The tribes of the Cordillera – often collectively known as the Igorots (“mountaineers”) – resisted assimilation into the Spanish Empire for three centuries. Although they brought some material improvements, such as to the local diet, the colonizers forced the poor to work to pay off debts, burned houses, cut down crops and introduced smallpox.

The saddest long-term result of the attempts to subjugate the Igorots was subtler – the creation of a distinction between highland and lowland Filipinos. The peoples of the Cordillera became minorities in their own country, still struggling today for representation and recognition of a lifestyle that the Spanish tried to discredit as unChristian and depraved. The word Igorot was regarded as derogatory in some quarters, although in the twentieth century there were moves to “reclaim” the term and it is still commonly used.

Though some Igorots did convert to Christianity, many are still at least partly animists and pray to a hierarchy of anitos. These include deities that possess shamans and speak to them during seances, spirits that inhabit sacred groves or forests, personified forces of nature and generally any supernatural apparition. Offerings are made to benevolent anitos for fertility, good health, prosperity, fair weather and success in business (or, in the olden days, tribal war). Evil anitos are propitiated to avoid illness, crop failure, storms, accidents and death. Omens are also carefully observed: a particular bird seen upon leaving the house might herald sickness, for example, requiring that appropriate ceremonies are conducted to forestall its portent. If the bird returns, the house may be abandoned.

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