Agriculture, Irrigation, and Headhunting

Do you know of a people who are experts in all three? I do.

Recently I went to Baguio, a city in the Cordilleras and look what I found in the market.

A spear…

with waldo
That’s Waldo, the charming, walking encyclopedia of woodcarfts manning one of his family’s stalls

Arnis sticks and…


 … this gruesome thing

HH collage 2

A wood carving of an Igorot headhunter and his defeated foe.

It’s gruesome alright but it’s part of our past. Other people slashed their enemies bodies with swords or blasted them with guns. The Igorots defended their lives, honor and property by cutting heads,

Waldo said in his matter-of-fact, let’s-accept-it way.

Yes… they cut human heads…with their axes.

Igorot head axes Photo credit:
Igorot head axes
Photo credit:

Oh my. It’s really gruesome– imagine the hacking sound you hear as steel cuts flesh and bone. How many hacks do you think it needs to cut off a head? Yikes!

Look at this vivid description of how Igorots fought, by Albert Ernest Jenks, in his book The Bontoc Igorot” published in 1905.

Men go to war armed with a wooden shield, a steel battle-ax, and one to three steel or wooden spears.

Spears are thrown with greatest accuracy and fatality up to 30 feet. After the spears are discharged the contest, if continued, is at arms’ length with the battle-axes.

Their battles are full of quick, incessant springing motion. There are sudden rushes, retreats, and sneaking flank movements. The body is always in motion.

So intense! I wonder how they trained for those battles.

I think some FMA practitioners still practice spear skills these days. As for the ax, the moves are most likely like those of the itak too.

Anyway, in case you don’t know yet, the Igorots were not only skilled in warfare, they were also  agriculture and irrigation specialists having made the world-famous, Banaue Rice terraces. Experts in farming. Experts in warfare.

But even more than those, what really impressed me about the Igorots is their extraordinary valor, exemplified by what happened in 1942:

In one battle in Bataan during the WW2, an Igorot company of about 125 men was wiped out by Japanese oppressors. To even the score, an American Tank Unit supported by an Igorot infantry was ordered to attack. But the foliage was so thick that the tank drivers couldn’t see so the Igorots climbed on top of the tanks and acted as guides. Over the noise of the battle rose the fierce shouts of the Igorots braving the fact that they were open targets to grenade and gun fires. What valor! In the end, the enemies were destroyed. (Read a newspaper account about that here.)

So impressed was General Douglas MacArthur that in one of the assemblies after that  he said,

I have seen last-ditch stands and innumerable acts of personal heroism that defy description but I have never known an equal of those Igorots riding the tanks. When you tell that story, stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots. (Bonifacio Marines, The 66th infantry and the Igorot Diary).


I never knew that about Igorots.

See, this is another example of how studying FMA makes me appreciate my people more. Thank you FMA.

Pugay, gallant Igorots. I stand in tribute to you.


Read more about Igorots from an Igorot blogger Saria


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