Bugkalot ethnic community

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The Bugkalot ethnic community or Ilongot tribe is a Philippine indigenous group that is found in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, and Aurora. Many of them live in the eastern central part of the Caraballo and Sierra Madre mountain ranges and by the Conwap, Bua, and Tubo rivers. There are at least 5,000 head families of Bugkalots who occupy at least 62 village-communities in these areas. Once known as head-hunters, the Bugkalots consist of various warring tribes. There are various sub-tribes which are distinct from each other but share certain linguistic and cultural characteristics. The people are especially known for their colorful traditional dress, crafts, and dances and their musical instruments.



The Bugkalots are Indonesian in origin and are recorded as being among the first people to come to the Philippines. Along with the Agta or Dumagat people, they were among the first inhabitants of the forests of Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, and Aurora. They initially built their houses in trees as protection from their enemies.

Until the 1970s, the Bugkalots were a tribe of head-hunters and known as the Ilongots. In recent years, the Philippine government has been making some effort to help the Bugkalot tribes resolve some of their problems, particularly when it comes to livelihood and inter-tribal relations.


  • Italon Tribe – live by the head stream of the Casecnan River. They are of medium height.
  • Kadayakans – live in Ditale, Dipaculo and in Bayanihan, Baler, Aurora. They speak Tagalog fluently due to their interaction with the Tagalog people of Aurora.
  • Egongots/Ipagis – live in the northwest of the Baler coast
  • Abacas/Tamsis – live by the Conwap River
  • Dagkans


The Bugkalots tend to be short in stature. Their skin color ranges from fair to dark. Some of the sub-groups possess features that can be described as Mongolian, since their eyes are narrow and slanting and their noses aquiline. These include the Italons, the Abacas/Tamsis, the Dakgans, and the Kadayakans.

Way of life

In the past, the Bugkalots were fearsome head-hunters. Today, the Bugkalots are a nomadic people with little knowledge of modern agricultural practices. They subsist on small-game hunting and practice kaingin farming, planting mainly root crops, bananas, rice, and tobacco. Hunting is mostly done by the men, while planting is mainly the responsibility of the women. The men make use of weapons like a barbed spear, bow and arrow, and a large knife. Warriors carry rectangular wooden shields. The men also gather honey, beeswax, gum, and other forest resources to trade to the lowlanders along with tapa made from venison.

About 50-70 people live in a Bugkalot village. The houses consist of elevated wooden huts thatched with cogon and decorated with animal skulls. Cooking is done on a fireplace in a corner of the house. Anahaw leaves are used as plates, from which the Bugkalots eat using their fingers. The family sleep on mats on the floor. The husband and wife use a tapis to cover themselves at night.

Traditional dress

The clothing of the Bugkalot is simple, but they are fond of accessories. Children go around without clothes until they reach puberty. For cloth, the Bugkalots make use mainly of the soft inner bark found in some trees. The men wear a loincloth which is fastened around the waist by a belt made of either brass wires or rattan. Pieces of bark cloth are wrapped around the legs and tied in place. For accessories, men wear metal armbands on the left side and rings on their fingers. They also carry a bag with items like arrowheads, flint, betel nut, and crocodile teeth inside. Boys wear a band around one of their leg calves.

The women wear bark cloth sarongs that end above the knee. They wear matching blouses which expose their midriffs. They like wearing accessories such as beaded necklaces (panglao), earrings (kalipan), brass armbands, and little bells. The women are good at embroidery and they also make accessories like cotton tassels.

Among the Bugkalots, long hair is preferred for both men and women. Filed and blackened teeth are considered attractive.


The gods of the Bugkalots are Cain and Abal, 2 benevolent and omnipotent brothers who are known to them as the creators and guardians of the world. Abal is the creator of the lowlanders while Cain is the creator of the upland people, including the Bugkalots. The Bugkalots pray to these gods as well as their messenger, Binangunan. They also believe in good and bad spirits or anitos, and worship heavenly bodies, the rain, and their ancestors.

Oral literature

Bugkalot folk tales express their values and customs. Some are even based on Hindu epics, suggesting a connection with India. Old men and women are the favored storytellers, drawing out the narratives in a rhythmic manner for the entertainment of the people during quiet evenings.

Music and dance

The dances of the Bugkalot tend to be vigorous, especially the tagem, or post-head-hunting dance. The women play bamboo zithers known as colesing to the rhythm of sticks and the accompaniment of litlit, a guitar with human hairs for strings. The men carry their weapons and dance to the music, moving in a forceful, trancelike way, later to be joined by the women. Another of their well-known dances is the festive baleleng.


  • Aquino, D. M. “Resource management in ancestral lands: The Bugkalots in Northeastern Luzon.” In CAB Abstracts.


  • National *Comission on Indigenous Peoples. “Ethno Group: Bugkalot.” In ncip.gov. [2]
  • Reference and Research Bureau. “Programs for the Bugkalot Tribe.” In the Legislative Research Service. [3]
  • Sianghio, Christina. “Ilongot.” In Literatura 4. [4]
  • The Three Tibes and their Ancestral Domains.”




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