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Tunnag, Ybanag’s Expression of respect to spirit world

By Benjamin Sagadraca De Yro

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Tunnag (pronounced toon-knock), the Ybanag custom and tradition of offering food to the spirit world persists to this day. It is one heritage which has resisted regional influences and is a regular fixture during any occasion; baptism, weddings, death anniversaries, birthdays, All Souls’ Day, and Lent. It is surviving and how.

Feeding incorporeal spirits, though strange, has flourished throughout the world as it has always been accepted as a universal theme in all cultures. In fact, James Duvalier, a paranormal researcher said that “we make food offerings to the spirit on a metaphysical level so that they can take the energy generated by the offerings and use it to our advantage to manifest our desired goals on the physical plane.”

The Ybanag offers food for the spirits whenever food is prepared during these occasions. That means that all food prepared should have a representative on the offering. For the Ybanag, the common food preparations during such occasions would include the Zinagan (cooked animal blood), igado, abituelas (cooked in achuete), bihon, and sopas.

These are accompanied with rice cakes like pinassuk, pinakufu, inatata (suman), patupa, putu and bebengka. The offerings vary. The Ybanag may include Chinese Red Wine or the local brand, Vigor or the white vine, Anisadu. At times, muscada (chewed tobacco), mama (betel nut) and commercial cigarettes are likewise added.

Like Duvalier, the Ybanag believes that death is a major event for the soul and a rite of passage. However, depending on the occasion, it is during the All Souls Day that the Tunnag is very specific; only glutinous rice cakes, brewed cacao chocolates balls, wine or tobacco. Sometimes, bread from the nearest bakery accompanies the rice cakes. However, cooked meat of any kind is never offered as the Ybanag don’t butcher animals during the celebration.

During Lent, the spirits must content themselves of rice cakes, a little wine, nganga (betel nut) and water.

The Tunnag is either offered on a table fronting religious images or icons in front of the altar or inside the Duba where the spirits supposedly enter to partake of the food offered. For the traditional Ybanags, the Tunnag is either deco nga pinassuk or the pinataro. The Pinassuk is stream glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk’s residue called the Laro while Pinataro is grinded glutinous rice, balled into desired sizes and cooked in coconut milk.

For convenience, the Pinataro is preferred these days because of the shorter period of preparation to serving. Besides, the traditional earthen steamers are fast disappearing. The traditional Ybanag is still reluctant to cook the Pinassuk in aluminum steamers. They claim that cooking the Pinassuk in aluminum utensils deprive one of the original taste and smell of the rice cake.

But the Ybanag olds have more to the Tunnag than the tunnag itself. Ybanag children, now in their forties and above, will tell us that to taste the food while it is being offered is not only a mortal sin and is always accompanied by a threat.

While it is offered, nobody, specially children, can pinch a slice of the rice cake as it is disrespectful to the spirits of one’s ancestors to even take a small share. Other old folks are even threatening; anybody who dare touch the offering will have a bloated mouth or throat the following day or if that is not fearful enough, they tell you, you will lose your voice. Who wants to?

Either way, the warning somehow disciplined the children to respect the property of everybody, more so, of the spirit world. The offering is left untouched until the following day. Funny but most of the time, the cakes have been invaded by red ants or rats the previous evening that you can now leave something to your imagination. You can’t eat a food previously ‘eaten’ by spirits.

As to why the living offers food for the spirits inside homes and even under the trees is no longer a question for the Ybanag. His reason is very simple: Tunnag is his way of expressing respect to a possible world not mention by the Bible of the Roman Catholic church.

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