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Kapangan: The Coming of the first White Men

The first Spaniard who came to Kapangan was a trader of gold looking for the source of metal in the community.

 |  19 min read

Kapangan, Benguet IG: lee_d0ng_bin

Kapangan was constituted into 4 barrios by the Spanish officials namely: Paykek, Pongayan, Balacbac and Taba-ao. These barrios composed the "kailian," meaning a group of people belonging to one tribe who would defend their community in case there was conflict with another community.

The first Spaniard who came to Kapangan was a trader of gold looking for the source of the metal in the community and asking the people to trade their gold if they had. But no gold was traded to him because the people cannot understand him. The succeeding Spaniard who arrived at the place where the Spanish officials and some Igorot leaders from La Trinidad including a priest. They reached the place on horseback and stayed at the residence of Pimentel Carino at Datakan. The people's reaction to the strangers were varied. All the people were curious to see white people. Some were afraid of the "Apo Padi" and the other Spanish officials. They stayed at the house of Espiritu Cariño and made it as their headquarters for one year. So Espiritu Cariño was able to pick up some Spanish words and learned how to speak a little Spanish.

Mt Amanayao, Kapangan

The Spanish officials appointed Espiritu Cariño as the first Capitan del Barrio. As the leader of the community he forced the people to declare their improved lots, but only a few obeyed him. In reply to this policy the people said: "Ngatoy ya man bayad cami ni bayad ni daga pay la-angi-ngi enhalan ni Kabunian sonsicatayo ipan biagan no to-o." (Why do we need to pay tax to the Spaniards and yet we are the owners of these lands given by Kabunian.)

He also led the people to work for the Spanish trail from Tublay to Datakan, to Labueg, Paykek, Pudong, until they reached Cuba the end of the Spanish trail. People who rendered free labor in the construction of the Spanish trails were called "polictas." If the people failed to work they were forced to pay "sicapat" (five centavo coin called "carolos.")

The Captain was aided by a teniente del barrio whose duty was to inform the people to render free labor to the government. One other duty of the teniente del barrio was to collect taxes from the people. First, they asked for money and if they did not have any cash, collected chickens or eggs as payment for their taxes. Anyone who could not pay their taxes were forced to work at the Spanish trail for ten days. The people who could not pay the taxes to the government and those who were afraid of the Spaniards moved to other places and left their improved properties and resettled to farther places. Many people left their homes and lived in remote places or in forests and stayed there until the Spaniards forgot their names.

lifeline: rice paddies. then that little house we call, kalapaw

Juan Ora-a Cariño also served as Capitan del Barrio. He campaigned among the people to declare their landholdings but most of the people were afraid and moved to remote places of Kapangan particularly at Copias, Gadang and some moved to Baguling, La Union province. Some of the lands left untended, Juan Ora-a Cariño improved and declared as his own.

Juan Ora-a Cariño was later appointed by the Spanish Officials as Commandantes, one of the highest ranking office during the Spanish times. He took his oath of office at Naguilian, La Union. Many of his relatives went to attend his oath-taking. After he was inducted to office, he went home at once to Datakan to have a "Cañao" for "Sangbo." Many people went to his house to congratulate him for his high position in government.

Juan Ora-a Cariño and Epiritu Pimintel Cariño were authorized to appoint people to lower government positions. They appointed eight barrio capitans namely:

  1. Badillo Palaez - Balacbac
  2. Kilalan Gil-lao - Taba-ao
  3. Tepeg Ganangan-Palayao - Paykek
  4. Dimas Balangkod - Cuba
  5. Martin Damaso - Datakan
  6. Saldo Alodos - Central
  7. Paterno Paresta - Pudong
  8. Colintas Langbis - Cabilisan

The main responsibility of the barrio capitanes was to oversee the construction of the Spanish trails.

Juan Ora-a Cariño was invited to represent Baguio and Benguet in a meeting of friars and government officials in Baguio. Their meeting was to discuss the enforcement of the Catholic religion. After a month, Spanish officials accompanied Ora-a Cariño to Manila and he stayed there for many years to study the function of the Spanish government.

It's not as grand but it looks perfect. Rice Terraces in Balakbak

Espiritu Cariño served as Capitan del Barrio most of the time until he retired and he endorsed Badillo Palaez of Balacbac to the Spanish officials and they appointed him as Capitan. As a young man, Badillo had ventured to farther places within Benguet and as far as La Union. Because of his adventurous nature and aggressiveness, he was easily chosen as Capitan or Cabeza de Barangay by the Spanish Authorities who had given him the surname "Palaez." He was known as an effective leader of his people because he had cooperated with the Spanish civil authorities in recruiting many of his people to render forced labor on public roads and trails. His service under the Spaniards ceased at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.


When the Spaniards reached Datakan, among the first who were converted were the Cariños. Espiritu Pimentel Cariño donated a portion of his lot at Labueg, Kapangan to the Spanish parish priest to build the church on. Originally, Labueg was a thickly forested hill, it was through the efforts of Father Ricardo Cantero, a Spanish priest who started the mission in 1894 that the place was cleared and a wooden chapel was constructed. Here, the first converts gathered for Sunday worship. Some people wondered whether the priest would force them to become Christians so they just observed what the priest would do during the first mass that was celebrated.


Espiritu Pimentel Cariño married to Terona Sonkala of Datakan, one of the richest men of Kapangan. They settled at Datakan where he occupied the good area for agriculture land, pastureland as a rancher, he distributed his cows, carabaos, and sheep to all the different places under the charge of his caretakers. Each of this caretakers brought their family to the pasturelands where he was assigned. The share of the caretaker for the animals' eas the "encatlo system." For example if a cow had given birth to three claves, the caretaker for the animals got the third calf for his share. The total of all his animals spread in Kapangan and Bagulin, La Union was more or less 2,200 heads of carabaos and cows. He was the richest among the people of Kapangan during this time. He held many cañaos like peshit, batbat and all the different rituals of the traditional custom of the people.

Social Relationship - Spanish Period

There was no intermarriage during the Spanish time between the natives and the Spaniards. However, there was intermarriage between the Igorots and the lowland peoples. These intermarriages was called sab-o. These typeof marriages was usually a result of the trading activities as well as the increased mobility of people in general.

The Revolution

In June 1897, Aquino Ora-a Cariño, Dr. Paterno and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo moved from Manila to Ilocos Sur then to Baguio. From baguio, Juan Ora-a Cariño proceeded to Kapangan. After some time, he was asked again to go to Baguio to join Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. From Baguio, the group procedded to Tagudin, Ilocos Sur and climbed up the mountain of Cervantes, Ilocos Sur and came out of the Amburayan river at Kapangan and hid at Bolinak cave in Paykek. They stayed there for about two weeks. They were sufficiently supplied with food provided by the people. From Kapangan, they moved to Tublay and stayed in Magastino Laruan's residence where Dr. Paterno was left in hiding. Juan Ora-a Cariño proceeded to go to Bokod with some other of Gen. Emilio's companions. Here, he was shot by a sniper American soldier on his knees. He survived the injury but was found by the Americans. Then, they brought him to San Fernando, La Union for treatment until he was healed.

Dynamic Political and Social Changes under the Americans

In 1898 just after the Spanish-American War, the government of United States set up their local government at Kapangan. The people were then faced with the problem of what government to follow, the Spanish or the American system. In 1900, they appointed Espiritu Cariño as president of the town and so the people were persuaded to follow their headman hence, accepting eventually the government that the Americans offered. After his appointment, the Americans further directed Cariño to choose his municipal council from vice-mayor to the councilors. He then appointed Mr. Gilao as vice mayor while the following served as councilors of each barrio:

  1. Badillo Palaez - Councilor of Balacbac
  2. Tepeg Palayao - Councilor of Paykek
  3. Martin Damaso - Councilor of Datakan
  4. Poncian Cab-ad - Councilor of Pudong
  5. Dimpayos Gavino - Councilor of Sagubo
  6. Apalyas Amango - Councilor of Central

The first municipal building was established at Taba-ao. This was made of cogon, sticks, wood and other materials. As Taba-ao was a place where water abounds, this was made the center of Kapangan. During the time of Winsley Merrit, the military governor, this place was established as a town together with other municipalities of Benguet.

After the expiration of his term as mayor, Espiritu Cariño in 1901 endorsed his vice-mayor Gilao Kilaban to be the next president of Kapangan, in 1902, Badillo Palaez followed in 1903. Palaez was the one who asked the transfer of the municipal building from Taba-ao to Balacbac for the reason that Balacbac was more thickly populated than the other barrio. The municipal building was transferred to Codal (Central Kapangan) where they built a better building made up of lumber and galvanized iron.

In 1902, Badillo was appointed as president of Kapangan, the third man to serve since the setup of the local government of the American government. The site of the municipal building was in Taba-ao during the time of Kilaban, Gilao, then Badillo Palaez requested the transfer of the municipal site and it was approved by the higher authorities to be transferred at Balacbac, Kapangan. In 1905, when Badilla was elected the same position for the second time as the president of themunicipal district of Kapangan that the municipal building was moved to Central Kapangan. It is recounted by the people that during his administration, he initiated the distribution of coffee planting to barrio officials who in turn encouraged the people to plant. This was the first time coffee was planted in Kapangan.

When Samiclay (bandit from Tinec, Hunduan) arrived at balacbac, and they wanted to rob some house, Badilla as the leader of the place, managed his people and organized a fighting group from nearby barrios which he led against Samiclay and his bandits and drove them as far as Naguey, Atok, resulting in the eventual death of this Samiclay who was shot by Carbonell, the municipal treasurer of Atok at that time.

In 1905, under the civil government, election by color began and the first to be elected as mayor of Kapangan under this system was Acamen of Balacbac followed by the following people:

  1. Bangcado Palada, 1904 - From Balacbac
  2. Badillo Palaez, 1905 - From Balacbac
  3. Dimas Balangcod, 1906 - From Cuba
  4. Salda Aludos, 1907 - From Balacbac
  5. Montes Dadwes, 1908 - From Balacbac
  6. Bangcado Palada, 1909 - From Balacbac
  7. Dimpayos Gavino, 1910 - From Cayapas
  8. Kiso Agal-al, 1911 - From Paykek
  9. Ampiso Bangao, 1912 - From Cayapas
  10. Palayao Senior Ganagan, 1913 - From Paykek
  11. Apalyas Amango, 1914 - From Kapangan Central
  12. Martin Damaso, 1915 - From Datakan
  13. Ponsian Cab-ad, 1916 - From Pudong
  14. Nadnaran Fianza, 1917 - From Datakan
  15. Wasing Andong, 1918 - From Ca-ew
  16. Comsing Bartazan, 1920 - From Longboy
  17. Colintas Almeda, 1922 - From Cabilisan
  18. Bentres Tokawi, 1924 - From Datakan
  19. Nadnaran Fianza, 1926 - From Datakan
  20. Mariano Dilla, 1928 - From Paykek
  21. Sagandoy Sagapan, 1930 - From Ca-ew
  22. Frank Tilib, 1932 - From Cadtay
  23. Tamolag, 1936 - From Cayapas
  24. Liwangen Dangwa, 1939 - From Cadtay
  25. Simon Martin, 1941 - From Pongayan

In 1904, during the term of Acamen Senior as president of Kapangan the American Government officials informed the mayor of Kapangan that they will appoint Ora-a Aquino Cariño to represent the Igorots as the assemblyman of Baguio and Benguet. He then became the first assemblyman who served from 1904 to 1910.

Dakiwagan: Up Close and Personal - Photo credit: dehl



The first project of the American government was to open the road to the province and to the towns so, the municipal officials informed their kailian about the enforcement of the road tax which was P2.00 to help in the expense needed in the construction of roads. People who could not afford to pay their taxes worked in road construction for ten days as their payment. Aside from the road tax, every family was required to work for five days for free.

'Welcome' signs are iconic. Some are simple, but they often exude an idea or two about a place. - Photo credit: dehl


Another development the government introduced was the opening of schools in barrios. In 1904, the first school was opened in Datakan intermediate school which was made of cogon, sticks, and wood and other materials. The first teacher was an Ilocano from San Fernando, La Union named Mr. Sopla. The school provided papers, pencils, books and other things that were needed in the classroom. These were distributed.


After three years since the arrival of the Americans to the place, there were some changes in the customs and attitudes of the people. Various plants like avocado, cacao, coffee and other commercial vegetables such as pechay, beans, and cabbages were introduced. Coffee and cacao were the most numerous fruit trees in the community because they were suitable to the climate of the place and were easily traded with the Ilocanos. Together with other products, the people went to the lowlands to sell. The natives in turn bought clothes like g-strings, skirts, blouses, blankets, and some agricultural tools which they needed. Their route in going to San Fernando was from Sagubo to Copias then Gadang and then they passed through Malabita until they reached La Union. In 1905, during the reign ofMayor Badillo Palaez, more agricultural tools were made by the natives and one ofthese was the clipper plow, and the caritilya (wheelbarrow). These encouraged the people of the place to widen their fields with the use of these tools adopted from the Ilocano people in the lowlands. They irrigated their rice fields with the rivers and creeks as sources of water supply aside from the rain during the rainy season.


Another innovation during the American period was election. The first election during the American time was lining. The qualification for an electorate was the first that he was a resident of the place and secondly that he was a married man. During the election, the candidate stood in front of the electorate and the person responsible for the conduct of the election asked who were in favor of one particular candidate. The people voting for that candidate stood up and formed a line behind the candidate. Whoever garnered the longest line among the candidates was the winner. The second manner of election was by color, which had similar rules and regulation as that of the former. Candidates selected their color and plastered a colored paper or cloth at backs. The voters just selected from strips of differently colored paper and put these in a box. Counting of votes immediately followed, and as soon as counting was over, the winner was proclaimed. These methods of elections were gradually replaced by the use of ballots as soon as people were able to read and write.


In 1894, the first Spaniard missionary arrived in Kapangan. Father Ricardo Cantero built a wooden chapel at the forest site of the municipal building in Central Kapangan. Here, the first Christian converts gathered to hear mass on Sundays. In 1934, a bigger chapel was constructed by the Belgian missionaries which is still in use today. During those times, resident priest was assigned to care for the growing mission. Among the more illustrious mission rector was Rev. William Brasseur, the present bishop of the Mt. Province, His missionary zeal and patoral solitude during the Japanese occupation has done a lot for the people of Kapangan. As a sign of respect and affection, people called him "Apo Willy."

This is the first and only Catholic Church in Balakbak - Photo credit: dehl

In 1937, the first missionary Englishman who started the Anglican Church at Kapangan came. He was Fr. Sauder; a wooden chapel was constructed in 1938 at Decan a short distance away from the New Municipal building at Lomon. The first to be converted to Christianity was Ex. Mayor Mariano Dilla followed by the others.

A prominent member of the community got sick one time. Liwangen Dimas, for almost a year, they tried all kind of rituals to heal him from his sickness but to no avail.

One day, they brought him to a cave where they believed he can be cured but again there was no improvement seen. One morning, a practitioner of Christian Science Warren Brookes from Boston, USA came to visit him and explained one of the verses in the bible. It said: "God created man in his own glory." After the explanation of the practitioner, he awakened and was healed. He then became the first old folk to be converted to Christian Science in the community and later on many people followed him. After he was cured, they brought his home named him Dangwa after the name of the place where he stayed for many months.

The conversion of Liwangen Dima was followed by many other conversions to Christian Science.

In 1910, pestilence of animals attacked the place and many animals died. This affected the living conditions of the people for many found it hard work in the fields without the help of these working animals. This prompted the government to impose branding of animals to minimize the trading of animals which were not in good health. They also imposed this branding to provide identification of ownership. Branding cost P 0.10 per head. Any person who did not have his animals branded before they reached two years of age was fined P 1.00 per head.

In 1911, Eng. Halsema began surveying the proposed road of Tublay and Kapangan following the Spanish trail constructed by the people. The government forced labor so that every family had to work for them for free. They were paid ten centavos per day if they continued working after rendering the ten days free labor. When wages started to be given, many people became interested to work in the construction of trails. In 1925, the road reached Lomon, Kapangan and at the same time, the first vehicle reached the place. People who have never seen a car in their lifetime were curious to see what it looked like and many came to see it.

In 1921, some Igorots from Kapangan studied in La Trinidad Agricultural School and many of them finished the secondary level. One of them was Bado Dangwa, who later became the governor of Mountain Province. He put up a farm at the same school where he earned a little and the money which he was able to save he used it to buy a pick-up truck sold by the municipal treasurer of La Trinidad. This started his transportation business. When his transportation nearly went bankrupt, he went home to Kapangan and asked the people to cooperate with him by investing their money in it. Hence, his business became a corporation. The Dangwa Tranco Company was the first corporation which was solely owned by the Igorots in Beguet. Foloowing the advice of Mr. Wright, his teacher, the business expanded to different provinces in the Ilocos region and Manila. This corporation became the mother company of many other business ventures like the Dangwa Enterprise, Benguet Development, Rural Bank of La Trinidad and Gobgob Farm in Tabuk, Kalinga. The transportation business covered the entire Mountain Provinces. This proved helpful to the progress of the people in the remote areas for now they were already able to bring their products to the markets in Baguio and even as far as Manila.

Before the war broke out, there were a number of Chinese and Japanese who came to settle in Kapangan. Jo Weng came in 1939, rented a place in Balacbac and put up his sari-sari store. Akun, another Chinese from Baguio married Pul-ing, a native of Balacbac. They later moved to Baguio to put up a restaurant. Wong also from Baguio, married Laginya from Taba-ao where they later put up a sari-sari store.

Kozo Teranishi was from Kyoto, Japan. He arrived in Baguio City in 1921 and worked as an employee of the Japanese Bazaar in Baguio City. One time he was sent to Balacbac farm school to deliver Hardware for construction of a school building. To reach Balacbac he had to cross the river. Unfortunately, the ferry was on the other side of the river and it was getting late. So, he decided to spend the night in Cuba. It was here, he saw Ignay Akhamen and he was charmed by the lady. He promised to return again after he accomplished his task. Finally, in 1924 they got married. But they were childless and so they adopted Ignay's nephew Amus Palaez. They put up a chain of sari-sari stores in Kapangan and in the municipalities. He introduced the system of hawking wares like canned food and other items. He used the "dagi" (load carrier worn at the back) in going around to selling his wares.

At first the people of the community were apprehensive, but later accepted by them. Aside from his business, he was also engaged in farming.

When war broke out, he was taken to the concentration camp in Baguio. He was later released by the Japanese Imperial forces with the order to cooperate with them to go back to his own town. Under Japanese occupation when there was relative peace he returned to his business of hauling wares. Unfortunately, he was suspected as a spy and in 1942 was shot to death by the guerillas after which they also took the contents of his stores.

Born Igorot, Die Igorot

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