Women’s Front: Psycho-social mechanisms in responding to critical event (2/2)



Managing particular psycho-social problems brought about by a crisis:

In cases where there are particular problems brought about by a crisis situation, there are also measures that the village take and address accordingly. For example, when a villager’s property (abode or payew) gets damaged by a calamity, “Changhas” or “Pangu” are typically practiced.

Chaghas – is collective work involving the whole community to assist a villager in need, for instance a dwelling damaged by the typhoon. It could take the form of hauling materials to be used for rebuilding the house; lending assistance such as cooking food for those involved in the reconstruction, and reconstructing the house itself.

Pangu is also practiced to assist the one in need in food production , for instance if the payew of the villager gets damaged. Payment is not monetary but in kind.

General guiding principle:

The general principle guiding them in whatever actions they take is tuyungen or mutual assistance. This means that everything is done collectively and for the collective interests of the community (collective caring for the children and looking into the needs of everybody not just their immediate or nuclear family).

Psychological cost of the critical event:

Some of the acknowledged psychological consequences resulting from critical events experienced by the people of Tanglag were:

1. Ogdyat/ogjat – extreme fear experienced especially among children (e.g. during militarization when the community experienced bombings or mortar shelling)

2. Nakusjaven – shock, trauma – seen as a typical occurrence during critical events. (e.g. during a typhoon, a teenager had been swept by the strong currents of the river when he was trying to cross to the other side. When the umili found him, he was in a state of shock – nakusjaven)

3. Manjebjeb is a graver reaction than nakusjaven involving a loss or death of a loved one (e.g. When one of their elders was abducted and went missing. He was later found murdered). The family in mourning felt Manjebjeb.

4. Khuchkhuchyavong – A person can lose sense or “lose their mind” especially when somebody dies; This usually happens when a person is in sorrow (Langchu) or feels prolonged sadness (manchocho-oy) after an incident. They describe it as a person exhibiting symptoms of “depression” – a person feels extreme loneliness with very low energy. The person can hardly eat or doesn’t sleep well.

5. Matingang – a person going insane.

Rituals and practices to ease psychological burden

1. Lumangpaw – A ritual is usually done to ease the pain of those affected to reconnect the “shattered spirit” so joy may come back to the person and become her/his normal self again. This process is called LUMANGPAW which is to ease the burden of the affected to help them move on. Usually it is the Manchachawak (local priest or healer) who performs the ritual (Kyey-abhen) because it is believed that the person is “Nasegpan” or has been possessed by an evil spirit. The ritual consists of calling the spirits where a chicken, the clothes of the person affected, and anahaw leaves are used to call back the lost spirit. This is done around 3-4 in the morning (bhumusngil) before sunrise. Rituals are done to ease the pain of the grieving family members.

2. Manchegu – A usual practice of the village folk to show sympathy/empathy towards the affected villager.

3. Iyaveg – A typical form of stress release which the community practices, where everyone would momentarily discontinue whatever activities they are doing and curse a subject to show outrage. This is done in a joyful manner though. This has been commonly observed during times the community is militarized where helicopters dropping bombs are cursed. The sight and sound of the helicopters approaching the village usually creates anxiety among the community folk. So in cases where they suspect another military operation and a helicopter is seen, the people would stop working and collectively wish through “cursing” the chopper to crash.

4. Mang-ug-ug-gud – storytelling for the children which can be a way of calming them down

Psycho-social impact of the rituals and socio-cultural practices:

1. This process of the involvement by the entire community during crises situations (mangsisinagkat) makes their situation lighter to manage. The mere thought of collectively facing and overcoming the crises gives them a feeling of being in control. Ogdyat or ogjat which means extreme fear is minimized (Makaangngos), generating a sense of relief (tummiyok). The collective experience by the people is in itself a sign of unity and the “umili” believes that this would tighten the unity of the community even more. This, in itself gives them the courage to confront anything that befalls the community.

2. After Changas or Pangu or a ritual, Lummegpot (unburdening) is said to be greatly felt by the affected villager/s. Lummegpot is also felt when a ritual is done after a death of a family member.

Comparisons between Mainstream and Traditional Method:

Trying to see what distinguishes the 2 approaches and understanding their applicability in particular contexts provide us better appreciation of the appropriateness and relevance of indigenous mechanisms in addressing critical events.

CISD is a structured intervention approach which has a definite procedure and system of rules to deal with experiences with “emotionally sensitive” content. The traditional process used by the people of Tanglag has its own structure and set of rules though not in a formal sense. It is understood and followed by the community with spontaneity and has been a practice for several generations already. Since it comes from actual experiences by the people and affirmed as effective by them, it makes it undeniably appropriate and relevant.

CISD is ideally done 24 to 72 hours after the critical incident and has the following goals:

a. Permits a group/community to examine events leading to the incident and to express emotional reactions to the event.
b. It develops understanding and increase feelings which the person has control.
c Prevents group cohesion from breaking down due to the effects of a crisis.

Though there are no defined goals of the traditional process, the community undergoes and practice the knowledge system because it is part of the culture which gives importance to their collective existence as a people. The guiding principles which they uphold gives them a sense of control about their situations even how precarious.

Unlike CISD that examines the events leading to the incident, the affected community undergoes the process as they experience the critical event. In this way the emotional reactions are already minimized giving them a sense of control about their situation. While one of the CISD’s goals is to reclaim group cohesion and prevents it from breaking down, the traditional process is living proof of community cohesion that is further enhanced since it is done collectively and with precisely the purpose of salvaging the group as a whole socially and psychologically.

In CISD, debriefers assist survivors of crises discover and become aware of an array of issues, such as:

a. The chain of events which transpired
b. The causes and consequences of the event
c. Each individuals unique experience of the event
d. Any memories triggered by the event
e. Normal psychological reactions to critical stress
f. Approaches and techniques to manage critical stress

In the traditional practice, there is no identified debriefer since everyone is part of the whole process. The person in-charge who is as much part of the group, an elder, facilitates the direction and what course of action the community would take to address the critical event. Since the process starts during the crises itself and not after, the psychological consequences then are mitigated since the community already tries to address the crises situation which may lead to a critical condition.

Differences between Mainstream and Indigenous Psycho-social mechanisms

Mainstream method VS. Indigenous Method
Reactive after the event VS. Pro-active during event
Debriefer Usually external VS. Internal within the community
Individualized experience VS. Collective experience
Needing familiarization on the culture of affected community VS. Integral in the culture of the affected community
Process is unfamiliar and needs to be introduced VS. Process is spontaneous
Process ends when CISD program is terminated VS. Continuing Process in the community


There is much that needs to be learned from the indigenous knowledge systems which are still in place in the communities. The study in Tanglag proves that their practices are appropriate and effective forms of crisis intervention since they are already part of the processes of the community. There is an urgent need to document processes in other communities though especially in the light of where the traditional practices of the people are fast disintegrating.

The traditional methods however can work complementary with the practice of mainstream mechanisms such as CISD. Certain improvements in the approach can be introduced to enhance the process. One of the beneficial objectives of CISD is the scientific explanation regarding the cause of the incident. This provides the people with a more objective view about the event. Another valuable information which the people may find useful is about normal psychological reactions to critical stress. Understanding normal reactions to the event makes one more in control of the situation. # nordis.net

This is written by Cynthia Dacanay-Jaramillo, the Executive Director of Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC). — Ed


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