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The Isinay (Isinai, Inmeas) People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Nueva Vizcaya Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The Isinay (Isinai, Inmeas) People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Nueva Vizcaya Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]


Isinay” is derived from the prefix i, meaning “native, resident, people of,” and sinai, a place believed to have been inhabited by the early people of northern Luzon. The Isinay were formerly known as Inmeas and Malaates. However, “Isinay” was the term given to them by their neighboring groups, the Italon, Bugkalot or Ilongot, and Ibaloy, who occupied the areas along the Cagayan River in Nueva Vizcaya.

The Isinay are a homogenous group of people indigenous to an area of Nueva Vizcaya composed of the municipalities of Aritao, Bambang, and Dupax del Sur. The term “dupax” is said to have originated from the Isinay dopah, meaning “to rest after a long day’s work in the jungle.” Other Isinay communities may be found in Kayapa and Santa Fe in Nueva Vizcaya. There are also descendants of the intermarriage between a Bontok group called Karao, also known as Panoypuy and Owak, and the Isinay in Aritao and Dupax.

Nueva Vizcaya is bounded by Quirino and Aurora on the east, Nueva Ecija on the south, Pangasinan and Benguet on the west, and Ifugao and Isabela on the north. These areas are generally mountainous with elevations rising as high as 1,500 meters and are surrounded by the mountain ranges Cordillera to the west, Sierra Madre to the east, and Caraballo to the south. Timber resources and vast virgin forests occupy the eastern portion. During the Spanish period, the Ilocano and other outsiders migrated to this area. Originally a part of Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao became a separate province in 1908. Ilocano-speaking people presently dominate Nueva Vizcaya, constituting more than 60% of the province’s 366,604 population, the rest being composed of other ethnolinguistic groups: the Ikalahan or Ilanuan, Ifugao, Tagalog, Ibaloy, Ayangan, Bugkalot (Ilongot), and Isinay. In 1975, there were 2,865 Isinay, as compared to 3,959 Ilocano residents in Dupax del Sur; 1,769 Isinay vis-à-vis 19,903 Ilocano in Bambang; and 200 Isinay vis-à-vis 16,372 Ilocano in Aritao. In 1982, Kayapa, which lies immediately to the west of Aritao and Bambang, had a solid Isinay population. By 2010, however, the Isinay no longer made up the majority of this municipality’s population of 21,453. The municipality of Dupax del Sur still has an almost solid Isinay population of 17,000 to 18,000; in Bambang, the 16,000 Isinay make up almost 40% of the population; and in Aritao, they are 2,500, or 7% of the population.

Moreover, those who identify themselves as Isinay do not necessarily speak the language. Isinay has been classified as a “severely endangered language,” with only around 5,520 speakers concentrated in the municipalities of Bambang, Dupax del Sur, and Aritao. Most of the young-generation Isinay in Dupax del Sur speak Tagalog, and those in Bambang speak Ilocano, interspersed with only a few Isinay words. In Aritao, only the older-generation Isinay of Barangays Payao and Uruddu speak the language, and they number no more than a hundred.

The Isinay language is entirely different from the languages of their surrounding neighbors—the Gaddang, with whom they share their territory; the Ifugao, Ibaloy, and Karao, their neighboring mountain groups; and the Pangasinan, Kapampangan, and Tagalog, the groups in the plains toward the south, with whom they have had a long history of trade relations. It does have dialect variations, at least three of which are spoken in the three municipalities of Nueva Vizcaya where they are located. The Isinay dialects spoken in Dupax del Sur and Aritao differ primarily in a few lexical items. These two dialects, in turn, differ from the Bambang dialect in their phonological and lexical features. The Isinay language used in formal writing is based on the Dupax del Sur dialect.

The need to preserve their diminishing culture and language has become very important to the Isinay. The revitalization of their language and culture as the primary means to avert disenfranchisement of the Isinay is being carried out by Isinay associations in Nueva Vizcaya. The Isinai Federation of Nueva Vizcaya, composed of the Uhmu si Tribun Isinai (Aritao), Bona si Isinai (Dupax del Sur), and the Bambang Isinay Tribe, was formed in late 2008. The Isinay Advocates, a group of volunteers formed in 2012, also helps in the revitalization of the Isinay language and culture.

History of the Isinay Tribe

In 1572, one year after the capture of Manila, the Spaniards entered Cagayan Valley on the north coast and made contact with the natives of the region. It was not until 1591, however, that the Spaniards invaded the area then called Tuy or Ituy, which lay between the southeast of the Cordillera range and northwest of the Caraballo mountain range. Here, the first ethnic groups that they encountered were the Isinay and their neighbors, the Bugkalot and the Karao. The region had been named after the village of Tuy, its principal chief called Tuy, and a local tree. The first expedition, led by the governor general’s son, Don Luis Dasmariñas, had traveled from Pampanga through Nueva Ecija along Balete also known as Dalton Pass, and on to the flatlands of Magat River at the southern tip of Nueva Viscaya. It consisted of “70 Spanish soldiers, 2 Augustinian fathers, many armed Indian chiefs and men from Pampanga, and over 1,300 Indian bearers” (Antolin 1970).

The Isinay’s reception of the Spaniards was a pattern of tactical surrender and defensive warfare. At the threshold of Tuy Valley, the Spaniards built a cross on a tree. The first village that they entered was also named Tuy, where they exchanged a few trinkets with the Isinay—the Spaniards giving pieces of cloth, garments, beads, hawk’s bells, and combs; the Isinay, carnelian beads and some pieces of impure gold. Don Luis extracted a promise from the village chief that the people would pay the Spaniards tribute starting the following year. The chiefs having given their promise with an egg ceremony, Don Luis then summoned three village chiefs of the nearby area of Aritao and demanded the same promise from them. They complied, although despite Don Luis’s insistence, they refused to have their wives make an appearance, claiming that their women were away for some amusement.

The Spaniards turned the village of Tuy into their garrison, from where they would foray into the neighboring villages. In their absence, Chief Tuy came out of hiding, berated the chiefs for their immediate surrender, and prevailed upon them to fight back. A great many warriors retreated into the mountains, where they built forts and trenches, which the Spaniards attacked. A mountain group, the Panoypuy also known as Karao, attacked the Tuy garrison and burned it down. The Spaniards plundered the villages for food and captured the chiefs’ wives and children, whom they held hostage in return for the chiefs’ surrender. Five Isinay chiefs—of the villages of Sicat in Dupax; Barat, Bugat, and Bantal in Aritao; and Tuy—were forced to “beg pardon,” and with a candle ceremony, they promised to keep their people under control. As tribute, which symbolized their surrender, they gave a few gold necklaces and some measures of rice.

As the Spaniards pushed on, the Isinay either abandoned their villages and joined the upstream people who had heretofore been their enemy, or stayed and paid homage to the new masters. The Spaniards departed Tuy and entered the Gaddang territory of Dangla province on their way to Nueva Segovia also known as Cagayan. The Gaddang chiefs, having learned of the capitulation of the Isinay villages of Tuy, Aritao, and Dupax, took their oath with the egg ceremony and proffered gifts of gold necklaces. The Spaniards subjugated nine more villages, but the residents of the 10th, named Bolo, fled with their weapons. The Spanish expedition’s last stop was Yugan, where four chiefs responded to his summons and took their oath with a candle ceremony. From here, the expedition exited the valley and entered Nueva Segovia.

The Isinay reception of a second Spanish invasion a month later was more systematically prepared. Although the Spaniards were cordially received in Tuy village, from there on they were attacked along the way by armed villagers. In the village of Bantal in Aritao, the Isinay warriors had positioned themselves with lance and shield around a cross. Stopping at Bugay next, the Spaniards demanded rice and received bundles of grass instead. In retaliation, the Spaniards captured three chiefs, one of whom escaped and led an attack against them. In all the villages that the expedition passed, the residents had either left or were ready for battle. Like the first expedition a month before, this second one departed the valley and went on into Nueva Segovia.

A third military expedition three months later came upon the deserted village of Tuy. However, the villagers returned after the Spaniards promised them no harm and graciously received the Isinay’s meager tribute of two fowls and some rice. In the Bugay village of Aritao, the chief held a blood compact with the Spanish commander. In the Dangla valley, the Spaniards gave away trinkets such as hawk’s bells, rings, needles, small strings of beads, and combs as well as pieces of cloth, while the Isinay were forced to provide food supplies such as hens, fowl, swine, rice, as well as some gold. In the village of Pingkian in Kayapa, the Isinay gave deer meat and camote (sweet potatoes). From here, the Spaniards returned to Pangasinan through Mount Imuga, passing by Dalton Pass.

Three years later, in 1594, the Spaniards were cordially received by the chiefs of Aritao and Dangla, who held a blood compact with the Spanish commander. The chiefs presented him with a small string of carnelian beads, a little rice, gold, and a few fowls. However, a Chief Ibarat of Aritao held out and appeared to be plotting some resistance with the other chiefs when the Spaniards seized him. They freed him in exchange for his sons, whom he then ransomed with food supplies for the Spaniards.

Further Spanish forays into Isinay territory proved the Isinay’s capacity for stubborn and efficient resistance. In 1606, the Isinay attacked an expedition led by an encomendero, two other Spaniards, 20 native chiefs from lower Cagayan, and hundreds of other natives. More than a hundred were killed, including the three Spaniards and the chiefs.

However, the Isinay were caught between the punitive expeditions of the Spaniards and internecine wars with the neighboring, head-taking groups occupying the central and innermost portion of the Cagayan Valley. Moreover, Isinay territory was the entry point from Pangasinan into the vast flatlands that were to become the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, and Cagayan valley. Thus, their accessibility not only made them vulnerable to invasions from all directions but also made their subjugation essential for the spread of Spanish control of northern Luzon. Within the next few years until the 1620s, delegations ranging from 3 to 30 Isinay chiefs were making representation to the Spanish government in Manila and to the Dominican missionaries in Pangasinan to accept their surrender and to send priests to their territory.

In 1632, two Dominican priests established a mission house at Ituy village, from where they would regularly visit 11 villages. In each village, the people had erected a cross around which they had placed bamboo benches to sit on while the priests preached and prayed in the Pangasinan language, which the Isinay only half understood. For this reason, the Dominican friars thought the Isinay to be dociles (docile people) and friendly, in contrast to their neighboring Bugkalot, whom they characterized as feroces (ferocious or savage people) and killers.

From 1633 to 1637, the priests established four mission settlements in Ituy: San Miguel and Dangla near Dupax, Tuhay or Bugay (now Aritao), and Bayombong. However, continuing hostilities from those who stubbornly refused conversion compelled the Dominicans to abandon their Ituy mission, to which they nevertheless continued to make intermittent visits. Thirty years later, in 1662, a Franciscan missionary was still describing Ituy as “a land of unconquerable heathens.”

Abetting the resistance wars against the Spaniards was—besides those of the Bugkalot—an Igorot subgroup called Panuypuy or Panipuy, also known as Karao or Karaw, who lived in the mountainous part of the Dupax district and with whom the Ituy traded for gold. During the first Spanish invasion of Tuy in 1591, the Panuypuy had descended from Afanas, also known as Ajanas, their mountain stronghold, and raided and burned down Ituy village, which the Spaniards had converted into their garrison. Since then, they had harassed both Spaniards and Christianized Ituy. In 1633, Spanish troops armed with arquebuses made a surprise attack on Afanas, and the Panuypuy fought back with lances, machetes, and rocks. When their chief, Sapak, was killed, they dispersed into the hinterlands. Transforming Afanas into their own fort, the Spaniards assaulted and burned down all the other mountain villages of the Panuypuy: Masi, Taveng, Bangao, Balangan, Patar, and Ibila. They reconstructed Afanas into their own fort and built another one at the Gaddang village of Bagabag.

It was not until 1739, when the Pangasinan-Cagayan road was completed, that the Isinay’s Christian conversion was solidified. Using the forced labor of colonized natives, the Spaniards had a series of shelters built along the road, which extended from Asingan, Pangansinan, to the Isinay village of Bugay or Buhay (now Aritao). The Isinay’s Christian conversion, however, caused the intensified harassment of them by non-Christian groups for their livestock and crops. With the finished road facilitating troop mobility and with the increasing need to protect their mission settlements, the Spaniards were determined to exterminate the Panuypuy. In 1745, the Panuypuy’s last stronghold fell to Spanish hands.

The Panuypuy, now called Karao, who had originated from Eastern Bontoc and settled in the mountains of Dupax in precolonial times, moved south toward the villages of Kirang, Aritao, and Dupax. A Dupax-Aritao subgroup moved north toward a place called Owak, where a small ethnic group called the I’wak now reside. Others moved farther north until they settled at Bokod, Benguet, in Barangays Karao and Ekip, where they are presently identified as an Ibaloy subgroup. A mountain peak south of present-day Dupax is named Mount Kanabuy, derived from “Panuypuy.”

Henceforth, as in other towns colonized by the Spaniards, the encomienda system, forced tribute, and eventually reduccion (resettlement) were imposed on the Isinay. In their work of evangelization, the Dominicans coming mostly from Pangasinan solicited the support of the Augustinians from Pampanga and the Franciscans from the Tayabas missions. To make it easier for these missionaries to control the area, the upper valley was separated from the lower. Like the Isneg, Itawit, Ibanag, and Gaddang or Ga’dang, the Isinay were rounded up either in rancherias (settlements) or in larger pueblos.

These mission territories, headed by Spanish friars who acted as both religious and civilian authorities, were not placed under the jurisdiction of the nearby provinces of Pangasinan, Pampanga, and Cagayan. Like in most parts of the country, the colonization of Ituy was more for military and economic expansion than religious. For the Spaniards, controlling Ituy meant severing the supply lines of resistance movements in southern Cagayan Valley, accessing the famed “Igorot gold mines” in the unexplored northern mountains, and ensuring the mobility of their troops and personnel who, before their access to Ituy, had to travel from Manila first by sea and then through Ilocos.

In 1781, the Spaniards established the tobacco monopoly, which lasted for nearly a century. The monopoly also paved the way for the influx of people from other parts of the country. As early as 1850, the Ilocano started to immigrate into the valley, and some 150 Samal Balangingi were brought in after surviving the 1848 Spanish military campaign in the Sulu archipelago.

In the nationwide census that the Americans initiated in 1903, the Isinay were identified as those who resided in the hills of western Nueva Vizcaya, particularly in the towns of Aritao, Dupax, and Bambang, and were originally Igorot but who had been converted in the late 1700s. Moreover, the census divided the population of Nueva Vizcaya into two categories: the “civilized” and the “wild,” with the Gaddang and Isinai being classified as “civilized.”

Isinay Way of Life

The indigenous farming systems of the Isinay were both wet agriculture, with the use of an irrigation system and kaingin (slash-and-burn or swidden) cultivation. In Dupax del Sur, the Isinay planted seeds in individually owned seedbeds. They used a sharpened stick to make holes into which the rice seedlings were transplanted manually. After transplanting, they built tan-nang (paddy dikes). Fields were flooded with water for four to five months. To guard their plants from tulin (brown rice birds) and dama (black rice birds), they put up scarecrows called tinahutahu. A variation of the tinahutahu was the owu, which made a rattling sound like the Benguet clappers. For harvesting, the Isinay used a rice knife called gamlang to cut the rice stalks. Each harvester tied his or her own sim botoh (bundles of rice plant) and would leave them in the fields to dry for about three weeks. These then were stacked in conical piles and were left there for a month before being taken to the e-ang (granary).

In 1572, the Spanish explorers observed that the major economic activities in Ituy were agriculture, fishing, hunting, and domestication of animals such as pigs and poultry. They produced taro, yam, rice, and corn. Those that settled in the coastal areas were skillful boat makers. They traveled to Pangasinan to trade on market days as if going to the fair. With the Igorot, they traded for gold, which they had in such abundance that the village children wore them freely. Women and children might cover themselves with “gold necklaces, armlets reaching to the elbow, anklets, and earrings.” There was some trade as well with the Chinese and the Japanese.

In 1591, the first few Spanish expeditions came upon irrigated rice fields along the upper Magat River, besides the customary kaingin fields. There was an abundance of deer, carabao, swine, goats, fowl, anise, ginger, cotton, and various kinds of wild fruit. By 1632, however, the missionaries found only kaingin fields, indicating the people’s shift backward to a nomadic lifestyle in their attempts to evade encounters with the Spaniards.

However, such was the fertility of the land that the valley became the practical choice of the Spaniards to establish the tobacco monopoly in 1781. Lands which had hitherto been allocated for food crops were transformed into tobacco-producing farm fields until the Cagayan Valley, including Nueva Vizcaya, became the leading producers of high quality tobacco. But the high quality of tobacco produced in this region was not translated into the economic upliftment of the people. Guards and clerks were employed to implement strict rules and regulations regarding the administration of the tobacco industry. Payments were delayed, and substandard tobacco leaves were burned. The long and risky trail toward Cagayan Valley isolated the area from Manila and Central Luzon, which further resulted in the underpopulation of that area. Hence, Ilocano immigration, which began in 1850, was encouraged by the Spanish administration.

During the American colonial period, the Isinay continued to practice wet agriculture, hunting, and fishing. There were two kinds of rattan traps for fish: the bangkat for the big fish and apayao for small fish. During this time, too, tobacco from Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya gained official recognition from the American government and was classed as standard. To support this industry, the Americans also allowed more Ilocano to migrate into the valley. These immigrations continued, especially after World War II.

Presently, the Isinay’s main economic activity continues to be wet agriculture, with cycles beginning in July. They produce more rice than they need. They also cultivate sweet potato and cassava to add to their carbohydrate requirements. Vegetables are harvested and are sold in the Baguio market. Poultry and piggery remain as secondary occupations while hunting serves as a casual occupation, particularly among groups close to the forested areas. The Isinay also raise cattle and goats for their protein needs. Tobacco cultivation is still important to the economy of the region. Added to this, Nueva Vizcaya provides the timber requirements of the local building industry and the export of plywood. While logging has brought untold wealth to some, it has denuded what were once virgin forests and caused ecological imbalance.

The local industries involved in community, social, and personal services tend to concentrate on three areas: education, personal and household services, and public administration and defense. Workers in the manufacturing industry are mostly engaged in the manufacture of wood and wood products, textile, wearing apparel and leather, food beverages, and tobacco.

Four highways link the valley to the rest of Luzon. Improved transportation and communication facilities help the people transport their goods to different parts of the region. Tobacco continues to be a major agricultural product. Nueva Vizcaya, which has numerous sawmills, has become one of the leading timber producers of Luzon. Greater mining activity has contributed greatly to the industrialization and urbanization of Nueva Vizcaya.

The Lost Culture of the Isinay People

As a result of the Spanish policy of reduccion, which forced the natives to live around the plaza complex, much of Isinay culture has been lost because of acculturation. This is evident in the absence of native terms for traditional leaders and structures of governance, except for the word pangiyu, which is equivalent to president.

Indigenous leadership among the Isinay was held by a village chief who was supported by a class of warriors. Although no permanent structure or formal ceremony gave recognition to an overall ruler, one chief might be held in greater esteem than others by the chiefs of neighboring villages. Such was the case of Chief Tuy in 1591, who held sufficient influence over the other chiefs to persuade them to resist Spanish colonization.

Peace pacts, which were accomplished with a simple but solemn ceremony, ensured political unity among the villages. In the peace-pact ceremony, the leader of each party would take an egg. Both would throw the eggs to the ground at the same time, swearing to fulfill the promise of peace and likening themselves to the broken eggs should they break their word. When the Spaniards invaded Isinay territory, peace pacts were held between the Spanish commander and the village chiefs. Lighted candles were used instead of eggs, and the wording of the oath was revised accordingly, thus he who broke his word would be consumed as the candles were consumed. The Spanish commander and the Isinay chief then put out the flames of their candles and swore that whoever broke the pact would be “slain and would perish.” Thus, a veiled threat was added to the traditional oath.

Blood compacts were also practiced to seal peace agreements. The leaders of the parties involved cut themselves, bled their wound, and drank each other’s blood. The leaders then exchanged gifts such as strings of carnelian beads, rice, gold, and fowls.

With the establishment of the pueblo complex in Bayombong and Bagabag, the traditional leadership was replaced by the Spanish political structure, which rewarded loyalty to its colonial administration. In 1775, Don Juan Lumauig y Acocan of Bagabag was made the maestre-de-campo (field marshal) to ensure the subservience of the Christianized and migrant Igorots of the province. The Cagayan governor, who at that time held jurisdiction over the area, received orders from Governor-General Simon de Anda to defer to Don Juan’s decisions. By 1889, Don Juna’s great grandson, Don Salvador Lumauig, had become gobernadorcillo (mayor) and given a Medal of Civil Merit for his loyal service to the Spanish Crown.

The province of Nueva Vizcaya was created in 1839. With its rather large administrative area making it difficult for the Spaniards to govern, Cagayan was split into two provinces. The upper part maintained the name “Cagayan,” with the new capital Tuguegarao, from the original, Lallo. The lower part, Nueva Vizcaya, named after a place in Spain, was established as a comandancia politico-militar (military district or province) encompassing the mission territories like Ituy. With its capital at Camarag, the Spaniards effectively consolidated their authority in the valley. A military governor reigned over the domain, which was flanked by a number of comandancias politico-militares.

On 28 January 1902, under the American colonial period, the Philippine Commission declared Nueva Vizcaya a Special Province, which meant that it was directly governed by an American, and not by a US-appointed Filipino. The first American governor, L.E. Bennett, reenforced the distinction made by the Spanish colonizers between the “wild” uplanders and the “civilized” lowlanders, by calling the Gaddang and Isinay, who lived in the river valleys, “Filipino” and the mountain people “Igorrote.” His successor Governor L.G. Knight in 1904 went so far as to recommend that literacy for voters in Nueva Vizcaya include a reading and writing proficiency not only in English, Spanish, or Ilocano, but also in Gaddang or Isinay.

In 1956, parts of both Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya would form another province, Isabela. Bayombong became the new capital of Nueva Vizcaya when its previous capital Camarag, now Echague, became part of Isabela. The size of Nueva Vizcaya would later be reduced further when Quirino became a separate province in 1971.

In mid-1954, Republic Act (RA) 1181 decreed the transfer of the town hall of the municipality of Dupax to Malasin. This paved the way for the division of Dupax into two municipalities, Dupax del Norte and Dupax del Sur, in the 1970s, as decreed by RA 6372 and Presidential Decree 586. With the division, the Isinay population has since concentrated in Dupax del Sur.

Video: Visit the province of Nueva Vizcaya, a gateway to the Cagayan VAlley Region.  Here are the top tourist spots in Nueva Vizcaya that you can explore.

Today, under the presidential system of government, the political affairs in the 15 municipalities of Nueva Vizcaya, including the municipalities of Aritao, Bambang, and Dupax del Sur where most of the Isinay live, are carried out by three of the four types of local government units. These local government units are supervised by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Isinay Social Organization, Customs and Traditions

Customs of the early Isinay concerning marriage reflect their high regard for elders. Parents were responsible for choosing spouses for their children. There were times when parents entered into child betrothals even before their children were born. This practice was called the purung. The announcement of the purung was accompanied by a ritual attended by parents, relatives, and friends. During this gathering, guests offered a prayer to the souls of the dead relatives of their host. Food such as rice wine, rice cake, and meat was served to the people. After the meal, the agreement was revealed to everyone. This public announcement was done so that whoever backed out of the agreement would be required to shoulder all the expenses incurred on the day of the purung.

Communal cooking of lupeyup, a glutinous rice delicacy, in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya
Communal cooking of lupeyup, a glutinous rice delicacy, in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, 2011 (Charles Castro)

Isinay had elaborate procedures for a marriage. The first stage was the patayav, in which the man sent a letter to the lady’s parents expressing his intent to marry their daughter. This patayav was wrapped in a white embroidered handkerchief together with betel nut chew, cigarettes, tobacco, and wine. It was delivered by a couple chosen for their persuasive skills and for their willingness to accept the responsibility of advising the couple to be married.

In the girl’s house, the patayav was opened and read as those present partook of the wine, the cigarettes or tobacco, and the betel nut chew. The girl’s parents discussed between them and their relatives whether or not to accept the proposal. If they accepted, matters concerning the laar, the ritual formalizing the marriage proposal, were decided, such as the food to be served to the guests, the albasyadores (go-betweens) of the two parties, and the date of the laar. The laar was always done at night to ensure the availability of the guests.

On the day of the laar, the albasyadores of both parties dominated the entire proceedings. First, they paid their respects to the hosts. Next, a few prayers—one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary”—were offered to the souls of the relatives of both parties. Then, the albasyador proceeded to express the love of the man he represented. This statement opened the discussion between the albasyadores. There were times when the man himself was asked to speak, but he was properly coached by his albasyador. In this meeting, the participants outlined the details of the wedding and the wedding festivities. The man had two options. He could offer a dowry, which consisted of a house and lot, a piece of farmland, a carabao, and some amount of money. If he could not afford this, he could render service for some months or even years before the marriage. On every holiday and feast day during this period, the man had to give presents to the girl. Aside from the dowry or service, the man’s party was expected to provide the wedding accessories of the girl, which included an umbrella, jewelry like earrings, necklaces and rings, and the clothes to be worn after the wedding.

The 15-day period before the wedding was called the pavatar. During this period, the couple went to the priest or the judge to apply for a marriage license. The priest confirmed if the couple had been baptized in the same church. On the day before the wedding, the couple went to church to confess their sins. Meanwhile, preparations were made for the wedding festivities, such as building temporary sheds and cooking the food; the gifts agreed upon by the man’s party during the laar were delivered to the girl’s house. On the eve of the wedding day, the relatives bestow gifts on the couple in a practice called sahuru.

One distinct feature of the Isinay wedding ritual was the band of musicians hired to accompany the couple from the house to the church to play the march music from the church door to the altar and to accompany the newlyweds back to the wedding festivities at the girl’s house.

Upon arrival at the house, the bride and groom were welcomed by guests with a shower of rice, flowers, and coins. The couple then proceeded to the house altar to pray, while the guests sang the “Salve Regina.” After prayers, the couple danced first, followed by the others. Food was served. After eating, the paragala, which was the offering of financial help, was given to the couple as they danced the inbestida. A paratagay was assigned to pour wine for each donor. Then all the gifts were collected and wrapped in one bundle. The newlyweds carried this on their heads while performing the final dance.

A post-wedding celebration also takes place the following night at the groom’s house. The anino is a session designed to counsel the couple on the responsibilities of married life. Like the patayav, the counsels are given in poetry and or in song. Of the old Isinay marriage practices, only the inbestida, which is the dance of the couple after the wedding ceremonies, and the paragala, or the gift giving by the relatives and guests, are still observed. The other practices are now rarely followed.

The first stage of pregnancy is the sisipe, during which the Isinay husband is expected to indulge her cravings and mood swings. Dam-ot is the second stage of pregnancy, when the fetus has already taken human form. The mother periodically visits the manguy-uy (midwife) for massages to ensure that the baby is healthy and set in the proper position before birth.

After the baby’s birth, the father buries the placenta near a stream because the Isinay believe that this act makes the baby even tempered. The umbilical cord is hung “where the wind reaches it” to calm down the newborn. After some time, the cord is kept with those of the baby’s siblings. The Isinay believe that this strengthens the bond between them.

Isinay boys of age 14 to 16 undergo capun (circumcision), which is their rite of passage to manhood. The practice is performed by a mangugit, who is paid a small amount or a pack of cigarettes for his services. Having reached manhood, these boys are now allowed to conduct mangarug (courting of women).

The Isinay have a high respect for their elders. Grandparents are called apu. Ama (father) and ina (mother) are terms not only for one’s parents but also for uncles, aunts, and just about anyone in the community old enough to be parents. Older people, even those only by a few years, are called uwa, while iva refers to one’s peers.

In earlier times, during the wake of a dead husband, the widow covered her head with black cloth and sat on the floor, always facing a corner of the house. She ate from a coconut shell and slept with a chopping board as her pillow. She would not get up from her bed until everyone in the house had risen.

The day after the burial was the day of the ojdar or omos. On this day, all the relatives and friends of the dead person went to bathe in the river in the belief that its current would carry away bad omens. Before leaving the house for the river, they sprinkled ashes by the door so that they could see the footprints of the spirit of the dead that would accompany them to the river. The widow was the last to take a bath and as she went down to the water, she removed all her clothes and allowed the current to carry these away.

On the night following the day of the bath, the nine-day prayer began. The ninth night was called asiyam. The following morning, the widow and her children started to wear black clothes and did so for one whole year. Children put on black necklaces to prevent the spirits from affecting them.

Today, the following practices are still followed: the use of the paldas (black cloth) to cover the head of the widow; the novena prayer; the festivities of the asiyam; the cleansing bath called omos; and the pangipas or removal of the black cloth covering the head or arms.

Isinay Religious Beliefs and Practices

The indigenous belief system of the Isinay consisted of spirits that inhabited their material and spiritual worlds, some of which were visible to them. Some Isinay spirits are believed to inflict harm on people. The banix appears in different forms: as a ball, a jar, or a headless man rolling on the ground. Looking at the eyes of a banix could cause death. The itirong looks like a human being but has a long tail. It fights with people and eats the bodies of its victims. The spirit called bruka has red skin and wears red clothes. It can possesses a person or take the form of a human being as a disguise to eat its victim. The mangkokolam is a spirit that looks like a human being with cat’s eyes. Its tongue is a very long filament as thin as a strand of hair. The mangkokolam thrusts its tongue into the victim’s bodies to eat their liver. Some sicknesses are believed to be the work of the madot, who use mahika negra to cast spells on people. Wearing anting-anting and nakakapang-akit (charms) is believed to deflect such spells.

The Christianized Isinay of today believe in life after death—the good souls go to heaven while the bad souls go to hell. Those who die without being baptized enter the dark purgatory that they call kinto limbo (fifth limbo).

The Isinay Community

The Isinay houses were large and compact, made of wooden planks, and often roofed with cogon, nipa, or anahaw. Some of these were fenced by piles of stones. The village sizes varied, depending on their site and function. The large, residential villages were well organized, with streets following a plan. An area within the village was designated for meetings in which only the men participated, and where matters of communal interest were discussed. Smaller hamlets, composed of makeshift huts, were scattered on the upper mountain slopes, where the people tended to their kaingin fields.

Farm hut in Sinagat, Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya
Farm hut in Sinagat, Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, 2010 (Charles Castro)

In 1591, some villages of the Tuy region, also known as Nueva Vizcaya, consisted of the following number of houses, although these were all deserted in anticipation of the arrival of the Spanish troops: Tuy, 60 houses; Bantal, 30 houses; Barat and Bugay combined, now Aritao, 500 houses; Guilaylay, 40 houses; and Anit, 70 houses.

San Vicente Ferrer Church in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya
San Vicente Ferrer Church in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, 2015 (Roel Hoang Manipon)

It was during the Dominican rule of the Ituy mission territory when mostly religious architectural structures such as church, convent, bell tower, and cemetery were built in the area. Colonial churches built between 1770 and 1780, such as the San Vicente de Ferrer in present Dupax del Sur, the Santa Catalina de Sena in Bambang, and the Santa Catalina Virgen y Martir in Aritao, would later take on a significant role in Isinay life. Restored versions of the red-bricked, colonial churches in Dupax del Sur and Bambang exist to this day; however, the one in Aritao is gone.

Interior of San Vicente Ferrer Church with massive pillars in the foreground
Interior of San Vicente Ferrer Church with massive pillars in the foreground, 2015 (Roel Hoang Manipon)

During the Spanish period, the colonizers attracted and at times forced the natives to settle around the plaza complex, which was dominated by the Church and its belfry and the civil-military government buildings. Around the central plaza, all the social activities of the province and the town were held. The Spanish officials gave importance to the traditional leaders or native elite by giving them the areas around or closest to the plaza. Hence, the bahay na bato (stone houses) were constructed beside churches or municipal buildings. Nevertheless, there were a few native Isinay, regardless of social status or political influence, who were able to settle close to the plaza complex. In spite of this, the Isinay were acculturated to the dominant culture.

Today, the Isinay still live around the old town centers, but their beyoy (houses) have changed. Most of them now live in single houses. A few occupy duplexes, improvised shelters like the barong-barong, and other collective living quarters. Half of these dwelling units are roofed with cogon or nipa; the rest use galvanized iron, anahaw palm leaves, and other makeshift materials. Exterior walls are made of wood, plywood, bamboo, sawali, tiles, concrete, brick, stone, cogon, and nipa.

Another feature of the Spanish-period pueblo complex in the Isinay towns are the centuries-old bridges of red bricks and stone, such as the Puente de Dampol (Dampol Bridge) over the Abanatan River in Dupax del Sur. Built by the Dominican Father Manuel Corripio in 1773, the bridge survived the earthquake in 1812 and was repaired by Father Francisco Rocamora in 1819. Like the churches, such bridges were made by the townspeople through polos y servicios or forced labor. Adjacent to the San Vicente Church, there used to be a big oven for kilning of brick materials, where women were also made to carry clay and sand for the manufacture of the bricks. In August 2014, a community outcry and media attention saved the bridge from demolition for a road-widening project.

Isinay Weaving

The Isinay have a traditional blanket called the uwes pinutuan, the men’s loincloth called wano an tinonwe or indong, and women’s skirtcalled ayin, all of which were woven in a backstrap loom. The textiles were made of pure cotton and were dyed with indigo, which is a deep blue color. To create the colors of the designs, generally white and red, the weavers used the ikat method, in which they tie-dyed the warp and weft threads before weaving the designs into the textile. In the ikat method, the cotton warps, either in their natural color or bleached white, are tied at regular intervals before these are dyed and then woven into blankets or loincloths.

Uwes pinutuan, a funerary blanket
Uwes pinutuan, a funerary blanket, on display at an exhibit in Yuchengco Museum, 2015 (Vida Cruz)

The Isinay were considered the best weavers of the uwes pinutuan, used as a funerary blanket or shroud in the Cordillera region. As such, it was the most prestigious blanket among the various ethnic groups in northern Luzon, thus the most sought after by affluent members of these groups. The uwes pinutuan consists of four panels, into which are woven the designs of white human figures, animals, and geometric shapes, particularly six or seven stars, set against a deep blue background. On exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum, USA, are three such blankets, labeled “quwes pinqtuwan” (pronounced uwes pinu-tuan), woven in 1982, 1983, and 1984, and collected from Dupax del Sur. Described as a blanket-shroud and each measuring about 2 1/3 meters x 1 1/3 meters, the cotton blanket has white stripes running along its length; geometric designs, such as six or seven stars, are spread out against a deep blue or indigo-colored background throughout the blanket; wide red bands and red stripes are woven on the outside panels; and both ends are tufted. One blanket with a seven-star design and a single wide red band on each end is noted as being the preferred blanket of the Karao or Karaw people of Bokod, Benguet.

The Isinay also have a funerary loincloth, 3.5 meters x 0.2 meters, with three red stripes running parallel along its length and set against a deep blue background. Geometric white designs similar to those on the death blanket are woven near each end of the loincloth and are tufted at both ends.

The history of the Isinay weaving tradition may be inferred from bits and pieces of information incidental to certain historical episodes. In the 1700s, the Isinay weavers of Nueva Vizcaya traded their blankets for gold, pigs, carabaos, salt, jars, and horses with the people of Benguet. In 1788, a newly Christianized Igorot named Thomas and his companion, both from Dupax, traveled to Kabayan, Benguet. They were clad in a loincloth and were wearing blankets around their heads.

In 1743, the priest of Ambiang village, Nueva Vizcaya, received five cotton blankets that had been made from cotton planted by the Isinay in Dupax. More cotton fabric might have been acquired through trade with the Ilocano, Pangasinan, and Benguet people. The earliest recorded existence of the Isinay weaving tradition itself is 1850, though it might have existed much earlier. By 1916, the Isinay were growing their own cotton, and by 1935, it was one of their main products. In 1985, there were eight weavers who still knew of the weaving process although it was no longer being used. An uwes pinutuan woven by Felipa Mayangat in 1978 is on exhibit in a glass case in the San Vicente Ferrer Church in Dupax del Sur.

Presently, the silkscreen method is used to render the Isinay traditional designs on T-shirts and other pieces of woven cloth. In Ifugao, some weavers have revived the blanket by replicating the Isinay technique and designs. In northern Benguet, the Kankanaey weavers have made copies of the uwes pinutuan designs without using tie-dyeing technique. In Guinzadan, Mountain Province, weavers use the warp-inlaid technique to copy the Isinay designs.

Like the Isinay language that is endangered, the traditional art of uwes pinutuan weaving has been lost, thus prompting the National Commission for Culture and the Arts program for the conservation of cultural heritage to establish a “school for living traditions.” Based in Bambang, a group called the Bambang Isinay Tribe heads the School of Living Traditions on Isinay Loom Weaving that teaches the skills and techniques to the younger generation. The uwes pinutuan was among those featured in the “Woven Universes: Math, Method, Meaning, and Magic in Philippine Indigenous Textiles” exhibit held at the Yuchengco Museum in February 2015.

An Ifugao-made funerary blanket with Isinay designs is on exhibit at the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino, a permanent gallery at the Museum of the Filipino People in Rizal Park. Two such blankets made by Dudduli Malikanunin Amganad of Bayninan, Banaue, Ifugao, are also on display at the Yale Peabody Museum. Considered a national cultural treasure of the Philippines, the blanket was featured in a series of travelling exhibitions on the uwes pinutuan: in Dupax del Sur in April 2014; at the People’s Gallery and Museum in Bayombong in January 2015; at the Nueva Vizcaya Studies Center at the Nueva Vizcaya State University in Bayombong in March 2015; and at the Municipality of Bambang in April 2015. The activity coincided with the year’s Isinay summit that aimed to foster awareness on the revitalization and preservation of their language.

Along with their traditional indigo clothing, the Isinay also used to wear the taddang (round hat) made from dap-dap wood. Another traditional item woven by the Isinay is the pasiking, a travel basket made of rattan and nito, similar to the ones made by the Ifugao. The Isinay basketwork is typified by twilling and coiling weaves.

Literary Arts of the Isinay People

The body of collected Isinay literature consists of riddles, proverbs, and narratives in the form of tales, legends, ghost stories, fables, and oral histories. Riddles are called lohmo in Aritao and Dupax del Sur, and lakmo in Bambang. The Isinay’s riddles derive their clues from objects of nature as well as their material culture. Examples are (Constantino 1982):

Offerings on a raft for the mermaid of the Magat River
Offerings on a raft for the mermaid of the Magat River (Illustration by Dominic Agsaway)

Mu lavi tabla, mu ehawan kandela. (Avo)

(At night it’s a floor, in the daytime it’s a candle.


Immali beyoy yu, uriyana inila; nanpatanga isi-a,

uriyana ginina. (Dahom)

(I went to your house, you didn’t see me; I stayed

with you, you didn’t feel me. [Wind])

Osan beyoy an amma-i, nayid pappar na.


(A big house, it has no window. [Anthill])

Mu il-ilam, diyoy; mu sidunom, nayid. [E-aw])

(When you’re looking at it, it’s there; when

you touch it, it’s gone. [Shadow])

There is no generally accepted term for proverbs or maxims. Several terms are used to refer to this form of folk speech: memos an baba (wise words), oloran, tongtong or the English derivatives like proberbiyo (proverb). Examples of Isinay proverbs are the following (Constantino 1982):

Bandiyam o eengam man di arawar, ya araw

ot araw pay lar itsora nar on aping nar.

(You dress a monkey and its appearance and

face will still look like those of a monkey.)

Damit mama.

(You taste what you swallow.)

Dipan lar laviyar, ehawan ri misanotar.

(After the night, the day comes next.)

Mantanomaar ot man-ani.

(One who plants will harvest.)

Drawing of a monkey hanging on a branch
“You dress a monkey and its appearance and face will still look like those of a monkey.” – An Isinay proverb (Illustration by Dominic Agsaway)

Generally, the Isinay use the word estorya or istorya to refer to any story. Two native Isinay words are also used. It is called sussur in Aritao, with its two variants, sutsut in Dupax del Sur and tudtud in Bambang; and the other is appoyaw. Some natives differentiate between the two terms: “Sussur” refers to stories that have empirical sources, while “appoyaw” refers to purely fictional stories. Bida, derived from the Spanish word vida (life), is also used to refer to stories.

Also from the town of Bambang comes the origin of Magat River, which is formed by the confluence of four rivers: the Meet, the Abuat, the Matunu, and the Nambunatan. A popular tale in Aritao narrates the story of a mermaid in the Magat River. This mermaid was always heard washing clothes in the river at midnight. For fear of offending the mermaid, the people always stayed in their houses to avoid looking at her. One day, a girl got sick after taking a bath in the river. Many folk doctors tried to cure her, but no one could ascertain the cause of the illness until a folk doctor from another place arrived. The healer talked to the child to find out what she did in the river. The child told him that while bathing, she caught a fingerling, played with it, and when it died, she threw it back into the river. To appease the mermaid who was offended by this incident, the healer prepared an offering consisting of a male and a female white chicken, rice cooked in coconut milk, tobacco, and betel nut chew, all of which he took to the river at nighttime. Days after, the child slowly recovered.

One story narrates the origin of Bambang towns. Before the coming of the Spaniards, the town of Bambang was inhabited by the Bungkalot and the Ivilao who had been fighting each other. One day, a Spanish missionary named Padre Juan Campa arrived to introduce Christianity to this place. The people hurled spears and knives at him. However, their weapons only stuck to the priest’s umbrella. Soon after, Padre Campa began preaching and taught them how to be good Christians. The people buried their weapons in the ground. After that, the town was named Bambang.

Other popular Isinay estorya are: “Tale of the Turtle and the Monkey,” “Prince Juan of Two Spans,” “The Deer and the Snail,” “Juan the Oracle,” “The Princess of the River Marange” from Aritao; “The Legend of Ping-ao,” “The Story of the Ghost in Abannatan,” “The Princess of the Dampol Bridge” from Dupax; and “The Dog That Knew How to Talk” and “Juan, the Pitch-Coin Player” from Bambang.

Isinay Music and Songs

The Isinay have indigenous instruments like the tuali (flute), and Western-type instruments like kutibang or singco-singco (small homemade ukulele).

Tuali or flute and kutibang or ukelele
Tuali or flute and kutibang or ukelele (CCP Collections)

The general term for song is kanta. However, there are terms for particular types of songs. One type whose melody never varies is called anino.

This is sung by parents and relatives of newlywed couples after the wedding ceremonies and is meant for giving advice. Here is an example:

Siran Mos An Nanbeyoy?


Ay siran mos an nanbeyoy

Anay pambevoyan miyar besan.


Ay beyoy si maves tahu

Ay mangarun tuwa diyen tahu.

(c) [mosiko]

Ay uriyam iwaya-wayas

Di lima mar toy mipayas.


Ay i-appus mut pahaw nar

Ta maan di dose nar.

(e) [mosiko]

Oy nayir pelah balitu

Si aliyon min iregalo.


pelah bayaw balitu

Di pusu miyar kalaron.

(g) [mosiko]

Ayon tuwa an estimon

Di duwa an simbeyan.


Ta weyamu uriyan dan atdiyon

Ta nayir aru ta-un pangigalang.

(Who Owns This House?


Who owns this house

Where we are now entertaining ourselves?


It is the house of a good man

That man is really loving.


Don’t sway and sway

Your hands for they will be left.


Fondle her breast

To remove her doubt.


There is no silver or gold

For us to offer as gift.


But silver and gold

Our pure hearts are.


Let us truly entertain

The married couple.


So that they will not say

that we have no love and respect.)

Lullabies, such as the following (Constantino 1982), are also called baliwaway :

Baliwawing, baliwaway,

ta meyo mos di ana uwar,

ta asana elan bumangun,

ya oras si pangan si ehawan.

Bawi, bawi, bawing,

bawing, bawing, baway,

ta asanan bumangun,

mu oras mot si pangan,

ta mahanun masi-on,

ta amoy miikwila.

Wawing, wawing, wawing, waway,

baliwawing, baliwaway,

ta mahanun masi-on

ta mahanu mot amoy miikwila.

Baliwawing, baliwawing, baliwaway,

ta mahanu mot masi-on,

ta mahanun pinabanga.

(Baliwaway, baliwaway,

so that my child will go to sleep now

so that when he or she wakes up

it is time to eat lunch.

Bawi, bawi, bawing,

bawing, bawing, baway,

so that when he or she gets up

it is already time to eat,

so that he or she will grow up fast,

and he or she will go to school.

Wawing, wawing, wawing, waway,

baliwawing, baliwaway,

so that he or she will grow up fast,

and he or she will go to school.

Baliwawing, baliwawing, baliwaway,

so that he or she will grow up fast,

so that he or she will be of help soon.)

Isinay brass band
Isinay brass band (Rose Sierra)

Christmas carols are called kantan si dubiral or songs for Christmas, such as “Lavin Mable” (“Lovely Night”) (Constantino 1982):

Lavin mable, lavin masantos

Mansor mos, di mundowar

Si namalsar nitahu besan

Mangivaliw irami

Tahun makasalanan

Gumutu ami isi-a.

Lavin mable, lavin masantos

Mangkantar, Anghelesar

Mangivalitat ni-anaar

Si pobreyar darin pastores

Misalamat ami pay.


Lavin mable, lavin masantos

Tuwoy besan, dimmatong

Di gayhayar situ piyo-ar

Tuwoy amin mangigalang

Si ana di Doyosar.

Amen Aleluya

(Lovely night, holy night

The world is waiting

For the Creator is born today

To save us

Sinful people.

We present ourselves to You.

Lovely night, holy night

The angels sing

To herald the birth

To the poor shepherds.

We give thanks too.


Lovely night, holy night

Here now, it has come

The happiness on earth.

Here we are to honor the son of God.

Amen Alleluia.)

Isinay Folk Dance

In 1781, an Isinay dance in Aritao was witnessed by an Augustinian missionary. The men formed one line, and the women formed another in front of the men. Both lines faced in the same direction so that the women’s backs were to the men. All, except the dancer at the end of each line, linked themselves to each other by placing their arms over the shoulders of the person on either side of them. The dancer at the right end of the line was the leader of his or her line. The basic foot movement consisted of the rhythmic kick of the right foot in front while simultaneously hopping on the left foot, to the beat of the gongs. The leaders of both lines used their right hand to determine the timing and direction of their line. The men’s line would snake round to the front of the women’s line, which at the same time would snake round to the left so that their back was always to the men. The dance would turn into a pursuit as the men accelerated their movement to the right until they were finally face-to-face with the women. This accomplished, the dance would end.

A popular dance in Nueva Vizcaya, particularly in Dupax del Sur, is the Isinay inbestida, performed during wedding celebrations. While dancing, relatives and friends of the couple give their contributions, either in cash or in kind, to the newlyweds. A paratagay is assigned to reciprocate the guests’ generosity by pouring wine into their glass.

Sibuyas Festival in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya
Sibuyas Festival in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, 2012 (Mark Ian Soriano, Discover Nueva Vizcaya)

Isinay Drama

The beginnings of Isinay drama may be traced to the ethnic rituals, some of which are still performed in Isinay communities. An example of this is the malmali ritual. Although they believe in a heaven and hell, the Isinay believe that the souls of the dead still influence the lives and activities of beings on earth. When someone is sick, it is believed that the patient is being greeted by the spirit of a dead person. When this happens, a malmali ritual is performed where prayers and other gifts are offered to the spirits to cure the sick. Sometimes, when a spirit wants to say something, it speaks through the body of a human being it possesses. This is called manunggan.

A popular dramatic form among the Isinay is the estoke or istoke, a native term adapted from the Spanish estoque, meaning “rapier” or “narrow sword.” This theater form is the Isinay version of the moro-moro or komedya. An example of this estoke is the Bilay Don Juan Pugut si Reynoar Escocia (Life of Don Juan Pugut of the Kingdom of Escocia), one of the two known works of Pablo Larosa (born 16 October 1896), an Isinay from Aritao. This drama was staged in Aritao once before and once during World War II.

Larosa’s play presents the warring kingdoms of Escocia, ruled by the Christian King Gedrino, and Turkey, ruled by a Moorish Emperor. Driven by a desire to expand their respective territories, a great battle is waged between the Christians and the Moors. As expected, the Christians, led by Princess Laudamia, emerge victorious. The Emperor sends another mission to Escocia, and a second battle ensues. The Christian army runs away from the fight, and the king nearly falls into the hands of the Moors, if not for the mysterious Juan Pugut, who orders his army of giants to defend the kingdom. The battle culminates with the conversion of the Moors to Christianity.

A subplot centers on the affair between King Gedrino’s wife Queen Jimena and Count Eleno. Don Juan, the son of King Gedrino and heir to the crown of Escocia, witnesses their clandestine meetings. The Queen plots to eliminate Don Juan by pretending to be sick and pressuring the doctor to say that she can only be cured with the blood of Don Juan, who should be shot immediately in the middle of the palace. When the king arrives from Macedonia, he learns of the Queen’s condition and orders Don Juan’s execution as prescribed. Don Juan complies, declaring his obedience to his king and father. At his execution, Don Juan makes his horse run around three times. On the third round, he is flown by the horse to the seventh layer of the clouds. For ten years, he stays in the forests of Milandres and succeeds in defeating the legendary and terrifying sorcerer, who surrenders all his powers to him. He also fights and defeats Belengon, the human-eating viper, whose skin he now uses to conceal his identity. Upon the advice of the sorcerer, the prince returns as Juan Pugut to the kingdom of Escocia after ten years and presents himself as guardian to Princess Laudamia. True to his word, Juan Pugut saves the princess from a gigantic serpent. His real identity is revealed to the princess, who instantly falls in love with him, much to the king’s dismay. Despite the king’s refusal to recognize his love for Laudamia, Juan Pugut orders the giants from the forest to help defend the Kingdom of Escocia when it is abandoned by the soldiers. The kingdom is saved, and the king finally recognizes his mistakes. Juan Pugut introduces himself as Don Juan, and Queen Jimena and Count Eleno are sentenced to burn at the stake.

Larosa’s play dramatizes not only the struggle for power between a Moorish kingdom and a Christian kingdom, but also the conflict between the good and the bad Christians, the latter characterized by immorality and deceit. Like other komedya, the play employs a clown called bulbulagao, who provides the comic relief in the play, especially during scene changes, and helps the lead characters articulate the moral truths presented. On the other hand, literary elements deriving from the indigenous Philippine epic tradition are also evident, such as the many-layered heaven and the python that devours humans.

Media Arts

There are four radio stations in Nueva Vizcaya, although none are based in Aritao, Bambang, or Dupax del Sur. Radio Veritas Global Broadcasting System’s DWRV-AM 1233 and DZRV-FM 90.1 are stationed at the provincial capital Bayombong. Vanguard Radio Network’s DWMG-AM 819 and DWDC-FM 101.3 are at Solano.

A film set in Nueva Vizcaya during the American colonial 1930s is Nueva Vizcaya, 1973, which is about a fictitious tribe called Tarican, allegedly the “most feared minority group” of the mountainous region of Nueva Vizcaya. The story begins with the protagonist (Vic Vargas) hacking off the heads of two Christians. In this film, headhunting is portrayed as a requisite for a Tarican man to marry a Tarican woman. Although the Tarican is itself nonexistent, some scenes depicting ritual dances and costumes allude to a number of ethnolinguistic groups associated with Nueva Vizcaya and neighboring provinces. The film’s decontextualized focus on headhunting and the conflict between Christians and non-Christians exoticize and exaggerate customs and beliefs associated with so-called “pagans.” Moreover, the distorted portrayal of Isinay culture in this film is even more egregious because they are a minority group who, by the turn of the 20th century, had been mostly converted to Christianity, and who have long been considered peaceful compared to others. In 1974, the film won the 22nd Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Award for best picture; Eddie Garcia won for best supporting actor. The film was later dubbed in English for the American audience under the title The Headhunters. In the 1970s, several Filipino directors, particularly the producer of Nueva Vizcaya, Pablo Santiago, made a number of low-budget international films that can be classified under the “exploitation film” genre.

Independent filmmaker Mes De Guzman, born in Nueva Vizcaya, has made several films, some of which portray the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the Philippines. Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bakal (The World in the Iron Age), 2013, includes a partial cast of Isinay actors. It is the story of Carlito, a middle-aged Isinay (played by Jess Evardone), who works for a junk shop, which also manufactures illegal guns called paltik. The factory is a danger to the whole community, but Carlito’s earnings support his aging parents, and he is saving up to marry his girlfriend. Carlito’s parents, played by Isinay actors, speak the Isinay language in the film. The film was coproduced by Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It is the last film in Mes De Guzman’s The Earth trilogy, the first two being Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Yelo (The Earth in the Ice Age) and Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato (The Earth in the Stone Age), both made in 2010.

In de Guzman’s Sitio (Village), 2013, three siblings move to Nueva Vizcaya when their family business in Manila goes bankrupt. Local workers are hired to renovate their ancestral house and in one scene, one of them speaks Isinay. The film won the Best Screenplay and Special Jury Prize awards at the 2013 Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival.


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This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art

Title: Isinay

Author/s: Galileo Zafra (1994) / Updated by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, and Gonzalo A. Campoamor II, with additional notes from Analyn V. Salvador-Amores, and Jay Jomar F. Quintos (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: September 02, 2022

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