Reading for the Day: William Henry Scott on the Igorots

The following excerpt is from Discovery of the Igorots by the renowned historian William Henry Scott, who authored 15 books on Philippine history. Scott died 1993 at the age of 72.

Chapter I: The Search for Igorot Gold, 1575- 1625

The land they occupied was high and cold with rugged, pine-clad mountains, and their gold mines were to be found between two rivers which debouched into Pangasinan — that is, the Agno itself, and the lesser Bued, or Angalacan, whose canyon provides the precarious bed for the present Kennon Road to Baguio City. They were intelligent, well-built, light-skinned, naked save for G-strings, and estimated to number between 18 and 20 thousand. They were headhunters frequently at war with their neighbors, held the most successful collectors of these trophies in high regard, and, unlike the archers of Ituy, fought only with spear and shield. The most prominent among them were those wealthy enough to cover the walls of their houses with the heads of animals sacrificed at banquets, and their government, such as it was, was in the hands of arbiters of war and peace. They worked their mines mainly by panning gold in placers in the streams and bartered it, at qualities up to 22 carats, with particular trading partners in Pangasinan for rice, pigs, and carabaos, driving these animals back on the hoof. They did not engage in agriculture, either because their soil was too rugged and infertile or because they didn’t need to, and the Spaniards found it noteworthy that they did not accumulate any surplus in gold but only extracted what they needed for their immediate needs as the occasion demanded.

Since these Igorot gold fields are regularly referred to in 16th-century accounts as the wealthiest in the archipelago, they must have suffered the general post-Conquest decline in gold production which reached its nadir about 1600. There were several reasons for this. In the first place, the gold which had originally dazzled the conquistador eye was in the form of personal jewelry that had taken years or even generations to accumulate, and once it was consumed by tribute-collectors in areas under Spanish control in the first two decades of the occupation, it was not replaced. Attempts to enforce the King’s right to a fifth or tenth of all gold mined in his possessions discouraged Filipino miners and inspired smuggling through non-Spanish agents. Then the importation of Mexican silver beginning in the 1580s and the subsequent phenomenal growth of Mexican- Chinese trade dulled the incentives of a prehispanic commerce which had exported this commodity in Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino vessels. Moreover, Filipino mining techniques were simple, slow, and laborious, innocent of any chemical knowledge, and consequently only slightly productive. Indeed, philosophically inclined Spaniards considered the Filipino ability to endure the discomfort and tedium of panning gold in cold mountain streams a racial characteristic and called it flema — phlegm. (The opposite or Castilian quality they called codicia — an energetic greed or cupidity which motivated men to cross uncharted seas with the happy side effect of spreading the Gospel.)

4 Comments

  1. joanna said,

    January 15, 2008 at 7:39 am

    May the noble author be always remembered for providing informations to us youths of the present time of our own land, Cordillera, specially Sagada, Mountain Province. Thank You very much!

  2. jameel said,

    March 20, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Thank you very much for the simplifying and giving us about an idea from the book, the discover of the Igorots by Mr. William Henry Scott, well it really helps me in making a conclusion for my research paper though. May the noble author be always remembered of what he had provided for us students now a days and for at least providing us a major step in history of our land, cordillera region. “,

  3. redmike said,

    May 19, 2009 at 2:20 am

    This is really a good post. thank you so much.

  4. May 19, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Scott loved the Philippines so much. You can tell by the way he writes. When I read the book, I was very moved.


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