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Who are the Igorot?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Igorot are an ethnic people of the Philippines, clustered in the Cordillera region of Luzon. They are famous for rice-terrace farming and some of them have been known to be headhunters in the past.

Igorot, or Igolot, literally means people from the mountains. As one can infer, they are a highland race, and are well-adapted to life in raised altitudes. To assure themselves a steady supply of crop, they have even devised a way to carve terraces at the sides of mountain, which they plant with various grain. The Igorot people are categorized into six different ethno-linguistic groups: Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg (or Apayao), Kalinga, and Kankana-ey.

The Bontoc thrive on the bank of the Chico River. Famous as headhunters in the past, they have since turned their backs on their former ways. At present, a huge majority of the Bontoc have embraced Christianity. They have seamlessly transitioned into a peaceful, agricultural people.

The Ibaloi too are an agrarian society. Mostly found in Southern Benguet, there are about 93,000 of them all over the Philippines. Their language is from the Austronesian family of languages.

The Ifugao, on the other hand, are known for their epics and their stories, such as the hudhud and the alim. Ifugao people have a total of four different dialects, and are sometimes called Amganad, Kiangan, or Mayoyao. The word Ifugao means "from the hill."

The Isneg or Apayao can be found living near the banks of the Apayao River. Originally slash-and-burn farmers, they have since begun to practice more sustainable forms of farming. The Isneg are also known as good fishers, and have a penchant for coffee.

The Kalinga tribes are perhaps the most diplomatic of all the Igorot. They put great importance on kinship and social ties, and are heralded for the peace pacts that have allowed their tribes to become strong. They are also known as the most heavily adorned of all the Igorot people.

Finally, the Kankana-ey are one of the few tribes who still practice a way of living more common in the old days, although is is fast disappearing as well. In the Kankana-ey, young men and women are divided by gender and then ushered into separate dormitories. Entry into a dormitory signifies a young person's readiness to enter the stages of courtship. Courtships are carried out in the ebgan, or the "girl house."

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Discussion Comments
By anon989535 — On Mar 11, 2015

Bontoc is the capital of Mt. Province. Kankanaey and Ibaloi are languages that distinguish two tribes in a Benguet. But mainly, kankanaey is also the main language of of most part of Mt. Province. Kalinga is the fiercest of all the tribe. Igorots are beautiful people. who have their history that has been mistaken by people who doesn’t know anything about it. Now, traditional courtship has been forgotten. But attitude will still remain. God bless, Cordillera.

By anon971478 — On Sep 26, 2014

Before making any comments about igorots, you should consider visiting the place first. We are modern just like everybody else.

By Bughung — On Apr 17, 2014

I am an Igorot with a mixture of kankanaey and Ifugao blood, but I was born and raised in my kankanaey side. I am in my 40's now and yet I never heard of nor witnessed such kankanaey courtship practices as described above.

If it were an old tradition, then our old folks should have at least shared the stories, unless it is practiced by a specific kankanaey tribe in a specific place. I am ignorant of this practices if it were true. Did this information came from an Igorot? Thanks.

By ysmina — On Jan 09, 2013

@donasmrs-- I've been to northern Philippines and I've seen the terrace farms of the Igorot. It really is very cool.

Not only the farms, but all the work that the Igorot have to do to construct and maintain these mountain farms are very impressive.

They could have stopped terrace farming long back if they wanted but they still do it because it's a part of their identity. But they're also modern people. They dress like everyone else, they're educated, speak English. I really enjoyed the short time I spent with them.

By serenesurface — On Jan 09, 2013

@anon163069, @donasrmrs-- I'm not Igorot but my close friend is and I've heard about traditional Igorot weddings from him.

As far as I know, the wedding festivities go on for several days and there is many exchanges of food items and the bride and groom's family visit one another and eat together. There is also dancing. It sounds like a lot of fun.

My friend also said that there are some controversial courtship practices among certain groups of the Igorot. I heard that one group encourages boys and girls to sleep together before marriage. But I'm not sure if this is an ancient practice and if it's continued at all today.

By donasmrs — On Jan 08, 2013

The Igorot sound like a very interesting group of people. I had never heard of terrace farming before but it sounds like a very inventive and unique farming method.

Can anyone tell me more about courtship among the Igorot? What are the rules of courtship? What are Igorot men and women like?

By anon163069 — On Mar 26, 2011

Please do a careful research before posting. are you an Igorot by the way?

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