Luzon and the Igorot: Many yet One

November 11, 2009


“I am an Igorot. Let me be treated as I deserve—with respect if I am good, with contempt if I am no good, irrespective of the name I carry. Let the term, Igorot, remain, and the world will use it with the correct meaning attached to it.” –Jose Dulnuan


                The people that lived on the islands of Luzon were traditionally known as the Igorot, with a greater concentration of the tribe living in the Cordillera region. They were known for their rice farming and some practiced headhunting. The tribe is divided into six main subgroups, some contesting their “Igorot” label while others took pride in the “Igorot” name.

                The first group that makes up the Igorot are the Bontoc, living in the Central Mountain province and speaking Bontoc. Hey were known for their headhunting habits and even had a ritual dance to go along with it. Also, when you are thinking of traditionally tatooed Filipinos, you are probably thinking of the Bontoc. The men were tatooed on their chest and body while the women were only allowed to have tattos on their arms. They have reliquished their violent head hunting ways and are now peacful aggies, trying to hold onto their tribal culture. They used to live in villages of 14-50 homes, called ato, where the young lived in dorms and ate meals with their families.

                The second of the six groups are the Ibaloi who live in southern Benguet and speak either Nabaloi or Ibaloy. They were known for their Bendiyan Dance in which hundreds of men and women would dance. Unfortunately, they have become a minority in their own province these days. However, they have continued on the agrarian tradition, working in agriculture and cultivating rice today.

Next are the Ifugao, who coincidentally lived in the Ifugao Province and spoke four distinct Ifugao languages. Ifugao translates into earth people, mortals, or humans, as opposed to spirits or dieties.  They are famous for their rice terraces, built back in the day with only their own two hands and the simple tools they had, and the feasts they held for the wealthy. They lived in houses at the edge of their fields- constructing a post under the floor beams in order to keep the rats out.

The fourth subgroup is the Isneg, living in Northern Apayo and speaking Isnag. They were notorious around the land as the head hunters. Initially they were “slash and burn” farmers but have now converted to wet rice methods. Originally, the men would clear the tropical forest land for the women to plant and harvest the rice. Today, they also grow coffee since it has grown to be a cash crop for the region. Traditionally, the Isneg women would cook the meals, gather wild vegetables and weave bamboo mats and baskets. While the women were busy at home the men would be cutting timber, building houses and venturing on extended hunting and fishing trips. What meat the men would bring home was often skewered on bamboo and distributed amongst friends and family.

Another group was the Kalinga, who like the Ifugao lived in the Kalinga Province and spoke Kalinga. The Kalinga seem to be socially progressive for their time because they were tribally aware and made efforts at creating peace. They would make peace pacts which resulted in less warfare and headhunting, reinforcing and creating kinship and social links. The Kalinga cared about their relations with others, especially within the family. For this reason, they held each other accountable for injury that occurred to one another. Regional leaders would settle disputes by listening to all sides plea and then fining the guilty. Although they were not formal council meetings they still carried a strong sense of legitimacy. The Kalinga were both wet and dry rice farmers and a certain group of them were known for being heavily ornamented.

And finally, there were the Kankana-ey, who occupied the Western Mountain Province, Southeastern Ilocos Sur Province, Northern and some parts of Benguet. There were various dialects of the Kankana-ey language which differed in intonation, words, and application. Geniusly enough, the Kankana-ey constructed farm terraces at a slope in order to increase available land area. They are well known for their traditions of male dormitories and civic centers AND the female dormitory where courtship between young men and women occurred. Also, their cultural dress and community dance set them apart. The women wear the colors of black, white and red, having a specific style for both soft-speaking and hard-speaking, while the men wore g-strings (or wanes) that were designed according to social status and municipality. The construction of their homes was also telling of their social status. 

There you have it, the six groups that comprise the Igorot tribe all in their glory. Today some have tried to rename this group because of the negative stereotype associated with the “Igorot” label, thought of as backward and inferior. A few of the subgroups now deny the “Igorot” name and prefer association with the term “Cordillerano”. Nevertheless, they are still stand strong in their traditions and have worked hard to maintain their ancestral roots to this day.


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