IFUGAO, Philippines – Nykolai Gavriel Codamon Omengan or “Coda,” with his long, uncut hair, is easy to spot in any crowd. Coda is the first grandson in the Codamon family, a clan of regal ancestry in Kiangan town.
While having long hair is considered a privilege in his mother’s hometown Kiangan, it’s not the norm in Sagada, Mountain Province, where he lives. At home, he often gets teased for having long hair.
“Why do they notice my hair?”
“Why do they laugh at me?”
“Why am I teased that I look like a girl?”
Coda’s mother, Tracy Codamon-Omengan, admits the questions are not easy to answer. “For us in Kiangan, kolot is a tradition. We’re used to seeing male children with long hair,” Tracy said. “The people in Sagada don’t have a haircutting ritual. This is why they notice Coda. He’s the only boy with long hair.”
“Kolot” is a Kiangan tradition of cutting a young boy’s locks when he turns 7 – a rite of passage.
But standing out, when you’re 5-year-old, is not always a good thing. And so two years ahead of schedule, Coda, a lively young boy with bright brown eyes, gets his hair cut.
“We understand that it’s cultural difference. We also don’t want Coda to feel like he’s any different,” Gian Codamon, Coda’s aunt, says. Coda’s kolot is scheduled the same day as the municipality’s fiesta, so even more family members witness both events.
“We’re a big clan in Kiangan,” says Gian. “Some of our relatives moved already and come from as far as Canada. Reunions are a big deal for us. We’re rarely complete now, so we want to make the most out of it.”
The kolot is a two-day ritual. For Coda, this begins on the first sunset of May, in front of the Codamon family’s home. The mumbakis or local shamans start by performing baki or sacred chants, calling upon the departed members of the clan to guide and protect Coda.
A chicken is sacrificed to foretell his fortune, says Josephine Codamon-Tam, history teacher in Kiangan and grand aunt to Coda. The shamans check the position of the bile with the rest of the internal organs.
Two pigs are offered, then inspected again. Matching the results of the chicken, Coda is foreseen as becoming, “a kind man, someone who will live long, and will be gifted with good fortune.”
The sound of brass gongs fills the space as the family forms a circle for a celebratory dance.
It is a sleepless night for the Codamon family, a requirement for the ceremony. The mumbakis perform baltong, a chant of epic stories paired with the stomping of feet.
By morning, another pig and a carabao are sacrificed as offerings to the gods. The mumbakis call Coda. It is time for his act of bravery.
Traditionally, this act requires a test of strength and agility. If Coda were 7, he would need to confront a fellow child who will steal from him. Coda is expected to take his things back.
But because Coda is just 5, the rite is simplified for him. “It’s too complicated to explain and expect this from him at this age,” Risley Codamon, his grandmother, says.
“When someone gets something from him, he just cries. He doesn’t fight.”
And indeed, on the morning of his kolot, Coda quietly sobs in between spoonfulls of breakfast. He does not want to have his hair cut anymore. His mother pacifies and reminds him why he is special and why this ceremony is special for their family. He is soon in a livelier mood.
Together with his father, Gaongen Omengan, and the head shaman, they assist him in sticking a full-sized spear onto a tree bark. The mumbakis circle around him and begin to cut his hair.
Once the trim is done, the lock is kept by the family. Gaongen carries Coda, and they run around the house to announce the celebration.
The banging of the gongs envelop the house once more. The entire family forms a bigger circle for a festive dance. A feast is served for lunch. Guests are free to linger, eat, and drink.
Having an unstyled trim, Coda is taken to a barbershop and gets a proper haircut.
He comes back with a simple crew cut. Asked if he likes it, Coda smiles and says yes. He says he looks different and, like any 5-year-old, immediately runs off to play.