Igorot History 101: Lesson 02

The Land: The Gran Cordillera Central

The northwestern portion of Luzon, largest of the Philippine islands, is made up of a great mountain mass some 24, 000 sq. kilometers (9,200 sq. miles) wide, encompassing an area with peaks and ridges rising in places almost 10,000 feet above sea level.

The mountainous central part of this portion is known as the Gran Cordillera Central. It lies between Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya on the east and the Ilocos provinces on the west. To the north, the mountain chain rises from the sea at Paseleng on the provincial boundary between Cagayan and Ilocos Norte and continues southward through Bontoc until it reaches its peak of 9,600 feet above sea level on Mt. Pulag in Kabayan, Benguet.

Before 1966, the Gran Cordillera Central was known as the Mountain Province, then the 3rd largest province in the Philippines. Today, this area consists of five separate provinces: Mountain Province, Kalinga, Apayao, Ifugao and Benguet.

Centrally located in this mountain mass is Mt. Data, a peak which, in large measure, shapes the topography of the whole. From this mountain peak originates the headwaters of four rivers. The first is the Abra River, passing northwest through Cervantes and the valleys of Abra valleys and entering the South China sea at Vigan, Ilocos Sur. The second is the Agno, streaming south between the highest elevations of the Cordilleras and emerging at Pangasinan province and emptying into the Lingayen Gulf. Then there is the Asin River which, in turn, becomes the Ibulao, joining the Magat River and traversing the fertile but sparsely inhabited province of Isabela until it merges with the mighty Cagayan River which flows north to the Pacific Ocean. The fourth is the Chico River, the most turbulent of these mountain streams, flowing northeast through a great gorge into the foothills to join the Cagayan River near its mouth at Appari.

There is a fifth river, emerging from the streams and swamps in the northern part of Apayao: the Apayao-Abulog River, flowing to the coasts of northern Luzon, and emptying itself into the Pacific Ocean, not far west of the mouth of the Cagayan.

This watershed system is very important to an understanding of the distribution and the life of the mountain peoples. Without the rivers to irrigate the rice fields built on the steep terraced slopes and on the beds of the streams, the populations of the Cordilleras could not subsist (Kittong-Chaokas, 2008)

As the Chico meanders towards Kalinga, emptying itself into the Magat and then to the Cagayan, it feeds rice paddies along its path, where villages of various Igorot tribes nestle in nearby mountain slopes and valleys.

As the Chico meanders towards Kalinga, emptying itself into the Magat and then to the Cagayan, it feeds rice paddies along its path, where villages of various Igorot tribes nestle in nearby mountain slopes and valleys.

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