The Igorot Struggle for Independence

(A paper read before the Cordillera Congress for National Liberation, Mt. Prov. Provincial High School, Bontoc, Dec. 26, 1971.)

By William Henry Scott

It is a strange thing that the history textbooks commonly in use in the public and private schools of the Republic of the Philippines never mention the fact that the Igorot peoples of Northern Luzon fought for their liberty against foreign aggressions all during the 350 years that their lowland brethren were being ruled over by Spanish invaders. One history book says we can never know the history of the Filipino people during the Spanish period because they were slaves to the Spaniards or at least forced to play the role of slaves.

Certainly this is not true of the Igorots. They were never slaves to the Spaniards nor did they play the role of slaves. Quite the contrary, Spanish records make it clear that they fought for their independence with every means at their disposal for three centuries, and that this resistance to invasion was deliberate, self conscious, and continuous. That it was largely successful is indicated by the fact that at the end of the Spanish Regime, when the Cordillera Central had been carved up into a dozen military districts, the last Spanish census listed one-third of the estimated mountain population as completely independent.

Foreign visitors to the Philippines all during the Spanish regime noticed this Igorot independence. An Italian traveller mentioned it in 1696, a Frenchman in 1766, an American in 1842, a German in 1878, and an Englishman in 1896. And it was a cause of great embarrassment to the Spaniards themselves.

When Governor Diego Salcedo landed in Aparri in 1662 and travelled to Manila through Ilocos and Pangasinan, he said he suffered a sense of shame to see all those mountains inhabited by the Igorots, “owners of the gold mines and enemies of the Christians”. So in 1779 an official said,

“It is certainly a shameful thing for our nation to suffer such disorders without demanding satisfaction for the Igorot crimes against our vassal natives, and a mockery and cause for laughter among other foreigners.”

And a hundred years later Governor Primo de Rivera wrote almost the same thing,
“It is certainly humiliating for Spain and her government at home and abroad, to realize that thousands of human beings, some at the very doorway of the capital, and many others within sight of Christian towns with government forces and authorities, not only live in pre-Conquest backwardness, but commit crimes even to the extent of collecting tribute from the Christian towns themselves without receiving any punishment for their boldness.”

Of course the Spaniards did not consider this resistance a fight for independence. They considered the Igorots to be bandits and savages and lawbreakers because they did not submit to Spanish rule like the lowlanders. And they explained the Igorot defense of their liberty as the instincts of uncivilized tribes who. had always been at war with their more peace-loving neighbors. But the first generation of Spanish records do not make it clear that the Igorots’ lowland neighbors were peace-loving, or that the Igorots were their enemies.

Quite the opposite, they make it clear that the Ilocanos and the Pangasinanes and Igorots were business partners in the gold industry. A Dominican account of 1593 says the Igorots brought their gold down to their special friends and agents in Pangasinan, and the famous book by Dr. Antonio de Morga of 1609 says the Igorots mined the gold but that the Ilocanos refined it and distributed it to other places. When the first friars went to Mangaldan, Pangasinan, in 1588, they found the people there making regular business trips to the mountains, and worshipping a mountain god called Apo Laki In 1745 the place that is now called Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, was inhabited by Panipuy Igorots who also inhabited villages high in the mountains of what is now Kayapa municipality and the southwestern borders of Ifugao. And when a Kalinga chieftain raised a revolt in Isabela in 1787, the mayor of Camarag who remained loyal to the Spaniards, was his own brother. Considering the similarity of the present languages of Pangasinan and Benguet, and of Isinay and Lagawe, who can say where the dividing line between highlander and lowlander was when the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines ?

As a matter of fact, early Spanish accounts don’t even make it clear that highlanders and lowlanders were very different racially or culturally. The first missionaries in Zambales, Pangasinan and Cagayan said the natives were all headhunters there, and the same word mangayaw, is found as far away as the dialects of Mindanao and was recorded by a first-generation Spanish conquistador in the Visayas.

When Juan de Salcedo drove the Chinese corsair Limahong out of Lingayen in 1574, he found the bodies of Chinese who had escaped and were killed by the local people and they were all headless. In fact, when Salcedo’s own body was sent to Manila for burial in the San Agustin Church after he died outside Vigan, the head was missing.

The native mountaineers of Panay who were also unconquered by the Spaniards, to this day dig up their ancestors’ bones and bury them again after cleaning them just like the Ifugaos, and just so Dr. de Morga said the Tagalogs kept their ancestors’ bones in the houses and worshipped them. The kind of earrings the Ifugaos called ling-ling-o have been dug up out of 2,000-year-old Filipino graves in Palawan. All over the Philippines, from Aparri to Jolo, the Spaniards noticed that Filipinos considered a sneeze unlucky at the beginning of a journey, and that they would turn around and go home if a snake or lizard crossed their path, or if a bird flew from one side to the other. A study by a U.P. professor makes a list of supposedly Chinese words in Tagalog but this list includes a lot of words which are common all over the mountain provinces, like atang, bantay, kotkot, bosog, botyog, and sowitik.

Moreover, a recent study of vocabularies from languages and dialects all over the archipelago by a Yale linguist, indicates that Tagalog and Bontoc, for instance, have more basic words in common than either of them does with any language outside the Philippines-like Borneo, for instance. It is hard to explain this similarity if the Tagalogs came to the Philippines in a separate wave of migration 2,000 years after the Bontocs were already settled in the mountains of the Grand Cordillera Central.

Anyway, whatever the picture was in prehispanic times, after the Spaniards started the conquering of lowland Filipino tribes, those who submitted to the Spaniards naturally became enemies of those who didn’t. A Spanish complaint of 1606 says the Igorots prevented the other Filipinos from becoming Christians, and stole children who had been baptized to raise them in the old pagan religion. Some Jesuit theologians in 1619 argued that a just war could be made against the Igorots because they prevented free passage through their lands to the Ilocanos and Cagayanes, “our friends and vassals of the King, Our Lord.” And missionaries helped to make enmity between converts and pagans, too. The first missionary in Manaoag bribed converts to report pagans who secretly held caiaos. Governor Cruzat in 1690 issued an order that lowlanders would be punished by 100 lashes for having dealings with pagan Igorots. An Augustinian missionary handbook of 1731 says that Tinguianes and Igorots should be attracted by peaceful means, but that after all peaceful means have failed to convert them, they should be threatened and their fields taken away from them.

And the records make it clear that the Igorots often had justified complaints, too. In 1753 the head of the Augustinians had an Igorot petition translated for the Governor General, asking for the return of the gold, silver and blankets that had been grabbed’ by the agents of the Governor of Pangasinan. In 1773 the Igorots burned the church in San Nicolas, Pangasinan, in revenge for the loss of their gold which they entrusted to a local businessman. Accounts in both the 18th and 19th centuries say the Igorots collected land rentals in the foothills of the Ilocos, Cagayan and Isabela because they claimed to have owned that land before the Spaniards relocated lowland converts there. A friar writing in Kiangan in 1857 said the major cause of fighting between Ifugaos and Christians was conflicting claims to the same hunting grounds-and he adds, “the pagans are not always to blame, either”.

At any rate, if the Igorots and the lowlanders were natural enemies from time immemorial before the coming of the Spaniards, how come the Spaniards were always complaining that lowlanders were always escaping and running away to join the mountaineer pagans?

A 17th century petition calls Igorotland “a den of thieves where delinquent Christians take refuge and escape the law”, and after the Diego Silang uprising of 1762-63 the Governor General called it a place “where rebels take refuge because they. are their allies and our enemies.” As a matter of fact, the whole population under control of the Spaniards in the Ilocos went down by onesixth during the first 25 years of. the conquest. One modern scholar has concluded that they all escaped to the mountain provinces-and Father Lambrecht, after a careful study of the internal evidence of the Ifugao hudhuds, thinks all the Ifugaos migrated into the present province of Ifugao after the Spaniards invaded the upper Magat River Valley.

Modern Filipino writers seem to be just as slow as the Spaniards to give credit to the Igorots for their defense of their homeland. History professors in Manila classrooms have been known to say that it was all just an accident of history or geography. By this they mean either that it was too much trouble for the Spaniards to invade the mountains or that they didn’t want to do so in the first place.

The idea that the Spaniards didn’t want to invade the mountains of the Igorots is just flatly contradictory to their own records. They heard about the Ilocos gold mines before they ever set foot in Luzon, and it only took them five years after the founding of Manila to reach the Baguio mines. They established short-lived forts in Boa and Antamok in 1620, 1623 and 1624, and in Mankayan and Lepanto in 1668-but they were never able to stay until after the invention of the modern repeating rifle. A hundred years later they tried to open a road through Igorot territory between Pangasinan and Cagayan, and in 1750 began a 150 -war with the Ifugaos. In 1767 they were repulsed in Kiangan itself, in 1793 they were met by natives wearing metal armor, and during the 19th century they made literally dozens of expeditions into that province. Yet in the 1850’s the- Ifugaos killed or drove out all the Spanish missionaries in Mayoyao, Bunhian and Kiangan. In the 1880’s they were picking off members of the new occupation forces one by one, and during the revolution they completely massacred the Kiangan garrison and sent a war party of 600 down to attack a garrison in Isabela.

As far as saying that the Spaniards couldn’t invade the mountains is concerned, is it the case that all lowlanders were conquered and all highlanders remained independent? What -about the Muslims? They defended their liberty against Spanish invasion whether they lived in mountains, or in tiny little islands, or right on the seacoast. On the other hand, not everybpdy who lived in the mountains resisted Spanish conquest or, for that matter, even wanted to. The mountains called the Caraballo Sur between Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija are a case in point. For these are mountains so rugged and easy to defend that the Philippine army had to provide armed escorts for public transportation through that area as late as the 1950’s.

When the Spaniards sent four expeditions through this area between 1591 and 1594, the people of some villages welcomed them and paid them tribute, but in other villages tried to fight them off, and in still others completely repulsed them. Yet within a decade, native delegations came to Manila asking for Spanish intervention in local wars, and for another 150 years Spanish forces were welcomed in some places. and repulsed in others. The people of St. Catherine’s mission, Buhay, for example, only six kilometers from Aritao, always welcomed the conquistadores and their missionaries, while the Panipuy Igorots of Aritao fought them off from behind stone walls until 1745. Yet Buhay was built on top of rocky mountains so steep people needed ladders to climb up while Aritao was exposed to attack right in the open plain of the Magat Valley. How come Buhay submitted but not Aritao ?

Besides, the Igorots quickly learned that living in the mountains did not spare them from Spanish attacks. In 1755 a Spanish friar went to live in the village of Tonglo, near the public school in the present municipality of Tuba outside Baguio. After he destroyed their idols, they threatened to stone him to death, and a few months later drove him out. Since they were only a day’s hike from Spanish garrisons on the coast, they must have known they were risking punishment. And in 1759 it came-three separate detachments of lowland soldiers who took three weeks to reach Tonglo, which they subjected to five hours of artillery fire and burned it to the ground so completely no trace of its location can be found today. Yet the Igorot survivors of the battle did not surrender. They simply retreated deeper into the mountains, and some of their descendants are living still in Baguio today.

This was part of the heavy price which the Igorots paid for their independence-always giving up their homes and villages and fields to Spanish fire and sword, and retreating deeper and deeper into higher and higher mountain ranges to struggle for a harder existence. It is clear that at the beginning of the Spanish occupation, the Igorots lived in better houses, in bigger villages than they did later. The 1620 expedition to Baguio found fortifications so solid they used them to build their own fort. A 1740 account says Igorot houses were so spacious three families could live in one of them. The 1759 expedition found a settlement with 35 large houses all made of boards, arranged along a regular street, with a plaza, and a kind of church for their pagan ceremonies. When Galvey entered the Trinidad Valley in 1829, he found 500 houses there, and started burning them. In 1883 there were only fifty left. And a German traveler in 1861 found the Agno valley full of old stone walls in the fields, all grown over with underbrush, and he reported, “Today most villages bear the stamp of misery and deprivation: the fields are badly maintained, the stone walls around the houses are falling down, and the big villages of Galvey’s time have been deserted”.

When the Igorots were not literally overwhelmed by sheer numbers and firepower, however, they proved formidable opponents. No Spanish force ever maintained a garrison permanently on the Cordillera before the Remington repeating rifle replaced the old muskets that were almost useless in wet weather. The goldmining Igorots drove off two Spanish expeditions before they could sample their ores. When Martin Quirante was finally successful in carrying away gold samples in 1625, he brought along 85 Spaniards-double the number Salcedo took to the Ilocos in 1572 -as well as 1750 Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos. Nor could the Spanish government guarantee protection to their lowland vassals from Igorot attack. In the 18th century, a Spanish historian says the Ilocano farmers had to work their fields with the sickle in one hand and a weapon in the other, and travellers could not use the royal highway along the coast without armed escorts. When one officer proposed an attack on the Igorots in 1796 and told the governor it would be an easy victory, he replied, “Don’t forget to make an estimate of the pensions for the widows and mothers of those killed in battle”.

-to be continued-


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