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Igorot vs Cordilleran: What's the Difference (and Why It Matters)

Igorot and Cordilleran are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct cultural meanings. Learn about the differences between these labels.

Igorot and Cordilleran are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct cultural meanings. Learn about the differences between these labels and how to respectfully acknowledge the Cordillera region's cultural diversity.

In Filipino culture, people often use the terms "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" interchangeably. This article aims to clarify the distinctions between these labels, shedding light on the cultural significance of both "Igorot" and "Cordilleran." Even among Igorot people and Cordillerans, there is occasional confusion surrounding these terms.

Understanding these differences is crucial for respecting the diverse cultures in the Cordillera region. The various ethnolinguistic groups under the umbrella term "Igorot" contribute significantly to Filipino heritage, each with unique practices.

Join us on this exploration to deepen your understanding of these cultural distinctions. By recognizing and addressing potential issues from the interchangeable use of "Igorot" and "Cordilleran," we aim to appreciate the Cordillera region's cultural diversity more fully. Explore Igorot vs Cordilleran differences in Filipino culture with us.

Igorot Definition

"Igorot" collectively refers to diverse indigenous ethnolinguistic groups in the Cordillera region of the Philippines, including the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg, Kalinga, Kankana-ey, Kalanguya, and Itneg/Tingguian peoples.

The term's origin is debated with two prevailing theories:

1. Spanish Origin Theory: "Ygolotes" to "Igorot"

During Spanish colonization, conquistadors referred to these indigenous peoples as "Ygolotes" or "Ygorrotes," evolving into "Igorot." The term already had derogatory connotations, depicting them as "unchristian" and "uncivilized." However, it was reclaimed with pride by Cordillera mountain dwellers, reshaping its meaning.

2. Tagalog Origin Theory: "From the Mountains"

An alternative theory suggests a Tagalog origin, combining "i-" (meaning 'from' or 'coming from') and "golot" (meaning 'mountain' or 'mountain chain'). This interpretation defines "Igorot" as 'people from the mountains.'

The term's history dates back to the 1698 publication "Conquistas de las Islas Philippinas" by Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, acknowledging economic activities with "mountaineer Indians called 'Sambales and Igolotes.'" By the 1700s, it encompassed pagans in various regions. The transition from "Igolot" to "Igorot" occurred in the 18th century, solidifying its association with resilient mountain-dwelling communities.

Cordilleran Definition

"Cordilleran" is a comprehensive term that embraces the diverse population residing in the Cordillera Administrative Region of the Philippines. Unlike the specific ethnic connotations of "Igorot," "Cordilleran" takes a broader perspective, encompassing both indigenous groups and non-indigenous residents in the region.

Historical Timeline of the Cordillera Region

  • Spanish Colonial Era (16th Century): The Spanish occupation faced challenges in subjugating and Christianizing the mountain region. To manage the area, several comandancias were established, including Amburayan, Cabugaoan, Kayapa, Quiangan, Itaves, Apayaos, Lepanto, Benguet, Bontoc, Banaue, and Tiagan.

  • American Regime (1908): On August 18, 1908, during the American regime, Mountain Province was established by the Philippine Commission through Act No. 1876. It included Ifugao, formerly part of Nueva Vizcaya, and the former Spanish comandancias of Amburayan, Apayao, Benguet, Bontoc, Kalinga, and Lepanto, as sub-provinces. Subsequent changes saw adjustments, such as the abolition of Amburayan in 1920.

  • Philippine Independence (1966): Republic Act No. 4695, enacted on June 18, 1966, split Mountain Province into four separate provinces: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, and Mountain Province. Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao were placed under the Cagayan Valley region, while Benguet and Mountain Province were placed under the Ilocos Region.

  • Creation of Cordillera Administrative Region (1987): On July 15, 1987, President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order 220, establishing the Cordillera Administrative Region. It included the provinces of Abra, Benguet, and Mountain Province from the Ilocos Region, and Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao from the Cagayan Valley. Notably, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino were excluded, despite having an Igorot majority.

  • Province Split (1995): On February 14, 1995, Republic Act No. 7878 led to the split of Kalinga-Apayao into two separate provinces: Apayao and Kalinga. This legislative move further shaped the administrative landscape of the Cordillera region.

The term "Cordilleran" is a relatively recent addition to the cultural lexicon. Notably, it wasn't widely used to refer to the people of the Cordilleras until after the passage of the Cordillera Administrative Region Act in 1987. This legislative milestone marked a significant shift in the regional identity and recognition of the diverse communities residing in the Cordillera Mountains.

A group of Igorot people performing a traditional dance. Photo: PIA MP

The Difference between Igorot and Cordilleran

Let's delve into the distinctions between "Igorot" and "Cordilleran," exploring their historical roots and roles in Filipino culture.

Igorot: "Igorot" is a term encompassing various indigenous groups in the Cordillera, like Bontok, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg, Kalinga, Kankana-ey, Kalanguya, and Itneg/Tingguian. Originating during Spanish rule, it began as a derogatory term but was later proudly adopted by mountain dwellers. Each group within Igorot contributes unique traditions, shaping a rich cultural history spanning more than three centuries.

Cordilleran: Conversely, "Cordilleran" is broader, referring to anyone residing in the Cordillera Administrative Region, irrespective of background. This term gained significance with the establishment of the Cordillera Administrative Region, symbolizing a collective regional identity in more recent times.

Key Differences

  1. Specific vs. Inclusive: Igorot focuses on distinct groups, while Cordilleran encompasses the entire Cordillera population.

  2. Historical Roots: Igorot has a history spanning more than three centuries, rooted in Spanish colonial times. Cordilleran is a more recent identity, tied to the Cordillera Administrative Region's creation.

  3. Geographical Emphasis: Igorot is closely tied to the mountainous landscapes, emphasizing indigenous groups. Cordilleran extends beyond ethnicity, including anyone living in the Cordillera Mountains.

Two Igorot men playing the traditional "gangsa" and "solibao" instruments. Photo: PIA MP

Examples Illustrating the Differences

Let's explore the distinctions between "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" through real-world examples, shedding light on their historical context and cultural roles.

1. Mutual Inclusivity:

  • Scenario: Ana, a member of the Kankana-ey group and living in the Mountain Province, proudly identifies as both Igorot and Cordilleran.
  • Explanation: Ana exemplifies the mutual inclusivity of these terms, highlighting that an Igorot can seamlessly be a Cordilleran because she resides in the region, reflecting the interconnected cultural fabric.

2. Residence-Based Distinction:

  • Scenario: Juan, born and raised in Baguio City, identifies as a Cordilleran.
  • Explanation: Although Juan may not belong to a specific Igorot group, his permanent residence in the Cordillera region makes him a Cordilleran.

3. Ethnic vs. Regional Identity:

  • Scenario: Maria, an Ibaloi by ethnicity, moved out of the Cordillera for work but maintains her Igorot and Cordilleran identity.
  • Explanation: Maria is an Igorot based on her ethnicity, and her connection to the Cordillera region, even if she currently resides elsewhere, keeps her within the broader term of Cordilleran. The Cordilleran identity can extend beyond current residence to include individuals with roots, cultural ties, or ancestral connections to the Cordillera region. In Maria's case, maintaining her Igorot and Cordilleran identity reflects the enduring influence of her cultural heritage and regional affiliation, even outside the Cordillera. This scenario highlights the nuanced relationship between ethnic and regional identity in the context of Igorot and Cordilleran distinctions.

4. Cultural Inclusivity:

  • Scenario: Mark, a non-indigenous Filipino, relocates to Baguio City for retirement and embraces the Cordilleran identity.
  • Explanation: Mark, though not ethnically Igorot, becomes a Cordilleran by choosing to reside in the Cordillera Mountains, showcasing the inclusive nature of the term.

5. Citizenship vs. Ethnicity:

  • Scenario: Alex, born to an Igorot mother and a foreign father, retains Igorot identity regardless of citizenship.
  • Explanation: Alex exemplifies the nuanced relationship between Igorot ethnicity and Cordilleran regional identity. While Alex is inherently Igorot due to their parentage, the term "Cordilleran" is not automatically applied unless Alex has a strong regional affiliation to the Cordillera region. This scenario underscores the distinction between ethnicity and regional identity within the Cordillera context. Alex's Igorot identity is tied to their heritage, emphasizing the cultural and ethnic dimensions of the Igorot label, while Cordilleran identity may require additional connections or residence within the Cordillera region.


1. Marriage and Identity:

  • Scenario: Mary, a non-Igorot, marries Juan, an Ifugao native. Mary now identifies as both Igorot and Cordilleran.
  • Explanation: Mary's marriage to Juan demonstrates the inclusive nature of Igorot and Cordilleran identities. While Mary was not originally Igorot, her union with an Ifugao native integrates her into the Igorot identity. Simultaneously, as a resident of the Cordillera region, Mary embraces the Cordilleran label. It's important to note that Mary, while adopting these identities, may need to actively engage with and adopt aspects of the Igorot way of life to fully immerse herself in the culture. This example showcases how marital connections can influence one's cultural and regional identity in the Cordillera context.

2. Adoption and Identity:

  • Scenario: Kevin, a non-Igorot child adopted by an Igorot family, identifies as both Igorot and Cordilleran.
  • Explanation: Kevin's adoption into an Igorot family illustrates the flexibility of Igorot and Cordilleran identities. While not of Igorot descent by birth, Kevin becomes part of the Igorot community through adoption. Simultaneously, as a resident of the Cordillera region, he embraces the Cordilleran identity. Like Mary, Kevin, despite being non-Igorot by birth, may choose to adopt elements of the Igorot way of life to better connect with his adopted culture. This example underscores how familial ties and adoption can shape cultural and regional affiliations in the Cordillera context, showcasing the inclusive nature of these terms.

3. Government Adoption and Identity:

  • Scenario: A government official, adopted by the Municipality of Bontoc with the name "Muling," is honored with Igorot identity.
  • Explanation: The adoption of a government official by a Cordilleran municipality, symbolized by the bestowed name "Muling," reflects a unique form of embracing Igorot identity. While the official may not be of Igorot descent by birth, the act symbolizes an honorary Igorot status within the community. This scenario highlights the nuanced relationship between Igorot ethnicity and the unique forms of adoption that may contribute to one's identity in the Cordillera context.

Understanding the Igorot and Cordilleran distinctions provides a nuanced view of the cultural landscape in the Cordillera region. It's a journey through centuries of history and evolving identities, shaping the unique perspectives of both Igorot and Cordilleran cultures. The examples emphasize the flexibility and inclusivity of these terms, showcasing how cultural, regional, and familial ties contribute to one's identity in this dynamic cultural context.

A group of Igorot people in traditional clothing. Photo: PIA MP

How to Navigate "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" Terms

Engaging with the terms "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" requires cultural sensitivity, historical awareness, and unity within the Igorot community. Here are comprehensive guidelines for respectful and informed usage:

  1. Historical and Cultural Acknowledgment:

    • Rich Igorot History: Acknowledge the rich history embedded in "Igorot," spanning over three centuries and representing the legacy of indigenous communities in the Cordillera. This term carries the weight of cultural contributions and should be approached with respect for ancestral roots.
    • Cordilleran Awareness: Recognize "Cordilleran" as a relatively new term linked to the establishment of the Cordillera Administrative Region. While serving as a broader regional identifier, it doesn't encapsulate the depth of historical and cultural nuances found in "Igorot."
  2. Unity Over Tribalism:

    • Recognize the importance of unity within the Igorot community. While preferences may vary, embracing "Igorot" collectively demonstrates solidarity and a shared commitment to preserving cultural heritage.
  3. Embracing Both Terms:

    • Dismissing either "Igorot" or "Cordilleran" risks sidelining essential aspects of identity. Embrace both terms as complementary, with "Igorot" offering a profound connection to ancestral roots and "Cordilleran" representing a broader regional identity.
  4. Encouraging Inclusivity:

    • Foster a collective approach to terminology, respecting individual preferences while encouraging a sense of belonging and shared identity. However, it's crucial to recognize the evolving attitudes within the community, especially among the younger generation, who increasingly embrace the Igorot collective identity.
  5. Specificity and Context:

    • Use "Igorot" when referring to ethnolinguistic groups and individual communities within the Cordillera. Opt for "Cordilleran" when emphasizing the broader regional identity, especially in discussions about the Cordillera Administrative Region.
  6. Respecting Evolving Attitudes:

    • Some Igorot ethnic groups historically associated "Igorot" with negativity, but attitudes have evolved. Many now proudly identify with the term, recognizing its cultural significance and reclaiming it from past prejudices.
  7. Avoiding Stereotypes:

    • Steer clear of stereotypes or outdated perceptions linked to both terms. Embrace the evolving identities and contemporary realities of Igorot and Cordilleran communities.

By navigating these terms with historical awareness and a spirit of unity, Igorot communities can honor their past, present, and future, celebrating the diverse tapestry of their cultural heritage. Acknowledging and respecting the evolving attitudes, especially among the younger generation, contributes to a more inclusive and united Igorot identity.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the historical significance of the term "Igorot"?

The term "Igorot" carries a rich history dating back to Spanish colonization. Originally used with derogatory connotations, it was later embraced by Cordillera mountain dwellers, symbolizing resilience and cultural pride.

2. Why is the term "Cordilleran" relatively new compared to "Igorot"?

The term "Cordilleran" gained prominence with the establishment of the Cordillera Administrative Region in 1987. Unlike the ethnic-specific term "Igorot," it encompasses a broader regional identity.

3. Can someone be both Igorot and Cordilleran?

Yes, individuals can proudly identify as both Igorot and Cordilleran. The terms are not mutually exclusive, reflecting the flexible and inclusive nature of cultural and regional identities in the Cordillera.

4. How do Igorot and Cordilleran identities relate to specific ethnic groups in the region?

"Igorot" refers to specific indigenous ethnolinguistic groups, while "Cordilleran" is a more inclusive regional identity. The former focuses on ethnicity, and the latter encompasses anyone residing in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

5. Why is it important to use both "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" terms?

Using both terms ensures a comprehensive representation of the diverse cultural landscape in the Cordillera. Embracing both "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" reflects a nuanced understanding of historical, ethnic, and regional dimensions.

6. How do evolving attitudes impact the use of "Igorot" and "Cordilleran"?

Evolving attitudes, especially among the younger generation, have led to a more positive embrace of the term "Igorot." It highlights a shift from historical associations to a proud and collective identity.

7. Can individuals from outside the Cordillera region identify as Cordilleran?

Yes, individuals can identify as Cordilleran based on residence in the Cordillera region, irrespective of ethnic background. This showcases the inclusive nature of the term in capturing regional identity beyond ethnicity.

8. Is there a difference between ethnic Igorot identity and the regional identity of being Cordilleran?

Yes, there is a distinction. Ethnic Igorot identity emphasizes specific ethnolinguistic groups, while Cordilleran identity extends beyond ethnicity, encompassing anyone residing in the Cordillera region.

9. How do familial ties and adoption play a role in Igorot and Cordilleran identities?

Familial ties and adoption can influence Igorot and Cordilleran identities. For instance, through marriage or adoption, individuals can integrate into the Igorot community or adopt a Cordilleran identity.

10. How can individuals navigate the use of "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" with cultural sensitivity?

Navigating these terms involves historical awareness, unity, and respect. Specificity in usage, recognizing evolving attitudes, and understanding the historical context contribute to respectful and informed communication.

Igorot men showcasing their traditional musical culture Photo: PIA MP


Understanding Igorot and Cordilleran identities takes us through centuries of history and the dynamic blend of regional and ethnic connections. The terms "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" carry significant meaning, representing the diverse heritage of the Cordillera region.

Exploring the origins of "Igorot" from the challenges faced during Spanish colonization and the more recent adoption of "Cordilleran" with the administrative region's establishment reveals the layered nature of these identities.

Real-life examples showed how individuals proudly identify as Igorot and Cordilleran, emphasizing the inclusive and flexible nature of these labels. The younger generation, influenced by rapid information sharing, increasingly embraces the Igorot collective identity, fostering a more unified community.

Our guidelines highlight the importance of historical awareness, cultural sensitivity, and unity within the Igorot community. Embracing both "Igorot" and "Cordilleran" ensures a comprehensive representation of the diverse cultural landscape.

In summary, Igorot and Cordilleran identities aren't fixed; they adapt and intertwine with personal experiences. Honoring the past, celebrating the present, and looking forward with appreciation for diversity contribute to a more inclusive and united Igorot identity. Through shared understanding and respect, we help build a lasting cultural legacy for future generations.

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