Igorot people

Igorot or Cordillerans

An Isneg woman, having just performed a dance with kyle.
Total population
Regions with significant populations

(Cordillera Administrative Region)

Bontoc, Ilocano, Ibaloi, Isnag, Kalinga, Kankanaey, Ifugao
Paganism, Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Episcopalianism, other Protestant sects)

Igorot, or Cordillerans, is the collective name of several Austronesian ethnic groups in The Philippines, who inhabit the mountains of Luzon. These highland peoples inhabit all the six provinces of the Cordillera Administrative Region: Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Kalinga, Ifugao, and Mountain Province, as well as Baguio City and the adjacent province of Nueva Vizcaya.


The word "Igorot" is an exonym, derived from the archaic Tagalog term for "mountain people" (formed from the prefix i-, "dweller of" and golot, "mountain range"). During the Spanish colonial era, the term was variously recorded as Igolot, Ygolot, and Igorrote, compliant to Spanish orthography.[2]

The endonyms Ifugao or Ipugao (also meaning "mountain people") are used more frequently within the Igorots themselves, as igorot is viewed by some as slightly pejorative.[3]

Cordillera ethnic groups

The Igorots may be roughly divided into two general subgroups: the larger group lives in the south, central and western areas, and is very adept at rice-terrace farming; the smaller group lives in the east and north. Prior to Spanish colonisation of the islands, the peoples now included under the term did not consider themselves as belonging to a single, cohesive ethnic group.[3]

They may be further subdivided into five ethnolinguistic groups: the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Isnag (or Isneg/Apayao), Kalinga, and the Kankanaey.[4]


A Bontoc warrior (c. 1908)

The Bontoc live on the banks of the Chico River in the Central Mountain Province on the island of Luzon. They speak the Bontoc language and Ilocano. They formerly practiced head-hunting and had distinctive body tattoos. The Bontoc describe three types of tattoos: The chak-lag′, the tattooed chest of the head taker; pong′-o, the tattooed arms of men and women; and fa′-tĕk, for all other tattoos of both sexes. Women were tattooed on the arms only. In the past, the Bontoc engaged in none of the usual pastimes or games of chance practiced in other areas of the country, but did perform a circular rhythmic dance acting out certain aspects of the hunt, always accompanied by the gang′-sa or bronze gong. There was no singing or talking during the dance drama, but the women took part, usually outside the circumference. It was a serious but pleasurable event for all concerned, including the children.[5] Present-day Bontocs are a peaceful agricultural people who have, by choice, retained most of their traditional culture despite frequent contacts with other groups.

The pre-Christian Bontoc belief system centers on a hierarchy of spirits, the highest being a supreme deity called Lumawig. Lumawig personifies the forces of nature and is the legendary creator, friend, and teacher of the Bontoc. A hereditary class of priests hold various monthly ceremonies for this deity for their crops, the weather, and for healing. The Bontoc also believe in the "anito"—spirits of the dead who must be consulted before anything important is done. Ancestral anitos are invited to family feasts when a death occurs to ensure the well-being of the deceased's soul. This is by offering some small amount of food to show that they are invited and not forgotten.

The Bontoc social structure used to be centered around village wards ("ato") containing about 14 to 50 homes. Traditionally, young men and women lived in dormitories and ate meals with their families. This gradually changed with the advent of Christianity. In general, however, it can be said that all Bontocs are very aware of their own way of life and are not overly eager to change.

Ibaloi and Kalanguya

Main article: Ibaloi

The Ibaloi (also Ibaloy and Nabaloi) and Kalanguya (also Kallahan and Ikalahan) are one of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines who live mostly in the southern part of Benguet, located in the Cordillera of northern Luzon, and Nueva Vizcaya in the Cagayan Valley region. They were traditionally an agrarian society. Many of the Ibaloi and Kalanguya people continue with their agriculture and rice cultivation.

Their native language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages family and is closely related to the Pangasinan language, primarily spoken in the province of Pangasinan, located southwest of Benguet.

Baguio City, the major city of the Cordillera, dubbed the "Summer Capital of the Philippines," is located in southern Benguet.

The largest feast of the Ibaloi is the Pesshet, a public feast mainly sponsored by people of prestige and wealth. Pesshet can last for weeks and involves the killing and sacrifice of dozens of animals. One of the more popular dances of the Ibaloi is the Bendiyan Dance, participated in by hundreds of male and female dancers.


An Ifugao man from Banaue

The Ifugao (also known as Amganad, Ayangan, Kiangan, Gilipanes, Quiangan, Tuwali Ifugao, Mayoyao, Mayoyao, Mayaoyaw) are the people inhabiting Ifugao Province. The term "Ifugao" is derived from "ipugo" which means "earth people", "mortals" or "humans", as distinguished from spirits and deities. It also means "from the hill", as pugo means hill.

The country of the Ifugao in the southeastern part of the Cordillera region is best known for its famous Banaue Rice Terraces, which in modern times have become one of the major tourist attractions of the Philippines. The Ifugaos build their typical houses called fales, which consists of a kitchen, bedroom and a worship room altogether. It is a triangular house elevated with 4 wooden posts. There is a ladder but it is hanged or removed so people or animals cannot enter the fale.

Aside from their rice terraces, the Ifugaos, who speak four distinct dialects, are known for their rich oral literary traditions of hudhud and the alim. The Ifugaos’ highest prestige feasts are the hagabi, for the elite; and the uyauy, a feast for those immediately below the wealthiest.

Alim and Hudhud Oral traditions of Ifugao of Ifugao people of the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon island of Philippines. are based on the Indian Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharta. In 2001, the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao was chosen as one of the 11 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It was then formally inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.


Main article: Isneg

The Isnag, also Isneg or Apayao, live at the northwesterly end of northern Luzon, in the upper half of the Cordillera province of Apayao. The term "Isnag" derives from a combination of is meaning "recede" and unag meaning "interior." Thus, it means "people who live inland."

The municipalities in the Isneg domain include Pudtol, Kabugao, Calanasan and Conner (Peralta 1988:1). Two major river systems, the Abulog and the Apayao, run through Isnag country, which until recent times has been described as a region of "dark tropical forests," and endowed with other natural resources.

In one early account, the Isneg were described as of slender and graceful stature, with manners that were kindly, hospitable, and generous, possessed with the spirit of self-reliance and courage, and clearly artistic in their temperament. The Isnag’s ancestors are believed to have been the proto-Austronesians who came from South China thousands of years ago. Later, they came in contact with groups practicing jar burial, from whom they adopted the custom. They later also came into contact with Chinese traders plying the seas south of the Asian mainland. From the Chinese they bought the porcelain pieces and glass beads which now form part of the Isnag’s priceless heirlooms. The Isnag have been known to be a head-taking society since recorded history.

As a dry rice farmer, the male head of a household annually clears a fresh section of tropical forest where his wife will plant and harvest their rice. Isneg women also cook the meals, gather wild vegetables and weave bamboo mats and baskets, while the men cut timber, build houses and take extended hunting and fishing trips. Often when a wild pig or deer is killed, its meat is skewered on bamboo and distributed to neighbors and relatives. Nearly all Isneg households also harvest a small grove of coffee trees since the main cash crop of the area is coffee.

Isnag people are also known as the Isneg, which is composed of the sub-groups known as the Ymandaya and Imallod. Their places of abode are found in the different municipalities in Apayao as follows:

  1. Ymandaya (Isnag)- Calanasan (Bayag)
  2. Imallod (Isnag)- Kabugao, Conner, Pudtol, and some part of Luna (Macatel)

The Isnag speak the Isneg language and Ilocano.

Isnags are also found in the Eastern part of the Province of Ilocos Norte specifically the municipalities of Adams, Carasi, Dumaneg, Solsona and Piddig and Northwestern part of the Province of Cagayan specifically the municipalities of Sta. Praxedes, Claveria, and Sanchez Mira.


The Kalinga, also known as Limos or Limos-Liwan Kalinga, inhabit the drainage basin of the middle Chico River in Kalinga Province. The Kalinga are sub-divided into Southern and Northern groups; the latter is considered the most heavily ornamented people of the northern Philippines.

The Kalinga practice both wet and dry rice farming. They also developed an institution of peace pacts called Bodong which has minimised traditional warfare and headhunting and serves as a mechanism for the initiation, maintenance, renewal and reinforcement of kinship and social ties.

They also speak the Kalinga, Ilocano, and Limos languages. Kalinga society is very kinship-oriented, and relatives are held responsible for avenging any injury done to a member. Disputes are usually settled by the regional leaders, who listen to all sides and then impose fines on the guilty party. These are not formal council meetings, but carry a good deal of authority.


Main article: Kankanaey people

The Kankanaey domain includes Western Mountain Province, northern Benguet and southeastern Ilocos Sur. Like most Igorot ethnic groups, the Kankanaey built sloping terraces to maximize farm space in the rugged terrain of the Cordilleras.

Kankanaey houses are built like the other Igorot houses, which reflect their social status. Two famous institutions of the Kankanaey of Mountain Province are the dap-ay, or the men's dormitory and civic center, and the ebgan, or the girls' dormitory where courtship between young men and women took place.

Kankanaey's major dances include tayaw, patting, takik (a wedding dance), and balangbang. The tayaw is a community dance that is usually done in weddings it maybe also danced by the Ibaloi but has a different style. Pattong, also a community dance from Mountain Province which every municipality has its own style, while Balangbang is the dance's modern term. There are also some other dances like the sakkuting, pinanyuan (another wedding dance) and bogi-bogi (courtship dance).

"Hard" and "Soft" Kankanaey

The name Kankanaey came from the language which they speak. The only difference amongst the Kankanaey are the way they speak such as intonation and word usage.

In intonation, there is distinction between those who speak Hard Kankanaey (Applai) and Soft Kankanaey. Speakers of Hard Kankanaey are from the towns of Sagada and Besao in the western Mountain Province as well as their environs. They speak Kankanaey with a hard intonation where they differ in some words from the soft-speaking Kankanaey.

Soft-speaking Kankanaey come from Northern and other parts of Benguet, and from the municipalities of Sabangan, Tadian and Bauko in Mountain Province. In words for example an Applai might say otik or beteg (pig) and the soft-speaking Kankanaey use busaang or beteg as well. The Kankanaey may also differ in some words like egay or aga, maid or maga. They also differ in their ways of life and sometimes in culture.

The Kankanaey are also internally identified by the language they speak and the province from whence they came. Kankanaey people from Mountain Province may call the Kankanaey from Benguet as iBenget while the Kankanaey of Benguet may call their fellow Kankanaey from Mountain Province iBontok.

The Hard and Soft Kankanaey also differ in the way they dress. Women's dress of the Soft dialect generally has a colour combination of black, white and red. The design of the upper attire is a criss-crossed style of black, white and red colors. The skirt or tapis is a combination of stripes of black, white and red.

Hard dialect women dress in mainly red and black with less white, with the skirt or tapis which is mostly called bakget and gateng. The men formerly wore a g-string known as a wanes for the Kanakaney's of Besao and Sagada. The design of the wanes may vary according to social status or municipality.

Ethnic groups by linguistic classification

Political map of the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Below is a list of northern Luzon ethnic groups organized by linguistic classification.


Main article: Igorot Revolt

The gold found in the land of the Igorot were a draw for the Spanish.[10] Originally gold was exchanged at Pangasinan by the Igorot.[11] The gold was used to buy consumable products by the Igorot.[12] Both gold and desire to Christianize the Igorot were given as reasons for Spanish conquest.[13] In 1572 the Spanish started hunting for the gold.[14] Benguet Province was entered by the Spanish with the intention for obtaining gold.[15] The fact that the Igorots managed to stay out of Spanish dominion vexed the Spaniards.[16] The gold evaded the hands of the Spaniards due to Igorot opposition.[17]

Samuel E. Kane wrote about his life amongst the Bontoc, Ifugao, and Kalinga after the Philippine–American War, in his book Thirty Years with the Philippine Head-Hunters (1933).[18] The first American school for Igorot girls was opened in Baguio in 1901 by Alice McKay Kelly.[18]:317 Kane noted that Dean C. Worcester "did more than any one man to stop head-hunting and to bring the traditional enemy tribes together in friendship."[18]:329 Kane wrote of the Igorot people, "there is a peace, a rhythm and an elemental strength in the life...which all the comforts and refinements of civilization can not replace...fifty years hence...there will be little left to remind the young Igorots of the days when the drums and ganzas of the head-hunting canyaos resounded throughout the land.[18]:330–331

In 1904, a group of Igorot people were brought to St. Louis, Missouri, United States for the St. Louis World's Fair. They constructed the Igorot Village in the Philippine Exposition section of the fair, which became one of the most popular exhibits. The poet T. S. Eliot, who was born and raised in St. Louis, visited and explored the Village. Inspired by their tribal dance and others, he wrote the short story, "The Man Who Was King" (1905).[19] In 1905, 50 tribespeople were on display at a Brooklyn, New York amusement park for the summer, ending in the custody of the unscrupulous Truman K. Hunt, a showman "on the run across America with the tribe in tow."[20]

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines Igorots fought against Japan. Donald Blackburn's World War II guerrilla force had a strong core of Igorots.[21]:148–165

In 2014, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a veteran indigenous rights of Igorot ethnicity was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[22]

See also


  1. Editors, The (2015-03-26). "Igorot | people". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2015-09-03.
  2. Albert Ernest Jenks (2004). The Bontoc Igorot. Kessinger Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-4191-5449-2.
  3. 1 2 Carol R. Ember; Melvin Ember (2003). Encyclopedia of sex and gender: men and women in the world's cultures, Volume 1. Springer. p. 498. ISBN 978-0-306-47770-6.
  4. "IGOROT Ethnic Groups - sagada-igorot.com".
  5. "The Bontoc Igorot".
  6. "Kalanguya Archives - Intercontinental Cry".
  7. "Kallahan, Keley-i".
  8. "Kalanguya".
  9. Project, Joshua. "Kalanguya, Tinoc in Philippines".
  10. Barbara A. West (19 May 2010). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. pp. 300–. ISBN 978-1-4381-1913-7.
  11. "Ifugao - Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life - Encyclopedia.com".
  12. Linda A. Newson (2009). Conquest and Pestilence in the Early Spanish Philippines. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 232–. ISBN 978-0-8248-3272-8.
  13. "Benguet mines, forever in resistance by the Igorots – Amianan Balita Ngayon".
  14. http://ncca.gov.ph/subcommissions/subcommission-on-cultural-heritagesch/historical-research/ethnic-history-cordillera/
  15. Melanie Wiber (1993). Politics, Property and Law in the Philippine Uplands. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-0-88920-222-1.
  16. "The Igorot struggle for independence: William Henry Scott.".
  17. Habana, Olivia M. (1 January 2000). "Gold Mining in Benguet to 1898". Philippine Studies. 48 (4): 455–487. JSTOR 42634423.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Kane, S.E., 1933, Life and Death in Luzon or Thirty Years with the Philippine Head-Hunters, New York: Grosset & Dunlap
  19. Narita, Tatsushi. "How Far is T. S. Eliot from Here?: The Young Poet's Imagined World of Polynesian Matahiva," In How Far is America from Here?, ed. Theo D'haen, Paul Giles, Djelal Kadir and Lois Parkinson Zamora. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005, pp .271-282.
  20. Prentice, Claire, 2014, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century, New Harvest. "The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Product Details". Amazon.com. October 14, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  21. Harkins, P., 1956, Blackburn's Headhunters, London: Cassell & Co. LTD
  22. James Anaya Victoria Tauli-Corpuz begins as new Special Rapporteur, 02 June 2014

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