Isnag people

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An Isnag woman wearing traditional attire, having just performed a traditional dance.

The Isnag people (also referred to as the Isneg and Apayao) are an Austronesian ethnic group native to Apayao Province in the Philippines' Cordillera Administrative Region.[1] Their native language is Isneg (also called Isnag), although most Isnag also speak Ilokano.

Two major sub-groups among the Isnag are known: the Ymandaya, mostly concentrated in the municipality of Calanasan; and the Imallod, with populations distributed among the other towns of the province. Isnag populations can also be found in the eastern part of the adjacent Provinces of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan.


Various names have been used to differentiate the Isnag. The Spaniards referred to them as los Apayaos (referring to the river along which they live) and los Mandayas (taken from the Isnag term meaning “upstream”).


Today, there are about 40,000 Isnegs living in Apayao. [1]

Isnag populations can also be found in the Eastern part of the Province of Ilocos Norte, specifically the municipalities of Adams, Carasi, Dumalneg and Solsona; and in the Northwestern part of the Province of Cagayan, specifically the municipalities of Sta. Praxedes, Claveria and Sanchez Mira.


Isneg language is spoken by around 300,000 people mostly by the Isnag people, who are also bilingual in Ilokano.[citation needed]


Approximately 9% of the population are Christians. As of 2006, the entire New Testament, along with the books of Genesis and Exodus, had been translated into Isnag by SIL. Rest of the Isnags are mainly animists.


The Isnag settlements are mostly along the river, but they do farming up the hills at certain times of year. Their villages are small and houses, close together, for security and companionship. The traditional house sits on four large wooden posts and has colourful adornments.

There are two important rituals that bind the Isnag. Say-am is a feast celebrated by an affluent Isnag family, usually accompanied by wining, eating, and dancing. In contrast, pildap is celebrated by the poorer members of the tribe when a family transfers to another place or when someone seeks healing. They speak the Isneg language.

Isnag has composed also of the major sub-groups known as the Ymandaya and Imallod. Their places of abode are found in the different municipalities in Apayao as follows:

  1. Ymandaya (Isnag) - Calanasan(Bayag)
  2. Imallod (Isnag) - Kabugao, Conner, Pudtol, and some part of Luna(Macatel)

Indigenous Isnag religion

The spiritual world of the Isneg is populated by more than 300 anito (spirits) who assume various forms. There are no gods or hierarchical deities in the otherworld of the Isneg, only good or bad spirits.

  • Anlabban - The spirit who looks after the general welfare of the people and is recognized as the special protector of hunters.
  • Bago - The spirit of the forest.
  • Sirinan - The river spirit.
  • Landusan - Held responsible for some cases of extreme poverty. Those believed to be suffering from the machinations of this spirit are said to be malandusan (impoverished).

There are spirits who come to help the reapers in gathering the harvest. They are known as Abad, Aglalannawan, Anat, Binusilan, Dawiliyan, Dekat, Dumingiw, Imbanon, Gimbanona, Ginalinan, Sibo, and a group of sky dwellers collectively known as the Ilanit.

  • Alupundan - Causes the reapers' toes to get sore all over and swell.
  • Arurin - She sees to it that the harvest is bad, if the Isneg farmers fail to give her share.
  • Dagdagamiyan - A female spirit who causes sickness in children for playing in places where the harvest is being done.
  • Darupaypay - Devours the palay stored in the hut before it is transferred to the granary.
  • Ginuudan - Come to measure the containers of palay, and causes it to dwindle.
  • Sildado - Resembles a horse, and kills children who play noisily outside the house.
  • Inargay - Kills people during harvest time. When inapugan, a ritual plant is offered to Inargay, the following prayer is recited by the Isneg farmer: "Iapugko iyaw Inargay ta dinaami patpatay" (I offer this betel to you, Inargay, so that you may not kill us).
  • Alipugpug - A good harvest is portended by the rising of a little whirlwind from the burned field. This, it is said, is the spirit of Alipugpug.
  • Pilay - Rice pudding is offered to Pilay, the spirit of the rice, who resides on the paga, a shelf above the Isneg hearth. This is the pisi, the ritual offering of food to the spirits. The old woman who performs this utters the following prayer: "Ne uwamo ilay ta ubatbattugammo ya an-ana-a, umaammo ka mabtugda peyan" (Here, this is yours, Pilay, so that you feed my children fully, and make sure that they are always satisfied). Another ritual is performed right in the fields where the harvest is going on. The amulets inapugan, takkag (a kind of fern), and herbs are tied to a stalk of palay, which later will be place in the granary before the other palay. Again, these are reserved for Pilay. In case a new granary is built, and the contents of the old granary transferred, the spirit's special share is also transferred to the new place. It is never consumed.

Early accounts of the Isnag

The Isnag are distinguished from the other Cordillerans by the fine construction of their houses, resembling that of the lowland Filipinos, and they are particularly conspicuous about cleanliness. Their houses are set on four large and strong straight posts of incorruptible wood resistant to humidity, driven into the earth; instead of being made of bamboo cut in long narrow strips joined by rattan, as the lowland Filipinos do. Their houses are airy and bigger, and they do everything to decorate it the best way they can. They barter for products from their mountains, such as beeswax, cacao, and tobacco.
Jean Mallat, a French adventurer in the Philippines during the 1800s.

See also


  1. ^
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