A lot of us are interested to know something about the past which are still well-preserved in the present, like the fact that despite the gradual modernization there are still those who preferred to reserve and practice their centuries old traditions, beliefs and culture. A perfect example of this is the existence of indigenous tribes and their culture and traditions.
We are so busy of the modern day life that most of us have to admit that we have little to no knowledge about these tribes. We know they exist, the school taught us that, but do we know who they are? What is their story? What are they like?
According to United Nations Development Program, the Philippines is a culturally diverse country with an estimated 14 to 17 million Indigenous People (IP’s) belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups. That’s a lot.
But amongst the many tribes to feature, I picked one that is not as well-known as the rest. The Bugkalot – a tribe full of pride and strength.
To give you some firsthand information, The tribe lives in the southern Sierra Madre and Caraballo Mountains on the east side of Luzon, about 90 miles northeast of Manila. They reside primarily in the Nueva Vizcaya and Nueve Ecija provinces, along the mountain border between Quirino and Aurora.
It is assumed that they are descendants of the 15th century Malays due to their similar physical attributes. Other anthropologist such as Laurence Wilson concluded that they are from Indonesian race that inhabited the mountains of Sierra Madre because of the similarity of their costumes and attires.
Here’s a list of the top 10 most interesting facts about the tribe.
- The tribe was given a lot of names.
The Bugkalot tribe comes by many names. They are generally known as Ilongot in most references (like the internet and in some books) to avoid confusion and at some cases they are referred to as Abacas, Ibilaos, Italons. They were also mistaken and named as Igorot by the Europeans settlers who visited in the country and encountered them. Though, the tribe themselves claimed that their name and language is called, Bugkalot.
According to the Bugkalot Confederation, the tribe’s name and language – Bugkalot, comes from the root word “Ka-lot” which means “interweave” or “interwoven”. This represents their style, they way they build their house (interwoven rattan), their costumes and their artifacts.
Meanwhile, the Ilongot term given by explorers who visited the tribe was still acknowledged due to its general meaning “animist and head hunters”. It was an appropriate description to their forefathers.
- Family names are derived from the places their ancestors lives or used to.
Most often a tribe can be divided into family clans and an old way to distinguish a clan is by adopting the name of the place that they inhabit. These family names are passed to the next generation.
Family names like Gumiad, Pasigian, Tamsi, Benabe (Bernabe), Caanawan, Nangitog (Nangitoy), Budek, Deginat (Duiginat), Payupay, Peknag (Pacnal), Besilid, Biyao, Cabarroguis and others are all places that have been turned into clans’ names.
- They were one of the vicious head hunter tribes.
Head hunting was a practice amongst the Bugkalot many decades ago.
When a Bugkalot feels ‘Liget’, an overwhelming anger hard to contain, difficult to be express or define, they let out a howl. Then they hunt for heads – a human head. That rage, born of grief, the blood lust, urges them to kill their fellow human being. They claimed that they need a place “to carry out their anger”. The victims can be a trespasser, a lowlander, a rival, other family clans, foreigners and Japanese soldiers.
Also, a boy shall be a man and enjoy his privilege, to get married and be involved in adult meetings if he successfully beheaded someone. At times, when courting, rivals shall fight for the woman they love. Which among pursuer decapitated the rival’s head wins.
This may sound absurd, but headhunting is also dictated by a certain plant.
It was until missionaries from New Tribes Mission who introduced Christianity to majority of the tribe in the 1950’s that the lust for blood gradually decreases.
- Bugkalot sustained themselves through horticulture and hunting.
The tribe is very self-sufficient as such they do not need to go down the mountains for foods, necessities and supplies. They hunt for wild animals such as deer and boars (black pig). Mainly, their diet includes ‘musang’ or wild cats, river frogs, eels, birds, bats, fishes, even snakes.
They practice ‘Kaingin’ – a slash and burn system of planting rice. Unlike the lowlanders who prefer the wet-rice cultivation system on a plain field, the Bugkalot prefer theirs dry and on slopes. Aside from rice, they also plant root crops and vegetables such as cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, eggplants, squash, etc.
The women, aside from household chores and raising kids, are in-charge of the cultivation, seed selection, planting and harvesting or they are the rice keepers in general while men are the ones involve in hunting and house building.
- The tribe enjoys various fun sports, too.
At their gatherings and celebrations, sports are always included as well as music and dancing.
These indigenous people played several sports: Bengel (or spinning top. The only difference is that a spinning top has metal while Bengel is pure wood); Gayang (similar to javelin throw); Pana (consist of a bow and arrows); Kadang-kadang (a race using a coconut shell slit into half, placed on both feet. They move using a rope attached to each slit/kadang. Whoever reach the finish line riding the shell wins.); and Gemmet.
Gemmet is a match quite similar to a sumo-wrestling, wherein two competitors grab each other by the belts and attempt to knock down the opponent. This game is between representatives of each clan attempts to determine which amongst the two competitors is the strongest. The most common technique in this game is to lift the opponent, trip their foot to lose their balance, and push them down.
- Bugkalots are traditionally animistic.
Before Christianity is introduced, the Bugkalot tribe practiced animism. It means they believe that the nature has soul and there is a supernatural power responsible for the creation and organization of the universe. Unlike other tribes, they did not created statues or relics to represent their gods.
Their gods goes by many names:
“ioma” the god of field/farm; “pi-ingit” the god in rivers and oceans; “idegin” the god of forest.
Amongst these, there is a higher being they respect the most, “BINANGONAN” – the god whom they believe is the one and only creator.
- Music is a huge part of their life and culture.
The dances of the Bugkalot tends to be vigourous, especially the ‘Tagem’ or post-headhunting dance. The women plays bamboo zithers known as ‘Colesing’ to the rhythm of sticks and the accompaniment of ‘Litlit’, a guitar with human hair for strings. The men dressed with their attires, a piece of cloth covering their private parts, ornaments and adornments indicative of the broad and intricate symbolic systems pertaining to politics, kinship, and spirituality, and along with their weapons (consisting of a wooden shield and bolo) dance to the music, moving in a forceful, trancelike way, portraying a duel between men, later to be joined by the women. These women would encircle the fallen one and chant “Budaelegdanle” and “Sinalekbay”. Both words are curses against the killed opponent.
Another known dance is the festive ‘Baleleng’.
- Black magic is involved.
According to the elders, some particular clans used to practice black magic. This is how they seek revenge and/or bring bad luck to those they hate. Their practice is strikingly similar to witchcraft and sorcery. They also performed chants as a ritual to grant protection for headhunters preparing for the hunt.
At present day, this so-called black magic is banned and unacceptable due to the tribe’s current religion and beliefs.
- A trip to visit their domain is challenging.
Bugkalot’s residence is a very quiet and peaceful place to retreat. The place offer breathtaking mountains, rivers, falls and fields. But a trip to their mountains isn’t as easy as the usual camping trips.
Decades ago, a traveler should be very cautious because once caught trespassing into their domain shall face punishment by the tribe. Guess what, head decapitation. But, don’t worry; headhunting is a thing in the past. Although, you can’t still visit a certain place in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya without a kin among the tribe or an invitation from them. One reason is that you will not have a place to stay in and another is that you won’t be able to pass through their checkpoint. If you do wish to visit the place, you’ll have to seek permission from the authorities and elders concern.
And if granted access to their community, you’ll have to ride a double tired jeepney, the only ride leaves at 1 P.M. and arrives at the destination around 6 P.M.
The villagers are very accommodating and friendly if you are welcome and the hike to their mountains and valleys are worth it if acquired the heart of an adventurer and a very strong lungs.
Visitors are referred to as ‘Sinongag’ meaning ‘Non-Bugkalot’, and have almost little to no privilege in their territory.
- Incest is a part of their history.
Incest is not accepted by the society and hearing stories about this can make anyone cringe.
A few cases of marrying a cousin can and does happen in the tribe. Perhaps due to close relationships, they may have mistaken the love for a family member as a husband and wife material kind of love. At some cases, incest happens because they didn’t know they were related. Although it is unacceptable to their adopted religion, it is still inevitable. Yes, a wedding ceremony still takes place but it is discreet and only the relatives and some close friends are invited. And yes, they will have kids and raise their own family like the usual.
Most of these facts are a thing in the past and are now part of their history, especially the headhunting practice and animism. Since the 21st century, the tribe is gradually adopting to the new age and modernization without neglecting who they are their culture. They are now very religious, they are very dedicated to Christianity, they conduct church services, youth camping, leadership trainings, they adopted an education system and they have a more systematic governing in their community. The Bugkalot are aware of the fact that technology is now a part of life. And, if you try to ask them about their dark past, they will not deny it, not because they are proud of it, but because they know they are delivered from it.