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What does the Spaniards think of the Igorots?

A historical response to the statement of NCIP commissioner Cayat; "Igorot, to Spaniards, simply means savage, backward, and uncivilized people."

 |  5 min read


In his book Noticias de los infieles igorrotes en lo interior de la Isla de Manila,de sus minas de oro cobre, y su comercios y de varias entradas tentativas gastos hechos para su descubrimiento y pacificacion, Antolin attempts to bring together all information then available about the Igorots, from published books and pamphlets, archival sources, and personal diaries correspondence, interviews, and inquiries.

English translation of the title and the Title page
English translation of the title and the Title page

The book was composed of two parts; The First Part is about the general ethnographic description of the Mountains of the Igorots and the Second Part is a collection of original sources, with no chapter divisions, and chronologically arranged per year which include the specifics (places, date, etc.) of the event.

The first part has an introduction and nine chapters. This blog is an attempt to feature the POV of Spaniards on how they understand and view the Igorots that they were able to socialize with.

In the Introduction, Antolin admitted that there are an attempt to explore the highlands and pacify the Igorots (To convert them and take control of their Mines) but drastically it failed. He mentioned the missions founded, expeditions, and endeavors. He also expressed the intent to provide information about the 'Igorot pagans', because of the few and lacking written accounts, he also questioned the works and people he cited, and he said that their claims are rough estimates and calculations that are vague and exaggerated.

DESCRIPTION OF THE MOUNTAINOUS LAND OF THE IGOROTS Antolin mentioned that the Igorots have their own nation, language, and contiguous territory (wholly mountainous). He specifically described some of the mountains; Mount Pola or Polac and Mount Pulag and described it as large, bare, and naked mountains, with pine forests that kill vegetation. And that there are few pasturelands (Kaingin every summer) which could explain the lack of animals and scarcity of good land for planting; rice, camotes, beans, onions, sugarcane, tobacco, squash, etc.

IGOROTS: GOVERNMENT/HIERARCHY The Igorots have their own Governance, Approach to different scenarios/issues such as Sickness, wars, appreciation of women, and Logic in Living.

As per their Governance, their leaders are never changed unless they died. These leaders are usually the eldest members of their communities, hence they are called Elders. They also have no services, no duties, no socialization (attending church), etc., but it should be noted that they were never subjugated by the Spaniards, no Spaniards were able to come close enough to their communities to have knowledge of their socializations. Men are mostly in charge of cultivating their fields, mining, and trade while women, take care of crops and household. The Igorots also have a concept of punishment;

In Pancutcutan, where pagan intercourse is greater because there are mines all around, a youth fell in love with a chief's wife and ran off with her. They caught him and sentenced him to death. He was poor and didn't have the means to pay off the crime. They bound some G-strings around his neck and, pulling the ends while he thrashed about, cut off his breath, and then they buried him.

According to Antolin, the Igorots are very cautious when it comes to the health and safety of their community. They contact the lowlanders only if needed, they are very careful and only buy necessary things. Men after trading with the lowlands, would go around the forest and streams and leave no trace to make sure that they are not bringing any disease to their community while making sure that they are not followed by lowlanders or Spaniards.

Map showing the Igorot territory in 1789
Map showing the Igorot territory in 1789

IGOROTS: FIGHTERS Antolin described the Igorots as Warlike people with large bodies; Their arms and skirmishes are all typical of pure backwoods Indians. They don't use cuirasses because they are a handicap in open hillsides or mountain heights, and a person wearing them can't slink around undetected, nor do they use arrows. They commonly make use of spears and big knives.

IGOROTS: RESISTANCE STRATEGY Antolin described the Ato, where naked unmarried men sleep altogether, in order to be quicker to grab up spears in case of a sudden enemy attack, and if some boys do not cover themselves it must be because of their poverty or because they are more agile and unencumbered this way. They climb to the highest of the mountains and there throw down stones and rolling logs. Since they are accustomed to running through the hills and precipices, they take the speed of their legs as their major defense, like deer.

IGOROTS: CHARACTER and CUSTOMS Antolin praised the Igorots to have adaptable minds, cunning quick, subtle, intuitive sort of people, wise and competent for their own interests (due to their gold). But he also mentioned that they are difficult to understand because of the variety and contradiction of their actions and customs and also mentioned that they are contented people. In here, it should be noted that Antolin's knowledge of the Igorots comes from an outsider's perspective. He does not understand the complexity and difference between Igorot communities.

IGOROTS: PRODUCTS and COMMERCE The Igorots are known for their trades; silver and gold coins, knives, spears and other iron tools, G-strings, and blankets to cover their bodies. Antolin noted that they (the Igorots) don't plant or buy raw cotton since they seem not to know how to spin or weave it but some who are closer to the mission were able to learn how to make gstrings). The last statement is just a manifestation that the Spaniards have no knowledge of the Igorot weavers

IGOROTS: MINES Antolin mentioned that the Igorots monopolized the richest gold mines in the archipelago. They have the most abundant gold mine is called Pancutcutan, located in the interior at the base of Mount Pulag. And they fuse the gold with much skill to make alloyed pieces.

Possible places where there are Igorot communities
Possible places where there are Igorot communities

Possible places where there are Igorot communities
Possible places where there are Igorot communities

These are just some of the many descriptions of the Spaniards relating to the Igorots. And as seen in this book, the Spaniards didn't perceive them as savage, backward, and uncivilized people but rather people with adaptable minds, cunning quick, subtle, intuitive sort of people, wise and competent for their own interest

Im not an Igorot but I do love their culture and history, makes me proud to be a Filipino.

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