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The Ibanag Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The Ibanag Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The word “Ibanag” derives from the prefix i, meaning “native, resident, people of,” and bannag, meaning “river,” and thus means “people of the river,” an apt name for the people who settled along the banks of the Cagayan River, which constitutes the longest river system in the country. The Ibanag are found principally in Tuguegarao, Solana, Aparri, Peñablanca, Lal-lo, Camalaniugan, Abulug, Buguey, and Amulung in Cagayan, and in Cabagan, Ilagan, Tumauini, San Pablo, Santa Maria, Santo Tomas, San Mariano, Angadanan, and Reina Mercedes in Isabela. In 1960, the total population of the Ibanag—who are also called Ibanac, Ybanag, Ybanac, Cagayan, and Cagayanes —was placed at 178,954. 

The 1970 Census reported that there were 196,319 mother-tongue speakers. In 2000, the total population was at 278,613, concentrated in Isabela, with 180,753 or 14.05% of the province’s population; in Cagayan, with 84,382 or 8.51%; and in Abra, with 9,334 or 4.5% of its population. In Mindanao, there are 2,735 or 0.44% in Sulu; and 1,409 or 0.42% in Basilan. Ibanag as a language gained prominence over the years as a lingua franca among the Ibanag, the Gaddang, the Yogad, and a few Aeta, because the Dominican order made it their language of evangelization in the area. All these groups inhabit the central part of Cagayan Valley. Ibanag is used as a second language by the Agta, also known as Atta and Aeta, in Faire, Cagayan, and in Pudtol, Apayao.

History of the Ibanag People

It is believed that the Ibanag originally settled near the northern end of the Cagayan River. It was only during the Spanish period in the late 16th century when they began to resettle along the banks of the southern parts of Cagayan River as far as what would later be known as Isabela. Their main economic activity was planting rice, the staple food. Vegetables and legumes grew abundantly in their fertile lands. Much of the protein requirement came from hunting and from domesticated animals. The rivers along the settlements provided the Ibanag with a variety of fish, especially the lurung and aguag. Aside from these domestic activities, the natives traded with the Chinese, the Indians, and the Japanese.

Depiction of a Cagayan warrior
Depiction of a Cagayan warrior, circa 1590 (Boxer Codex, The Lilly Library Digital Collections)

The early Ibanag lived in villages that maintained trade and security relations with one another. The village was governed by an urayan who had executive powers, an ukom (judge), and a kammaranan, who made policies and regulations for the community. A mengal (chief warrior) led the vuggayawan (army) when the tribe went to war; a kagun acted as ambassador for missions of conciliation and appeasement.

Depiction of a Cagayan woman
Depiction of a Cagayan woman, circa 1590 (Boxer Codex, The Lilly Library Digital Collections)

The Boxer Codex reports that in the 16th century, the people of Cagayan Valley were engaged in constant war with each other, striving to obtain the heads of members of other groups, including women and children. In these headhunting confrontations, the Cagayan warriors used buffalo hide corselets, helmets, and long, broad lances. Victory in these adventures was celebrated with a feast characterized by drinking, dancing, the ringing of bells, and the crowning of warriors with a headdress with golden feathers.

The first Spanish conquistador to arrive in Cagayan was Juan de Salcedo, who landed at the mouth of the Pamplona River in 1572. However, Spanish occupation of Cagayan took place only in 1581, when Governor Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñaloza, upon learning of the presence of a Japanese fleet under the command of Taifusa at the mouth of the Cagayan River, sent Juan Pablo Carreon to the north to drive away the Japanese (Mallo Peñaflor 1983). The Spanish expedition was successful and in 1583, Cagayan became a Spanish province. Captain Carreon established his garrison in the village of Lal-lo, which he renamed Nueva Segovia. The garrison was only a military outpost, however, not a mission center, since the Augustinians and the Dominicans who came with the troops came only either as chaplains of the expedition or as observers representing the Bishop of Manila. It was not until 1591 that Governor Perez Dasmariñas, in his capacity as Vice Royal Patron, assigned the mission field of Cagayan Valley to the Dominicans.

In 1595, Cagayan became part of a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction, namely, the diocese of Nueva Segovia, which, together with Cebu and Nueva Caceres, were suffragans to the Archdiocese of Manila. The new diocese, which covered the whole of northern Luzon, had its seat in Lal-lo, Cagayan. This seat was later transferred to Vigan. Cagayan itself would become a diocese again only in 1910 and an archdiocese in 1975.

The Spaniards brought with them new agricultural techniques. The production of tobacco, corn, rice, vegetables, fruits, and tubers increased. In some parts of the province, wine was produced from nipa palm juice, as it had been before 1647 by the people of Bagumbayan, a barrio of Lal-lo (Castillet 1960, xi). Many of these weaving looms were still operating in 1877 in Camalaniugan. In Pamplona, Fray Francisco Borja introduced the silk industry.

The Spanish built many structures in the first two centuries of occupation. In Tuguegarao, parochial schools were established. Roads and bridges were built primarily to facilitate the Ilocano immigration. The road to Manila was completed in November 1738 while the road from Cagayan to the Ilocos was opened in February 1880. The church, now the Cathedral of Tuguegarao, was built in 1767.

The establishment of a Spanish settlement in Cagayan met resistance from the local chiefs like Guiyab of Camalaniugan, the Tuliao brothers of Tular, and Sibiran of Pata, who rallied their fellows to confront the Spaniards with their native weapons—the duppil, the suturing, the uutug, and the dukkial. However, the Spaniards’ superior weapons ensured their victory. With the help of the friars, the Spanish crown eventually prevailed over the hostility and indifference of the natives.

Like any other colonized people, the Ibanag came under the dehumanizing effects of Spanish impositions that caused further resistance. In Iguig, Magalad and a younger brother led the people in protesting against the imposition of the tribute and forced labor. The Magalads established linkages with neighboring villages for a concerted resistance against the Spaniards who were already advancing toward the upstream communities. The Spaniards captured the Magalads and deported them to Manila. The Dominicans, however, had them brought back to Cagayan to serve as models for their policy of attraction. Back in Cagayan, the Magalads continued to protest against the tribute and forced labor, prompting the Manila authorities to send a reinforcement led by Captain Chavez to kill them.

In 1718, the abuses of the encomendero Juan Clavijo and the other alcaldes of Cagayan before him, as well as of the soldiers in the fort of Tuao, pushed the Ibanag to stage a rebellion on the feast of the Virgin of the Rosary. Led by Matatangan, chief of Malaueg, and his deputy Sinanguinga, chief of Tuao, the natives, aided by the Kalinga, Itawit, and Iraya, were joined in Tuguegarao by one member of the principalia, a certain Rivera, who proclaimed himself Papa Rey and instructed all his followers to return all their rosaries, scapulars, and other religious objects of the friars. In Lal-lo, the alcalde surrendered to the rebels, although Rivera assaulted but could not take the fort. The uprising was ended by Captain Pablo Orduña, who advanced from Vigan to Cagayan with 300 soldiers. Matatangan and many of his followers fled to the forests of Cabagan and Tuguegarao to elude arrest. Later, in 1724, chapels were built in the principal barrios of Cagayan and given their corresponding patron saints, mostly Dominicans, in order to establish better politico-religious control over the natives.

In 1763, Diego Silang’s proclamation of revolt against the Spanish was brought by a boatman, Baltasar Magalona, to Juan Damay of Piat, who then spread the message of revolt to other parts of the valley up to Ilagan. The insurrection spread from Ilagan to Aparri. But the Itawes of Tuao and the Kalinga of Pinapo opposed it, and soon Ignacio de Arza of Urrutia, captain general of the rebel areas, tried 33 Cagayanes/Ibanag, an Ilocano, and a Pangasinan in Lal-lo, and deported them to distant towns. In 1764, the alcalde mayor (governor) Jose de Arteaga had Damay flogged 200 times on the back as he rode like “a knight on a beast of burden” through the streets of Lal-lo.

There were attempts on the part of the Spanish officials to correct the abuses of other Spanish authorities. In 1739, Don Jose Ignacio Urzudum de Rebolledo, a member of the Royal Audiencia of Manila, came to Cagayan as a visitador. He instituted 40 statutes of reform, which included a definition of the powers of the native gobernadorcillo (mayor) and the town missionaries, the election of native officers, the prohibition of banquets, the manner of dressing, and the use of currency.

One of the principal objects of protest from the natives was the imposition of the tobacco monopoly. From the year 1782, the Ibanag were forced to cultivate tobacco. Because of this, the natives had to switch from rice to corn as staple, since corn did not require as much attention to grow as rice. Also the agricultural season of corn did not conflict with tobacco but alternated with it. The abuses brought into this monopoly by the agents of the treasury became so glaring that in 1882, Governor-General Moriones forced the hand of the Canovas and the royal family to sell the monopoly. Soon, the Compania Tabacalera de Filipinas established the haciendas of San Antonio, San Rafael, and Santa Isabel in the province of Isabela.

Private enterprise introduced into Cagayan the finest seeds, along with novel ways of cultivating tobacco. However, there seemed to be little improvement in the lot of the Ibanag themselves who cultivated the tobacco. A marked distinction between social classes rose as a result of the monopoly. The avarice of the upper class, who were usurers, led to many bloody outbreaks of the oppressed and enslaved debtors.

There were additional pressures created by Spanish officials. To maximize the benefits obtained from cultivating tobacco, the government encouraged outsiders to settle in Cagayan and plant tobacco. They gave free passes and money advances to other people, among them the Ilocano. These Ilocano replaced the Ibanag, who migrated to other places because of abuses they suffered under the Spanish.

Up to 1839, the valley had been divided into two for administrative and Christianization purposes. The north, from Gamu to Aparri, constituted the province of Cagayan; the south, from Calaniugan to Cruz of Caraballo Sin, made up the Territorio de los Misiones. In 1839, Governor-General Lardizabal established the province of Nueva Vizcaya, with its capital in Camarag, that inclusively covered the areas from Aritao to Ilagan and Palanan. Cagayan’s borders were also redefined and now went from Tumauini to Aparri, with its capital in Tuguegarao. In 1856, the province of Isabela was created, covering the areas from Cabagan to Cruz, with its capital in Ilagan. Because of this, Cagayan’s borders were once more reset. A line was drawn between Tuguegarao and San Pablo. Soon after, the Spanish authorities resettled thousands of Ilocano into Cagayan Valley to hasten its tobacco production. A road that linked Cagayan to Manila via Ilocos was also built in 23 February 1880. This was the beginning of the Ilocano population’s remarkable growth in Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya. By 1903, they would account for 17% of these areas’ population, and 70% by 1970. This resulted in the displacement not only of the Ibanag but also of the Gaddang, who also resided in these areas.

During the Philippine Revolution, many people from Cagayan and Isabela enlisted as members of the new army under the command of General Daniel Tirona, head of a revolutionary force from Manila. The army list was headed by Ricardo Tuyuan, Emilio Gannaban, and Tomas Dichoso. This army was organized on orders of Aguinaldo, who felt that an organization of an adequate army was needed for Cagayan and Isabela. The brigade had for its officers names like Romillo, Macanaya, Alvarado, De Rivera, Villaflor, Fonacier, Guibani, Paguirigan, Claravall, and Padilla. The civil government was administered by Vicente Nepomuceno as governor of Cagayan and Dimas Guzman as governor of Isabela.

As in most Philippine provinces, the American period introduced elementary and high school buildings as well as more government structures into Cagayan. This period saw the rise of local leaders like Engracio Gonzaga, Pablo Guzman, Antonio Carag, Vicente Masigan, Honorio Lasam, Macanaya, Esteban Quinto, Vicente Formoso, Proceso Sebastian, Nicanor Carag, Nicanor P. Carag, and Marcelo Adduru.

In the fight for liberation from the Japanese, the two main groups in which the Ibanag were involved were the USAFIP (United States Armed Forces in the Philippines), which had such men as Cepeda, Balo, Tumaliuan, Casibang; and the guerilla forces, which were led by Peñaflor, Pagalilauan, Gaza, and Balleva. After the “liberation,” the reconstruction of Cagayan was pioneered by Baldomero Perez, Peregrino Quinto, and Nicanor Arranz. In Manila, Adduru, Singson, Alonzo, and Siagon contributed to the rebuilding of the nation.

The Ibanag who have stayed in their homeland are primarily tobacco farmers. Only a small portion of the farmlands are devoted to rice and corn, although immigrant settlers like the Ilocano, the Tagalog, and the Kapampangan have influenced the Ibanag into producing rice in commercial quantities (Llamzon 1978, 41). The manufacturing industry is limited to small food industries such as the processing of bagoong (fish paste) and patis (fish sauce), rice milling, coconut desiccation, and soap making. Many logging firms still operate in Cagayan, and the province has the largest volume of standing timber in the region.

An example of a town whose demographics were determined by the logging industry is San Mariano in Isabela province. This municipality’s 36 barangays are sprawled on the slopes of the Sierra Madre foothills, which were originally the territory of the Kalinga and Aeta. Ibanag migrants started trickling into this area at the turn of the 20th century, arriving in visible numbers in the 1930s and settling there permanently. They laid claim to the most fertile parts of the land, such as the riverbanks and wet plains, where they cultivated rice, root crops, vegetables, and bananas. The Kalinga intermarried with them, thus producing Kalinga-Ibanag mestizos; or some, like the Aeta, retreated farther into the interior forests.

Beginning in the late 1960s, logging companies were established in San Mariano, which quickly transformed from a farming town into a logging town, as people of various ethnicities arrived. Most of them were Ilocano, and the rest were Tagalog and Bikol, and they were seasonal workers. This means that during the rainy season, from June to January, when there was no work to be done in the forests, they returned to their hometowns.

The town experienced a “logging boom” from 1969 to 1992, mainly because of the construction of the Maharlika Highway, along which trucks traveled to and from Manila to transport logs, timber, and charcoal. President Ferdinand Marcos granted licenses to five logging companies and ten large sawmills in this area alone. Out of the logging industry sprung peripheral businesses: repair and furniture shops, commercial enterprises, restaurants, and a red-light district. The administration of President Corazon Aquino effectively put a stop to all these with the enforcement of a logging ban. The seasonal workers left for good, and the former farmers, who had found employment in the logging companies as permanent workers, either returned to farming or set up small-scale rattan or other wood-related businesses.

The Cagayan Anti-Logging Movement, composed of several environmental nongovernment organizations, had already preceded Isabela province in compelling the government to cancel all the licenses of the logging companies in their province. Nevertheless, slash-and-burn farming and salabadiok (small-scale illegal logging), also known as “carabao logging,” are still being done on what is left of the forests of Sierra Madre.

In 2012, the Ibanag Heritage Foundation Inc. (IHFI) was launched to “preserve and enhance the cultural heritage of the Ibanag, their way of life and their Valley” (Binay 2012). IHFI is chaired by Vice President Jejomar Binay, whose mother Lourdes Cabauatan of Cabagan, Isabela, is Ibanag. The following year, it was reported that the IHFI was inviting then-reigning Binibining Pilipinas and Miss Supranational Mutya Johanna Datul, an Ibanag from Santa Maria, Isabela, to help promote the foundation’s objectives.

As answer to the effects of large-scale exploitation of the river system and the forests surrounding it, the Cagayan River, also known as Rio Grande de Cagayan, began to undergo redevelopment in 2013 under the project “ReBUILD” or “Resilience Capacity Building for Cities and Municipalities to Reduce Disaster Risks from Climate Change and Natural Hazards.” The project was initiated by the Climate Change Commission, the New Zealand Aid Program, and the United Nations Development Program.

The Ibanag Way of Life

The Ibanag’s chief products are tobacco and rice. Rice production is done by mutual assistance among the villagers, from plowing to harvesting. Assistance comes in the form of simply lending a plow or animal or in the sharing of the harvest: 1/3 of the harvest goes to the landowner, 2/3 to the tenant or principal tiller. One half of the share of the tenant is distributed to the volunteers who each get one basket of rice for every 10 baskets they reap while assisting in the harvesting.

Small tobacco farm in Cagayan province
Small tobacco farm in Cagayan province (Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1994.)

Sharing the produce is practiced in fishing and piggery. In fishing, the owner of the banca and net gets half of the catch, while other fishers equally share the other half (the owner gets another share from this partition). In pig raising, the sow is given to a caretaker, who agrees to give the owner one piglet for every litter of four. If the available number of piglets is less than four, the caretaker gets all; if there are seven, the owner gets two.

Borrowing money is resorted to in time of need. The practice is to give a cavan of corn every harvest for every 100 pesos borrowed. This mode of payment continues until the loan is paid. Sometimes, farmers pay as much as a third of the harvest only for the interest on the money borrowed.

Aside from agriculture, other gainful occupations in the area include animal husbandry, forestry, fishing, and hunting. Some Ibanag are production workers, transport equipment operators and laborers, while others are professional, technical, and service workers. People in administrative, executive, and/or managerial positions in private or public organizations comprise the smallest percentage of the work force.

Ibanag Traditional Community and Political System

The head of the traditional Ibanag community was called the dakal na barangay. Among the early Ibanag, this leader was not someone whose authority was imposed on the people. Rather, the leader must be one of them, someone from their stock. There were times when the central government would appoint a head of the barangay who would be given all the rights and privileges of the office. Simultaneously, the people themselves would acknowledge a leader of their own. To the Ibanag, a leader should have charisma and honesty; the ability to control or placate the people; and the intelligence to discover solutions to the problems of the community. Above all, the leader must be a karaga (kin), as in the old datu or chieftain system.

Today, under the presidential form of government of the 1986 Constitution, the province of Cagayan is governed through the Department of Interior and Local Government, which oversees the local government units: the barangay, the municipality, and the province. Cagayan Province has 29 municipalities, including the capital, Tuguegarao, which became a city in 1999 by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 8755. Isabela province has 34 municipalities and three cities: the capital Ilagan, Cauayan, and Santiago.

Ibanag Beliefs and Customs

Pattaman is the Ibanag term for the nuclear family that revolves around the ama (father). Traditional tangabalay (Ibanag couples) place great value on the child, which they consider as an addition to the tangabalay, somebody who completes the pattaman and a gift from God. There are several reasons for this: Children are the source of luck for the family; they are a proof of the father’s masculinity; they are manifestations of riches; and they are a form of investment or security. Couples without children are considered unlucky and are believed to be punished. Many childless couples resort to prayers and novenas to special saints. Others use prescriptions by older members of the community. One such formula is called illug na tanggalawa (the eggs of a house insect). The illug is toasted and mixed with coffee. The lupo (the sterile one) says a prayer and drinks the concoction.

Mangagug or magalluaring is the Ibanag term for conception. There are many beliefs associated with magalluaring. One belief is that a child’s characteristics result from the food the expectant mother takes. A woman who has ngangagudan (craving) for lubbang (orange) will bear a round-faced baby. If she craves lumboy (a violet fruit), she will have a dark-skinned infant. In Casibarag Norte, such importance is given to the period of magalluaring that a woman is provided a list of megamma (prohibitions) or guidelines on her day-to-day behavior as a mother-to-be. For example, she should not react when she sees other people’s mangannanni or mangigaggalo (physical defects).

Another popular belief is that symptoms of pregnancy, like restlessness and irritability, may be transferred to the husband if the wife, on waking up in the morning, bends over the husband. Makikkang means that an expectant woman is allowed to eat at another family’s house if an odor in her own home, including her husband’s, causes her to lose her appetite.

To ensure the health of the expectant mother, couples go through a ritual involving the use of a lutung (trough for feeding pigs). Lutung is made from a piece of a tree trunk hollowed out in the middle to contain liquids. A small piece is taken from the lutung, pulverized, burned, and mixed with coffee. This will be served to the pregnant woman on a full moon, with the appropriate chanting of prayers. This ritual is performed to free the expectant mother from sickness.

Another ritual is made to eliminate pains associated with pregnancy. This ritual, called mamattang, involves the eating of a native cake called pinataro, prepared by a member of the household. Aside from the pinataro, wari (food offering) for the nature deities is prepared. These offerings are placed on top of the baul (chest). The couple bends over the baul, faces each other, and eats the pinataro while they are surrounded by relatives and friends. After this, the mother of the husband and the mother of the wife drop some coins in a container filled with water. The relatives and other guests partake of the pinataro. When they are done eating, the coins are joined and sealed with wax; this symbolically dispels the anxiety of a possible abortion, while the pinataro suggests that the baby will stick to the womb until it is ready for delivery.

The newly born is called kalubi; after several days it is referred to as assitay. If the assitay is a firstborn, it is called palutarag, a term also used to refer to the mother giving birth for the first time.

Traditionally, the placenta of a newly born baby is made to drift on the Cagayan River. This signifies the beginning of the interconnectedness of the river with the various aspects of the child’s Ibanag life. During the first few days of the kalubi, the partera or hilot (midwife) performs the magassu ceremony, which employs fumigation as a way of purification. Black clothes are burned near the mother and child, both of whom will inhale the smoke. This ceremony is done to drive away insects and to relieve the kalubi of stomachache. When the soft part of the head of the kalubi is deflated, the remnants of the umbilical cord are burned together with the black clothes.

After a few weeks, the Ibanag child undergoes the pacristian (baptism). The Ibanag see this ritual as a means to cure a sick child or to protect the child from illness. During the rite, the godparent pinches the child in order to keep it awake. A kalubi who cries during the ceremony is expected to be alert and watchful, therefore industrious.

The society recognizes the transition of the assitay from infancy to childhood when they are referred to as abbing. At this stage, parents are watchful of their children’s growth. When parents notice physical or mental defects in their child, certain rituals and practices may remedy the situation. One such practice is to change the child’s name; this signifies the desire to start all over again. The new name is usually given by the parents or a karaga. It is customary for Ibanag children to have more than one given name.

Speech defects are treated with mannusian, also called makipenpenga, a ritual performed by a relative who inserts a large key, usually a cabinet key, in the mouth of the child and turns it as if opening a cabinet door. If the child has a hearing impairment, the matulipattan is performed. Here the hole of the ear is covered with a small coin.

Whena child refuses to wear clothes, their godparents make panties or pants out of old clothes that are considered sacred. Godparents are requested to put these on the child, who would then be expected to learn to use these garments. The ritual is called makisinnung.

The mangagagakao is a ritual to bring back the child’s kararua (soul) if it has experienced a shock or a scare. The Ibanag believe that shock or trauma is caused by the temporary separation of the soul from the body.

Mangayaya (courtship) usually starts at age 16. Dating is not readily permissible. The maginganay (young girl) is always accompanied to social gatherings. This practice does not only protect the girl’s chastity but also prevents her from being the object of gossip. The strong kinship system can make private affairs public.

The formation of an Ibanag family begins with marriage. There are two ways of getting a spouse. The first is through parental arrangement, where the man is required to present the bridewealth consisting of two carabaos, a parcel of farmland, five cows, a trunk, a bolo, complete kitchenware, beddings, and the aggo, a piece of cloth which is wound around a woman’s waist after giving birth. Child marriage was practiced, although it was abandoned in the 1920s. The second way is through courtship, which has become a popular alternative. When there is parental disapproval, couples resort to elopement.

Marriage marks the end of courtship and is intertwined with the concept of adulthood. The Ibanag’s high regard for the institution of marriage is manifested in their meticulous traditional rituals for the different stages leading to a wedding. Before marriage, the bagitolay (young man) must first go through several stages to secure the permission of the girl’s parents. In all these stages, he must be accompanied by his parents and a gumakagi (spokesperson)—proof that marriage is a union not only of husband and wife but also of their families.

The marriage process starts with the dalibasa (information). A gumakagi is chosen by the bagitolay’s family and is sent to the house of the woman to inform her parents about the suitor’s love for their daughter. Next comes the mangidulo maptritindi, where the man’s parents, together with the spokesperson, go to the house of the woman. Here, the spokesperson of the bagitolay and spokesperson of the maginganay perform the mabersu (an impromptutalk in verse). During this ritual, refreshments are served by the young man’s family, usually liquor or soft drinks, biscuits, or pancit. Then, the manubag follows. This time, the suitor comes with a whole entourage of relatives to pay another visit to the woman’s house to get the final decision of the girl’s family. A week after the manubag, the couple’s parents gather together for the mamakurung to talk about the wedding preparations. The role of the spokesperson has been dispensed with. The kind of wedding is usually determined according to the financial status of the groom, but the dote (bridewealth), consisting of cash, carabao, trunk, beddings, bolo, and jewelry, is expected of all grooms. After these talks, the massulisitud (acquiring of a marriage license) follows, and then the mappasingan, where the priest advises the couple on the Christian teachings on marriage. In the manulug, the provisions agreed upon during the mamakurung are brought to the woman’s house on the eve of the wedding day. Three days are allotted for the wedding festivities. The first day is called the pasingan, the last, the aggud. On the day of the pasingan, the couple, accompanied by their parents, sponsors, relatives, and friends, goes to the town to hear mass and to get the priest’s blessings before they return for the festivities in the bride’s residence.

There are several rituals observed during the wedding proper. The pamottagan (going down the house) is a ritual exchange of coins between families. These coins symbolize prosperity and act as charms for good fortune. Some of these coins are showered on the couple after the wedding ceremonies. The pagunekkan (going up the house) is the ritual where the parents of the couple give coins to their children, this time before the couple goes to the bride’s house.

The couple’s first destination inside the bride’s house is the altar, where they offer prayers to their dead relatives. Then they proceed to the ballang, where their first dance is performed. After lunch, the mappagala follows. For this ceremony, two big handkerchiefs are spread out on the ground for the money that relatives will present to the couple. The groom’s relatives deposit their gifts on the handkerchief near the bride, while the bride’s relatives place their gifts on the one near the groom. Throughout the ceremony, a wedding dance called maskota is performed by any of the couple’s relatives.

There are rules on marriage that are strictly followed. Marriage between relatives down to the third degree of consanguinity is forbidden. The married couple should stay with the bride’s family. The older sister must wait for the younger sisters to marry before she does.

Separation is permitted on grounds of infidelity, maltreatment of the wife, negligence of duties and obligations as spouse or as parents, and barrenness, although this only applies to women, as men are always presumed to be fertile. The separation is done before the barrio dakal (big man) who performed the marriage ceremony.

When a couple separates, settlement is reached, with the guilty party giving up his or her rights for the custody of the children and the property. In the distribution of properties among the children, the sons are given three times the share of daughters. This unequal treatment based on sex has prompted the educated daughters to assert their rights based on national laws and to take their case to court when necessary.

Although the Ibanag accept that sickness has natural causes, many illnesses are still attributed to preternatural reasons. Faded or damaged statues or paintings of a santo, which manifest the owners’ neglect, are believed to cause sickness. As atonement, these images are repainted and brought to the church. Food and prayers are offered for the recovery of the patient.

Another cause of illness may be the neglect of the kararua of dead relatives. Illnesses caused by them usually happen during the pagamiento, when the farmers receive the payment for their crops, and serve as a reminder to the living relatives that the dead are still part of the pattataman.

Many illnesses are attributed to the agguiriguira or arimasingan (unseen spirits). Someone who is natukkal, touched by these beings, must offer a wari, an offering consisting of food, cigars with red ribbons, and wine to appease the spirits.

These illnesses and their causes are determined by the mangilu, the medium who utilizes various traditional methods to diagnose the patient. When all prescriptions from the doctor prove ineffective, the mangilu and his methods are the alternative.

The death of an Ibanag is one occasion when the Ibanag kinship system is clearly manifested. When the news of the death of a karaga spreads, people come to the house and extend all forms of assistance to the bereaved family: Some prepare the dead for the tarag, literally “lying down,” which is the wake; some build an improvised altar; some construct the lungun (coffin); and others cook food for the visitors during the wake. In Casibarag Norte, this is also the time when neighbors give tappao (material goods) to the grieving family as a form of aid.

During the tarag, members of the immediate family may not sweep in and around the house, help in the preparation of the lungun, touch candles or salt, take a bath in the same house where the tarag is being held, comb one’s hair, and break a dish. Efforts are made to follow these rules, as disobedience may cause the death of other family members. Close family members also prepare the things that the dead must take along with him or her.

During the night of the tarag, the pasion is chanted by a male and a female volunteer. At times, a mabbersu (singer of impromptu verses) takes over as intermission. Black clothes are customarily worn not during the wake but for the funeral. Women also put on black veils called mantu.

There are rituals observed after the burial. After relatives have left the cemetery, a family member, usually the one closest to the deceased, stays behind for the mangagagacao ritual. This ritual is an invitation for the kararua of the dead to stay with the family temporarily. The day after the burial, the mawwagga ritual is performed. This ritual, which represents the purification of the family from the misfortunes that brought about the death in the family, involves bathing in the river and the disposal of the rags used during the illness and death. The nine-day prayers are said, and the novena culminates in a big celebration to thank all those who condoled with and extended help to the family.

Ibanag Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Ibanag traditionally believe in the interu sinakkabban (the whole covered region), consisting of the langi (sky), bilag (sun), vulan (moon), aru nga bitun (a multitude of stars); the davvun (earth), which includes valleys, mountains, forests, springs, and rivers; the unag na davvun (inside of the earth); and the pallefan (surroundings). The Ibanag believe that spirits inhabit the pallefan, which includes trees, fields, forests, and the atmosphere. There are unseen spirits they call i ari nga masingan (those who cannot be seen) or simply ari-masingan, which are generally regarded as malevolent. To appease these spirits and allay their own fears, they make offerings. Sometimes, the minangilu or minannanad, folk medics who claim to have contact with the other world, are asked to be mediators and maintain harmony between the material and the spiritual world. In addition to ari-masingan and spirits of dead ancestors, Ibanag folk beliefs include the aran (dwarves), which are sometimes considered benevolent. The aran live in an abayao (granary), but they sometimes help to bring prosperity to a household by increasing the contents of the abayao. Other non-spirit entities like the amangao and pabilon are considered malevolent. The amangao comes in various animal forms and at times appears in human form. The fear that one feels upon the coming of an amangao causes nakararuanan (the straying of the soul) (Gatan 1983). The pabilon is an entity that comes in a veillike form, like a ship’s sail, and it appears during an early evening rain. Ibanag children are forbidden to leave the house during this time.

Sickness and diseases are believed to be caused by offended spirits who have to be appeased. There are two methods employed by the minangilu or minannanad to diagnose the infirm. In the first method, the minannanad moistens the palm with denu (coconut oil) and lemon juice. The minannanad then massages the sick and declares that the tu naponna ira (dead relatives) need something and are asking for prayers. A makeshift altar is set up in the living room and a padasal is called. Relatives, neighbors, and friends are invited to offer prayers. Food such as choice morsels, a tiny cup of sikulate (chocolate), and rice cakes are likewise prepared and offered to the soul. This ritual is called mattunnak.

Ananud ritual, also called gakit by the Ibanag of Echague, Isabela
Ananud ritual, also called gakit by the Ibanag of Echague, Isabela, 2016 (Harold Sibayan dela Cruz)

The second method, the assub, involves smoking or fumigation. The minangilu uses charcoal, chicken feathers, coconut frond blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday, salt, and a piece of piedra alumbre (alum). Heated charcoal is placed in a container, over which the patient stands. The minangilu prays and burns the materials one at a time, seeing to it that the fumes envelop the patient. The piedra alumbre is extracted from the embers and allowed to melt, changing into shapes that may suggest the cause of the ailment.

Animal sacrifice characterizes the ritual netabba (sacrificial pig), offered to a patron saint during town fiestas or during the wake of a deceased member of a family. During fiestas, the animal offering is accompanied by the sambali and the parosa —asong-and-dance dramatization of the life of Santo Domingo, the patron saint of Casibarag.

In the atang-atang (offering), also known as ananud in Isabela, a small bamboo raft containing rice, eggs, cigarettes, oil, rice cakes, and a chicken is decorated as the main offering to the spirit of the river. Local shamans dance around the raft to ask the spirit to accept the offering, so that the sick may be healed and their requests granted. After the dance, the raft is brought to the river. A chicken is beheaded, and, together with the raft, is set free on the river to float and swim toward the spirit of the river.

Ibanag elderly performing the atang-atang in Isabela
Ibanag elderly performing the atang-atang in Isabela, 2000 (CCP Collections)

Other beliefs may be classified as situational. The tabba, literally “opposite,” is a situation which is the reverse of one’s present state and which is an inevitable part of life. This belief has developed among the Ibanag a sense of temperance and prudence.

The concept of matulao sets in when an endeavor or enterprise suddenly fizzles out. This concept assumes a belief in galing-galing (charms), which give power to humans, such as ilug na lalung (egg of a rooster), batu ta unag na niog (stone inside a coconut), and inki na palutarag (forefinger of a first-born boy) stolen from the cemetery on a Holy Friday. But the power of these charms can be neutralized. Salt placed beside a gambler dispels the luck provided by the charms of the gambler. Roasting of a lappang (owl) and praising the productivity of the farmland are said to cause bad luck.

On the other hand, the person who performs mangibariao (curse or bad wish) can cause harm or injury to another person. A person would need matulao to neutralize the mangibariao.

Ibanag men and women reading the pasyon
Ibanag men and women reading the pasyon, 1986 (Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection)

Despite the incursions of the Catholic doctrines and practices, which have appropriated native cultural elements, the Ibanag belief system has survived through the years. The spontaneous transmission of values and beliefs was made possible through the family.

Ibanag Tribal Houses and Community

The traditional Ibanag settlement pattern consists of an outer and an inner group of houses, and an outer and an inner circle of houses. Such is evident in Barrio Casibarag Sur, which is made up of eight blocks, each one showing this outer-inner pattern. This settlement pattern manifests a strong kinship system. Furthermore, houses located in the inner circle are occupied by the older people, while those at the outer circle belong to the young, indicating that the construction of these houses went from inner to outer.

Ibanag houses come in three types: the traditional, the transitional, and the modern. The traditional house is a multiroom house, raised one meter or more above the ground, with two batalag porches: one in front where the family can relax at night or where one can wash the mud off one’s feet, especially during the rainy season; and another at the back, which serves as an open-air bathroom and an area for washing pots, dishes, and clothes. The rear batalag also holds the gapa, the jar for drinking water. This feature of having two batalag distinguishes the Ibanag dwelling from other indigenous houses. In general, these batalag are unroofed and have ladders that can be drawn up anytime to prevent animals from coming up the house. The walls of these dwellings are made of split bamboo, while the roofs are of cogon or nipa. The house is loosely divided into the living room, which also doubles as family bedroom; two small rooms, one for the altar and one for storing rice and corn or tobacco; a dining room, which is also the kitchen; and the two batalag porches.

The transitional house is a bigger version of the traditional. Galvanized sheets are used for roofing instead of cogon or nipa. The walls are still of split bamboo, but the floor is made of wood. In this house, the front batalag is dispensable or nonfunctional. The house has two stories but only the top floor is used for household activities. The ground floor serves as an area for drying tobacco leaves and as a working place.

The modern house, which employs contemporary architectural design taken from the lowlands, such as the bungalow, is constructed with more permanent materials like hollow blocks and wood for floors and walls, and glass and steel for windows. In Casibarag Norte, Cabagan in Isabela province, almost half of the houses are modern, a fourth are transitional, and the traditional dwellings have become scarce.

Tuguegarao Cathedral, Cagayan
Tuguegarao Cathedral, Cagayan (Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Most important structure from the Spanish period is the Tueguegarao Cathedral which used bricks for its walls. Decorating its facade are bricks depicting motifs associated with the patron saint San Pedro.

Ibanag Folk Literature and Literary Arts

Ibanag Leksiyo
Leksiyo (CCP Collections)

Ibanag folk literature consists of the folk speech, namely, proverbs and riddles, and the folk narratives, composed of myths and legends. All are transmitted orally.

Riddles, called palavvuh or palavvun, can be classified as a form of social literature, as riddling often is a favorite pastime during work or leisure and provides entertainment in most social gatherings. Most of the riddles take the form of monorhyming couplets (Eugenio 1982):

Candle with Face Illustration
Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang

Egga y tadday nga ulapa

Funnuan na kanan y bagui na. (Kandela)

(There is a certain fool

That eats up its own body. [Candle])

rainy day and clouds on walking Mother and daughter
Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang


Egga y babui ta Manila

Maguinna toye y guni na. (Arugok)

(My pig in Manila

Its squeal can be heard here. [Thunder])

There are numerous proverbs, known as unoni, which reflect the life and the world of the Ibanag. These proverbs contain many of the basic tenets about life and human nature upheld by the people. Like the riddles, these proverbs are often expressed in monorhyming couplets of 5–12 syllables per line. Here are some examples (Eugenio 1982; Liban-Iringan 2006):

Y baruasi nga inikkaw,

Nu ari atazzi, alawa nikao.

(One who wears something borrowed,

Even in the street, will be stripped.)

Ariammu ibilang tu kukuwan

Nu ari paga nakadde ta limam.

(Do not consider as certain that

which you do not actually hold,

For even the rice you carry to your mouth

may still fall.)

Kitu nga nepallo y uvug na

Awan tu makaga na.

(Barking dogs

Seldom bite.)

Mariga ngamin y pagaleran

Ta davvunao nga karigatan

Ngem awan tu makaparevu

Ta ziga nga manabaku.

(All kinds of work are difficult

In this difficult world

But nothing compares

To the difficulty of growing tobacco.)

The myths are prose narratives that explain the origin of the world, people, animals, places, and other natural phenomena. Its characters are either humans or animals and deities with human attributes. The actions and adventures of these characters are set in the remote past and in another world, such as the sky or the underworld.

Most of the recorded Ibanag myths deal with the origin of natural phenomena. One such myth, “Y Naggafuanan na Aruguk, Kilakila, Kunam Anna Uran” (The Origin of Thunder, Lightning, Clouds, and Rain) attributes the cause of thunder, lightning, earthquake, and rain to the giant who is imprisoned by an enemy in a big cave under the world. Smoke from his pipe forms the clouds. When he lights his long pipe, lightning flashes across the sky. When he shouts at his enemy, thunder rolls. When he kicks the wall of his cave, the earth shakes. When he blows, he brings the clouds together and the rain falls.

Bernardo Carpio between the warring mountains
Bernardo Carpio between the warring mountains (Illustration by Leo Kempis Ang)

Still another myth, “Y Paggafuanan na Lunig” (What Causes Earthquakes) attributes the origin of earthquakes to the legendary Bernardo Carpio, who, as a child, already exhibits extraordinary strength. Bernardo Carpio is the only son of a very poor couple. Whenever the couple goes out to work, they leave the baby in the house. Upon returning home, they find all the baby’s toys broken into pieces. When there are no more toys to break, the child breaks the walls and studs of the house. As he grows up, Bernardo Carpio is recognized as the strongest man not only in the village but also in the whole country. This popularity makes him so proud that he challenges God himself. God gives him several trials, the last of which is for him to stop the quarrel between two big mountains. To prove his strength, he goes between the warring mountains, extends his arms to part them but gets crushed by them. He is buried alive, and only his head is left sticking out of the mountains. Whenever Bernardo Carpio attempts to free himself from the two mountains, the earth shakes.

Compared to the myths, legends are generally set in a period considered less remote. A popular Ilocano legend titled “The Legend of Lakay-lakay” is actually Ibanag co-opted by the Ilocano who inhabit the northeastern part of Cagayan. About three kilometers from the town proper of Claveria, there are two rocks that take the features of a man and a woman. These rocks are called Lakay-lakay (old man) and Baket-baket (old woman). There is a legend behind these stones. Lakay-lakay, together with Baket-baket and their child, Ubing-ubing, lives near the sea. They are fisherfolk. Every time Lakay-lakay has a good catch, his wife offers fish to the gods. In return, the gods always give them a bountiful catch. As they became more prosperous, they also became more proud. One morning, on his way home, Lakay-lakay meets a very old and sickly man. The old man asks for some fish, but Lakay-lakay turns him down and walks on. In the afternoon, while the wife is pounding rice, a beggar comes and asks for some rice. The woman turns her down and continues pounding. The next day, the man goes out very early to fish as usual. The woman is left to put the house in order and prepare breakfast in time for her husband’s return. When the man does not arrive at the usual time, the worried wife takes her child with her to look for him. They proceed to the favorite fishing ground of her husband. But there is no trace of him. As she looks out into the sea, a rock resembling the features of a man slowly emerges from the sea. The mother, together with her child, takes a raft and rows toward the rock and realizes it bears a strong resemblance to her husband. Near it, she finds the man’s raft, fishing net, and fish basket. The woman clings to the stone figure and weeps. The gods hear her sobs, and they change her to a rock too. The child who is left on the raft drifts away, and he too is changed to stone. The gods feel sorry for the family so they give the man power over the sea and the winds in that area. Stories relate that during the Spanish period, a vessel sailed near the rocks. The sailors were alarmed at the sight of the figures. The captain, laughing at the sailor’s fears, ordered that a cannon be fired at Lakay-lakay. As the bullet struck the brim of Lakay-lakay’s hat, a strong storm came. The violent waves broke the vessel into pieces and drowned the Spanish captain and the sailors. Since then, people have believed that Lakay-lakay really has power over the sea and winds. For this reason, he and his family are feared by the fisherfolk. Those who pass the stone figure offer gifts in the form of money, food, cigars, and fruits.

A contemporary Ibanag poet is Noel Guivani Ramiscal, whose book, Noelses, 2005, published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, is a collection of poems in Ibanag, English, Tagalog, and Spanish. Ramiscal wrote the Ibanag poems with the help of his mother Juanita Ramiscal, who grew up in Cagayan Valley.

Ibanag Songs and Literary Arts

The songs of the Ibanag gathered from Tuguegarao, Abulug, Dana-Ili, and Pamplona are called canta or cansion. Some of these songs are versu, pagirau, kinantaran, harana, anthem, aguinaldo, salubong, and medley, all of which suggest Tagalog, Spanish, and English influences on Ibanag music (Wein 1987).

“Versu” is a term derived from psalm verses sung in church. An example is the Ibanag version of the “Our Father,” titled “Ama Mi” (Wein 1987).

There are at least three types of Ibanag songs that are accompanied by actions: the pagirau, which is chanted; the kinantaran, which is sung, sometimes in a manner of an exchange or a dialogue; and general dance songs, for which the Ibanag have no particular term. Below is a song about a “delicious fish,” an example of the last type (Wein 1987):

Si presyon si dalag

Si Afer ari makaddeddag.

Si ifun kawadittan,

Si munamun ya kakastan.

Si tangi karalletan,

Si bangus ya kasingngattan.

Ilutu ngana sangau. (2x)

Masingngo sangau ikan.

(Pressured is dalag.

Afer cannot wait [to eat it].

Ifun is the smallest,

Munamun the most beautiful.

Tangi is the biggest,

Bangus the most delicious.

I am going to cook now. (2x)

Then the fish will be very tasty.)

Another “dance song” is “Not a Variety Show” (Wein 1987):

Awan Señor,

Tu gannu-gannug,

I emmi sangau,

Nikau nga irungau.

Nu I kastam, señora,

Nga inna-innan,

Iddanamam mi kari

I iyalugu mu nikami

Ya kuerdas nga pakallallo

Nu I aya mi nga nefallo.

(This, Sir,

Is not a variety show

We are going

To perform.

Regarding your beauty,

Which we see, oh lady,

We expect you

To grant us

A chain of kindness

Because of our great love.)

An example of the kinantaran, a song debate, is “Lizard” (Wein 1987):

Itte, dua, tallu, appa, lima,

Annam, pitu, walu, siam, mafulu.

Alifa, ta alifa,

Taddanak ku ta issi.

Poppo, ta poppo.

Taddanak ku ta dufo.

Azzo lappaga ta zizzing,

Ari faga naguzzin.

Azzo lappaga ta daddal,

Ari faga nagatang.

(One, two, three, four, five,

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

Lizard, oh Lizard,

I’ll pay [you] with sugar.

Clap, oh clap.

I’ll pay [you] with a banana.

It’s still at the wall,

Not yet reddish.

It’s still with the Chinese,

Not yet bought.)

In Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, the kinantaran features a boy named Pepe and a girl named Neneng dancing as they sing verses to each other. In a typical exchange, Pepe may tell Neneng, “I love you so much. Please take pity on me,” to which Neneng may reply, “Go away. I do not care to hear your pleas. Wait another day.” Today, young men and women are reluctant to sing the kinantaran. To keep the form alive, boys and girls are brought in during social gatherings to perform the debate.

Harana is a love song performed for serenades. Here the men beg the girl to get up from her bed and show her face at the window, begging forgiveness for the disturbance and their poverty.

The anthem refers to patriotic songs dedicated to the province or to certain towns. Performed during official days or functions, these include “Cagayan Geography,” “Cagayan Day,” and “The Town of Pamplona.” Below is “Cagayan Anthem” (Wein 1987):

Cagayan dawwun, nga kakastan niakan,

Egga ka lara nakuan ta piam.

Nu kurug tu maparayu ka niakan,

Ariat ta ka wula-wuga nga kattaman.

Cagayan, makemmemmi ka nga innan.

Cagayan, awan tu kahittam.

Nu anni kasta na dawwun karuan,

Egga ka la ta futu, nga ideddukan.

(Cagayan land, most beautiful to me,

You should always be here because you are

so wonderful.

Should you be far away from me,

I would never forget you.

Cagayan, you’re so lovely to watch.

Cagayan, you have no duplicate.

Regardless how beautiful other lands are,

You, whom I love, are always in my heart.)

Aguinaldo are carols sung by children as they go from house to house asking for aguinaldo (gift) during the Christmas season. These may be songs in Ibanag or contemporary carols in English or Tagalog.

The salubong is a song sung by little children dressed as angels during the Easter Sunday salubong or padafung, the early morning playlet featuring an angel coming down to remove the Virgin’s mourning veil. It tells the Virgin, who suffered so much for her son, to do “away with crying and her mourning dress,” because Christ is risen from the dead. It also exhorts the Christian to “imitate the obedience of Mary . . . for by this you can obtain later the holy glory, where you long to be.”

Ibanag men playing native musical instruments
Ibanag men playing native musical instruments, 1987 (CCP Collections)

The medley is a series of songs that could consist of responses between a male and a female as they court each other, or it could be a sequence of songs that may not necessarily be connected in theme to each other.

Aside from these songs, there are lullabies called cansiones para ammakaturug, nursery songs called cansiones para abbing, and vendors’ songs called cansiones para allaku.

Ibanag dances play an important part in many social gatherings. A popular wedding dance in the province of Cagayan and Isabela is the maskota. The dance is named after the formal skirt worn by women at weddings and other social gatherings. It is a full, tailless skirt usually with large floral designs. Performance of this dance during wedding festivities follows a certain sequence. The bride and groom do the dance first. Then the other pairs follow. While the couple dances, two plates or handkerchiefs are placed on the floor. On these, the relatives and friends place money and other gifts for the couple. After the dance, the groom takes the two plates, or bundles everything in the handkerchiefs, and hands these to the bride. While the couple is dancing, a singer stands beside them and sings extemporaneous verses to describe the pair. Here is a song that accompanies the dancing:

Ibanag maskota
Ibanag maskota (CCP Collections)

Mapia nga magugammay,

Yoye immacasta nga babay,

Ariakku nga ipacacaturuc

Ibilang cu lappao nga mabangug.

Lappao na sampaguita,

Maguemmemmi auan tu caquita.

(How well she dances and plays,

This beautiful and graceful lass;

At night I cannot sleep,

Because of you my sweet girl.

Like the sweet sampaguita flower,

To no one can you be compared.)

The pinatalatto cu ta futu cao (pondering within my heart) is another Ibanag song and dance. This love song, popular in Iguig and several other towns of Cagayan, narrates the refusal of a girl to accept a suitor who suddenly left her and now wants to come back. The dance performance is accompanied by the singing of the girl or any girl in the audience. The song goes thus:

Pinatalatto cu ta futu cao

Y adde na pinalappa mu sangao

Ta ya nga na y panoli na aya mu nie

Ngem ariac cu nga na manonono.


Ta sinni la-lagu y cunne nicao

Nga mangipipitta ca ta aghao

Ta ariam-mu la nga zinaddaddaddam

Ta ari ca mecunne niacam.

Nu egga y maya nio ta tanacuan

Ay ariam mu awaya cafugaddan

ta ya nga na nge, ta ari ca sohetowan

Ay conforms y eccu nga cuan.

(I tried to ponder within my heart

All that you have said since the start

That again, your love you wish to return to me

But to welcome it, that can never be.


For why did you ever think

To make your decision in a wink,

And you did not even remember

That you’re not worthy to be my partner.

If another suitor comes to court me,

Pray, no hard feelings if I agree,

Since you could not be guided your way,

So let me be free, happy and gay.)

The parosais a song-and-dance narration of the life of Santo Domingo, the patron saint of Casibarag. It is performed in August on the eve of the “double eight,” or 8 August, the feast day of Santo Domingo. In this presentation, a chorus of about 20 girls, sometimes accompanied by male singers in duets, chant the gozos, which are quatrains exalting the Virgin or the saints. The hymn starts thus:

The day Saint Dominic was baptized

On his forehead, there appeared

A luminiscent star

Far more brilliant than the sun.

The following refrain punctuates each of the six quatrains:

Our guardian Saint Dominic de Guzman

We beseech you not to forsake us

For you’re the patron saint we chose

To be the intercessor of our barrio.

The Ibanag have their own version of the very popular jota called la jota Cagayana. For this dance, women wear the maskota skirt, camisa (traditional blouse with wide long sleeves), and stiff pañuelo (a kerchief folded on the diagonal and worn over the shoulders), or any typical Ilocano costume.

The Ibanag’s known dramatic forms are closely tied with their religious practices. Like many groups in Catholic Philippines, the Ibanag reenact the meeting of the Virgin Mary and the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday through the padafung or salubong. Another dramatic form is the infante, their version of the pastores. Participants in this playlet are a choir of 15 to 20 males in barong tagalog and females in maria clara costumes. They sing Christmas carols in Ibanag, accompanied by two harpists and guitarists. Chosen to play the part of the shepherds called infantes are girls, aged 9–12 years old, who wear red dresses and decorated hats. Together with the choir, they sing Ibanag Christmas carols from house to house.

Since the 1970s, the infante has included in its performance a three-meter tall giant wearing a crown and holding a scepter, and manipulated by men inside so that the head can make sharp movements. Its role is to play around and chase the infantes. The audience, in turn, gives him money to make him stop chasing the children. In the past, there were two giants, but now, only one is employed for the presentation. A person inside the giant also plays a flute, which is accompanied by a bamboo orchestra and by the tinubong, a bamboo instrument played by a man with cape and sash.

Sambali performed in Cabagan, Isabela
Sambali performed in Cabagan, Isabela, 1992 (CCP Collections)

The main event in the town fiesta of Cabagan is the sambali, which seems to be a pre-Hispanic war dance developed into a “Christian-pagan” mock war dance. Here, the Christians are represented by the Ibanag, the non-Christians by the Kalinga, who opposed the reduccion efforts of the Spanish missionaries. (“Kalinga,” in Ibanag vocabulary, means “enemy.”) The sambali performers use costumes to identify each side. The Ibanag are in white baag (loincloth), white being the catechumenical color for baptism, whereas the Kalinga are in red baag, the color associated with insurrections. As warriors, the performers are armed with spears and shields. To symbolize bravery, they wear headdresses decorated with feathers, similar to the Kalinga lawi.

The sambali starts with an Aeta warning the two groups of an imminent attack. The warning is ignored by the warring camps. However, they proceed anyway and march to battle. They meet face to face; the battle starts. The ritual culminates in the defeat of the non-Christians at the hands of the Christians.

The komedya, titled Atamante at Minople, Santiago, Isabela,
The komedya, titled Atamante at Minople, Santiago, Isabela, 1987 (CCP Collections)

In Santiago, Isabela, the komedya has been performed by local actors during fiestas on open-air stages with simple backdrops. Wearing caps, sashes, and headbands, actors enact stories like that of the brothers Principe Atamante and Principe Minople.

Media Arts

Local cable television companies emerged in the late 1990s, mainly due to unstable local television signals in the 1980s and early 1990s. Presently, Isabela has five local cable providers: Alfreda’s Cable, Alicia Cable Systems Inc., Isabela Cable Systems Inc., New City Cable System, and Psalms Cable TV Inc.

Mainstream film Bacao, 2014, is set in Isabela, home province of its director, Edgardo Vinarao, during the harvest season of one of the province’s prime products, bacao (corn). A young barrio wife (Michelle Madrigal) cannot conceive a baby, so she resorts to folk medicine for a solution. Her “fruitless” marriage during the province’s bounty harvest serves as the film’s symbolic paradox. Bacao was part of the “Sineng Pambansa Horror plus Film Festival” in 2014. Aguinaldo, 1993, directed by William Mayo, tells the real-life story of Colonel Rodolfo Aguinaldo when he took part in the military’s counter-insurgency campaign during the Marcos regime. Colonel Aguinaldo was among the military leaders who staged a coup against President Marcos in 1986 and then a failed coup against President Aquino in 1987. He became governor of Cagayan from 1988 to 1990 and later House representative. He was gunned down by members of the Communist New Peoples Army in June 2001.

Parts of Peñablanca and Santa Ana in Cagayan have become tourist attractions after becoming backdrops to some television programs and films. Scenes in such films as Laruang Apoy (Toy Flame), 1977; The Golden Triangle, 1975; Aguinaldo, 1993; and The Mistress, 2012, were shot in caves there. American reality TV series Survivor was partly shot in the Callao cave complex in Peñablanca in 2013. A boost for the tourism in Santa Ana was the location shooting of the same TV series that shot scenes in Cape Engaño and Anguib Beach.


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This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition.

Title: Ibanag

Author/s: Galileo Zafra (1994), with additional notes from E. Arsenio Manuel, and Ramon A. Obusan / Updated by Gonzalo A. Campoamor II, and Rosario Cruz-Lucero, with additional notes from Nicanor G. Tiongson (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: August 26, 2022

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