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Gran Cordillera Central Ethnic History

The Cordillera, Gran Cordillera Central, to be complete is a row of great mountain ranges occupying half of Northern Luzon in the Philippines.

Kalinga warrior dance | Parangal Dance Company
Kalinga warrior dance Parangal Dance Company

Geographically, the word cordillera refers to a mountain range that serves as a backbone to an island; thus the Gran Cordillera Central serves as a backbone to the main island of Luzon.

The peoples of the Cordillera could be grouped to the following major ethnolinguistic groups: Kankanaey (Kankanai), Ibaloy, Bontok, Kalinga, Isneg, Itneg, Ifugao, Kalanguya, Iwak, Ga'dang.

The Cordillera during the Spanish Colonial Regime.

It was the lure of Igorot gold, which drew the Spanish conquistadores to the Gran Cordillera Central as early as 1572. A series of expeditions were launched to locate the mineral wealth of the Cordillera. But these efforts were met with the indigenes' staunch defense of their domain. More systematic pacification attempts were made to subvert the Cordillera peoples. The policy of reduccion served as an all-encompassing program of not only relocating the otherwise dispersed and inaccessible settlements of the highlanders to more nucleated groups that would facilitate conversion to the Christian order and the imposition of colonial policies like tribute collection. Through their proselytization activities, the Dominicans who were then in the Cagayan region, and the Augustinians who were in the Ilocos, helped the Spanish administration in reducing the Cordilleras to the so-called la vida civil y politica. The first Spanish missions that were established in the highlands of the Cordillera are: Pudtol (1604 and re-established in 1691); Capinatan (1691) in the eastern section of the region; and Tonglo (1755) in Benguet along the southwestern section of the Cordillera. There was a long time resistance lapse before other missions could be established due to the sustained indigenous resistance. The missions in Ifugao and Mountain Province were established in the mid if not late 1800s.

There were also attempts at proscribing Igorot-highland/lowland relations with the objective of annihilating the highlanders and make them realize the need to move downhill and submit to the colonial order. But all these proved futile. While lowland-upland relations were eventually strained as a result of colonial policies, e.g., conscription of lowlanders for pacification campaigns against the Cordillera peoples*, trade relations continued. At the time when the tobacco monopoly required lowland communities to meet theirbandlas (quotas), tobacco was smuggled from the Cordillera.

More direct contact between the Spanish conquistadores and the Cordillera peoples came only in the mid-1826, the Comandancia del Pais de Igorrotes was formed putting the unpacified Cordillera under a special administration under the command of Guillermo Galvey. The region was eventually subdivided to severalcomandancias. The first Spanish mining claim was approved in 1856 with the establishment of the Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan. In summary, all these efforts to conquer the Cordillera peoples were in vain. By the time the time Spanish colonialism came to an end, indigenous institutions were still very much intact making the late historian William Henry Scott describe the status of the Cordillera peoplestribus independientes.

The staunch defense of their domain and their social institutions is the theme of Cordillera history since the onset of colonialism. In the 1600s, the Cordillera peoples warded off the conquistadores during the expeditions to the mines. By the 1700s, the highlanders resisted proselytization activities, which were perceived as mechanisms for their eventual submission to the new order. The highlanders launched attacks on lowland Christian communities particularly in the Nueva Vizcaya area, which had to be eventually fortified. The increase in the number of remontados who sought sanctuary in the highlands by the 1700s and the 1800s made the Spanish conquistadores declare the Cordillera a "haven of thieves and criminals". In the 1800s, Cordillera resistance, sustained though has not reached supra-community level of unity, was directed at colonial policies like vassalage taxes.

An artist's representation of the Igorots of the Cordillera Administrative Region.
An artist's representation of the Igorots of the Cordillera Administrative Region.

The Cordillera during the Revolution.

There has been much discourse on how Cordillera participation during the events of 1896 should be perceived. While there were contacts between the Katipuneros (Aguinaldo period) and some Ibaloy oligarchs, who provided sanctuary and assistance to the fleeing revolutionary forces (Laruan, Carantes, Carino to name a few), there was no organized alliance between the Cordillera peoples and the Katipunan. The contribution of the Cordillera to the 1896 revolution is their long record of sustained resistance, a resistance that was ideologically confined to defense of tribal sovereignty rather than a resistance to establish a Filipino independent state.''

Mateo Cariño, Ibaloi, A Centennial National Hero
Mateo Cariño, Ibaloi, A Centennial National Hero

The Cordillera during the American Period.

While Spain failed in subduing the Igorots highlanders, the American colonizers drew a more systematic design for pacification. At the time when the U.S. government conducted its census in 1903, the Filipinos were categorized to two, namely, the wild population and the civilized; the Cordillera peoples who were unChristianized and uncolonized were classified as wild. Reconnaissance trips were conducted which resulted in the identification of culture zones in the Cordillera (these culture zones would approximate the existing ethnolinguistic subgrouping). The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes created on 2 October 1901 with David Barrows as its first director was tasked to conduct a survey on the character of the different culture zones. These were complemented by efforts of Albert Jenks, Roy Franklin Barton, Fay Cooper Cole to name a few, who produced ethnographies of the Cordillera peoples. These systematic efforts were aimed at better understanding the culture of the unconquered areas so that more effective policies for pacification could be implemented.

Igorots on a tank, World War 2
Igorots on a tank, World War 2

On 18 August 1908, the Americans created the Mountain Province, which consisted of Benguet, Amburayan, Bontoc, Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga and Lepanto. The Philippines Constabulary was also established in the highlands. Most of the Americans who were sent to the Cordillera were designated the rank of lieutenant governor and were in charge of governance in the sub-provinces of the Mountain Province. The more familiar ones are: John C. Early (Amburayan), Norman Conner (Apayao), Elmer Eckman(Bontoc), J.H. Evans (Benguet) and Walter Hale (Kalinga), Charles Nathorst and William Dosser. Many tactics, on several occasions the application of the divide-and-rule strategy through practice of intertribal war was used.

History Made An Igorot A Traitor
History Made An Igorot A Traitor

Both the Catholic and the Protestant (particularly the Episcopal denomination) Churches became instruments of change in the region. They filled the void left by the early Spanish missions that collapsed along with the end of the Spanish colonial regime. In 1907, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) established its first mission station in Bontoc; others followed all over the Cordillera. On the other hand, the Episcopal Church, which was the most influential religious institution during the early American administration, established its stations in Bontoc and Sagada. In 1902, Reverend Charles H. Brent sent Reverend John Staunton for an inspection of the Cordillera.

What actually proved to have long-term impact on the peoples of the Cordillera were the land laws and mining acts that were implemented. Land registration which was the feature of the Public Lands Act of 1902 and 1905 set the Cordillera peoples' loss of control over their ancestral land, claims. In 1909, Baguio was established as a colonial hill station. The establishment of schools all over the Cordillera drew out the people from the insulated village to the colonial mainstream.

All these colonial policies did not remain unchallenged by the people who were able to sustain resistance during the previous colonial regime. But the challenges came in new forms. Out-migration was a common response. Ambuscades were frequently reported in The Manila Times, but were dismissed by the Americans as mere display of barbarism. Direct armed confrontations continued until 1915. Then, the Cordillerans wrote petitions to the American government protesting the environmental degradation of roads; Samaki opposed the destruction caused by mining activities.

The Gallant Igorots of the World War 2
The Gallant Igorots of the World War 2

Asserting that Elusive Cordillera Self-determination.

Since Philippine political independence in 1946, several attempts have been made by the Filipino government to integrate the Cordillera into the mainstream. The Commission on National Integration (CNI) was created in 1957. In 1964, the Mountain Province Development Authority was (patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority) was established to facilitate development efforts in the region. By the 1970s, the Cordillera was the haven of many foreign-funded infrastructure programs foremost of which were dams. The Cordillera peoples who continued to experience not only geographic but also social dislocation opposed all these efforts. Intensified militarization tried to suppress the local resistance. The 1987 Philippine constitution recognized the need for the establishment of autonomous regions in Mindanao and the Cordillera. To this date, the Cordillera peoples still have to define the substance of that autonomy which would fully put to practice the Cordillera people's vision of having control over their institutions, their economy and their affairs.

About the author: Maria Nela B. Florendo, PhD. is an Associate Professor of History at the University of the Philippines College Baguio, Baguio City and as regional representative for the Historical Research Committee of the NCCA, hopes "to represent a region that has long been invisible in history".

Born Igorot, Die Igorot

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