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The Itawit People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Cagayan Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The Itawit People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition [Cagayan Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Itawit” comes from the prefix i, meaning “people of,” and the word tawid, or “across the river,” and thus means “the people from across the river.” The Itawit have been variously called Itawis, Itawes, Itawiq, Tawish, Itawi, Itaves, and Itabes. The names “Kaluas” and “Kalauas,” which refer to the Kalinga, have also been applied to the Itawit because they are sometimes mistaken for the people who live in the northeastern part of Kalinga. Although their name was spelled “Itawes” starting in the Spanish colonial period, they call themselves Itawit because they pronounce letter [s] as [t] when it is the last letter of a word.

Cagayan is at the northeastern tip of Luzon. It is bounded on the north by the Balintang Channel, on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the west by Ilocos Norte, Kalinga, and Apayao, and on the south by Isabela. Cagayan River, which is the longest river in the country, flows into it. The Itawit occupy the territory drained by the Chico and Matalag Rivers, as well as all of southern Cagayan from the towns of Nasiping to Enrile, formerly the village of Cavug. They are concentrated in the following towns of Cagayan province: Alcala, Amulung, Baggao, Enrile, Iguig, Peñablanca, Piat, Rizal, Santo Niño, Solana, Tuao, and Tuguegarao. These towns lie at the foot of the Cordillera in the southwestern part of Cagayan.

The early natives of Cagayan did not use such names as Ybanag or Itawes but referred to themselves as Y-Sigiran or “the men downstream;” Y-Rita or “those from the south;” and Y-Raya or “the upstream people.”

In 1948, the Itawit population was 59,242; in 1960 it rose to 87,529. As of 2000, the Itawit number 163,143, or 16.44% of Cagayan province’s total population. A related group, the Malaueg, number 14,356, or 1.5%. The combined population of the Malaueg and the Itawit in Cagayan is 177,499, or 17.89%. The majority of Cagayan’s population, however, is Ilocano, who number 680,256, or 68.57%.

The name “Malaueg” may have come from the root word uweg, meaning “spring.” The Malaueg are concentrated in the municipality of Rizal (population 18,592), which includes Zinundungan Valley. The town of Rizal was originally called Malaueg until it was changed to its present name in 1940. It is composed of 29 barangays. A number of Malaueg, however, have migrated to Apayao, where, in the year 2000, there were 3,580, or 3.69% of Apayao’s population.

History of Cagayan and the Itawit People

The Spaniards came to Cagayan Valley a year after the capture of Manila in 1571. As a strategic base from which to launch attacks on China and Japan, Cagayan Valley was of considerable importance to the Spaniards. The province itself had an abundance of rice, swine, fowl, palm wine, carabao, deer, wild hogs, and birds.

Aerial photo of Cagayan River
Aerial photo of Cagayan River, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

The Spanish encounter with the Itawit came after the colonizers made contact with the Isneg who occupied the northwest part of the valley. Missionary attempts to convert the Itawit and the neighboring Kalinga were always met with resistance. Those who were converted were settled in rancherias (settlements) or in larger pueblos in order to separate them from the unconverted and to facilitate colonial rule. By law, Spanish administrative officials were supposed to protect the natives by maintaining peace and order, support missionary efforts to convert the people, and help in the defense of the colony.

By 1581, settlements had begun to be established in “La Provincia de Cagayan.” In the next five years, Cagayan’s old town of Lal-lo would be reorganized as a pueblo and renamed Nueva Segovia, where 40 Spaniards resided as encomenderos (land grantees). As the first Spanish colonizers of the islands, encomenderos were granted by the king of Spain the right to own the land and its produce in exchange for ensuring the natives’ conversion to Catholicism. Thus, reports sent by Spanish government and church officials to the king of Spain simultaneously asked for more troops and priests for the pacification of the natives. The natives in Cagayan who had originally been masters of their own land were now forced to pay tribute, primarily in wax, cotton, and gold.

Nueva Segovia in 1586 had an Augustinian monastery with two priests, a hospital, and a fort that was well stocked with weaponry and armor. The fort had its own governor and was supported by the tributes collected from one village, amounting to a hundred pesos. The city’s 40 encomenderos maintained 40 soldiers to enforce the collection of tributes from the natives in the outlying villages. Out of 1,750 natives in the encomiendas (land grants from the king of Spain), 1,000 had been “pacified and conquered” and therefore were paying tribute. The Babuyanes Islands, which were under the jurisdiction of Cagayan province, had eight islands with a total population of 3,000 men, although only 300 tributes could be collected, as all the rest had not yet been pacified. The 9th island had a population of 1,000 natives, from whom no tributes at all could be collected. Three years later, in 1589, more Spaniards would be sent to settle in Segovia, under the protection of Captain Juan Pablos de Carrion and a hundred troops who were “well provided with artillery, vessels, and ammunition.” By 1594 there were 12 more encomenderos in the province, with 10,400 natives paying tribute to them (Blair and Robertson 1903, vol. 7).

In 1594, more than 250 villages in Cagayan were listed as having been “reduced” or conquered under the military supervision of Captain Fernando de Berramontano, on orders of the new governor-general, Gomez Perez Dasmariñas. Some of these were the villages of Massi, Tuao, and Canoran, which were all under the chief Seriban; Tubigarao and other villages under Lahinaman Darrey; the estuary of Malaguit and the village of Sinagan under chief Calaz; Camalayuga, under chief Litagua; and Tocolana, under chief Mandarelac. Many of these 250 villages still exist today as barangays.

The importance of Cagayan as a grand encomienda with 40,000 souls to convert was not lost on the king of Spain, who in 1595, by the authority of the pope in Rome, announced the creation of a bishopric in the city of Nueva Segovia (now Lal-lo) in that province. Fray Miguel de Benavides of the Dominican order was its first bishop. Nueva Segovia was one of only three bishoprics, the two others being at Caceres in Camarines and at Cebu, while the Manila Cathedral was elevated into the metropolitan see. The Dominicans were given charge of Cagayan province, where by 1598, 71 priests had been sent to its 12 churches and convents.

Although safeguards were instituted to discourage or prevent abuses, the collection of tribute and draft labor were marked by the colonizer’s greed and cruelty. The Itawit who could no longer stand colonial abuses fled to the mountains, while others fought against the encomienda system.

In 1597, the chieftains of the various villages of Cagayan came together in a series of secret meetings and unified themselves to form one army, choosing from among them a supreme chief, captains, and other officers. Their plan was to exterminate all Spaniards in the islands and regain the freedom and “mastery of this land that their forefathers had enjoyed.” The chiefs solicited the aid of a Japanese captain, who arrived in the guise of a trader. In exchange for Japanese ships and soldiers, they would give him a piece of their land. Additionally, they would send messages to the sultan of Borneo and to the chieftains in all other provinces to join them in their cause. The chiefs held a ritual to make their pact binding and sacred. The Spaniards, however, got wind of the plot and responded ruthlessly. All the chiefs were arrested; seven or eight of them were hanged and beheaded; and several were exiled, some to other places in the islands and the others to Mexico.

Governor-General Francisco Tello himself reported to King Philip II that the primary cause of the rebellion was the abuse of the tribute system by the encomenderos, particularly a certain Don Rodriguez Ronquillo, who had exacted an additional four reals of tributes from the natives in the past year. Governor-General Tello ordered a six-year suspension of the additional tribute and had Don Ronquillo thrown in prison, where he died soon after. At the same time, Tello sent the master-of-camp Pedro de Chaves and an army of 680 Spanish and native troops to quell the rebellion. The leader of the revolt, Chief Magalate of Lubutan village, was ambushed and killed by the soldiers. As the troops advanced, however, all they came upon were abandoned villages that the natives themselves had set on fire before fleeing into the mountains. The Spanish troops completed the work of destruction by cutting down the natives’ crops and coconut trees. Governor-General Tello remarked of Chief Magalate: “This Indian had so much ability, authority, and shrewdness that he could have caused much damage had he lived” (Blair and Robertson 1903, 10:160).

By 1600, with the allocation of 50 encomiendas to the Spaniards, it was clear that the colonizers had prevailed. Continued exploitation by the Spaniards in the succeeding centuries resulted in more uprisings. In 1688, the Dominican friar Juan Yñiguez, tasked with the conversion of the residents of Tuao village, wrote a dictionary and a grammar book of the Itawit language within six months of his arrival. He re-settled more Itawit converts in a new village called Tuga, named after the river nearby and about 12 kilometers from Tuao. In 1697, the village was moved four kilometers nearer Tuao and renamed San Jose de Bambang after nearby Mount Bambang, but was still called Tuga by the people. By 1715, however, it had been virtually abandoned by both the friars and their Itawit converts so that its last remaining inhabitants were transferred to Tuao.

In 1718, the Itawit of Tuao and Malaueg, led by the chieftains Matatangan and Sinanguinga, sparked a major revolt that spread through the whole of Cagayan province. The Kalinga, the Irraya, and more Itawit from other parts of Cagayan joined in, but the uprising was crushed by Spanish troops led by Captain Pablo Orduña. Four years later, another friar was sent to start mission work all over again. Tuga was reestablished, again moved nearer Tuao in 1731, and renamed Orac, although the people continued to call it by the old name of Tuga.

The Spaniards continued to take maximum advantage of Cagayan Valley’s fertile soil. In 1781, they set up the tobacco monopoly, which lasted for nearly a century. The compulsory cultivation of tobacco, which gave considerable revenue to the government, caused tremendous hardships for the natives. The production and sale of tobacco was supervised by the government through its agents. Farmers were given quotas and were fined if they failed to meet these quotas. Their entire crop was sold to the government, which paid the farmers in vouchers encashed at a discount to government officials and merchants.

The tobacco monopoly was abolished by the Spanish authorities in 1883, in keeping with the concepts of laissez-faire and free trade. However, the people’s hardships had already paved the way for Itawit participation in the revolution in 1898.

During the Philippine-American War, Enrile figured prominently as the place to which General Emilio Aguinaldo, head of the Philippine revolutionary government, retreated to consolidate his army’s strength. He was later captured by the Americans in Palanan, Isabela, on 23 March 1901.

American occupation of Cagayan province began on 12 December 1899, when 300 US troops led by Captain Bacheler seized Tuguegarao. They confiscated the ammunition kept by Aguinaldo’s soldiers in the convent and occupied San Jacinto College. Col Charles Hood, on orders from Washington, assumed the post of military governor of Cagayan and dispatched soldiers to reinforce Bacheler’s troops.

By 1902, the Americans had full control of the province of Cagayan. The principal instrument of pacification and Americanization was the public school system, which encouraged Filipinos to accept colonial rule peacefully. Small schoolhouses painted red were built throughout Cagayan. In 1938, the Cagayan Valley Athenaeum was founded in Tuguegarao by Father Constance Jurgens CICM. During the school year 1949 to 1950, Jurgens turned over complete jurisdiction of the athenaeum to the Jesuits, who renamed the school Ateneo de Tuguegarao.

On 7 May 1907, five missionary sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres—four French and one Chinese—came to Tuguegarao upon the invitation of Monsignor Dennis Dougherty, then bishop of Nueva Segovia. The sisters established the Colegio de San Pablo, which opened in June 1907 under Mother Ephrem Marie. The school would be renamed three times: Colegio del Sagrado Corazon, Sacred Heart of Jesus Institution (SHOJI), and finally Saint Paul’s College of Tuguegarao.

The Japanese forces landed in Luzon on 8 December 1941. Tuguegarao was bombed by Japanese planes on that day. After the bombing, families vacated their homes and fled to the mountains. The evacuation continued for three days. Four days later, Tuguegarao was occupied by the Japanese, who stayed in public buildings and private houses. Soon after, the resistance movement headed by Governor Marcelo Adurru consolidated its strength in the mountains and launched attacks on the Japanese until the arrival of the Americans. The seat vacated by Adurru was filled by ex-representative Nicanor Carag, who was forced by the Japanese to assume office as governor of the province.

With the institution of the provincial government under the Japanese colonial administration, many evacuees returned to their homes. Public schools were opened, with Nihongo as the core of the curriculum. The barter system was widely practiced although Japanese war notes were circulated.

In December 1944, American forces landed in Luzon, and Tuguegarao was practically leveled to the ground by US warplanes. The Japanese transferred their headquarters to barrio Capatan across the Pinacanauan River. On 9 May 1945, American planes returned and demolished Japanese installations in Cagayan.

Today, with its favorable climate and scenic topography, Cagayan province has become a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers. There are a number of places that make Cagayan a tourist attraction—Callao National Park in Peñablanca, noted for its seven-chambered limestone caves; the overhanging rock canopy called Mororan, with its crystal clear waters flowing down to the Pinacanauan River; the Seven Steps Waterfalls of Baggao; and the famous Shrine of Our Lady of Piat in the heart of the Itawit area, where thousands of Cagayano faithful gather every year to celebrate the feast day of the Patroness of Cagayan.

Way of Life in Cagayan Valley

Among the Cagayan communities, the colonizers found a flourishing economy characterized by the domestication of animals, hunting, and fishing, and the presence of small native industries such as wine making, and cotton and linen cloth weaving. Those who occupied the coastal areas were skilled in boat making and traded with neighboring communities. The Itawit also practiced wet and dry rice cultures.

Tobacco farming in Peñablanca, Cagayan
Tobacco farming in Peñablanca, Cagayan, 2000 (National Tobacco Administration)

But the institution of the tobacco monopoly in the 18th century turned the Itawit into commercial agriculturists, planting cash crops, mainly tobacco. Corn production was also introduced and became a secondary staple. Protein was provided by the meat obtained from wild and domesticated animals, and from the fish that abounded in the rivers and streams.

Corn farming in Enrile, Cagayan,
Corn farming in Enrile, Cagayan, 2016 (Rochella B. Lapitan, SEARCA-BIC)

Cagayan has rich natural resources: marine, fresh water, agricultural, wildlife, and mineral. A large part or 63.7% of the province is forested, so Cagayan has the largest volume of standing timber in Region II, which makes the province a major log exporter of the country. Cagayan’s fertile soil has made agriculture the base of the provincial economy. The province leads in the Luzon region in the production of corn, peanuts, and native tobacco. Other important agricultural products include rice, coffee, and ginger. Nonmetallic minerals abound, such as gravel and sand, crushed and coral rocks, and sulfur. The potential for fishing is maximized by long shorelines, with sufficient brackish and fresh water for fishpond development. Livestock includes poultry, carabaos, hogs, and cattle. The rich, natural resources have given rise to manufacturing enterprises such as cigar and cigarette factories, food processing firms, wood, textile, leather and footwear companies, and printing and chemical establishments.

Corn is the primary agricultural product of the Malaueg in Rizal. They cultivate four kinds of corn: kamaitan (white corn), which they eat as a substitute for rice; lupug, also called dakat mait or dekatmait (white corn) used for the native sticky cake; ngilaw mait (yellow corn), which is used for chicken feed; and sarasa (red corn). The year is divided into two planting cycles: The first is from March to August, and the second is from September to February.

Pappakareno (clearing of the fields) starts in March. This process is in three stages: sipat, cutting the corn plants left over from the last harvest; massuyud, hoeing the soil; and inagaradu (plowing), which is done twice: The first is called mabbatbat and the second, magaliwag. A field that has been plowed and is ready for planting is called ammaitan. Ammait (planting) starts in April. When the seeds or kernels are being prepared for planting, this is called maggeras (to plow in rows). Just before the first kernel is planted, the farmer tosses a few kernels onto the soil in a simple ritual of respect for makaddabbun (he who owns the land).

In May, mallamun, also called siltak or pagabur, is done, in which the soil between the rows of corn shoots is hoed once again to ensure that the shoots are covered with soil. Appapusit (harvest) is done from the last week of July until August. A mappabalus (thanksgiving ritual) is offered to Afu Diyos (God) for an abundant harvest. The planting cycle is repeated beginning in September.

Cagayan Province Political System

In the 1580s, when the old town of Lal-lo was renamed Nueva Segovia and reorganized as a Spanish pueblo, the cabildo (town council) was composed of the alcalde mayor (governor), two alcaldes-de-ordinario (judges), an alguacil mayor (constable), and six regidores (council members). To keep restive natives in check, there was a fort with seven large pieces of artillery and seven small culverins and falcons, plus several muskets, arquebuses, pikes, and armors.

In the American period, the towns were managed by the presidente municipal or mayor, his concejales or councilors, and the police department under a chief of police. Based in the kapitolyo grounds of Tuguegarao where the offices of the provincial governor and his board members, the provincial judge, and other provincial officials as well as the provincial hospital and jail.

At present, in accordance with the structure of the national government as defined by the 1986 Constitution, Cagayan province is divided into municipalities, which are in turn divided into barangays—all supervised by the Department of Interior and Local Government. These local government units support the national government in the delivery of basic services to communities and the effective enforcement of laws.

The barangay is the basic unit and consists of no fewer than 1,000 inhabitants residing within the territorial limits of a municipality. Primarily, the barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government programs, projects, and activities. The barangay is administered by a set of elective officials headed by a barangay chairman.

The municipality is a conglomeration of barangays and a subsidiary of the province. The elective officials of the municipality are the municipal mayor, vice mayor and sangguniang bayan (municipal council) members. The province is the largest political unit. Its functions are generally to coordinate and supervise the affairs of its municipalities. Elective officials of the provincial government are the governor, vice governor, and members of sangguniang panlalawigan (provincial council), while the appointed officials include the provincial secretary, treasurer, assessor, budget officer, engineer, agriculturist, and planning and development coordinator.

Itawit Social Organization, Customs and Traditions

Traditional communal life among the Itawit and Malaueg is most evident in the practice of the illu (mutual cooperation) among farmers. They help one another by turns in the fields; that is, one farmer receives help with the farm work from everyone, and he, in turn, will help everyone else.

Cagayan National High School Building
Cagayan National High School Building, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

In traditional Itawit and Malaueg society, marriage is contracted through parental arrangement. Among the Malaueg, the first step in the process is the mangagon, literally “going up.” The boy’s family employs the services of a manakem (go-between), who is an elder known for his skill in matchmaking and who can best express the boy’s intentions. This may be the first meeting of the boy and girl concerned, because knowing each other is not a prerequisite to marriage. The tadug (dowry), which the girl’s parents will ask of the boy’s, is the first topic of discussion. This may consist of the amount of money to be paid, the wedding gown, jewelry, land, carabao, all depending on what the boy’s family can afford or whatever agreement the two sets of parents may arrive at. The details of the wedding reception, which will be held at the girl’s residence, are also discussed. If the girl has unmarried elder sisters, a fee, called the pala-sig, is added to the dowry. This is because elder sisters are customarily married off first. If it is a church wedding, the church requisites are followed. On the eve of the wedding, the parents of the bride-to-be will host the pasingan (pre-wedding reception), in which a simple fare of dekat (sticky rice or corn cake), coffee, and chocolate is served to the guests. This is the occasion in which the boy’s parents will present the dowry, which may include a land title and the certification of ownership of a carabao.

Among the Itawit, a modern variant to the start of a traditional courtship is the boy’s writing and delivering to the girl’s parents a carta formal (formal letter), which expresses his serious intention to marry their daughter. If the girl’s family and immediate relatives agree on the contents of the carta formal, the wedding date, the dote (dowry), and the kind of celebration are set.

The wedding ceremonies go through four phases: the pasingaan, the bespiras, the kalgawan na boda, and the mangitolo kang lu-dug .Three weeks prior to the wedding day, the pasingaan (to show or present) commences the series of events that lead to the wedding. During this stage, the couple goes to their parish church for confession and presents themselves to the priest for his advice. The wedding ceremony can be either sibil, a civil ceremony officiated by a hues (justice of the peace), or misa, a church ceremony administered by a priest.

Wedding preparations culminate in the kalgawan na boda (day of the wedding). At the start of the ceremony, the bride pretends to be reluctant and refuses to make a move from her house; thus, she will require a fee known as the cuarta ta pamottaran (money to go down), to be paid by the groom’s mother.

In Tuao, the meeting of the parents to discuss the dowry is preceded by the dalubasa, who calls upon the girl’s parents to inform them of the impending visit of the boy’s parents. The mangonek is the courtship, in which the boy’s parents ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage on behalf of their son. It is a long-drawn process that entails a series of at least three meetings. The pariko-na (the acceptance by the girl’s family of the marriage offer) is held on the fourth meeting. Taripit is the day on which the dowry is discussed. This is opened by a short and simple ritual, in which the boy presents the girl’s family with jewelry wrapped in a kerchief, the four corners of which are knotted together at the center. A young, unmarried male relative who has never had a death in his immediate family is chosen from the boy’s side to open up the kerchief. A token amount of money is placed in the kerchief, and its four corners are again tied together. Discussion of the dowry now commences. This may include the paka-yan, which is the fee for an unmarried elder sister, if there is one. The presenta is the day when the parents set the wedding date. When an agreement is reached, they go off to obtain the wedding license. The day before the wedding is the bespiras, a grand celebration that includes feasting and dancing. The following day, which is the wedding day, begins at daybreak with the jana or diyana. The kantorit (band) wakes up the groom and his family with band music. After dressing up for the wedding, the groom’s party marches toward the bride’s house to the accompaniment of the band music. Together with the band, both parties march toward the church for the wedding, after which everyone marches toward the girl’s house. As they near her house, a relative on the girl’s side, presumably the most muscular in the family, carries her in his arms. Every step that he takes has a price, which is paid for by the groom’s family. At the bride’s house, everyone gathers in the living room for the thanksgiving prayers. They proceed to the salon or reception area. Before the feast, the couple sits together at the middle of the wedding table, facing two benches on each of which is a plate. The band plays the maskota, and the wedding couple’s parents are the first to dance, followed by the guests. As they dance, they place their gala on the plates. The gala is a gift of money, which the guests can choose to place either on the bride or on the groom’s plate and not necessarily on both. When the maskota is done, the godparents are tasked to count the money. If the gala for the bride and that for the groom are not equal, the difference is covered by the family of the one who has come up short. When the meal starts, the bride and groom are made to sit at either end of the table.

After the reception is the aggud. Everyone, including the newlyweds, troop to the groom’s house, where he will collect a change of clothes and sleeping paraphernalia such as a mat, pillow, blanket, and toiletry. These are carried into the bride’s house where the padurug is held. The newlyweds sit beside each other on a mat in the living room, and the godparents cover them with a sheet or blanket. After a few minutes, the couple will get up, and the bride offers cigarettes or betel chew to everyone who gives her a token amount of money in exchange. This ends the wedding day. However, the final ritual is held a week later when a gathering is held again at the bride’s family. This is when prayers are offered for the kakot (grandfather) and kakay (grandmother). The settlement pattern observed among the Itawit is initially matrilocal. This means that after the wedding, the couple resides in the girl’s household for at least one year before they establish their own household.

The Itawit heed certain taboos and practices particular to pregnancy and childbirth. No one should stand at the doorway or sit on the stairway if a pregnant woman is in the house because this leads to a difficult childbirth. On the other hand, if she kicks every post in the house where she lives, she is assured of an easy delivery. During labor, hardwood is used to kindle all cooking fires to ensure that the child will be strong. The afterbirth is buried under the drinking jar so that the child can always contain his emotions. She should not bathe within the next nine days after her childbirth, and she must not use cold water for her first bath. No matter what the weather or day’s temperature is, the new mother must be well wrapped, preferably in a sweater.

There are taboos and traditional practices that are observed when death occurs. Members of the immediate family are prohibited from bathing, combing their hair, and sweeping the floor. They should not cook nor dip into jars and pots. Friends and neighbors of the bereaved express their sympathy by observing these taboos themselves.

During the wake, all the mirrors in the house are covered. Near the corpse a saucer is placed for visitors at the wake to leave their limus (cash offerings). At the burial site, family members turn their backs on the grave as the coffin is lowered. Mourners throw a handful of soil onto the coffin in the belief that the malas (evil) that may have caused the death will also be buried. Afterward, people in attendance at the burial ceremony step over the fresh grave or walk around the panchon (tomb) without looking back as they go directly home.

When death occurs in a family, the first meal is taken beside or near the corpse. Those who have taken the meal are whipped by an old woman with an attang (gabi or taro stalk) in the belief that this will prevent skin rashes. No member of the grieving family should eat food with holes in them, such as intestines and bones. If any of them should happen to eat these, they must keep a piece of the forbidden food until the night of the new moon. On that night, they toss this piece into a pot of boiling water and fling the contents of the pot onto the ground while gazing at the moon. They then take a little of the bone soup and rub it on their skin. The widow or widower should not leave the house within the next forty days of their spouse’s death. Those who touch them during this period bring misfortune upon themselves.

Itawit People Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Itawit’s belief in the existence of banig (supernatural beings) influences their behavior to a significant extent. Places in which the banig reside must be afforded great respect and thus must be left undisturbed. Otherwise, these spirits will punish them by possessing them, thus inflicting a grave illness on them. Persons who are nalugganan or natalyonaggan (possessed) fall into a daze and take on the voice of the spirit that has possessed them. They are taken to the abusubusid (folk healer), who ascertains if the cause of their illness is, indeed, spirit possession. The spirit can be appeased and induced to leave the possessed person with an animas (ritual prayer) and an offering of a pig, a hen, and dekat. Among the Malaueg, the folk healer is the surjano and their offering to the offended spirit is called massangnga, which consists of a white pig with a string of granatis (beads) around its neck, a white hen, dekat, whiskey or wine, betel chew, and a drink of water.

Itawit annamay (sorcerers) are ordinary-looking people, except in the mornings when they sink their hands and knees in mud to eat grass. They own a batag (little bottle) containing denu (oil), which they use to lay a curse on someone. They can also use it to undo that curse. Their powers of sorcery are passed on to an offspring when they bequeath their batag to him or her.

The Malaueg say that specters and supernatural beings reside in specific spots. In Rizal there is an akokang (a piece of flat land beside a creek) where a Kalinga spirit resides. It has been known to have possessed a child, who fell gravely ill and then spoke Kalinga and danced in the Kalinga style. On the other hand, at the mouth of the cave at Alsong, a rock simply appears and disappears. Or one may catch a glimpse of a white sheet or blanket at the baggat, which is a place near the bridge toward the Poblacion. A kapre (ogre) is said to appear at the Landing. A maligno (evil spirit) resembling a horse appears behind the municipal hall and the church. In Tuao, on the other hand, the Itawit say that there is a very dangerous part of Chico River that is abbut, that is, it pullspeople under and kills them.

According to the Malaueg, expectant mothers are the favorite prey of malignant spirits. Hence, they heed certain taboos and practices particular only to them. They are careful to stay in at twilight time because this is when the spirits are wont to roam. They can, however, arm themselves against these spirits with salt, garlic, and a pair of scissors. The parents of a pregnant woman whose womb is in frequent pain should each wear a string of three granatis at their waist. The tun (ritual prayers), which are led by the mamalungo, are held on the third, fifth, and seventh month of a woman’s pregnancy.

The Itawit believe in the existence of aran, which are fair-haired and two feet tall, wearing clothes resembling a banana peel. They float above the ground instead of walking on it. Whoever captures an aran will have a galinggaling (supernatural ability), such as the ability to stay completely dry even while just wearing a hat when it rains.

The Itawit’s and Malaueg’s indigenous belief system exists side by side with their Catholic faith and practices. In 1608, the Dominicans built the church in Malaueg where the annual procession in honor of the town patron, San Raymundo Peñafort, is held. Beside the church building stands the bell tower, at the foot of which are several batag, the bottles containing oil associated with the annamay’s supernatural powers.

The Itawit believe in saints who serve as their guardians and intercessors. These saints are represented by religious images called santo, which occupy a revered place in every Itawit home. Locally made santos are first taken to church to be blessed before they are enshrined in improvised altars. Sometimes, the santo is accompanied by a band as it is being brought home after the blessing.

Many religious beliefs are associated with the santo. Neglecting a santo, letting it decay or gather dust would cause sickness to a family member. Sickness or epidemic, a long journey, graduation from school, poor or bountiful harvests are occasions that call for the repainting and re-blessing of the santo.

Our Lady of Piat
Our Lady of Piat, 2011 (Kendrick Dominic T. Yu)

Antique santos, especially those brought by Spanish missionaries and merchants from Spain, are attractive to buyers willing to pay high prices. However, the Cagayano abhor the selling of these images, as this is considered a betrayal similar to that of Judas who sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

The Piat Shrine was built in 1623 by the Dominican friar Juan de Santa Ana. The image of the Lady of Piat was done by an unknown sculptor in Macao, then a Portuguese colony. When it was brought to the Philippines, it was first enshrined in Piat with the name Santa Maria del Rosario. A missionary visiting Piat noticed the dark image of the Virgin Mary. He took such a liking to the image that he commissioned a sculptor in Manila to fashion a fair-skinned replica of it, thinking that it was what the Piateños would prefer. The missionary then took the original image to Tuguegarao with the approval of Father Juan de Santa Ana. This angered the Piateños, who pressured Father Santa Ana for the immediate return of the image to Piat.

To make the devotion to the Virgin Mary more accessible to as many inhabitants as possible, the parish priest ordered the construction of a chapel on a spot between Tuao and Piat. The first Mass in this shrine was celebrated on 26 December 1623. But word spread that the statue had manifested its desire, through an old woman’s dream, to be enshrined in Piat proper. The people of Tuao, who also wanted the image for their town, reportedly sent a group of men to bring it to Tuao, but the image became very heavy and immovable. To the surprise of everyone, a six-man delegation from Piat was able to carry the image easily to Piat, where the image was then permanently enshrined.

Our Lady of Piat Church in Piat, Cagayan,
Our Lady of Piat Church in Piat, Cagayan, 2014 (Joanner Fabregas, Wikimedia Commons)

Many miracles have been attributed to the Lady of Piat, and this has endeared her to many devotees all over the country. Hence, a yearly pilgrimage is observed by devotees of Our Lady of Piat. One miracle tale centers on the niece of Doña Ines Maguilabbun, one of the wealthiest and most active civic workers in Cagayan. After prayers were offered to the Lady of Piat, the girl, who was suffering from an acute swelling of her left shoulder, recovered. Another story tells of the miraculous rain that came after many long dry months.

By 1898, the Catholic religion had become entrenched among the baptized Itawit, and they were able to prove their loyalty to the church and even to the colonial government. In the town of Enrile, they offered refuge to Spanish priests, nuns, and officials from different parts of Cagayan province who attempted to elude capture by the revolutionary movement. When they were all captured, they were spared from harm through the intercession of Don Vicente de Guzman, who was a respected nationalist.

Itawit Traditional House and Community

The posts and frames of the Itawit house are of bamboo; the walls and roof are thatched with cogon grass; and the floor consists of bamboo slats spaced a few centimeters apart. The house is raised a few meters above the ground, thus creating ample space underneath the floor. In times past, when the Itawit and the Kalinga were engaged in ngayaw (tribal war), the Kalinga warriors could walk stealthily underneath the house at night and thrust their spears between the floor’s bamboo slats and into the bodies of the sleeping residents above. Hence, to shield themselves from attack, the Itawit spread out carabao hide rugs on their floor. With the era of the ngayaw gone, a leather-skin rug in an Itawit house serves more as a sleeping mat.

Architectural structures that reveal a rich historical background and the ingenuity of the Cagayano abound in places where the Itawit live. The church and convent in barrio Teja, Tuao, built by the Dominican friar Gabriel Serrano in the 17th century, was prominent for its four-columned Gothic structure. According to a legend among the people of Tuao, the construction of the church was impeded by a bird that came hovering and touched the cross to mark the site of the proposed church. The bird yelled “Batullao!” then flew northward and perched on a big tree. The missionaries took this as a sign of where the church should be built. An earthquake, though, destroyed the church on 29 December 1949.

Also in the poblacion of Tuao, are the ruins of a cota (fortress), which the Spaniards and the natives used to defend the town from Kalinga invasions, and ancestral houses like the Mamba.

Mamba Ancestral House in Tuao, Cagayan
Mamba Ancestral House in Tuao, Cagayan, 2015 (Romel Rafor Jaime)

In Iguig, a mildew-coated rectory well is located east of the Catholic church. Constructed in August 1768, the well was for a long time the only source of drinking water. It was abandoned after the advent of artesian wells.

On the west side of the church, there is a brick stairway that leads down to the Cagayan River. Accounts from the early people of Iguig say that the stairway served as the town’s red carpet for visiting Spanish officials who came by boat on the Cagayan River.

Old Spanish kilns, called hornos, abound in Cagayan towns, specifically in the sitios of Salamagui, Ajat, and Nattangan—all in Iguig. In these hornos, bricks were baked to be used as building materials for many Hispanic structures like the bahay na bato (stone house) and the cathedrals. From the hornos, each brick was relayed by hand from one native to another until it reached the masons, who then piled them together to form the foundation and walls of the church.

Itawit Costume

The older generation Itawit still recall their grandfathers having worn either the bahag (loincloth) or aril (white trousers) while their grandmothers wore the kimona (loose upper garment). Additionally, the men wore ibudbud sa ulo (headkerchief). They wore a dagga (red) kerchief on their head as a sign of battle and furaw (white) as a sign of peace. As time wore on, tribal wars subsided but the men continued to wear their headkerchiefs, this time as a barometer of their moods: red as a sign that they were in a foul mood and therefore for people to keep out of their way, and white as a sign of calm and friendship.

Itawit Santo Wood Carving

The Itawit belief in saints is made concrete in religious images, which they call santo. Their collections of santos include the works of unknown Filipino sculptors as well as imported images that are centuries old. Local santos come in different sizes and faces, even if they depict the same saint. This shows that their sculptors had varying ideas of how the saints looked. Nevertheless, symbols associated with particular saints remain identical.

Locally carved santos are usually made of wood such as santol, nangka, and guava, which are preferred for their texture, durability, and resistance to termites. Popular among the santo makers are the figures of San Jacinto, San Jose, San Vicente Ferrer, San Isidro Labrador (patron of farmers), San Pedro, and San Roque (patron of the sick). These santos are repainted from time to time and are taken to the church for re-blessing.

Today, santo making is a thriving craft and is considered a profitable industry, these being preferred to images made of ceramics and plaster of Paris.

Oral Traditions of the Itawit People

During the Spanish period, the Ibanag language became the ecclesiastical language of the Spanish missionaries in Cagayan. It came to be considered a prestigious language, and non-Ibanag speakers, like the Itawit, aspired to learn and speak Ibanag. This process of linguistic adaptation made the Ibanag and Itawit literature indistinguishable. Akkakahi (sayings or aphorisms), unoni (proverbs), and palavvun (riddles) have been collected from the Itawit in the towns of Iguig, Peñablanca, Piat, and Solana. The following are the palavvun supplied by Itawit informants (Liban-Iringan 2006):

Nu mataruk mesinna

Nu gabi mabbikat. (Benta)

(Separate by day

Together by night. [Windows])

Mayo kaloko yo ina

Nateretet yo anak na. (Karabasa)

(Look at this naughty mother

Her children come one after the other. [Squash])

Tumattaluyut awanna vurayut

Mappanga-panga awan na vunga. (Pasingan)

(It sways but has no vines

It has many branches but has no fruit. [Bamboo])

Tallu nga mawwaragui

Minay ira ta misa

Furao, kafe, anna berde

Y burwasi ra,

Pallawadda, naggiritta ngana

Y sinnudda. (Maman)

(Three siblings

Went to mass

White, brown, and green,

Were what they were wearing.

When out they came, all the same

Were their garments. [Betel chew])

The akkakahi and unoni of the Itawit can fortify the discouraged soul or admonish one who strays from the path of good conduct (Liban-Iringan 2006):

Aru paga y ikan

Nga ari natavukulan.

(There are many fish

That have not yet been caught.)

Mas malogon nga gatutan y suru

Anne paga ta pilay.

(It is easier to catch a liar

Than a cripple.)

Y abbing nga malladdu-laddug

Ari mabayak ay magandugkug

Y sira makkanna ta simu na

Mapangngo tu mapia

Y attakilala na minassirisiri.

(A child who lies

Will soon be caught;

A fish is caught by its mouth;

A good deed is easily forgotten,

What is remembered is the lie.)

No hanna yo nemulam

Yan yo emmu apitan.

(What you sow

Is what you reap.)

Literary pieces in Itawit have survived through oral transmission. According to the Itawit of Tuao, the first ancestors of the Itawit were the warrior Biuag and the Kalinga woman Dalinggay. Biuag and another warrior, Sinigingan, fought for the hand of Dalinggay, and Biuag emerged the victor. A variant of this origin story, which is told in Rizal, is that the woman’s name was Maginganay, and Biuag’s foe was named Malana.

Biuag receiving the three stones which will give him supernatural powers
Biuag receiving the three stones which will give him supernatural powers (Illustration by Jap Mikel)

In the most detailed version, the woman is unnamed, but the setting for the duel between Biuag and Malana is named: Nangalawatan, a barrio near Il-luru, Rizal. Here, two mountains stand opposite each other as proof of the battle for the love of Maginganay. This origin myth recounts how the infant Biuag, born in Cagayan’s southernmost town of Enrile, is visited by a beautiful woman who hands him three stones that will give him protection and supernatural powers. When he is older, he remains troubled and unhappy despite these powers. He falls in love with a beautiful woman whose origin the people do not know. Meanwhile, there is another young man from Malaweg—now Rizal—named Malana. Like Biuag, he also possesses powers that he uses to help his people, thus gaining their admiration. One day, Biuag is visited by the beautiful woman. Biuag takes this opportunity to propose to her, but the woman turns him down as she is already betrothed to Malana. Biuag challenges Malana to a fight to prove who is more worthy of the woman’s love. But Malana turns him down, saying that his powers are not meant for such fights. Soon after, Biuag prepares to leave the town with the woman. The people from Malaueg stop him, and Malana has no choice but to take up Biuag’s challenge. As the two protagonists prepare for the big fight, the people build the two mountains on the opposite banks of Matalag River. On the day of the fight, Biuag, accompanied by the people of Enrile, brings with him a big coconut tree and a sharp spear and proceeds to the mountain on the eastern bank of the river. Malana goes up to the opposite mountain. The fight begins. Biuag hurls his weapons one at a time but fails to hit Malana. Running out of weapons, Biuag leaps into the river and emerges with a big crocodile in his arms. Biuag then shakes the mountain where Malana stands. Malana leaps from the mountain, and suddenly the beautiful woman is in midair to meet him. She looks down at Biuag and castigates him for being a coward and getting the help of a crocodile. The woman turns out to be the daughter of the goddess who gave them both their powers. In the end, she takes Malana to the “kingdom in the air” (Cagayan Almanac 1970).

Video: Wikang Itawit

Itawit Songs

Buyas is the generic term for singing. For the Itawit, a buybuyas is sung by boys at a say-am (public sacrifice). The contents of the songs in general are cryptic even to the members of the community themselves, and the meaning of some words can be obscure or archaic. Thus, they themselves might give various interpretations of the songs. Although the following buybuyas is in Isneg, it was a man from Tawit, named Baydan, who sang it (Vanoverbergh 1960):

Salen dumay dumaay

(This refrain is repeated after each verse.)

Sabunko no magnanay

Darayoday ya ammay

Datto manin mairud

Nanna lubay di babay

Babbin manin umabay

Nanna walday did tolay

Sinnammo kud di babay

Ababbin no magsiblay

Magpannait did tolay

Maninsiubawka pe say

Lain manin di babbay

Saraxosog ni lekay

Atan manin Salebay

Sarmin no maguanay

Ta dinumran to udan

Ito Idbat nid arnab

Sinalko wo taxansí

Ta neta-nag di bulan

Ta dumaldal to bulan /

Baxowa-o nakurau

Abalbalay di babay

Babay ya asupaay

(My flower if it lasts

In a pile the palay

The pile again breaks down

What can be done with the earring of a woman

The child again grows

What can be done with the men’s walday

[paraphernalia for the say-am]

See the woman

Child who has the colic

Cause pain the men

You are anxious indeed

Kindness again of the women

The fishing net of Lekay

Is here again Salebay [a girl’s name]

A looking-glass if it lasts.

As increased the rain

After the heavy rain

My spear, a taxansi [wooden spear]

As fell down the moon

As appears the moon

I am a young man with shortcomings.)

The following song is provided by another man of Tawit named Appalo, though it is in Isneg. It demonstrates the cryptic nature of this type of song called the dewas (Vanoverbergh 1960):

Refrain: Salen dumay dumaay.

(This refrain is repeated after each verse.)

Naldob adon dalayday

Nanna ragsa did babbay

Angamta no maturay

(Wilted the leaf of the dalayday vine

What can be done with the joy of the women

We are happy when ruled.)

The ruler referred to in the last verse is the sun. Thus, the verse means: “Standing in the sun, singing makes us happy.”

Itawit Folk Dance

There are three dances that are performed in Itawit and Ibanag communities. Annafunan derives its name from the barrio of Annafunan, Tuguegarao, where this dance is very popular. It is a reconciliation dance in which the man tries to win back the love of his woman by singing the following verses (Cagayan Almanac 1970):

Asitaw y nadianam mu

Nga bagu la masingacku?

Nadiacka tamma ta aw-away

Nga catayauan nat tolay.

Gari ta aya mu nio-c

Gammam ma nga ygacayo-c

Sangaw ta lubbe y lurac-c,

Ay cunna cuerdas nga nagatta-c.

(Where did you stay

That I see you only today?

Might you have been in the wilderness

Where people are lost in the darkness?

That time when you loved me,

You always clung to me,

But now that came the havoc,

You cut the love as a string that broke.)

The kilingkingan is a dance named after a small bird that lives in caves and has a call that resembles the sound of bamboo castanets. In social gatherings, kilingkingan is performed by a pair of dancers clicking wooden and bamboo castanets to the accompaniment of a five-stringed guitar called sinco-sinco.

A Spanish dance that has generated numerous versions in various parts of the Philippines is the jota. The townspeople of Enrile call their version la jota Cagayana, which bears the energy, gaiety, and liveliness of the original Spanish jota.

Itawit band performing for the Easter Sunday padafung in Enrile, Cagayan
Itawit band performing for the Easter Sunday padafung in Enrile, Cagayan, 1986 (Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection)

The Easter Sunday padafung dramatizes the images of the Mater Dolorosa and the risen Christ. The climax of the meeting is when a little girl dresses as an angel removes the black veil of the virgin, while she and the other girls attired as angels sing the “Regina Coeli, Laetare” to the accompaniment of the local band.

Media Arts

Itawit media arts mainly come in contents accessed via radio, television, print, and online platforms. AM radio stations in Cagayan Valley are all based in Tuguegarao where most of the Itawit live. These are DZRH Nationwide 576, DZTG Radyo Ronda 612, DZCV Radyo Sanggunian 684, DWPE Radyo Pilipinas 729, DZYT Sonshine Radio 765, and DZGR Bombo Radyo 891. These provide news, talkback, drama, commentary, and music programs. DWPE Radyo Pilipinas operated by the Philippine Broadcasting Service, a state radio network, mainly delivers news and information from the national and local governments. Similarly, FM radio stations are all based in Tuguegarao. These are DWWQ Baranggay FM 89.3, DWCK Magik FM 91.7, DWYA Brigada News FM 92.5, DWIC Star FM 93.3, DWMN Love Radio 94.1, DWRJ RJFM 96.5, DWES Crossover 97.3, DWVY Valley 98 98.1, DWXY Big Sound FM 100.5 that features contemporary music, pop, Original Pilipino Music (OPM), and classic hits; Catholic station DWGN Radio Maria 101.5; and DZDA Radyo Pangkaunlaran 105.3 that provides programs that are locally produced and news and talk segments that tackle local issues (Radio Station World 2021). Some of these radio stations also stream online feeds via Facebook and other means to enable access by listeners outside the region and abroad.

There are several television stations owned by government and private organizations that are based in Tuguegarao. Among these are Channel 4 by the People’s Television Network, Channels 7 and 27 broadcast GMA and GMA News TV by the GMA Network, Channel 9 by the Rajah Broadcasting Network, Channel 35 by the Amcara Broadcasting Network, Channel 39 by the Interactive Broadcast Media, Inc, Channel 45 broadcasts CNN Philippines by the Radio Philippines Network and Nine Media Corporation, Channel 47 by the Eagle Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 49 by the Christian Era Broadcasting Service, Channel 51 broadcasts UNTV by the Information Broadcast Unlimited, and prior to the suspension of its franchise, Channels 3 and 23 broadcasted ABS-CBN and Sports and Action by the ABS-CBN Corporation ( 2016). These television channels provide a variety of local, regional, national, and international media content ranging from variety shows to news and other public affairs. Other television stations in other parts of Cagayan are also accessible to the Itawit population.

Northern Forum, Northern Post, and Northern Digest are the newspapers being circulated in Tuguegarao City. Publishers are based in Tuguegarao City but the newspapers are distributed throughout Region 2. The Northern Forum, founded in 1980, maintains the column “Talatto” which the newspaper organization considers as its contribution to the preservation efforts for the Ibanag and Itawit languages (Gavino 2019). Articles in this column are entirely written in Ibanag and Itawit, thus promoting the formal use of these languages (Cantilero and Coballes 2007). Of the three newspapers, it is Northern Forum that maintains online presence with a dedicated webpage ( 2021) and a Facebook page that can be searched for by its regular readers.


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

Title: Itawit

Author/s: Galileo Zafra (1994) / Updated by Rosario Cruz-Lucero (2018) and Galileo Zafra (2021)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: September 06, 2022


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