Why Were the Igorot and Muslims the Unconquered Filipinos During the Spanish Era?

The Igorot and the Muslims resisted assimilation into the Spanish culture, making them the unconquered Filipinos during the Spanish period. Self-determination, strong unity as singular communities and cultural differences with the rest of the Filipinos allowed them to remain relatively untouched by foreign contact.

Igorot means "inhabitants of the mountain," a term given by the Spaniards to the ethnic tribe residing in the pan-Cordillera region in the Northern highlands. The Igorot were pagans, and they refused to accept Catholicism and Christianity. For over three centuries, the Igorot fought continuously by utilizing traditional defensive practices, such as headhunting and blocking the mountain passes with huge tree trunks and rocks. The rugged and mountainous terrain of the Cordillera region also proved a challenge for Spanish Catholic missionaries who tried to deal with the ethnic tribe.

Like the Igorot of the Northern highlands, the Muslims in Mindanao and the Sulu Sultanate defended their faith, homeland and people during 300 years of resistance to Spanish colonization. The Spanish called the Muslims "Moros," after the native Muslims in southern Spain who were enemies of the conquistadors. Known for their strong and fierce faith, the Muslims continually fought back against the Spanish military, a resistance coined as the Moro wars. They had the political power to resist, and their Islamic unity allowed them to gain allies and support from other Muslim organizations.