University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology,

Date: 1919

Show Summary





The Ifugaos have no form of writing: there is, consequently, no written law. They have no form of political government: there is, therefore, no constitutional or statutory law. Inasmuch as they have no courts or judges, there is no law based on judicial decisions.

Ifugao law has two sources of origin: taboo (which is essentially religious) and custom. The customary law is the more important from the greater frequency of its application.

Relation of taboo to law.—The Ifugao word for taboo is paniyu. The root, which appears under the varying forms iyu, iho, iyao, and ihao, means in general "evil" or "bad." The prefix pan denotes instrumentality or manner. The word paniyu means both by derivation and in use, "bad way of doing," or "evil way." By far the greater number of taboos have their origin in magic. A very large number of them concern the individual, or those closely related to him by blood ties, and for this reason have no place in a discussion of law. Thus a pregnant woman may not wear a string of beads, since the beads form a closed circle and so have a magic tendency to close her body and cause difficult childbirth. This, however, is not a matter that concerns anybody else, and so could be of no interest at law. It is taboo for brothers to defecate near each other, but only they are harmed thereby, and the matter is consequently not of legal interest.

The breaking of a taboo that concerns the person or possessions of an individual of another family is a crime. The following instances will illustrate:

In nearly all districts of Ifugao it is taboo for persons of other districts to pass through a rice field when it is being harvested. It is also taboo for foreigners to enter a village when that village is observing its ceremonial idleness, tungul, at the close of harvest time. One who broke this taboo would be subject to fine. In case it were believed that the fine could not be collected, he would be in danger of the lance.

It is taboo to blackguard, to use certain language, and to do certain things in the presence of one’s own kin of the opposite sex that are of the degrees of kinship within which marriage is forbidden or in the presence of another and such kindred of his, or to make any except the most delicately concealed references to matters connected with sex, sexual intercourse, and reproduction. Even these delicately concealed references are permissible only in cases of real necessity. The breaking of this taboo is a serious offense. One who broke the taboo in the presence of his own female kin would not be punished except in so far as the contempt of his fellows is a punishment. In Kiangan, before the establishment of foreign government, breaking the taboo in the presence of another and of his female kin of the forbidden degrees is said to have been sometimes punished by the lance.

It is taboo for one who knows of a man’s death to ask a relative of the dead man if the man is dead. The breaking of this taboo is punishable by fine. . . .

A third person may make no remark in the presence of kin of the opposite sex as to the fit of the girl’s clothing; as to her beauty; nor may he refer to her lover, nor play the lover’s harp. Many ordinary things must be called by other than their ordinary names. Even the aged priests who officiate at a birth feast must refer in their prayers to the foetus about to be born as "the friend" and to the placenta as "his blanket." A great number of things are forbidden in the presence of kindred of opposite sex that would not shock even the most prudish of our own people. The third taboo seems to be aimed against the bandying or the taking in vain of the name of the dead. . . .

General principles of the Ifugao legal system.—Its personal character. Society does not punish injuries to itself except as the censure of public opinion is a punishment. This follows naturally from the fact that there is no organized society. It is only when an injury committed by a person or family falls on another person or family that the injury is punished formally.

Collective responsibility.—Not only the individual who commits an act but his kin, in proportion to the nearness of their kinship, are responsible for the act. Their responsibility is slightly less than his. This applies not only to crimes but to debts and civil injuries.

Collective procedure.—Legal procedure is by and between families; therefore a family should be "strong to demand and strong to resist demands." A member of an Ifugao family assists in the punishment of offenders against any other member of his family, and resists the punishment of members of his family by other families. A number of circumstances affect the ardor with which he enters into procedures in which a relative is concerned and the extent to which he will go into them. Among these are (a) the nearness or remoteness of his relationship to the relative concerned in the action; (b) relationship to the other principal in the action; (c) the loyalty to the family group of the relative principally concerned in the procedure and the extent to which this relative discharges his duty to it; (d) evidence in the case bearing on the correctness of the relative’s position in the controversy.

A corollary of the above principle.—Since legal procedure is between families, and never between individuals, nor between a family and an individual, crimes of brother or sister against brother or sister go unpunished. The family of the two individuals is identical. A family cannot proceed against itself. But in the case of incest between a father and a daughter the father might be punished by the girl’s mother’s family on the ground that he had committed a crime against a member of that family. It is true that just as great an injury would have been committed against the family of the father, since the relationship of the daughter to that family is the same as to her mother’s family. But the father, the perpetrator of the crime, being a nearer relative of his own family than his daughter, his family certainly would not take active steps against him. Were the crime a less disgraceful one, the father’s kin would probably contest his penalty.

The family unity must at all hazards be preserved.—Clemency is shown the remoter kin in order to secure their loyalty to the family group. A large unified family group is in the ideal position of being "strong to demand and strong to resist demands." The family is the only thing of the nature of an organization that the Ifugao has, and he cherishes it accordingly.

Collective recipiency of punishment.—Just as the family group is collectively responsible for the delinquencies of its members, but in less degree than the delinquent himself, so may punishment be meted out to individuals of the group, other than the actual culprit, although naturally it is preferred to punish the actual culprit; and so may debts or indemnities be collected from them. But only those individuals that are of the nearest degree of kinship may be held responsible; cousins may not legally be punished if there be brothers or sisters. . . .


The go-between.—No transaction of importance of any sort between persons of different families is consummated without the intervention of a middle man, or go-between, called monbaga (bespeaker) in civil transactions; and monkalun (admonisher) in criminal cases.

Go-betweens are used commonly in (a) buying and selling of family property of whatever kind or value; (b) buying and selling of animals and the more valuable personal property, except chickens, and in some cases pigs; (c) the borrowing of money or other wealth; (d) marriage proposals and the negotiating of marriage contracts; (e) collection of debts; (f) all steps connected with the balal, such as pawn of rice fields, or their redemption; (g) demands for damages to property or persons; (h) the buying back of heads lost in war, the ransoming of the kidnapped, or the making of peace.

The go-between is the principal witness to a transaction. For his services he receives pay which is fixed to a fair degree of exactness for a particular service. This pay ranges from a piece of meat to a fee of twenty or twenty-five pesos.

Responsibility of go-betweens.—Go-betweens are responsible to both parties to a transaction, for the correct rendering of tenders, offers, and payments. Their word binds only themselves, however—not their principals. Go-betweens are not agents of one party more than another. They are supposed to be impartial, and interested only in consummating the transaction involved in order to get their fee.

Thus, suppose that A sends B as a go-between to sell a field to C, a man of another district. B finds that he cannot sell the field for the price A asked for it, and, anxious to consummate a sale and so collect his fee, he agrees to sell the field to C for a lower price than that asked by A.

In such a case as this, B is responsible to C in case A refuses to abide by C’s agreement to sell. C has the right to collect damages.

The oriental propensity to "squeeze" is proverbial. It is condoned in law—one might almost say legitimized, provided it be not found out. Thus:

A sends B to Nueva Vizcaya to buy a carabao. The regular commission for this service is ten pesos, the agent to deliver a living carabao to the principal, and to be responsible for the value if the carabao die on the route. This, the usual agreement, holds between them. A furnishes B with eighty pesos with which to purchase the animal. B returns with the animal, representing that he paid seventy pesos for it, when, as a matter of fact, he paid out sixty pesos, thus gaining ten pesos "squeeze."

If A finds out that B paid only sixty pesos for the carabao, the only thing he can do is to collect the ten pesos difference between what A paid and what he said he paid. He cannot assess punitive damages.

Conditions relieving a go-between of responsibility.—An act of God or the acts of a public enemy relieve a go-between or an agent from responsibility. Thus an agent sent to purchase an animal in baliwan (the stranger country) is under obligation to deliver it alive. But if it be struck by lightning, or if the carabao be taken away from him by enemies, and he has a wound to bear witness that he offered due resistance to them; or, in case he has no wound, if he has witnesses or good proof of the fact that the enemy was so superior in force as to make resistance foolhardy, he cannot be held for payment of the animal. . . .


The Ifugaos have two punishments for crime: the death penalty and fine. These punishments are inflicted and executed by the offended person and his kin.

Nature and reckoning of fines.—Fines are of two sorts: fines of "tens," bakid, and fines of "sixes," na-onom, each unit of the ten or six being a portion of the whole fine. The different parts of the fine go to different people. Oftentimes sticks, knots, or notches are used to assist in calculation. In Banaue and neighboring districts these aids to calculation are also kept as a record. The unit payments grow successively smaller from the first to the last.

The first unit of any series is called pu-u, meaning "base." It is of the greatest value, and goes to the injured individual. The second payment, sometimes, goes to the go-between. In that case, the kin of the injured man take all the rest. If the fee of the go-between be provided for outside of the fine, the kin of the injured man take all except the pu-u, the first unit. This is but just, since they have backed their kinsman in his action against the offender, have perchance risked their lives in his cause, and also stand ready at all times to help pay any fines that others may assess against him.

The second, and sometimes the third and fourth units, are called haynub di pu-u, meaning "followers of the base." They are of less value than the pu-u. Then follow units consisting, each, of four irons (spearheads, axes, knives). These units are called natauwinan. Then come units of three irons each, called natuku; then units of two irons each, called nunbadi; then units of one iron each, called na-oha. In the case of fines composed of six units, there is usually no haynub.

The Malay does nothing without first thoroughly talking it over. After a payment has been tentatively consented to by the offender and his family, there yet remain many conferences with the go-between before everything is arranged. An uninitiated white man on seeing a group of these people, squatted in a circle, moving little sticks about, and in heated discussion, might think they were playing some primitive but absorbing native game. And, I am not sure that the attitude of their minds is very different! . . .


Certain circumstances, namely criminal responsibility, alienship, kinship, confession, and the relative rank of offender and offended, affect penalty, either as to its severity or as to the likelihood of its being inflicted at all.

Moral turpitude not a factor.—Moral turpitude, which plays no small part in our own law in determining punishment, seems not to enter into the consideration of Ifugao law. Thus, such crimes as incest between brother and sister, parricide, matricide, fraticide, and treason against one’s family, all go unpunished. Even the betrayal of a co-villager into the hands of the enemy subjects the offender to only a third degree of likelihood of being punished. These crimes probably go unpunished in accordance with the following correlated fundaments of Ifugao society: Legal procedure is conducted by and between families; the family unit is the most precious thing in Ifugao social life; family unity must, at all hazards, be preserved. In the case of a murder accomplished by treachery, as for example, the killing of a guest, the moral turpitude involved might perhaps hasten punishment—it might even increase its severity in that the kin of the murdered person might retaliate on a greater number of those concerned in the murder. But such an abuse of hospitality appears never to have occurred.

Another reason why what we consider moral turpitude does not enter into punishment is that treachery, ambush, and accomplishment by superior force are the rule, not only in commission of crime, but also in perfectly legal capital executions and seizures of property.


As between principals and their accomplices and accessories, Ifugao law recognizes only gradations in likelihood of punishment. The penalty is the same for all of them; but very frequently the offense is considered as having been expiated by the punishment of those whose responsibility for it is greatest, and the rest go free.

The nungolat, or principal.—The nungolat (he who was strong) is the conceiver, planner, and director of an offense. He may or may not take an active part in its commission. Whether or not he does so, he is considered to be responsible for it in the highest degree. He is, of all who take part in the offense, the most likely to be punished.

The following example, continued through several succeeding sections, shows the various degrees of criminal responsibility, and the corresponding degrees of likelihood of punishment:

A decides to avenge the death of a kinsman. He consequently calls a number of his kinsmen and proposes a war expedition to take the head of Z, an enemy concerned in the death of the murdered kinsman, in another village. They agree. A calls the family priests to his house to perform the necessary religious preliminaries to setting out on a head-hunting expedition. The ceremonies are performed, and the omen of the bile sac promises well. But, just before starting, some accident happens to A, which the priests attribute to the sorcery of the enemy. A consequently does not accompany the expedition. He is, notwithstanding, the nungolat, and is more likely to be the object of vengeance than any other, should the crime be accomplished.

The tombok, or "thrower."—In offenses in which a spear is thrown, he who throws the effective spear is called the tombok. His responsibility for the crime is second to that of the nungolat as is also his likelihood of being punished.

Iba’n di nungolat, the "companions of the one who was strong."—Those who assist in the commission of a crime by reinforcing, accompanying, assisting, backing, giving aid and comfort to the committer thereof, or furnishing anything needful to the consummation of the crime incur the next lesser degree of criminal responsibility and of likelihood of being punished to those of the conceiver and committer of the crime.

The montudol, "shower," or informer.—One who gives a person in the act of committing a crime information necessary to the successful carrying out of his intent, is guilty in the same degree as are persons of the preceding paragraph.

Thus, continuing the illustration started above, suppose that B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I go to take the head of A’s enemy and theirs. They meet O, a co-villager of Z, the man whose head they want to take, and ask him regarding Z’s whereabouts. The fact could not be otherwise than patent to O, that a head-hunting party was addressing him. He answers truthfully that Z is in his sweet-potato field, and that the party may reach the field by such and such by-path without their being seen by Z’s kin or co-villagers. The party follows O’s directions. B spears Z.

B is the tombok; C, D, E, F, G, H, and I are the "companions of the one who was strong," and O is the montudol. . . .

The relation of intent to criminal responsibility.—Gulad or intent, is probably the greatest single factor in determining penal responsibility. Thus:

A deed committed without intent, and without carelessness, is excused. One has not, usually, even to make restitution for the injury done. Thus, in the case of a bolo flying out of a man’s hand, and putting out the eye of another, no damages were assessed. An enormous number of men, every year, are injured in the free-for-all scrambles over sacrificed carabaos. Many of these injuries result in stiff joints; some of them in deaths. In no case, not even in the case of death, is a payment demanded. Suppose that in the chase a number of hunters have surrounded a wild boar. The boar charges one of them. This man leaps backward, and, at the same time, draws back his spear to throw it at the boar. In so doing, he stabs a companion behind him with the shod end of the spear handle. This is not an uncommon accident. The others of the party are witnesses that the killing was purely accidental (naloktat). No fine is assessed; but the killer, to show that he is sorry, usually assists in the funeral feast. Of course, if there were no witnesses, and if there were a possible motive to complicate matters, the ending of the case might not be so happy.

Suppose that a number of men are throwing at a target with their spears. A child runs in the way, and is killed. One-half the usual fine for manslaughter is assessed on the ground that the thrower was careless in that he did not make sure before he threw the spear that such an accident could not occur. In this case there was an absence of intent; but carelessness was present.

A man kills a neighbor at night, acting under the impression that he is killing an enemy seeking his life. He is subjected to a much heavier fine than if he had killed him through carelessness, since there is present both the intent to kill, although not criminal, and carelessness in that he did not make sure at whom he was casting his spear. . . .

Rank and standing in the community.—This is probably the greatest single factor in determining the severity of punishment in cases where a crime is punishable by fine. But the aggressiveness and the war footing of the two parties to the controversy enter even here to an astounding degree.

In the Kiangan-Maggok area, there are three grades of fines—the highest for the punishment of crimes of one kadangyang or rich man, against another; a medium grade for crimes of persons of the tumok, or middle class, against each other; and a third and lowest grade for the nawatwat, the poverty stricken. Each lower grade of fine is a little more than half the next higher one.

In the Kababuyan area, there are five grades of fines—one for the very rich, one for the fairly rich, one for the middle class, one for the poor, one for the poverty stricken. In Sapao and in Asin, there are four grades.

So long as both offender and offended are of the same class, there is no trouble about determining the fine proper in a given case. But when they are of different classes, the case is not so simple, and the factors of fighting strength and personality enter.

Suppose that R, a rich man, commits adultery against P, a poor man. P sends a go-between to demand the highest grade of fine for this crime—that is, the grade which kadangyang pay. R does not deny the crime, but states that he considers the payment of the fine that is due one rich man from another preposterous. He states that he is willing to pay the fine proper to the poorer class. To this P replies that he did not begin this action for the purpose of getting money, but for the purpose of so punishing R as to make a repetition of the crime improbable. There are three possible endings in such a case:

(a) P’s kin represent to him that they cannot afford to have war with R; that R’s people hold a lot of debts over their heads; that should R prove obdurate, and should the affair end in a lance throwing, R’s’ people would wipe them off the earth. They advise P to be satisfied with the lowest grade of fine. He agrees.

(b) P and R compromise on the grade of fine that is midway between their stations; that is, the fine of the middle class. In Kiangan this is the usual settlement.

(c) P shows such bungot (wrath and ferocity) that R’s kin advise him to pay the larger fine. They point out that the fine is a small matter as compared with the loss of life, and state that there is no telling what this poverty-stricken but rampant dog will do. This settlement is not uncommon in the Kiangan area, where the poor people have a great deal of pride and bravery, but rare in other parts of Ifugao.

Aside from other matters, the diplomacy and tact of the go-between would have a great deal to do toward determining which of these contingencies would result.

It is extremely hard to make a general statement as to fines when offender and offended are of different classes. It may safely be said that the fines assessed average the amount midway between the fines proper to the two classes concerned. Thus, when a poor man offends a rich man, and when a rich man offends a poor man, the average of the fines assessed equals approximately the fine assessed for injuries within the middle class. In questions in which rich and middle class persons are involved, the fines approximate an amount half way between the fines of the rich and of the middle classes.

Importance of influential position and personality.—The fact has already been mentioned that Ifugao administration of justice is remarkably personal in nature. We have just seen to what an extent personality and war-footing enter into the infliction of fines when offender and offended are of different classes. Nowhere can a man of magnetism and force reap greater benefit from these qualities, relatively speaking, than in an Ifugao controversy. The fact stares us in the face in every phase of Ifngao law, especially in procedure. . . .


The Ifugao has one general law, which with a few notable exceptions he applies to killings, be they killings in war, murders, or executions, which public opinion would pronounce justifiable and legal. That law is: A life must be paid by a life. Let us pass now to a consideration of various classes of the takings of human life.

Executions justifiable by lfugao law.—Public opinion or custom, or both, justify the taking of a life in punishment far the following crimes: sorcery; murder; persistent and wilful refusal to pay a debt when there is the ability to pay; adultery discovered in flagrante; theft by one of a foreign district; refusal to pay a fine assessed for crime or for injury suffered. But even though custom and public opinion justify the administration of the extreme penalty in these cases, the kin of the murdered man do not, in most cases, consider the killing justified. There are innumerable circumstances that complicate a given case. Was the sorcery proven or only suspected? Was it a murder that the man committed; or was he justified in the killing? Would not the debtor have come to his right mind had his creditor waited a little longer; and did the creditor approach him in the right way with reference to the debts Did not the woman make advances in the adultery case that no self-respecting male could turn down? Was not the indemnity assessed too large or otherwise improper; or did the injured party wait long enough for the payment? These and a thousand other questions may arise with respect to the various cases.

If the death penalty be inflicted by persons of a foreign district, it is sure to be looked upon as a murder.

At feasts and gatherings about the "bowl that cheers" and especially in drunken brawls, an unavenged killing, no matter what the circumstances, is likely to be brought up as a reflection upon the bravery or manhood of the living kin, and so urge them to the avenging of what was really a justified execution.

Murder, sorcery, and a refusal to pay the fine for adultery justify the infliction of the death penalty even on a kinsman if he is not too close a relative. An execution of one kinsman by another is not so likely to be avenged as is justifiable execution by one outside the family. . . .

Hibul or homicide.—The Ifugao law clearly recognizes several grades Of homicide.

(a) The taking of life when there is an entire absence of both intent and carelessness. As for example, in the case already cited, when a party of hunters have a wild boar at bay. The boar, as there stated, charges the most advanced of the hunters, and in retreating backwards, the latter jabs one of his companions with the shod point of his spear handle. There is no penalty for such a taking of life.

(b) The taking of life when there is clearly an absence of intent, but a degree of carelessness. For example, a number of men are throwing spears at a mark. A child runs in the way, and is killed. The penalty is a fine varying from one-third to two-thirds the amount of the full fine for homicide according to the degree of carelessness.

(c) Intentional taking of the life of another, under the impression that he is an enemy when in reality he is a co-villager or a companion. In case the killer can make the family of the slain understand the circumstances, only a fine is assessed. This fine is called labod. If the killer be unrelated to the slain, the full amount of the labod is demanded; if related, the amount is usually lessened.

Example: Dumauwat of Baay was irrigating his fields at night. Some of his companions told him that there were some head-hunters from an enemy village near. In the darkness, Dumauwat encountered another man, Likyayu, the betrothed of his daughter. He asked him who was there. On account of the noise of water falling from the rice fields, Likyayu did not hear the inquiry, and said nothing. Dumauwat speared him. Likyayu cried out. Dumauwat recognized his voice, and carried him home. He furnished animals for sacrifice to secure Likyayu’s recovery. Likyayu recovered. Had he died, Dumauwat would have been called on for the full amount of the fine; but had Likyayu been firmly engaged to Dumauwat’s daughter, that is, had the bango ceremony been performed the full amount of the labod fine would not have been demanded, since the relationship would have been an extenuating circumstance.

(d) The taking of life by persons in a brawl or by an intoxicated or insane person. In case the slain died before his slayer could agree to provide animals for sacrifice, the latter would probably be killed by the kin of the slain if he were of a foreign district. He might be killed if a non-related co-villager. He would be fined the labod if a kinsman. He would probably go scot free if a brother or uncle.

Example: A of Longa became insanely drunk at a feast at the house of his brother Gimbungan. He attempted to embrace the comely daughter of Gimbungan, his niece. Gimbungan tried to quiet him, and in so doing aroused his ire. He drew his spear menancingly, and in so doing pierced the girl—who was at his back—with the shod point at the end. She died. A was properly penitent when he sobered, and furnished animals for sacrifice. The fine labod was not, however, demanded of him. This was about thirty-five or forty years ago. Conisderable feeling exists between the two branches of the family to this day, owing to this occurrence.

The burden rests upon the slayer in the above cases to show that the killing was accidental or that he was so drunk as to have utterly lost his reason. The absence of a motive is a great help to him in this. If he has ever had a serious altercation with the slain, in the absence of controverting evidence, the presumption is likely to be that the killing was intentional, and that he has been "feigning friendship in order to kill by ugâ (treachery)." . . .

Special liability of the givers of certain feasts.—The givers of uyauwe or hagabi feasts (glorified general welfare feasts to which great numbers of people come) are responsible for wounds or deaths that occur at these feasts. When a man decides to initiate himself and his wife into the ranks of the kadangyang by giving one of these feasts, he appoints one of the old priests of his family to perform the tikman ceremonies. These ceremonies are sacrifices to the various classes of deities whose special function is the "tying up" of men’s stomachs and passions. Prayers are addressed to these deities that a little food satisfy the guest that attends the feast, to the end that the giver be not eaten out of house and home; that a little rice wine suffice to intoxicate the people; that the passions of men be tied up to the end that no quarrels or frays occur; that no rice-wine jars or gongs be broken; that no accidents occur—in short, that the whole feast pass off smoothly. The duties of the manikam (the priest who performs these ceremonies) are rather arduous. To say nothing of the ceremonies he conducts, he must fast for a number of days and must observe a number of taboos. He receives, rather a large fee for these services. And, indeed, their importance, in the eyes of the Ifugaos, and the legal responsibility he incurs, certainly justify a large fee.

The manikam priests are jointly responsible with the giver of the feast for accidents or violence that may occur. This liability of the giver of the feast for wounds or loss of lifo is based on the supposition that if he had not given the feast the wound would not have occurred; and possibly that he gave the feast with the motive of bringing about such an occurrence. The liability of the manikam is based on the supposition that there must have been a remissness on his part in his religious duties, else the accident or loss would never have occurred. The following is an actual instance that would indicate that this provision of the law is an incipient employer’s liability provision.

Malingan of Pindungan, many years ago, gathered together his kin and friends, performed the preliminary feasts, and went to Payauan to make a hagabi (lounging bench, the insignium of the kadangyang class). They made a very large hagabi that weighed nearly a ton. In helping to carry it across the river two men were carried downstream by the current and drowned. Demand was made on Malingan and the manikam of the feast for the labod fine. It was paid, and that is the reason Malingan’s descendants are not wealthier today, for formerly Malingan was one of the wealthiest men of the district. . . .

The labod, fine assessed for homicide.—This fine is paid to the family of the slain. For the kadangyang, or wealthy class, the full fine consists of ten portions or divisions, totaling 975 pesos in the case tabulated below. . . .


The tokom, or fine for compromising another.—He who, voluntarily or involuntarily, puts another in the position of an accomplice, or in such a light that he might be regarded as being an accomplice in the commission of a crime, and so be liable to punishment as such, must pay the person so injured a fine, called tokom. It may almost be said that he who causes another person’s name to be prominently mentioned or bandied in connection with a crime must pay this fine.

The following are instances in which a tokom would be demanded:

A of another district comes to the house of B, and is received by B as a guest. While he is going home and while he is in the outskirts of the district he is speared by C, a neighbor of B’s or a resident of the same district. B must force O to pay a tokom.

B steals or illegally confiscates property belonging to A. C sees B in the act. He demands a tokom—in this case it may be the bole or spear that B is carrying—and so puts himself "on record" as not having been an accomplice. But he says nothing about the crime unless it come to light that he was a witness of it. In this case he proves, by the tokom that he received that he had no connection with it. As a matter of practice it would seem that a gift received from the thief would tend to lead the witness to conceal the crime.

A gives an uyauwe feast. At the attendant drink feast B in a drunken brawl kills C. A and the manikam D must demand a tokom from B in order to clear their reputations. . . .

One who is put in a position in which a tokom is due him must collect the tokom. It is not sufficient that he demand the payment of it—he must enforce the payment. Otherwise he will be considered by the kin of the injured as having been an accomplice, and liable to punishment accordingly. . . .


Nature of his duties.—The office of the monkalun is the most important one to be found in Ifugao society. The monkalun is a whole court, completely equipped, in embryo. He is judge, prosecuting and defending counsel, and the court record.2 His duty and his interest are for a peaceful settlement. He receives a fee, called lukba or liwa. To the end of peaceful settlement he exhausts every art of Ifugao diplomacy. He wheedles, coaxes, flatters, threatens, drives, scolds, insinuates. He beats down the demands of the plaintiffs or prosecution, and bolsters up the proposals of the defendants until a point be reached at which the two parties may compromise. If the culprit or accused be not disposed to listen to reason and runs away or "shows fight" when approached, the monkalun waits till the former ascends into his house, follows him, and, war-knife in hand, sits in front of him and compels him to listen.

The monkalun should not be closely related to either party in a controversy. He may be a distant relative of either one of them. The monkalun has no authority. All that he can do is to act as a peace making go-between. His only power is in his art of persuasion, his tact and his skillful playing on human emotions and motives. Were he closely related to the plaintiff, he would have no influence with the defendant, and mutatis mutandis the opposite would be true.

Ultimately in any state the last appeal is to a death-dealing weapon. For example, in our own society a man owes a debt which he does not pay. Action is brought to sell his property to pay the debt. If he resists, he is in danger of death at the hands of an agent of the law. Much more is he in danger if he resists punishment for crime. The same is true in the Ifugao society. The lance is back of every demand of importance, and sometimes it seems hungry.

An Ifugao’s pride as well as his self-interest—one might almost say his self-preservation—demands that he shall collect debts that are owed him, and that he shall punish injuries or crimes against himself. Did he not do so he would become the prey of his fellows. No one would respect him. Let there be but one debt owed him which he makes no effort to collect; let there be but one insult offered him that goes unpunished, and in the drunken babbling attendant on every feast or social occasion, he will hear himself accused of cowardice and called a woman.

On the other hand, self-interest and self-respect demand that the accused shall not accept punishment too tamely or with undue haste, and that he shall not pay an exorbitant fine. If he can manage to beat the demands of the complainant down below those usually met in like cases, he even gains in prestige. But the monkalun never lets him forget that the lance has been scoured and sharpened for him, and that he walks and lives in daily danger of it.

The accuser is usually not over anxious to kill the accused. Should he do so, the probabilities are that the kin of the accused would avenge the death, in which case he, the slayer, would be also slain. The kin of each party are anxious for a peaceable settlement, if such can be honorably brought about. They have feuds a-plenty on their hands already. Neighbors and co-villagers do not want to see their neighborhood torn by internal dissension and thus weakened as to the conduct of warfare against enemies. All these forces make for a peaceful settlement.

It is the part of the accused to dally with danger for a time, however, and at last to accede to the best terms he can get, if they be within reason.


Litigants do not confront each other.—From the time at which a controversy is formally entered into, the principals and their kin are on a basis of theoretical—perhaps I ought to say religious enmity. A great number of taboos keep them apart. Diplomatic relations between the two parties have been broken off and all business pertaining to the case is transacted through the third party, the monkalun. He hears the testimony that each side brings forward to support its contention. Through him each controversant is confronted with the testimony of the other. It is greatly to the interest of the monkalun to arrange a peaceful settlement, not only because he usually receives a somewhat larger fee in such case, but because the peaceful settlement of cases in which he is mediator builds up a reputation for him, so that he is frequently called and so can earn many fees. To the end of arranging this peaceful settlement, the mon-kalun reports to each party to the controversy the strong points of the testimony in favor of the other party, and oftentimes neglects the weaknesses.

There are no oaths or formalities in giving of testimony.


Cases in which employed.—In criminal cases in which the accused persistently denies his guilt, and sometimes in case of disputes over property the ownership of which is doubtful, and in cases of disputes over the division line between fields, ordeals or trials are resorted to. The challenge to an ordeal may come from either the accuser or the accused. Refusal to accept a challenge means a loss of the case, and the challenger proceeds as if he had won the case.

If the accused comes unscathed from the ordeal, he has the right to collect from his accuser the fine for false accusation.

If two people mutually accuse each other, panuyu, they are both tried by ordeal. If both be scathed, they are mutually responsible for the indemnity to the injured person. If only one be scathed, he is responsible for the indemnity to the injured person and for a payment of the fine for false accusation to the one whom he accused.

The hot water ordeal.—A pot, a foot or more in depth, is filled with water and heated to a furious boiling. A pebble is dropped into it. The accused must reach his hand into the water without undue haste, extract the pebble, and then replace it. Undue haste is interpreted as a confession of guilt. This ordeal is used in certain sections of Ifugao, while in others the hot bole test is used. It is interesting to note that neither of them is efficacious in determining accusations of adultery. This is for the reason that the gods of animal fertility and growth do not permit an accused to receive an injury for that act which is so eminently useful in their particular sphere of activity. Thus, Ifugao religion looks with the greatest disfavor upon things which tend to restrict population, just as our law frowns upon statutes in restriction of marriage.

The hot bole ordeal.—In this, if two persons mutually accuse each other, their hands are placed side by side. The monkalun lowers a hot knife on their hands. The knife burns the guilty person much more seriously than the guiltless one. If only one person be put to the test, it is said that the knife bends away from the hands of an innocent person. The monkalun, with all his might, it is said, cannot put the knife down on the hand: the gods of war and justice will not permit it. But if the person be guilty, the knife grips the hand in its eagerness. If the accused show fear and try to withdraw, the kin of the accuser may catch him and burn him well. I know a man whose fingers were burned off in this way, the thumb adhering to and coalescing with the palm.

The alao or duel.—Eggs, runo stalks, or spears are used in trials, the accused facing each other and, at the word of the monkalun, hurling their missiles. The duel is not without its dangers. Even though eggs or runos be used, the one struck is likely to return a stone; and from throwing stones to throwing spears is an easy step. The two parties of kin are likely to take a hand. How much more likely are they to take a hand and avenge their kinsmen if spears be the missiles and he be wounded!

The duel is used in cases of adultery, sorcery, and in some disputes over rice fields, everywhere in Ifugao. In adultery cases, only eggs are used in the duel.

Trial by bultong or wrestling.—This ordeal is used throughout Ifugao, preeminently to settle cases of disputed rice-field boundaries.

The Ifugao clearly recognizes that the processes of nature—landslides, the erosion of rainfall in wet weather, and caking and crumbling in dry weather—tend to wear away a terrace not maintained by a stone wall. A terrace maintained by a stone wall is a rarity in the Kiangan district. Should the boundary not be well marked by paghok a dispute is nearly sure to result sooner or later. These disputes are usually settled by wrestling matches. The wrestling matches are usually friendly. The Ifugao believes that the ancestral spirits of the controversants know which party is in the right, that they know just where the true boundary is, and that they see to it that he who is right shall win, provided always that they be invoked with the proper sacrifices; and that they "hold up" even the weaker of the wrestlers, and cause him to win, provided his cause be just. Notwithstanding this belief, the people are sufficiently practical to demand that the wrestlers be approximately evenly matched. The owners of the adjacent fields may themselves wrestle, or they may choose champions to represent them. Between kinsmen these matches are presumably friendly; and only sacrifices of dried meat are offered the ancestral spirits. But between those not related, there is often a great deal of unfriendly feeling. In this latter case numerous chickens and two or three pigs are sacrificed, and ceremonies like those against enemies are performed.

On the appointed day the two parties meet at the disputed boundary and occupy opposite ends of the disputed land. A party of mutual kin follows along and occupies a position midway between the adversaries. With each party is one of the family priests. Taking betels and dried meat (presuming the contest to be a friendly one) from a head-basket, the priest prays very much as follows: "Come, Grandfather Eagle, Grandfather Red Ant, Grandfather Strong Wind, Grandfather Pangalina; come, Grandmother Cicada, Grandmother Made Happy, Grandmother Ortagon; come, Grandfather Gold, etc. [throughout a list of perhaps a hundred ancestors]. Here are betels and meat; they are trying to take our field away from us. And was it here, Grandmother Grasshopper, that the boundary of the field was? No, you know that it was a double arm’s length to the right. Hold us up, you ancestors, in order that we may be the wearers of gold neck-ornaments; in order that we may be the ones who give expensive feasts. Exhort [here the priest names over the gods of war and justice] to hold us up. Was it here, Grandfather Brave, that the boundary was when you bought the field? Do not let them take our land away from us, for we are to be pitied. We are sorely tried!"

After the prayers of the priests, each champion is led by one of his kinsmen to the place where the first wrestling is to occur. This leading is very ceremoniously done, and suggests the heralding of the champions in feudal days. The dike of the upper terrace has been cleaned off at intervals of fifteen to twenty-five feet in order that the owner of the upper field may have no advantage. The champions frequently work themselves down half-thigh deep in rice-field mud, water, and slime. Catching fair and even holds, they begin to wrestle, encouraged each by the shouts and cries of his kinsmen and by the calling of the old men and old women on the spirits of the ancestors. Each wrestler tries to push his opponent into the territory that that opponent is defending and to down him there. If A throws B in B’s field, ten feet from the line on which they wrestle, A wins ten feet of the rice field at that point. Finally, there is a fall that more than likely capsizes one or both of them in the black mud. One point in the boundary is determined. Frequently the lower terrace is eight or ten feet lower than the upper one, but there are no injuries for the reason that the mud is at least two feet deep and is a soft place in which to fall.

At every fifteen or twenty feet along the disputed boundary there is another wrestling match. Sometimes the champions are changed. The new boundary runs through every point at which there has been a fall.

The umpire and the decision.—The monkalun is the umpire in trials by ordeal. He interprets undue haste or a faulty performance as a confession of guilt. On the day following the trial by fire or hot water he goes to the house of the accused and examines the hand and forearm. If he finds white inflamed blisters, he pronounces him guilty. In the case of a duel, he pronounces the one struck by the missile guilty. The Ifugaos believe that the gods of war and justice turn missiles aside from the innocent in these duels. For the umpire to be manifestly unfair, would be for him seriously to imperil his own life.

As a matter of fact, a person whose skin is rough, dry, and horny has a great advantage in these ordeals. Since sword climbing and the walking on hot stones and live coals have occurred in other parts of the world, it would seem that a question might be raised whether state of mind, or other factors as yet unexplained, may not enter these affairs. . . .

Seizure of chattels.—If a kinsman of remoter kinship than that existing between brothers commit a crime punishable by death, except sorcery or murder, and obstinately refuse to pay the fine assessed, seizure of his property or part of it is made.

Seizures are made from unrelated persons to cover fines due in punishment of theft, malicious killing of animals, arson, and the minor crimes, also to secure payment of a debt.

The following is a list of the things usually seized: gongs, rice-wine jars, carabaos, gold beads, rice fields, children, wives.

A seizure may be made by fraud or deceit, or it may be made in the absence of the owner of his household, or it may be made by superior force. Considering only the manner of the seizure, there is but one law to be followed: the seizure must be made in such a manner as to leave no doubt as to the identity of him who seizes. Thus if B persistently refuses to pay a fine owed to A, A may go to B’s house when there is nobody at home and may run away with a gong. If he leaves his bolo, his scabbard, his blanket or some other personal effect in the house as a sort of a visiting card, his seizure is legal. Or A may go to B’s house and, pretending friendship, borrow the gong, representing that he wants to play it at a feast and, having secured possession of it, refuse to return it till the fine be paid. Or suppose that an agent of B’s is bringing a carabao up from Nueva Vizcaya, and that the agent has to travel through A’s village. A and his friends stop the agent and take the carabao away from him, telling him to inform B that the carabao will be delivered to him when the fine is paid. . . .

Seizure of rice fields.—The seizure of rice fields is practicable only in case the fields are near the village of him who seizes them. For if located in a distant district, the working of the field would be extremely hazardous, and its protection and continuous holding impossible.

Fields may properly be seized for collection of debt or for refusal to pay fines or indemnities. Portions of fields are seized sometimes in disputes as to ownership or boundaries.

Disputes over ownership and boundary come to a head during spading time. One party begins to spade for the next year’s crop the land claimed by the other. The other party sticks up runos, tied "ethics lock" fashion (alpud), along the line which he claims to be the true boundary. The first party then pulls up these runos, and sticks down others along the line claimed by it as the true boundary. The issue is joined. The defendant has made his "rejoinder." A monkalun is now selected by the plaintiff party, and tries to arrange—and in case of disputed boundaries nearly always does arrange—a means of peaceful settlement, either by compromise or through trial by wrestling. Sometimes the ownership of a field itself is in question. Usually the question is one of inheritance; although there are a number of other causes that may give rise to dispute. Ownership is usually peaceably settled by means of a wrestling match. . . .

Enforced hospitality.—Sometimes a creditor and a numerous and powerful following of kinsmen descend upon a debtor’s house as unwelcome guests, consume his stores of food, and force his hospitality until appeased by the payment of the debt.

This form of collection can only be used in the case of debts, for in all other controversies, taboos forbid the eating of the adversary’s food, drinking his water, chewing his betels, etc. Even in the case of debt, if a go-between has been sent to the debtor, this means may not be used. It can only be used in a case where "diplomatic relations" have not been ruptured. . . .

Cases illustrating seizure and kidnapping.—Kodamon of Pindungan and Katiling of Ambabag had a dispute over the boundary of a field. There were paghok to mark the boundary, but Kodamon contended that all memory of the planting of the paghok was absent, and that they were, consequently, without significance in the matter of dispute. They wrestled, and Kodamon lost a little ground, but Katiling tried to take more than was due him according to the verdict of the wrestling matches. Katiling sent men to spade the disputed territory, and led an armed force out to support them. Kodamon led an armed force to the field. At the same time and at a safe distance, the mutual kin of the two parties and a goodly number of neighbors gathered. Kodamon was armed with a Remington rifle whose trigger was broken; Dulinayan, a kinsman of Katiling, with a revolver for which he had no ammunition. The other members of each force however were substantially, if less spectacularly, armed with spears which they well knew how to use. Women rushed in between the two parties, and catching the warriors by the waist tried to lead them away. One can well believe that the air was riven by curses, threats, accusations, upbraidings, imprecations, invocations. The male neutral kin shouted from their safe distance that if Kodamon killed Katiling, they would kill Kodamon (as a vengeance for the death of their kinsman) while if Katiling killed Kodamon, they would avenge their kinsman’s death by killing Katiling. "What kind of a way is this for co-villagers to settle a dispute," they shouted. "Go back home and beget some children, and marry them to each other, giving them the two fields, and then it will make no difference where the division line is!" There was an exchange of spears in which Buaya, a kinsman of Kodamon’s, was wounded slightly. The matter was then left in abeyance with the understanding that as soon as possible, the two families be united by a marriage, and the two fields given the married couple.

It happened, however, that on account of the sexes of the unmarried children of the families, a union between them was impossible. Accordingly, Kodamon gave his field to his son Dulnuan, and Katiling traded his field to Pingkihan, his brother. Both of these young men had pregnant wives. Pingkihan’s wife gave birth first, the child being a girl. Shortly afterward, Dulnuan’s wife gave birth. I met Dulnuan, and not knowing of the event, and noticing that he seemed downcast, asked him why he was so sad. "My wife has given birth to a girl baby," he said. The quarrel over the boundary is as yet unsettled.


2 The word monkalun comes from the root kalun, meaning advise. The Ifugao word has the double sense, too, of our word advise, as used in the following sentences, "I have the honor to advise yon of your appointment" and "I advise you not to do that."

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology,

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology,

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, in Source Book in Anthropology, ed. Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1920), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology,, Vol. 15, in Source Book in Anthropology, edited by Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T., Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1920, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology,. cited in 1920, Source Book in Anthropology, ed. , University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from