Historical data show that the people of Sagada trace their roots from Mabika, found at the southern part of the domain. A map of the original domain of the municipality which dates back to 1668 shows that there were originally six ilis, namely: Ankileng and Balugan in the South, Antadao and Tetep-an in the East, and Fidelisan and Tanulong in the North. Through time, these settlements expanded and became the recognized ilis of present day Sagada.

It was in 1847 that the place was established as a political unit, but it was on 25 June 1963 that the Municipality of Sagada came into existence under Executive Order No. 42, s. 1963.

An old Sagada tourist map circulated in the ’90s.

how Sagada got its name

During the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines, the Spaniards first came in contact with the peoples of Sagada in 1625 to the 1700s. The expedition in the area was driven by the search for gold and copper. Among the settlements first visited in Sagada were Antadao, Balugan and Fidelisan.

According to accounts, it was sometime in the 1830s when the name “Sagada” came about. A group of Spanish soldiers, who came from Besao, met a man who was carrying a rattan basket for catching fish near Danum Lake. The soldiers asked the man what the name of the place was. Thinking that they were asking what he was carrying, he replied, “sagada.” From then on, the settlement went down on Spanish record as Sagada.

This story is recorded in the book: Cordillera Almanac, published in 1999.

Biag, the founder

There is a popular notion among some of the people in Sagada that Biag is the founder of the original village in Sagada. However, oral accounts from village elders say that the original villages already existed when Biag was born. While he is not likely solely the founder of the village, he is recognized to be the one who introduced a lot of the cultural and spiritual practices that have since become tradition in Sagada. Biag’s influence brought about different stories of his exploits in the local folklore. One might encounter that accounts of these exploits, although similar, have slight differences depending on who you ask — which is understandable as these are pased down through oral tradition.

Some stories say that Biag’s orginial settlement was disturbed by threats from headhunters, and wild pigs which regularly devastated his kaingins (swidden farms). This led him, his family, and nearest of kin to abandon the mountains and settle somewhere in Candon, Ilocos Sur.  Suspicious of Governor Claveria’s attempts to Christianize them, Biag and his family left Candon and headed to a place further west in the mountains. The place they settled in finally came to be known as Sagada.

Another oral account which is more specific and accepted says that Biag, together with his friends Dinaongan and Goday who all came from Bika (known today as Mabika, located between Ankileng and Balili), went to Ilocos when they were orphaned. After a few years, not liking the way of life in the Ilocos, they decided to settle elsewhere up north. Dinaongan ended up in Maeng in Abra and Goday went to Abagatan (somewhere in Bauko), while Biag returned to Sagada. He first stayed in Ambato (located near Agawa, Besao), and later in Kenbaan (in Patay) where land, water and trees were bountiful. Eventually, Biag transferred to Ataat (below the present-day Church of St. Mary the Virgin). There he took care of a pregnant dog, which disappeared one day causing Biag to worry. After a few days, the dog reappeared having already given birth. He fed the dog and followed her until they reached Malingeb where his dog gave birth. He thought that maybe it was Kabunyan’s will that he should settle there, and he did, later on establishing one of the oldest dap-ays in Sagada. Since the area was forested, Biag cleared and tilled the land. He also built his house and lived there since. During all this, other people have already settled in the surrounding areas like Peng-as who lived in Daoangan (a part of Dagdag).

Biag then taught the people some of the rituals, prayers and cultural practices that are still being practiced today. Accordingly, Biag brought with him a cultural milieu, which was enhanced by his experiences from Loco (lowland coast), into this land Golot, the name the Igorots gave their place of origin. He introduced a ground religious festival that took place every ten years where the dried tails of pigs sacrificed for the occasion were kept in a basket knapsack of Biag. This practice has been preserved to the present.

During Biag’s stay in Malingeb, he married a woman named Dodo and they were blessed with three children namely: Conyap, Bandowa and Bowaken.

the umili of Sagada

The umili , or villagers of Sagada belong to the Northern Kankanaey ethnolinguistic group, but they more commonly identify themselves as Igorots, meaning “people of the mountains”. They also identify themselves with their ili or village, such as iPidlisan or iTaccong.  With reference to the Bontocs occupying the eastern part of Mountain Province, the iSagada, together with the other Northern Kankanaey communities on the western section of Mt. Province, are classified as Applai by the Office of the Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC), now the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP).

The umili of Sagada are not of a common descent. According to oral accounts, the ancestors of the iSagada belong to different groups and they came from different places like the Ma-eng of Abra and the Dallik of Bontoc. These ancestors established the “mother” villages such as Fidelisan (Pidlisan), Dagdag, Ankileng, Tetep-an, Demang, Taccong and Antadao. Over time, these ilis expanded into the 19 barangays that presently comprise Sagada namely: Aguid, Ambasing, Ankileng, Antadao, Balugan, Bangaan, Dagdag, Demang, Fidelisan, Kilong, Madongo, Nacagang, Patay, Pide, Suyo, Taccong, Tanulong, Tetepan Norte and Tetep-an Sur.

The residents of the different ili in Sagada are characterized by their intonation, diction and accent.  Through inter-marriages and migration, the current population includes some Ilokano, Bisaya, Tagalog, and other ethno-linguistic groups. The other languages spoken in Sagada are English, Ilokano, and Tagalog.