HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 47 no. 1 (2001)

Contributions of the Itnegs (Tinggian) to Philippine History

Fay L. Dumagat

Discipline: History



There are two yet unreconciled versions of Itneg (Tinggian) history. The first is the Spanish version that portrays the Itneg as friendly and receptive to Spanish pacification and proselytization as demonstrated by the conversion of Dumawal and his 3,000 followers by Father Juan de Pareja in the early 1620s. The second is the Itneg oral account that tells of their saga of resisting Spanish rule by fighting the Spaniards and seeking refuge in the interior mountains of Abra.


From Spanish eyes, the Itneg were the less “wild” mountain people of northwestern Luzon who inhabited the fringes of their colonial possession in the Ilocos. They called them “infieles” (infidel) or those who did not accept Christianity but were willing to pay tributes and to render free labor called polo y servicio. They were the convenient tools for the Spanish final conquest of the northern Luzon mountains and the eventual exploitation of the gold mines there.


On the other hand, Itneg oral accounts sing of the heroism of Sagid, Sayen, Silag and Banaw in their fight against the Spaniards, the last sacrificing his own life to enable his people to escape when he delayed the Spanish advance at a narrow pass at the Banawang Abra River mouth. The oral accounts also preserved the genealogies that relate different families and towns and paved the way to the formation of an Itneg confederation that supported Gabriela Silang’s fight against the Spaniards.


The emerging Itneg history based on a fruitful integration of recorded and oral history indicates that the Itneg not only resisted Spanish colonial rule and preserved their culture and traditions. They also played a vital role in the development of northwestern Luzon literacy tradition through the work of Bukaneg, the expansion of trade between the coastal and mountain peoples, and the emergence of a supra-barangay politico-military confederation that threatened Spanish colonialism in the late 18th century. These trends are still observable in the participation of many Itneg youths in nationalistic movements, their continued struggle to keep their ethnic identity, and their fight for a new socio-politico-economic order that will finally put into their hands the destiny of their own people.