The Igorot ‘cowboys’ and why it is not yet dead

A foreigner may wonder why even in the present point in time, ‘cowboys’ are teeming in the Cordilleras (Philippine mountain regions). I am referring to the men and women in boots, cowboy hats, and leather you meet at Session Road, or the singers in the same outfit you see on drinking bars and folk houses, singing the “yudelee”. I am almost sure that you will not fail to spot them on clan reunions, weddings, and other celebrations – men in cowboy gadgets and all, even riding a horse. One may even have heard of country sounds or Igorot country music recordings, or may have even bought a couple of these records on sidewalks –maybe even luckier to witness gong-players adding the “country line-dance” on their cultural presentation. There is no doubt that there exist a culture in the Cordilleras (or most part of the region), perhaps a subculture, wherein it blended the west’s cowboy and the region’s IP culture. The result is a hybrid sub-culture that baffles me to this day.

Just who are “Cowboys’? Or what is the “Cowboy Culture”? The ‘Cowboys’ basically referred to the people of the west who maintained ranches, or tends cattle or animals in America after the civil war. Overtime, they developed a personal culture, a set of traditions, which are even highlighted on ‘wild west films’. The Western Cowboy culture, or at least the image of it, was left by the colonial Americans in their occupation of the islands in the 1900’s. The question is, why did the people from the highlands adopted it? How did they come to love it and live the image of it?

The Americans having chosen Baguio, and most parts of Benguet and Mountain Province as their mountain resting resort because of the cool climate, also attracted the ‘highlanders’ to crowd movie houses  showing ‘cowboy films’, and even influenced their taste of music. So how did the Cordillera people came to love the cowboy culture? An article I read when I was in high school explained that it is because Igorots can relate to the ‘cowboys’. As hardworking people, the ‘highlanders’ can relate to the hard labor which is demanded from people who maintained ranches; as humble people who, at a point in time were looked down, they can personally relate to the cowboys who were also ranked below the social class in their time; as mountain people, the highlanders can relate to their fashion; wearing a thick leather jacket, or using boots on muddy trails just how they did in the west – there are actually myriads of explanation to the embracing of ‘everything cowboy’ that in the present time the Cordillerans even contrived a term to celebrate it: “Kinobouyan”. Beyond, however, the fashion or the external outfit, or the country music and the line dancing, is an attitude or an outlook which set a standard of being a “cowboy” in the Cordilleras. It is the attitude of being practical, or being pragmatic in any given situation, or what we call “kinobkoboy”.

‘Kinokoboy’ or’ Kinobkoboy’ revolves around being adoptive to environment, even creative or resourceful in tough situations (with all the elements of ‘taraki’ or ‘diskarte’). This mind-set is expected of highlanders, a sort of an initiation process to claiming a membership of the highland people. An example is where they use anything they see in lieu of modern tools. There are many situations which defines a “kinobkoboy” which only a “koboy” recognizes. This culture is perhaps, an upshot of the innate tendency towards survival. As a sort of initiation, this culture is majorly passed through traditional socialization, although the source was first derived on many communication tools such as the movies or the arts, or even inebriated discussions. In traditional socialization, it includes verbal discussions which set the standard towards a ‘kinobkoboy’ attitude (may even include a father lecturing his son of those standards) or even igorot country music which describes how ‘Cowboy and Taraki” Cordillerans are. The effectively of the process is reinforced by various communication tools like music (Igorot country sounds), events and even enterprises (there is even a bar called “kinobouyan” with most costumers wearing cowboy outfit and listening to country music, and let us not forget Baguio Country Sounds), which necessarily passes such knowledge or culture to its’ society’s members. The result is a systematic passing of culture from one entity to another.

With the message source multiplied, and communication tools made readily available (internet or the ‘new’ media) there is no doubt that the ‘Cowboy’ culture will stay in the mind-set of the highlanders. I must be clear though that the “Igorot and country’ music and fashion, even though it is a culture in itself, serves as a communication tool. I want to highlight again that, beyond the music and the fashion is the attitude of “Kinobouyan”, or the attitude of resourcefulness and strength that defines their character as highlanders, which is a culture worth passing especially to their younger generation.

About the author


Valred is a college instructor from La Trinidad, Benguet, a barangay offical in his humble community, and a part-time graduate student (Law and Masters in DevC). He has a clinging passion for music, arts, and philosophy, and hopes to share some of his ideas through writing.