Igorot Revolt

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Toward the end of the 1590s, the Spaniards were steadily occupying the lowlands of Northern Luzon primarily through negotiations with the datus who ruled there; they had the datus persuade their people to relocate to the new towns that were built by the Spaniards and were under Spanish rule. The Igorot, however, refused the blatant subjugation. Moreover, they were always wary about the presence of outsiders due to their isolationistic nature.

It was in 1601 when the Spaniards endeavored to convert the Igorot into Christianity through force. A crusade was declared, for the Spaniards also aimed to gain dominion over the Cordilleran mountains that stored bounteous gold. A friar known as Esteban Marín led the crusade. He had contributed significantly to the pacification of the inhabitants of Pampanga, and also had prior encounters with the Igorot who visited Ilocos during the 1580s in order to trade.

Marín was killed by the Igorot warriors. Upon learning of the outcome, the Spanish crown deployed a larger crusade that was led this time by Lieutenant Mateo de Aranda. The crusade was composed not just of Spaniards, but also of native fighters from Pampanga and Pangasinan who were ordered to capture and then enslave the Igorot.

The Igorot promptly retaliated; an estimate of 3,000 warriors rushed down from the mountains and easily wiped Marín's troops of Spaniards and natives.


A more elaborate account of the Igorot Revolt of 1601 states that the revolt occurred not in the mountains of Cordillera, but in the mountains of Caraballo Sur, south of Pantabangan. It also argues that "revolt" is not exactly the apt title for this significant event in Philippine history, as at that time the Igorot were not under Spanish rule; rather, they were preventing the Spaniards from encroaching Caraballo.

The Igorot were of grave concern to the Spanish friars, specifically those who were headed or who were coming from Ilocos. They were known for destroying the reducciones (communities for the native converts) built by the Spaniards, and enslaving outsiders if they decided to spare the lives (the Igorot were fierce headhunters). In response to the grave situation, the friars and Spanish authorities stationed in the Philippines called upon the assistance of native fighters from both Ilocos and Pampanga to enslave the Igorots. However, this plan did not receive approval from the King of Spain, and also from the Consejo de las Indias of Madrid.

There had been several significant encounters with the Igorot. Luis Perez Dasmariñas, the son of Governor-General Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, was sent to the western part of Pangasinan to look for a safe path that would lead to Ilocos. The mission was unfruitful, though Dasmariñas' Augustinian friar companion, Esteban Marín, oversaw the construction of a small church and a convent in both Masinloc and Bolinao from 1591 to 1592. A few years later, Marín began to preach in Tagudin, located just beside the mountains. He would interact with the Igorot who bought and traded there. While working in the areas of Laoag, Bantay, Masinloc, and Bolinao, Marín managed to become fluent in Ilocano, Zambal, and in some languages of the Igorot.

Governor-General Dasmariñas was eventually informed by the Augustinian friars Mateo de Peralta and Diego Gutierrez about the mountains of Caraballo that were teeming with gold. He then entrusted to Dionisio Capolo (also known as Dionisio Capulong) the task of convincing the Igorot to welcome the Spanish rule. Capolo, the son of Lakan Dula who ruled Tondo, was previously apprehended in 1588 by the Spaniards and exiled for four years after it was discovered that he joined a secret rebellion along with other relatives. The Governor-General knew of Capolo's diplomatic skills; in fact, Capolo already had close ties with some leaders hailing from the mountains, to the point that these leaders would visit Capolo in Manila from time to time. Capolo had also collected taxes in the form of gold without resorting to intimidation or violence.

When Capolo ventured into the mountains of Caraballo in 1595, though, he was immediately met with animosity from the Igorot. It was documented that he was badly hit in the face, and even nearly died from the incident. The expedition group did not push through. Meanwhile, Capolo finally ceased partaking in negotiation trips to the mountains.

The Augustinian friar Marín was sent next. Owing to his multiple interactions and even immersion with the Igorot, he was able to write a dictionary and even a grammar book in Igorot. Marín also produced dictionaries for Spanish and Zambal, and some sermons for the latter. His mastery of multiple languages was what urged Governor-General Francisco Tello in November 1601 to designate him as the next individual who shall endeavor to convert more natives into Christianity.  

Marín journeyed from Gapan armed with nothing but a cross and accompanied by a lone servant. Though this was deemed inspirational by the other friars who soon followed his footsteps, the fate that befell Marín was actually tragic. Initially, he was able to gain the friendship of the Igorot. While preaching about Christianity and the need to pledge allegiance to the Spanish crown, though, Marín was ensnared by the Igorot warriors and tied to a tree. He was then shot with arrows several times, and it is also said that afterwards he was hanged. The warriors even went on as to decapitate Marín and burn his corpse. His servant met an unfortunate event as well.

The warriors knew that Spanish soldiers would soon be sent to battle them. Lieutenant Mateo de Aranda led the infantry comprised of Spaniards and natives (majority of whom hailed from Pampanga); however, they, too, failed in their plan of subjugating the Igorot. An estimate of 3,000 warriors descended upon them, prompting some from Aranda's side to flee out of fear.

The two incidents brought about the realization that the mountains were rather impenetrable, and that the Igorot should be left alone. Native soldiers from Ilocos and Pampanga soon stopped engaging with the Igorot, and only a couple of Dominican friars from Manaoag and Pangasinan and Augustinian friars from llocos continued with their evangelization in the mountains of Cordillera and Caraballo. There had been a number of missions that were established in Cordillera, but all these were eventually destroyed by the Igorot.

Igorot Combat Strategies

The triumph of the Igorot warriors over the combined forces of the Spaniards and natives from Pampanga and Pangasinan came as a surprise to the Spanish authorities that sought the capture and pacification of the Igorot. This was because the Igorot were merely viewed by the Spaniards as "heathens" who had to be converted into Christianity, and whose ancestral lands in the Cordilleras believed to be teeming with gold had to be taken advantage of. The Spaniards underestimated the Igorots' 350-year revolt against foreign conquerors.

Despite lacking the weapons that were at that time considered to be the most advanced, the Igorot were still adept when it came to combat. In fact, they had a fearsome reputation among the other natives, for they engaged in headhunting. Undoubtedly, the Igorot were highly familiar with the surrounding terrain, as opposed to the Spanish troops who had to rely on local guides. The Igorot had weapons such as bamboo lances and wooden shields. They also utilized traps that blended well with nature; an example would be the stakes that they would bury in grassy areas. These stakes injured intruders who were not vigilant enough.

The Igorot maximized the presence of nature, for they constructed sturdy barricades out of trees. With the barricades placed strategically in mountain trails, they would wait for enemies to encounter these. While the enemies were occupied with the task of demolishing the barricades, the Igorot would start hurling boulders and tree trunks at them.

Secrecy was valued by the Igorot as well. The locations of Igorot villages were kept away from outsiders (i.e. foreigners and other natives). Any Igorot caught divulging information was expected to be executed.

It was in 1789 when a Spanish friar documented what may be considered as the psychological tactics of the Igorot. Only the Igorot men were allowed to trade with outsiders. Whenever they encountered questions regarding their lands or their mines, the standard response was to feign ignorance, or to reply in a manner that would simply confuse the other party.

Another psychological tactic of note is what is known as the "false retreat"; this one is employed during a battle. The Igorot warriors would act as if they are surrendering, thus giving the enemies a fleeting sense of victory. With the enemies' defenses lowered, groups of Igorot would launch a coordinated attack to which the enemies would have no ample time to respond.   




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