The Mountain Province is known as the “Weaver’s Paradise” due to the presence of various weaving centers sporting different designs that bespeak of the province’s cultural heritage. This was a province that practiced the traditional parliamentary & participatory form of governance as evidenced by the presence of the Dap-ay/Ato, a traditional form of governance led by the respected elders in the community. Mountain Province is found in the central part of the Cordillera mountain ranges in north Luzon of the Philippines. It is bounded by Isabela on the east; the provinces of Kalinga, Apayao, and Abra on the north; the provinces of Benguet and Ifugao on the south; and the province of Ilocos Sur on the west. It has an area of 229,231 hectares where 83% is mountainous while 17% make up hills and levels. It is a province of rivers, falls, mountains, and caves.
Mountain Province is the full name of the province and is sometimes incorrectly named just Mountain in some foreign references. The name is also incorrectly shortened by locals to Mt. Province, which in turn is read by native Anglophones as “Mount Province”. The province is named that way because it is found in the Cordilleras mountain range of north central Luzon. Mountain Province was also the name of the historical province that included most of the current Cordillera provinces. This old province was established by the Americans in 1908 and was later split in 1966 into Mountain Province, Benguet, Kalinga–Apayao and Ifugao.
Towering mountain heights and sharp ridges characterize the central and western landscape of the province while gradually sloping and rolling foothills mark the eastern towns. Land elevation reaches up as high as 2,582 masl in Mt Amuyao in Barlig. Climate is generally cool in the higher elevations of the municipalities of Sagada, Besao, Bauko, Natonin and Sadanga to prevalently warm in the low elevations of Bontoc, Paracelis and Sabangan owing to warm winds from Ilocos Region from the west, and Isabela from the east. Major headwaters include the mighty Chico River which irrigates agricultural lands of Bontoc, Sadanga, and Sabangan, aside from posing potential for white water rafting. Equally, mighty Siffu River irrigates the rice producing towns of Barlig, Natonin, and Paracelis in the eastern front.
Mountain Province with its many tourist attractions locates virginal forests and mysterious lakes fit for relaxation. In Sadanga where the mighty Chico River runs through, one finds Sadanga Hot Springs. A scenic panorama greets the weary traveler along Sabangan with its astounding greeneries blanketing the mountains. Abysmal and enigmatic caves are a sight in western Mountain Province including the famous Sumaguing Cave in Sagada. Waterfalls in this western side of the province locate the equally powerful and soothing Bomod-ok falls in Fidelisan, Sagada. Further in Besao is the spectacular view of the Besao sunset. The bustling capital town of Bontoc offers a wide array of natural spots- from woodland lanes along the Bontoc-Can-eo and Mainit- Maligcong routes to expansive viewpoints at Pagturaw- Maligcong, Mount Polis and Bagabag.
Adventurers would love white water rafting along the mighty Chico River which flows through Kalinga, Sadanga, Bontoc, and Sabangan. Mountain climbing is best in Mt Amuyao in Barlig, Mt Kalawitan in Sabangan, Mt Ampakaw in Sagada, Mt Mogaw in Tadian and Mt Polis in Bontoc.
Mountain Province boasts of being the first province to be evangelized by the American missionaries and so most of its people particularly, the elders could speak English. Aplai is the major dialect. Kankanaey is the major dialect spoken although English, Ilocano, and Tagalog are also widely spoken.
Eighty three percent (83%) of the 229,231 hectares is mountainous with 10% of the area devoted to agriculture. Mountain Province is predominantly inhabited by hard working indigenous peoples including migrants from the provinces of Ilocos and Pangasinan. A major bulk of the populace compose at least 80% of the farming occupation. Weaving is a traditional source of livelihood in almost parts of the province.
Each of the ten towns have their own One Town One Product (OTOP). Sagada is promoting its Arabica Coffee. Paracelis with its rice and corn. Bauko with its Lang-ay wines. Most of the towns have eco-cultural tourism as their OTOP.
Population as of 2007 Census is 148,661 spread out in 10 municipalities with its 144 barangays. The ten municipalities are Besao, Bauko, Bontoc, Sabangan, Sadanga, Sagada, Tadian, Paracelis. Barlig and Natonin.
The rugged mountains sheltered the peoples of the Mountain Province from colonization during most of the Spanish period. There were several attempts to subdue the people of the area. In 1663, an expedition was able to penetrate the mountains and occupy the town of Kayan. However, for the most part, the Spaniards were limited to occasional punitive forays into Igorot country.
It was not until the 19th century when the Spaniards established a permanent presence in the highlands. The military outposts or comandancias of Lepanto (1852) and Bontoc (1859) were established in what is presently the territory of the Mountain Province. During the Philippine Revolution, the area was an important route of retreat for the embattled forces of President Emilio Aguinaldo.
The Americans established Lepanto-Bontoc as a separate province in 1902. In 1908, the Mountain Province was created covering the present-day provinces of Apayao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet. On June 18, 1966, the old Mountain Province was divided into four provinces by virtue of Republic Act 4695. The sub-province of Bontoc became the present-day Mountain Province.
The history of the province is replete of intriguing past as many varied stories and circumstances were recounted by elders. Suffice it to say that the origin of the province has not been recorded. Spanish exploratory attempts to conquer Mountain Province were made between 1566 to 1665. Total subjugation of the area was never achieved throughout the three (3) centuries of Spanish rule because the fierce, warlike and hostile Igorots and formidable travel obstacles intimidated the Spaniards. Spanish occupation of some portions of the Cordilleras ended on September 3, 1899 when the Spanish headquarters in Bontoc was taken by Filipino forces. Some brave Igorots joined their lowland brothers in the fight against the Americans in 1898. After the establishment of the civil government during the American occupation in 1901, Mountain Province became a special province of the Philippines in 1907. Bontoc-Lepanto, Amburayan, Ifugao, Kalinga, Benguet and Apayao comprised the sub-provinces. Samuel Cane, the provincial supervisor, was appointed governor and Bontoc was made the capital town. In 1908, the old Mountain Province was created with seven (7) sub-provinces which later was merged into five (5) provinces: Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao, Kalinga (BIBAK). In 1967, the division of these five provinces gave birth to four (4) new provinces namely: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga–Apayao and Mountain Province.
The sub-province of Bontoc retained its name Mountain Province and maintained Bontoc as its capital town. On March 25, 1967, Mt. Province became an independent province. Then President Ferdinand E. Marcos, appointed and inducted into office the first provincial officials. This new province came into operation on April 7, 1967, hence, this day is celebrated as Mountain Province Day. On June 15, 1987, Mountain Province became part of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
The furniture industry is a growing venture in the province. Fixtures and furniture are made from raw materials like pinewood, bamboo, and steel. Bamboo and rattan basketry is presently diversifying due to product development. Backstrap weaving, an age-old handicraft, expanded to the use of loom. Colorful costumes are now designed for product lines like bags, purses, tapestry, ethnic costumes, blankets, linen, and fashion accessories.
There are no flights directly to this area; but the drive, whether from Manila, Baguio or Banaue, is well worth it. Yes, the roads may be rough at times, but the awesome view of vegetable gardens, unspoiled forests and rip-rapped rice terraces won’t disappoint even the most seasoned adventurer.
Stop at the Bontoc Village Museum in Bontoc and take in the artifacts collected from around the region. Run by Catholic nuns, it’s an old museum housed in a large Ifugao hut. The museum highlights ethnographic items of the 20th century.
For a deeper understanding of the history of the area, go to the 3,000-plus-year-old Alab Petroglyphs, a set of carvings on boulders that depict the people’s ancient way of life.
Then head to the backpackers’ haven of Sagada. Rooms are mid-range to downright cheap, and there is tons you can do without having to spend too much. There are plenty of caves and hot springs to explore, like the Sumaguing Cave with stalagmite and stalactite formations. And there are even hanging coffins around here. Surrounding Echo Valley are wooden coffins within limestone formations.
You can also witness the back-breaking art of backstrap-weaving. For hand-woven cloth textile, go to Samoki and learn how to create their incredible fabric. Sabangan and Sagada also have their own textile weaving workshops, primarily run by women. The men, on the other hand, are in charge of carving and weaving baskets and other household items.
Because of visits from travelers from all corners of the globe, there is a wide range of food choices here, especially in Sagada. Taste exquisite carrot and banana bread, highland Arabic coffee and the famous Sagada oranges.