BONTOC

BONTOC

The Bontoc is a group of former headhunters that has traditionally lived in the steep gorge region along the upper Chico Rover system in the Central Mountain Province of northern Luzon. Also known as the Bontok, Bontoc Igorot, Guianes, Igorot, they have traditionally lived by hunting, fishing and farming. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Bontoc use dams, diverted streams and wooden troughs to irrigate agricultural land. The entire community participates in the construction and maintenance of the irrigation system. In the old days, dogs were used to hunt wild buffalo and wild pigs were trapped in pits. Snares are still used to trap birds and cats. Fishing is done by diverting streams to catch fish in nets and traps. Domestic animals include pigs, water buffalo and cats.

Bontoc villages are organized in wards called ato. Each village has between six and 19 ato and each ato has 14 to 50 houses. The ato are set around a stone platform, where headhunting ceremonies were held, and an unmarried girls dormitory and an unmarried boys dormitory, which also serve as a club house and council room. Each ato is governed by a council of elders.

See Sagada Igorot

Book: “Bontoc Igorot” by Albert Ernest Jenks, 1905]

Bontoc Children and Sex

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: ““Poor as we found the village on the material side, it has nevertheless some interesting institutional features. For example, it has sixteen wards, or atos, and each ato has its meeting-place, consisting of a circle of small boulders, where the men assemble to discuss matters affecting the ato, such as war and peace; for the ato is the political unit, and not the village as a whole. A remarkable thing is the family life, or lack of it rather: as soon as children are three or four years old, they leave the roof under which they were born and go to sleep, the boys in a sort of dormitory called pabajunan, occupied as well by the unmarried men,1 and the girls in one called olog. And, as one may ask whether pearls are costly because ladies like them or whether ladies like pearls because they are costly, so here: Is the Igorot house so poor an affair because of the olog, etc., or does the olog exist because the house is poor? [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

The children go on sleeping in their respective pabajunan and olog until they are grown up and married. A sort of trial marriage seems to exist; the young men freely visit the olog—indeed, are expected to. If results follow, it is a marriage, and the couple go to housekeeping; otherwise all the parties in interest are free. Marriage ties are respected, adultery being punished with death; but a man may have more than one wife, though usually that number is not exceeded. However, a man was pointed out to us, who maintains in his desire for issue, but without avail, a regular harem, having no fewer than fifteen wives in different villages, he being a rich man. <>

Bontoc Wedding

The Bontoc wedding ritual usually spans several days. It starts with the delivery of the faratong (black beans) from the girl to the bachelor signifying the bride’s intentions to marry. Afterwards, the bride’s family sends out what is known as the khakhu (salted pork) to the groom’s family. This is countered by the sending of sapa (glutinous rice). These food items are distributed to their respective family members, including their relatives. An important rite called insukatan nan makan (exchange of food) follows. Here, one of the groom’s parents, after receiving an invitation, must go to the bride’s house and have breakfast with them. Later, the groom’s parents also invite a bride’s parent for a similar meal. The next step is the farey. The bride and a kaulog (girlfriend) will visit the house of the groom. This is when they ‘start entering each other’s houses’. They will have to leave immediately also, but they will be invited again on the following morning for breakfast. This is the start of the tongor (to align). [Source: kasal.com *^*]

The next day, the bride’s parents, bearing rice and salted meat, will go to the groom’s house for the kamat (to sew tight). A kaulug of the bride and the groom’s best friend is likewise invited. The evening will be the start of the karang or the main marriage ritual. This is when the bride and groom are finally declared as a couple to the whole community. The following morning is the putut (to half). Here, only the immediate relatives are invited for breakfast, signifying theend of the ritual. Two days after the putut, the couple can finally live as husband and wife, but may not sleep together for the next five days, known as the atufang period. The atufang serves to validate the marriage. The groom is instructed to bathe in a spring, taking note of every detail that comes his way, such as the characters he meets, weather changes, among others. Should anything peculiar occur, he must make his way to the mountain to cut some wood. The bride, on the other hand, is sent off to weed in the fields. *^*

Any untoward incidents serve as warnings that the new couple must postpone their living together or mangmang. The final stage of the atufang involves covering smoldering charcoals with rice husks overnight. The marriage is considered null and void if the fire goes out the morning after. The final step is the manmanok where the bride’s parents invite the groom and his parents and declare that the groom could officially sleep with the bride. This signifies the end of the marriage ritual for most Igorots. An optional lopis (a bigger marriage feast) could be done should the couple’s finances allow. *^*

Bontoc Religion and Arts

Traditional religion remains strong among the Bontoc, especially spirits associated with the dead. These spirits, known as anito, live in a spirt world in the mountains that is not unlike the one people live in. They are consulted on all characterized matters and relay their answers through bird calls. Lumawig is the supreme deity The patay are hereditary clan of preachers who conduct ceremonies to honor Lumawig.

The Bontoc work metal and make spear blades with double-piston bellows. Each villages has traditionally specialized in a single craft: baskets, pottery, beeswax, fermented sugar cane juice, spear blades and breech clothes. Healing ceremonies do not include singing or dancing and patay do not go into a trance. The Bontoc dance in circles to gong music.

Bontoc women have a reputation for being hard workers. Young women sleep in a common sleeping quarter [olog], to which young men are freely invited. One anthropologist described the custom as a "calculated to emphasize the fact and significance of puberty." [Source: Teresita R. Infante, [Source: kasal.com *^*]

In 1912 Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “The highlanders believe in bird signs and omens drawn from animals generally. A party sent out to arrest a criminal had been ordered to cross the river at a designated point. Returning without their man, the chief was asked where they had crossed, and, on answering at so-and-so (a different point from the one ordered), was asked why he had disobeyed orders. It seems that a crow had flown along the bank a little way, and, flying over, had alighted in a tree and looked fixedly at the party. This was enough: they simply had to cross at this point. Sent out again the next day, a snake wriggled across the trail, whereupon the chief exclaimed joyfully that he knew now they would get their man at such a spot and by one o’clock, that the snake showed this must happen. Unfortunately it did so happen! [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

“The afternoon passed listening to stories and incidents like those just given, until it was time to go and see the sports.5 These, with one exception, presented no peculiarity, races, jumping, tug-of-war, and a wheelbarrow race by young women, most of whom tried to escape when they learned what was in store for them. But the crowd laid hold on them and the event came off; the first heat culminating in a helpless mix-up, not ten yards from the starting-line, which was just what the crowd wanted and expected. The exception mentioned was notable, being a native game, played by two grown men. One of these sits on a box or bench and, putting his right heel on it, with both hands draws the skin on the outside of his right thigh tight and waits. The other man, standing behind the first, with a round-arm blow and open hand slaps the tightened part of the thigh of the man on the box, the point being to draw the blood up under the skin. The blow delivered, an umpire inspects, the American doctor officiating this afternoon, and, if the tiny drops appear, a prize is given. If no blood shows, the men change places, and the performance is repeated. The greatest interest was taken in the performance this afternoon, many pairs appearing to take and give the blow. The thing is not so easy as it looks, the umpire frequently shaking has head to show that no blood had been drawn. The prizes consisted of matches, which these highlanders are most eager to get. <>

Bontoc Creation Myth

In the beginning there were no people on the earth. Lumawig, the Great Spirit, came down from the sky and cut many reeds. He divided these into pairs which he placed in different parts of the world, and then he said to them, "You must speak. Immediately the reeds became people, and in each place was a man and a woman who could talk, but the language of each couple differed from that of the others. Then Lumawig commanded each man and woman to marry, which they did. By and by there were many children, all speaking the same language as their parents. These, in turn, married and had many children. In this way there came to be many people on the earth. [Source: Mabel Cook Cole, Philippine Folk Tales (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Company, 1916), pp. 99-101 >><<]

Now Lumawig saw that there were several things which the people on the earth needed to use, so he set to work to supply them. He created salt, and told the inhabitants of one place to boil it down and sell it to their neighbors. But these people could not understand the directions of the Great Spirit, and the next time he visited them, they had not touched the salt. Then he took it away from them and gave it to the people of a place called Mayinit. These did as he directed, and because of this he told them that they should always be owners of the salt, and that the other peoples must buy of them. >><<

Then Lumawig went to the people of Bontoc and told them to get clay and make pots. They got the clay, but they did not understand the molding, and the jars were not well shaped. Because of their failure, Lumawig told them that they would always have to buy their jars, and he removed the pottery to Samoki. When he told the people there what to do, they did just as he said, and their jars were well shaped and beautiful. Then the Great Spirit saw that they were fit owners of the pottery, and he told them that they should always make many jars to sell. In this way Lumawig taught the people and brought to them all the things which they now have. >><<

Traveling to Bontoc Country in 1910

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “From Banawe we rode to Bontok, thirty-five miles, in one day. By midday we had crossed into Bontok sub-province and had reached a point on the trail above an Igorot village called Ambawan. Immediately on leaving Ambawan, we had to drop from the new trail (ours) to the old Spanish one for a short distance, for our trail had run plump upon a rock, waiting before removal for a little money to buy dynamite with. Having turned the rock, the climb back to the new trail proved to be quite a serious affair, as such things go, the path being so steep and so filled with loose sand and gravel clattering down the slope at each step that only one man leading his horse was allowed on it at a time, the next man not starting till his predecessor was well clear at the top. A loss of footing meant a tumble to the bottom, a matter of concern if we had all been on the path together. But finally we all got up and moved on, this time over the narrowest trail yet seen, a good part of the way not more than eighteen or twenty inches wide, with a smooth, bare slope of sixty to eighty degrees on the drop side, and the bottom of the valley one thousand to fifteen hundred feet or more below us. Many of us dismounted and walked, leading our horses for miles. With us went an Igorot guide or policeman, who carried a spear in one hand, and, although naked, held an umbrella over his head with the other, and a civilized umbrella too, no native thing. However, it must be admitted that it was raining. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

“The mists prevented any general view of the country; as a matter of fact, we were at such an elevation as to be riding in the clouds, which had come down by reason of the rain. However, the valleys below us were occasionally in plain enough sight, showing some cultivation here and there, rice and camotes, the latter occasionally in queer spiral beds. The bird-scarers, too, were ingenious: a board hung by a cord from another cord stretched between two long and highly flexible bamboos on opposite banks of a stream, would be carried down by the current until the tension of its cord became greater than the thrust of the stream, when it would fly back and thus cause the bamboo poles to shake. This motion was repeated without end, and communicated by other cords suitably attached to other bamboo poles set here and there in the adjacent rice-paddy. From these hung rough representations of birds, and a system was thus provided in a state of continious agitation over the area, frequently of many acres, to be protected. The idea is simple and efficacious. <>

“This long stretch terminated in a land-slide leading down into the dry, rocky bed of a mountain stream. At the head of the slide we turned our mounts loose, and all got down as best we could, except Mr. Forbes, who rode down in state on his cow-pony. Once over, we crossed a village along the edge of a rice-terrace, in which our horses sank almost up to their knees. As the wall was fully fifteen feet high, a fall here into the paddy below would have been most serious; it would have been almost impossible to get one’s horse out. However, all things come to an end; we crossed the stream below by a bridge, one at a time (for the bridge was uncertain), and found ourselves in Talubin, where we were warmly greeted by Bishop Carroll of Vigan and [128] some of his priests. The Bishop, who was making the rounds of his diocese, had only a few days before fallen off the very trail we had just come over, and rolled down, pony and all, nearly two hundred feet, a lucky bush catching him before he had gone the remaining fourteen hundred or fifteen hundred. <>

“Talubin somehow bears a poor reputation; its inhabitants have a villainous look, owing, no doubt, in part to their being as black and dirty as coal-heavers. This in turn is due to the habit of sleeping in closed huts without a single exit for the smoke of the fire these people invariably make at night, their cook-fire probably, for they cook in their huts. However this may be, the people of this ranchería showed neither pleasure nor curiosity on seeing us, and I noticed that a Constabulary guard was present, patrolling up and down, as it were, with bayonets fixed and never taking their eyes off the natives that appeared. These Igorots lacked the cheerfulness and openness of our recent friends, the Ifugaos. Their houses were not so good, built on the ground itself, and soot-black inside. The whole village was dirty and gloomy and depressing, and yet it stands on the bank of a clean, cheerful stream. However, the inevitable gansas were here, but silent; one of them tied by its string to a human jaw-bone as a handle.

“This, it seems, is the fashionable and correct way to carry a gansa. At Talubin the sun came out, and so did some bottles of excellent red wine which the Bishop and his priests were kind enough to give us. But we did not tarry long, for Bontok was still some miles away. So we said good-bye to the Bishop and his staff and continued on our way. The country changed its aspect on leaving Talubin: the hills are lower and more rounded, and many pines appeared. The trail was decidedly better, but turned and twisted right and left, up and down. The country began to take on an air of civilization—why not? We were nearing the provincial capital; some paddies and fields were even fenced. At last, it being now nearly five of the afternoon, we struck a longish descent; at its foot was a broad stream, on the other side of which we could see Bontok, with apparently the whole of its population gathered on the bank to receive us. And so it was: the grown-ups farther back, with marshalled throngs of children on the margin itself. As we drew near, these began to sing; while fording, the strains sounded familiar, and for cause: as we emerged, the “Star-Spangled Banner” burst full upon us, the shock being somewhat tempered by the gansas we could hear a little ahead. We rode past, got in, and went to our several quarters, Gallman and I to Governor Evans’s cool and comfortable bungalow.” <>

Bontoc Town in 1910

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “Bontok is a place of importance, as becomes the capital of the Mountain Province. Here are schools, both secular and religious; two churches in building (1910), one of stone (Protestant Episcopal), the other of brick (Roman Catholic), each with its priest in residence; a Constabulary headquarters; a brick-kiln, worked by Bontoks; a two-storied brick house, serving temporarily as Government House, club and assembly; a fine provincial Government House in building; streets laid off and some built up, these in the civilized town. This list is not to be smiled at; a beginning has been made, a good strong beginning, full of hope, if the unseen elements established and forces developed are given a fair chance. The place was important before we came in; the native part is ancient and has a municipal organization of some interest. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

Spain first occupied the place in 1855 and garrisoned it with several hundred Hokanos and Tagalogs. She has left behind a bad name; but the insurrectos (Aguinaldo’s people), who drove the Spaniards out, have left a worse. Both took without paying, both robbed and killed; the insurrectos added lying. Some four hundred Igorot warriors were persuaded by the insurrectos to join in resisting the Americans and went as far south as Caloocan just north of Manila, where, armed only with spears, axes, and shields, they took their place in line of battle, only to run when fire was opened. According to their own story, which they relate with a good deal of humor, they never stopped until they reached their native heath, feeling that the insurrectos had played a trick on them. Accordingly, it is not surprising that when March went through Bontok after Aguinaldo, the Igorot should have befriended him, nor later that the way should have been easy for us when we came in to stay, about seven or eight years ago. <>

“The site is attractive, a circular dish-shaped valley, about a mile and a half in diameter, bisected by the Rio Chico de Cagayán, with mountains forming a scarp all around. Bontok stands on the left bank, and Samoki on the right; separated only by a river easily fordable in the dry season, these two Igorot centers manage to live in tolerable peace with each other, but both have been steadily hostile to Talubin, only two hours away. However, it can not be too often said that this sort of hostility is diminishing, and perceptibly. <>

We spent two days at Bontok very quietly and agreeably. The first day, the 8th, was Sunday, and somehow or other I got to church (Father Clapp’s, the Protestant Episcopal missionary’s) only in time to see through the open door an Igorot boy, stark naked save gee-string and a little open coat, passing the plate. Father Clapp has been here seven years, has compiled a Bontok-English Dictionary, and translated the Gospel of Saint Mark into the vernacular. As already said, he has a school, a sort of hospital; is building a stone church; is full of his work, and deserves the warmest support.

Violent and Noisy but Friendly Bontoc in 1910

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “One’s first impression of the Bontok Igorot is that he is violent and turbulent; it is perhaps more correct to say that, as compared with the Ifugao, he lacks discipline. It is certain that he is taller, without being stronger or more active or better built; in fact, as one goes north, the tribes increase in height and in wildness. The women share in the qualities noted. Both men and women were all over the place, and much vigorous dancing was going on. Using the same gansa as the Ifugao, the Igorot beats it on the convex side with a regular padded drumstick, whereas the Ifugao uses any casual stick on the concave side. Moreover, the Bontok dancers went around their circle, beating their gansas the while, in a sort of lope, the step being vigorous, long, easy, and high; as in all the other dances seen, the motion was against the sun. The gansa beat seemed to be at uniform intervals, all full notes. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

“While our friends the Ifugaos were, on the whole, a quiet lot, these Bontok people seemed to be fond of making a noise, of shouting, of loud laughter. They appeared to be continually moving about, back and forth, restlessly and rapidly as though excited. On [131] the whole, the impression produced by these people was not particularly agreeable; you felt that, while you might like the Banawe, you would always be on your guard against the Bontok. But it must be recollected that we had no such opportunity to see these people as we enjoyed in the case of Banawe and Andangle. The occasion was more exciting; they were more on show. It is not maintained that these are characteristics, simply that they appeared to be this afternoon and, indeed, during the remainder of our stay. <>

“Individuals appeared to be friendly enough, though these were chiefly the older men. One of them, a total stranger to me, came up and intimated very clearly that he would like the transfer of the cigar I was smoking from my lips to his. In a case like this, it is certainly more blessed to give than to receive, but in spite of this Scriptural view of the matter, I nevertheless naturally hesitated to be the party of even the second part in a liberty of such magnitude, and on such short acquaintance, too. However I gave him the cigar; he received it with graciousness. I found now that I must give cigars to all the rest standing about, and, after emptying my pockets, sent for two boxes. An expectant crowd had in the meantime collected below, for we were standing on the upper veranda of Government [132] House, and, on the two hundred cigars being thrown out to them all at one time, came together at the point of fall in the mightiest rush and crush of human beings I ever saw in my life. A foot-ball scrimmage under the old rules was nothing to it. Very few cigars came out unscathed, but the scramble was perfectly good-humored.” <>

Bontoc Clothes and Tattoos in 1910

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “Of weapons there was almost none visible, no shields or spears, but here and there a head-ax. The usual fashion in clothes prevailed; gee-string for the men, and short sarong-like skirt for the women. Hair was worn long, many men gathering it up into a tiny brimless hat, for all the world like Tommy Atkins’s pill-box, only worn squarely on the apex of the skull, and held on by a string passed through the hair in front. In this hat the pipe and tobacco are frequently carried. Many of these hats are beautifully made, and decorated; straw, dyed of various colors, being combined in geometrical patterns. Ordinary ones can be easily got; but, if ornamented with beads or shell, they command very high prices, one hundred and fifty pesos or more. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

“Many men were elaborately tattooed, the pattern starting well down the chest on each side and running up around the front of the shoulder and part way down the arm. If, as is said, this elaborate tattoo indicates that its owner has killed a human being, then Bontok during our stay was full of men that had proved their valor in this particular way. <>

“Earrings were very common in both sexes; frequently the lobe was distended by a plug of wood, with no appreciable effect of ornament, and sometimes even torn open. In that case the earring would be held on by a string over the ear. One man came by with three earrings in the upper cartilage of each ear, one above the other. Still another had actually succeeded in persuading nature to form a socket of gristle just in front of each ear, the socket being in relief and carrying a bunch of feathers. A few men had even painted their faces scarlet or yellow. No one seemed to know the significance of this habit (commoner farther north than at Bontok), but the paint was put on much after the fashion prevailing in Manchuria, and, if possibly for the same reason, certainly with the same result. The pigment or color comes from a wild berry. <>

Bontoc Murders

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “It must be very hard to get at what is going on behind the eyes of his native parishioners. For example, shortly before our arrival, a young Igorot had been confirmed by Bishop Brent. Now this boy was attending school, and in the school was another boy from a ranchería that had taken a head from the ranchería of the recent convert. When the latter’s people learned of this, they sent for their boy, the recent convert, the Monday after confirmation, held a cañao (killing a pig, dancing, and so on), and sent him back resolved to take vengeance by killing the boy from the offending ranchería. Accordingly, on Thursday, at night, the victim-to-be was lured behind the school-house under the pretext of getting a piece of meat, and, while his attention was held by an accomplice with the meat, the avenger came up behind, killed him, and was about to take his head when people came up and arrested him. This case illustrates the difficulties to be met in civilizing these people. Legally, under our view, this boy was a murderer; under his own customs and traditions, he had done a commendable thing. When the boys’ school was first opened, they used to take their spears and shields into the room with them; this proving not only troublesome, but dangerous, their arms are now taken away from them every morning, and returned after school closes. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

Many people came to see Governor Evans this day, among them a young man begging for the release of a prisoner held for murder. He really could not see why the man should not be set free, and sat patiently for two hours on his haunches, every now and then holding up and presenting a white rooster, which he was offering in exchange. The matter was not one for discussion at all, but Evans was as patient as his visitor, paying no attention to him whatever. Whenever the pleader could catch Evans’s eye, up would go the rooster and be appealingly held out. Only two or three weeks before, a private of Constabulary had shot and killed the head man of Tinglayan some miles north of Bontok. He was arrested, of course, and when we came through was awaiting trial. But a deputation had come in to wait on Mr. Forbes, and ask for the slayer, so that they might kill him in turn, with proper ceremonies. Naturally the request was refused; but these people could not understand why, and went off in a state of sullen discontent. Here, again, was a conflict between our laws, the application of which we are bound to uphold, and native customs, having the force of law and so far regarded by the highlanders as meeting all necessities. <>

Bontoc Head Hunting

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “The practice of head-hunting still exists in the Bontok country, though the steady discouragement of the Government is beginning to tell. Here in Bontok itself, a boy, employed as a servant in the Constabulary mess, dared not leave the mess quarters at night; in fact, was forbidden to. For his father, having a grudge against a man in Samoki across the river, had sent a party over to kill him. By some mistake, the wrong man was killed, and it was perfectly well understood in Bontok that the family of the victim were going to take the son’s head in revenge, and were only waiting to catch him out before doing it. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

“These homicides can, however, be atoned without further bloodshed, if the parties interested will agree to it. A more or less amusing instance in kind was recently furnished by the village of Basao, which had in the most unprovoked manner killed a citizen of a neighboring ranchería, the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten. The injured village at once made a reclama (i.e., reclamatión, claim for compensatory damages), and Basao agreed, the villages meeting to discuss the matter. When the claim was presented, Basao, to the unspeakable astonishment and indignation of the offended village, at once admitted the justice of the reclama, and handed over the damages—to-wit, one chicken and pesos six (three dollars). This was an insult to the claimant; for on these occasions it seems that each party takes advantage of the opportunity to tell the other what cowards they are, what thieves and liars, how poor and miserable they are, that they live on camotes— in short, to recite all the crimes and misdemeanors they have been guilty of from a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, this recital being accompanied, of course, by an account of their own virtues, qualities, and wealth. <>

“The claimants in this case accordingly withdrew, held a consultation, and, returning, declared that in consequence of the insult put upon them the damages would have to be increased, and demanded one peso more! The body is always returned, and the damages cited are for a body accompanied by its head; if the head be lacking, the damages go up, no less than two hundred pesos, a fabulous sum in the mountains.” <>

Bontoc Village and Houses in 1910

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “The next day, the 9th, Father Clapp very kindly offered to show Strong and me the native village, an invitation we made haste to accept. This village, if village it be, marches with the Christian town, so that we at once got into it, to find it a collection of huts put down higgledy-piggledy, with almost no reference to convenience of access. Streets, of course, there were none, nor even regular paths from house to house; you just picked your way from one habitation to the next as best you could, carefully avoiding the pig-sty which each considerable hut seemed to have. I wish I could say that the Igorot out of rude materials had built a simple but clean and commodious house! He has done nothing of the sort: his materials are rude enough, but his hut is small, low, black, and dirty, so far as one could tell in walking through. It is astonishing that these people should not have evolved a better house, seeing that the Ifugaos have done it, and the Kalinga houses, which we were to see in a day or two, are really superior affairs. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 <>]

The poorer houses have two rooms, an inner and an outer, both very small (say 6 × 6 feet and 4 × 6 feet respectively, inside measurement), cooking being done in the outer and the inner serving as a sleeping-room. [144] There is no flooring; although the fire is under the roof (grass thatch), no smoke-hole has been thought of, and as there are no window-openings, and the entrance is shut up tight by night and the fire kept up if the weather be cold, the interior is as black as one would expect from the constant deposit of soot. The ridge-pole of the poorer houses is so low that a man of even small stature could not stand up under it. The well-to-do have better houses, not only larger, but having a sort of second story; these are soot-black, too. We made no examination of these, not even a cursory one. The pig-sty is usually next to the house, and is nothing but a rock-lined pit, open to the sky, except where the house is built directly over it. <>

“We remarked, as we walked about this morning, that although Father Clapp seemed to know some of the people we met and would speak to them, they never returned his greeting. None of these highlanders have any words or custom of salutation. In the Ifugao country, however, they shake hands, and would frequently smile when on meeting them we would say, “Mapud!”—i.e., “Good!”—the nearest thing to a greeting that our very scanty stock of Ifugao words afforded. But the Igorot never shook hands with us nor offered to: they have no smile for the stranger, though they seem good-humored enough among themselves. <>

“Among other things shown us by Father Clapp was a circle of highly polished boulders, said traditionally to be the foundation of the house of Lumawig, the Deity of the Bontok. One stone was pierced by a round hole, made by Lumawig’s spear: on arriving, he decided he would remain permanently in Bontok, and began by sticking the shaft of his spear in the stone in question—a very minor example, by the way, of his magical powers. More interesting, perhaps, than the ruins of Lumawig’s house was a sacred grove on a hill rising just back of the village, in which, according to Father Clapp, certain rites and ceremonies are held once a year. The matter is one for experts, but it appears strange that this people should have a sacred grove, as being unusual. <>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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