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Who Are the Igorots of the Philippines?
Published By Aileen P N on 2011-08-09 376 Views

The terms Igorots and Cordilleras are used to collectively refer to a number of tribal groups including the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Apayao/Isneg, Kalinga, and Kankana-eys. The Igorots reside in the mountainous north and central Luzon areas in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). The CAR covers 18,294 sq. km and includes the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Apayao.

The Igorot form two subgroups: the largest group lives in the south, central, and western areas, and is very adept at rice-terrace farming; the other group lives in the east and north. The Igorots formerly practiced headhunting.

The Igorots are an ethnic people of the Philippines, clustered in the Cordillera region of Luzon. It is true that they are famous for rice-terrace farming but saying that some of them have been known to be cannibals in the past is an exaggeration which only downgrades them.

"Igorot" is the modern term to describe the indigenous people of the Cordillera Mountains located in the northern part of the Philippine island of Luzon. When first "discovered" by the Spaniards in the 16th century, they were called "Ygolotes" - later to be re-spelled "Igorrotes." The Spaniards used other names to describe Igorots based on where in the Cordilleras they were found.

As one can infer, Igorots are a highland race, and are well-adapted to life in raised altitudes. To assure themselves a steady supply of crop, they have even devised a way to carved terraces at the sides of mountain, which they plant with various grains. The Igorot people are categorized into six different ethno-linguistic groups: Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg (or Apayao), Kalinga, and Kankana-ey.

Bontoc. The Bontoc thrive on the bank of the Chico River. Famous as headhunters in the past, they have since turned their backs from the practice of head hunting. At present, a huge majority of the Bontoc have embraced Christianity. They have seamlessly transitioned into a peaceful, agricultural people.

Ibaloi. The Ibaloi too are an agrarian society. Mostly found in Southern Benguet, there are about 93,000 of them all over the Philippines. Their language is from the Austronesian family of languages.


The Ifugao, on the other hand, are known for their epics and their stories, such as the hudhud and the alim. Like the Bontoc Igorots, Ifugao people were headhunters in the past. Ifugao people have a total of four different dialects, and are sometimes called Amganad, Kiangan, or Mayoyao. The word Ifugao means "from the hill."

Isneg or Apayao. The Isneg or Apayao can be found living near the banks of the Apayao River. Originally slash-and-burn farmers, they have since begun to practice more sustainable forms of farming. The Isneg are also known as good fishers, and have a penchant for coffee.

Kalinga. The Kalinga tribes are perhaps the most diplomatic of all the Igorot. They put great importance on kinship and social ties, and are heralded for the peace pacts that have allowed their tribes to become strong. They are also known as the most heavily adorned of all the Igorot people.

Kankana-ey. Finally, the Kankana-ey are one of the few tribes who still practice a way of living more common in the old days, although is fast disappearing as well. In the Kankana-ey, young men and women are divided by gender and then ushered into separate dormitories. Entry into a dormitory signifies a young person’s readiness to enter the stages of courtship. Courtships are carried out in the ebgan, or the "girl house."

Although Igorots are "geographically" Filipino, there are numerous things that give them their own unique identity, which has led to many debates on whether Igorots are Filipinos. Examples of their uniqueness are:

Language: Igorots speak their own languages (Ibontok, Ibaloy, Kankanaey, Isneg, Kalinga, Tuwali, etc.)

* Government: Igorots of the Cordilleras have their own autonomous government made possible by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino.

* Food: Igorot food is considered indigenous with little influence from other countries.

* Clothing: Traditional clothing for men & women are clearly distinct and bears no Spanish influence. Surprisingly, it bears a strong resemblance to that of American Indians.

* Culture & Colonization: Above all, Igorots were not conquered by Spain. For more than three centuries, their ability to keep from being colonized by Spaniards allowed their culture to stay preserved to this day. Spain’s King Philip ("Philip"pines) was never able to force his name onto them.

* Statement of Significance: Their rice terraces in the Cordillera Mountains, which are more than 2,000 years old, are evidence of their high level of knowledge of structural and hydraulic engineering. The rice terraces are the only monuments in the Philippines that show no evidence of having been influenced by any colonial cultures. For this reason, the rice terraces have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.






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