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Igorot Practice: The Truth about Head Hunting in the Cordillera

 |  2 min read

Head-hunting in the Cordillera was performed by our Igorot ancestors only for religious purposes and for the acquisition of magical powers.


Headhunting in the Cordillera was not done randomly by our Igorot ancestors, for various reasons, a damaged peace pact, a serious personal slight, a dispute involving rape, murder or theft caused by a visitor or a rival from another tribe. A vendetta is declared and revenge becomes a matter of honor to the tribe and the individual.

Other factors include the desire for abundant harvesting of planted products, the desire for greatness in the minds of the descendants, to increase wealth, to ensure the abundance of wild game and fish, to secure general health and favor in the hands of women, and to promote fertility in women.

Igorot holding his trophy (1909)
Igorot holding his trophy (1909)

Usually, the practice is rather a ritual or a test of manhood. For example, in an ethnoliguistic group, men can only get married after they have cut off a person's head. But they did not cut off the head of any man, instead they did it in one contest.

Cutting one's head off means that they have "graduated" from childhood and are skilled enough to protect a wife and family.

Bontoc Igorot with "Chaklag" (chest Tattoo)
Bontoc Igorot with "Chaklag" (chest Tattoo)

In the Igorot head hunting practice, most of their enemies' heads are cut with a battle-ax even before the wounded person dies.

If a fighter on the scene has never gotten a head, he or she will be allowed to cut off the head from the body and thus deserve a unique head taker tattoo (Chaklag).

Igorot head hunting axe
Igorot head hunting axe

However, the possession of a freshly cut head should be "activated" by proper ceremony and ritual before it can "unleash" its spiritual and magical powers.

To try and stop the practice of head hunting, Americans began organizing sporting events in the Cordillera. You'll find plenty of tug-of-war pictures, relay races and baseball games happening - an attempt to stop the ongoing killings taking place across the region.

Igorot boy burrows for coins in a pan of flour. Bontoc 1908
Igorot boy burrows for coins in a pan of flour. Bontoc 1908

The Igorot people stopped doing headhunting and there is no concrete evidence that they practiced cannibalism..

Igorot Head hunting Cordillera Practice

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