The Spirit Carver

Mamerto Lagitan (Photo courtesy of Mamerto Lagitan)

Mamerto Lagitan (Photo courtesy of Mamerto Lagitan)

"My life’s journey is like anybody else. It is cyclical in nature. I don’t fully comprehend or explain it on a conscious or intellectual level. But I like to keep it this way,” said Lagitan when we connected in January of this year.

Mamerto (Lagitan) Tindongan is an eighth-generation mumbaki (shaman), initiated by his father into the lineage. It is in this capacity that I know him, by way of having the honor of attending his workshops in Indigenous Knowledge Systems and energy study, and later by receiving the Nine Rites of the Munay-ki from him in 2015.

Lagitan came to Athens, Ohio in 1992 to attend graduate studies at Ohio University. He graduated four years later with dual master’s degrees in International Affairs and Geography. However, he chose woodcarving for his profession, drawing on the skills he had learned while growing up in Ifugao, Philippines. He is also a master in energy healing and, within this scope, teaches qi gong and tai chi classes as well.

The Ifugao Hut Project

The Ifugao Hut Project (Photo courtesy of Mamerto Lagitan)

The Ifugao Hut Project (Photo courtesy of Mamerto Lagitan)

A series of dreams, beginning back in 1996 when he watched Marlon Fuentes’ film, “The Bontoc Eulogy,” led Lagitan to the inspiration of building a life-size, traditional Ifugao hut. At first he envisioned this project as a symbol of reparation for the humiliation the Bontoc tribe experienced during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. His original idea was to transport it to St. Louis, Missouri and the site of the World’s Fair. It was part of his own personal spiritual journey.

Then, in 2013, at the Center for Babaylan Studies’ (CfBS) Second International Babaylan Conference, he was one of the keynote speakers and was inspired by the large number of Filipino Americans who yearned to connect with their ancestral roots. This led to expansion of the purpose of building the Ifugao Hut. “It is not personal anymore; it is also cultural.” 

How does a person of such varied skills set, evolved to the level of spirituality--shamanic in nature--live his life in this authentic manner? Lagitan cites his parents, Buwaya and Indudun, and his eldest brother, Abluyon, as his most influential mentors growing up. After he moved to the U.S., his academic advisor, Dr. Bob Walter, was very helpful in guiding his academic development. In the area of spiritual mentoring, Lagitan studied with the late Kenia Greywolfe, the late Randy Hastings , Crow Swimsaway, Patricia Minor and Zane Curfman. The two Ifugao mumbaki (shamans) he currently studies with are Huwan Candelario and Nabbud Pagaddut.

“Lagitan and the Ifugao Hut,” December, 2014. Video, Music, and Sound Design (Chapters 1, 2, 3) by Nicanor Evangelista, Jr. Music and Sound Design (Chapter 4) by Mamerto Lagitan Tindongan. With permission from Nicanor Evangelista, Jr.

On his website,, Lagitan explains further:

As an Ifugao, I believe in the presence of souls inhabiting the layers that make up our being and our bodies. It was not until 2005 that a shaman, who is partly Lakota, helped me reconnect with my souls. Since then I was able to control the symptoms associated with Meniere’s Disease which I had contracted several years earlier. I recognized and avoided what triggered the condition such as exposure to gas fumes, to artificial perfumes and to alcoholic drinks. I recognized that the undue stress of daily living largely contributed to physical ailments. This was not the case in the place where I grew up in. In Bayninan, I communed regularly with nature. I was taught by my elders that everything had spirit, including the animals, the trees, stones, and rivers. I learned that they are to be respected and honored, in the same way that I respected and honored myself and my fellow human beings.

Today, Lagitan adds, “I integrate whatever experiences I can recollect on a conscious, subconscious, and higher state of mind from my current earthly life, to how ever many past lives. It’s a continuous process.”

Balancing between two worlds, Lagitan often asked himself, “What would my great grandfather do if he were alive now? The answer that I heard is that he would use a cell phone, take a train ride, but his traditional ways would emphasize priorities such as eating healthy food, while leaving enough for the next generation. Also, he would consider physical work as his form of exercise instead of seeking workouts in a gym. And… he would make jokes like Lagitan—ha, ha, ha!”  

Indeed Lagitan’s humor infused with his gentle wisdom engages his students. He is a generous and warm teacher: generous with his knowledge, generous with his time and resources. All of his gifts of woodworking, building construction, lectures on indigenous values and energy awareness are shared with loads of playful humor. Lagitan’s presence exudes the power of a master with great heart combined with powerful spirit.

If you are interested in learning more, Mamerto (Lagitan) Tindongan will present at the 2016 Third International Babaylan Conference, co-created by Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Society and the Center for Babaylan Studies to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia September 23-25, 2016. For more information, please visit the website:

Lisa Suguitan-Melnick

Lisa Suguitan-Melnick

Lisa Suguitan Melnick is a third generation Filipina-American whose personal path in the healing arts has led her into the company of indigenous Philippine mumbaki such as Lagitan and energy practitioners. Lisa is on faculty at College of San Mateo in both the Language Arts and Kinesiology divisions. She is the author of #30 Collantes Street (Carayan Press, 2015).

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