Skip to main content

Igorot Warrior Headhunters of the Philippine Cordilleras


Head Hunting in the Philippine Cordilleras

In the Igorot head hunting practice, most heads of their enemies were cut off with a battle-axe even before the wounded man was dead. If one warrior at the scene had never taken a head, he would be allowed to cut this one from the body and thus be entitled to the head taker's distinct tattoo(Chaklag).

Philippine Head hunting in the Cordilleras was for religious purposes and the acquisition of magical powers.Reasons include the desire for abundant harvests of cultivated products,the desire to be considered brave and manly.The desire for exaltation in the minds of descendants,to increase wealth, to secure abundance of wild game and fish, to secure general health and favor at the hands of the women, and to promote fertility in women.

However, the individual possession of a freshly severed head had to be "activated" through proper ceremony and ritual before it would "release" it's spiritual and magical powers.

Decapitated enemy of an Igorot head hunter

Decapitated enemy of an Igorot head hunter


The Igorots were a warlike people before the majority of them were Christianized

.A tribal war usually starts after a tribesman takes the head of a member from another tribe. Head taking was a rite of passage into manhood. It can be initiated also by a tribesman who intend to marry.

The offended tribe can demand retribution. If the one taking the head desires continued peace, Influential tribal leaders are sent to the other tribe to negotiate. Compensation is paid and the accord is sealed with an exchange of articles. If no agreement is reach then a war challenge is issued by the offended party.

Nearly all men from both sides will participate in the battle within a few days. They will appear at an opportune place shouting challenges at each other. Peace is still possible at this stage if one party decides to capitulate. A member is sent to the other camp with a peace offering usually a pig or a chicken. Friendship is restored if it is accepted. Else, if not all hell breaks loose.

Albert Ernest Jenks in his book "The Bontoc Igorot" published in 1905 has a vivid description of Igorots in the heat of battle

"Men go to war armed with a wooden shield, a steel battle ax and one to three steel or wooden spear. It is a man's agility and skill in keeping his shield between himself and his enemy that preserves his life. Their battles are full of quick and incessant springing motion. There are sudden rushes and retreats. Sneaking flank movement to cut the enemy off."

"The body is always in hand, always in motion.That it may respond instantly to every necessity. Spears are thrown with greatest accuracy and fatality up to thirty feet. And after the spears are discharged. The contest if continued is at arms length with the battle axe. In such warfare no attitude or position can be maintain except in the shortest possible time".

"Rocks are often thrown in battle and not infrequently a man's leg is broken or he is knocked senseless by the rock. Whereupon he loses his head to the enemy unless immediately assisted by his friends."

Such battles, lasting about 30- minutes to an hour often ceases after the taking of a single head by either side. But there were cases where fights last for half a day and a dozen or more heads taken.

The introduction of firearms greatly affected the Igorot way of warfare. There were more fatalities.

Modern warfare and weapons have proven to be more brutal and savage than the primitive arms of the "uncivilized natives"

Gansa gongs with human  jawbone handle

Gansa gongs with human jawbone handle


The Old Warrior

An old man of quiet dignity

watches the children play
their happy and innocent laughter
paid for with so much blood and sorrow

His brown skin weathered by the sun

Bears the proud tattoos of a warrior
and the scars borne of many battles
a reminder of comrades in arms
now long gone but not forgotten

Many moons ago

On this same mountain ridge
a young warrior watch as
a column move upon his land

White men from across the sea
in one hand the Holy Bible
on the other a sword

Conquistadors who's only purpose
to fight for gold and the king's glory
ravaging the land of our ancestors

"I raise my battle axe
as the steady beat of gongs
echo the fervor and anger within"

To arms!

"Drive them back from whence they came
let none despoil this sacred land
my forefathers fought and died for

Sun bleached bones on my native soil

A warning to future invaders
that this land shall always be free
for the next and new generations

The Banaue Rice Terraces

They carved  into the steep mountainsides a panoramic vista of stairways of rice fields reaching up to the skies.An astonishing feat of engineering,when you consider that they were constructed of mud and stone almost entirely by hand 2000 years ago.

They carved into the steep mountainsides a panoramic vista of stairways of rice fields reaching up to the skies.An astonishing feat of engineering,when you consider that they were constructed of mud and stone almost entirely by hand 2000 years ago.

The word "Igorot"

According to early 20th century historian Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, "golot" is an old bago tribe word meaning mountain ranges. and the prefix "I" means "dwellers in" When the Spaniards came, the name was anglicized into "Ygorrotte", to be spelled later as Igorot. It is a collective term use to describe six ethno-linguistic groups; Apayao(Isneg),Bontoc,Ibaloi,Ifugao, Kalinga and Kankana-ey

The Cordilleras is a chain of mountains, located in Norhtern Luzon, Philippines.The inhabitants of these mountain ranges are called "Igorots" which mean "people of the mountains".

They are the people who build one of the eight wonders of the world, the Banaue Rice Terraces.They were also headhunters.

The Philippines was ruled by foreign powers for almost four centuries.First by Spain then by the United States.

During the colonial times,The fiercely independent mountain tribes resisted these foreign invaders and were never fully conquered. As headhunters they were feared by their enemies for their ferocity in battle. Igorots however are peace-loving people who value their freedom and their way of life.

Igorot Warrior