Sagada Igorot

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Sagada Igorot

ETHNONYMS: Igorot, Kankanay, Katangnang, Lepanto Igorot, Northern Kankanai, Western Bontok


Identification and Location. The Sagada people are the northernmost extension of the Northern Kankanai Igorots, who occupied the former province of Lepanto to the west and south of Bontok. An individual's ethnic identification is most commonly associated with his or her village or local settlement area. Sagada is centrally located in Mountain Province on the eastern shoulder of the Cordillera Central in western Bontok Province, the Philippines, at about 1,500 meters above sea level. This area is formed from partly eroded limestone basins drained by tributaries of the upper Abra and Chico river systems. Largely deforested, this region has a nine-month rainy season and temperatures ranging from 40° to 90° F (4° to 32° C).

Demography. In 1981 the Lepanto Igorot numbered approximately 60,000, of whom some 20,000 resided in Sagada municipality.

Linguistic Affiliation. Lepanto is classified in the Hesperonesian Group of the Austronesian Language Family. There is a shared basic language as between Northern Kankanay and Bontok.

History and Cultural Relations

The Sagadans probably established their culture about two centuries ago in the process of interaction with the Bontok villages to the north and east; they borrowed and adapted much of the central Bontok culture. Sagada then came under the control of the Spanish military government, which resulted in the long history of acculturation through churches and mission schools established since the Spanish-American War. Sagadans have been able to maintain much of their indigenous culture, including most of their ceremonial activity.


Sagada proper is composed of two named territorial divisions, which are subdivided into a series of wards (dapay ) and correspond to the Bontok ato (compact villages divided into wards). Houses are two or three stories high, constructed of wood, each with a high thatched roof and an enclosed area underneath. The low boxlike room at ground level is used for sleeping, cooking, and eating, whereas the upper level or "granary" is used primarily for the storage of food, wood, jars of rice wine, and other possessions. Surrounding each building is a rectangular field where sweet potatoes are grown, and also nearby are pens in which villagers keep pigs. The compact villages of from 300 to 2,000 persons are located near streams and are surrounded by terraced rice fields.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Sagada people subsist on irrigated rice grown in stone-walled terraces, in addition to sweet potatoes and other root crops that are grown in village gardens and on hillside farms. They raise livestock such as pigs, chickens, dogs, and carabao (buffalo), some of which they sacrifice on ceremonial occasions.

Division of Labor. Among the Sagada, the men do the heavy work such as breaking the soil and preparing the rice terraces, dams, and ditches. In addition, they secure pine timber for houses and coffins; they do metalwork, weave baskets, and hunt and fish for sport. The men stand guard as the women go to the spring or river for water or to the clay pits for potters' materials. Men assist with the children and even with the cooking without encountering ridicule. The women tend the crops in the fields and are responsible for keeping the terraces in repair. They take care of the children and all aspects of household work.


Kin Groups and Descent. In Sagada, there are six major bilateral descent groups or "families," which are composed of all the descendants of certain prominent ancestors, founding fathers, and important living individuals, regardless of the line of descent. These groups are further subdivided into lesser groups that trace their ancestry back eight or ten generations to a male founding ancestor. These groups do not regulate marriage directly, but they do conduct certain ceremonial activities and hold corporate rights over various hillsides and trees, exercised through appointed "wardens." Corporate ownership does not extend to rights in rice land, possibly because the groups stem from an earlier period of shifting agriculture. The personal kindred is formally recognized; it includes the descendants of the eight pairs of great-grandparents and thus extends laterally to include all third cousins. These are the relatives responsible for revenge and wergild, and they also constitute the proper exogamous range.

Kinship Terminology. The Sagada terminological system is bilateral, is organized on the basis of generation, and has a wide but indefinite range.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is the most important social event in Sagada and is the focus of a variety of ceremonies designed to unite individuals and invite prosperity. Most marriages are contracted through the olag (girls' dormitory), generally after a period of experimental mating; wealthy families, however, may betroth their children at birth to ensure the continuance of their wealth. Unions such as these are often within the family, although not with first cousins. These marriages link the two kindreds through a series of reciprocal associations, privileges, and responsibilities. Families of the newlyweds give land and other wealth; however, if they separate or divorce without having children, the gifts revert to their former owners. Children are essential to making the union of marriage permanent. If no children are born, a series of rituals is performed, and if these fail the marriage usually breaks up. If there are children, however, divorce or separation is difficult and rare. For Sagadans monogamy is the rule and adultery is a crime with serious repercussions involving the possible death of children, community and kin ostracism, and rituals of repentance.

Domestic Unit. The Sagada household is the smallest social unit that has a territorial base. Each residence is occupied by both parents and their offspring, together with perhaps a widowed parent or other relatives. The latter and the children over 6 years of age take meals with the family but normally spend their evenings in the dapay or ebgan. The average size of the household group in Sagada in 1952 was 4.4 persons.

Inheritance. Children usually receive their portions of inherited property when they marry. The parents then retain only a small amount of land to provide for themselves. Children have an obligation to care for their parents and to provide animals for sacrifice if they fall ill, and they have other obligations to fulfill when the parents die.

Socialization. Parents are primarily responsible for training their children in economic tasks. Girls receive much of their training from their mothers and other female relatives in the home and fields, as well as through participation in the ebgan activities. Young boys help their fathers in gathering wood, preparing fields, and caring for the carabao. Children are also usually responsible for gathering food for the pigs and chickens, which are kept in pens or cages near the house. A boy receives much of his education from the old men in the dapay. There he learns the traditional history of the village and the ward, the ceremonies and the prayers, and the songs and legends that are part of the annual round of work and ceremony. Moreover, boys are disciplined by their peers under the watchful eyes of the old men and develop patterns of loyalty to the village and ward, as well as to their kin. Parents seldom punish their children by whipping, and after the age of 6 they usually discipline them only by scolding.

Sociopolitical Organization

Sagada is divided into two geographical divisions, Dagdag and Demang, which are separated by irrigation systems. These territorial groups are rivals in ceremonies and in games, alternating in the performance of certain rituals for village welfare. They are opponents in the annual "rock fight" of the village boys. Moreover, evidence suggests that they may have formerly buried each other's dead. In addition, each group has its own sacred grove, guardian spirits, and sacred springs. These two divisions are divided further into a series of wards (dapay) : Sagada has twelve wards, five in Dagdag and seven in Demang. Each ward has a ceremonial platform that is attached to both the men's and girls' sleeping houses.

Houses within a ward form a social unit (obon ) that is not kinship-based. There are no fixed rules for residence in Sagada. Following marriage, parents usually give their house to the new couple and move to a vacant one. There is no evidence to suggest ward patrilocality. The ward is governed by a council of elders who make up an informal council (amam-a ). These elders settle disputes within their jurisdiction and organize and carry out rituals and ceremonies essential for ward and village welfare.

The range of differences in wealth in the Sagada region is not great. There are basically two categories, the "rich" (kadangyan ) and the "poor" (kodo ). The kadangyan are expected to validate their position by elaborate and expensive marriage celebrations. Also of significance is the fact that some kadangyan customs, particular burial practices, and special ceremonial obligations are associated with membership in certain descent groups, regardless of whether the individual is rich or poor. Those with fewer assets often impoverish themselves, going into debt to the wealthy to obtain the necessary animals for sacrifice and feast giving.

Religion and Expressive Culture

For Sagadans, the spirits of their deceased ancestors (anitos ) make up the most important category of supernatural. Great emphasis is put on death ceremonies to ensure the future welfare of the soul in the "house of anitos." Full ceremonial rites, which include the initial placement of a corpse in a death chair and coffin burial in ancestral caves or stone-lined mausoleums underground, are performed for deceased married persons only. There is a lengthy mourning period, which is slowly terminated by a series of animal sacrifices. Sagadans bury infants and young children in clay jars beside the house, without prayer or special ceremony.

People consider the old to be the keepers of customs and performers of rituals essential to the continuance of Sagadan society. Consequently elders assume a greater status when they die, that of anito ancestors, in which they continue to look after the welfare of their descendants and to protest against neglect by sending illness and other disasters.

See also Bontok


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