Igorot Values: Some Personal Thoughts

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Igorot Values: Some Personal Thoughts

Ayban (or) Edmund Sr. Bugnosen

Advisor, Igorot-UK

1. Introduction

Although a very small community – in numbers at least - the Igorots are basically a “United Nations” of indigenous people. Like the United Nations, which is composed of different countries with commonalities and differences, the Igorots are also composed of different tribal groups who share some common attributes, but also have many distinct differences in traditions, practices and values. Therefore, it is difficult to talk of or on “Igorot values” in a collective sense. I myself feel rather very uncomfortable to speak on this very topic because I am but an Igorot product, by birth and exposure, of one of the many tribal sub-groups that make up the bigger Igorot world. Hence I am not, by any means, qualified to talk on Igorot values. What I would like to do, therefore, is just to share some of my thoughts on this topic, based on my background, exposure and observations.

2. Igorot value means what?

Even the word “value” has many different meanings, and placing “Igorot” to qualify it, would only further complicate its meaning. Values could also have either good or bad implications. Therefore, I am not volunteering any meaning or definition of Igorot values. Suffice to say that in this paper “Igorot value” is used in the broadest sense, which could mean Igorot tradition, belief and practice or mainly Igorot ways of life.

3. The not-so-good Igorot values

If my knowledge of the bad Igorot values is a yardstick, I am glad it is few. Baes or revenge is one that easily comes to my mind. The historical “head-hunting” stigma that we Igorots carry is to some extent contributed by the “life-for life” practice of some Igorot tribes in settling their disputes, which unfortunately is still seen during these times. The baes is also institutionalised in other tribes through the presence of people (some of whom could be relatives of yours and mine) who do tala, sapo, pad-padya and kedet (these are some forms of witchcraft).

Also starting with letter “B” is Baos – meaning curse but applied differently in the sense that it is not merely uttering bad words, but rather done with deep conviction and could be a ritual process in combination with the sacrifice of an animal. It is often a reflection of one’s lack of sense of forgiveness, but it could also be a reaction to helplessness, or to being victimized by unknown persons, forces or actions.

Ungos would also be one of my examples of the not-so-good Igorot values. It is a parental way of “saying no” or rejecting prospective son/daughter-in-law. Reasons for rejection are varied but one’s family standing in terms of material wealth and education is a common consideration. However, there are happy endings to victims of ungos - a grandfather (I call him as such because he is a cousin of my actual grandfather) finally married the love of his life after she was widowed. They would have been married earlier had it not been for this ungos. The value of having and maintaining agi (extended family) as expressed in my extended grandfather above, rather than embracing only very close relatives promotes cooperation and unity but also has its own disadvantages.

4. Igorot values that fall “something in between”

There are also Igorot attributes that are either good or bad depending on how it is taken or applied. The ba-in (meaning shame but perhaps best interpreted as shyness or dishonorable) of the modern-day Igorot could be a hindrance to his/her professional development and advancement if it keeps her/him from showing her/his full potential. Similarly the inayan value could play for or against his/her day-to-day endeavors. Because of inayan (be careful attitude and fear of the unknown) one tends to avoid taking risks, but on the other hand it also keeps one from engaging in some bad or unwanted deeds.

5. Good Igorot values are plenty

One of the fundamental values of the Igorots that is in common with that of other Filipinos is the respect to elders, but in the Igorot mentality, I think it is more of obeying elders. Unfortunately, this is slowly being eroded. I have also noticed changes in Igorot values across the years. The ubaya (a unifying community holiday) for example is no longer totally observed in some communities. Also, with the introduction of “Christian” teachings some converts began to think or realize that a number of the Igorot ways of giving thanks and praise or having festivities such as senga (butchering animals for various reasons/occasions), daw-es (a cleansing ceremony with animal sacrifice) and others are no longer proper ways of doing things.

During my exposure - as a small boy - to the dap-ays of Payeo and Padanga-an (barrios of Besao) I have seen people working from out of town (mostly in the mines of Benguet and Zambales) who are on vacation bringing gifts (called tinikang) of liquor, matches, tobacco or canned goods to the members of the dap-ay. It was a way of sharing ones bounty with those who were stayed put in the ili. However, the Igorot value that fascinated me most during this process is the way the dap-ay members accept and appreciate such gifts. Knowing that the gifts were hard-earned, the elder who does the prayer (pitik) would praise the gift-giver and ask for more blessings upon him and the tinikang is readily accepted and the liquor and tobacco enjoyed. However in cases (very rare occasions) where the dap-ay members are aware or even suspect that the gifts are the result of suspect activities (e.g., stolen, swindling, etc.), the gifts are refused. It is a very decent and good Igorot value, which unfortunately seem to be fading as well. Otherwise many of our good Igorot values or practices will endure.

Our unity and solidarity (I have no appropriate Igorot word for this) will surely remain and grow. This is clearly demonstrated by the holding of this very meeting as well as the past and future Igorot consultations, not to mention the on-going formation of Igorot organizations and groupings around the world and at home.

Our natural tendency to help each other is also a value that we should be proud of. It has firm institutional foundations in the forms of ob-ob bo (taking turns to do work for one another, and modernized involving money), giving supon (gifts, including cash) during times of weddings and deaths, sagaok (sharing ones fortune in gold mining), etc. to keep us going and it is a practice.

Foremost on my list of our good Igorot values is our strong belief in “life after death”. It is a very Christian value, which actually existed within the Igorot people long before the Christian influence or teachings were introduced in the Igorotlandia. It is therefore very clear that the Kabunian (the Almighty) did not forget us. Somehow the Kabunian has taught the Igorots this universal belief of “life after death” since the very early days of the Igorot existence.

May the Kabunian guide us all to follow the right values!

6. Finally …

May I “end” this presentation (would it be nice if Ayban can say it in a Igorot sing-song rhyme as well !) in the traditional way of Igorot-story telling, which is essentially a process of not ending a story, by saying – siya nan enak kanan na ta tapyan abes di tapina (this is what I say and I leave it up to others to say more).

7. Apologies

Please accept my sincere apology for not making it to this important Igorot gathering. I have been looking forward to meeting everybody and to visit Vienna again but unfortunately work got in the way. I am doing small assignments in Indonesia and here in the Philippines, which coincided with the event.


Ayban/Baguio City/ 28th May 2003



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