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The Origins of the Word "IGOROT"

The term Igorot is an old Tagalog word, meaning "people from the mountains" and is a general term used to include all tribes from the Cordilleras.


In the spring of 1958, Representative Luis Hora of the Third District of the Old Mountain Province introduced House Bill No. 1441 into the lower house of the national legislature. The Bill sought to prohibit the use and terms Moro and Igorot in laws, books, and other printed matter, and to substitute the terms Muslim and Highlander, respectively.

The bill was subsequently defeated, but a torrent of editorial, articles, and letters to editors in the popular press both in Manila and in the Cordillera called widespread attention to a controversy over the use of the word IGOROT which had been going on locally ever since the Second World War.

In the passionated debate which developed:

  1. Who are Igorots? and;
  2. Do they want to be called Igorots? Whoever they are?

The changing political scene of the Cordillera during the same decade has resulted in an increased self-consciousness on the part of Cordillera Youth. On the other hand, the division of the old Mountain Province into the present four mountain provinces has had a divisive effect.

On the other hand, the encroachment of lowland political power into local Cordillera Government, the spread of Marxist philosophy which portrays the mountaineers as common victims of class exploitation, and the presence of hundreds of intelligent, articulate and well-educated university students, have had the opposite effect.

As far as the meaning of the word Igorot itself is concerned, Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, eminent Tagalog Scholar at the turn of the century, stated that it was composed of the root word golot, meaning "mountain chain", and the prefix i, meaning "people of" or "dwellers in". Dr. Panganiban of the Institute of National Languag stated that ten years ago, that root word itself is still used in the provinces to mean "hill" but is not common in Manila. In a 1613 Tagalog Dictionary, it is spelled golor, that is golod. In the language of the Kankanaey or Lepanto Igorot, we find the word ginolot, meaning "native rice", as opposed to the topeng, or 2nd crop rice introduced from the lowlands.

Ibaloy Woman From Benguet Province Ca. 1920's
Ibaloy Woman From Benguet Province Ca. 1920's

The fact that golot is a place has still survived in the speech of those "Bagos" of the Ilocos Provinces who are descendants of the Igorots migrated into the lowlands, for there it is possible to say of people juz arrived from the Mountain Province, "Nagapodad golot - they came from golot."

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 l 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."

Of course there is no record that the people in question called themselves Igorots. Indeed, since the word means "Mountaineer" there would not be much need for the mountaineers to call themselves mountaineers; it would be more likely that is what they were called by non-mountaineers in the lowlands. But they did not call themselves by any other name either.

The very names of the former five sub-provinces which form the initials of the intercollegiate BIBAK Organization (namely Bontok, Ifugao, benguet, Apayao and Kalinga) were imposed on the mountaineers by American authority in the present century in accordance with the American Ethnological Surveys. Seventy Five years ago, the people of Bontok and Tocucan or Mayaoyao and Kiangan called themselves by the names of their towns, not by the names of provinces or subprovinces or tribes.

We do not know when the Spaniards first learned the word "Ygolote" but probably as soon as they reached Luzon. It appeared in 1576 report of the first expedition to their gold mines and was in common and casual use in the 1590's. As is now well known, the Igorots made a deliberate and successful resistance to Spanish Settlement in their territory. The Spaniards quickly learned that they were brave fighters and fierce defenders of their homelands and that the collected the heads of those they defeated in combat.

The speed and warmth with which the mountaineers rose to the defense of the word igorot in the face of the proposed Hora Bill was not suprising. The editor of one of the leading baguio papers made three points:

  1. Will calling an Igorot a Highlander guarantee the removal of any stigma that has been carried up to the present against him?
  2. The Term Highlander will lead to the loss of our identity as a people; anyone who lives in an elevated place, where mountain and hills are found, can correctly be called a highlander?
  3. If the measure is enacted into law, it will mean that the people of the province are ashamed to be called igorots.. and that they are willing to turn their backs on their cultural heritage that is distinctly igorot, superior in many aspects to that of other ethnic groups in the country.

Igorots dancing with the gangsa
Igorots dancing with the gangsa

Columnist Jose G. Dulnuan, an Ifugao, neatly summarized the sentiments expressed by many open letters when he wrote:

I am an Igorot. Let me be treated as I deserve with respect if I am good, with contempt if I am no good, irrespective of the name I carry. Let the term Igorot, remain, and the world use it with the correct meaning attached to it.

In summary, the following can be said about the word Igorot:

It is an indigenous Filipino Word originally meaning "mountaineer." It appeared in the earliest records of the conquest of Luzon, and by 1700 it was applied by the early Spaniards to Pagans living in the mountains of the present provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Benguet, Bontok, ifugao, and extended to Apayao in the 1770's and Kalinga in the 1880's. It was used by some American Anthropologists to designate all mountaineers of supposedly "Malayan stock" by others for Bontoks and Benguets, by still others for Benguets only, and was finally rejected as a scientific term because of this confusion. At present, it has the derogatory connotations of "unchristian" and "uncivilized" to some lowlanders, but it is used in books and to newspapers without any such connotations with the approval of some native mountaineers and the disapproval of others.

One is reminded of the history of the names of certain European Tribes in the English Language. The name of vandals became a common noun for one who deliberately causes needless destruction of property, but the name of the Goths has come to applied to one of the Worlds most sublime forms of Church Architecture. Who could predict the future of the word IGOROT? Will its meaning finally be determined by Highland Pride or Lowland Prejudice.

Summarized and Encoded from WH's essay directly by Climate (Chester Allan Pooten Kiat-ong) (Note that there should be no copying of any part or in full of the material above and not be used for production purposes)

The essay was made by William Henry Scott and read in Mountan Province High School in Bontoc during the First Cordillera Congress for National Liberation in December 26. 1971.

Note that the summary I made does not show all details and I have skipped most parts, read more by purchasing the book.

This article was originally posted by Chester Allan on Sunday, July 24, 2011 at 10:58pm.

Born Igorot, Die Igorot

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