Written by Maria Cristina Apolinar-Abeya on .

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Maria Cristina Apolinar-Abeya 

“We have not changed since ancient times,” have we? Greetings from BIMAK Washington DC. The new President of BIMAK DC, Elvira Olsim Della, born and raised in the Benguet culture but married to Nardo Della of Bontoc descent, sends her congratulations and best wishes for a successful 3rd Igorot European convention. 

Thank you for inviting us once again to work with you towards the presentation of the Igorot culture and its impact on generations to come. Thank you Ric for that comprehensive review of all the Igorot consultations. It might not be obvious to you right now but all of you are definitely leaving a legacy for all future generations. 

I am, by no means, an Anthropologist nor one who has studied the Igorot culture. We have, in fact, amongst us today, a famous Igorot Anthropologist, Manong Albert Bacdayan  so I have to be careful about what to say here. I am simply a person and raised in an environment dominated by a pure blooded Igorota mother who, until today finds solace in the customs and traditions of the Igorot. It was through my mother’s insistence that we got encultured into the culture of her parents. 

You have asked me to speak to the question “WHAT IS IT IN OUR CULTURE THAT WE WANT TO PASS ON TO THE NEXT GENERATION?” In your website, one of your mission statement reads, “To preserve the authentic Igorot Culture, Customs and traditions and to present a better Igorot image to the new community we live in.” To achieve this mission, you have planned regular meetings and opportunities to practice Igorot dances and songs, so you could be confident and capable of public performances. You have also vowed to provide the proper props and wear the traditional costumes, share props and instruments and Audio-Visual materials, to guide you in learning the different Igorot dances and songs. Pretty much, it does sound like when we think culture, we think dances, songs, and cultural attire. 

In preparing for today, I found myself pouring into the subject matter “CULTURE.” I think that before we can begin to decide what we must pass on the next generation, we must first understand what Culture means and what the Igorot Culture is made up of. 

So today, I have a simple agenda to follow. 





CONCEPT & APPLICABILITY to Present Generation  


What is Culture, anyway?

“Culture” in the Anthropological sense is defined in the following statements:

  1. “Culture refers to the entire way a group of people lives and is organized. A set of rules, standards, or manners shared within a human group that describes a range of behaviors and beliefs that are proper, acceptable, and valid. These rules promote the survival of the group. These rules govern all aspects of behavior within the human group and provide for repercussions when the rules are violated. These rules also govern relationships to other human groups and the environment. These rules aren’t necessarily written down. They are, in fact handed down from generation to generation through tradition.”

Examples of Cultural Rules & Traits: 

  • What must a person do when a member of a family dies?

  • The proper use of clothing

  • Who must lead a peace pact and what must its leader do?

  • What must a woman do when she delivers a baby?

  • How do we name a child?

  • Marriage customs

  • Myths, legends and histories

  • The appropriate thing to say or eat at certain times.

2.  “No culture stays the same. Every culture is constantly changing. The change either comes from inside the culture or from outside the culture through acculturation.”


What is Culture, anyway?

From the definition, we can deduce that there are 4 components of culture. 


The Culture of a people may be grouped into: 

4 MAJOR COMPONENTS: (What distinguishes one culture from another)

  • Beliefs - ideas, customs, values, norms, traditions

  • Social Institutions - family, religion, education, government, economics

  • Humanities - attitudes, music & art, language, recreation

  • Technology- methods, tools, machinery, skills

Looking at these 4 components, let us look at the Igorot culture and I can only speak about that culture in which I was enculturated from birth. 

The Culture of Our Ancestors 


  • Ideas 

  • Values 

  • Morals

  • Customs

  • Traditions

Belief in supernatural power/spirits. Childhood Experience with a mensip-ok.


As a child, my mother always made it a point to bring us to the “Ili” to ‘know our relatives,’ she said. Thus in our frequent ‘am-among’ (or gatherings), my brothers, sisters and I were privileged to witness the customs and traditions practiced during birth, marriage, harvest season, death and sickness. These customs and traditions had a way of spilling into our own house in spite of the fact that my father was full blooded Ilocano. Somehow, my mother always found a way to call for an “en-sip-ok” when one of us got sick. I remember going home with a stomach ache from school one day. The “en-sip-ok" said that one of our dead great ancestors greeted me on the way as I was trying to skip classes and that was why I got sick. How she found out that I was trying to skip school was beyond me but when the Ensip-ok started rubbing “San Miguel” on my tummy, and asked the spirit to leave me alone, I felt good, I felt protected, I felt relieved. And then to top it all, I got to eat pinikpikan afterwards. 

Respect for the Elders. Childhood Experience with Elders.  


As children partaking of the rituals during these “am-among,” we were always asked to behave at our best, to be quiet when the older folks were talking, and to be always willing to run errands for those older than us. It was indeed very rare to find children talking back to their parents in those days. Pretty much, before our time, I suspect that the elders of the ili practically gave the rules and the community lived by and respected these rules. Growing up, we were practically required to show respect for elders. 


  • According to Bishop Claver, the deepest part of culture is its valuesbecause these, he says, make up one’s identity, “not dress, not dance, and not even language.” To Bishop Claver, the old Igorot ways of honest and open dealings with one another in their social, economic and political life are worth looking into” &  in fact, worth passing on to the younger generation.

Tayan – a common piece of land for members of a clan to cultivate. The concept is so that none in the clan will go hungry. Tayan is not for sale. 


I remember our cousins in the Ili inviting my sister and me to gather camotes from our ‘Tayan’ (a piece of land owned and cultivated by a group of people belonging to a clan). I remember them telling us to take as many as we can carry but because, my sister and I were only 10 and 12 years old at that time, we can only carry two small baskets full of camotes on our tiny heads. But that was the rule of the farm -  take only what you can carry – take only what you can eat and make sure to leave some for others. The tayan is not for sale. This piece of land is reserved for the use of all in the clan and it is meant to ensure that no one in the clan can go hungry as long as (s)he is willing to toil the land for food. 

Marriages, feasts; deaths, offerings


 In the olden days, folks with means would truly put on a feast that would last for several days and the whole town would be invited. This is a costly tradition. However, intrinsic values may be learned from this tradition – when a family spends much for their child to get married, they are in effect communicating to the child’s new family how much their child is loved and how happy they are that their child will be united into the other family. They are in effect asking the community to partake of their happiness. They are in effect asking the community to be witnesses of such a union and to help take on the roles as advisors of this new couple. It does ‘take a village’ to build wholesome relationships. And this extends to deaths among the Igorots – the whole community gets together to wish the dead person a pleasant journey into the ‘other world’ and to ask the dead person to take all forms of sickness away with him/her. Most of the time, their mere presence gives comfort to those left behind. I was just talking to a friend the other day who lost her husband to cancer. She told me she was glad her mother was with her to remind her of the Igorot practice of keeping close to the home for at least six months after her husband’s burial. This is an Igorot practice that shows respect for the memory of a loved one who has passed away. Our elders tell us that a bereaved person gains the sympathy of the spirits and renewed strength from this period of observed quietness. 

Peace Pacts


The practice of Peace Pacts guarantees a person safe passage in enemy territory. When a person volunteers to be the Peace Pact holder, he virtually takes the lead on ensuring peace not only for his tribe but also for the enemy tribe. This is one tradition that we should look into and possibly adopt in our new environments.  

Naming conventions – children named after a relative because parents want child to inherit good traits of the relative; named after physical attributes of the child, etc. (Fowanganaw-ai niyanak ay chak-chakowag nan puto na!)

The Culture of Our Ancestors (Continued) 


  • Family

  • Religion

  • Education

  • Government 

  • Economics

The Igorot family has always been patriarchal and fiercely protective in nature.

Considered ritualistic pagans.

Schooled on their own “rules of survival.”

Ruled by the elders of the ‘ili.’

Exist and live by taking only what they need from day to day.

There are merits to these institutional traits – solidarity, discipline, loyalty, organized decision-making process, and non-wastefulness.

To me personally, being ritualistic is not at all bad. A ritualistic process actually serves to nurture the human soul. 

A person’s whole sense of being gets immersed into the ritual which is why when you see our older folks dancing, there is a sense of peaceful solemnity etched on their faces (“feel na feel” - as the saying goes). 

The Culture of our Ancestors (Continued) 


  • Attitudes

  • Music and Art

  • Language

  • Recreation

TATTOOS – in early years, young men and women in the Cordillera were usually tattooed by an elder who occupied a high position in the community. The men who returned from war with their enemy’s head. However, were allowed to get their tattoos by a maingal (warrior). The women would mostly get their tattoos at a young age to make them more attractive, while the men saw tattoos as a mark of manhood.

BAG-BAG-TO – a recreation – the bigger your wound, the more your harvest.

Language of the Igorot is very descriptive of where the tribe comes from – hence, the Bontoc are known to be rough and direct; Kalingas; rather bold-shy; Ifugaos, pilosopos; Benguets, shy mango; and Apayaos, malumay.

The Culture of our Ancestors (Continued) 


Songs, dances, chants – for different occasions definitely following certain rules.

There are different dances for different occasions. Each dance has a story and message.

The art of beating gongs requires spirituality and a skilled sense of harmony and coordination. Beating the gongs while dancing at the same time, is a skill that only comes with enculturation and acculturation. It does not happen overnight. For some, it’s a spiritual experience.

Igorot dances are better appreciated when performed in the native attire. The designs on the tapis and “wanes” (loin cloth) also tell a story and reflect the beliefs, myths, and legends of a culture.


  • MethodsRice terraces technology

  • Tools

  • Machinery

  • SkillsCrop rotation

  • Pottery

  • Basket weaving

  • Wood carving – agar-aramid ti tao ken dad-duma pai.

  • Inasin” (ham) meat salting preservation methods 

  • Rice Wine making

  • Jewelry – ahling, beads, etc

“Planting rice is never fun, bent from norm till the set of sun”

- to the Igorots, it is a family activity, it has its time, it has its season, it is an art that requires extreme coordination with Mother Nature.

Rice Processing

Rice processing is such a painstaking activity that our people have learned to process just enough as needed. Consequently, it’s fresher and more nutritious. There is little waste. It’s a process that provides a time to chat. It requires ‘Gagget’, time, patience.

Weaving – a family creativity resulting in a material that reflects the symbols, story and thoughts of a people. It does not happen overnight. It requires concentration, patience, and knowledge of the culture.


Can’t wear tapis to work or the wanes in NY city streets.

Can’t afford to feed the whole town at your wedding. 

Can’t butcher as many pigs in your house during death. 

Don’t have time to plant, pound, winnow rice for food.

Are the dances and songs all that’s left?

Are the dances and songs the path to our children’s connection to our culture? Can we possibly say that if we taught our children how to beat gongs and how to dance the takik or ballangbang or other dances, we have passed on the values of our culture to them? What is the significance of these dances and songs? Why does an Igorot mother always carry her young on her back while she continues to work the daily chores? Why do old folks have a solemn look on their faces when they are performing a ritualistic dance? 

Why does it take so long to weave a native blanket or create a tapis? Why does a new widow(er) withdraw from social activities for the whole year? Why must we feed a village during a union of a man and a woman? Why do we even talk to a dead person? If we took time to come up with answers to these questions, we will find that almost every “why” is due to a value worth looking into and worth teaching our children. 

VALUES learned from customs & traditions

We must continue to hold our children close to us and teach them the values of close knit families from childhood.

We must teach the Symbolic meaning of our woven fabric designs.

“There is a time, and a season under the heavens” - and when we do wear our native attire, we wear it with pride and a degree of solemnity because we know what went into its creation.”

Every culture trait of the four aspects of the Igorot culture from beliefs, to institutional make-up, to humanities and to technology have the following basic values common to them:

Concept of strength, patience, ingenuity in Technology

One-ness with nature

Respect for the elderly, rules & the memory of a relative who moves on to the “other world.”

Sharing with the community in times of joy, as well as sadness. 

Simple living – taking only that which you need and ensuring enough for others.

Cultivation of strong family ties. 

This is our people’s story – make it yours?


Talk presented on the theme “Our Igorot Cordillera Culture: Heritage and Social Integration” of the 3rd ICBE Consultation held in Aeschi, Switzerland on May 5-8, 2005. BIBAK Switzerland hosted the consultation. 



Maria Cristina “Mia” Apolinar-Abeya is originally from Bontoc, Mountain Province and presently resides in Maryland, USA. She is a class “67 graduate of St. Mary’s School, Sagada, Mountain Province. She holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Presently, she is the Chief Financial Officer of the IGO. She is married to Edwin Abeya. They have three children.

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