Igorot Cultural Heritage

Written by Rex Botengan on .

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Ladies and Gentlemen:

Greetings to you all from the Igorot Global Organization. It is indeed an honor to be asked to address your 2nd Cordillera Conference, and a privilege for my wife and I to be with European friends again and to meet new ones. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our European friends – from London to Berlin, to Vienna, and to Amsterdam for your generous hospitalities when we made a whirling European visit last year.

I would like also to thank in advance friends who have invited us to  visit their homes in Switzerland and Belgium, after this Conference. While the drab city of West Covina in California where we live is incomparable to the beauty and pageantry  of your cities, we invite you, whenever you are in the USA, to drop by West Covina and experience one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the world. When you can, please visit us in West Covina.

When Yvonne Belen asked me many months ago to be with you at this conference and share the story of IGO, I had no hesitancy because I should know the story of IGO. But when she asked me at a later date to speak on Culture, I hesitated and told her that I did not have the proper credentials of an anthropologist to speak on culture. But she shot back and said, “We don’t need to hear from an anthropologist; we want to hear your thoughts about Cultural Heritage.” On that basis, I told Yvonne, “owen man ngarud.”

In 1995, I made an informal survey on the purposes of Bibaks around the world, and I found out that most Bibak organizations share  two identical purposes, as written in their constitutions. First of these shared purposes is, “for the mutual support of one another,” and the second is, “the preservation or conservation of “our” cultural heritage.

What do we really mean by “our” cultural heritage? What does “our” stand for?  Does it stand for Cordillera culture, or Igorot culture? It is not my intention to open up a debate on the words Igorot and  Cordilleran, but to share my thoughts on what I think we mean when we say “our cultural heritage”. After all, whichever is acceptable by a community - Igorot or Cordilleran - should be respected.

It is my understanding that the term “Cordilleran” is a political identity. The word became popular in 1987 after then President Corazon Aquino issued Exec. Order 220, at the urging of some Cordillera leaders, led by Fr. Conrado Balweg, to form a Cordillera Administrative Region for the purpose regional autonomy. CAR was used as a rallying cry to unite the people of the Cordillera to manage their own natural resources,  instead of outsiders managing it for them. Unfortunately, the noble purpose of CAR has not been attained, and CAR as a political unity seems to be breaking up. Cordilleran to me therefore is a political identity.

“Igorot” on the other hand, derived from “Igolot”, meaning “people of the mountains” or “from the mountains”, had been our name since early Spanish times, through the American occupation, up to the present. The term readily describes the people of the mountains, how they look like and how they live. Igorot reveals a specific image of a people – an  image of a man wearing a g-string, no clothes, with a spear, and walking by the rice fields; it reveals an image of a person beating the gong, or an image of a woman wearing tapis and working in the rice fields.


Igorot readily reveals the picture of mountains, rivers, and forests, of rice fields, of kanyaw, of headhunting, of tapey, and all that a mountain people looks like. Igorot speaks of a culture, So, I think that when we  speak of “our” cultural heritage” it is the Igorot heritage that we have in mind. In our hesitancy to use the term Igorot because it is “kababain” (shameful), we use the neutral modifier, OUR – “our heritage.” But other learned scholars are blunt in using the term Igorot to describe our culture.


Bishop Francisco Claver, an eminent  Igorot theologian, remarked at the 3rd Igorot Consultation in Baguio City that “Igorot” is itself a cultural heritage to be preserved with pride.

Bishop Artemio Zabala, another eminent Igorot theologian, speaking at the 1st Igorot International Consultation In West Covina in 1995, said, “To be an Igorot is a divine gift from God, a precious thing in God’s sight, a thing to be grateful for, to glory in, to affirm, and be proud of. To be Igorot is a legacy to cultivate and nurture . . . .”


Dr. Gerard Finin, a fellow at the East West Center, University of Hawaii, also speaking during the 1st Igorot Consultation, said, and I quote: “It is acknowledged that an understanding of Philippine history and culture must  include at least some of the history and culture of the Igorot. No longer viewed as an embarrassment, Igorot culture is increasingly appreciated as a shining example of that which is honestly and truly Filipino.”

William Henry Scott, the proud American Igorot, adorned his residence in Sagada with Igorot artifacts and described them to visitors as invaluable samples of Igorot cultural heritage.  

Therefore, we should not be embarrassed nor ashamed of our culture, but be proud of it and conserve it. Of course, culture is not static: it changes or is modified or is gradually lost, but it is the very nature of culture that it be passed on from generation to generation, even in its modified form, before it is completely lost.  So how do we preserve and pass on to the next generation some of the basic elements of our culture. I can only suggest a few practical conservation measures.

First thing we do, according to the aforementioned Igorot bishops, is to be use the word Igorot to describe our culture, for the term, “Igorot”, is itself a cultural heritage to be preserved.

Secondly, I suggest that we do what other BIBAKS are already doing: conduct informal sessions with the youth and teach them some of the elements of our culture. Teach them some of the common dances and rituals; what is begnas, what is senga, what is babayas, what is a tayao, what is a tadok, what is uy-ua-uy – when are these dances performed, what are their religious significance, etc.

Orient the youth with some of the socio-political institutions or oral traditions, such as the sipat or bodong of the Kalingas, the hudhud of the  Ifugaos, the ullalim of the Kalingas, the lawa or inayan of the Aplais. What  is dap-ay or ator, what is ebgan or olog.

Teach them a few words in Igorot, and let them know that there are several Igorot languages – as Kankanaey, Ibaloy, Kalinga, Ifugao, Ilocano, etc.  Give them an understanding of some of the various weaving designs of the Igorots,

Encourage the young, when they have the chance to visit the Philippines,  to pay a visit to the ili, visit the rice terraces, visit the museums.

I also suggest that another way of cultural conservation and promotion,  at the same time sharing our culture with the community, is to set up mobile mini-Igorot museums.

Every year or every two years, during the  organization’s Foundation Day celebration, the organization collects as many artifacts and other items of cultural importance to be exhibited to the public.  Collect such items as various kinds of baskets, various weaving designs, wood carvings, photographs, books or other written literature, tapes, etc, organize these items in some coherent fashion, properly label  them for the public and our young people to see and learn from.

Another way of promoting the Igorot culture to the youth is to collect  and preserve photos and printed literature about Igorot culture and review these printed materials with the youth. One such book is the book, E. Masferre, which is a photo documentation of the agricultural, village, and  ritual life of the Igorots. This single volume book has been exhibited in the great museums of America and Europe.

Another book that is an excellent teaching material is the book, Basketry  of the LuzonCordillera, published by the UCLA Fowler Museum of  Cultural History. Contributors to this book include Florina Capistrano Baker, Albert Bacdayan, B. Lynn Milgram, and Roy Hamilton, Editor. Here in this book are photos and explanation of the various Igorot basketry, such as the liga-o, the gimata, the luwa, the kayabang, akge, the bitoto, the atobang, the annanga, and a hundred other basketry that tell the story of the Igorot culture.

It is very  inspiring to see in these two books how the Igorots lived in earlier times, and to see them now leap frog in a hundred years from primitive living to modern life – from g-string to necktie, from the rice fields to the Congress of the Philippines, from the mountains of the Cordillera to the cities of America and Europe.

In summary, what I have said is for us to preserve and conserve  as much as we can the basic elements of the Igorot culture and pass them on to the next generation. For if we do not know who and what we are, where we came from, we would not appreciate our road ahead.

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