Back to Article List


       Cagayan Valley is a structural depression between the Central Cordillera in the west, the Sierra Madre Mountains in the east, and to the south, the Caraballo mountain. It consists of five provinces occupying the northern-most portion of Luzon-Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. The Cagayan River, the longest and the biggest in the Philippines and flowing northward, has its source at the Caraballo Mountain. Along its course, the Cagayan River picks up several tributaries — the most important ones are the Chico and Magat rivers. The northern portion of the Sierra Madre, which borders the eastern margin of the valley, is extremely rugged and descends abruptly into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The Northernmost island-province of the region is Batanes, which is made up of two major islands groups – the Babuyan Island and Batan Island. The Babuyan Island channel separates Babuyan Island from Cagayan and Balintang Channel separates Batanes island from Babuyan. Y’ami, the northern island of the country is barely 50 miles away from Taiwan, which separates it from the Bashi Channel (Cagayan 87).


       Cagayan has a total population of 895,050, a growth of 1.56 per annum, and a household population of 176,096 as of 1995 census population, or 99 person per square kilometer, 828,204 (1990)(RSO, 1995). Urban population is 198,553 (22.18%) and rural population is 698,497 (77.82%), (RSO, 1996) which comprise an aggregate land area of 9,002.7 square kilometers or 35% of the land area of the country. Cagayan is the second largest province in the region with Tuguegarao as provincial capital, and of Region II (RSO, 1997).

Cagayan has twenty-nine (29) municipalities divided into three congressional districts. It has 820 barangays. Tuguegarao, being the provincial capital,  is the regional seat for educational training and a commercial district of the province. Today, there are 622 public elementary schools, 22 private schools, 63 public secondary, 40 private secondary schools, one public tertiary schools with eight (8) campuses and nine (9) private tertiary schools. Some of these schools were considered for its academic excellence in the country (Cagayan Profile, 1996).

Relatively, the dry season begins from March to June and the rainy season from July to November. It is relatively cold during the months of November to February. Usually the province is struck by typhoons, because like Batanes,  it is near the typhoon belt.


       Ibanag, Itawes and Ilocano (in varied shades and intonations) and Malueg are the major dialects of Cagayan. Migration made Ilocano the dominant language spoken in the province, composing 67.3% of the total population. (Dios nicamu ngamin in Ybanag greeting, Good Day to all), Itawes comprise 13.5%, Ybanag 15.3%, and Malaueg 1.7%. Other ethnic groups that migrated speak their own dialects. A person in places where literacy is high speaks and understands English or Filipino (Cagayan, 87).

Economic Activities

Agriculture remains the dominant economic activity throughout Cagayan Valley. Seventy-five percent are farmers while 25% are professionals. The area for land production is 6,514.19 square kilometers. Cropping is twice or thrice a year with existing irrigation. The  staple food is corn. Rice, peanuts, legumes and other short-term crops are also produced for additional income. After tending the farm, others do carpentry, furniture, woodcraft, and basketry-making using indigenous materials. Livestock products include hogs, carabao, and poultry raising in the backyard for consumption or for sale. Fishing is largely located at the northern tip of Cagayan like Aparri, Buguey, Gonzaga, and Sta Ana where fish is abundant.


In the year 1567, a group of Spaniards landed in Northern Luzon in a place known as Buguey. They however, did not stay long. Captain Pable de Carreon from Spain came in the year 1581 with one hundred fully armed group and explored Cagayan to convert the natives to Christianity, and establish an ecclesiastical mission. And in the year 1853 the Spaniards set up the civil government of Cagayan which comprised the whole valley. It was then that Juan de Salcedo, grandson of Legaspi, traced the coastline of Northern Luzon and was the first Spaniard to set foot particularly in Massi, Tular and Appari.

The Spanish friars were considered harbingers of Western culture to the orient. Father Francisco Rojan, the great chronicler would tell us how Cagayan got its name. The word came from the word carayan (river) – the river that rebisects the entire valley from north to south. Others claim that the name was derived from the word tagay (a kind of plant that grew in abundance in the north). At first it was referred to as Catagayan which was later shortened to Cagayan (Cagayan 87).

Cagayan has a very rich and dramatic prehistory. Cagayan’s soil surface easily yields an array of stone tools, fossilized bones and other materials that record the geologic background and prehistoric past. The wealth points to the fact that Cagayan was once a witness to the dispersal and development of early man in the Philippines. It has already been the hope of archaeologists to unearth more remains in archaeological sites in Cagayan.

The Ybanags of Cagayan is one of the early inhabitants who lived in villages. Not being nomads, they engaged in agriculture, fishing and hunting as their means of subsistence. They fashioned agricultural implements out of wood and metal, and constructed homes. They also cooked their food in earthen pots and vessels made of clay.

Cagayan is undoubtedly one of the richest archaeological sites in the Philippines. Excavations by the National Museum and field research by the Cagayan Museum have yielded vast archeological findings including artifacts dating back to: the Paleolithic Age; the Neolithic Age, a time when man started to produce his own food through domestication of plants and animals; Iron Age which covers the transition from 2000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. Culture has progressed to a point where there is already knowledge of smelting and forging iron, the use of more advanced agricultural techniques, and weaving. Cagayan Valley,  like many other provinces in the Philippines, was never isolated from foreign influence as was earlier believed. It was once a part of the long prehistoric international trade with neighboring countries. The Historic Age likewise chronicled the date when Juan Salcedo visited the valley. Such discoveries give a diachronic view of the technological and cultural evolution of the Cagayano (Cagayan Museum).

Material Culture

People in the valley dressed very simply. Old women used the saya and kimono while men used the camisa de chino or the barong tagalog. Some of the houses that withstood the Japanese occupation were historical houses made of hard wood. Some were bahay-kubo. Most typical homes were strong and typhoon-resistant.

For agriculture, today, there are only a few have modern agricultural implements. The majority still use traditional implements like animal-drawn tools.

Non-Material Culture

Filipinos are characterized by its close family ties such that majority of married couples with children lived with their parents. The value of bayanihan, sharing, cooperation, brotherhood, self-responsibility, respect, love, peace, and dignity, are still very much alive in Cagayan.

       Old songs, proverbs, and poems are still sung today,  alongside the instruments Kuribaw, tulali and the kuritang produced by Ibanags. These produced warlike or sad music. It also exhibits the beauty of the unoni, the berso, and the pabattang (proverbs and the advises through songs) which convey Ibanag history and their mores that the ethnic group keep sacred and inviolable. The following are samples of the Unoni as described by the Ibanags: “maguray y mapporay, mesipo y massipo, mawawan y carwan” (the brave leads, the lenient are included and the rest gets lost). “Arica mamappalla ta bagu ca la nappaya; Vulauap paga ic cucum amu y ginafu-gafum” (Do not be proud because you became famous/wealthy; Your fingers may be made of gold but we know what you are). Mapia ca nacuan nu  maguinna ca tat tabarang (You should have been lucky if you heed advices, Lasam, 1966).

About the Author:
Estrella L. Suyu obtained her Doctor of Philosophy of Education major in History and Philosophy at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She teaches at the Cagayan State University, Carig, Tuguegarao, Cagayan.