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The Ifiallig Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Barlig Mountain Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The Ifiallig Tribe of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Barlig Mountain Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

“Ifiallig” is derived from the prefix i, meaning “dweller in” or “people of” Fiallig. Traditionally called Fiallig, Barlig is a municipality of Mountain Province through which the rivers Tanudan and Siffu run. Barlig lies along the southeast fringes of Mountain Province and shares borders with two other Cordillera Administrative Region provinces.

To the north of Barlig is the municipality of Tinglayan, Kalinga province; to its south, Mayoyao municipality, Ifugao province; to its west, the municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province; to its east, the municipality of Natonin, Mountain Province; and northwest lies Sadanga, Mountain Province. Baguio, the “Gateway City” to the Cordillera region, is 146 kilometers away; and Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province, 31 kilometers. Barlig became a municipality in 1966. It was then that the three political subdivisions were formed: Barlig Central, Lias, and Kadaclan. Barlig consists of 11 barangays. Barlig Central is comprised of five of them: Gawana Poblacion, Fiangtin, Macalana, Latang, and Lingoy. Lias has two: Lias Kanluran and Lias Silangan. And Kadaclan has four: Chupac, Lunas, Kaleo, and O-goog. The residents of Lias are called Ilias and the residents of Kadaclan (formerly Kachakran) are the Ikachakran.

Barlig has a total land area of 34,326.69 hectares of steep, mountainous terrain. Lias has the largest land area with 13,663 hectares, followed by Barlig Central, 10,444.32 hectares, and Kadaclan, 10,219.37 hectares. This municipality registers the highest elevation for the whole Mountain Province at 2,701 meters above sea level at the peak of Mount Amuyao, the second highest peak in the Cordillera mountain range. Within the municipality, there is a drop of more than one kilometer to its lowest level of about 1,600 mean sea level. As a result, within Barlig itself, the climate varies widely.

The Ifiallig language is called Finallig, classified as part of the Eastern Bontoc languages. Finallig is of the Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Philippine Northern Luzon Meso-Cordilleran language.

In 1995, the population of Barlig was 7,477, with an average household size of 1.48. In 2010, the population decreased by 21%, the total now being 5,838, broken down as follows: Chupac, 642; Fiangtin, 570; Kaleo, 796; Latang, 427; Lias Kanluran, 501; Lingoy, 240; Lunas, 590; Macalana, 310; Ogoog, 539; and Gawana (Poblacion), 759; Lias Silangan, 464.

This decrease in population is largely caused by outmigration due to lack of employment, livelihood opportunities within the town, and enough land to plant rice and other crops. This has led residents to seek employment in mines and wage labor in places like Tabuk, Baguio, and Isabela. Like many other Filipinos, some have chosen to work overseas. Others have left due to intermarriages.

History of the Ifiallig Tribe

Much of Barlig’s history has remained unwritten for several centuries. Ifiallig history is recounted by village elders and passed on from one generation to the next.

The elders say the name Barlig comes from the word “fialikia.” One day a white man arrived at their village and asked a boy in a strange language for the name of the place. Thinking that the man was asking about the object he held in his hands, he replied “fialikia,” a wooden weaving implement. From then on, outsiders began to refer to the place as Fialikia. Because of the difficulty in pronouncing the word, eventually the place was called Fiallig and later, Barlig.

Rice terraces in Barlig, Mountain Province
Rice terraces in Barlig, Mountain Province, 2004 (Raul Boncan Jr.)

A history of settlements and ancestral links is recounted by respected village elders through tales about culture heroes like Amfusnun, an Ifiallig warrior. Amfusnun, as one tale goes, chances upon a beautiful woman named Inwayas while on a head-taking expedition with his comrades. Instead of taking her head, Amfusnun asks her to marry him. After their chuyas (wedding feast), Amfusnun lives in his wife’s village, Fianawor, Ifugao. Amfusnun’s father-in-law shows him where to clear land in Munporyas for farming. Amfusnun works the land and soon his crops in Munporyas grow abundantly. His brother-in-law envies him and attempts to murder him, but Amfusnun seriously injures him first.

Remorseful, the dying brother-in-law explains to the village elders that it is his fault, and Amfusnun is cleared of any wrongdoing. Although he loves Inwayas, Amfusnun decides to move out of Fianawor to Munporyas, where he marries another woman and raises another family.

Village elder Arfonso Nacleo says Amfusnun’s descendants may still be found in Munporyas and Fianawor to this day. The Ifiallig consider this tale as history and believe that Amfusnun is the founder of the settlement of Munporyas. As such, it establishes the ancestral link or kinship among the residents of Central Barlig, Fianawor, and Munporyas, both in Ifugao.

Village elder Jerson Ayongchi recounts the origin of the population of Barangay Macalana in the tale of the marriage between an Ifiallig hunter and a rainbow. The hunter comes upon a woman named Tilag (meaning “rainbow”), who is catching frogs by a stream. They live together and have children. The hunter has a paang (a collection of the skulls of deer and the jawbones of wild game), which he hangs on the wall of his hut. Soon, the man notices that each time he comes home from the hunt, some of the animal skulls would go missing. To discover the culprit, he pretends to go out to work in the rice fields all afternoon. At noon he sneaks back home and catches his wife gnawing at an animal’s jaw. In shame, Tilag leaves the next day and never returns, leaving behind their children. Ayongchi declares that the descendants of Tilag, the rainbow, are alive to this day and reside in Barangay Macalana. The Ifiallig believe that members of the Tilag clan are the descendants of that celestial being found at the stream from which the rainbow originates. Tilag is the fifth oldest clan in Barlig Central, following Linglingan, Kiankiangan, Foman-og, and Suptan.

Most of the accounts from village elders like Arfonso Nacleo and Jerson Ayongchi are tales of valor that show the resilient spirit of the Ifiallig. In these stories, the Ifiallig are always victorious and are unconquered by their enemies.

During the Spanish colonial period, the Bontoc culture area, including Barlig, consistently resisted foreign aggression. Despite Spanish attempts to dominate them for 50 years, Igorot institutions and practices remained intact, and none of the Bontok Igorot went to the school established by the Spaniards. In the 19th century, at least three punitive assaults were launched by the Spaniards against Barlig. Saldero, Bontoc’s last Spanish commander, led a Spanish expedition to Barlig in reprisal for the alleged murder of several people from Talubin and Samoki. The Ifiallig annihilated all but three of the raiding party.

The second attack was carried out by an overwhelming force of Spanish soldiers and Bontok warriors who razed Barlig to the ground. Nevertheless, the Ifiallig’s evasive action resulted in very few casualties among them. After the Spaniards left, the Ifiallig returned to their village and rebuilt their community.

The third recorded assault was led by an officer named Mandicota, who led about a thousand soldiers from Manila, which were complemented by 800 Bontok warriors. The expedition killed only seven Ifiallig villagers while the rest escaped to the mountains.

Embedded within Ifiallig lore is their own perspective of this last attack, as handed down through generations of storytellers, originating from Lakay Challoy and here recounted by village elder Jerson Ayongchi: The Ifiallig were the traditional keepers of the kiangsa (gong). The Essapo, who were the Bontok of Sappo, became allies of the Spaniards because they could not defeat the Ifiallig by themselves. After these combined forces had set up camp at Allemong, the Ifiallig attacked them, shouting, “Achikayu challo ka-amis henan Ifiallig ay mun angesel chi isfu na!” (You cannot conquer the Ifiallig because our urine reeks!) But they were taken aback by the sound and destruction caused by the Spaniards’ rifles. As they hid behind the trees, they could see the branches breaking. And so the Ifiallig fled to the mountains, and the enemy burned down the village.

During the Spanish period, the valley of Barlig had five villages: Quisol, Elias, Guinisong, Cambulo, and Barlig itself. During the American occupation, changes in the border definitions of these areas occurred. On 18 August 1908, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 1876 that established the Mountain as a special province of the Philippines with sub-provinces as follows: Bontoc-Lepanto-Amburayan, Ifugao, Kalinga, Benguet, and Apayao. Barlig then fell under the jurisdiction of the Bontoc-Lepanto-Amburayan sub-province.

Under the Marcos regime, two Republic Acts were enacted that established the municipality of Barlig on 18 June 1966. First, RA No. 4695 created the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Kalinga-Apayao from the old Mountain Province. Section 3 of the same act established Barlig as a municipality within the new Mountain Province. Second, RA.No. 4739 transferred the barrios of Kaleo and Kadaclan from Natonin to Barlig. The same boundaries are kept today.

Way of Life in Barlig 

Crop production is the major source of livelihood in Barlig, and rice is the main subsistence crop. Rice is planted in the payyiw (rice terraces), but some of these have either been abandoned or are in need of repair.

Rice production is on the decline because of steady outmigration, farm workers shifting to other sources of income, and losses due to pest infestation. As a result, the rice grown in Barlig is sufficient only for household consumption. Barlig rice production is estimated at 1.57 tons per hectare. There is only one crop cycle per year in most of Barlig, except in Kadaclan where there are two. Thus, people buy rice from external sources after their supply is depleted. The Ifiallig supplement their food supply with sweet potato, cassava, and other vegetable varieties.

Ifiallig chieftain inspecting lumber
Ifiallig chieftain inspecting lumber, 2003 (Langfia Ayeona)

There have been attempts to introduce into the community the production of cash crops like cabbage and pechay (Chinese cabbage). But the poor quality of Barlig’s soil has frustrated such attempts. Previously, some fields were claimed from mossy forests and committed to crops like cabbage, carrots, beans, and potatoes for sale at the Baguio market. However, transporting the vegetables has proven too difficult and costly, hence not economically viable, especially with stiff competition coming from Benguet vegetable growers, who have the advantage of being nearer Baguio. Hence, most of these business ventures have ceased.

Ifiallig girls
Ifiallig girls, 1931 (Colorized by Jon-Jon Diquatco Valle, John Tewell Collection)

In the payyiw, most tasks like sowing and seedbed maintenance, transplanting, weeding, and harvesting are done by women. Other tasks like pest control, drying and milling the rice, stone wall maintenance, and irrigation maintenance are done by men.

Swine and chicken raising is common among the residents. Usually these livestock are raised under their houses or within adjacent structures. The common breeds of hogs are the native black pig, jerseys, and a cross between those two. Those who cannot afford to buy piglets for raising may feed and care for their neighbor’s stock. In return, the owners give them half of the meat once the animals are butchered. Again, these livestock are grown only for household consumption, and there is hardly any surplus of hogs or chickens to sell or trade.

Because the Ifiallig hardly have any surplus farm production, there is no public market within the poblacion area in Barlig that sells rice, meat, or vegetables. Most residents have home gardens, so there is little that they need from a local market. There are, however, sari-sari (variety or convenience) stores, which sell toiletry, canned goods, instant food items, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The Ifiallig go to Bontoc or sometimes as far as Baguio to buy products like clothing material, livestock feeds, and construction supplies. Recently, however, there has been a makeshift mini-market every Sunday near the Catholic church at Barlig Central. Closed vans from lowland sources transport frozen food and seafood via Banaue, Ifugao for Barlig residents.

A proven, commercially viable industry in Barlig then was basket weaving, traditionally a man’s leisure occupation in most of the Cordilleras. The Ifiallig were known for their pasiking (a native backpack woven from rattan). Large demand for the pasiking, however, depleted the sources of the raw material within the area. This has decimated commercial basket weaving in Barlig.

Access to forest products among all Cordillera groups was traditionally, and still generally remains, a private right. Any member of a clan may source wood or lumber from their designated tayan (clan-owned forest reservation) for personal use such as for firewood or construction of houses or other structures within the municipality. Lumber may also be taken to other places for house construction by clan or family members. The Ifiallig without pagpag (forest land) may be allowed to procure wood from others’ pagpag with the proper permission, provided they are for personal and not commercial use.

National government regulations have restrained even Ifiallig from continuing with this traditional use of their own forest resources. However, in January 2006, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), recognizing the indigenous forest management practices in the Cordillera. The most significant result of this agreement is the recognition that members of indigenous cultural communities in the Cordillera can use forest resources without obtaining permits from the DENR, provided they limit the use of such resources for building houses and other domestic needs from their tayan and pagpag. These traditional forest resource management practices are considered ecologically sound and are seen as being conservation-oriented.

Ifiallig Tribal System

Before the institution of the current political system, the ator was the center of all political, social, and cultural activities in Barlig. Ator refers to both the physical structure that was a semicircle of seats fashioned from slabs of stone in front of a hut made of dried cogon grass and to the political entity composed of the people who belong to that group of 25 to 50 families. All male heads of households must belong to an ator, and their family members are affiliated with the ator through them.

Ifiallig folk participating in a local festival
Ifiallig folk participating in a local festival, 2015 (Nicole Fikingas)

All the ator in one cluster constitute the ili (village), the basic political unit equivalent to the present-day barangay, and the group of people inhabiting the ili is called the sinpangili (village people).

Most of the laws, policies, and traditions that shaped Barlig’s culture emerged from the opinions and agreements forged within the ator. In ancient times, this decision-making function was the responsibility of the mamarung-ag (council of elders). These elders were revered for their wisdom, and their decisions on various matters were accepted as final judgment. Elders discussed strategies for war, conducted judicial trials, and formed puchon (peace pacts) within the ator. The council decided upon and collected dues for community activities, ruled over conflicts among its members, and spoke for the rest of the ator in dealings with other ator. They kept a bonfire burning constantly, this being the source of fire for all households in the ili.

The boys, who were being trained to become warriors and workers, as well as widowers and bachelors, slept in the hut (Boquiren 1999, 26). The warriors sought advice from the elders before going to war. After the battle, they returned to the ator to celebrate their victory or to recover from defeat.

One of the most vital functions of the ator is the forging and maintenance of the puchon. Because of the constant state of hostility among villages for more than a century, peace pacts between warring villages were, and still are, an important feature of Cordillera life. The abfuyog (friendship between two persons or families from different villages) may serve as the basis for a puchon between two villages.

The puchon serves as a restorative measure to de-escalate tensions and stabilize relationships between warring villages, to prevent or deter conflicts, and “to secure the safety of villagers from co-peace pact villages” (Prill-Brett 1987a). Without a puchon, people of warring tribes could not freely travel, work on their swidden farms, or go hunting or food gathering because of the risk of hostile encounters with enemy villagers.

An actual case of a puchon being invoked occurred in the Antamok mines, Benguet, in 1955. Policemen of Itogon, Benguet caused trouble in the vicinity by assaulting mine personnel. The mines’ chief of police was an Ifiallig, and the assistant chief was from Tukukan, Bontoc. The chief of police ordered the Itogon policemen jailed and later taken to Camp Dangwa, then called Camp Holmes. The Itogon policemen filed counter charges, claiming that they had been detained beyond the six-hour limit. The assistant chief from Tukukan was offered compensation to testify against his Ifiallig superior, but he refused because of an existing pact between Tukakan and Barlig that guaranteed the safety of co-peace pact members. Thus, the puchon not only prevented conflict between the Ifiallig police chief and his Bontok assistant but guaranteed their mutual support.

Traditionally, the pa-atong (literally “to warm”), which signifies the renewal of a peace pact, was held at the ator. Because of the oral nature of the peace pact, it must be periodically renewed. This must be done more frequently between villages that are in close contact, hence more likely to engage in conflict, and less for villages that are situated far from each other or with ongoing smooth intervillage relations.

The renewal emphasizes the need for all concerned to abide by and honor all agreements contained within such pact. Thus, it orients the younger village members, who may not be aware of the pact’s existence, and informs them of the background behind its creation. Within the process, agreements made previously may be amended by addition, deletion, or modification of conditions maintained by the pact. More importantly, the renewal process is intended to promote and strengthen whatever solidarity and harmonious relations the pact has built.

During the pa-atong, the peace pact holders agree to meet in the village of the sponsor of the pa-atong and to review their pagta, the rules and agreement forged earlier. Depending on the parties concerned, the pagta is either strengthened or amended. The last three pa-atong in the region were held in the early 1980s in Kadaclan village, in the mid-1990s in Lias village, and in the early 2000s in Barlig Central. The last was between the Ifiallig and the Sachanga people and was sponsored by the Matib family of Barlig.

Apart from its political function, the ator was also the center for entertainment, information, education, and religious ceremonies (Boquiren 1999, 25). Here, villagers held important cultural activities such as the chuyas, ub-ufok (storytelling), and victory celebrations. In Barlig Central, the umu-ufok (storyteller and revered elder), who maintained the ator, was the source of all genealogical history within the village. The ub-ufok, which was performed in the ator, was the medium by which Ifiallig indigenous knowledge, customs, traditions, laws, and pacts were handed down through generations.

The importance and relevance of the ator in Ifiallig society have declined over the years. The ator system of Barlig has declined at a faster rate than those of other Cordillera ethnic groups because its importance and relevance in Ifiallig society have similarly declined. There used to be 41 ator distributed among the different villages of Barlig Central, Kadaclan, and Lias. By the 1940s there were fewer such structures in the area. By the late 1990s, there were only about seven active ator in Barlig, most of which were in Lias. The ator’s decline is due to several factors: the deaths of influential elders, the penetration of external religions, the imposition of public education and a new political system by the national government, and the introduction of electricity and telecommunications.

By the year 2000, the most prominent structures in Barlig town proper were no longer the ator but the municipio (town hall), the district hospital, the church, and the public schools Barlig Central School and Barlig National High School. The municipio embodies the external political system that was imposed on the Ifiallig. In the old days, the community had its own custom law and its systems of governance and justice. Presently, the laws of the national government sometimes conflict with their traditional beliefs and practices but often prevail. In the past, it was clear to the community that their authorities were the elders who resided in the ator and who had regular interactions with their constituents. With the new political system, the Ifiallig now elect their government officials every three years. These relatively young officials may not know and may not maintain the ways of old. The current political system has weakened the value of indigenous political leaders, and the ator has lost its function as the venue for matters of community governance and justice.

Perhaps the most significant factor contributing to the ator’s decline is the death of influential village elders and the absence of their successors. With various career options now available to those with education, the younger generation has more and more distanced itself from the institution of the ator and its teaching (Botengan 1976, 24, 30). In recent decades, the municipal or barangay hall and the school gym have served as venues for activities traditionally held at the ator.

Ifiallig Tradition and Customs

The ili is also the integral social unit that is united by kinship ties, shared traditions, common interests, defense needs and historical experiences. Community life in the ili centered around “an elaborate system of rituals” (Keesing 1949) and feasts that are celebrated for various reasons like marriage, death, healing illnesses, victory in war, and different stages of rice cultivation. Village elders refer to these celebrations in general as oras. These feasts were traditionally held at the ator and thus, the elders determined the tongao (feast days and rest days) according to the purpose of the celebration, traditional practices, and phases of the moon.

These feasts are celebrated with music, dancing, the slaughter of pigs and chickens, accompanied by an invocation to the spirits. For the chuyas, the parents of the bride and groom provide the animals for the feast. The feasting lasts between two to seven days, and the day after the wedding is tongao or rest day. An oras is also held for victory celebrations, funeral rites, and harvest rituals. It is held to ask the spirits for bountiful harvests, successful hunts, good health, and fertility of the women. Funeral rites last between two to eight days. The length of the celebration is determined by the wealth and status of the deceased and his or her family. A tongao is held on the last day.

Apo Kinorman and his wife in Lasing, Barlig, Mountain Province
Apo Kinorman and his wife in Lasing, Barlig, Mountain Province, 2003 (Langfia Ayoena)

In the old days, the ator was also the center of entertainment, information, and education. The umu-ufok, who maintained the ator, was the storyteller and revered elder and thus the source of all genealogical history within the village. Ub-ufok was a regular activity, and through these stories in the ator, the elders taught the young about their hero-ancestors and the Ifiallig way of life. The elders also taught the young basket weaving and tattooing. Ifiallig customs and traditions were preserved and passed on through the ator.

Today, though, school buildings represent the national government’s influence on the minds of the Ifiallig youth. In 1995, a census showed that 87% percent of households in Barlig had family members who were illiterate. In response, the Department of Education, in cooperation with the SIL International, launched literacy programs for both children and adults. The summer literacy program has now been institutionalized through the public educational system. Every Ifiallig child is taught the curriculum of the national educational system, which does not include lessons on the Ifiallig heritage or on cultural diversity. The public school system and its emphasis on the written word have devalued oral traditions. Alternative sources of information have diminished the importance of the ator as the center for all information within the village.

The advent of electricity in the 1990s and employment opportunities outside Barlig have also greatly altered the Ifiallig way of life. Within a decade, electronic media became commonplace. Residents now have access to radios, television sets, digital media players, and karaoke equipment. Modern technology has provided the Ifiallig with new forms of leisure other than the storytelling sessions in the ator.

Traditional Ifiallig Religious Beliefs and Practices

Traditional Ifiallig religious practices revolve around the patpattay (sites for divinatory and sacrificial rites within the ili). The patpattay are the spiritual counterpart of the ator. Although the ator system is essentially defunct in Barlig, the patpattay still exist and are fully functional to this day. There are two patpattay sites within Barlig Central—one in Filig, Barangay Gawana, and the other in Kialling, Barangay Macalana.

Patpattay ritual in Barlig
Patpattay ritual in Barlig, 2004 (Langfia Ayeona)

A huge, old, sacred tree stands at the center of the patpattay, where an old man or woman offers prayers and animal sacrifices to gain the favor of anitos (spirits). Traditionally, the patpattay was the site where an elder would go to divine their victory in headhunting expeditions and wars. But the patpattay has since had other uses such as consulting oracles and performing rituals. For example, the rites in the patpattay of Kialling have been performed to curb the route of storms.

Oral accounts reflect the Ifiallig belief in spirits and hero ancestors. These omnipotent spirits may be good or evil and have power over life or death. As a way to commune with the spirits, the Ifiallig perform rituals called patay (prayers of petition or thanksgiving sacrifices). The venue for these rituals is determined by its purpose. Large rituals that benefit the community are celebrated at the ator, and family rituals begin at home. But all mangmang (animal sacrifices) are done at the patpattay. Larger feasts, also called mangmang, involve the butchering of pigs and chickens, whereas manmanok (smaller feasts) require only chickens and salted pork. During the ritual, an old woman summons the anitos and offers prayers. The dead chicken is placed over a fire, and a cut is made to expose the gall. The Ifiallig perform these rituals to receive a sign from the spirits. A dark-colored gall portends good fortune, whereas a light-colored one is a bad omen.

The Ifiallig believe in other omens like the ichiw, a noisy forest bird which is a portent of a successful or dangerous voyage. If the bird crosses one’s path, perches on a tree branch on the right side of the path, and emits three shrill shrieks, it foretells a successful voyage ahead. Any other behavior is a warning for the travelers not to proceed. Another menacing sign is the tilag (rainbow), which the Ifiallig believe augurs death or misfortune.

As with other cultures around the world, the Ifiallig believe that supernatural events occur as midnight comes during a full moon. In the story “Kutuktin,” the full moon is the time when the kutuktin, a skeleton-like monster that resembles the atifiangran (giant fern tree), roams around the villages in Barlig at midnight, searching for snoring Ifiallig to devour. The tale, “Kiangsa,” tells the story of a young Ifiallig warrior who goes out to search for a magical kiangsa (gong). It is during the full moon at midnight in the forests of Sachanga (now Sadanga, Mountain Province), when the anito perches on top of a tall tree to play the magic kiangsa, the sound of which resonates for miles. The Isachanga believe that every time the kiangsa plays, somebody in their villages will die.

The Ifiallig’s belief in their hero-ancestor deities is reflected in the story “Linmipaw.” Linmipaw is an Ifiallig hunter who is forcibly wed to an allukoy (forest guardian spirit) and eventually crosses over to the enchanted world to live as an immortal. In the story, he fills his brother Matur-i’s traps with game. In return, Matur-i provides Linmipaw with fat from domesticated pigs that do not exist in the otherworld. To this day, Ifiallig hunters offer pig fat to Linmipaw, patron of the hunt, so that he may fill their traps with game.

While many of these beliefs are reflected in ancient lore as passed on to them in the ator, external religions have changed the views of the Ifiallig. The Catholic Church is a manifestation of the influence of external religions on the community. Upon their arrival, Catholic missionaries impressed upon the people that the Ifiallig belief in spirits and their traditional practices were against the laws of God, hence sinful. Apart from the Catholic Church, the Espiritista group has also reached Barlig, as well as Bontoc. This group has no church building, so its members meet in the home of their religious leader. Although these religious conversions have in part caused the decline of the ator in most areas of Barlig, the Ifiallig to this day continue to perform ritual sacrifices in the patpattay.

The Ifiallig Traditional House

The Ifiallig call their traditional house the fiawi. The atop (roof) is made of well-dried tiger grass, and the walls and floors are made of wood. Beneath the roof lies the fiarug, which is used for storing grains. Near the roof, there is a small window called sufia, which serves as an exhaust for the smoke that usually comes from the chalekan (bonfire). The fiattaw (front yard) is covered by large stones.

The Ifiallig house called fiawi
The Ifiallig house called fiawi (Raul Boncan Jr.)

The tuytuy (ladder) is removable. It is lowered during the day as a sign that visitors are welcome and pulled inside the house at night. Traditionally, the Ifiallig sleep on a plain thick wooden board called chakurug. Another type of ladder is called the sakrang. It is used for reaching high places in the payyiw, especially when the stone walls are cleaned. When not in use, the sakrang is hung on the sidewalls of the fiawi.

The fukrut (a small chicken coop) and the kagkiab (a larger chicken coop) are, like the sakrang, hung on one of the sidewalls of the fiawi. Beneath the floors is a kungu, where hogs are bred. Today, although the structures of houses in Barlig are made of sturdier materials, there is still a part of the house that serves as the place for raising hogs. The hogs drink water from the attong (a watering trough), which is located outside the fiawi. Some households would have a pangkopor (sugarmill), which stands detached from but next to the fiawi. This is used to ferment rice into tapuy (rice wine) and sugarcane into fiayas (sugarcane wine).

Hunters have the paang (a display collection of animal skulls on the walls) to signify their wealth and high status in their village.

Ifiallig Traditional Costume and Ornaments 

Traditionally, Ifiallig men wear the furkus (loincloth), and women wear the lauy (woven wraparound skirt), which is held together by a long cloth called awwad. These woven garments are part of the Ifiallig’s tawid (heirloom objects or inheritance).

Samples of pasiking or backpack and soklong or raincoat
Samples of pasiking or backpack and soklong or raincoat, 2017 (Nicole Fikingas)

For headgear, Ifiallig males wear a tokkaong, a woven hat with a diameter of five inches and height of two. Single or separated men decorate their tokkaong with rooster feathers and shell ornaments. The elders and married males use a plain tokkaong. The tokkaong also functions like a pocket in which men store small objects like pipes, tobacco, or matches that they need to take with them. The soklong, to which feathers sticking up are attached, is worn on special occasions. A third type of headgear among Ifiallig is the wooden helmet-shaped oklop, which doubles as a food or water bowl for the hunter or traveler.

As protection from the rain, the Ifiallig wear the fiangiw. The women’s fiangiw is a basket-like hat, one end of which is shaped like a boat’s prow. This is the part that is worn on the head. The rest of the boat-shaped basket reaches lengthwise down to the back of the waist. The men wear a coat made of the stems of the leaves of the fiangrawan vines.

The Ifiallig’s body ornaments are made of beads, shells, and stones, the last ranging from beautifully colored to precious stones. The women’s appong (necklaces and head adornments) may be of carnelian beads or snake vertebrae. It is believed that the snake bones enhance fertility and aid in childbirth, so they are traditionally worn by married women. They are also believed to cure illnesses and dispel bad luck. In recent years, however, unmarried women in several parts of the Cordillera have taken to wearing these snake beads solely for ornamentation.

The size, material, and the elaborateness of the ornaments are a measure of the wearer’s social status. Ritual celebrations are the most important occasions for which these are worn, and the grandness of these occasions determines the amount and intricateness of the ornaments worn. Ifiallig men wear the boaya (necklaces made of boar’s tusks), so called because these necklaces used to be made out of buwaya (crocodile) teeth. When crocodile teeth became scarce, they were substituted with boar’s tusks. These necklaces are used for rituals and ceremonies. Like the snake beads, these ornaments are worn as amulets for protection against danger or death. The tangkor (armband made of boar’s tusks) is used only by Ifiallig warriors who believe that the wild boar’s “strength, speed, endurance and ferocity” (Villegas 1983) would transfer themselves to the wearer.

The boaya is worn with the kafifi, a mother-of-pearl ornament worn at the waist. Today, its function is mainly ornamental and is worn only during ceremonies. In the olden days, it was used in the fields and served as a signal device especially at night because it glows in the dark. The boaya and the kafifi are rare and are considered extremely valuable ornaments. Only the most prestigious families own them.

The Ifiallig use two types of spears: the furfug for hunting and the fiangkaw for war. The sharp end of the furfug has a kangi (two hooks at its sides). The kangi ensure that the spear does not leave the animal’s body once it is hurled. This would weaken the animal and would make it easier for the hunter to run after it should it try to escape. The fiangkaw is without a kangi to enable the warrior to retrieve it immediately after it is plunged into the body of their enemies. It is then ready for the next enemy. The most effective weapon to defeat the Ifiallig’s enemies is the kiaman (head axe). The choros (bolo) is used for slaughtering animals and for cutting grass in the fields. The karasay (shield) is made of wood and enhanced by weaving.

The Ifiallig possess other heirlooms such as the fianga (clay pot) and fusi (large jars), which are of Chinese origin. These jars are used for storing rice, tapuy, and fiayas. The fianga are used for cooking, together with the fianniw, which is used to cook and stir rice, and the fiakrong (ladle). The fianga are without design, but the fusi usually have oriental designs such as dragons embossed on them. These jars were acquired through trade with the lowlanders. It is believed that in the early 19th century, some residents traveled out of the area, reaching as far as Candon, Ilocos Sur, through Cervantes. They brought home with them varisized vats made of engraved metal and decorated jars of Chinese make.

The kiangsa is an important tawid in Ifiallig culture. It features prominently in their ritual celebrations. One-and-a-half feet in diameter, with sides measuring three inches, the kiangsa is made of either brass or copper. Brass gongs are more valuable and sound better. Their handles are made of wood or their enemies’ human jawbones.

The Ifiallig have woven baskets, such as the finali, for storing rice. Uppig (rattan baskets), passek (backpacks), and pasiking are highly valued among the Ifiallig and reflect diverse, highly skilled weaving traditions.

Jef Cawaon Cablog, an Ifiallig visual artist who has exhibited his work internationally, derives his oil paintings from the ub-ufok, tales and legends of his people and his hometown of Barlig. Cablog blends expressionism, realism, and pointillism to create dreamlike portraits of indigenous people. In 2019, this Baguio-based artist was among the artists featured in the book 40 Contemporary Great Masters of Portrait Painting published by Diverti Editions ( 2021).

Ifiallig Stories, Tales and Myths

Long ago, at the end of each day, when work in the payyiw was done, the Ifiallig would sit around the fire of the ator to listen to their umu-ufok recount their ub-ufok, tales about their hero-ancestors that have been handed down through generations and serve as a record of their history, genealogy, and cultural traditions. The word of the umu-ufok, who is the bearer of his people’s beliefs and traditions, was never questioned.

Scene from a tale in Ob-Ofok ad Fiallig, where the women of Tiko pour boiling syrup on their tormentors
Scene from a tale in Ob-Ofok ad Fiallig, where the women of Tiko pour boiling syrup on their tormentors (Illustration by Lou Pineda-Arada)

“Ub-ufok” is the Finallig term for the recounting of the Ifiallig’s genealogy; “ug-ukud” is the term for “story.” However, the Ifiallig use the former as the generic term for both types of narratives, making no strict distinction between the two terms.

The genealogy and the tales are so intertwined that the recounting of the genealogy is enriched with stories and tales about ancestor-heroes like Linmipaw and Amfusnun, and are also related to present-day lives. Thus, the ub-ufok begins with the formula phrase, ad pus-oy kanu (in the days of old, they say). These tales express the Ifiallig’s belief that they are descended from mythical creatures and heroes. They also recount the origin of Ifiallig settlements and explain current customs.

Ifiallig elder recounting tales about the tabfiad, a gigantic, dragon-like serpent
Ifiallig elder recounting tales about the tabfiad, a gigantic, dragon-like serpent (Illustration by Lou Pineda-Arada)

Through the ub-ufok, the Ifiallig affirm their kinship principles and values like honor, courage, respect for elders, and the belief in the law of retribution. The ub-ufok also embody their belief in supernatural beings such as the tabfiad (gigantic, dragon-like serpent), the anito, kutuktin, and magical objects like the enchanted kiangsa. The spirit world and the real world may be meshed together, allowing for marriage between celestial beings and mortals. The Ifiallig use these supernatural events to explain natural calamities like landslides and to recount their history and the origin of their settlements. Woven into the narrative are citations of present-day evidence that prove the veracity of the tales. The Ifiallig’s unwavering faith in the words of their umu-ufok, the keepers of enchantment, is perhaps the strongest proof of their belief in the relationship of the supernatural to their daily lives.

The tales speak of mythical beings who marry mortals, creatures who devour people, and noble heroes who save their village. Lake Tufog sleeps atop a dead volcano and holds the power of enchantment. Visitors to this lake wander around the site, lost for several hours, if their improper behavior offends the resident spirits. Another lake is Siblaw Taraw, which is on a swampy mountaintop in Chattul, Barlig. The name of the lake means “the bathing place of stars,” because seven star maidens used to come down from the heavens during the full moon at midnight to bathe in this lake until one of them was tricked into marrying an Ifiallig hunter.

The next four tales are from Ob-Ofok ad Fiallig (Tales of Fiallig), 1977, as told by Ifiallig storytellers Fugsi-aw and Luting Fumalin, and written down by Juanita Chamcan.

The fierceness of the women of Tiko when they are violated is depicted in one tale. Some people move from Ferwang to settle in a valley, which they name “Tiko” after its shape, which is curved. One day the Ilakud men from Fialiwun (or Fialiwon) attack Tiko and rape its women, while their husbands are away in the fields. The men and women of Tiko then prepare for the return of the Ilakud men by making sugarcane wine. When the Ilakud men arrive, the men of Tiko hide while the women get the Ilakud men to drink themselves into a stupor. The women then pour boiling syrup over the sleeping men, except one who is able to escape back to Fialiwun. Knowing that the Ilakud men would attack in reprisal, the people of Tiko evacuate. They stop at Tannod, where they bury their beautiful jars before moving on. They plant a chongra, a red plant traditionally used to mark boundaries, to mark the spot. The Ilakud men return to Tiko and seeing it deserted, set it on fire. Years later, some people of Tiko return for the jars in Tannod but find these impossible to retrieve. They return to Ferwang, from where they originated, and could only hope that someday, their descendants would find a way to dig these up.

A fantasy tale explains why a river in Lias is an endless source of turpentine. A gigantic human-eating lizard causes the people of Fiallikia to flee to Namilikia, Tanudan, and Ferwang. The dragon leaves a trail on Mount Wakaran as it journeys up the river and finally settles in the river of Inayyud. One day, it devours a woman and her child who are on their way to Allob. The people grow so fearful of the dragon that they not do not venture out of their houses. They then devise a way to bait and kill the dragon. They succeed, and they slice the dragon’s stomach open to recover the people that it has eaten. They then let its carcass float down the river toward Lias, where it sinks. Since then, the supply of turpentine in that spot has been limitless.

The story of a great flood explains why Barlig was transformed from a flat to a mountainous land. The god Kafunyan becomes angry when he sees a man leaving his pregnant wife behind to go hunting. Kafunyan creates a dam that causes the rivers to flood the villages and reshape the topography so that mountains appear. Two brothers of Palitog run up a tall tree on top of the highest mountain, Finnaruy. They need fire but everything is wet. A star comes toward them from Mount Karawet, and they realize it is fire that a wildcat is holding between its teeth as it swims toward them. It climbs the tree to give the two brothers the fire then departs. When the water recedes, the two brothers return to Palitog, which is now surrounded by mountains.

The flood story describes the process of preparing rice for cooking and explains the difference between the roofs of the houses in Tannod and those in Sappo. In Tannod, a man named Mang-et flees up Mount Ammuyo to escape the flood. When the water recedes, he is on his way back to Tannod when he meets Wiki-an. Wiki-an strikes a rock with his spear so he can make mortar with which to pound rice. He then takes three rocks and positions them so that he can place a pot on them and cook rice in the pot. Meanwhile, a third man, Fuki-an, has gone to Sappo to give the people there pigs, chicken, and rice. He also builds them houses with steeply inclined roofs. Wiki-an, on the other hand, has brought the pigs, chicken, and rice to Tannod, and he helps build Mang-et’s house, which has a four-sided roof. Mang-et asks Wiki-an for sugarcane and a ladle. This is why Barlig has sugarcane. Wiki-an goes to Lias, where he cooks rice. He blows on the embers, some of which rise up in the air and land on the tobacco, and this is why the tobacco in Lias smells bad. Then Wiki-an eats his rice too soon, so he spits it out. And this is why rice in Lias spoils easily.

T. Inglis Moore, an Australian who taught English and creative writing at the University of the Philippines in 1928-1931, wrote the historical novel The Half Way Sun, 1935, which includesan account of the 19th-century Spanish attack on Barlig. The Spaniards and their allies, Bontok warriors eager to do battle with the Ifiallig themselves, number 2,000 in all. The rebellious Barlig engage them in a fierce battle, at the end of which Barlig’s casualties number only seven heads, which the Bontok warriors have taken. Of the Spanish forces, 43 are killed, including four officers. Moore concludes with the sardonic comment that though the Spaniards came to kill, their only claim to victory is the burning down of the already abandoned Barlig village.

Ifiallig People Rituals and Festivals

Ayucheng is a musical mouth instrument played in Barlig devised from a bullet casing. It is played like a mouth harp but with the additional element of a string that is pulled and released to create the desired rhythm and tone.

Video: Barlig Chagchaku (Chant)

“Chagchaku” is the Finallig word for a dirge that is chanted at a wake. An elder spontaneously composes a narration of the life of the dead person being mourned, and the rest of the mourners, in a chorus, sings the last word or two of every line that the elder chants.

Music and dancing feature prominently in Ifiallig oras or ritual celebrations. The Ifiallig, like most groups in the Cordillera, dance counterclockwise in a circle. Men play bronze or copper kiangsa in a beat called pattong. Individual gongs playing different beats and in varying pitches blend together to establish a rhythm. Men and women in traditional garb perform the eagle dance, in which they move rhythmically in quick, bouncing steps with arms raised to the sides, mimicking the flight of a circling eagle. On grand occasions, fiayas and tapuy are served, and elders perform songs and feast all through the night.

Since 2000, the municipality of Barlig has been holding annual cultural festivals: Barlig town has the Fortan festival; Lias, the Changyasan festival; and Kadaclan, the Menaliyam festival. Pattong marks the celebration of these festivals, interspersed with the performance of indigenous games, indigenous poetry, music, and dances. The drinking of tapuy and the butchering of pigs draw the men in particular (Barlig Mtn Province 2014).

Media Arts

There are at least four radio stations operating in the Mountain Province, but none are based in Barlig. Geographically closest to Barlig are DZVL-FM Radyo Natin operated by the Manila Broadcasting Company and DWFR-AM “Radyo Pilipinas” by the Philippine Broadcasting Service. Both are based in the provincial capital Bontoc. DWSW-FM Radyo Sagada operated by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and DWDA-FM Radyo Ayyoweng by the Department of Agriculture is based further in Sagada and Tadian, respectively ( 2021).

On top of the Manila-based broadcasting network channels that reach television sets in the area, there are at least two local television stations in the Mountain Province. Transmitters of GMA Network’s DZVG Channel 5 and ABS-CBN Corporation’s D-11-ZZ Channel 11 are located at Mount Amuyao at the boundary of Barlig and Banaue of the Ifugao Province. However, D-11-ZZ is no longer in operation after ABS-CBN’s franchise lapsed in 2020 ( 2016). Among the programs that was broadcasted by this channel is TV Patrol North Luzon, the local edition of the popular news program ( 2020).

The Ifiallig culture enjoys relatively good exposure via the internet. Baguio-based artist Jef Cawaon Cablog maintains his own website as well as Facebook page (JEF Cablog) where he engages with other artists as well as supporters ( 2021). 

Video: Tilag: The rainbow who lived among the Ifiallig

The YouTube channel of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) features at least 10 short animation films that accompany teaching modules for the Center's "Ub-Ufok Ad Fiallig: Tales of Enchantment Teaching Module Project (UTEMP)" that aims to "empower learners by encouraging them to use prior knowledge and orality as a form of literacy" ( 2021). The film Tilag: The rainbow who lived among the Ifiallig that tells the story of how some present-day families in Barlig are descendants of the marriage between Tilag, an enchanted rainbow, and an Ifiallig hunter, for example, accompanies the UTEMP's first module "Tilag: Valuing Our Roots" (CSEAS 2021). Other films include Kutuktin: The monster who terrorized Fiangtin, Amfusnun: What happens when you fall in love with your enemy?, and Linmipaw: A strong-willed enchantress who won’t take no for an answer.


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

Title: Ifiallig

Author/s: Pia Arboleda, with notes from Rosario Cruz-Lucero (2018) / Updated by Gonzalo Campoamor II (2021)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: August 31, 2022

1 comment:

  1. My sincere admiration to this awesome narrative but allow to give minor correction in the statement that says, "Barlig became municipality in 1966." When Barlig was separated from the District of Talubin on August 7, 1966, Barlig became a component municipality already with Lias as its second barrio (Because Kadaclan was then under Natonin municipality). in June 18,1966, by virtue of R.A. 4739, Kadaclan was separated from the Natonin municipality and became the third cluster of Barlig that made Barlig as regular municipality.


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