In Hungduan, Ifugao, three communities—Hapao, Baang, and Nungulunan—observe three post-harvest rituals, collectively known as huowah. Punnuk, an intense tugging match in the Hapao River, is the last of the three rituals.
Before punnuk, the baki and the inum, are held at the ground floor of the dumupag’s house. (The dumupag, the designated lead family in the harvest, belongs to the kadangyan, a traditional rich class owning inherited terraced fields.) Both rituals are presided by the mumbaki (ritual specialist) who chants expressions of gratitude to the gods for the harvest and to the forbears for the terrace fields bequeathed to the present generation of dumupag.
The baki is a ritual divination where chickens, and sometimes a pig, are sacrificed. The bile of the sacrificed animal is inspected for acceptability as offerings to the gods and ancestral spirits. Upon declaring the bile maphod (very good), a male elder shouts from an elevated terrace embankment facing the communities across wide expanse of terraced fields to announce that punnuk will be held the following day and invites the people to prepare for the ritual.
After the baki, three jars of varying sizes containing rice wine prepared by the dumupag are brought to the ritual area for the inum. Between chants of prayers, the mumbaki opens each jar and to dip his cup in each, starting with the large one. After he takes the first sip of the finest wine from the small jar, others can partake of the wine from the large jar. Shouts of revelry signal the rest of the community to join the nightlong merrymaking before the punnuk the following day.
The punnuk features the kina-ag and the pakid. The kina-ag, the object for tugging, is made of tightly packed dried rice stalks bound neatly with vines called a-e (Tinospora sp.). It is formed like either a ring or a human figure. The pakid, the object for pulling the kina-ag, is the sapling of the attoba tree (Callicarpa formosana). The preferred length of the pakid is five metres, and the preferred circumference is ten centimetres. From an adjacent sapling, a formidable hook is fashioned at the base of the pakid where the kina-ag is securely attached during the tugging. Gathering of all the materials and the making of the kina-ag is cooperative work done by men.
On the day of the punnuk, three groups of participants wear their traditional attire and march to the nunhipukana, or the convergence point of the waters of the Hapao River and its tributary. The three groups come from different directions—Hapao from the east, Baang from the south-west, and Nungulunan from the north-west—making their way to the nunhipukana through thickets and rice terrace embankments. The men carry the pakid and the kina-ag, which are decorated with the dong-a leaves (Cordyline fructicosa) while bunches of leaves are waved high to the tempo of boastful cheering of the participants.
The playful exchange of taunts becomes more feverish as the participants approach the river. The first two groups that arrive at the nunhipukana are the first to face each other in the tugging ritual. The participants recite munggopah, prayers imploring the gods’ blessing for a successful performance of the rite and for the community’s health and wellbeing.
After the prayers, a kina-ag is thrown in the river, and the opposing groups immediately strike and hook it with their pakid. If the river current is strong, the pakid is securely hooked into the kina-ag by one of the elders neutral to the contending groups. The tugging invites cheers from community members positioned at the river embankments eagerly hoping for a victory on their side. The group that pulls the kina-ag, and even the opposing group, closer to its side wins the round. The winning group then faces off with the remaining group for another round of tugging. Punnuk can go on as long as there is a kina-ag to pull, if the pakid remains sturdy, or until everyone gets tired.
The group that wins the most rounds is declared the victor not only in punnuk but of the entire harvest season. The winners are euphoric because, according to traditional beliefs, the rest of the year will be one of plenty and their rice granary will always be full. Those who do not win, however, are challenged to fend off a lean year.
After the matches and a winner is declared, the used kina-ag is thrown into the river to be swept away by the currents so that when it seen by the communities living downstream, people will know that the harvest in Hapao, Baang, and Nungulunan has been completed.