages. He is just

there staring but by the look of his face one knows that he is in need of great help and attention.

He might be hungry and he might be poor.

With this, even without speaking through the mouth and even without doing anything, one

knows for sure that he is poor and needs help. Thus, even in the midst of a luxurious life, another

human being presents itself through its Face. [L’epiphanie du Visage]. The first and foremost way

in the realization that there is the Other is the epiphany of the face.12

10
Cf. Ibid., 22.
11
Cf. Ibid.
12
Cf. Ibid., 110.
9
Responsibility for the Other

It is in this context that Levinas gives the proper distinction between need and desire. For

Levinas,

true Desire is not a need; it is not focused on self-satisfaction, not even in the
form of one’s own salvation, but it does desire something absolute, “something”
that cannot be subordinated to- nor even compared with -anything else. Desire
is to deep to and too empty ever to be fully satisfied.13

Thus, desire is a deeper representation of a man’s world being shattered by the other. The

face of the other brings about the desire that one has in his own self that all his actions are somehow

directed to a higher purpose, that is his responsibility for the other. For Levinas, “Desire is another

name for human transcendence.”14 So by this context when one desires, he is transcending and to

desire is to trigger that attitude that a person is responsible for other person. To desire is to have

an infinite task: that of caring for others.

From this, one can say that man is more than a collection of needs. He does not only bring

about the comfort this life can offer. But somehow, this egoism is also important for the very

reason that we have individual independence that makes one also an Other. This egoism would

also likely to help one to realize that as he fixes his world he is also fixing the situation of the

Other. One cleans and fixes his home in the hope of the other knocking on his door. He buys food

and puts them in the fridge in the hope that the other would get hungry and would just take some

food and fill up his belly. One also makes his bed and keeps it clean not only for himself but he

hopes that the other would need some rest and offers his bed for the other. Thus, all the things

13
Ibid., 22.
14
Ibid., 23.
10
necessary to sustain life intended for an individual is given much consideration that this are not

only for his own sake but for the sake of the other that he has Desired to take care of. The things

that one has collected for himself is put in the service of others. When one possesses a home, it is

not for himself. Thus, expressions such as “Here I am” are no longer a manifestation of the egoism

of one person but it clearly means that “I am in your disposal.”15

The reality of life starts when one attains the comforts and luxuries of life for the betterment

of his own self. But everything changes when this world that we have created is shattered and

disturbed by something that makes one transcend to his daily activities. The Face of the Other

enters the world one has created and makes him realize that the things and luxuries that he has

attained for himself is not only intended for himself but for the hope that the things that he has

attained can be of use of someone in need. One fixes his life in the sense that he wants the Other

to feel also the comforts he has attained. The Face gives egoism a more meaningful implication in

a sense that one makes good use of his things for the welfare of the other; he has the responsibility

for the other. But the Face is not only a tool to make one realize that he has to be responsible for

the Other. God has given the tablets to Moses on Sinai and it is there that wrote the Seventh

Commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” But it is not only on the tablet that the commandment was

written. “Thou shall not kill” is also written on the Face of the Other.

“Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Levinas, in his philosophy, does not define face as the common way knowing it like having

eyes, a nose, ears and such. In his ideas he often used the French term visage which means seeing

15
Ibid., 25.
11
or being seen.16 There is actually no concrete definition of what Levinas has coined about the Face

“only that before we speak about the face the Face speaks.”17 Thus, Levinas further stated

“Whenever the Face speaks to us, the first content of expression is the expression itself.”18 This is

the foundation that even if the mouth does not utter a word and the face does not speak literally,

the Face speaks in terms of expression denoted by his face like that of the example of the homeless

kid staring at the window. What does the Face really trying to tell?

Levinas’ Philosophy has raised some ontological and metaphysical question such as the

most renowned one in terms of Levinas: “Who is the other?” One can never reach a sense of

satisfaction in trying to define what Other really means if the Face does not literally speak. One

cannot simply ask the Face and say “What does it mean to be an Other?” To answer this question

on what the face really speaks is found in the Decalogue particularly the Seventh Commandment

“Thou shall not kill.” One can now finally define that the Other is the one that is not to be killed.

The Other is the one to be taken care of. The Face of the Other speaks in its expression that he

should not be killed.19

Thus, in this statement, the egoistic attitude of a person is not lost. He sees the face of the

other without any spoken word and such and realizes that he does not have the right to kill him.

Man is egoistic that he does not desire everything for himself. Man is egoistic in a sense that what

16
Cf. Simon Critchley & Robert Bernasgoni, The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, (The
Edinburgh Building, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 64.
17
Ibid., 67.
18
Ibid., 68.
19
For The Other, 63.
12
he does is also for the benefit of the other. The statement “Thou shall not kill” makes it a point that

living in solitude is not that worthwhile. Thus, “I” must have a companion in this life. It

presupposes that one must not kill the Other. In most general terms, in Levinas’ philosophy, we

cannot kill the Other for we are responsible for him.

13
CHAPTER 3

CONCLUSION

Abra is one of the many provinces in the north that has been rich with cultures and is often

seen integrated in many occasions. The tadtadek is seen before and after the wedding ceremonies

and also during holiday seasons such as Christmas Time and New Year’s Eve. The famous bodong

is still being practiced in the areas occupied by the Balatok tribe. The Masadiit and other Eastern

towns have also their own unique cultures and one of them is the practice of Uvaya.

Uvaya is a ritual apparent within the Masadiit tribe that is originally practiced after the

crops has planted to ask for rain. Basically, Uvaya is a ritual for agricultural purposes; to ask for

rain and to prevent famine. As time passed the ritual of Uvaya has evolved. It is not only used

today for agricultural purposes but it has evolved in a sense that it can already be used as a ritual

to prevent disasters and calamities that come in the barangay. When a certain barangay is affected

by disaster or any unnatural causes such as that some of townsfolk die everyday with no

manifestation of decrease in death rate, Uvaya is planned by the elders and the ritual is done. The

baglan initiates the ritual with the offerings in front of the kabagaang and the whole barangay

places a rope around the town to symbolize the barricade that prevents the disasters and calamities.

It also represents that no people are allowed to go in or out of the barangay in a period of three

days. when the people feels that their plea are considered they then follow it up with the

Thanksgiving ritual. Thus, Uvaya is a ritual that brings forth that Masadiit tradition of staying

strong amidst all challenges. Uvaya is often seen as a quarantine in the form of a ritual but Uvaya

also has its deep significance and implications that can be properly justified by the Philosophy of

Emmanuel Levinas: The Responsibility for the Other.

14
The Philosophy of Levinas was born in times of chaos during his time; the Second World

War triggered his view on Ethics and his Philosophy. Levinas started this Ethical foundation with

the attitude man inevitably has and that is the egoistic attitudes. But amidst all of his egoistic

attitudes, man realizes that the things he does for himself is also toward the benefit of the Other

with the manifestation of the Other’s Face. His egoistic attitude is given the proper reason in a

sense that he would fix his house in the hopes of having the Other knocking on its door and would

offer him the comforts he deserves. But this Other’s Face is not to be understood by the common

notion of face. The Face, for Levinas, is a speaking face. Not in literal terms, the Face speaks in

the expression that he manifests. What exactly does this Face speak? The ontological question

“Who is the Other?” is answered by “Thou shall not kill.” Thus, the Other is the one whom one

cannot and is not supposed to kill. The Other cannot be killed for it is still in the egoistic attitude

of a person that he cannot live in solitude. So, he needs the Other. By the very manifestation of the

Face speaking “Thou shall not kill” is proper way of telling that men are indeed responsible for

the Other.

The philosophy behind the ritual of Uvaya is seen in Levinas’ Ethical foundation about the

responsibility one has for the other. The ritual is not only to please Apo Kabunian and the spirits

that dwell in the babbakir. The ritual is not supposed to ask for guidance and mercy from Him.

The ritual is not only to be seen as a quarantine. But the ritual is a manifestation and a proof that

each one of the people are responsible for each other’s’ lives. There is no better way of manifesting

the philosophy of Levinas in terms of the Masadiit culture other than the rite of Uvaya. When

disasters come and unexpected phenomena happens, the Faces plead and ask for mercy. Thus, the

townsfolk’s heart and egoistic attitudes are triggered; Uvaya takes place and shows that each one

of the people are responsible for the other. They can see that no man deserves to die and sees to it

15
that they no hole should be left in their hearts. Thus, Uvaya takes place in the hopes of living

harmoniously with other men.

The world has changed a lot and many traditions and practices are often forgotten and lose

its very meaning and importance. The people that has been encompassed by the New Society have

grown estranged by the kind of culture they were born in. Traditional practices are ignored and are

taken for granted by some. Thus, traditional practices are mostly just mere stories and by practicing

them, they seem to be just like the works of old men seen with no significance. Elders in the

Masadiit tribe have always been advocating the very importance of cultures and traditions and one

of them is the preserving of the Uvaya given the proper significance and menaing in the light of

Levinas’ philosophy on the “Responsibility for the Other.” The professions men have attained such

as, Law, Medicine, Engineering, and other professions come in secondary. The thing that comes

in primarily in all of the things that we do is the respect for the culture for it is in culture that men

knows who they are, where they came from, and how they are supposed to live their lives.

16
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

A. LITERATURE CITED

Abaya, Digna Jocelyn, et al. Dialects, Beliefs and Practices of the


Tingguians of Abra. (JPAIR Multidisciplinary Journal, 2011).

Cole, Fay-Cooper. Traditions of the Tingguian: A Study In Philippine


Folklore. (Chicago IL, 1915).

Peperzak, Adrian. To The Other: An Introduction to the Philosophy of


Emmanuel Levinas. (West Lafayette, IND: Purdue University Press, 1993)

Critchley, Simon & Bernasgoni, Robert. The Cambridge Companion to


Levinas. (The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Curtis, Michael. The Great Political Theories: From Greeks to the


Enlightenment, Vol. 1. (New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008).

B. INTERVIEWS

Bello Valera. Municipal Indigenous People’s Representative. Brgy. Maguyepyep,


Sallapadan, Abra. Personal Interview. May 27, 2019.

Nomer C. Bernal. Barangay Indigenous People’s Representative. Pob. Gangal,


Sallapadan, Abra. Personal Interview. May 27, 2019.

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