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by: Kristine Sanchez 

"Itawes" comes from the prefix "I" Meaning "people of" and the word "tawid" or across the river," and means "the people from across the river."  The Itawes have been variously called "Itawit," "Itawiq," "Tawish," "Itawi," "Itaves," and "Itabes."  The names "Kaluas" and "Kalauas," which refer to the Kalinga, have also been applied to the Itawes as they are sometimes mistaken for the people who live in the northeastern part of Kalinga (Llamzon 1978:46).  The early natives of Cagayan did not use such names as "Y-Sigiran" or "the men downstream"; "Y-Rita" or "those from the south"; and "Y-Raya" or "the upstream people."  The Itawes occupy the territory drained by the Chico and Matalag Rivers, as well as allof southern Cagayan from Nasiping to the village of Cavug, now the town of Enrile (Rocero 1982:25).  They are concentrated in the following towns of Cagayan province, here presented in terms of percentage of their Itawes inhabitants (from highest to lowest): Enrile, Iguig, Peñablanca, Tuao, Piat, Tuguegarao, Amulung, Sto. Niño, Solana, Rizal, Alcala, and Baggao.  In many of these towns, the Itawes live with the Ibanag, and often speak Ibanag which has become a standard language.  The Itawes population rose from 59, 242 in 1948 to 87, 529 in 1960. 


The Spaniards came to Cagayan Valley a year after he capture of Manila in 1571.  As a strategic base for which to launch attacks on China and Japan, Cagayan Valley was of considerable importance to the Spaniards who accordingly established the Nueva Segovia bishopric in Lal-lo (Casiño 1982:141). 

Among the Cagayan communities, the colonizers found a flourishing economy characterized by the domestication of  animals, hunting, and fishing, and the presence of small native industries such as wine making, cotton and linen cloth weaving.  Those who occupied the coastal areas were skilled in boat making and traded with neighboring communities. 

The Spanish encounter with the Itawes came after the colonizers made contact with the Isneg who occupied the northwest part of the valley.  Missionary attempts to convert the Itawes and the neighboring Kalinga were always met with resistance.  Those who were converted were settled in rancherias or settlements or in larger pueblos in order to separate them from the unconverted and to facilitate colonial rule.  By law, Spanish administrative officials were supposed to protect the natives by maintaining peace and order, help in the defense of the colony (Constantino 1975:45-46).  In return, Spanish officials were authorized to collect a tribute payable in money or its equivalent in the form of poultry products and other foodstuff.  Although safeguards were instituted to discourage or prevent abuses, the collection of tribute and draft labor were marked by the colonizer's greed and cruelty.  The Itawes who could no longer stand colonial abuses returned to the mountains, while others fought against the encomienda system. 

The Spaniards responded harshly to native rebellion.  Some of the Itawes chiefs were beheaded; others were exiled and sentenced to forced labor (Casiño 1982:140).  Continued exploitation by the Spaniards in the succeeding centuries resulted in uprisings. In 1718, natives of Tuao and the Malaueg revolted against the missionaries.  It was under the leadership of Magtungaga and Tomas Sinaguingan.  Although the uprising was crushed by Spanish troops, it resulted in the delay of the apostolic labors of the missionaries until 1772.  

These uprisings did not seem to have bothered the Spaniards.  The fertile soil of Cagayan Valley made it the first choice of the Spaniards for the tobacco.  The production and sale of tobacco was supervised by the government through its agents.  Farmers were given quotas and were fined if they failed to meet these quotas.  Their entire crop was sold tot the government which paid the farmers in vouchers encashed at a discount to government officials.  The tobacco monopoly was abolished by the Spanish authorities in 1883.  However, the people's hardships paved the way for Itawes participation in the revolution in 1898. 

In 1898, churches in Itawes communities, especially Enrile, offered refuge to Spanish priests, nuns, and officials from different parts of Cagayan.  They were all captured but were spared from harm through the intercession of Don Vicente de Guzman who was a respected nationalist (Castillet 1960:151). 

During the Philippine-American War, Enrile figured prominently as the place to which General Emilio Aguinaldo retreated to consolidate his army's strength.  He was later captured by the Americans in Palanan, Isabela 
American occupation of the Cagayan province began on Decmeber 12 1899, when 300 troops seized Tuguegarao.  They confiscated the ammunition kept by Aguinaldo's soldiers in the convent and occupied San Jacinto College.  By 1902, the Americans had full control of the province of Cagayan.  The principal instrument of pacification and Americanization was the public school system which encouraged Filipinos to peacefully accept colonial rule.  

The Japanese forces landed in Luzon on December 8, 1941.  Tuguegarao was bombed by Japanese planes on that day.  After the bombing, families vacated their homes and fled to the mountains.  The evacuation continued for three days.  Then, Tuguegarao was occupied by the Japanese who stayed in public buildings and private houses.  So, the resistance movement consolidated its strength in the mountains and launched attacks on Japanese men until the arrival of the Americans.  With the institution of the provincial government under the Japanese colonial administration, many evacuees returned to their homes.  The barter system was widely practiced although Japanese war notes were circulated. 

In December 1944, American forces landed in Luzon and Tuguegarao was practically leveled to the ground by US warplanes.  The Japanese transferred their headquarters to barrio Capatan across the Pinacanauan River.   On May 9, 1945 American planes returned and demolished Japanese installations in Cagayan. 

Today, with its favorable climate and scenic topography, Cagayan province has become a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers.  There are a number of places which make Cagayan a tourist attraction, like Callao National Park, Mororan, Seven Steps Waterfalls, and Shrine of Our Lady of Piat. 

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Religious Beliefs and Practices 

A yearly pilgrimage is observed by devotees of Our Lady of Piat.  The shrine was built in 1623 by the Dominican Fr Juan de Santa Ana.  Many miraculous accounts have been attributed to the Lady of Piat, which has endeared her to many devotees all over the country.  The image of the Lady of Piat was done by an unknown sculptor in Portuguese Macao.  When it was brought to the Philippines, it was first enshrined in Piat with the name Santa Maria del Rosario.  A missionary visiting Piat noticed the dark image of the Virgin Mary.  He took such a liking to the dark image that he commissioned a sculptor in Manila to fashion a replica of the image.  
To make the devotion to the Virgin Mary more accessible to as many inhabitants as possible, the parish priest ordered the construction of a chapel on a spot between Tuao and Piat.  Then, the shrine was easily carried to Piat, where the Lady of Piat was permanently enshrined (Castillet 1960:254). 

The Itawes believe in saints who serve as their guardians and intercessors.  These saints are immortalized in religious images called santo, which occupy a revered place in every Itawes home (Caldez 1970:108).  Locally made santo are usually first taken to church to be blessed before they are enshrined in improvised altars. 
Many religious beliefs are associated with the santo.  Neglecting a santo, letting it decay or gather dust would cause sickness to a family member.  This is believed to be the santo's way of reminding the family members that it should be well cared of.  Sickness or epidemic, a long journey, graduation from school, poor or bountiful harvests are occasions which call for the repainting and reblessing of the santo. 

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Visual Arts 

The Itawes belief in saints is made concrete in religious images, which they call santo.  Their collection of santo include the works of unknown Filipino sculptors as well as imported images that are centuries old.  Local santo come in different sizes and facs, even if they depict the same saint.  This shows that their sculptors had varying ideas of how the saints looked like.  Nevertheless, symbols associated with these saints remain identical (Caldez 1970:108). 

Locally carved santo are usually made of wood, which are preferred for their texture, durability, and resistance to termites.  Popular among the santo makers are the figures of San Jacinto, San Jose, San Vicente Ferrer, San Isidro Labrador (patron of farmers), San Pedro, and San Roque (patron of the sick).  These santos are repainted from time to time and taken to the church for reblessing. 

Today, santo making is a thriving craft and is considered a profitable industry, these being preferred to images made of ceramics and plaster of Paris. 

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Performing Arts 

There are three dances which are performed in Itawes and Ibanag communities.  Annafunan derives its name from the barrio of Annafunan, in Tuguegarao, where this dance is very popular.  It is a reconciliation dance in which the man tries to win back the kove of his woman by singing verses. 
The kilingkingan is a dance that derives its name from a small bird that lives in caves and has a call which resembles the sound of bamboo castanets.  Featured in social gatherings, kilingkingan is performed to the accompaniment of a five-stringed guitar called sinco-sinco.  The rhythm created by the guitar is joined by the beat coming from the pair of wooden castanets held by the woman and a pair of buho or bamboo castanets held by the man while dancing (Cagayan Almanac 1970:110). 
A Spanish dance which has generated numerous versions in varoius parts f the Philippines is the jota.  In the municipality of Enrile, their version is called la jota Cagayana, which bears the energy, gaiety, and liveliness of the original jota (Cagayan Almanac 1970:110). (G. Zafra) 

Reference: CCP Encyclopedia  

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