• Spears of Bontoc IGOROTS

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     An Igorot warrior holding a spear with multiple barbs (PHILIPPINE PHOTOGRAPHS DIGITAL ARCHIVE, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

    An Igorot warrior holding a spear with multiple barbs (PHILIPPINE PHOTOGRAPHS DIGITAL ARCHIVE, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

    The spear is one of the original weapons  of the Filipino martial arts (FMA).

    The general term for spear in Filipino is sibat. Being a battlefield and a hunting weapon, every tribal group in the Philippines uses a spear.

    The spear is a formidable long-range weapon. Its shaft can block and ward off attacks while the spearhead can stab and rip through flesh. In addition, it can be hurled at an opponent or a game from a distance.

    The Bontoc Igorots, a tribe in the mountainous part of northern Philippines, have their own way of forging spear blades as well as beliefs and tradition associated with the weapon. Before they were Christianized, the Igorots were a warlike tribe feared for their headhunting expeditions.

    One of the earliest books on Igorot culture is Albert Ernest Jenks’ The Bontoc Igorot published in 1905. In his book, Jenks mentioned a place called Baliwang located about six hours north of Bontoc as the main source of spear blades used in the area during that time. The place he wrote, has four smithies, each normally employing three men, “One operates the bellows, another feeds the fire and does the heavy striking during the initial part of the work, and the other—the real blade maker, the artist—directs all the labor, and performs the finer and finishing parts of the blade production.”

    Jenks observed that pragmatism guided the Igorot blacksmiths in sourcing for materials, on this he wrote, “Much of the iron now employed in the manufacture of Igorot weapons is Chinese bar iron coming from China to the Islands at Candon, in Ilokos Sur. However, the people readily make weapons from any iron they may acquire, greatly preferring the scraps of broken Chinese cast-iron pots, vessels purchased primarily for making sugar. In his choice of cast iron the Igorot exhibits a practical knowledge of metallurgy, since cast iron makes better steel than wrought iron—that is, as he has to work.”

    The Igorot blacksmiths were skilled in welding two types of iron by repeated heating and hammering, on their method of tempering, Jenks wrote: “The tempering done by the Igorot is crude, and is such as may be seen in any country blacksmith shop in the States. The iron is heated and is tempered by cooling in a small wooden trough of water. There is great difference in the quality of the steel turned out by the Igorot, even by the same man, though some men are recognized as more skilful than others.”

    Type of Spears
    Jenks wrote that there were four types of spear blades made in Baliwang at that time. The first that he mentioned, which according to him is the most common in the area is the fal-feg’. He described the fal-feg’ with the following words, “It is a simple, single-barbed blade, and ranges from 2 inches to 6 inches in length. This style of blade is the most used in warfare, and the smaller, lighter blades are considered better for this purpose than the heavier ones.”

    The next type that Jenks mentioned is called fang’-kao and is characterized by the absence of barbs. He pointed out that fang’-kao is not a war weapon and is used exclusively for killing hogs and carabaos.

    The third type of blade that Jenks mentioned is most interesting because of the Igorot belief associated with it. It is called si-na-la-wi’-tan and the author described it as relatively rare and quite similar to the fal-feg’. On how the two blades differ from each other, Jenks wrote, “Except that instead of the single pair of barbs there are other barbs—say, from one to ten pairs. This spear is not considered at all serviceable as a hunting spear, and is not used in war as much as is the fal-feg’. It is prized highly as an anito [deity]scarer. When a man passes alone in the mountains, anito are very prone to walk with him; however, if the traveller carries a si-na-la-wi’-tan, anito will not molest him, since they are afraid when they see the formidable array of barbs.”

    The fourth blade type is called kay-yan’. A gracefully formed blade not used in hunting and warfare, Jenks postulated that that the Igorots created it almost exclusively for aesthetic reasons.

    Another interesting thing about Igorot spears is that traditionally, it was not customary for any craftsmen to produce shafts and sell them – the owner of the spear blade must fashion the shaft himself.

    On how the spear blade is secured to the shaft, Jenks wrote: “All spearheads are fastened to the wooden shaft by a short haft or tang inserted in the wood. An iron ferrule or a braided bejuco ferrule is employed to strengthen the shaft where the tang is inserted. A conical iron ferrule or cap is also placed on the butt of the shaft. This ferrule is often used, as the spear is always stuck in the earth close at hand when the warrior works any distance from home; and as he passes along the steep mountain trails or carries heavy burdens he commonly uses the spear shaft as a staff.”

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