Emerging Cordillera Worldview

The emerging worldview of the Cordillera people

Dr Janetius



My research findings show that the emerging worldview of the indigenous Cordillera people has its foundation in their cosmic worldview. The cosmology evolves from the conflated version of religion.

The conflated version of Christian beliefs and native religion is the popularly practiced religion in Cordillera today. Although a majority of the indigenous Cordillera people consider themselves Christians, they do believe besides a supreme God, spirits that include ancestral spirits and nature spirits residing in trees, riverbeds, stones and other things that govern the different aspects of life as well as the Christian spirits like angels, devils and saints. This belief is reflected in their cosmic worldview where the spirits and nature (the abode of spirits) are kept above the human domain. A strong communitarian bond is also seen as part of their worldview that reflects their human domain.

The emerging cosmic worldview brings out two important factors: i) the concept of religion and relationship with supernatural beings, and ii) the close ties with nature and community.

Cordillera Religion: Studies in philosophy of religion reveal that different religions came into existence when humans failed to find answers to many of their existential problems. This difficulty in perception led to speculation that made them aware of some power that governs the universe. This awareness is the essence of all religions. They started to explain the power in their own terms and thus religious fables, myths and stories came into existence. As Griffths Bede (1982) points out, “Myth is the expression of human mind and the source of all religion. One can see myth at work in the most advanced as in the most primitive religions” (p. 171). This is the case in traditional Cordillera religion too. In order to be freed from the power that governed their lives especially in the critical moments of life, they started to worship that power as supreme above all beings and thus hoped to get rid of harm (Ward, 1987).

The Cordillera religion is often cited and classified as animism or spiritism. But, it is a misinterpretation by many Western and Filipino writers to label traditional beliefs as purely animism or spiritism. The New Dictionary of religions (1995) defines animism as “a loose, misleading designation of religion in any tribal culture” (p. 41). Spiritism is a religious belief where saints or spirits have an influence on the living (Pachter, Cloutier & Bernstein, 1995). However, there is a claim that the indigenous Cordillera religious beliefs have strong origins and inclination towards animism or spiritism. Just like Hinduism, which is comprised of many different gods and beliefs that have spread all over the Indian subcontinent, Cabunianism would be the apt word to classify the traditional religion over the Cordillera Mountain Provinces rather than describe it as primitive animism. It is correct to say that Cabunianism as a religion began with polytheism, progressed to henotheism (the worship of one god without denying the existence of others), and ended in the belief in a single God of the universe.

The conflated version of religion today where Christian God replaces the Cabunian and the world of spirits is augmented by angels, devils and saints. But their influence on the human domain remains the same.


Figure 3. The cosmic worldview of conflated religion in Cordillera today.


This version of Christianity is prevalent today among the indigenous Cordillera people so much so that in some places, many middle aged and elderly Catholics who go to church religiously are seen actively partaking in cañao and other traditional rituals.  

Nature and Community ties: Yet another important aspect of the Cordillera cosmic worldview that is inherently related to their health concepts is the concept of the human domain that consists of community in connection with kith and kin and nature. Kinship controls the social relationships between people in a community, governs the marital customs and regulations and determines the behavior of one individual towards another. This kinship system is like a vast network stretching horizontally in every direction to embracing everybody in a local group. It also extends vertically to include the departed. Because it forms a link with the “living” dead, traditionally the names of their grandparents are given to their children. All those who can trace their origin back to a common ancestor belong to the same kinship group, the members of which have a special relationship. The strong kinship relationship is evident in their communitarian celebrations (cañao) of butchering of animals and shared meals. Although the traditional charm, music and dance are rarely seen during these festive gatherings, the innate spirit is still alive. For the indigenous Cordillera people, to live one's culture means to be able to continue performing important rituals that create harmony with God, spirits, nature and ancestors and living kith and kin.

The traditional Cordillera cosmology emphasizes reciprocity as far as relationship with nature is concerned. In order to express their gratitude to nature they make offerings and sacrifices, routinely, to the natural world - the spirits that govern the nature or reside in the nature – and in return for the benefits they derive from it. They believe that nature’s bounty is a precious gift that remains intimately and inextricably embedded side by side within the human domain. Today, many traditional rituals that centered on nature are no longer practiced due to their assimilated Christian beliefs. However, nature as something sacred is emblazoned in their minds. It is from this inscribed belief that the concept that any disturbance done to nature or both living and dead relatives can cause sickness is based.


From my Doctoral Dissertation

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