Dilangyaw: The Ilongot Headhunter Who Met God
This is a story about the transformation of Dilangyaw, a chief of the Ilongot, Indian tribe in the Philippine Islands. The Ilongots were a fierce, head-hunting people, devoted to revenge, and violence. This is his story, translated from his own words. Let the reader be aware, this is not fiction, and there are parts of it that will be disturbing to the sensitive.
“Our bare feet made no sound as our head-hunting party approached the three grass-roofed houses built on the mountainside. We must be very quiet so that the guard dogs would not start barking and warn of our coming. We surrounded the houses, some guarding under the windows, others ready to push in the bamboo doors. Suddenly a dog barked, and immediately others joined. At the same time, we rushed into the houses. I was first inside one house and saw a man reaching for his gun on the wall. I quickly hit him on the head with the back of my knife to stun him. Then I grabbed his long hair in one hand and whacked off his head with my very sharp head-hunting knife. All around me people were screaming in terror, but I felt only satisfaction that the head was cut off with one blow. I was not disgraced.
We took four heads that night. We felt this was good exchange for the heads these people had taken from our village some time ago. Before leaving the three houses, whose occupants had fled into the jungle, we cut the hands and feet off the victims. We would take these home for our young boys to play with, to condition them to become brave and not afraid to kill. We did not want our boys to grow up to become as women.
My own father began teaching me the head-hunting songs and dances when I was very young. At about nine years of age, he allowed me to go with him on a raid and helped me get my first head. How proud he was of me, but I noticed my mother was very quiet. No Ilongot wife or mother knew if her husband or son would return to the house whenever he left.
It was the dream of every Ilongot boy to be able to cut off a head so that he could wear the beautiful body and hair decorations showing that he was a true man. My father fashioned my head-hunting earrings from the beak of the hornbill, a large bird in our area. How proud I was to have my ears pierced at the top; then the long red earrings were fastened on with their decorations of polished brass and spangles of mother-of-pearl shell.
Before we would go hunting, even for the wild deer and pig, we would often kill a rooster and sprinkle the blood on our guns and knives, chanting to the devil and the demons. Our lives were ruled by superstition and fear of the evil spirits. Who would not fear the spirits who could do such miracles? For example, if someone had committed a sin against the tribe and would not confess, the test by boiling water was performed. In every case the guilty one was found out by this test. The men of a certain village, or perhaps several villages would gather together. A large cooking pot would be filled with water and brought to a rolling boil over a wood fire. Then the wood was pulled out from under the pot so that the water just steamed. Now one by one the men passed by holding the palm of one hand over the water. As the guilty one’s hand passed over the pot, the water would boil out all over the ground.
But in spite of our brave words and actions, our hearts were always filled with fear. Except in killing, in which we felt no fear, we were afraid of sickness, of evil spirits, of death. We never knew when we might be attacked as we walked the mountain trails, as we went to the river for water, or slept in our houses at night. We kept many dogs in all of our houses, used both for hunting and for guarding. We watched our children die without medicine or any kind of medical help. We had schools only near the lowland. Our people were dirty, cruel, and worked just enough for a bare living.
Then into our mountains came people called missionaries. We heard how they lived in some of our villages. They brought medicine that would take away pain and fever; they taught both adults and children to read and write, and helped the people in getting basic supplies such as salt and soap. However, I heard that they taught strange things. They wanted us to stop killing. Why, we would become as women! By this time I had taken so many heads I had long since lost count; I was the chieftain of my village.
One day a missionary came to see me and ask if he and his family could move to our village. He promised to bring medicine, to teach our children to read, and to teach us about his God, who, he said, was much more powerful than the devil and the demons. I didn’t want anything to do with his God, but it might be good to have the medicines. I agreed. The missionary built a house and an airstrip. I just observed him. If necessary, I could easily kill the missionaries.
Soon the family, with a baby girl, were settled in our village. We would go there and beg for anything we could see. We would sit around their table and wait for them to eat so we would get their food. We didn’t help them in any way. After three months, the husband left, and the wife and baby were left alone. My daughter, Demgak, liked this woman missionary, and she asked if she and another girl could sleep in the missionaries’ house at night so the woman wouldn’t be alone.
Soon we began to notice that Demgak was acting crazy. She didn’t yell and become angry as she always had before. When we tried to find out what was happening to her, she would smile at us and say that she was learning good things from the Book the missionary’s wife was reading to her. I was angry! This crazy missionary woman was making my daughter crazy. So I walked over to the house of the missionary. I climbed up the ladder and roughly pushed the door open. The baby awoke and cried, but the woman asked me gently, “What do you want?” “Where is your husband?” I demanded fiercely. “He went to Manila last week and he may be gone a month. Why?” Angrily I told her, “We don’t want you to stay here any longer. We don’t believe what you teach about your God; it is all foolishness. What have you done to our daughter, Demgak? She comes here every afternoon, and when she comes home she tells us many things we don’t understand. She is crazy now, and if she continues to come here, I’ll kill her!”
I was surprised that the woman showed no fear, but answered me softly, “It was God who sent us here and we believe He wants us to stay. We do not force your daughter to come here; she wants to come, and we know that someday God will change you like He is changing your daughter.” I was wondering about her answer, but I spit angrily on the floor and started down the stairway. “You fool; you are just wasting your time!” I said.
Later I discovered that Demgak, my daughter, had gone crying to the missionary after I shouted at her and hit her that afternoon. She was afraid I would kill the missionaries, but the missionary woman comforted her, and that night Demgak made friends with the missionaries’ God. When she came home in the morning we all noticed how different she was. We shouted at her and scolded her and hurt her, but she just told us, “If you will believe in the true God in Heaven, then you will have peace and joy like I have, and then you will not hurt me anymore.”
The next day I said to my family, “We have noticed that something good has happened to Demgak. We will go to the house of the missionary.” I didn’t know it then, but it was Sunday morning, and the missionary woman had just finished praying to her God. She looked out the window and saw all twelve of my family coming toward her house. This woman could talk our language, and she seemed so happy to greet us and invite us into her house. “Are you wondering why we all came?” I asked. “We want to know why Demgak acts so crazy in a good way. She is very different now than she used to be.” I smiled at the missionary, and she saw that my body and loincloth were clean. Then the missionary got her Book and began to tell us about God and all that He created, how He created man in his own image, how man sinned against God. We were all very quiet as we heard these words.
Every day we went back to hear more about God from the missionary’s Book. After three weeks I saw my terrible sin, and I hungered for the forgiveness and the cleansing of God. How I longed for peace in my heart! So I surrendered my life to Jesus and not to Satan and the demons. Oh, as I thought of all those poor souls I had killed, I felt tears coming to my eyes. I could not stand the sight of my always shiny and sharp head-hunting knife. I would let it get dull by chopping wood.
My life was so different, with Jesus living inside me, that my wife and four of my children gave their lives to Jesus too. I cut my long hair as a sign that I would no longer cut heads and wear the head-hunting decorations. When the missionary man came back he asked me, “Why did you cut your long hair?” I answered him seriously, “Because I want to be a real man according to the Bible. It says that if any man be in Jesus, he is a new man; old things are passed away, all things are new.” The missionary grasped my hand and answered me, “Oh, praise the Lord, my brother! You are a new man!”
Now, instead of begging, we have learned to give. Instead of cruelty, we have learned kindness. Instead of fear, we have peace. In many Ilongot villages there are native Christian churches, where Ilongot church elders teach our people. I, too, am a church elder. We have conferences every few months, some of our church leaders, some of our young people, and also a general believers’ conference. We no longer fear the devil and his demons. We can lie down at night now without fear of a raiding party killing us and our loved ones. Instead of raiding far off villages, we go to tell them about Jesus. Until the day I go to be with Jesus, I shall be thankful that He sent missionaries to us.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ promised that those who genuinely turned to Him for salvation would be “born again.” The Bible said that this new birth would literally change a persons’ heart and make him a new person. “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17 If ever there is a promise which has stood the test of time, it is this one. In the twenty centuries since Jesus Christ walked this planet, it has been the practical experience of literally millions of people.
The fact that this new birth is real is only half the story, the other half is that it is necessary. Jesus Christ said, “Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 Often people have a hard time accepting that. We would rather believe that we can make it to Heaven on our own. The Bible says that we are all sinners however, and unable to get to Heaven without a Savior. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23 Only those who genuinely repent of their sins, and put their trust in Jesus Christ will be forgiven, and given this new birth. Jesus Christ said, “…for if you believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” John 8:24 “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already.” John 3:18
1900 years ago Jesus Christ, God the Son, died on a Roman cross. The Bible says that He shed His blood for our sins so that we could be forgiven those sins, and allowed into Heaven freely. He was buried, and He rose bodily from the dead on the third day. Today, He is in Heaven waiting to save anyone who will turn to Him with all his heart. Put your trust in Him today, He promises you, ”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16