Of the word IGOROT...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Here's an article I wrote more than 10 years back. It was on our website but wasn't linked from anywhere when I did my last update. Quite a lengthy read:

My Igorot name, Kamulo was given to me when my navel fell off, just as all my predecessors were given theirs. I got my paternal grandfather's Igorot name, and it was incorporated in my Christian name. I grew up fully aware of my Igorot ancestry and I took pride in that. I even remember composing an exagerrated oratorical piece and delivering it with utmost bravado when I was in sixth grade. That piece was entitled, "I am an Igorot".

'Twas therefore a strange thing when I came down to study in Manila and the word that I considered a sense of identity and pride was a cause of snickering and eyebrow raising among my peers. I didn't know how to react when, an acquaintance, having known of my Igorot identity suddenly perked up and said, "Talaga?! E bakit maputi ka?" (Really?! How come you're light- complexioned?) I can't say that I have not been warned of lowlanders' somewhat narrow perception of the word Igorot but nobody prepared me for reactions such as this one. I didn't know what to say, in fact, I never even considered myself as light complexioned.


Indeed, most Filipinos have a negative concept of the word Igorot. Sources have varied explanations as to how this came about. Frank Cimatu, in a July 1998 Philippine Daily Inquirer article tells of the Rancheria de las Igorottes which supposedly turned out as the most famous attraction of the 1887 "Exposition de las Islas Filipinas" in Madrid, Spain. In this exposition, "20 Cordillerans from different tribes built six houses of different architectural features, danced with their gongs or gangsas and slaughtered pigs supplied by the organizers". Such "Exhibition of Human Beings" apparently embarrassed our national hero, Jose Rizal and also, Antonio Luna.
In 1958, then Representative Luis Hora of the third district of the old Mountain Province introduced a bill seeking, among others, to prohibit the use of Igorot in laws books and other printed matter for as he explained in a published letter, the "misnomer Igorot" is but an invention of "ruthless Spaniards in mockery against our tribes which they failed to subjugate or conquer in their unsatiable lust and greed for colonialism... The word, "Igorot", as coined and applied by the Spaniards means a "savage, headhunting and backward tribe" of Luzon... (These people) are further described as of probable Malayan-Negrito stock since they share with the Negritos such features as dark skins, flat noses, thick lips, etc., and such cultural traits as the use of the bow, a non-Malayan weapon. This description, which was invented purposely to degrade our people, has no connection with ethnic classification of our tribes..."

Such stereotyping were not only ingrained in lowlanders minds but have affected how some Igorots have thought of themselves as well. Some years back, a person from a particular province of the CAR wrote in a letter to the Inquirer that they should not be called Igorots anymore but rather, they be called the name of their province. He stressed the point (and he did give his reasons) that only the Bontocs of Mountain Province should be called Igorots. In last year's International Igorot Convention (IIC) held in Maryland, there was a referandum on changing the biennial meet to International Cordillera Convention (ICC). At a discussion of students forming a Cordilleran organization at a state university, a student voiced out that the word Igorot is now considered as "politically incorrect" and should not in anyway be connected to the organization they are forming. Still, a group of youth born in Manila to Cordilleran parents admit to their Igorot identity to some extent --- that is, they are (in)famous of their claim that "Igorots ang parents ko!"; apparently meaning, that they themselves are not. Even the late Carlos P. Romulo (though he is not an Igorot) remarked in a book that Igorots are not Filipinos.

Sentiments such as these are however met by vigilant protestations from Igorots - the Hora bill was defeated amidst a barrage of articles, letters, and editorials; the same reaction was triggered by the letter of the person claiming that only Bontocs should be called Igorots. Romulo's comment ignited protests from Igorot student groups particularly from Baguio. IIC retained its name and as for those claiming that only their parents are Igorots, they're pitied upon by the Igorot community and perhaps, reprimanded by their own parents.

In his paper, "The Word Igorot", the late Philippine historian Dr. William Henry Scott researched extensively on the origin of the word and raised two issues: 1) Who are the Igorots and 2) Do they want to be called Igorots? He cited Doctor Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Jose Rizal's partner in forming the official Tagalog alphabet. According to de Tavera, the word Igorot comes from the root word "golot" meaning "mountain chain". The prefix i means "people of" or "dwellers in"; thus, the word Igorot would simply mean "people of the mountain" or "mountain dwellers", the same way that Ilocano means "river dwellers" coming from the root word lo-ok(river). Scott summarized that Igorot is an "indigenous Filipino word originally meaning mountaineer" and that it and was historically applied (and still is) to the people of the Cordillera region by themselves and the people around them. As for whether Cordillerans want to be called Igorots, it is perhaps columnist Jose G. Dulnuan who expressed the sentiments of many with his quote above.

As for the word Igorot gaining worldwide acceptance, Mr. Cimatu reports that Funk and Wagnals Co. defines "Igorots" as "primitive inhabitants of the mountainous regions in the Philippines living in North Central Luzon". According to the same article, a group of Igorots from Texas has asked this company to redefine its definition. Mr. Cimatu also wrote that the "Grolier International Encyclopedic Dictionary and some editions of the Webster and Random House dictionaries, do not carry the word "Igorot"." He further notes that in the Microsoft Word Finder, the word "Igorot" is not simply ignored but refers one to "ignore" as the nearest spelling.
Perhaps so, but had he tried highlighting the phrase "I'd rather be an Igorot" and invoking the Thesaurus tool, he would have found out that the latest Microsoft Word version would have displayed "I'll drink to that" as a synonym. Try it!


(1) THE BONTOC IGOROT. A.E. Jenks, Manila, 1905.

(2) THE WORD IGOROT. William Henry Scott, New Day Publishers, Quezon City.


Post Script: I tried doing the trick with Microsoft Word and it doesn't work now. I think it was a developer's prank at the time to put "I'll drink to that" to any phrase that started with "I'd rather be..."


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