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The Gods of the Igorots

Categories of gods, tribal leader, rituals, and concept of blessing, cursing, and healing of the Igorots.

 |  11 min read

Categories of gods, tribal leader, rituals, and concept of blessing, cursing, and healing of the Igorots.
Categories of gods, tribal leader, rituals, and concept of blessing, cursing, and healing of the Igorots.

The Igorots live in mountainous areas in the northern Philippines, called the Cordilleras. The inhabitants of this region are commonly called Igorots and they are made up of eight main sub-tribal groups according to linguistic and cultural norms (Reyes 1987: xi).

The Igorot people practice gold mining, slash-and-burn farming, and growing vegetables as their main source of livelihood. They are custodians of their own unique cultural and sub-cultural heritage. The Igorots were primarily animistic in practice and ancestral worshipers.

During the Spanish invasion of the Philippines, the Igorot tribes were preserved from Spanish religious, political and cultural influences. They stick to their cultural habits.

But when the American colonial rule came, that was the time the Igorots exposed themselves; their training in headhunting gradually ceased.

The province of the Cordillera consists of many tribes such as Ibaloi, Kalangoya, Ifugao, Benguet Kankanaey and Kankanaey of Mountain province.

But I want to show the general beliefs and practices of the Kaankana-eys tribes:

The Gods of the Igorot tribe, according to W.D Sacla, a former vice governor of Benguet, there are categories of the gods of the igorots.

Categories of the gods of the Igorots

  • "Dios Adi Kaila", the god we do not see. The creator and the supreme deity.
  • "Kabunyan", which is the son, he implements the plan of "God Adi Kaila"; canao are offered to him.
  • "Anitos" or ancestral spirits, meaning spirits of deceased relatives or evil ancestral spirits; they are often called "Ap-apo" under the supreme deity of Kabunyan. There is a tribe in the Cordillera that includes the Lumaweg as one of their gods. But what I know is Lumaweg is the name of the god of the Ifugao Tribe.

The tribal leader of the Igorot

The Mambunong is considered as a tribal leader as well as a priest who performs rituals. The leader is not elected but they emerge; the influence of this traditional leadership is immeasurable.

There is no administrative structure; the elected government officials exist, but the influence of the manbunong is more powerful or influential than the elected officials.

In small communities, this leader settles disputes, judge cases, determines penalties and compensation, officiate marriages, handles separation and buries their dead, they have the final authority over things that affect the whole community.

Their role is not limited to social issues; they also perform religious functions. He leads various religious rites and rituals, interprets dreams, diagnoses illness, and determines the cause of misfortune by divination and prescribes appropriate rituals to correct the situation.

The rituals


Canao is a highlight of the religious festival. It is offered for various purposes: to be celebrated as a religious and as part of a funeral ceremony and to ensure recovery.

Men distributing meat to all who helped cook and prepare the food.
Men distributing meat to all who helped cook and prepare the food.

In some parts of the Cordillera, Canao is also celebrated with the blessings of the anitos or Kabunyan. According to Encarnation, Canao fulfills two social roles; it brings prestige to the family, it also confirms and strengthens existing social structure and extended family relationships.

In his investigation, all five leaders fulfilled the ritual requirements by offering thirteen native pigs with white and black hooves. This prestigious festival begins with three pigs, then the second ritual requires five, then seven and so on.

Canao plays an important role in reaffirming the existing order and status defined in the spiritual world. It is also considered a means of influencing gods and spirits to maintain order.

In addition, the Igorots believe that fame, material blessings, and good health are bestowed by Kabunyan and the Ancestral spirits. Therefore, it is natural for them to view the present wealth as a reward for their religious holiness expressed through the many sacrifices in canao; today's canao ensures tomorrow's blessings.


Men marching towards the dap-ay | Pyrotensive
Men marching towards the dap-ay Pyrotensive

After the planting and before the harvest season, there is a week of celebration, the community contributes any kind of food and animals for the rituals.

Its purpose is for: the gods to bless their crops and protect them from plagues, insects, and natural calamities.

Traditionally, the Igorots killed animals to be sacrificed to spirits or Anitos and later the meat was distributed to the people.

After the Begnas, there was a day declared as a rest or "Tengao" in Igorot; no one should go out of their house or out of the community. During the "tengao", the elders will make rice-balls that will also be shared with each family in the community.

Igorots' Concept of Blessings

Igorots are also known to believe in spirit creatures but also in the intimate involvement of these creatures in the daily routine of Igorot life, so the gods play a significant role for the Igorots.

The most relevant and tangible manifestation of divine power is felt in the forms of blessings and curses bestowed or imposed by the gods. The Igorot tribe believed that their gods were the ultimate source of blessings.

That is why they tried to perform rituals to receive blessings. They believe that the gods have the power to either bring fate or misfortune to them. And even the assumption that their ancestors planted crops and helped take care of their animals.

Traditional Igorot believe that Kabunyan interferes with everything they do especially with their crops - from seed preparation through sowing seeds, and the actual storage of their crops in the "agamang" or granary house.

The Igorots combined their work with rituals to ensure the flourishing and abundant blessing from the Anitos. But when the harvest is not plentiful, they try to scrutinize what they did during the ritual, and if there are things they did not do according to the tradition then, they will perform another ritual.

There are common rituals they perform to this day:

Senga/ Sambo

This feast or ritual is where they ask for a blessing of prosperity for the family.

Senga for Be-ey (House blessing)

When a family builds a house, the family is expected to perform a ritual to express their gratitude and ensure greater blessings from the gods.

Their usual prayer was that the family would offer more rituals to honor their gods, and that the occupants of the new house would become even richer.

As they perform this ritual, they should slaughter 2-5 pigs, and distribute the meat to the relatives of the couple, then at night time, all the elders gather in the newly built house to ask for again a blessing from the gods for the family, in the traditional way "day-eng" or Igorot chant.

On cold nights they eat the rest of the meat (heads and feet of pigs); they offer a prayer of blessing to the ancestral spirits (anito) after which they return home at 1-2 o'clock in the morning.

Senga for newlyweds - (blessing for newlyweds)

A newlywed couple is encouraged to perform a ritual within two days after the wedding celebration. The ritual prescribed by the manbunong, like the rituals performed, they expect that Kabunyan will bless them and give them luck.

After they slaughter the animals, (chicken, pig, cow or buffalo) they distribute the meat to their relatives who are there and even to those who do not attend.

When they perform these rituals, the mambunong always examines the liver of the animals to predict the future of the newlyweds, whether they will have a comfortable life or not. If the liver is small, the mambunong will ask the family to slaughter another pig until a larger liver is found.

This system continues to work today, "the return of meat" of those who have received it previously is expected to do the same when they perform the rituals mentioned above. The mambunong will receive a lot of meat or selected portions. They enjoy special parts of the animal, such as the liver, which are generally considered sacred.

These things must be followed properly in order to experience the blessing of the Anitos. In addition, The Igorots trust that their wishes and blessings will be realized through the proper appeal of the priest of the community (manbunong) to the gods along with the proper performance of the ritual ... every activity of the Igorots is complete until the gods intervene.

Prayer is achieved through the appropriate manner of performing the ritual. It provides a meaningful celebration where people meet their needs.

Igorots' Concept of Cursing

When the Igorots experience illness, disaster, poverty or disaster, they always associate it with the activities of the anitos. The works of the gods are considered either curse or judgment.

Disaster occurs, according to their understanding, when they offend any of the gods or spirits, they possess a notion that the spirits carry a curse or mass, amg fate when the ritual is not properly administered or offered.

Hurt and angry Anitos cause illness as a kind of curse, causing poor harvest, drowsiness, headache, pain etc.

The only way to overcome such suffering is to appease the wrath of the gods by sacrificing animals to them. It is not voluntary but an attempt to appease the wrath of the spirits.

Mr. Sacla shares his opinion behind the ritual.

"During the ritual the manbunong carefully observeds the bile of the sacrificial animal's liver, the organ most commonly inspected for signs or omens. If the bile is partly covered by the liver, this is interpreted as a sign that a spirit, called Tomongao, does not wish to release the afflicted person. The manbunong orders to offer more chickens or pigs until the desired bile is finally obtained. The curse normally comes from the offended Adikaila, the highest god and god of justice and fairness, according to Sacla. The traditional Igorots believe the god has the power to bring curses. That's why it is crucial for them to avoid offending the spirits in any form. Appropriate avoidance and appeasement will protect them from unfavorable occurrences and will secure favor. Butchering animals for the gods restore normal states of life.

Igorots' concept of healing

Healing is one of the prominent in the Igorots life. According to Mrs. Sabong, when a part of the family is sick, they usually do not go to the doctor but seek advice from "Mansip-ok", traditional doctors.

"Mansip-ok", who is gifted in discernment. The Mansip-ok analyzees the information about what the person did, and say at the past, and the mansip-ok tries to determine the cause of the illness mostly the spirit of the relatives can cause the sickness, the spirit of the relatives need food, animal, t-shirt, blanket or he is hungry or etc.

"Mansip-ok" are gifted individuals. They can review information about a sick person, what that person have said and done in the past, and the "Mansip-ok" try to determine the cause of the illness.

In most cases, the spirit of the relatives cause illness to his or her family, to ask for food, clothes, etc.

The mansip-ok also prescribes the cure or specific animals to be butchered in the ritual for the sick people to be cured. As they perform the ritual, the mansip-ok persuades the anito or spirit to leave the person. As the mansip-ok prays, the sick person simultaneously plucks wing feathers out of the chicken and put them inside the small hut for the spirit to follow.

The Mansip-ok also prescribes the cure or specific animals to be butchered in the ritual to cure sick people. As they perform the ritual, the mansip-ok urges the anito or spirit to leave the person. As the mansip-ok prays, the sick person at the same time pulls out the wing feathers from the chicken and puts them inside a small hut for the spirit to follow.

After this procedure, the chicken is singed, sliced, cooked and eaten.

According traditional believed of the Igorots, the spirits of the deceased are not totally separated from visible world, since the spirits have no direct means of communication with kin; they employ dreams, signs, omen or sickness to tell their family what they want; 'it is believed that although the spirits are out of body, the spirits still need for their use items such as, blankets clothes, garments, food and animals.

According to the traditional beliefs of the Igorots, the spirits of the deceased are not completely isolated from the visible world, because the spirits have no direct means of communication with the relative; they use dreams, signs, omens or illnesses to tell their family what they want; It is believed that even though spirits are doesn't have a physical body, the spirits still needs items such as, blankets, clothing, food and animals.

To gain healing power from the spirits, the family complied with their demands. Spirits have the power to liberate when living beings approach the existence of gods through ritual worship mediums.


This world view of the Igorots still exists today, most of the old folks are the ones who insist it to be followed, but in my observation the young ones have no interest regarding these practices. Perhaps this is the effect of secular and religious education because most places in the Mountain Province have been penetrated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Source: The God's of the Igorots by Marny Balisong

Proud Igorot.

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