Story of Nabukyag, an Ifugao Hero

Tuesday June 21, 2016 ()


During the early part of the American regime, when killing and head-hunting among the people of the Mountain Province was still the order of the day, there lived near Banaue, Ifugao, a man called Nabukyag who was greatly feared because of his extraordinary strength.

It is told of him that one time, arriving with a few companions at a cañao or feast at Kababuyan, where the people were of a mind to kill him, he seated himself on a stone anvil, with his back to a post of one of the houses. The plan was to invite Nabukyag to take part in the cutting down of a carabao, which is the custom there, every one near taking a slash at the unfortunate animal, and to attack the strong man while momentarily so engaged. But Nabukyag understood what treachery was afoot, and, rising suddenly, he struck the stone anvil with his spear and rent it in two. The people looked on him in awe at this new proof of his might. When the carabao was led forward a second time, Nabukyag quickly stepped forward and cut the beast's great head off with one whistling stroke of his bolo.

Story of Nabukyag, an Ifugao Hero

The people decided it was better to treat such a man with consideration than to think of murdering him, and after the feast a number of the Kababuyan warriors accompanied Nabukyag to his home at Tugawi, Hapao, as friends.

Nabukyag had a daughter, Cuyapi, who was the most beautiful girl in the village. Many young men would like to have had her for a wife, but some thought of themselves as inferiors and were afraid to risk the ire of her father. A few who dared to woo the girl were rejected by her.

However, a young and husky warrior, Nahgag, met her at a cañao at Bukyawan, a barrio of Hapao, and fell in love with her at first sight. The people feasted and danced and danced and sang all night, and Cuyapi sang the sweetest. But Nahgag got drunk and became wild and dangerous, and when some of the others sought to subdue and disarm him, he struck at a pine tree and cut it down with one stroke, Cuyapi liked him for this because it reminded her of her father's prowess, and she whispered in his ear, "If you love me and respect me, put down your bolo". Nahgag promptly obeyed.

The next night, Nahgag went to visit Cuyapi in her agamang (sleeping place). Her father happened to be giving a cañao that night, and, as it was customary in some parts of Ifugao for every member of the family giving a cañao to be present, he noticed the absence of his daughter, and the feasting could not begin. Nabukyag, taking shield and spear, went to look for her and found her with Nahgag. As Nahgag leaped out of the place, Nabukyag hurled his spear at him, but the young man dodging the fatal weapon, it pierced the body of Cuyapi who was close behind him.

Not stopping to pick up the lifeless body of his daughter, Nabukyag pursued the fear-stricken Naghag. The young man ran desperately, the maddened father behind, him ever and again screaming with rage. All night long the older man pursued the younger. At dawn, on a small, terraced field, Nahgag stopped behind a small clump of runo reeds, thinking these might serve to check a direct spear-throw. Nabukyag chased him around the clump, cutting down the runos as he did so like grass. Then he speared Nahgag through the right leg. The hapless youth fell to the ground crying for forgiveness, but Nabukyag cut him into pieces, shouting, "Balloh nan imbabalie!" (In revenge of my daughter). He wrenched off Nahgag's jaw-bone as a trophy.

Then Nabukyag returned to his home. He found some people cutting down an areca-nut tree to make a coffin for his daughter. "You are too slow!" he groaned, and cut the tree down with one stroke of his blood-stained weapon. Then he cut off a section of the right length with another single blow. "Take it", he said. The people did not dare to speak for fear that a single word might provoke the mighty man to finish them all!.

He put Nahgag's jaw-bone in a basket and danced madly around it, occasionally striking his house with his spear, and this went on until the body of Cuyapi was buried.

After the accidental killing of his daughter, Nabukyag became fiercer than ever and more dangerous, and Lieutenant Jeff D. Gallman, Governor of Ifugao at that time, sent Constabulary soldiers to bring him in. Not finding him at home, the soldiers decided to set fire to his house, and one of them mounted a small wooden rice-mortar to reach the roof. Unknown to the Constabulary, Nabukyag was hiding in a nearby field and at that moment let fly a small spear with a heavy handle which hit the soldier in the hip with such force as to throw the man several meters. The rest of the soldiers, thinking this was an ambush in force, fled, firing as they ran. Nabukyag pursued them for some distance, now having full confidence in his hiwang (protective charm).

The soldiers reported to Gallman that they had not been able to capture Nabukyag and that they thought he had a hiding place somewhere in the forest. So Gallman himself went after him with a small number of men. At Gohang, some kilometers from Banaue, they picked up a guide, Ugnayon, the barrio capitan, and during the night surrounded the hut in which it was believed Nabukyag was hiding. The men were posted all about the place with orders to capture and not harm the wanted man.

At dawn, with Lieutenant Gallman and the confident Capitan Ugnayon near the door, the order came:

"Open the door!" A voice answered, "Who are you?"

"Soldiers, with the Lieutenant!"

"Wait for a moment. I will dress," called the voice, but instantly the door opened and, in a thick cloud of woodashes which he threw before him, Nabukyag sprang out, the door, which had come loose, flattening out Ugnayon, and the Lieutenant being helplessly blinded by the ashes. In the confusion, Nabukyag escaped.

However, minor outlaws were being shot like birds in those days, and Nabukyag not relishing the idea of such a fate, sent a special messenger to the Governor promising to abide by the law in the future and asking that he be not punished for his past doings. Gallman was a wise ruler and, knowing what sort of man he was dealing with, sent word that if Nabukyag would live up to his promise, his past would be forgiven. From then on, Nabukyag lived a more or less law-abiding life, but continued to perform occasional prodigious feats of strength and daring.

One time, planning to give another canao, he summoned the people and told them a carabao would be butchered in the morning. But the carabao, an enormous, halfwild bull, was not to be caught. Nabukyag's son, brave enough, but not as strong as his father, volunteered to catch the animal, but barely escaped with his life when the bull charged him. This enraged Nabukyag and he rushed out to meet the snorting, pawing beast. Onlookers expected the man to be gored and flung high in the air, but suddenly Nabukyag sprang at the carabao and seized him by the horns. The beast swung from side to side but was unable to budge the mountain of flesh which Nabukyag seemed to have become. The mighty man's muscles bulged, and, snorting, the beast was brought to his knees, then fell over on his side. Nabukyag's bolo flashed, and the people cried: "'Mabungpt peman he Nabukyag" (Really, Nabukyag is brave).

Some years later, Nabukyag's brother, Paktio, died. Because of the people's custom of keeping a corpse under their houses for many days, an ordinance had been issued directing that corpses should be buried after three days. Nabukyag paid no attention to this order and had kept the body of his brother above ground for ten days when the authorities learned of this, and four Constabulary soldiers were sent to arrest him.

Seeing them approaching, Nabukyag sent all the people away and armed himself. Then he shouted: "If you come here to harm us, come armed. If you come as friends, leave your guns outside!" The soldiers conferred and deposited their arms, after which they were royally entertained, Nabukyag killing a duck for them and ordering his people to bring rice-wine. It is said the soldiers reported to their superior that the body of Paktio had been buried, in accordance with the ordinance, after three days.

Once, crossing a bridge consisting of two logs over a swift stream flow ng over jagged rocks, it collapsed, and Nabukyag hurtled down to what his companions believed was certain death. But in a moment they saw him clambering up the other side.

Another time, while in a tree, cutting off a big branch, the rending, splintering mass hooked him and he fell several meters. But except for a minor fracture of the jaw, where the branch hit him, he was unhurt.

Nabukyag died when a very old man, at least 85. Ifugaos do not keep count of their years.


  1. Nabukyag, an Ifugao Hero By Epifanio T. Ramos and Adriano Apilis, Philippine Magazine, Volume 37, Number 3, March 1940


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