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The First Settlers of the Cordillera

A version of the origin of the Cordillera people as narrated by Mr. Roman Santos as passed to him by his great, great grandparents.

Kalinga-fornia Parangal Dance Company

There are many theories about the origin of the Igorot people of the Cordilleras.

Our historical subjects tell us that our Igorot ancestors passed through land bridges connecting the north and south parts of the Philippine archipelago, followed by sea fares from South China, and Indonesia; and the Malays passing by.

Below is a local version of our origin quoted from a book The Ethnic Chinese in Baguio City and the Cordillera: The Untold Story of Pioneers by Charles L. Cheng and Katherine Bersamira: Baguio City, 1997; told by a certain Mr. Roman Santos.

Mr. Roman Santos is from Kalinga and according to him, he got his name from a Catholic priest who was killed on the day he was born.

The good priest was named Padre Santos. Since his parents embraced the Roman Catholic faith, they called him Roman and affixed the surname of the priest to honor him.

Mr. Santos is a former commissioner of the Cordillera Budong Association (CBA) or Peace Act among warring tribes of the Cordillera.

The Ethnic Chinese in Baguio City and in the Cordillera: The Untold Story of Pioneers

By Charles L. Cheng and Katherine Bersamira

The following is the version of the origin of the Cordillera people as narrated by Mr. Roman Santos as passed to him by his great, great grandparents. He is a retired school teacher and a miner.

The Santos' ancestors came from some islands south of the Philippines whose topographical features were more or less similar to the mountain ranges of the Cordillera. They believe that their ancestors came from the mountain forest of is now Indonesia or Borneo.

The exodus of their ancestors was due to dispute among the tribes or clans. To escape persecutions of war and other related reasons like economic and cultural pressures, they organized themselves into eight different groups, boarded eight boats and sailed northwards to the high seas.

Each boat carries a group or clan which had the same features and characteristics such as habits, attitudes, temperaments, likes, dislikes and even facial features.

As they sailed into the north high seas, they were met by strong winds and were blown to various places. Two boats were blown to what is now the Davao Gulf where the riders landed and settled separately. According to their ancestors, they are the Bagobos and the Calaggans today.

The six boats that continued to sail upwards that continued to sail upwards to the north separated into various locations due to the high winds and inclement weather. Three boats were blown upwards along the northwestern coastline where two boats landed somewhere along the Lingayen Gulf. The other boat continued to sail farther north and landed somewhere along the Ilocos Coast, probably, Vigan, Ilocos Sur of today.

The riders that landed along the Lingayen Gulf disembarked, trekked through the lowlands of Pangasinan and ascended the mountain ranges following the Agno River. The riders separated into three groups: the first group settled in the plains and valleys of what is today, Kabayan, Benguet. They are believed to be the Ibalois today. Historians have cited Kabayan as the seat of Ibaloi culture.

The second group moved eastward into the vastness of the northern highlands and settled there. They are the Kalanguya minority tribe of Benguet today. They planted gabi or taro, sweet potato or camote and banana for their subsistence. The third group continued farther northward into the thickly forested areas of what is Kibungan and Bakun today. This group is believed to be the Kankana-eys today. The Ibalois, Kankana-eys and Kalanguyas were mild-mannered, honest and they did not chew tobacco and "buyo" or betel nut.

Meanwhile, the group that landed in the Ilocos Coast disembarked somewhere in Ilocos Sur, probably Vigan today. They trekked through the lowlands and penetrated through Abra. They continued ascending the mountainous ares, probably Tubo, Buliney and Luba, Abra today. They are the Isnegs or Tinggians. They were of peaceful character and were industrious.

The other three boats down south continued to navigate along the northeastern coastlines of Luzon. The first boat with its passengers landed somewhere in the coastlines of what is Quirino province today. They trekked through the lowlands of Nueva Viscaya and entered the Cordillera following the Magat River. The group then ascended towards Mount Polis and settled at the foot of the mountainous areas of what is today Ifugao. The group was composed of tall, brawny, brown-complexioned and black eyed people. They had straight hair and thin lips. Their form of socializing was "chewing buyo".

The second group sailed upwards and landed somewhere between Isabela and Cagayan. The disembarked, trekked through the lowlands, ascended the Saltan River and settled in the surrounding highlands. They are believed to be the Banao tribe of Mountain Province. The people of this group were mild-mannered but when provoked they would kill to avenge the death of a kin; however they did not take the head of their victim. The group that settled at the valley of Mountain Province are the Bontocs today.

The group was composed of able-bodied warriors who were exceedingly self-confident, gregarious and somewhat boastful. Their women do most of the work in the fields. The men were skilled in stone walling or rip-rapping.

The third group sailed farther up north and landed in Aparri. They followed the Abolog River and settled upwards in the mountainous areas which is Apayao today. This group of people had unpredictable temper. They would harm or kill treacherously, but, they do not cut off the head of their victim.

Another clan continued farther, passing through the Calao-an and Tanudan Rivers where they settled in the surrounding areas of the mountains. They are believed to be the Tanudan tribe today. They were hot-tempered group.

Another clan continued to look for an appropriate place to settle, so they followed the Chico River and continued downstream to the eastern plain of Tabuk. They settled there and they are believed to be the Kalingas today. They were hot-tempered and they usually chewed tobacco and "buyo". The men never left their village without their ax and spears.

They villages of the early migrants were generally near the headwater of the major rivers and tributaries. This situation could be attributed to the many uses of the rivers - for drinking, washing, bathing purposes and more importantly, for good sources of food.

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