Ethnic Groups of the Philippines

The Karao and The Fight Against Extinction

ethnic-karao25 July 2017

LA TRINIDAD, Philippines – The Karao ethnic group in Benguet still exists to this day, but the Karao traditions are gradually fading away into their memories. This is a far cry from the physical extinction of a particular ethnic group, but the extinction of an ethnic group’s traditions is nonetheless a serious issue that must be addressed immediately. As memories serve as bridges between the past and the present, the Karao’s rich ethnic history needs closer attention and swift actions for preservation.

A Need for Appreciation

The Karao people live as a small community in Bokod, Benguet, in the eastern regions of north Luzon. They can be distinguished from other local tribes by their unique culture that observes a different form from those of their neighbors, such as the Kalanguyas and the Ibalois. However, they still share some similarities with the other ethnic groups of the Cordillera through their belief system and rituals.

At first, tourists, travelers, scholars, and even local observers may feel like the Karao have a distinct belief system and set of rituals because of the way their people perform such. Even though most of their rituals and the observance of their belief system are practiced under each of their own languages, these serve the same purposes as those done by other ethnic tribes.  

As the years passed, the people gradually lost interest in the community’s rich practices and cultural traditions. This is a sad reality that is slowly but painfully hitting the Karao people. Younger generations lack the enthusiasm to dive deeper into the practices as only a few of the community members find true meaning from them; whether it’s from their belief system, music, dance, and even from their own history.

Dance and Language Wonders

It is necessary to reintroduce these aspects of their culture to the young members of the tribe without disregarding the changing times and needs. A recent step taken to address this is an initiative of the educators in the region to work on the Itondak music and Taychek dance in the local schools. This is but a small step towards gaining a better understanding and appreciation of the local culture. In addition, it is an interesting way to keep the Karao’s beautiful tradition alive for the younger members, who can now watch their history and tradition without feeling ashamed or unfamiliar with their own ethnic practices. Moreover, it is a means to present music, art, and history, wherein the younger members witness their own people gracefully and confidently play the gongs in G-strings and dance wearing the sa-diy. This is also an opportunity for the older, more experienced Karao people to share their experiences and memories through art.

Aside from the artistic aspects, the phonology of the tribe should also be a focus of further study to preserve the distinct language system that the people of Bokod share with their ancestors. As the Karao share stories of their past, the melody of the gongs serves as a resounding reminder. The Karao may then move gracefully with precise steps to their own dances that are distinct from those of other tribes.