HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 52 no. 1 (2006)

Space and Ethnicity: Ilocos-Cordillera Interactions in History

Maria Nela B. Florendo

Discipline: History



As the Spanish colonial state undertook political consolidation, it also marked out unpacified areas as frontier. In northwestern Luzon, this process resulted in the peripheralization of many Igorot settlements at the foot of the Gran Cordillera Central bordering the Ilocos.


What used to be fluid boundaries became spaces that defined ethnicities. Felix Keesing in The Ethnohistory of Northern Luzon (1962) identified three areas in the Ilocos, namely: Southern Ilocos consisting of La Union, the present day southern section of Ilocos Sur, and the Kankanaey areas of the Cordilllera; Middle Ilocos constituting the northern half of Ilocos Sur and Abra; and Northern Ilocos corresponding to Ilocos Norte and the Lowland areas of Isneg territory (Apayao). It is important to note that the Ilocos-Pangasinan area also embraced Ibaloi settlements of present-day Benguet. More than defining borders, the purpose of this paper is to explore the dynamics that existed in space – social processes that evolved, e.g., ethnic construction and reconstruction, economic interactions, and other negotiations.


While this paper is mainly on the Spanish period, it also attempts to locate historical confluences during the succeeding periods and trace continuities as Cordillera peoples define their space and identity/identities as people/peoples. The paper treats the Ilocos as host to Igorot settlements, the spatial setting for ethnic reconstruction, and formation of Ilocano-Igorot interaction.