The Banaos

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*Reposted from a blogpost on 18 Feb 2013

[N.B.: We are currently working on the official orthography of the Vanaw language and a Vanaw-English dictionary. These will contain updates on some of the data in the following article which was written in the ’90s. – SMS]

 By Augustus Ulát Sabóy & Anatalia Mágkachi Sabóy, EdD

ca. 1990

Historical records on the Cordillera ethnic group show that the Banaos existed even before the Spanish colonizers came in contact with this mountain tribe.

The earliest mention of the Banao tribe is given by William Henry Scott (1) in his “Cordillera Chronology,” where he briefly noted that a Spanish military officer named Col. Jose Penaranda “makes an attack on the villages of Banao (Balbalasang, Kalinga)” in May 1842. The Spanish incursions into the Banao territory as borne by these chronicled accounts of the Hispanization of Cordillera inhabitants are staged from Abra.

Although Scott also records that Spanish missionaries had already established their foothold before 1692 in the Kalinga area when they set up the St. Joseph’s Mission of Tuga, Tabuk, there is no mention of any contacts made with the Banaos in the western region, especially in the headwaters of the Saltan River.

Thirty-five years later, after Col. Penaranda’s recorded armed attack against the Banaos in 1842, a Spanish expedition was sent to Kalinga to survey the course of a proposed road connecting Abra and Cagayan across Kalinga. Again, Banao as a region is mentioned in the account, as Scott has recorded:

The exploratory party started out in March 1877. They encamped on Mt. Lamonan, and the next day passed through Banao on the headwaters of the Saltan River, and slept in Balbalasang, and then returned…In 1887, Dr. Alexander Schadenberg, a German naturalist, visited Balbalasang and the rest of the Banao region. Among the observations he wrote in his diary was that the people of Balbalasang belong to the “Banao people.”

The natives of Balbalasang belong to the Banao people, and they inhabit the following rancherias: Inalangan, Balbalasang, Talalang, Linguaan, Sogsogan Detaboman, Tapas, Bulao, Buot, Ambiluan, Dangasan, Salegseg, besides smaller groups of houses which may be considered as outposts of rancherias enumerated. Banao, therefore, is according to the old division of the natives, which today still retains its full value and will retain it still for a long time, equal to the Province of Banao (sic). The people of Banao very much resemble the Tinguians of Abra and Ilocos.3

The “rancherias” enumerated by Schadenberg which made up the Banao region in the 19th century have been whittled down to a few barangays today as many of those mentioned are already non-existent villages. An explanation to this was offered by an American historian, Howard T. Fry (4), who says that when Dr. Dean Worcester, an American member of the Second Philippine Commission, visited Banao in 1905, he was surprised to find out that the numerous rancherias indicated on the Spanish map were no longer existing. Inquiries made by Worcester revealed that some of the villages were either decimated by smallpox or exterminated by their enemies. The other villages could have moved out in search for agricultural lands elsewhere.

Geographical Location

From a geographical viewpoint, the Banao region referred to in this study comprises three barangays located along the headwaters of the Saltan River west of the municipality of Balbalan, Kalinga-Apayao, ensconced deep in the borderland region of Abra and Kalinga. These three barangays are: Pantikian, located at the downstream area bordering the Barangay of Salegseg (seat of the municipal capital); Talalang, at the middlemost portion; and, Balbalasang, situated at the upper stream pine belt borderlands flanking the Abra municipalities of Daguioman and Malibcong.
Its approximate map location lies between 120o59’30” and 121 o 07’11.46” East Longitude and 17o25’8.37” North Latitude.5


As of 1980 (6) the number of households of the three Banao barangays was 300, and their population was 1,808 persons. Towards the close of 1987, the Banao barangays had a floating population close to 3,000 people due to the “gold boom” which drew thousands of gold panners and dog-hole miners in the mine site of Gaang, Talalang, virtually establishing a new bustling mountain barangay.

Insurgency, precipitated by the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas in the barangays of Talalang and Balbalasang and the hazards of being caught in a crossfire of armed encounters between government forces and the NPAs had reduced the population to almost the number of inhabitants of 1980. At the time this researcher visited the area in February 1990, many residents had evacuated to safer areas because of the volatile peace and order conditions there.

The most recent data obtained from the National Census Office at Tabuk, Kalinga-Apayao gave an “unofficial raw data” as of May 1, 1990 the following statistics: households – 365, and population – 2,231.

Stories and legends handed down to the present generation of Banaos invariably point to Pantikian as the “cradle” of the Banao people. Former Balbalan Mayor Agustin L. Battoyong, when interviewed by this researcher (Augustus U. Saboy – sms), said that the first settlers inhabited a mountain ledge overlooking a lake which, in the vernacular, is called Ban-na-ao. Being inhabitants of the lake or ban-na-ao area, these people when spoken of were called “I-Banaos,” literally translated as “from or of the Ban-na-ao” (Banao is a contraction of Ban-na-ao) – hence, people of the lake. The name Banao or I-Banao remained, to this day, as the collective name of these “near-the-lake” dwellers and of their territory.

Another Banao patriarch, former Balbalan Vice Mayor Jose Dilag, when interviewed by this researcher, said that the aboriginal Banaos first inhabited a mountain bluff called kasalngan (literally meaning “a pine stand”) overlooking a mountain lake. Because of its being a very limited settlement area, it was abandoned, and the settlers migrated to found new settlements “near the lake” (ban-na-ao). Thus came about the settlements of Bo-ok, Bollalayao, Gobang, Pantikian, and, later, Talalang, Mabecal, Balbalasang, and Inalangan.

However, Frederick B. Dao-ayan, a retired COMELEC official and a former high school principal and a bodong (peace pact) holder, in a separate interview with this researcher, said that the exact location of the aboriginal settlement of the Banaos cannot be pinpointed. Dao-ayan, a native of Talalang and now (1990) a resident of Balbalasang, affirms, nevertheless, the established traditional view that the Banao tribe originated form Pantikian.

Juan Dalipog, another authority on Banao culture and a peace pact holder, corroborates Dao-ayan’s claim, saying that the “cradle” of the Banao tribe is Pantikian (or Pattikian), the present barangay overlooking the ancient “ban-na-ao,” which still exists today (1990). 

The migratory origin of the Banaos is still to be firmly established. Historian Gregorio F. Zaide (7) says that the “Malays in the first migratory wave were the head-hunting Malays. They were the ancestors of the Bontoks, Ilongots, Kalingas and other head-hunting tribes in Northern Luzon.” [N.B.: Zaide’s reference to a wave of Malay migration seems to have been based on the now-discredited theory of Otley Beyer. Among today’s scholars, the generally accepted explanation on the origin of the Cordillerans is the “Out of Taiwan” theory first proposed by Peter Bellwood in the early ’80s. See quote from Dr. Lawrence A. Reid in “Are the Kalinga and Tingguian Ethnically One?” – SMS]

Frederick Dao-ayan, in the same interview, believes that the Banaos were among those Malays in the first migratory wave who were pushed deep into the hinterlands of the Cordillera mountain fastnesses. Having taught History during his teaching service in the secondary schools, Dao-ayan theorizes that the aboriginal Banaos who settled in what is now known as Pantikian were Malays and, therefore, the Banaos are of the Malay racial stock.

The out-migration of the Banaos into the direction of the four winds is narrated in all Banao legends handed down from their ancestors to the present generation. Jose Liagao, a retired public school teacher of Daguioman, Abra, recalls that a Banao patriarch of Barangay Kabaroyan, Daguioman, Abra named Kapitan Dao-dawon, used to tell genealogical accounts of prominent Daguioman clans whose ancestry come from the Banao settlements in the western Kalinga area, like Pantikian, Gobang, and Balbalasang.

Dao-dawon, who, according to Liagao, died at the age of 110 in 1978, used to narrate legends of a “Great Teacher” who lived in the Banao settlement of Gobang as improvisator of songs of the Banaos, among which are the oggayam, djallong, alabaab and balagoyos. The legend goes that the “Great Teacher” had bestowed most of the best songs to one of his disciples from Daguioman, Abra, named Alonday, for his excellence in learning songs. This explains why the Tinggians of Abra are gifted with those Banao improvisatory songs, far masterfully and artistically than their Kalinga Banao counterparts.

Such a legend, which is widely accepted by Banaos in the province of Abra as well as in the province of Kalinga-Apayao, appears to be validated by supplementary ancestral legends of migratory movements of the Banaos. In the extended interview with Dao-ayan in Balbalasang, he outlined the migratory directions or drift of the Banaos as follows:

Westward migration. The Banaos who settled in Banban (an old Banao settlement near Inalangan, Balbalasang) were driven to move towards the direction of the Bucloc valley of Abra due to floods and other calamities that hit their settlement. There might have been other succeeding waves of migrations as evidenced by the presence of Banao people in the Abra municipalities of Boliney, Peñarrubia, Sallapadan, and Tubo. These migrations may have taken place at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.Northward migration. Half of the inhabitants of the Banao settlements of Gobang immigrated to Bangilo, Malibcong, Abra in the early part of the 19th century. The other half of the Gobang settlers immigrated to other Kalinga communities, like Balbalan, which is 95 percent Gobang in ethnic population. Other migrations were towards the Malibcong, Gacab, Duldulao and Manpnap areas in what is now ethnically agglomerated as the Binongan tribe of northeastern Abra.

South and southeast migration. Two Banao settlements, namely Dokligan and Balangao, were thriving communities near what is now the present location of Barangay Balbalasang.(8) These two settlements situated along the confluence of the Saltan River and the Tapao-Mapga Rivers were abandoned because of their fear of a fabled monstrous fresh water eel which had devoured some of the inhabitants. While this killer-eel was later killed, many of the Banaos had left their homes for fear that another one, more death-dealing, would surface before them. Thus the southward migration with the Banaos establishing their settlement first at a place called Maton from where they spread out to Baccari, Madocayong, Paracelis and Natonin – all in the Eastern Mountain Province region. Evidences of Banao migrations are found in the present barangays of Dokligan and Balangao. Even the dialects are said to have Banao origins.

Eastward migration. This migratory flow was downstream in the direction of the Saltan River, into the Pinukpuk region. The Banaos who settled in a place called Mananeg came from Mabekal, an old settlement at the confluence of the Saltan and Kinablilan rivers, near Talalang. These settlers moved out of Mabekal because of the heavy death toll on the settlers dealt by a short poisonous snake, called djaliwattok, which killed many people.

Interviews made by this researcher with several Abra highland Tingian leaders revealed that almost all the known clans in the eastern and northeastern municipalities of Abra claim blood relations to the Banao clans of western Kalinga. This writer belongs to one of the largest clans in the Banao region in Kalinga, and has relatives by consanguinity in the Abra municipalities of Boliney, Bucloc, Daguioman, Baay-Licuan and Malibcong.

Contemporary Abra highland Tingian or Itneg leaders, like the celebrated rebel priest Fr. Conrado M. Balweg of Bangilo, Malibcong; Rev. Fred C. Luben of Boliney; and Baguio Police Chief P/Lt. Col. Camilo S. Dugayen, among others, trace their ancestry to the Banaos of western Kalinga.

From historical records and time-honored traditions, the Banao – both as a geographical region and as an aboriginal people, has existed – since pre-Spanish times (i.e., before the Spaniards came in contact with the highland and valley Tingians). The name Tinggian and Itneg were given by the Spaniards and, therefore, are not indigenous names of these mountain peoples.

If studies made by anthropologists affirm that the Abra “Tingians” and “Itnegs” came from the Banaos in Kalinga, then there simply is sufficient ethnographic ground to declare that those Tingians and Itnegs of Abra are Banaos, ab initio, and there is also no reason why they cannot be called today as Banaos, not as Tingians, no matter how seemingly alien the name is to them, historically.

And, as far as the Tinggian songs are concerned, it may also be self-evident that their roots are Banao as will be shown in this study of Banao songs.


Based on the conversational Banao dialect diligently analyzed and studied, this researcher [Augustus U. Saboy – sms] believes that the Banao of western Kalinga has only 12 phonetic letters, reinforced by four ligatures. These are a, g, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, s, t, w, and y while the ligatures are dj, bv, ng, and ñg. The phonetic letter l has two types – the voiceless and the fricative l. The vowel i is pronounced as short i (ĭ) as in “ee.”

The palatal voiceless l has no symbol in the English alphabet. The Banao pronounces this voiceless l with the tongue positioned such that it does not touch the upper front teeth and also the palate, allowing the air to pass out of the mouth unimpeded while the tongue is drawn forward as the air is expunged while the tongue is drawn forward as the air is expunged from the mouth. After the air exits, the tongue recoils to its base in a suspended position. [N.B.: This is what linguists (Reid, Olson, et al.) now call the “interdental lateral approximant variant of [l]” for which we now use the underlined l — L l — in our transcription of Vanaw folktales (see article on Barcelon Panabang – SMS]

This non-fricative l, however, is pronounced voiceless only in words where this type of l is preceded by a vowel, dipthong or consonant (except the vowel ĭ) as in the following examples:

Al-o (pestle)

Al-song (mortar)

Bval-bvalasang (Balbalasang, one of the Banao barangays)

Djala (blood) – dara in Ilocano

Ñgal-ñgal (chew)

When the l is positioned first in a word as in lo-lok” (rice beatle), the first l is fricative while the second l is voiceless. The l is also pronounced in the fricative where it is preceded in the word with the vowel “i” (short i) as in the following words:

i-li (village)

ngi-lin (fast) abstinence from food

bvi-lin (message, or directive)

dji-la (tongue) – dila in Ilocano

Fay Cooper Cole (9) in his studies of the Tinggians of northern Luzon, says of the Banao phonetics:

In all dialects [l] appears to be the norm in initial position, but in certain medial positions within a word (the exact environment not yet determined) [A]10 occurs in Salegseg, Mabaca or Poswoy…

The voiceless l has a related phonetic pronunciation in the dialect of Salegseg, the seat of the municipality of Balbalan, where Anthropologist Cole observed the letter s to be pronounced voiceless.

Voiceless, grooved dental fricative. Occasionally heard as alveo-palatal voiceless [s], e.g. [siku] ‘elbow.’ Frequently in the Salegseg dialect s occurs as a voiceless glottal fricative [h], e.g. in place of s. Example: [haΛoghog] for [saΛogsog] ‘salegseg.’

In song renditions, however, the Banaos seldom articulate the voiceless l or even pronounce bv or dj. All these are pronounced fricatively as can be heard in all tape-recorded songs.

One observation which musicologists would inevitably uncover in the Banao song renditions is the deliberate contraction of words and the shrinking of phrases in the text of improvisatory songs as they are sung by bards, resulting in inaudible and unintelligible articulations.

This is particulary observed in the vocal singing of oggayam, djallong, balagoyos, ading, and alabaab where words and phrases are prudently abbreviated by the improvisator as he punctuates his singing with glissandos and tremolos.

To the uninitiated, this may be deemed an intentional way of garbling the song to hide errors or to mislead the listener. But to the seasoned and accomplished singer and to his home audience, this is, according to an informant, an establishment of the singer’s vanity in art and style of performance.

The orthographic peculiarity of the Banao dialect and the artistic or decorative singing of songs has given this researcher [Anatalia M. Saboy – sms] some difficulty in deciphering the text of some songs on tape. But after painstaking consultations with the singer or singers and with the aid of kind Banao elders and teachers accustomed with this sophistication of singing, the transcribing, translation and notation of the songs were accomplished with relative ease.

The Banaos today tend to “Ilocanize” the pronunciation of their words while singing their ethnic songs. This explains why the texts of some of the songs analyzed have mixed spellings. As earlier observed in this study, there are words in the conversational Banao dialect which, when sung, are pronounced in the Ilocano pronunciation and spelling – e.g. djallong to dalleng, the Banao dj and o converted to the Ilocano spelling and pronunciations, d and e.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


1 William Henry Scott, History on the Cordillera (Baguio City: Baguio Printing and Publishing Co., Inc., 1975), p. 131.

2 Scott, ibid., p. 85

3 Willian Henry Scott, in Alexander Schadenberg’s “Diary,” Papers on the Mt. Province, Vol. II (Sagada, Mt. Province: The Author, 1962), p. 92.

4 Howard T. Fry, A History of the Mountain Province (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1983), p. 24.

5 Data provided by Engr. Melchor B. Velasco, Senior Forest Management Specialist, Forest Management Division, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera Administrative Region (DENR-CAR), Baguio City.

6 Data on the 1990 household and population statistics as well as the raw data on the same items on the three Banao barangays was provided by Officer-in-Charge Peter Saguilot, Jr. of the National Statistics Office, Tabuk, Kalinga-Apayao on June 11, 1990.

7 (Missing in original manuscript; to be supplied later – SMS)

8 The present site of Balbalasang was founded by the illustrious Banao leader, Juan Puyao. The Balbalasang village referred to in the accounts of Schadenberg and Meyer was the old settlement at the fork of the Saltan River and Maatop River about one kilometer downstream of the present Balbalasang village.

9 William Henry Scott, in Cole’s New Field Notes on the Balbalasang Area (1907-1908), “Papers on the Mt. Province,” Vol. II (Sagada, Mt. Province: The Author, 1962), p. 112.

10 Ibid., p. 112.

11 Ibid.

3 thoughts on “The Banaos

  1. Author’s gravatar

    Wow uncle so much enjoying to read this article stories while im at duty this night very much interesting stories..more stories po
    Thank you for sharing

    1. Author’s gravatar

      You’re welcome amonakon. There are other stories under the “Cordilleran Cultures” tab (go to Vanaw Culture page). Gday! 🙂

  2. Author’s gravatar

    Woww uncle im enjoying reading this stories while im at duty this night very interesting.more stories po

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