Dog-eating and my culture
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2003:
Dog-eating and my culture by Bing A. Dawang
Just before World Animal Day, which coincides with the feast
of St. Francis d’Assisi, the patron saint of animals, a local
newpaper defended the dog meat trade in the Philippines, in
particular in Baguio City and the Cordilleras, by claiming that dog
eating is a part of the Igorot indigenous culture.
As a full-blooded Igorot, I take offense.
The newspaper quoted Isikias Isican, said to be curator of
the St. Louis University museum, as saying that there is a clear
cultural basis for butchering dogs because they were “butchered by
Igorot tribes before going to war, or to cure certain afflictions.”
Isican generalized that dog-eating is a part of Igorot
tradition by recalling that in 1904 a few Igorot men and women were
displayed at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (“world’s fair”) in
St. Louis, Missouri. Described as as heathen pagans, they
butchered a dog as part of the show.
In the same article Hanzen Binay, formerly defense counsel
for several dog meat traders and now a Benguet prosecutor,
questioned the wisdom of the Philippine Animal Welfare Act.
Objecting that the law was supported by British animal advocates,
Binay asked rhetorically why Britain does not respect the Igorot
As an Igorot, I vehemently do not accept dog eating as my
culture. I was not raised to eat dogs. Dog meat is not a part of my
diet, nor has it ever been. I find it insulting that Igorots are
branded as dog-eaters, not only in the Philippines but abroad. It
is a shame, and because Igorots are Filipinos, dog-eating is a
Philippine national shame.
It is true that in ancient times some Igorot tribes butchered
their dogs before going to war. It was the belief of the then pagan
Igorot that the spirits of the sacrificed dogs would guard them in
At times of tragedy, the family dog might also have been
sacrificed to appease the spirits, and to assign the soul of the dog
to guard the spirits of the living family members.
Dog sacrifice always connoted bad luck, tragedy, or death.
When a family butchered a dog, who had to be the family dog, not
just any dog bought from nowhere, the family was not feasting but
either mourning, in extreme pain, or involved in some other activity
connected with death.
Dogs were not butchered as drinkers’ fare, nor as a daily or
regular part of the Igorot diet. Igorot families much preferred to
avoid the circumstances which might lead them to sacrifice their dog.
Dog sacrifice for religious purposes is allowed under the
Philippine Animal Welfare Act. But the act also requires that dog
sacrifices must be recorded and reported. Five years after the law
was passed, the Bureau of Animal Industry has yet to receive any
such reports from the Igorot elders.
Igorot culture has greatly changed since 1904. Headhunting,
for example, was also part of the Igorot culture and way of life a
hundred years ago. We now recognize and reject that practice as
This is adaptation. This is cultural evolution. We discard
bad customs and traditions, and adopt good ones from other
cultures–and as an Igorot, a Filipino, a law-abiding citizen, and
a lover of dogs, if I see anyone butchering and selling dogs for
meat, I will not hesitate to bring criminal charges.
Incidentally, anyone who believes that the Philippine Animal
Welfare Act was passed chiefly through the lobbying of British
citizens, or Americans, or members of any nationality other than
Filipino is misinformed.
Foreigners helped, but most of the work was done by
Filippinos, represented by Philippine groups, including the
Philippine Animal Welfare Society, reorganized in 1986 by Nita
Hontiveros-Lichauco, and the Philippine SPCA, formed on December
13, 1904 (the year of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), now headed
by Edgardo Aldaba.
We have in common, besides our cause, one hero: the dog
Dagul, an askal, whose kind are commonly captured and butchered.
Dagul, however, was adopted by Wilmar Castillo and family. Dagul
rewarded their compassion in May 2003 when he alerted Wilmar Castillo
to an avalanche of mud just in time to save the young man’s life.
Honored with the Lewyt Award for Compassionate and Heroic
Animals, as described in the September 2003 edition of ANIMAL
PEOPLE, Dagul and Wilmar Castillo demonstrated the relationship that
we believe should exist among humans and dogs. Kindness toward dogs
and other creatures is fundamental to my culture.
[Bing A. Dawang is editor of The Junction regional newspaper
and is a founding officer of Linis Gobyerno, Inc., G/F PCEC Bldg.,
Happy Homes Campo Sioco, Baguio City, The Philippines; telephone
6374-448-0645; fax 6374-620-0641; <www.linisgobyerno.org>.]