Cagayan Indigenous Beliefs: Creatures of Ibanag Folklore

All Soul’s Day, to some, may be a period of reflection on one’s mortality and a time to remember the deceased. Yet, for some, the thought of death and the belief in spirits could stir a sense of fear or unease. The day of celebrations may have passed, however, the primordial fear of the unseen may be something that is innate to all human beings and thus endures with life itself.

History would tell us that when the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s, they found the natives already possessing beliefs and practices revolving around the supernatural, from supreme deities like the indigenous Bathalang Maykapal, to lower mythical creatures such as the nuno sa punso, as well as spirits of the dead.

Every region and province across the archipelago possesses its own version of deities, folkloric creatures, and beliefs in supernatural phenomena and the afterlife. While many of these cultural facets survive among today’s Indigenous Peoples, certain aspects of these are retained in ethnic groups that have embraced Roman Catholicism, the religion introduced by the Spanish Empire.

One such people are the Ibanag of the Cagayan Valley, who, despite being evangelized by the Spaniards, still cling to native and traditional beliefs and folklore.

Ibanag people perform the ritual of the panug or gaki’ where offerings are set afloat on the Cagayan river, which acts as a gateway to the spirit world. (Photo courtesy of Paul Lopez)

Town fiestas in honor of patron saints usually involve the celebration of the holy mass, which is followed by various celebratory activities and the preparation of food. Ibanag households, however, also reserve offerings of food for the unseen, or what was known in the old tongue as anitu. This offering, or atang, and its practice, or tunnak or wari, is the most common example of an indigenous Ibanag tradition that pays reverence to spirits– be they souls of deceased loved ones or elemental deities of the earth.

The tunnak is not only seen on festive occasions. In fact, they are also commonly performed when a person is sick, especially if relatives perceive the illness as incurable by modern medicine. This follows after a traditional healer, or mangilu, identifies spirits as the cause of the malady.

Ibanag priest and scholar, Fr. Marino Gatan, explained in his research that the Ibanag people view the earth as a communal habitation for people and spirits or elemental deities. Thus, the Ibanag are wary of their environment, particularly those places that are barely disturbed by human activity, such as woodlands and the wilderness in general. This is to avoid offending diverse types of unseen elementals, who, according to belief, possess varying dispositions and ways of inflicting vengeful harm to individuals.

This collection of creatures of folklore can be classified into the elementals or kutu na davvun (literally “lice of the earth”) which are connected to nature, immaterial ghosts or amang (Cagayan Ibanag) or banig (Isabela Ibanag), and various bestial monstrosities and legendary figures that Ibanag parents utter when disciplining their misbehaving children.

Artist’s impressions of the aggirigira (left), annani (middle), and aran (right). (Image by Jake Coballes/PIA-2)


Among the elementals, the so-called aggirigira is the most malevolent, according to Gatan’s inquiries among the Ibanag of Isabela. These creatures are invisible but may manifest if they wish to be seen. They are thought to be very small in height, and alleged beholders describe them as humanlike but having ugly faces and protruding bellies. Most of all, they cause illnesses to people who may have trespassed in their homes in the forests or fields. Their descriptions are similar to elementals known by Cagayan Ibanag as karango’.

Another type of elemental is the annani, dwarf-like spirits that are thought to have manifested from the souls of stillborn children. According to lore elicited by scholars like Clifford Peters and Gatan, the annani are human-like in many aspects though they possess a liking for raw carabao heads as food offerings. They guard certain areas in the wilderness and the Ibanag likewise avoid offending them.

The least troublesome among the elementals are the aran, which may be equated to the gnomes or leprechauns of Western folklore. Arans come in two types– the lighter ones which are thought to be generally benevolent, and the darker ones, which are said to be wicked. These creatures are believed to inhabit granaries and live in families just like people. They are sometimes mischievous and may lead people astray at night. When offended, they inflict skin diseases as their means for revenge.


The Ibanag people believe in two classes of ethereal spirits. One includes the ancestral spirits and the souls of dead relatives known as karaga (literally “relative”) or liminikug (“those who have passed on”). Others are natural ghosts, such as the pabilon, which is said to resemble a large flying blanket that appears at night and causes sickness to unsuspecting victims. Another is the historical allippayug, recorded by Spanish friar Jose Bugarin, which is a very tall ghost that only the blind can see.

Artist’s impressions of the liminikug (left), allippayug (middle), and pabilon (right). (Image by Jake Coballes/PIA-2)


Texts tell of demonic shape-shifting entities known as ngata and amangaw, which are believed to cause death to people who gaze upon them or to those who they manage to touch. Lore has it that these evil creatures can assume the form of any animal like a dog or another person.

Artist’s impressions of a transforming ngata or amangaw. (Image by Jake Coballes/PIA-2)

Legendary beasts

Ibanags of old, especially those in rural neighborhoods, tell tales of mythical creatures, most of which exist now as fading stories that terrify mischievous children into obedience. One is the janggu, a monstrous man-like abomination covered in fur that possessed claws and tails and is thought to have attacked people in forests and mountain sides.

Artist’s impressions of the janggu (left) and sarangay (right). (Image by Jake Coballes/PIA-2)

Another is the brutish sarangay which according to folklore compendium author Maximo Ramos, possesses a man’s body and a head of a carabao, resembling the Greek minotaur.

The sarangay is said to possess a jewel hanging from its ears, which grants supernatural powers to any one who manages to snatch it without being killed by the monster. On the other hand, there are other legends that describe the sarangay as the spirit of a wicked pagan chieftain of old, who inflicts terror in the land of the living.

Folklore as cultural heritage

The rich folk beliefs of the Ibanag people of Cagayan Valley may be considered an intangible culture worthy of promotion and preservation. Though the Church may argue that such reverence for indigenous deities by practicing Catholics is contrary to its doctrines, folklore itself may not necessarily be abandoned.

It is through these folklores that the Ibanags may find uniqueness as a people, and it is from this uniqueness that they may strengthen their identity and pride as Filipinos.

For now, it is apparent that these mythical and supernatural figures will continue to support the Ibanag people’s overall religiosity, and perhaps tickle the imagination of those who truly believe and fear them. (JKC/cover photo courtesy of Eloisa Mangulad)

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