Sunday, June 24, 2012

Igorotte Head-Hunters of Northern Luzon


By David P. Barrows

Group of head hunters in Luzon
There is one considerable element in the popula­tion of Luzon that has received comparatively little attention from the Army and the Insular Administration, and consequently has not evoked the notice of the American public. This is the great body of mountain tribes, best known under the title of Igorrotes. All in all, there are probably over 300,000 of them in Northern Luzon alone, a considerably larger number than the total of all American Indians within the territory of the United States. These tribes were never more than imperfectly subject to Spain, although during the closing years of that country's rule in this archipelago the question of their subjection and Christianization took important rank among the colony's problems and efforts of administration. Eleven admin­istrative districts, the so-called "politico-military commandancias," were organized in Northern Luzon. These districts were put in charge of a Span­ish officer, usually of the rank of cap­tain, with a force of regular infantry or of the Guardia Civil. Quartels, con­vents, churches, prisons and infirmaries were built, and wide, well-graded trails were constructed through the moun­tains from post to post. No less than twenty-six Spanish friars of the Domi­nican and Augustinian orders under­took the effort of Christianization, a work which, in the end, proved abso­lutely fruitless. With the exception of a few districts, which have been re­organized by the Civil Government, these commandancias stand to-day abandoned. The trails have overgrown with cogon and jungle; most of the buildings have been destroyed, although here and there may still be found a con­vent or mission, sometimes containing the vestments, church service and li­brary of the missionary, who fled with the Spanish soldiery as they retreated. The few pronounced converts have re­lapsed into paganism and the warring tribesmen have fallen again upon one another with a passion for treacherous battle that was seemingly whetted by the brief check to their warfare occa­sioned by the presence of Spanish soldiery.

The greater part of this territory has recently been re-explored by a reconnoissance party of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes. Nine of the eleven former Spanish commandancias have been revisited and in part explored, and the results of their investigations, when published, will probably serve to call attention to one factor in the Philippine problem, the importance of which has been too little emphasized.

Band of Kalingas living in foothills of Luzon
Few residents of the Philippines ap­preciate to what an extent Northern Luzon, beyond the latitude of Dagu­pan, the terminus of the railroad, is dominated by wild, pagan tribes. On the west coast, to be sure, facing the China Sea, there are the Ilokano prov­inces. But strong and thrifty as the Ilokanos are, the rich coastal plan cov­ered by their towns and barrios is extremely narrow, sometimes scarcely two or three miles in width; while the low foot-hills and spurs of the great Cordillera, within a few miles even, of the Christian towns, are dotted with the rancherias of the Igorrotes. The Christian settlements in the great valley of the Cagayan are confined to the towns and haciendas along the banks of the Cagayan itself and its splendid afflu­ents, the Chico and Magat. They are hardly more than a slender chain, run­ning from Aparri south to the summit of the Caraballo Sur. All else of forest and mountain is in the home land, the hunting and fighting ground of the tin-tamed, primitive Malayans. Today, after three and a quarter centuries of European rule, they are still the real lords of the soil. From the north to the south of the Cordillera they all belong to a common stock. They are doubt­less all descendants of a wave of immi­gration that long ago swept up from the East Indian archipelago, covering the Philippines and reaching onward through the Batanes Islands and Formosa to Japan. They were forced back upon the mountains by the tribes who came later, the Tagalos and Ilokanos, but once upon the mountain slope they have been more than the equal of their foes. Christianity has never made the least break in their paganism. Their life has remained unaffected by the changes which have passed over the rest of the archipelago, and here in the mountains they are to-day very much as they were, I suppose, two thousand years ago. They have ever borne a most unenviable reputation for sav­agery and blood-thirstiness, a reputa­tion deserved only in part, and yet in part also borne out by the practice of head hunting, which is characteristic of them all.

A Kalingas warrior
Head hunting is a custom which has long been associated with the Dyaks of Borneo and with the negro-like races of Papua and Melanesia, but I suppose that in no part of the East h a s the practice persisted so long and is so active to­day as in Northern Luzon.

The rule of the German, the Eng­lish and the Dutch in Melanesia and the strong hand of Rajah Brooke in Sarawak have about ended the practice in the is­lands to the south of us, but in Northern Luzon the practice has never been eradi­cated, and the period of revolution­ary struggle of re­cent years completely breaking up, as it did, the politico-military corn­mandancias of the Spaniards, has permitted a great revival of warfare and head hunting, among the tribes of the Central Cordillera. At the present moment, in certain districts, not as yet occupied by Insular-Constabu­lary, head hunting is rife. It is the cus­tom of all these tribes to chop off the heads of the victims of battle, or murder, and carry them home as trophies, where they form the objects of feasting and celebration. Frequently the hands and by some tribes the hearts are also removed.

Typical Igorrotes of Lepanto Province
The head is treated very differently by different tribes after it has been secured. Among the Borneo Dyaks the flesh and hair are preserved by a method of smoking and drying. But the Igorrotes of Luzon, so far as I know, keep only the skull. This is sometimes placed on a pole, at other times is kept in the house and among still other tribes is mounted on a small shelf and placed on the wall of the house outside of the door. Some other Igor-rotes, after the period of feasting is over, bury the head beneath the floor of the communal building, used by each body of kin as an assembly house and as an asylum. In Bontoc the Igorrotes keep only the lower jaw, which they attach as a handle to their brass gongs or “ganzas,”

Tree house of Gaddanes in
Isabella Province, Luzon
Our party first encountered these ghastly trophies in the district of Quiangan. The Spaniards, previ­ous to 1898, had strong garrisons in this district, one of which, at the be­ginning of the Insurrection, was completely massacred by the Igorrotes, but in the four years that have intervened all the wild ferocity of the Malay had reasserted itself, and Quiangan is, at the present writing, one of the most disturbed and dangerous districts in the archipelago. Feud is waged among all the towns of the district, and it is impossible to se­cure guides or cargadores for more than a few miles from their homes. Upon the approach of our party the ranch­erias were uniformly deserted. On Oc­tober l0th we entered the town of Banao. The quaint houses were built in close clusters along the slope of a lit­tle ridge. Beautiful trees and feathery bamboo shaded the little yards and gave a refreshing coolness after the heat of the rice fields. Beyond, thick and impenetrable, rose the jungle. There was not a soul in sight, nor was there a living, moving thing. The in­habitants had fled to the forest, and with them had swept along every pig, chicken and dog that the village pos­sessed. Only the smoldering fires and the prints of bare feet on the dusty walks showed how swift had been the flight. Keeping back from the cane, well out of the reach of spears, we moved up through the town toward the more pretentious dwelling of a chief or baknang. The outside walls of the house were covered with no less than two hundred and fifty skulls of pigs and dogs, trophies of many a feast and cele­bration. In the midst of them, on the front wall of the house, was built a shelf, holding three human skulls, flanked on either side by the skull of a gigantic wild boar. They were the first head hunting trophies we had seen; they effectually dispelled any lingering doubts we may have had about the prevalence of the custom. Thereafter we encountered similar trophies in nearly every rancheria we entered. Some of the heads had been recently taken and were evidences of the feud that was everywhere being waged.

Typical Igorrote woman of Benguet
The motive of head hunting seems to be primarily revenge. The loss of a head to another town is never forgot­ten, but a careful debit and credit account is kept and the obligation rests upon each male member to seek the lives of a rival community, until the ac­count is square. A few months ago we were in a small rancheria of the Ibilao, whose territory lies in the mountains between the Magat and the Cagayan. This rancheria was composed solely of one body of kin or tambalangay and had been so reduced in numbers by feud that it consisted of but five families. A little boy was shown to me, whose father had some years previously been killed by Ibilao of another rancheria. Thereupon there rested upon this child what they call the utang ni ubiang, or "debt of life," and he was reared and instructed that when he came to suitable years, and before he could take a wife or enter the councils of the clan, he must go down to that other rancheria and sat­isfy his debt by taking another life in turn. Some time ago, however, an uncle of the little boy went down and killed a member of this rival commun­ity, and so the child was discharged of his responsibility.       .

There seems to be an occasional ef­fort to satisfy a debt of life by a money payment, what we may call "compur­gation." We were told that two pigs and a carabao would make amends for the death of a man. This compurga­tion may, however, be only temporary in its effect, permitting peaceful rela­tions merely for a certain length of time, and simply deferring the date when a life will be sought in payment for the life that was taken

Natives going to market in Cagayan Valley, Luzon
This head hunting is characteristic of a race of very imperfect political sense. These Malayans have never achieved any higher political organization than a town or community, composed of indi­viduals related by blood, marriage or adoption. They have no conception of the tribe or nation, no words in their language to express anything of the kind, and communities speaking the same dialect are as fiercely enemies of each other as they are of outsiders. They have none of the great power to confederate shown by the American In­dian. An injury can only be met by retaliation. To use a term from Hobbes, they are in desperate want of "a common judge with authority." Outside help alone can rescue them from the consequences of their own hatred and hostilities. To this end the Government of the Spanish command­ancias was successful to a degree in the past, and for this reason I believe that the head hunting of the Igorrotes will break down and disappear as soon as American rule can be established among them.

The Independent Magazine.  1903.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you enjoy reading Digital History Project - Consider making a donation today. Every dollar donated will help us publish more articles and illustrations.

With your help we can turn this site into a real look at History - Past, Present, and Future.

All donations over $100 will be acknowledged on our Donor Thank-you page, unless we are specifically notified not to list you.


Donation Amount