No. of :

No. of Shares:

Currently viewed by: Marcus Rosit

Itawes: The People Across the Cagayan River

The Itawes tribe is one of the major indigenous peoples of the Cagayan Valley Region. They are said to be the original dwellers across the Cagayan River. Others call them Itawis or Itawit. 

The culture of the Itawes is similar to that of the Ibanag, but they tend to live away from urban centers in small settlements. They are known to have moved into the areas east and southwest of Cagayan during colonial times.

They are said to be among the earliest groups Christianized by the Spanish colonizers, which is why the majority of them are Catholic believers. The municipalities of Enrile, Peñablanca, Iguig, Piat, and Tuao in the province of Cagayan are predominantly inhabited by the Itawes. Some of the Itawes also settled in Tuguegarao City, Amulung, Solana, and Sto. Nino towns. 

According to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Itawes family may be nuclear or extended. Like any other Filipino family, adult, and unmarried children usually stay with or still live with their parents and/or grandparents, even if they are professionals and financially self-sufficient already. 

Their traditional clothes are inspired by the Baro’t Saya, made out of a colorful cloth with red being the dominant color. 


The Itawes are perhaps among the most industrious people, as they spend their daily lives on agricultural activities. They produce rice, corn, peanuts, legumes, and root crops. 

Their proximity to the Cagayan River does not negate their fishing activities for daily sustenance. They usually catch native fish that are endemic in the Cagayan River and its tributaries, including mori and birut (family of goby), ludong and agguat (family of mullet), pattat (native catfish), dalag (mudfish), dulang (tiny river swordfish), and native tilapia. 

The Itawes are also gatherers of freshwater shellfish, including ala (clams); anziccan, ararayan, orung, basikul, and lidag (family of edible snails); lasit (shrimps); and agama (native crabs). 

An Itawes family that helps each other in planting palay. (Image by PIA)

The Itawes in Iguig town are known to be ‘Minabbanga’ or potters. An area near the riverbank possesses a special kind of clay soil ideal for producing functional pottery such as stoves, cooking pots, bricks, and flower pots. 


The ‘balay’ is their traditional house. It is also unique as it stands on a stilt above the ground with a lower portion used for storage of harvest, such as play, corn, and peanuts, as well as shelter for farm animals at night. 

However, according to NCIP’s documentation, through the years, the use of these kinds of houses has been converted mainly to store all kinds of farm produce and farm and fishing tools. These days, you will find traditional houses generally inhabited by elderly Itawes and usually located beside contemporary homes of children or grandchildren.

A typical Itawes house. (Photo courtesy of NCIP 2)

A recycled, empty metal drum called ‘dulan’ is used by the Itawes to store rice or legumes. They believe that this storage should not go empty, as it represents the economic status of an Itawes household in terms of food stability. 

The rich and landed Itawes families usually have ‘Abayao’ -a nipa hut used for the storage of abundant harvests, specifically corn, and palay. Abayao is another status symbol in the Itawes tribe, as it symbolizes wealth and power because, normally, the rich and landed families have a lot of helpers in the field. 

Rituals and Practices

Itawes are known for many rituals, traditional practices, and even superstitious beliefs. Mappatolu is still practiced today. It is a ritual to drive away evil spirits from the body of a deceased person, to cleanse illness, or to prevent someone from any sickness. Only a ‘balu’ or widow called Minattolu can perform the ritual. 

The Minattolu performs the ritual of ‘Mappatolu’ to a sick woman. (Photo courtesy of NCIP 2)

Essential materials used in the practice include garani or dried rice stalks, tahuk or coconut shells, and binayarang or anisadu (wine). A handful of dried rice stalks are placed inside the coconut shell, poured with the wine, and burned into ashes. The ashes will then be sprinkled over the person to get rid of evil spirits of illness. 

Mappatolu is also practiced to counter any possible ill effects of an earthquake on an unborn child. 

Experiencing an earthquake is not good for a pregnant woman, as it is believed to be a harbinger of bad things that could happen during pregnancy. They believe that it could cause a possible miscarriage or premature delivery. They also perform this with pregnant animals. 

A typical Itawes family in their native attire. (Photo courtesy of NCIP 2)

Another practice is the ‘Anting yo Mappagilammu’-a technique for a child’s journey to education to be successful. It is a ritual wherein a mother or grandmother smears a small amount of dekat (glutinous rice) on the forehead of a child and his or her pencil on the first day of school or when joining an academic competition. They believe that knowledge will stick to the child’s head while studying. 

The Cantorit are Itawes ritual performers and custodians of the Arte, a book of Itawes rituals and beliefs, and the relevant dates when to conduct such rituals. They recite and sing songs from the Arte during panulot or wedding engagements, pattolayan or new business openings, or for the souls or spirits during religious activities. 

Cultural Crisis

Two Cantorit show off an Arte, a book of Itawes rituals and beliefs of the Itawes. (Photo courtesy of NCIP 2)

The Itawes culture is one facing a cultural crisis today. It is observed that the majority of their culture and traditions have already vanished and become unpopular to the young generation. They have been overtaken by the contemporary lifestyle and practices. 

However, the NCIP, the Local Government Units concerned, and other various agencies and organizations are taking the cudgels to receive the Itawes culture. The Department of Education has also acknowledged Itawes in its mother tongue-based teachings that help a lot to sustain the dying Itawes language. 

Hopefully, with the efforts of various agencies and civic groups, the Itawes will sustain its magnificent, rich, and unique culture. (OTB/PIA Region 2 with NCIP region 2)                                                                                                                    

About the Author

Oliver Baccay

Information Officer IV

Region 2

  • Assistant Regional Director, Philippine Information Agency Region 2
  • Graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication 
  • Graduate of Master of Arts in Education, major in English
  • Graduate of Doctor in Public Administration

Feedback / Comment

Get in touch