The Isnag people (also referred to as the Isneg and Apayao) are an Austronesian ethnic group native to Apayao Province in the Philippines' Cordillera Administrative Region. Their native language is Isneg (also called Isnag), although most Isnag also speak Ilokano.
Two major sub-groups among the Isnag are known: the Ymandaya, mostly concentrated in the municipality of Calanasan; and the Imallod, with populations distributed among the other towns of the province. Isnag populations can also be found in the eastern part of the adjacent Provinces of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan.
Various names have been used to differentiate the Isnag. The Spaniards referred to them as los Apayaos (referring to the river along which they live) and los Mandayas (taken from the Isnag term meaning “upstream”).
Isnag populations can also be found in the Eastern part of the Province of Ilocos Norte, specifically the municipalities of Adams, Carasi, Dumalneg and Solsona; and in the Northwestern part of the Province of Cagayan, specifically the municipalities of Sta. Praxedes, Claveria and Sanchez Mira.
Approximately 9% of the population are Christians. As of 2006, the entire New Testament, along with the books of Genesis and Exodus, had been translated into Isnag by SIL. Rest of the Isnags are mainly animists.
They were proud of using bamboo as cooking utensils. They have sinursur, a dish made of catfish or eel on bamboo with chili, abraw, freshwater crabs with coconut and chili, sinapan, which looks like smoked meat. They used anything they can find in nature as food, from brooks, rivers, lakes and streams, they catch fish and other creatures in it. In forests, they use any edible leaves in there. They douse the harvest in cooking it with chili.
Isneg, or Isnag, kinship is bilateral, meaning children are equally related to both the mother and the father. Households consist of interrelated families living close to each other, and extended families of three generations living together in their balay. The family is the key element in society, the larger the better, headed by the husband. No other society structure exists, though brave men, mengals, lead in hunting and fishing. The bravest, Kamenglan, is the overall leader. A young man entered their ranks after the first headhunting expedition. A mengal carries a red kerchief on the head and has tattoos on his arms and shoulders. They are animistic and practice polygamy.
Early accounts of the Isnag
- The Isnag are distinguished from the other Cordillerans by the fine construction of their houses, resembling that of the lowland Filipinos, and they are particularly conspicuous about cleanliness. Their houses are set on four large and strong straight posts of incorruptible wood resistant to humidity, driven into the earth; instead of being made of bamboo cut in long narrow strips joined by rattan, as the lowland Filipinos do. Their houses are airy and bigger, and they do everything to decorate it the best way they can. They barter for products from their mountains, such as beeswax, cacao, and tobacco.
- Jean Mallat, a French adventurer in the Philippines during the 1800s.
- Sumeg-ang, Arsenio (2005). "5 The Isnegs". Ethnography of the Major Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Cordillera. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. pp. 94, 106–107. ISBN 9789711011093.