Ipugao (Igorot) Creation: A Tale From the Mountains


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Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome to today’s episode. Or I guess, welcome back to our regular programming. And I’m not just talking about the last episode being an interlude episode. There’s more to it than that, and also…. That’s going to become a part of the regular programming. Albeit a rare piece of such. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve been following this show, you’ll know that I hit a bit of a snag with the last origin story. If you could permit a blend of theory and fact for a second, the close proximity of the Bicolano and Visayan people lead to a great deal of exchange, and consequently, a great deal of overlap in their origins stories. And other aspects of their religions as well, but you know—I was focusing on the origin stories for the sake of this hypothetical unit and all that. So I had to make due on the fly, as it were. But I like to think I made it work.

But now, we aren’t going to have that problem again.

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The group whose story I’m telling today is a fairly isolated one. After all, they’re disperse amongst the mountains of Luxon where—yes—they could be reached. If you were willing to work for it.

There’s a couple different names used to refer to this group. They’re similar, but similar enough to lure you in a false sense of security, I guess. What makes this easy is that all of them have a similar translation. I.e. Mountain people. Which is why they got grouped together, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. The endonyms Ifugao and Ipugao are typically used by this community to refer to themselves, but the exonym Igorot—that I think was pulled from the general Austronesian linguistic family—came up frequently in my research. And from what I can tell, this was a name that was put onto them simply for the ease of those on the outside. I say that because, while it was the most commonly used term in my research, I also saw that to the community, the term has a pejorative element to it.

Out of respect to the group, in this and all future episodes, I’ll use one of the preferred terms.

The Ipugao is a more collective term for the residents of Luxon’s mountainous area. Obviously, though, classification never works out as clearly as we would like. And in this case, I couldn’t find a clear explanation for this blanketing other than convenience. Everybody was in the somewhat isolated area but isolated together, so it works, right, she says with mild sarcasm.

To be fair, their origin story does suggest some sort of perceived connectedness amongst this group. But on the other hand, this is also a connectedness amongst all people. Everyone has a common creator—or a common origin point—and were set apart in such a way that they lived out different lives. Different paths and not different beings. It wasn’t until the Spanish came that they suddenly became seen as a cohesive group. With that in mind, we can break this large group down into smaller ethnolinguistic groups: the Bontoc, the Ibaloi, the Ifugao (yes, this is going to get a little confusing), the Isnag, the Kalingo, and the Kankanney.

But to clarify, there are some similarities between these groups. They had both priests and priestesses who performed ceremonies for the sake of the community, great deities, and lesser deities in their pantheon of gods…. Yeah, I can feel the eye roll of some of you across space and time.

If you cast a wide enough net, you are going to find reasons to group these five smaller groups into one whole. In much the same way the many ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines were brought together in one country, I guess. That’s probably not a good analogy. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that it’s not the grouping that is the problem, but the expectation that all difference and nuance would be wiped away. And that feels like a particularly pressing issue here when even H. Otley Beyer admits that this group of people have a very extensive mythology and unwritten literature. Not that he felt compelled to include it all in the tome I looked at. He was too concerned with organization to keep the cultural identity intact, I guess. (Pause) Yes, he did a lot of writing, I’m just perturb I guess. Because once again, it just feels like Beyer could have done more.

Long time listeners of the show know that I take everything H. Otley Beyer says with a great deal of salt. I don’t begrudge him for his existence but readily admit that he could be sometimes clueless. As flawed he could sometimes be, to his credit, Beyer’s work does distinguishes between these groups. At the very least, he recognizes that these smaller groups have their own identity distinct from each other. Something that doesn’t always seem to be the case. I’ve said this before: he might not have been great, but at least he was genuinely trying. And when you compare that to the Spanish forces that went about conquering the islands, you can probably see my point.

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Maybe each group’s distinct identity could have been maintained, had things gone differently. (Pause) I’m not saying it’s likely. I’m saying it’s a possibility within the realm of human experience or in a parallel but more forgiving universe, but that isn’t what happened. There was gold in this land, and where there’s gold, there’s a high likelihood of social misfortune or outright collapse.

The Spanish may have wanted to spread Christianity, but potentially the lust for gold was the most culturally destructive force. At least, in my non-expert opinion. Because when converting people to a religion, you had an incentive to understand their world view, if only to map out the road to conversion. It makes the whole thing easier to accomplish. And I think we saw this with the Tagalog people. Where—once again in my non-expert opinion—the structuring of the polytheistic religion made it monotheistic enough that the missionaries had a leg up.

But when it comes to gold, do you really care who trades you for it? As long as you know what they want, I guess. Capitalism and all that. But to draw this out more broadly, identity is not going to help you much or matter much in the exchange. A body at the other end of this exchange is still a body.

However, that’s all just background information and my amateur explanation. And you probably didn’t come here for that. You probably came here for a story. And yes, I do have one of those for you.

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I actually found two different ones that maybe could have or at one point did fit together. But then again, we’re talking about several groups of people being considered, so maybe I’m just being a bit too simplistic.

It just genuinely does seem possible. But honestly, they just don’t click in some of the details. But here’s why I can’t let this thought go. One is a recorded story, and the other is something stronger than that. It isn’t a story but something akin to their identity in a way I find hard to explain.

Because it’s not a story in the sense of this happened, then this, and it was done by this person. Rather, to these people, it is a state of being with no defining details that still shaped the reality they inherited. Am I being any clearer or am I making things worse for myself? I really can’t tell anymore.

You see, they firmly believe that there was a flood at some point that wiped out most people and that they are the heirs of a divinely selected couple that managed to survive. But the origin story itself is a fairly solid foundational one that doesn’t include any sort of flood.


I’m at an impasse, right? Well, it’s a good thing, this is a collection of retold and potentially butchered origin stories, a treatment that other mythologies got whereas this mythology is severely neglected. Because—at least—now I have permission to make it work, by some standards.

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At first, there was just a world. Land, sea, sky, to keep emptiness from setting in, but there was no life. And then, almost suddenly, animals came to be, populating every corner of this new creation. Sound erupted through the skies, and the universe felt all the more fuller. The world came to know the joy of birth and the sorrow of death. The world came to know what it felt like to not be empty. But still, there were no people.

All the same, there was a beauty to it, certainly. But to Lumawig, the Great Spirit, it wasn’t enough. While all others were rejoicing and enjoying what they had, the world still felt empty to him, somehow. And this puzzled him. At first, it was not a feeling that he understood. But in time, the silence in the air amidst the crickets, birds, and other creatures revealed itself. The song was beautiful, but it was stale and repetitive. The chorus of the world was missing a melody, dynamic and strong. It missed the momentum, the sense of innovation and novelty that no creature currently existing could provide.

And so, Lumawig conceived a most wonderful idea. He came down from the sky and cut down many reeds from the water beds. He divided these into pairs and placed them in different parts of the world. Then he bent down to each of them and said, “You must speak.”


Reeds cannot speak, as we all know. They do not have mouths from which to utter or words, nor do they have hearts or minds in which to create these words, but the demands of the Great Spirit were not to be ignored. And so, at his commands, the reeds grew these things. They found it in them to sprout hearts, minds, and mouths. All of the things they would need to find voices and words. And the momentum of this creation lead to other things as well. Things that these minds could not have thought to imagine.

And so, at Lumawig’s command, the reeds became people all over the world. In each place a man and woman came to be, each pair speaking their own language. Lumawig stood back and watched as all of this unfolded. It took time for them to grow, but it was time he certainly had to spare. As the words began to flow, he noticed that the languages varied from each other, sometimes wildly, but he was unperturbed by this. Such did not matter. People separated by a great distance did not need to speak the same tongue. For they would never meet. What mattered was that each of the pairs was able to understand each other and live happy lives. And he saw this was so.

The symphony of spoken word filled the world. Lumawig was pleased, but he wanted more for these people. He commanded each pair to marry. And they did. These marriages were happy ones with much more discussion as each shared their hopes, dreams, and fears with their new life partner, but more important, they brought joy out of each other. Lumawig found that the sound of these people’s laughter was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. And he loved it.

Each couple had many children who learned the language and ways of their parents. They too coupled off, married, and had children.

The world was growing. And Lumawig found great cause to be happy. The world beneath him was full of joyful people. He watched them from above, and he found himself absorbed in their daily adventures.

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But in focusing on the people, Lumawig did not see the storm over the horizon. The dark clouds formed before him, but there were children playing tag beneath him. The sound of them their play drowned out the low roll of thunder in the distance. The storm brewed and swelled, but he did not notice. And Lumawig could have stopped it, if he only knew what was happening. But he wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t bring himself to care. It did not interest him.

His reverie did not break until the first crack of thunder rang out through the land. At the sound, Lumawig snapped to his sense, but he was still feeling the lingering haze of his stupor hang over him. The thunder continued to roll.

In time, he realized what was happening. Namely, that he had ignored the larger world for the sake of his own amusements, and though it was not immediately obvious, there would be consequences for his foolishness. Without his care, the world would risk coming undone. Briefly, he rebuked himself for the mistake, but there was nothing he could do for now. The damage, whatever there was, had been done.

As he thought this, it began to rain. Slowly, at first. And then, it began to pour. The rain fell and fell, but at first, Lumawig did not stop it. Guilt beckoned him to be still, and he did not argue against it. There had been a time when he knew of each breath the smallest insect had taken never mind the workings of such large storms, but it had all slipped his mind in favor of this newest project of his. Now, he did not know what state the world was in. Of what he did know, the world needed its water, and it had not been tended to, properly. This had been his mistake. And now he had to let the world tend to its own wounds.

Lumawig retreated to his domain and left the world to its own devices. In his absence, the rain continued to fall. For many days and nights, the water levels rose. And the people desperately sought cover or some other means of surviving.

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But on our islands, it became too much. The seas rose too fast and too high for the people to cope. As a wave swept through, many were swept away, and many more were drowned before the people could find higher ground. The few remaining took to the mountains and the caves within. But many of the caves also filled up with water. And those who had sought shelter therein also drowned.

In time, there were only two people left. A man and a woman, in two different caves at the peak of two of the highest mountains in the area. They crawled deep into them and cowered as the storm raged on outside.

The rain kept falling. They rested on makeshift beds: large slabs of hard and unforgiving rock. The rocks were cold, but that was easier to endure than the sense of loneliness that washed over each of them as they sat alone, unsure if any familiar face had survived the storm.

Ideas of tomorrow could have helped them cope, too be sure, but they could not think of that at all. Because what would a life be without their loved ones? It was hard, no, outright impossible to say. And so they were left trembling in the darkness with only the sound of falling rain to keep them company. Keeping them company, that is, by haunting their dreams.

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In time, the rain finally subsided. And the two emerged from their hiding places on the first clear night. The woman looked out from her hiding place and saw the bright light of the moon and seemingly nothing else. Nature was still asleep, and in the quiet of its snoring, she felt herself to be truly alone.

But she did not wish to be. However, as she looked around, she wondered if she had much of a choice in the matter. It seemed as if no one from her community had survived, and she did not know if she could just wondered further out in the woods and find another community. Or if, should she find them, they would take her in. Maybe there was another group of people who had survived the storm, but she wasn’t sure. She thought back to the feeling of rain against the mountain and the sight of her village being swept away. At the memory, hope faded in her, though she wanted to hold on.

Painstakingly, she gathered up wood and worked to make a fire out of it. A momentous task with the wood so soaked, but in time, her efforts carried the day. And a spark took hold.


On the next mountain, the man left the cave much later. He emerged into the moonlight and frantically searched the horizon for signs of life. At first, he saw none, but then he caught glimpse of a bright bonfire on a neighboring mountain just overhead.

He was in awe, to say the least. Hope ignited within him, and he started to move towards the light. But he quickly realized that the terrain was unforgiving. If he moved too quickly, he might fall to his death. And suddenly, he did not wish to die. Not with hope just overhead. Because the fire told him that there was a chance someone else had survived. And he wished to see that person. Oh, how he wished to see them. He yearned for it.

Reluctantly, he returned to his cave, to wait until the light of day could guide his steps.

It was a long night.

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