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Igorot Misconceptions that Should Stop Right Now

 |  8 min read

The Igorot people of the Cordilleras are often awfully misunderstood. Here are some of the most common misconceptions Igorots often encounter.

The Igorots have long suffered from discrimination from their fellow Filipinos, the result of misconceptions.
The Igorots have long suffered from discrimination from their fellow Filipinos, the result of misconceptions.

Why can't the misconceptions about the Igorots stop? We live in an age of information and the abundance of misinformation about the Igorots is still evident. It saddens me to see Igorot misrepresentations in books and even on the internet.

The term Igorot is an old Tagalog word meaning "people from the mountains" and a general term used to include all ethnic tribes from the Cordilleras. The Spaniards adopted this term, but generally used it in a negative way referring to the savage and backward people in the mountains.

As far as the meaning of the word Igorot itself is concerned, Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, a famous Tagalog Scholar at the turn of the century, said it consists of the root word "golot" which means "mountain chain" and the prefix "i" which means "people of" or "dwellers inf".

Dr. Panganiban of the Institute of National Language said that ten years ago, the word root itself is still used in the provinces which means "hill" but it is not common in Manila. In a 1613 Tagalog Dictionary, it is spelled "golor", that is "golod".

In the Kankanaey or Lepanto-Igorot language, we find the word "ginolot" which means "native rice", as opposed to "topeng", or 2nd crop rice introduced from the lowlands.

The word "Igolot" therefore appears to be of perfectly indigenous Filipino origin, and it is in this form that it first appeared in Spanish records. The Substitution of "r" for "i" in the word did not become popular until the 18th century, when Antonio Mozo, who spelled it "Igolot" himself in his 1763 Noticia Historico Natural, commented, "Corrupting the letters they are wont to call it Igorot."

Here are some of the most common misconceptions we, the Igorots, often encounter and need to demystify over and over again.

1. Igorot people are uncivilized

Define "civilized". Sure, we still live in the mountains because the Cordillera Administrative Region is surrounded by mountains right? But if you are referring to Baguio City, it is not literally a mountain full of trees but with houses.

Also, I want to clear something about being civilized. If we are not civilized, how in the world did I write and publish this article? Using a potato? A cabbage? Or an eggplant? Even if you go and visit distant places in CAR, the Igorots are not far from civillization.

TRIVIA: The Igorots have their own Social Networking Site, the first in the Philippines. (You are currently viewing it)

2. The Igorots have tails

To this day, people still think that Igorots have tails. Who on Earth started it? Was it Candy Pangilinan or did it start almost a century ago by the Spanish conquerors or the Americans?

The Igorots have long suffered from discrimination directly from their fellow Filipinos, including the claim that they have tails. To this day, the word "igorot" alone seems to be a joke or an insult; a word with a bad meaning.

Back in 1925, in the fourth edition of his book "I Believe in God and in Evolution", William Keen included a short account of "Human Beings With Tails".

Keen then provided a photo showing a man with a tail and captioned: "Photograph of an Igorot in the Bontoc Province of the Philippine Islands."

It was taken early in 1925 by Mr. John Freeman, (grandson of Dr. Keen), whose guide and interpreter persuaded the man to take a picture. The tail is about five inches long. It also comes out in the shadows.

Photograph of an Igorot in the Bontoc Province of the Philippine Islands. It was taken early in 1925 by Mr. John Freeman
Photograph of an Igorot in the Bontoc Province of the Philippine Islands. It was taken early in 1925 by Mr. John Freeman

3. The Igorots and Aetas are one and the same

Cultural appropriation - No offense to our Aeta brothers but the Igorots and Aetas are two different ethnic groups. The Igorots are different from them when it comes to basic physical features, cultures and traditions. However, this does not change the fact that no matter what race we are in, we are still brothers and sisters.

Igorot at Aeta
Igorot at Aeta

Please stop discrimination against our Aeta brothers and sisters. We are all beautiful in the eyes of God. Let us lift them up and do not add to those who look down on them because doing so will not do us any better.

It has also been difficult to replace the hundreds of years of teaching since the Spanish period promoted by DepEd, where the Igorots are represented as Aetas.

4. Igorots wear traditional clothes casually.

Tourists spend their vacation in Baguio City without knowing who the Igorots are. They think the Igorots are the only old people wearing traditional clothing (ba-ag/bahag for men and tapis for women) found in the Botanical Garden. We don't blame them.

They want to find the Igorots in Baguio City but the truth is, the Igorots are just there in front of them, walking along Session Road, sitting in Burnham Park, playing chess in the Igorot garden, eating in restaurants and just hanging out where.

As the song from Lonestar goes:

I'm already there... Take a look around... I'm the sunshine in your hair... I'm the shadow on the ground... I'm the whisper in the wind... I'm your imaginary friend... And I know I'm in your prayers... Oh, I'm already there...

I remember our friends from the lowlands who came here to Baguio. We talked about each other and the topic that we are Igorot suddenly came up. They were surprised and laughed afterwards. They seem to be asking if what we said is true.

They did not believe us and instead said:

"Hindi kayo mga Igorot sir, yung mga Igorot ay yung nakasuot ng mga bahag." (You are not Igorots sir, the Igorots are the ones who wear loincloths.)

I replied and said, "Just because, we do not wear those traditional clothes, we are no longer Igorot? I will ask you, do you wear Barong Tagalog and Baro't Saya everyday? Isn't it just on occasion?"

5. Igorots eat dogs as a daily meal

This claim dates back to a century ago during the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 fair when our Igorot ancestors were forced under pressure, forced, to kill dogs and eat them every day in front of fair attendees to increase attendance. The Americans did this to prove that there were Igorot "savages" that they should save so that they could civilize the Filipinos.

According to a Filipino-American Historical Society founding President Dr. Virgilio R. Pilapil, in his essay Dogtown USA: An Igorot Legacy in the Midwest, Igorots are known to eat dog meat in the fair of St. Louis World in 1904.

The world fair is also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a fair commemorating the 100th anniversary of Louisiana's purchase of the USA from France. At that time it was the largest and longest exposition in the world to be joined by representatives of 50 tribes living in 1,500 buildings built on 1,275 hectares of land in six years.

In Dr. Pilapil essay he said:

The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

Also, according to William Henry Scott in his book Discovery of the Igorots, he mentioned the animal slaughtered for offerings, which included pigs, buffaloes, and cattle, but did not mention the killing of dogs in the north or the swallowing of dog meat. Igorots usually butcher these animals as a ritual for them to predict the outcome of battles, weddings, waking and burial, and other related occasions.

Over time, Filipinos have come up with this kind of question "Do all Igorots eat dogs?" the answer is "No", Igorots tried to eat dogs as a traditional cuisine in ancient times. In an article about Asocena, Bing Dawang, editor of Igorot's The Junction, a newspaper in Mountain Province, said, "Igorots kill dogs for spiritual practices, usually performed in solemn rituals."

What Igorot ritual requires butchering of dogs?

In Igorot rituals, "daw-es" is performed when someone accidentally or unintentionally kills someone, or witnessed someone's death. Igorots from the Mountain Province usually practice this tradition to purify the souls of ritual recipients. This ritual requires the butchering of a dog.

6. The Igorots are ugly

Who am I to judge? I can't say I'm good-looking with 6-pack abs, with a long Igorot tail in front of me, or to claim that Piolo Pascual looks like me. My physical appearance is not a good basis for what my whole being is.

Your thoughts

Stereotyping is everywhere. Too bad, if those misconceptions lead to discrimination.

We Igorots also have misconceptions about other groups. The important thing is that we do not judge someone's worth based on stereotype or misconception and when it is proven to be untrue, then we let it go.

Wandering soul

Igorot Misconceptions Cordillera

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