Several of the ethnic groups in northern Luzon were headhunters. They took heads in feuds with enemies. Men have traditionally worn loincloths and women have worn sarongs and a jacket or blouse. The loincloths worn by Luzon highlanders usually have horizontal stripes. In the old days they made tools and jewelry from copper, iron and gold they mined themselves.

Among the headhunting tribes are the Ifugao, Bontoc, Ilongot, Sagada Igorot, Kalingas, and Apayaos. These ethnic group live chiefly in the Cordillera Central of northern Luzon. These groups have traditionally been somewhat hostile towards each other and didn’t trade much out of fear of being attacked.

The custom of headhunting was largely suppressed by the constabulary before World War II. Under the Spanish these ethnic groups were left largely untouched. American missionaries, and workers with mining and timber companies, had more of an impact on them. The Marcos government say them mainly as obstacles that got in the way of development and making money.

The former headhunters of northern Luzon are now often the head hunted. In a 1986 National Geographic story two women members of the Itneg tribe and a former priest which had become members of the NPA were ambushed and beheaded by members of the Philippine army. Their heads were paraded through nearby villages on sticks then buried some distance from the bodies.

See Separate Articles on the BONTOC, IFUGAO, ILONGOT and KALINGAS

Reasons for Head Hunting

Heads taken in headhunting raids brought glory to the warrior who collected them and good luck to their village. They were usually preserved and worshiped in special rituals. Certain parts of the body—the heart, brains, blood and liver—was believed to bring power to those who consumed them. Cutting out the heart, it was believed, destroys the evil that is believed to reside in that organ.

Most heads are taken out as an act of revenge, often for the breaking of “adat” ("traditional law"). Richard Lloyd write in the Independent, "Decapitation and cannibalism are the deeply symbolic practices, the ultimate humiliation of a defeated enemy. Cut someone's head off and you reduce him to a pantomime mask. This is the point about severed heads—they don't look fearful so much as comical, like Halloween pumpkins.”

Within the complex polytheist and animist beliefs of some groups, beheading one’s enemy was seen as the way of killing off for good the spirit of the person who had been killed. The spiritual significance of the ceremony also lay in the belief that at the end of mourning for the community's dead. The heads were put on display at traditional burial rites, where the bones of relatives were dug out from the earth and cleaned before being put in burial vaults. Ideas of manhood were also bound up with the practice, and the taken heads were surely a reward.”

Some tribal people also believe that head hunting helps soil fertility and give a person strength. Heads are sometimes used as a dowry, to strengthen buildings, protect against attacks, and display status.

Northern Luzon and the Cordillera Central

Northern Luzon is noted for its colonial Spanish cities, tropical rain forest, faith healers, former-head-hunting Indian tribes, stunning rice terraces, and towering mountains. The Spanish influence in the Philippines is most noticeable in the mountainous northwestern Luzon provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Luzon is roughly the size of Kentucky. Much of mountainous areas were left relatively untouched by the Spanish because they feared the headhunting tribes that lived there. The missionaries feared them to and as a result Christianity came late and mixed with local animist religions more than it displaced them. A number of rebellions were launched here against the Spanish. The New People’s Army has been active here in recent decades.

The Cordillera Central is the name of the rugged highlands in northern Luzon. It extends for about 320 kilometers and averages 65 kilometers in width. It is home to the highest mountains in the Philippines, some of which are over 2,470 meters high. It is also home to famous former headhunting tribes such as the Ifugao, Bontoc, Ilongot, Sagada Igorot, Kalingas, and Apayaos.

Th The southern Cordillera Central was explored by the Spanish because there were rumors of gold being found there but the northern reaches of the mountains were little explored by outsiders until the Americans arrived and even then there was not much contact until the 1970s when the Marcos regime proposed building four major dams in area on the Chico River. The local people were quite upset about the dams and the government had to send in troops to “pacify” the people. Many were killed and the dam projects were “permanently postponed.”

In 1912, Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “West of this Valley [the Cagayán] and separating it from the China Sea, stands a broad and complex system of mountains, known as the Caraballos Occidentales. Its length is nearly 200 miles, and its breadth, including the great spurs and subordinate ranges and ridges on either side, is fully one-third its length. The central range of the system forms the divide between the waters flowing to Cagayán River on the east and those flowing to the China Sea on the west. Its northern part bears the name Cordillera Norte. Farther south it is called Cordillera Central, while the southern portion is called Cordillera Sur.” “At its south end the Cordillera Sur swings to the east, and, under the name of Caraballos Sur, joins the Sierra Madre, or East Coast Range.” This description, it must be understood, gives no adequate idea of the local intricacy of the system, while at the same time it is precisely this intricacy, both vertical and horizontal, that increases the cost and difficulty of making roads, and that has served in the past to keep the inhabitants of these regions apart. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

Igorot Highlanders of Northern Luzon

In 1912, Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “Most of our people do not know that a very large fraction of the inhabitants of the Philippines consists of the so-called wild men, and that of these the greatest group or collection is found in the mountains of Northern Luzon. These mountaineers or highlanders constitute perhaps, all other things being equal, as interesting a body of uncivilized people as is to be found on the face of the earth to-day. The Spaniards, of course, soon discovered their existence, the first mention of them being made by De Morga, in his “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas” (1609). He speaks of them as inhabiting the interior of a rough mountainous country, where are “many natives who are not pacified, nor has anyone gone into their country, who call themselves Ygolotes,” Here we have the first form, the classic form according to Retana, of the word now universally written Igorrote, or in English Igorot. The word itself means “highlanders,” golot being a Tagalog word for “mountain,” and I a prefix meaning “people of.” De Morga mentions the “Ygolotes” as owning rich mines of gold and silver, which “they work as there is need,” and he goes on to say that in spite of all the diligence made to know their mines, and how they work and improve them, the matter has come to naught, “because they are cautious with the Spaniards who go to them in search of gold, and say they keep it better guarded under ground than in their houses.” [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“The Spaniards at a very early date sent armed exploring parties through the highlands and maintained garrisons here and there down to our own time. But they never really held the country. The Church, too, early entered this territory, the field being given over to the Dominicans, who furnished many devoted missionaries to the cause. But here, too, failure must be recorded in respect of permanency of results in the really wild parts of the Highlands. It has remained for our own Government to get a real hold of the people of these regions, to win their confidence, command their respect, and exact their obedience in all relations in which obedience is proper and just.

The indispensable material condition of success was to make the mountain country accessible. Only those who have had the fortune to travel through this country can realize how difficult this endeavor has been and must continue to be, chiefly because of the great local complexity of the mountain system, but also because of the severely destructive storms of this region, with consequent torrential violence of the streams affected. But little money, too, can be, or has been, spent for the necessary road-work. In spite of the difficulties involved, however, a system of road-making has been set on foot, the labor needed being furnished by the highlanders themselves in lieu of a road tax.

“The Mountain Province itself is the outcome of the difficulties encountered in governing the wild tribes so long as these were left in provinces where either their interests were not paramount, or else the difficulties of administration were unduly costly or difficult. Established in 1908, it has a Governor, and each of its seven sub-provinces a Lieutenant-Governor, the sub-province as far as possible including people of one and of only one tribe. The creation of this province was a great step forward in promoting the welfare of the highlanders.

“A word must be said here in explanation of the nomenclature of the mountain tribes. Generically, having in mind the meaning of the word, they are all Igorots. But it is the practice to distinguish the various elements of this great family by different names, restricting the term “Igorot” to special branches, as Benguet Igorot, Bontok Igorot, meaning those who live in Benguet or Bontok. The other members are known as Ifugao, Ilongot, Kalinga, and so on.”

Annual Inspection of the Northern Luzon Mountain Tribes in 1912

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “ Every year Mr. Worcester makes a formal tour of inspection through the Mountain Province to note the progress of the trails and roads, to listen to complaints, to hear reports, devise ways and means of betterment and in general to see how the hillmen are getting on. This tour is a very great affair to the highlanders, who are assembled in as great numbers as possible at the various points where stops are made; during the stay of the “Commission” (as Mr. Worcester is universally called by the highlanders) at the points of assemblage, the wild people are subsisted by the Government. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“The trip is long and hard, nor is it altogether free from danger. Preparations have to be made two months ahead to have forage for animals, and food for human beings, at the expected halts, while everything eaten by man or beast on the way must be carried by the cargadores (bearers) who accompany the column, since living off the country is in general impossible. Under these circumstances but very few guests can be invited. I was so fortunate as to be one of these in 1910; how fortunate, I did not realize until the trip was over. For although an American may ride alone unmolested through the country we visited, still he would see only what might fall under his eye as he made his way; whereas, on this official trip, thousands of people are brought together at designated points, and one can thus do and see in a month what it would take a much longer time to do and see under one’s own efforts.

This year (1910) the party was made up of Mr. Cameron Forbes, the Governor-General of the Philippine Islands; Mr. Worcester, Secretary of the Interior; Dr. Heiser, Director of Health; Dr. Strong, Chief of the Biological Laboratory; Mr. Pack, Governor of the Mountain Province; and of two officers besides myself, Captain Cootes, 13th Cavalry, Aide de Camp to the Governor-General, and Captain Van Schaick, 16th Infantry, Governor of Mindoro. On account of the difficulties of supply and transportation, we were requested to bring no muchachos (boys—i.e., servants), so we had to shift for ourselves. Our baggage was very strictly limited; each man being allowed two parcels, one of bedding, and the other of clothes, neither to be more than could be easily carried on the back of a single cargador. Mr. Worcester took along for the whole party an ingenious apparatus of his own contrivance for boiling drinking-water, as all streams in the Philippines at a level lower than 6,000 feet have been found to contain amoebae, the parasitic presence of which in the intestines produces that frightful disease, amoebic dysentery. We were especially desired to leave our revolvers at home, and had no escort.

Accordingly, our mounts and kit having been sent on a day or two in advance, we set out from Baguio in motor-cars, April 26, at eight A.M., of an extraordinarily fine day. The day before it had rained mercilessly; not only that, but clouds and mists had enveloped us so that one could not see twenty yards ahead. We were nearing the rainy season, and conditions were uncertain, but this morning the gods were on our side and we could not have asked for better weather. We went down the splendid Benguet Road, following the bed of the Bued River to the railway, a drop of over 4,000 feet in thirteen miles. Strange to say, the stream had not risen at all, a fortunate circumstance, as one hundred and sixty bridges are crossed in the drop, and at times a rise will wash out not only the bridges, but all semblance of a road. At the railway we turned south over the great plain of Pangasinán. This, in respect of roads, is the show province of the Archipelago and deserves its reputation, one hundred and twenty miles having been built. Those we passed over this day would have been called good in France even. Our passage was of the nature of a progress, thanks to the presence of the Governor-General. Simple bamboo arches crossing the road greeted us everywhere, Mr. Forbes punctiliously raising his hat under every one. All the villages had decorated their houses; handkerchiefs, petticoats, red table-cloths, anything and everything had been hung out of the windows by way of flags and banners. Across the front of the municipal building of one village was stretched a banner with this inscription, “En honor de la venida del Gobernador General y de su Comitiva” (“In honor of the arrival of the Governor-General and of his retinue”), and then below on the next band, “Deseamos iener un pozo artesiano” (“We should like to have an Artesian well”), which led Mr. Worcester to remark that four years before the banner would have demanded “independencia” (independence), and not an Artesian well.

Even in Pangasinán, good roads must come to an end, and ours did as we neared the Agno River. For this blessed river is a curse to its neighborhood, and rises in flood from a stream say seventy-five yards wide to a rushing lake, if the expression be permitted, half a mile and more across. Our car finally refused to move; its wheels simply turned in situ, so deep was the sand. There was nothing for it but to walk to the river bank, where we were met with many apologies. A bamboo bridge had been built across the stream a few days before so that our cars might cross, but yesterday’s rain had washed it down, and would we try to cross on rafts? We looked at the rafts, bamboo platforms built over large bancas (canoes, double-enders cut out of a single log), the bamboos being lashed together with bejuco (rattan, the native substitute for nails), and decided that no self-respecting motor would stand such transportation, but would go to the bottom first by overturning. So we got our stuff aboard the rafts, were poled over, and made the rest of the journey to Tayug, our first considerable halt, in carromatas (the native two-wheeled, springless cart). Fortunately the distance was short, the carromata being an instrument of torture happily overlooked by the Spanish Inquisition.

“At Tayug a great concourse of people welcomed us, with arches, flags, and decorations. The presidencia, or town hall, was filled with the notabilities, and Mr. Forbes was presented with an address by one of the señoritas. Suitable answer having been made, we adjourned, the men first, the women following when we had done, according to native custom, to the side rooms, where a surprisingly good tiffin had been got ready for us, venison, chickens, French rolls, dulces (sweets), whiskey and soda, Heaven knows what else, to which, all unwitting of our doom, we did full justice. About two miles beyond Tayug lies San Francisco, the initial point of our real mounted journey. The people along this part of the road had simply outdone themselves in the matter of arches, there being one at every hundred yards almost. At San Francisco the crowd was greater than at Tayug; and here was set out for us another sumptuous tiffin, in a house built the day before for this very purpose, of bamboo and nipa palm. Access to it was had by a ladder and we sat down at a table, while the señoras of the place waited on us, every inch of standing-room being occupied by people who had crowded in to see the performance of the Governor-General and of his comitiva! And perform we did—we had to! Ducks, chickens, venison, camotes (sweet potatoes), peppers, beer, red wine—no one would have thought that but three-quarters of an hour before we had just gone through the same thing. But it would have been the height of discourtesy to give way to our inclination by showing a lack of appetite; moreover, it is not often that a party is held in a house built to be used merely one hour. So we did honor to the occasion, but had to let out our belts before mounting immediately afterward.”

Juan Villaverde Trail

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “ The point to which we had come, San Francisco, marks the beginning of the Juan Villaverde trail from the Central Valley of Luzon through the mountains before us, to the province of Nueva Vizcaya. All day the chain we were to pierce had been in sight, and I for one had been wondering where we were to find a practicable entrance, so forbiddingly vertical did the range appear to be. Now the Spaniards in the Philippines at best were but poor road- or trail-makers. Indeed, in the matter of trails they were simply stupid, in some cases actually going straight up a hill and down the other side, when the way around was no longer, and of course far easier to maintain. But Padre Juan Villaverde of the Dominicans was a great and honorable exception. Quite apart from this aspect, we hear so much that is evil of the friars that it is a pleasure, when possible, to point out the good they did, a thing more frequently possible than people imagine it is. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

Father Villaverde gave his life to missionary work among the hill-people, seeking in every way to better their condition materially as well as morally. Born in 1841, as early as 1868 we find him on duty at Bayombong, in Nueva Vizcaya, the province we were about to enter. From the first he seems to have been impressed by the possibilities of the country in which he was laboring; and, foreseeing that good communications would ultimately settle most of the questions relating to the highlanders, he built trails, trails that are still in use, whereas nearly all the others (but few in number) established by the Spaniards have been abandoned by us, where Nature has not indeed saved us the trouble by washing them out of existence. For thirty years Villaverde worked unceasingly, building roads and bridges and churches, and striving to civilize the people among whom he lived; but his chief work, that by which his memory is kept green to this day, is the great trail from the otherwise almost inaccessible province of Nueva Vizcaya, across the Caraballos to the Central Valley of Luzon, where access to the outer world by rail becomes possible. Villaverde remained at his post until his health broke completely; he set out for Spain, but never reached it, dying August 4, 1897, and being buried at sea a few hours only from Barcelona. The great trail he built reduced the cost of transportation by nine-tenths.

This trail is officially designated by his name, and is maintained by Government. This was the one we were about to enter upon. Accordingly we thanked our kind hosts of San Francisco; and at last set out on our real trip.Crossing a stream, we began to climb at once, and as we rose the plain of Central Luzon began to unroll itself below us, with our road of the morning stretching out in a straight white line through the green rice-fields. Far to the west we now and then caught glimpses of Lingayen Gulf, with the Zambales Mountains in full view running south and bordering the plain, while still farther to the south Mount Arayat rose abruptly from its surrounding levels. Now Arayat is plainly visible from Manila. Here and there solitary rocky hills, looking for all the world like ant-heaps, but in reality hundreds of feet high, broke the uniformity of the plains. Flooded as the whole landscape was with brilliant sunshine, the view was exquisite in respect both of form and of color. But as we moved on, turning and twisting and ever rising, we were soon confined to just the few yards the sinuosities of the trail would allow us to see at one time. For a part of the way the country was rocky, hills bare and fire-swept; not a tree or shrub suggested that we were in the tropics. Soon pines began to appear, and then thickened, till the trail led through a pine forest, pure and simple, the ground covered with green grass, and the whole fresh and moist from recent rains. It was up and down and around and around. Not a sign of animal life did we see, not a trace of human beings.

Pine Forests of the Cordillera Central

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “We set out next morning at five-thirty. Our journey so far, that is, since we mounted, had taken us over a preliminary range, and now we began a more serious climb. Far ahead and above us on the skyline, we could see a cut in the forest where our trail crossed the divide. But that was miles away, and in the meantime we were ascending a lovely valley, pines, grass, and bright red soil. It was delicious that morning, riding under the pines. And part of the pleasure was due to the fact that we had an unobstructed view in all directions, usually not the case in the tropical forest. At one point we had a full view of Arayat, at another of Santo Tomás, near which we had passed yesterday on coming down from Baguío. The valley was steep-walled, narrow and twisting, at one point closed by a single enormous rock nearly three hundred feet high—in fact, a conical hill rising right out of the floor of the valley, and apparently leaving just room for the stream to pass on one side. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“A curious fact was that while the mountains were decidedly northern-looking as to flora, yet the groins, wherever possible, were thoroughly tropical. For in these water runs off but slowly, with consequent richness of vegetation. And yet, on the other side of the divide which we were now approaching not a pine could be seen, but, on the contrary, the typical tropical forest in full development. The watershed, our skyline, was an almost absolute dividing-mark. At any rate, there the pines stopped short.

At the divide we crossed from Pangasinán into Nueva Vizcaya. And with the crossing began the forest just mentioned, and a long descent for us. Our immediate destination was Amugan, our first rest halt. It is of absolutely no use to try to describe this part of the trip. If the confusion of trees, vines, orchids, tree ferns, foliage plants, creepers, was bewildering, so was the impression produced. But we saw many examples of the most beautiful begonia in existence, in full blossom, gorgeous spheres of dark scarlet hanging above and around us. According to Mr. Worcester, all attempts to transplant it have failed. Its blossoms would be sometimes twenty and thirty feet in the air. Nothing could exceed the glory of these masses of flowers, sometimes a foot and more in diameter, as projected by the rays of the early morning sun against the dark green background, the whole glistening and dripping in the rain-like dew. Tree ferns abounded; we passed one that must have been over sixty feet high. At one halt the ground about was aflame with yellow orchids, growing out of the ground. And there was one plant that I recognized myself, unaided, the wild tomato, a little thing of eight or nine inches, but holding up its head with all the rest of them.

As always, on this trip, however, it was the splendor of the country that held the attention, the wild incoherent mountain masses thrown together apparently without order or system, buttressed peaks, mighty flanks riven to the core by deep valleys, radiating spurs, re-entrant gorges, the limit of vision filled by crenellated ranges in all the serenity of their distant majesty. And then, as our trail wound in and out, different aspects of the same elements would present themselves, until really the faculty of admiration became exhausted. And so on down we went, to be greeted as we neared Amugan by a sound of tom-toms; it was a party that had come out to welcome us, carrying the American flag and beating the gansa (tom-tom) by way of music. The gansa, made of bronze, in shape resembles a circular pan about twelve or thirteen inches in diameter, with a border of about two inches turned up at right angles to the face. On the march it is hung from a string and beaten with a stick. At a halt it is beaten with the open hand.

“After crossing a coffee plantation, we reached a little settlement, where we off-saddled and took a bite after six hours’ riding. The half-dozen houses of this tiny village are of the usual Filipino type, and the very few inhabitants were dressed after the fashion of the Christianized provinces. Nevertheless, we here first encountered the savage we had come up to see; for not only did they have the gansa, but they offered us a cañao. This is a feast of which we shall have splendid examples later on, with dancing, beating of gansas, drinking and so on, and the sacrifice of a pig.

“Here the affair was to be much smaller, all the elements being absent except the pig and drums. We had noticed as we dismounted a pig tied to a post and evidently in a very uneasy frame of mind, and justly, for, although the honor of a cañao was declined, on account of the length of the ceremony and of the distance we had yet to go, still they were resolved upon the death of the pig. He, however, at the same time had made up his mind to escape, and by a mighty effort broke his tether, and got off; but in vain, for after a short but exciting chase he was caught and then, an incision having been made in his belly, a sharpened stick was inserted and stirred about until his insides were thoroughly mixed, when he died.”

Encountering Ilongot

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “The next day “we reached Aritao. Aritao is an old town, now much decayed, but showing evidences of former affluence. It has a brick church, the bells of which were rung on our approach.” After a ceremony “Bubud was then passed about—but this is going too fast! Bubud (called tapuy elsewhere) is an institution in the parts where we now were, and I had been hearing of it for days. It is the native (Ifugao) name of a drink produced by the fermentation of rice, a drink that varies in color and in flavor, according to the care taken in its make, but nearly always agreeable to the palate and refreshing. That offered us to-day was greenish yellow, slightly acid and somewhat bitter from the herbs added. Unfortunately, it will not bear transportation, but we made up for this by carrying off personally as much as was convenient. A short ride through the charming, smiling country (part of it might have been France), over a really good road most of the way, brought us to Dúpax. Here we made quite a stop, first of all quenching our thirst with bubud, beer, cocoanut milk, anything, everything, for we had ridden nearly all the way so far in the sun. We then sat down to an excellent breakfast, and smoked and lounged about until two, when fresh ponies were brought, and we set off on a side trip to Campote, where we were to have our first contact with the real wild man, the Ilongot.” [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“It was too dark by this time to see or do much. We had supper, looked up the place where we were to sleep, and then collected at the lower of the two shacks. Here we received visits, so to say, from as many Ilongots, grown men only, as could get into the place. In truth, we were as much objects of curiosity to them as they possibly could have been to us. To Mr. Worcester the occasion was one of business, explaining through interpreters why we had come, what the Government wanted, getting acquainted with the cabecillas (head men), and listening to what they had themselves to say. One of our visitors was a grandfather, remarkable, first, because of his heavy long beard, and, second, because his own grandfather was alive; five generations of one family in existence at the same time.

“Campote, I may as well say it here as anywhere else, is merely a point where Connor has established a school for children, under a Christianized Filipino teacher. Some thirty children in all are under instruction, the average attendance being twenty-four. It is almost impossible, so Connor told us, to make these people understand why children should go to school, or what a school is, or is for, anyway. However, a beginning has been made. They all have a dose of “the three Rs”; the boys are taught, besides, carpentry, gardening, and rope-making, and the girls sewing, weaving, and thread-making from cotton grown by the boys on the spot. They ought to show some skill in all these arts; for the native rice-basket is a handsome, strong affair, square of cross-section, with sides flaring out, and about three feet high, and some of their weapons show great manual skill. The garden was on show the next morning, displaying beans, tomatoes, cotton, perhaps other things that I failed to recognize or have forgotten, anyway, a sufficient garden. There is besides an exchange here for the sale of native wares.

“One of our party had ridden a white pony, and was much amused, as were all of us, to receive an offer for his tail! There is nothing else the Ilongots hold in higher estimation than white horse-hair, and here was a pony with a tail full of it! But the offer was refused; the idea of cutting off the tail was not to be entertained for one moment. Certainly, he might keep its tail: what they wanted was the hair. Would he sell the hair? No; that was only a little less bad than to sell the tail itself. On our way back to the shack in which some of us were to sleep (the school-house it was) we noticed an admiring crowd standing around the pony, tethered under the house, and all unconscious of the admiration he was exciting, most rudely presenting his hind-quarters to his admirers. But that was not his intention; the crowd—half women, by the way—wanted to be as close to the tail as possible. We left them gesticulating and pointing and commenting, much as our own women might while looking at crown jewels, but not so hopelessly; for the next morning, when we next saw the pony, nearly all the hair had been pulled out of his tail, except a few patches or tufts here or there, tougher than the rest, and serving now merely to show what the original dimensions must have been.”

Development in The Luzon Highlands in the 1910s

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “The question now presents itself: What is to become of these highlanders of Northern Luzon? Take the Ifugaos, for example, about 120,000 in number, all speaking essentially the same language, inhabiting the same country, and having the same origins and traditions. Yet this large body was and is yet broken up into separate rancherías, or settlements, each formerly hostile to all the others, this hostility being so great that merely to walk into a neighboring ranchería in plain sight, not more than two miles off across the valley, was a sure way to commit suicide. And what is true of the Ifugaos is true of all the others. Could any other field have been more unpromising, have offered more difficulties? There were those thousands of savages shut up in their all but inaccessible mountains. Why not leave them there, to take one another’s heads when occasion offered? They raised nothing but rice and sweet potatoes, anyway, and not enough of those to keep from going hungry. Why concern one’s self about them, when there was already so much to be done elsewhere?[Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“To Mr. Worcester’s everlasting honor, be it said, he took no such view. On the contrary, he went to work, and that after a simple fashion, but then, all great things are simple! The first thing was to see the people himself; and then came the beginning of the solution, to push practicable roads and trails through the country. Once these established, communication and interchange would follow, and the way would be cleared for the betterment of relations and the removal of misunderstandings. Today an American may ride through the country alone, unarmed and unmolested; twenty years ago a Spaniard trying the same thing would have lost his head within the first five miles. And this difference is fundamentally due to the fact, already mentioned, of the honesty of our relations with these simple mountaineers.

“We have their confidence and their esteem and their respect, and this in spite of the necessity under which our authorities have constantly labored of punishing them when necessary and of insisting upon law and order wherever our jurisdiction prevails. The lesson has been hard to learn, but it has been driven home. The truth of the matter is, that a great missionary work has been begun; missionary not in the limited sense of forcing upon the understanding of a yet circumscribed people a religion unintelligible to them, but in the sense of teaching peace and harmony, respect for order, obedience to law, regard for the rights of others.”

“The success of American rule over the non-Christian tribes of the Philippines is chiefly due to the friendly feeling which has been brought about. “The wild man has now learned for the first time that he has rights entitled to a respect other than that which he can enforce with his lance and his head-axe. He has found justice in the courts. His property and his life have been made safe, and the American governor, who punishes him sternly when he kills, is his friend and protector so long as he behaves himself.”

In Moro Province, where dwell really formidable tribes, which have until recently engaged in piracy, head-hunting, and murder. Here very extensive lines of communication have been opened up by the building of roads and trails and the clearing of rivers. A good state of public order has been established. Head-hunting, slavery, and piracy are now very rare. The liquor traffic has been almost completely suppressed. Life and property have been rendered comparatively safe, and in much of the territory entirely so. In many instances, the wild men are being successfully used to police their own country. Agriculture is being developed. Unspeakably filthy towns have been made clean and sanitary. The people are learning to abandon human sacrifices and animal sacrifices and to come to the doctor when injured or ill. Numerous schools have been established and are in successful operation. The old sharply drawn tribal lines are disappearing. Bontoc Igorots, Ifugaos, and Kalingas now visit each other’s territory. At the same time that all of this has been accomplished, the good-will of the people themselves has been secured. They are outspoken in their appreciation of what has been done for them and in their expression of the wish that American rule should continue. They would be horror-stricken at the thought of being turned over to Filipino control.”

“In taking over the Philippines, we have incidentally become responsible for a large number of wild men. Their fate is bound up in that of the Islands. Now, these islands may remain under our control, or they may not. Obviously, then, the question has its political side: we may grant full international independence to the Philippines. In the belief of some this would be merely a signal for civil war in the Archipelago, the issue of which no man can guess. But whether or not, in granting independence to the Philippines, we shall be signing the death-warrant of the highlander. Let us repeat that, this people form one-tenth of the population of Luzon: save as we arc helping him, he can not as yet assert himself beyond the reach of his spear. Shall we be the ones to mark this as the limit beyond which he shall never go? Let us not deceive ourselves: a grant of independence means the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of people to perpetual barbarism.”

Dislike and Suspicion of Luzon Highlanders by Lowland Filipinos in the 1910s

Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “No greater disaster could befall these highlanders to-day than a change entailing a diminution of the interest and sympathy felt for them at the seat of government. It is best to be plain about this matter: the Filipinos of the lowlands dislike the highlander as much as they fear and dread him. They apparently can not bear the idea that but three or four hundred years ago they too were barbarians; for this reason the consideration of the highlander is distasteful and offensive to them. The appropriations of the Philippine Assembly for the necessary administration of the Mountain Province are none too great; they would cease entirely could the Assembly have its own way in the matter. The system of communications, so well begun and already so productive of happy results, would come to an end. To turn the destiny of the highlander over to the lowlander is, figuratively speaking, simply to write his sentence of death; to condemn as fair a land as the sun shines on to renewed barbarism. We are shut up to this conclusion, not by theoretical considerations, but by experience. The matter is worth examining a little closely, covering, as it does, not only the hill tribes, but non-Christians everywhere else. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

Consider for a moment the facts set out in the following extracts: “With rare exceptions, the Filipinos are profoundly ignorant of the wild men and their ways. They seem to have failed to grasp the fact that the non-Christians, who have been contemptuously referred to in the Filipino press as a ‘few thousand savages asking only to be let alone,’ number approximately a million and constitute a full eighth of the population of the Archipelago.”

“The average hillman hates the Filipinos on account of the abuses which his people have suffered at their hands, and despises them because of their inferior physical development and their comparatively peaceful disposition, while the average Filipino who has ever come in close contact with wild men despises them on account of their low social development, and, in the case of the more warlike tribes, fears them because of their past record for taking sudden and bloody vengeance for real or fancied wrongs.”

“It is impossible to avoid plain speaking if this question is to be intelligently discussed; and the hard fact is, that wherever the Filipinos have come in close contact with the non-Christian inhabitants, the latter have almost invariably suffered at their hands grave wrongs, which the more warlike tribes, at least, have been quick to avenge. Thus a wall of prejudice and hatred has been built up between the Filipinos and the non-Christian tribes. It is a noteworthy fact that hostile feeling toward the Filipinos is strong even among people like the Tinguians who, barring their religious beliefs, are in many ways as highly civilized as are their Ilocano neighbors.”

“After Apayao was established as a sub-province of Cagayán and the duty of providing funds for the maintenance of its government was explicitly imposed upon the provincial board of that province, the governor stated to me that, in his opinion, it would be useless to make the necessary expenditure, and that, in his opinion, it would be better to kill all the savages in Apayao! As they number some 52,000, this method of settling their affairs would have been open to practical difficulties, apart from any humanitarian consideration!”

Some Igorots brought down to the Manila carnival of 1912 were forced, at the request of Filipino authorities, to put on trousers. This was not for comfort’s sake, nor yet for decency’s, for the bare human skin is no uncommon sight in Manila. Apparently, the Filipinos of Manila were unwilling to let the world note that their cousins of the mountains were still in the naked state.


The Isneg is a group that lives in the the Cordillera Administrative Region of northern Luzon. Also known as the Apayao, Isnag, Isned, Kalina, Mandaya, Payao, they live in small villages with an average of 85 people and practice slash and burn agriculture. The Isnegs bury the dead
under the kitchen area of their homes. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

According to Beauty seems to have very little premium, if at all, in the Apayao customs and traditions with respect to courtship and marriage. Considerations of beauty are not what propels Apayao swains toward the choice of a mate for all seasons, but rather a woman's capacity to work. Her physical constitution is more important. It is one instance where the amazon-like womenhood have a decided edge over the fragile ones in the feminine struggle toward the affection of a man, something which can be classified as a reverse trend. Such seems to be the sad lot of the Apayao women-to work in the kaingins. And when a man happens to own a vast kaingin-by their standards, anyway—he is constrained to indulge in polygamy just so he can obtain additional help to till his land. Polygamy is duly sanctioned by their traditions. But even as this is so, it is, however, rarely availed of—unlike their Muslim counterparts. Indeed, an Apayao swain exercises polygamy not only to satisfy his carnal mischief, but to acquire additional help. [Source: ^]

In 1912, Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote in “The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon”: “So far as is known, no white man had ever penetrated the southern and central portions of Apayao until” Mr. Worcester, suitably accompanied and escorted, crossed the Cordillera, in 1906, from North Ilokos. A later expedition, commanded by a Constabulary officer, was attacked, not necessarily from any hostility to it as such, but because it was accompanied by natives hostile to a ranchería (Guenned) approached on the way. A punitive expedition, led by the same officer, afterward met with some success, but American popularity suffered in consequence. The Apayao country is the only sub-province under a native Governor, and its Governor, Señor Blas Villamor, is the only Filipino that has ever shown any interest in or sympathy for the highlanders. His task has been a difficult one; for example, his only line of communication, the Abulug River, runs through a territory inhabited by Negritos, who had been so abused by the Christian natives on the one hand, and whose heads had been so diligently sought by the wild Tinguians of the mountains, on the other, that they had acquired the habit of greeting strangers with poisoned arrows. His mountain region itself was inhabited by inveterate head-hunters, most of whom had never even seen a white man. Conditions are improving, however; the raids against the Christian and Negrito inhabitants of the lowlands of Cagayán have been completely checked, and Mr. Worcester hopes that head-hunting will diminish. It still exists. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

Strong told me, on his return to Manila, that, looking into a head-basket after leaving Tabuk, he found in it fresh fragments of a human skull; for the Apayaos take the skull like the other highlanders, but unlike them, break it into pieces. But with these people head-hunting is a part of their religious belief, and so all the harder to uproot. With the others it is a matter of vengeance, or else even of sport. “On the other hand, the people of Apayao have many good qualities. They are physically well-developed and are quite cleanly. They erect beautifully constructed houses. Their women are well clothed, and both men and women love handsome ornaments. They are quite industrious agriculturists and are now begging for seed and for domestic animals in order that they may emulate their Christian neighbors in the raising of agricultural products.”


The Ibaloi is a group that lives in Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya Provinces in Luzon. Also known as the Benguetano, Benguet Igorot, Ibaloy, Igador, Inibaloi, Inibaloy, Inibilio, Nabaloi, they are wet rice farmers who have a tradition of ancestor worship and live in houses with pyramid-shaped thatch roofs. Contact with neighboring groups and the influence of Christianity has caused a great deal of local variation in Ibaloi culture. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

Ibaloi mummies placed in caves in central Luzon between 10th and 18th centuries still survive. In the old days, old or seriously ill Ibaloi who believed to be were on the verge of dying sometimes prepared their bodies for mummification by drinking a brine solution to cleanse their bodies. Thirty-two Ibaloi mummies in four caves near Kabayan, 200 miles north of Manila, are threatened by logging, vandalism and rodents. In 1998, the World Monuments Fund placed the Kabayan caves in their list of the World's 100 Most Endangered Sites.

For eight days, the indigenous people from Benguet blindfold the dead and then sit it on a chair that is placed next to a house’s main entrance. The arms and legs are held in the sitting position by means of tying. A bangil rite is performed by the elders on the eve of the funeral, which is a chanted narration of the biography of the deceased. During interment, the departed is directed towards heaven by hitting bamboo sticks together. +++

Kankanai and Sagada Igorot

The Kankanai is a group that lives in Luzon. Also known as the Central Kankanaey, Igorot, Kakanay, Kankanaey, Kankanay, Southern Kankanai, they are closely related to the Bontoc, Ibaloi and Sagada Igorot. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Sagada Igorot is a group related to the Bontoc that lives in the mountains of the Cordillera Central in western Bontok Province in Luzon. Also known as the Igorot, Kankanay, Katangnang, Lepanto Igorot, Northern Kankanao, Western Bontoc, the are famous for their stone-wall rice terraces and unusual burial practices.

The Sagada Igorot villages with 300 and 2,000 people that are organized in a series of wards (“dapay”) that are similar to Bontoc “ato”, each of which as its own ceremonial platform and boys and girls sleeping houses. Her homes ate two or three-stories high and was made of wood and have thatched roof and an enclosed area underneath used for sleeping, cooking and eating, the upper level is used as a granary. Sweet potatoes are grown in fields and pigs are kept in pens. Stone-walled rice terraces are set up near streams. They keep pigs, chickens ,dogs and water buffalo, some of which are sacrificed in characterized ceremonies.

Sagada Igorot Life

Men have traditionally done the heavy labor such as preparing the rice terraces, dams and ditches, hunt and fish, secure timbers for house, do metal work and weave baskets and help with the cooking and child rearing. The women tend the crops on the fields and repair the terraces and do the bulk of the childrearing and housekeeping chores.

Marriage is an important social event and the focus of a number of different ceremonies and rituals. . Most are contacted through the “olag” (girls’ dormitory), generally after a period of experimental mating. Wealthy families sometimes betroth their children at birth to establish unions with other families. These families are expected to hold elaborate and expensive wedding celebrations that a large group can enjoy.

Newlywed have traditionally been given the house f one of the parents and the parents moved somewhere else. Children are essential to making a marriage last. If no children are born certain ritual are held to encourage births, If that doesn’t work the marriage often breaks up. As rule marriage is monogamous and adultery is taboo, with severe punishments including the death of children.

Old men pass on the traditions of the village and the people to the younger generation by teaching boy legends, songs, ceremonies and prayers. There are main Sagada groups: the Dagdag and Demang. They are very competitive and There is evidence they used to bury each other’s dead, Every year the villages boys form each group engages in a “rock fight.” Each group has its own scared grove, guardian spirts and scared springs.

Sagada Igorot Religion and Burial Practices

Like the Bontoc, the Sagada have deep reverence for deceased ancestors (“anitos”) and great emphasis death ceremonies to make sure the dead are given a good sending off and make their way to the “house of anintos” so they don’t stick around as ghosts restless ghost and bother the living.

Full funeral ceremonies are conducted only for married people. Full rites including placing the corpse of the deceased on a death chair and coffin burial in ancestral caves or stone-lined mausoleums. Infants and young children are buried in clay jars nest to the house without any ceremony or rites.

There is a lengthy mourning period, which is slowly mitigated with a series if animal sacrifices. Elders, held in high esteem and considered keepers of tribal traditions, are given extra special burials and the mourning period for them is longer and greater care is taken to look after their spirits.

Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Sagada, in northern Luzon, in the Philippine’s Cordillera region, is famous for its “hanging coffins”. Karl Grobl of CNN wrote: “Hanging coffins are an ancient funeral custom in northern Luzon. In several areas, coffins of various shapes can be seen hanging either on beams projecting outward from vertical faces of the mountain, in caves in the face of cliffs, or on natural rock projections. The coffins are quite small due to the fact that the deceased are placed in the fetal position, believing that people should leave the world in the same position as they entered it. The reason they do it is because they want the spirit to go up to Heaven, they believe that if they bury a person the spirit can't go up to Heaven. [Source: Karl Grobl, CNN, May 5, 2012]

In her book 'Making An Exit', a book about how different cultures mourn, Sarah Murray describes taking part in a funeral in Sagada that combines the rites of Christianity with the pre-Christian practice of burying the dead, wrapped in ceremonial blankets and compressed into the fetal position, “in wooden sarcophagi that are left hanging on cliff faces or lodged in the fissures and caverns of Sagada’s jagged forests of stone.” For a moment,[Source: Rachel Newcomb, Washington Post]

Angel Bautista, an archeology student at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School, wrote: For the Kankanaey, the ethnic group to which the people of Sagada belongs, “death is dreadful because it removes a family member physically in a permanent fashion; however, it is also mysterious because it makes possible for the spirit of the dead to continue social connections with the living. Possible reasons why the region practices such belief: one is because of filial piety, another is the belief that the ancestors have the powers which they share to each other and because of their polytheistic view in decomposition of the body and most likely the preservation may last longer than to bury the corpse on the ground. The sudden exposure of the body in the air as soon as it was opened, after years of being inside the coffin, also affects its decay along with the burial materials associated with the corpse. Picpican also noticed that human intervention also caused the body to rot easily. In line with the findings about factors affecting the easy decay of mummies, the best way to preserve these bodies and to keep these dead remain with their riches and prestige is to simply “leave them alone.” [Source: Angel Bautista, University of Santo Tomas Graduate School, March 16, 2013 /*/]

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.

Last updated June 2015

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