Are the Bago a tribe?


Recently, a researcher from the University of Asia and the Pacific contacted this keyboard puncher through the Internet to get his views on various issues about indigenous peoples. She got wind of my spirited musings when she came across the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP)of the indigenous peoples of Bakun, Benguet. This writer happened to facilitate the formulation of the Bakun ADSDPP, and also edited the final output, which included the history of the place, an analysis of their situation at the time of the ADSDPP preparation (2004), and what the people foresaw to be the right way to manage their domain.

The Certificate of Ancestral Domain title (CADT) of Bakun was the first CADT issued in the Philippines. It was issued in the name of the Kankanaey-Bago tribe of Bakun, Benguet.

Pasrticularly intriguing to the researcher was the question on the identity of the Bago.

She notes the contention that ‘the Bago are actually “bagong tao,”’ and says that Prof. Nestor de Castro (U.P. Anthropology) said they aren’t really indigenous. (Prof. de Castro denies doing so. Please see comments on this post.)

This observation that the Bago are not indigenous is held by many, but this writer disagrees with the contention.

Indigenous peoples in the Philippines are precisely given that label now in recognition of the reality that in the long years of colonization by the Spaniards, they have become historically differentiated from the rest of the present Filipino people. That is, they have retained to a large extent the pre-colonial social, cultural and political systems while other inhabitants of these islands adopted the colonial influences of Spain. For many of these indigenous peoples, the distinction is rather pronounced, more so because the other Filipinos, mostly the lowland inhabitants, underlined the differentiation through various forms of discrimination.

The people of the Cordilleras are an example of the stark differentiation. The discrimination was not a one-way street, for the indigenous peoples themselves did not look kindly upon the non-indigenous. The differentiation is accepted by both sides, more so when the communities concerned are far apart and thus the differences are more pronounced. It thus was easier for those people high in the mountains of the Cordilleras to admit the differences, and readily acquiesce to a classification as indigenous peoples, or in older times, as “cultural communities”.

But such is not the case for their brethren in the foothills of the Cordilleras, particularly those near the provincial boundaries that tended to superimpose provincial identities to the people.

With the boundaries established in colonial and post-colonial times, identities of people tended to be associated with labels imposed by the colonial masters and government, as well as the generalistic classifications of academics.

Thus were born the Kankanaey, a term that is used to describe an ethnolinguistic group, or a group of communities that spoke a common language. The term has long been confused to mean a people, or a tribe, though this should not be the case. However, through long years of use, the term has acquired that meaning. Even official government classifications lists the Kankanaey as a ‘tribe.’ However, when we refer to a people as Kankanaey, we are merely implying that they speak a language labeled Kankanaey. The label was perhaps not meant to describe a people in the beginning, but since the term was applied by supposed experts in government and the academe, it became commonly used, and acquired its “tribal” or “people” meanings.

The boundaries drawn in Spanish and Americal colonial times and maintained by the post-colonial governments were however arbitrarily drawn, and did not reflect the classifications and differentiation of indigenous people from the non-indigenous population. Thus Kankanaey-speaking people were included in Benguet, Mountain Province, and the Ilocos provinces.

Those in the Cordilleras were identified as Igorots, an identity that they eventually came to proudly champion, even though the term had its derogatory meanings. The Kankanaey speaking population of the Cordillera foothills, but were included in the Ilocos political subdivisions, were at a loss, for they were not Ilocanos. At the same time, their identity as Kankanaey-speaking people was somehow subverted by their being politically divorced from the other Kankanaeys.

The discrimination against Igorots in the lowland provinces perhaps made them deny their affinity with the ‘Igorots’ or Kanakanaeys. This situation of belonging neither to the Kankanaey ethnolinguistic group or the Ilocano speakers gave rise to the term Bago. The Ilocanos referred to them as such, and so did their erstwhile brethren in the Cordilleras.

From the point of view of Igorots, the Bagos are those Kankanaeys in the lowlands, not really identifying them as distinct and separate people, but distinguishing them merely for the accident of being on the wrong side of a boundary line.

What confuses the issue even more is that the term “Bago” has been used to refer to migrants to the Bago communities, even if these migrants were originally known to be Igorots. Further, the term has been used to refer to other indigenous communities in the foothills of the Cordillera, not only to Kankanaey-speaking people, but also Isnegs, Kalinga, Ifugao, Tingguian, Ibaloi, or of mixed ancestry.

Through time, the term became commonly used, and the people the term referred to came to accept it as their identity.

The Bago as used in Bakun is a peculiarity in itself. The Bago come from barangay Bagu in that municipality, so called because they were nearer to the Ilocos than to the other villages in Bakun. (in fact up to now the village accessible only by passing through the lowlands.) so they were more identified with the “Bago” and their barangay named so.

With this background, the people referred to as Bago are indigenous people, in the sense that they indeed have retained much of the pre-colonial systems, language included. They are also known to practice cultures very similar to the other Kankanaey-speaking people higher in the Cordillera mountains.

However, this spirited thinker argues that the term Bago should not be used as the equivalent of Kankanaey (an appropriate term for an ethnolinguistic group). The Bagos are also Kankanaey-speaking, and thus should be included in that ethno-linguistic group.

The question of their identification of themselves as Bago should, on the other hand, not be questioned. After all, self-ascription and ascription by others is the accepted measure of identity as a people. If the Igorots and Ilocanos continue to refer them as Bagos, and they themselves ascribe to that name, then that identity is properly theirs.

20 comments
  1. Nestor Castro said:

    I never said that the Bago are not an indigenous community. What was your source? – Nestor Castro

  2. Gary said:

    Ms. Wanwan Rapisora Lagos mentioned you saying so when she interviewed me a few months back.

    Specifically, she asked “how true is it that the Bago are actually “bagong tao”, Prof. Nestor de Castro (U.P. Anthropology) said they aren’t really indigenous.” I suppose it was irresponsible of me to take it for granted, as the statement is rather improbable.

  3. Wanwan Lagos said:

    How unfortunate that I’ve just discovered this.

    In defence of myself, I do not deny that I did ask Mr. Pekas the question as that is how I understood Dr. Castro’s description of the Bago during Anthro 275 last semester. Since my interpretation turns out to be wrong, I sincerely apologize both to Dr. Castro and Mr. Pekas. It was not my intention to put false words in other’s mouths. I have now learned to be more careful with conjectures and for that I am honestly thankful. I hope this incident will not ban me from interviewing both of you in the future as most of your advocacies have interested me not only at a scholarly but also at a personal level.

    For whatever it’s worth, thanks Mr. Pekas for clarifying the issue about the Bago. I am positive that the enlightenment it has brought will prove to be more far-reaching than the confusion it has wrought.

    • Gary said:

      With Prof. Castro’s comment, I was tempted to edit the post and remove the allusion to him, and replace it with a general statement that some people do not believe the Bago are indigenous people (there are many who do not). However, since the good Professor already had his name dragged in, I thought it better that it remain, since his denial is a more powerful negation of the allusion.
      With Wanwan’s comment, the matter is now better explained, and Prof.Castro, I hope, is assuaged.

  4. Hidalgo Manabeng said:

    I cannot read all the contentions above because of the fine prints but my contention is that the real reason is the geographical location of this group of people. They live within the boundary of Ilocos and the Kankanaey speaking people in the cordilleras, such that they have been and are exposed to the two cultures, Ilocanos and Kankanaey resulting to a mixture of dialects, practices and even intonation. Since they can cannot consider themselves either pure ilocano or pure kankanaey, They are referred to as bago (bag-gag-o actually but made short to bago) If Kankaney is a tribe then I guess they qualify as a tribe also.

  5. Ferdinand Anno said:

    Good supplemental thoughts to oral tradition … from the above, it is more correct to say that, forced by geopolitical circumstance, the Bago is more of an Ilokano-speaking Igorot (from the Kankanaey and Itneg stocks – remember Anggaqui!!!)

  6. I’m glad I found this entry. I’m currently looking into the linguistic features of the language used by the Bago and there’s some useful material here. I intend to quote from your entry when I put my findings into a research paper. May I ask how I can properly identify you as the author of this work (to be placed in citation of course).

    Again thank you for this article!

  7. e. orpilla said:

    I appreciate very much that thru internet, the issue- does Bago Tribe really exist? or just a product of political will of people who only want to make a place for their political career? as for me, it is very painful to bear that since birth I was raised by my Bago parents in the Bago community with Bago culture and tradition, yet after 41 years of existence, there are people who claim;” Wala naman talagang Bago tribe”! ang tanong ko naman ngayon, eh, ANO KAMI? do they mean my father who is already 10 years 6 ft under the ground didn’t know our identity? what i can say is this; we, the Bago people know most who we are and not those who are questioning our existence! May God help us all!

  8. Eleanor Amino said:

    I”m not sure if it was Dr. Nestor de Castro’s comment that “Bagos are not really Indeginous” was the basis for disapproval for the application of the Bagos to be recognized as an Ethnic Group. I belong to this group and I grew up in both worlds of the Ilocanos and Igorots. There were times when I felt really confused and pained because while growing up Ilocos Sur, the Ilokos (Ilocano speaking) as we call them, call us is-isdi (where “isdi” is a Bago word that means “there”) and more often discriminated for our different Dialect. Also, if my family gets a chance to visit Mt. Province, where I also spent a year of my young life, I felt like I don’t really belong, even though my ancestors came from Mt. Province (mainly Kankanaey speaking province). Although, the Bago dialect is somewhat similar to the Kankanaey, it was still hard for me to communicate. The amount of Kankanaey words varies according to the distance of the place from the Mt. Province. The closer the place, the more Kankanaey words are embdded to the Bago dialect, as I observed. So when I read about an article about the Bago Tribe wanting to have their own identity, I felt like I suddenly found myself. When I told other Bago people about what I feel inside, I found out that I am not alone. A lot of us, Bago people, are yearning for our own identity to be recognized. And we want people to listen to us, if not the whole country. We need help from people who truly understand us, because we felt like a herd of lost sheep grazing for decades, if not centuries, on a grassland that we can never call our own.

  9. Reidan Pawilen said:

    Again, I don’t agree with the notion that the Bago are Ilocano- speaking Igorots for almost all Igorots have a “colloquial” knowledge of Ilocano as a prerequisite of maintaining Upland and Lowland trade. Pls refer to sources from history such as Ferdinand Blumentritt’s (1890) “Ethnograhic Map of the Philippines” and Otto Scheerer’s 1905, “The Nabaloi.” I know that these are colonial sources but both of them gave the same observation regarding the Igorot’s knowledge of Ilocano. These sources are also supplementary in reconstructing a history of the Bago. We only need to use post-colonial interpretation of data from these sources.

  10. Reidan Pawilen said:

    Saying, prematurely, that the Bagos are Ilocano-Speaking Igorots will only lead to more confusion for it qualifies every Igorot who knows how to speak Ilocano as Bago, which is, in all aspect, wrong. I want to know the sources used in this article. (from oral to written). In terms of the issue on geography. Yes, the colonial government was responsible for setting the boundaries of different provinces in the country. But it is also worthy to note that the colonial governments (spanish and american) were also responsible for making inter-ethnic relations more complex in the region with Ilocanos moving up as what Marxist scholars would identify as “peasantization” technique by the government, and the Igorots moving down to the established colonial space (Ilocos) otherwise known as a contact zone in geography. (refer to Blair and Robertson documents and Alfred Marche Documents here for the historical proof of these observations: archival documents of remontados in northern luzon to trace movements and Cordillera Studies Center UPB researches for supplementary articles).

  11. Reidan Pawilen said:

    Wow. I would also like for you (whoever the author is) to think about the point on paragraph 7 re. discrimination. It is an unfair generalization. Ilocano and Igorot trade was maintained throughout the colonial period signifying a strong upland and highland relationship that goes beyond economics. I know that there are present and existing discrimination. But what was the source? Putting the blame on the lowlander and the highlander is really unfair because their inter- ethnic history is marked by a continuity of a relationship while the colonial government was the one responsible for engraving the negative image of the Igorots in the minds of the lowlanders in their desperate attempt to cut this relationship.

  12. Reidan Pawilen said:

    Another generalization on the Bago being used as an identity of the people who were on the foothills of the cordillera. Have you seen the IP Map of the Ilocos Region? c/o NCIP Region 1? You may find there the distribution of IPs and you may notice that not all Igorot groups who are located within Ilocos (or on the foothillls of the Cordilllera) identify themselves as Bago.

  13. Reidan Pawilen said:

    And why is Bago being used in the tagalog sense as in “bagong tao?” This is another disjuncture in the group’s history. This only means that the Bago is indeed a recent construction not by the colonial government or the local people in the region but by the Tagalogs, apparently cancelling out all existing documentary evidences about the Bago. I mean when was Tagalog used as the national language? Was it even known to the Igorots and the Ilocanos during the early 19th century (the period of which the earliest documentary evidence of the Bago can be found)? Why would they use another term from another ethnoliguistic group to refer to themselves? Or why would the academics or the colonial governments, as was presented in this paper, do such a thing when they are clearly classifying people according to geographic location and distinct cultural attributes? Unless anyone here can say that an Igorot dialect have Bago that means new in their vocabulary. Again, there is a lot of contradictions, generalizations and disjunctures in our history. We really need to rewrite our group’s story. Concerned Bago here.

  14. Ferdinand Anno said:

    Well, the ‘Ilocano speaking’ Lepanto y-golot is not every Igorot. In some traditions it has a story of migration and evolution. In Sudipen, La Union for example, the Ilocano-speaking Lepanto ygollotes of ‘Angaki descent’ live side by side with Igorots of direct Bakun & Kibungan descents. The former are not Bagos (-they are Bakun/Kibungan Kankanaeys who also speak Ilokano, Ilokano being our lingua franca). The latter are. Some may trace their ancestry to the Angaki Bagos (like Sunggay, Bangaoil, Amboni), some may be descendants of Bagos from some ‘settling-diaspora’ period in the Bago national evolution (like Anno, Egsaen, Domogan, Ongogan) – from out of Angaki Bagos intermarriages with Kankanaeys (i am not sure about the names coming out of the Angaki Bago intermarriages with Ibalois in southern La Union). It may be of interest too to look at names as clue to understanding who could be ‘originally’ Bago (Angaki Bago), who could be from settlement/diaspora [first wave] Bago, or who could be post-Christianization ‘Ilokanized’ Bago (including Ilokanos who were ‘Bagoized’ by their settling in Bago communities). Also, the Bago community expanded to now include the Y-Kalinga, Y-Apayao, Y-Quirino Bagos. Sometimes, some storylines from oral tradition help connect the dots …. Yes, Reidan, the Tagalogs have nothing to do with our naming

  15. Reidan Pawilen said:

    I am interested on the periodization of the history of the Bago that you presented Mr. Ferdinand. However, I would also like to say that relying solely on oral traditions and lineage can only go so far (given that oral traditions and lineages don’t show dates though clues as to the geographic location of the Bago). If we are to establish the exact dates of this periodization, we also need extensive review of literature as mediated by oral traditions. I also think that tracing the Original Bago might lead us way back to the Austronesian Migrations (Belllwood and Solheim) since peopling in the Philippines was mainly because of these early migrations. The Bago did not just appear from nowhere. But then we can cut the long reference to history by starting with the observation of W.H. Scott where he stated that naming of Igorot (Igorot being a word that is also based on geographic location) groups was mainly based on the location of each group and I think this issue is already answered in the essay above. I am relieved to hear that there is indeed a barangay named Bagu/Bago. Can this be the same baranggay that was mentioned in the peacepact documents in Tagudin in the early 19th century? I think we should start with the history of this barangay if we are to locate the original Bago community. In any case, we must remove the notion that the Bago means new as was presented in the essay for it adds to the confusion about our group.

  16. Reidan Pawilen said:

    With regards to the migration of groups, I can only say that before colonization, there was already an existing Ilocano- Igorot trade relations and migration was already happening even before the arrival of the Spaniards (if we are to believe the stories from oral traditions such as that of the discovery of Candon). Migration was only made complex because of the arrival of the colonizers mainly because of the establishment of boundaries (leading to the creation of a defined contact zone) and also the advent of conversion through Christianity. We cannot divorce these two colonial mechanisms that made every indigenous movement in region more complex during the 16th-19th century. With regards to period of bago migration and intermarriage, we can only be sure that the Bagos, like other Igorot groups, have established long trade relations with the Ilocanos as seen with the peacepact of the early 19th century. I am currently working on this and I assure you that there are a lot of bundles in the archives that may provide clues regarding these peace pacts between the Igorots and the Ilocanos under the Spanish colonial government. On the other hand, it is good that we located Barangay Bago as a starting point for research. I can look up at the national archives as to when the barangay was recognized by the colonial government. I also want to assume that Mr. Anno have great knowledge about the commercial or trade routes of the Bago? This may also give us clues on the patterns of migration of the Bago that may be supplementary to our history. I can put the data and the patterns in a Map once I am done with my Geographic Information Systems course in Geography.

    • Ferdinand Anno said:

      please do and thanks lots Reidan (F_Anno@yahoo.com). Nope, I am a beginner on this study of the Bago. I was forced to look into it only when I was asked to present something on Bago spirituality and i had none to start with, fortunately i had in my keeping a document shared to me by the late Rev. Manuel Waley of Duplas (Sudipen) and Baringcucurong (Suyo)- his transcription of his mentors’ prayer-rites. I also had extensive travels and exposures to Bago municipalities in my capacity as a clergyman on top of my relatives being scattered around these traditonal and Diaspora Bago settlements, and my being pastor to a Bago community in Sagunto, Sison Pangasinan which was my base in reaching out to Bago communities in Rosario and Pugo, La Union, and Labayug, Agat, and Artacho in Sison, Pangasinan. I made no further study beyond that. Of course, I also had associations with both official and self-proclaimed authorities on the Bago question and was exposed to Bago Cultural Society literature. All these – plus my interest in and organizational links with contemporary sociopolitical movements and their cultural expressions in the Cordilleras gave me some multiple perspectives – BUT none was more important, i.e., solely on the Bago question, than that one piece of oral tradition (Sapo ni Apo Sawate). It gives a good starting point and perspective to studying existing literatures and ongoing studies. It sheds light on so many questions about the pattern of Bago settlements, about names, about places, etc. Now I am simply waiting for that piece of literature and other oral-ritual traditions that will challenge the storyline of Apo Sawate. I am sure that there are some materials out there that may cast doubt on the leads of the Sapo – and I am just now getting interested in what youre going to send me

  17. Reidan Pawilen said:

    With regards to Christianization, I have a full PDF copy of the Blair and Robertson english translation of different Friar accounts and Spanish documents in the Philippines. Pls. Focus on the Augustinian Records for records on Christianization of Igorots in Northern Luzon especially Ilocos Sur and La Union. On the other hand, I have personally seen the Ilocos bundles in the National Archives and I have seen a lot of names there dating way back into the 1600’s. It can be helpful in substantiating our lineages. Mr. Anno, you can PM me your email address in facebook so I can give you a copy of the full Blair and Robertson translations if you don’t have one.

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